It’s been six weeks since my surgery for pelvic organ prolapse (hysterectomy plus lots of cutting and stitching to repair). The pain has finally decreased; for the last two days I have taken one dose of ibuprofen, that’s all. I walk at a normal pace and even danced around a bit to my favorite music. I am back to work half time. I have to rest more than usual, but otherwise am nearly normal. (Phew!)

So this means it is time for me to be taking care of the next stage of healing–making sure my vaginal tissue grows over the mesh that was put in to support the front and back walls. So last night I take out the estrogen cream I am supposed to rub against the walls of my vagina twice a week for a year. It’s thick and sticky. I put it on my finger and rub it around inside me. It’s the first time I’ve had the nerve to touch that tender tissue, and I’m alarmed at what I find. It’s hard and ribbed, full of twisted ropes of scar tissue. It seems to have no flexibility (will I ever be able to have intercourse? I wonder). It’s uncomfortable to the touch.

Done. I wash my hands and crawl into bed. It hurts, a sharp pain around the opening and inside. In the past, such a pain reminds me of being very young (four perhaps? I don’t know) and the pain of inappropriate penetration. But this time, the memory that comes to me is the memory of an abortion I had when I was 21. I was in college and in love with my boyfriend, who thought contraception was immoral but didn’t let that stop him from having sex. I was too insecure to assert myself so the only surprise is that it took me two years with him before I got pregnant.

He said he loved me, but he was about to graduate, and he had other plans than hanging around and helping me have his baby. So I had an abortion and then I rode my bike home from Planned Parenthood and said goodbye to him because he was leaving for Peace Corps. And I never saw him again (forgive me, I may have told this story before). I was alone and cried and cried that day. I felt the loss of him more than the loss of a child, which didn’t seem real.

Anyway, that’s all old history.

As I lie in bed now with the sharp pains, I think of the abortion. And I think of the start of a potential child. From my current place, it seems different than it did then. I have two children, so I understand in a way I didn’t the transformation from positive pregnancy test to baby to child to teen to young adult. Actually, I have a stepson who is six months older than this person would have been if this early pregnancy had become a person.

And the memory starts my thoughts going, “I was so irresponsible; how did I let that happen?!” And “maybe I was never meant to be a mother; how uncaring,” which connected to thoughts of all the ways in which I feel I have not given my sons everything they need. And the ever-familiar “I am a bad person. I am evil.”

I know this isn’t helpful. It doesn’t change the past. It focuses on the negative. It piles heavy burdens of blame, regret and shame on my shoulders. So I try to breathe again. I try to find some compassion for the 21-year-old. She had no guidance. She had already learned to go along with the sexual requests of, well, whoever. And so much the more so when she was in love. She was ashamed. She told no one but her boyfriend, who treated it as an irritation. She was overwhelmed with loss. She coped the best she could.

And when she later did become a mother, she did the best she could. She loved and cared for the boys, even when she was depressed and exhausted, even when she was a worn out single mother. She never hurt them physically, and any emotional harm was unintentional. She took them places and gave them experiences. She told them stories and laughed with them. She built towers of blocks and Legos. She played transformers even though she thought they were ridiculous toys. She sang children’s songs when they were little and learned what was popular when they were teens. It’s true she didn’t always do what she could have to help them grow into fully independent adults, understanding both their own boundaries and respecting others. She couldn’t teach it because no one had ever taught her. She couldn’t teach it because she only recently started to learn it.

Consciously looking for these compassionate thoughts doesn’t fully stop the self-loathing ones, but it interrupts them and takes away some of their power.