Post Author: Ashley Updegraff
It started with blinding pain in my abdomen—the kind that wakes you up in the middle of the night and leaves you bent over, groaning, on the bathroom floor.
It ended with—oh wait, it hasn’t ended. There has been no tidy conclusion, no ultimate resolution. It has been a journey with no end in sight. It has been a journey, I’ve come to realize, with no end at all. The journey itself is all there is.
The pain in my abdomen that left me keeling on my bathroom floor in December of 2018 turned out to be a cyst on my left ovary. Because the medical establishment can be fraught with miscommunication and a lack of personal care, it took a month for someone to tell me that the cyst was large enough that it needed to be removed. A laparoscopic surgery was scheduled—a supposedly minor procedure that would have me home and recovering in no time. But in the month that passed between my cyst making itself known and its removal, it had grown to the size of a grapefruit, twisting my fallopian tube and cutting off oxygen to the entire left side of my reproductive system. The cyst, the ovary, and the fallopian tube all had to be removed.
The procedure was more complicated than anticipated. Updated post-surgical instructions were not given to me. No one told me that since organs had been removed, I wasn’t supposed to lift anything more than 10 pounds. I was a single mom with an 18-month-old daughter. I gave myself a few days of recovery with the help of family and friends, but then I was lifting her and playing with her, ready to return to work and my normal life.
The next several months were painful and exhausting and confusing. Here’s the condensed version of this ensuing health saga: I developed a hernia in the incision site. Part of my bowel got caught in the hernia, sending me in for emergency bowel resection surgery. A larger incision had to be made for this procedure. Within a week of my recovery, that incision became infected. It had to be reopened. I had an open wound for two months that required constant attention and care. It was remarkable, but not enjoyable, to see the body heal that way.
And then, about six months after my open wound healed, I started experiencing all the classic signs of menopause. I was having intense hot flashes, especially at night, leaving me exhausted and with constant brain-fog. My mood was all over the place, with tears coming on quicker than ever and my temper a short fuse. When I stopped getting my period, it was the final straw and the clue I needed to see my doctor. The verdict was clear: I was in premature ovarian failure. I had the blood work of a postmenopausal woman. I was 33 years old.
It turns out that once one half of my reproductive system was gone, the other half shut down. It usually doesn’t work like that, but lucky me. I was left to process the immense grief of knowing that I would never be able to have another child of my own.
And I was left in a body I didn’t recognize. I was the heaviest I had been in my life. Weight gain is a common effect of menopause. But I was only 33! Surely, I could defy the odds! Surely, with good intentions, solid resolutions, and sheer commitment, I could lose the weight that my body, in all its trauma, had stored.
For two years I have been trying to lose that twenty pounds gained during menopause. For two years, I have tracked my food, gotten up at 7 AM to get to the gym, tried various medications for weight management, and been under the care of a nutritionist. I have seen several doctors, had my blood taken more times than I can count, and have spent hundreds of dollars and hours trying to figure out my unachievable weight loss. And through it all, the scale has not budged. It has not budged.
And then three months ago, I thought, Why? Why do I continue to give so much time, attention, money, and worry to twenty pounds? Why am I longing for a version of my body that used to be, instead of embracing and enjoying the version of my body I have, right now? Especially because my body is a survivor. I am a survivor. I am resilient and strong and I have survived difficult things. Why would I try to erase the evidence of it?
I’m on a journey, and there is no end in sight. The scale is, most likely, never going to budge in the direction I’d like it to. I am learning to be okay with that. I am learning to sit in the irresolution. I am learning to embrace the journey itself. I am still mindful about what I eat—but it is less about losing weight and more about being healthy and present for the people and things I love. I still go to the gym and move my body regularly—but it is less about losing weight and more about gaining strength and seeing what my body is capable of. I still wonder if there is something else I could or should be doing, some other doctor to see or magic trick to try—but those thoughts linger less and then move along, not holding me hostage anymore.
It’s taken me years to get to this place. It’s taken me years to re-write the narrative that I’ve been handed since I was a child: that anything is possible when you set your mind to it. That with a precisely written goal, you can achieve anything. That life is about making resolutions, working toward their fulfillment, and then moving on to the next box to check or the next dream to tackle. Some goals just don’t get achieved. Some resolutions don’t get fulfilled. Some boxes don’t get checked. Some dreams don’t get tackled.
Some days this is a truth I reject. Some days I am tempted to double-down and make it happen. But most days I am enjoying the freedom of irresolution. Most days, I am enjoying the liberation from tidy conclusions and ultimate resolution. I am here, now. My body, with all its scars and extra pounds, is amazing. It has done, and can do, amazing things. My spirit, with all the defeat it has endured and the striving it has withstood, is resilient. It is capable of love and growth and joy and peace. I am enough, just as I am. I am loved in this body and in this moment. The end will never come. But the journey itself is worth it.
Rev. Ashley Updegraff serves as the Lead Pastor of an ELCA congregation in the Minneapolis area. She knows that life is messy (take her for a cup of coffee and ask her how!), but she also knows that God shows up in the mess. Reminding herself and others of that is her full-time job. In addition, she mothers her big, blended family, loves adventures with her husband, and reads whenever she can. She writes at flailingintodancing.wordpress.com.