K’s sister was rushed to the hospital last week because in her twenty-first week of pregnancy, there’d been some complications that, as it turns out, are going to result in bed-rest for the duration of her pregnancy. While she was in the hospital, she’d had to stay in bed with her heels higher than her head for forty-eight hours, and she’d had a stitch put into her cervix (cerclage) in order to prevent her cervix from dilating further.
Scary stuff, absolutely–and as many of us are all too aware, while bed-rest might initially seem like a dream come true, it very quickly (like overnight) becomes a nightmare, all too reminiscent of Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s The Yellow Wallpaper (the heroine in that story, you remember, ends up crawling along the floorboards of her attic, over the body of her unconscious husband, peeling off the wallpaper as she crawls).
But I’m not actually going to write about scary pregnancy stories, or about women slowly being driven insane by the medical establishment. Instead, I am going to write about the diagnosis given to K’s sister: she has an “incompetent cervix.”
Seriously. That’s the medical definition given to this condition–a diagnosis that throws us right back into the 19th century, when women were, in fact, deemed incompetent, fit only to have babies, and when to be female meant that you were always on the brink of hysteria, a word that originates from hyster, the Greek word for “womb.”
K., in telling me about her sister, posed a key question: why is it that her sister’s cervix is “incompetent,” but a man who can’t get it up is deemed to have “erectile dysfunction” or to be “impotent”? True, impotence means a loss of power, but to be incompetent, according to the first definition in the dictionary, is to be “not legally qualified.” And if you’re not legally qualified, you have no standing in the eyes of the law – you’re a non-person.
Do you think Viagra would be such a best-selling drug if it were sold as a treatment for an “incompetent penis”? What man would cop to such a diagnosis? And–further–could there really be only one pill to cure that condition? Especially when there are so very many ways for a penis to be incompetent (not the least of which is its inability to aim a stream of urine accurately into a toilet bowl). Fixing an incompetent penis would necessitate an entire cocktail of drugs, I think, and several months of sensitivity training for the body attached to said incompetent organ.
But I digress. K’s sister’s diagnosis makes me wonder if, on some level, the days of The Yellow Wallpaper aren’t so far away after all.
(Let’s not even get started on the whole Stupak thing, yet another attempt to keep women from being legally qualified to govern their own bodies, and which in turn raises the question of how it is that the Right can, on one hand insist that the government stay out of individual lives and, on the other hand, insist that government get right inside the most intimate act a body can perform. Hmm).
Oh dear, that was another digression. I seem to be getting all hysterical about who has access to my hyster…
Seriously, though, what if we re-diagnosed K’s sister’s condition? What if we said she had a “flexible cervix,” or a “forgiving cervix,” or–perhaps most appropriate–a “tired cervix”?
Yes. That’s it. A “tired cervix.” Because you know what? Doing something as personal and as powerful as growing a baby? It’s exhausting.