Sunday, February 12, 2012

Feeling Beautiful

This is me attempting to smile and raise my eyebrows.
As many of you know, the day after I came home from the hospital after having Mariel, I ended up back at the ER. I had lost control of the left side of my face, and had no idea why. Turns out neither did the doctors. I had something they call "Bell's Palsy," which is what they diagnose when something affects the facial nerves but they don't know what. They said it could be a virus, strain from having the baby, pressure from an earache I'd had, or any number of other things. They prescribed me a steroid and an antiviral and sent me home.

One of the interesting things about Bell's Palsy is that not only do they have no real idea what causes it, they have no way of predicting how long it will last. They told me that most patients get better within two weeks, but for some it lasts months, or even years, before suddenly going away. Some never get better.

Honestly, I was so exhausted that I didn't care how long it might last. I was just glad that it wasn't anything serious, and I was anxious to take my two-day-old baby and go home. Sure, it was annoying that I'd have to sleep with an eyepatch on to keep my left eye closed; sure it bothered me that my taste buds weren't working right. But really, all that mattered at the moment was sleep. (Of course, that was the day that Cimorene woke up from her nap with a fever of 103 degrees. Sleep didn't really happen for another week.)

When I called my mom and told her the diagnosis, she commented, "Well, at least you're not single and trying to catch the attention of a guy." That was the first moment that it occurred to me to care how I looked. For a split second, my brain asked, "Will it bother Ryan that half of my face doesn't work? Will he think I'm ugly?"

But almost as soon as the worry entered, it left again. This was Ryan we were talking about, the man who could tell me honestly that he thought I was beautiful when I was morning sick and had just been puking. He thought I was pretty when I was out of shape and red-faced from running after a frisbee. He told me I was beautiful through both my pregnancies as my body changed shape and made me more and more uncomfortable. He told me I was beautiful as I was dealing with post-partum depression and was frustrated that it was taking so long to lose the baby weight from Cimorene. He liked me with makeup or without it, in grubby clothes or a ball gown. No, I didn't have to worry about Ryan. He'd still think I was beautiful.

And sure enough, one of the first things Ryan did that evening when he saw me was tell me he thought I was beautiful. Then he carried our sick and screaming toddler back into the doctor's examining room so that I could sit out in the lobby with our two-day-old baby and rest a little. And then he made dinner when we got home.

Yeah, he's that amazing.

It wasn't until a few days later that I realized just how much being married to Ryan has impacted my self-image. Once upon a time, I was very self-conscious. I wasn't as pretty as a lot of my friends, and in high school and my first couple years of college I tended to get overlooked by most guys. I worried about how I looked and was never very confident, even when friends and roommates told me I was looking great.

But last week, even the thought of not being able to move half of my face didn't scare me.

My Bell's Palsy is almost completely gone now. I can still feel it a little, but most people can't tell at all. I'm one of the lucky ones who got better in two weeks. But even more than feeling grateful that it's gone, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude for what it showed me about my relationship with my husband. I  already knew I had married an extraordinary man, but seeing some of the ways in which I've changed for the better because of being married to him makes me even more grateful.

Thank you, Ryan, for managing to convince me that I'm beautiful.