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A Ring of Pain

Rating: PG-13

I knew that every married woman must have the contraceptive ring implanted after childbirth or they would violate the one-child policy in China. After giving birth to my daughter, Yan, I had to hide in the trunk of my husband’s delivery van each time family planning officials came; I didn’t want to get caught until I had a son. One day, I ran to hide in the hills behind the house to escape them, but I fell down and miscarried.

The days of hiding ended four years later when my son Bin was born. When the family planning officials knocked on the door, I went with them to a hospital.

Yan, who was five, asked me after I returned, “Mom, what did they put in your body? Does it hurt?”

I told her, “Contraceptive ring. It doesn’t hurt. I won’t have babies anymore.”

“Where is it?”

“Here, in the belly.”

I didn’t tell Yan that I bled while the doctor put the ring on, and the doctor said it was normal and would be healed within a week.

For the first few months, I always felt soreness in my waist and pain in my belly, but I endured it. As a woman, pain was inevitable. A few years later, while doing farm work, the ring fell out, and I went to the hospital on my own to have it back in.

One day, Yan, who was in middle school, told me, “Mom, you need to pay more attention to your hygiene.” My face was burning. I was aware that I stank. I didn’t know if it had anything to do with the ring. Even though I cleaned very carefully, my leucorrhea was yellow and smelly. After that day, I used gynecological detergent to get rid of the smell; after using it, I wrapped it in a plastic bag and hid it under my bed so my children wouldn’t see it.

This ring had been with me for over twenty years. I was used to the constant lower abdominal pain, but it worsened and the pain eventually became unbearable. I went to a clinic two years ago. The doctor said it didn’t matter; I could just leave the ring in the womb. So, I went home. Every time the pain became too much, I took some painkillers.

Last year, Yan, who works in a city, called me and asked, “Mom, have you taken out the ring?” I paused, not knowing how to answer. She said, “I read an article today and learned that wearing the contraceptive ring for a long time can cause gynecological inflammation and uterine lesions. You should go to the hospital if you haven’t taken it out.” Then I told her. She said, “Leaving the ring in your body is dangerous. I’ll come home next week.”

My daughter took me to a nearby hospital for a check-up. The doctor said the ultrasound showed that the ring had broken off and was inserted into my uterus. The first option was to remove the ring, but my uterus had begun to shrink, and he might not be able to remove it, in which case I would have to have a hysterectomy.

I trembled. Yan put her arm around me and said, “Mom, don’t be afraid. I’ll stay with you. I’ll take you to the municipal hospital tomorrow.”

Hearing that I would go to the city for surgery, my husband said, “You have had the ring for a long time and look fine. Why waste money?” When Bin heard this, he said simply, “Oh, I see.”

The next day, I was admitted to the hospital and put under anesthesia in the afternoon. The operation took hours. As soon as I became conscious, I felt pain in my abdomen. I groaned.

Yan patted my hand and said, “Mom, go to sleep. I’m here.”

When I woke up again, Yan was by my bed. I asked her what time it was, and she said it was almost six. I hurried her to have dinner before she got too hungry.

I was in the hospital for six days. Yan told me that my whole uterus had been removed but that I would recover.

“When the operation was over, the doctor showed me the uterus and fallopian tubes he had removed,” Yan said with a slight frown. “On the palm of the doctor’s hand lay a lump of dark red meat only half the size of his palm, and two white meat tubes. The broken metal ring had inserted itself into the red meat, making it bloodstained.” Then she took my hand and said, “Mom, it must have been hard for you to wear that ring all these years.”

She examined the wound below my navel; it was about the length of my thumb. “Does it hurt?” she asked. I didn’t want her to worry, so I said it didn’t.

“Why should women bear so much pain of childbirth?” she said.

“It’s the way it is,” I replied.

And she said, “Mom, I don’t want babies. I don’t want to suffer.”

I said, “Silly girl. Women are made to suffer. When you have kids, you will feel it’s worth it. I would go through ten more surgeries to have you and Bin.”

“Women already suffer from childbirth. Why should they suffer again for birth control and not men?”

I didn’t know how to answer her. In my time, it was natural for women to endure the pain of childbirth and contraception. No one complained. I hope Yan can have a different choice, a life without suffering.

Huina Zheng: MA in English, essay coach, published writer (Pushcart Prize nominee), Guangzhou-based with family.