leah mc­fall

Sunday Star-Times - Sunday Magazine - - NEWS -

I’ve reached the point where I now ac­cept that the cam­era isn’t that keen on, and in­deed may even be hos­tile to, my face.

Re­cently, you may have no­ticed my pho­to­graph on this page. This is be­cause Al, Sun­day’s il­lus­tra­tor, has been away, and couldn’t file his usual car­toons. Some­how, I must make it a rule that he never takes leave again.

“You’re in the mag­a­zine!” Maddy an­nounced the first time my pic­ture ap­peared. She gazed at it and said: “This is bad, bad, bad.” She’s only 6, but I’m not kid­ding when I tell you what she said next, which was: “You look like you were raised by wolves.” Then she laughed in the way all lit­tle kids do, as if they’re gar­gling with sun­shine.

“I look like Simba from The Lion King,” I told my hus­band. My hair was a mane; I could eas­ily have just torn apart a gazelle sand­wich.

My friend Andie was sooth­ing about it, say­ing: “It’s not the smile you’d nor­mally use,” which is an em­pa­thetic way of agree­ing that a par­tic­u­lar photo isn’t es­pe­cially flat­ter­ing. It’s the kind of thing I’d say, be­cause in th­ese In­sta­grammable times, an unattrac­tive photo should be a relic of the past, like a teapot trivet on a fire­place.

Luck­ily, I ap­prove of this pho­to­graph be­cause it con­firms what I know about my­self. I’ve reached the point where I now ac­cept that the cam­era isn’t that keen on, and in­deed may even be hos­tile to, my face.

There’s no pho­tog­ra­pher on Earth who could take a pic­ture ab­so­lutely true to my like­ness; there’ll al­ways be some­one who’d look at it and say: “This isn’t the you

that I know.” I have one of those faces, I guess: never one thing, nor an­other. Not un­know­able, ex­actly: just un­frame­able. This ac­cep­tance is won­der­ful, like re­leas­ing the top but­ton of tight jeans. I find my 40s like this, ac­tu­ally – a loos­en­ing of ex­pec­ta­tions and a re­ar­rang­ing of hopes that feels al­most plea­sur­able, like a re­ward for long ser­vice.

That’s not to say I still can’t be sur­prised by life, or pho­to­graphs. I cer­tainly haven’t seen it all: last week, in fact, I learned some­thing about my deep, in­ner self that I hadn’t known be­fore, and some­thing that I’ll al­ways carry with me from now on, and it was all be­cause of a pho­to­graph.

It started, as things of­ten do, with a smear test. I know, you’re sup­posed to go ev­ery three years and for me, it had been closer to five (if you’ve given birth con­ven­tion­ally, you get petu­lant about smear tests; you think, hasn’t my un­der­car­riage been through enough?). So I dragged my­self there, set my jaw and pre­pared to en­dure it.

Ac­tu­ally, it was al­most jolly. My nurse was chatty, brisk and fan­tas­tic; I could have talked to her all day. Luck­ily for me she ex­tended the ap­point­ment by re­mark­ing: “By the way, have you ever seen a cervix? Would you like to see one?”

I’m telling you, ques­tions like this don’t just hap­pen ev­ery day. You won’t want to say yes when you get asked some­thing like this (“Have you ever seen a fly-blown sheep? Would you like to see one?”), but you’ll hear your­self an­swer in the af­fir­ma­tive. This is be­cause you’re mag­ne­tised by what might be re­pul­sive, and ex­plains why so many colonoscopy pa­tients, when in­vited to watch their own back-end exam on a mon­i­tor, do.

A cur­tain was di­vid­ing us at the time and I wasn’t sure what I’d see when I pulled it to the side. One of those weird plas­ter cross sec­tions of a fe­male pelvis, prob­a­bly. I could have used the anatomy les­son be­cause I never was that hot on un­der­stand­ing bi­ol­ogy, or mi­cro­bi­ol­ogy: I once asked if I needed shots be­fore go­ing to Syd­ney.

But, lo! She sat at a com­puter and looked up what I like to think of as Hos­pi­tal Google – not so much the dark in­ter­net as the brightly lit, clin­i­cal kind – and scrolled through med­i­cal im­ages un­til she found a cervix.

And there it was, glis­ten­ing, round and squishy. It looked ex­actly like a glazed pink dough­nut.

“See, this is the part that ex­pands for de­liv­ery,” she ex­plained. “Peo­ple know from movies that the cervix di­lates, but don’t re­alise this is what they’re talk­ing about.”

I blinked in won­der. I had no idea that the mir­a­cle of birth looked quite so much like baked goods, as if each one of us had sprung into life, naked, out of a cake.

I re­alised all of us cleave to the O shape when we’re most vul­ner­a­ble (hug­ging a toi­let bowl, spoon­ing in bed) and this was why. We were all go­ing back to this, this per­fect round, the cervix: the wel­come mat of our ex­is­tence. Nants in­gonyama bagithi, Baba! (Here comes a lion, Father!) It’s the cir­cle, the cir­cle of life!

Af­ter that I dead-headed the hy­drangeas. It re­ally was quite the morn­ing.

“I look like Simba from The Lion King,” I told my hus­band. My hair was a mane; I could have torn apart a gazelle sand­wich.

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