If I were a boy.

Even just for a day, I may not have chosen to have hipppp, re-place-ment surg-ery until laterrr.

This post is not about Beyonce – although her music does mark some pretty key memories in my life – it’s about gender and the choices we make in life based on it. Not just gender as a cultural concept, but also sex because until there’s a medical miracle males can’t give birth to humans without significant intervention.

Let’s start with sex. I was born a female, still am a female. Last year I was diagnosed with ‘moderately severe’ osteoarthritis in my left hip, to which a contributing factor was undiagnosed developmental dysplasia of the hip (DDH).

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Healthy Hips Australia
  • Female: tick
  • First born: yes, it’s me and (not so) lil’ bro
  • Family history of hip dysplasia: my father had a hip replacement at 52, does this count?
  • More likely in left hip than right hip: yep

If I were a boy, my chances of developing hip dysplasia would be statistically lower.

But I’m not, I’m a female so let’s crack on…

If I were a boy, I may not have taken such a liking to BodyStep, BodyJam and BodyBalance. Let’s not make too many generalisations but, in the absence of solid, statistical data for group fitness participants, how many classes of the above-mentioned Les Mills programs have you seen where there’s been more males than females? Yeah, I haven’t seen many either (though everyone should do yoga, regardless of gender).

[To be clear, we’re now moving into gender rather than sex, because who’s to say that it’s ‘natural’ for females to dance more than males? There’s an element of cultural attribution to this]

Sure, I might have played cricket or soccer and done equal damage to my joints by doing so… but wait, I did play these sports! Then I stopped because we weren’t taken seriously (cricket) and vanity got the better of me at 16, I hated having bruises on my shins from soccer tackles. There’s something in there about how we raise women to value their looks and men to value their sporting ability (including battle scars)…

I chose the gym when I returned to Perth in late 2003, at almost 18, over sport because fuck it, you can study whilst using the stationary bike. That’s so very effective (it’s not) and efficient! Funny how we’re hard-wired for efficiency even when it’s not very effective. Also, there were hot guys there and when I started working there as a receptionist, the gym was paying me to workout. I grew to love the BodyStep – the ultimate in camp aerobics – and the yoga-based BodyBalance classes. Later, when I moved to New Zealand and was clearly using exercise as a coping mechanism (oh the unsustainable endorphin high!), I got hooked on BodyJam (dance) classes. I’d do 4-5 per week and ride the wave of adrenalin, dopamine and endorphins. I got used to muscle fatigue during this time. I got used to pain… between 2003 and 2009, I probably did a fair bit of damage to my joint cartilage as well. Very. High. Impact. Exercise.

I don’t know if this actually happens but… I have a theory that I overused my joints because my muscles were so fatigued (and under-nourished, MUST EAT FOOD) most of the time that it was painful to use them to facilitate proper lower body movement. Hence I dumped into the joints. I didn’t allow my body time to recover because if I did, I’d get sad. True story. You should always have a toolbox of coping mechanisms.

So my gender had something to do with the exercise I chose in my early 20’s and likely, the resulting joint decay. Though who’s to say it wouldn’t have been worse had I become a bro in the gym? Who knows… it would have been different in some way.

But in my mid-to-late 20’s I was doing yoga more regularly than any other form of movement (still weight-training and cardio but #yogaeverydamnday at some points). I did yoga because it felt good – which was the same reason I did BodyJam (look up ‘dopamine addiction’) – and made me move better. Stiff muscles, usually from weight-training or cycling, were eased and lesser-used ones tested.

My physio and surgeon have both said that it’s likely that the yoga (plus other weight-bearing exercise) that I did, helped me manage the arthritis pain. This doesn’t mean there wasn’t pain when I was exercising – oh jeez there bloody was! I have vivid memories of the first day of yoga retreat in Bali, oozing into a hot mess of tears and sweat in long-held yin poses that stretched the muscles of my hips. Crying because ‘yoga tears’ (emotions being stored in the body) but also because my hips were so, SO tight.

Now, how many men do you see in yoga classes? These days up to 50% of the class might be male, but there’s still more females than males doing yoga.

If I were a boy, I probably would have continued with competitive team sport and over time, moved over to gym-based workouts and maybe running (HAHAHAHA, running). If I’d felt my legs and hips getting tighter, I probably would have a) seen a physio, b) done a lot of foam rolling, c) got a sports massage, or maybe, just maybe d) done yoga.

I highly doubt that, as a boy, I would have collapsed into the same oozing puddle of sweat and tears doing a yoga pose that I did whilst on retreat in 2015.

Boys don’t cry, “toughen up princess” and other aspects of toxic masculinity.

Men handle pain differently to woman; aside from the biological differences, culture and psychology play a role too. Pain can leave you vulnerable. Men handle vulnerability differently to women. Few men are taught that it’s ok to be vulnerable. I won’t go into toxic masculinity too much – Tim Winton writes beautifully on it here – but will assert that pain, and our collective experience of it, can often be perceived through a gendered lens.

If I were a boy and felt pain in my hips, I might have reacted differently. Would I have pushed harder through the pain? Ignoring it until it severely incapacitated me?

Maybe. I’m pretty good, a bit too good actually, at pushing through pain and not listening to my body (always a work in progress). If I were a 30 year-old male who went to the gym and used social media, I would have definitely come across these messages…

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And sure, pushing through pain achieves results but at what cost? Can you push through pain still maintain full body awareness (i.e. ‘listen to your body’)? I’ve seen very few people who can and they are highly skilled at navigating between both ends of this spectrum…

Lastly, my decision to have hip replacement surgery would have been different if I were a boy because boys can’t have babies. It’s that simple. And that was the final kicker, let’s be honest. Funny Pictures - The abdomen of a pregnant girl and a man who drinks beer

Pregnant Emma without hip replacement surgery: carrying an additional minimum 11kg on a joint that had almost no cartilage around it to protect it, plus added joint laxity due to the hormones released in pregnancy. NO THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Ouch, ouch, ouch.

Having a hip replacement is something I never thought I’d have to think about, in relation to starting a family. But hey, life happens and it’s all about choices.

I choose to have a hip replacement… so let’s go!

Thank you Google (or not)

"When your legs don't work like they used to before,
And I can't sweep you off of your feet."

I was folding washing when our Google Home played this song. I asked the Google to “play some music like this song”. The Google replied, “Here’s a Spotify playlist called ‘ Sad Songs’.”  Hmmm, I didn’t know my music taste was that depressing. Thanks Google…

It’s been 7 years since I started writing insteadofanemail as a lonely, intellectually-starved teacher in Dongara. Apparently seven-year cycles are a thing, so it makes sense to start something new in 2018. Inspired by Ed Sheeran. Not meant to be sad. Ok, it’s likely that some of it will be sad (writing is cathartic) – but also hopeful, nostalgic, ambitious, funny, informative and more.

The legs. My legs. They definitely don’t work like they used to. On 13 September 2017, I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in both hips. That’s the thing that your grandma has, or maybe your mum. Definitely not your now-32-year-old friend. That friend who used to teach fitness classes in her 20’s and dance until dawn at nightclubs, the one who still does a lot of yoga, weight-training and cycling. She’s strong and flexible, isn’t she?

Sometimes your ego gets smacked about with a dose of reality. 

One Friday evening I was snuggled up on the couch with my boyfriend, watching some kind of highly emotional TV show. It may or may not have been The Bachelorette finale. I got up off the couch once Stu had officially won Sophie Monk’s heart and OUCH!!! I couldn’t put any weight on my left leg without searing pain radiating through my hip and leg. With Ken’s help, I made it into bed after taking some anti-inflammatories and barely slept. In the morning the leg was still not going to hold any weight. After an emergency trip to the miracle-worker and a few needles in my bum, I could walk again without hobbling.

It wasn’t until a routine GP appointment that Friday – the pain had subsided slightly during the week thanks to another physio visit – that I wondered if the acute pain may have been indicative of something else. I mean, it had been a pretty stressful few weeks at work and Ken had only moved in with me five weeks beforehand but… I was sent for some x-rays by the GP.

The call you never want to receive occurred just as I started work; “Dr Weir would like to make an urgent appointment with you. Can you come in this afternoon?” Sure, ummm ok. I spent the afternoon Googling ‘abnormal hip x-ray’ (note to self: never do this again). Ken and I fronted up at 4pm to the doctors surgery. We were ushered in, the doctor sat down, turned to us and said, “You have osteoarthritis.” Cue tears. Lots of tears. Thank goodness Kenny was there because someone had to remember what the GP said… though to me the most shocking thing was when I asked if it would affect pregnancy (LONG TERM THINKING). She replied, “Well, you’re so small that they’d probably do a c-section on you anyway.” WHAT?!

And that’s the kicker. That something could affect not only the Emma I’d outgrown, but also the Emma I’m slowly growing into. My hips are central to my idea of self.

My hips were an asset when I was nannying as a 17 year-old in Boston, carrying a child on each side around the house as the snow poured down outside. My hips swayed just enough to make the boys glance in first year university, I always did like walking away. And in the evenings, my wing-woman and I danced our little bottoms off at clubs (Clubba, Red Sea and Clubba) until dawn broke. Or we left early and our hips got a different kind of workout that evening. My hips held me strong when I completed my BodyBalance training at 20, equally keen and nervous to teach a group of gym-goers yoga. When in Auckland and doing 5+ dance classes a week, the movement of my hips set me free from the mental chaos of my job. My job where I wore pencil skirts that hugged the curve of my hips, with sky-high heels that contorted my posture something wicked.

Well, I don’t bother with pencil skirts anymore, nor sky-high heels because frankly both  inhibit freedom of movement and also, there’s no one want I want to sleep with at work. I’m very happy in my relationship and my job. Things have changed.

The one thing that is the same however, is this comment made to me back in 2010; “Gee, you really don’t let the grass grow under you!” Right now that’s not by choice, I literally can’t sit down for long periods without discomfort. Ha ha ha.

The grass grows whichever side of the fence you water regularly, tend lovingly and respond appropriately to the environmental conditions. My environment in 2018 is vastly different to what it was 10, 5 or even 3 years ago – aside from the old lady hips, the biggest difference is that I’m in love (more on that later).

Within the next month we will determine, with the help of the orthopaedic surgeon, when I will get a hip replacement. Major elective surgery, I guess? In my mind, what’s more major is the mental transition from the Emma described above to the Emma who… I’m not sure yet. That’s what this blog is for: finding out.

I can’t wait to get into gardening and golf!!!