Tuesday, October 23, 2018

why I'm saying goodbye to my tattoo


It was a warm fall day in Massachusetts on the day I met with the bishop to interview him for a cover story for our alumni magazine. As I sat across from the bishop, asking about his vision, I saw my tattoo out of the corner of my eye. I tugged at my Oxford shirt's rolled up sleeves. Tattoos weren't acceptable working at a Catholic school (I was Director of Advancement at my old high school) and I wanted to be respectful of the bishop. I typically wore long sleeves at school (which covered up the quarter size starfish tattoo a few inches above my wrist) but the day was so unseasonably warm that I had forgotten that my ink was showing. As he spoke, I rolled my sleeve down. I'm sure he had already seen it but he said nothing. Some people at school knew I had a tattoo. Occasionally a student would spot the aqua ink and whisper "That is so cool" or give me a thumbs up. One day in the cafeteria, a female student shyly rolled her sleeve up to show me a delicate scrolled tattoo on her wrist. It was about survival. Whatever she had survived didn't kill her and this was her reminder.

Tattoos are such a personal thing and there is a story for everyone's tattoo journey. Ask someone about his tattoo and he'll tell you about the trip to Vegas when he and his friends all got the same symbol or she'll tell you why that tiny dove is inked behind her ear. My story is simple. The little blue starfish symbolizes a pregnancy loss. I felt like I needed a physical reminder of what almost broke my spirit, my heart.

And so, on a family vacation to Key West, my sister-in-law and I went to a tattoo artist. Together, we chose our tattoos (a Tiffany blue starfish for me and a paw print for my veterinarian sister-in-law). The process of getting a tattoo was MUCH more painful that I expected. Through tears I suggested that they may want to offer shots of tequila before getting inked.

The tattoo healed in no time and I was very happy with this little starfish on my wrist. It was lovely but over time, each time I looked at it, I didn't feel healed. I felt sad. I remembered the day of the loss, the emptiness I felt, the pain of hiding my emotions when another friend announced her pregnancy while I was going through yet another loss after fertility treatments. Every time I looked at the starfish, I thought of shots, tests, prayers and gut-wrenching sadness. Instead of providing me comfort, I just felt hyperaware of my loss. The tattoo needed to go.

Some people feel little pain getting inked. To me, it felt like beestings. However, having a tattoo removed is OBSCENELY painful. For the past nine months I have visited a laser specialist every 12 weeks as he uses nanotechnology to zap my ink. L asked me what it felt like. The pain of the laser heating up the ink to a point that the colors shatter into nano pieces is indescribable. The process itself is pretty simple. As his assistant uses a tool to blow freezing air at the area, the dermatologist uses a laser to trace the ink. It lasts only about thirty seconds but each one of those seconds I thought "I can't handle another moment. Oh my God, please stop. Stopstopstopstop." And then it was over. As soon as he stops, the pain is gone. His assistant smooths on some ointment and a bandage and that's it. Over the week that follows, the area blisters a little and the color begins to fade. It takes about twelve weeks to see the full effect of the treatment. (Friends who have noticed the tattoo fading have asked why I don't just have another tattoo designed on top of it. I would. I like tattoos but there isn't a design that I really want. If in the future I decide to get another tattoo, it will have its own place on my body.)

Am I happy I got the tattoo? Yes, it was the right decision at the time. It was what I thought I needed. However, I am happy that there is a process to reverse it as well. The pain of what I lost is part of my story. It's tattooed right there on my heart.

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