I have a bumble bee jasper stone, polished into the shape of a heart, about the size of my big toe.
A jagged grey line cuts right through the stone, bisecting it in the middle, breaking the heart in half.
The left side is yellow flecked with delicate wisps of off-white and golden ochre. The right side is yellow mottled with angry orange splotches, each starkly outlined in grey.
They say that bumble bee jasper is useful when people are closing chapters in their lives and beginning anew. It enables you to accept change, see new opportunities and explore new avenues.
I tucked the stone into my pocket and brought it into hospital with me, the day before my life split in two.
Next week I will be infused with my donor’s stem cells
The tiny pool of russet-coloured liquid will take just an hour to trickle into my body.
The doctors have told me that the year after transplant will be like my first year as a newborn.
The cells in my mouth, stomach, intestine and muscles will all regrow.
New nails will replace my old nails.
My hair may sprout a different texture.
Alcohol, recreational drugs and wild swimming are forbidden.
Sex is discouraged – and in any case, it comes with a list of precautions that are a real turn-off.
Around 12 months after the procedure, my immature immune system will be ready for its first round of childhood vaccines (the ones I had as a pre-schooler having been wiped out).
Undergoing a stem cell transplant is like being reborn – which is why transplant recipients often mark the anniversaries of their procedures as ‘second birthdays’.
But this won’t be the first time I’ve been born – or even the second.
Still, I’m unsure if it gets any easier with experience.
Being born as a baby is hard work
Just imagine – you’re bobbing in your own private hot tub when, without warning, the entire world starts to cave in.
The walls, literally, pulsate.
Tossed in all directions, you headbutt a closed door. Very very slowly, the door cracks open. Some deep wisdom, which you don’t fully understand, beckons you through.
But you’re the size of a pumpkin. And the door is the size of a pear. On the other side is a blinding pinprick of light.
The prospect is terrifying.
You contemplate your situation for a moment. You live in the Garden of Eden and you do not want to leave. But the heavy-handed push from behind is uncompromising – you are being evicted from Paradise.
As you writhe through the yielding space between your mother’s pelvic bones, the soft tiles of your beautifully round skull misshape into an unattractive cone.
The fluid in your lungs dries up. The lifeline that has nourished you for 9 wonderous months is cut. Adrenaline and extreme cold punch you in the thyroid, revving up your internal thermostat.
No bloody wonder you emerge in a flood of tears.
Being metaphorically born as an adult can be less stressful
In Mexico there is a tradition of temazcales – or ‘sweat lodges’ – which stretches back to ancient Mesoamerica.
Temazcales, like women, come in all shapes and sizes.
Like women, they are always intrinsically round.
For me, a proper temazcal sits below ground level – right inside the belly of Mother Earth. The entrance (and exit) is a corridor, just about large enough for an average sized adult to uncomfortably squeeze through.
(I once saw a tubby señor, haplessly wedged in the doorway of a temazcal, being yanked out by his friends.)
Temazcal is a process of rebirth. It begins under a twinkling sky – when all is calm and quiet, and your senses are still. You crawl solemnly through the tiny opening. There is ceremony inside. Something powerful shifts within you. Then the inevitable moment when you need to surrender your place in the dome’s warm embrace. You scramble on your hands and knees, suffocated by the closeness of the corridor walls, into the daylight.
Today is the first day of the rest of my life
We all slither snakelike through life – constantly shedding skin, starting afresh. Every once in a while, the hot desert sand scorches our underbelly, and the metamorphosis is searing and profound.
I first travelled into this world through my mama’s privates. Since then, I have squashed my enormous body through the mind-bendingly narrow portals of many temazcales. I have been born and reborn – and soon I will be born again.
I sense that the transplant will be my toughest birth yet.
On 15th December next year, I will turn 1. I’m going to ask my mum for a Unicorn cake and chocolate crispies. My besties will come over to play, and we’re all going to sit cross-legged on the floor for pass the parcel.
After all, you’re only 1 once!
Or, in my case, twice.