When you are reading this, I will be in an operating room having my lady box removed by a robot. For the last year or so, I have been dealing with the inevitable reality of having a hysterectomy. Severe menorrhagia that has left me so anemic I have needed blood transfusions, an ovary that has a very large cyst which causes searing pain in my side, and the fact that I’m done having children, has led me and my doctor to this operation. Other less invasive procedures haven’t worked for me, D&Cs, ablations, all gave me a few days of no bleeding before I resumed my role as an unwilling star of my very own menses horror movie, unable to leave my house because of the severity of my bleeding.
My life for the past year has been hundreds of dollars spent on tampons and pads, never-ending laundry and trips to the doctor and emergency room. I look like shit. I’m unusually pale. I’m always cold. I have no energy and I get dizzy walking to my mailbox, taking the dog out. Leaving my house require a purse full of feminine supplies and careful planning about where the bathrooms are located where I am going. I don’t go to the mall, to grocery stores. I’m always tired. I’m sick of taking iron supplements, the endless amounts of red meat I’ve eaten to try and compensate for the amount of blood I lose daily.
I’m sick of my children being witness to my blood. It’s everywhere. No matter how careful I am, how much “personal feminine protection” I use at once, there are always accidents, the puddles of blood on the bathroom floor or the stray drops after I get out of the shower. The one time I stood up to greet my teenager as he entered the kitchen after school, a surge of blood gushing from my uterus and soaking my jeans as I steadied myself against the counter and my husband rushed home to take me to the hospital.The blood clots the size of small kittens.
Lots of women have had hysterectomies. One third of all women before they turn 60. But no one talks about it. It’s a terribly unglamorous procedure. It’s viewed as a loss of womanhood, fertility, youth. There isn’t much sexy about it, unless you factor in the points you will no longer need birth control and you won’t be bleeding so much that having intercourse requires hurricane levels of mattress protection. If 20 million American woman have undergone a hysterectomy, why isn’t anyone talking about it? The only famous people who have talked openly about their hysterectomies are Fran Drescher, Beverly Johnson and Chaz Bono. Twenty million women and the only famous people admitting to it are two who haven’t been terribly famous for over 20 years and the offspring of a very famous person who had a hysterectomy for endometriosis.
We talk about everything in this country. We talk openly and bravely about our rapes, about our abortions, about everything having to do with our bodies, ourselves. Except the loss of our reproductive organs.
I don’t really understand the stigma of hysterectomies. It’s just a surgery to correct problems women are having with their reproductive equipment. Not having a uterus won’t change who I am as a person, as a woman. It just means I will no longer be able to have children. I may reach menopause at an earlier age, but at age 42, the numerous tests I have undergone suggest I am premenopausal anyway.
I have slight melancholy over the fact my baby-making days are over, but I would have these if I kept my uterus or not. I am blessed with three gorgeous, amazing children and a stepson who I love beyond words. I’ve had enough babies. I can always use any baby want I have towards doing volunteer work with children. I’m not sad about not being able to get pregnant, but I am scared about having the surgery.
When you are reading this, I won’t be scared because I won’t be conscious. I’ll be under anesthesia while my doctor, her assistant, and the hysterectomy robot are doing their job. But as I write this, a mere few days before I have the surgery, I’m scared senseless. The rational part of me understands that hysterectomies are safe, the type of hysterectomy I’m getting will be minimally invasive, that my recovery will be shorter and less painful than what women a decade ago underwent when having the operation. I’m told I’ll be in the hospital for just a few days, that I’ll feel tired and sore for about a week, that I may not feel like doing much other than sleeping for a few weeks.
I can’t drive for six weeks. I can’t lift things, or clean my house, or take a bath for a while. I’m ready and rational and able to cope with all of this. The irrational part of me panics that I won’t wake up from the surgery, that I’ll die, that I’ll never have my stomach hurt with laughter when my middle son says something absurd and irreverent, I’ll never stay up late with my oldest discussing movies or music, that I’ll never again smell my daughter’s skin, feel her warm breath on my face as she falls asleep next to me, her tiny body burrowed into the crook of my arm.
I know that having these thoughts are normal, even if I hate having them. I’m not a very religious person, but feel free to cross your fingers that nothing terrible happens and that I’ll wake up in recovery so I can continue loving the people I love so deeply for many more years.
There are practical concerns with this surgery.
I’m the boss of the house. My husband, of course, thinks he’s the boss of it all because as a man he thinks he has to be the boss of it. But deep down, we all know I’m the boss. I have children who need to be fed and clothed and policed and yelled at and who still need me to sit next to them while they study their spelling words. I won’t be able to be the boss of things for a while. And we have no outside help.
I realize that everyone is capable and willing to do their part around my house to keep things functioning on a less-than-savage level, but I fully expect things will partially fall apart when I’m recuperating. There will be many dinners accompanied by cheap, plastic toys served in greasy paper sacks. All homework assignments may not get done on time. My husband will have to miss a bit of work. He may not be able to braid my daughter’s hair the way I do. My son may try and get away with wearing shorts in November. The dog may wind up eating cookies left on tables. I’m not scared of the fact things may be tricky for a while, but I’m really hoping Santa brings me a cleaning person.
My house is clean. My hospital bag is packed. All laundry for my kids is done. Now I just wait until Monday morning. The waiting is nerve-wracking. I’ll probably clean some more, stock up on essentials so my family doesn’t eat the cat, change the linens in my recovery bed and make sure the television remotes and my iPad are close by. I’ll spend these last few days hugging my kids extra hard and reminding my husband not to let my son buy that video game that uses the word “slut” in it. I’ll try and sleep and eat healthy and I’ll take my shower with the antibacterial soap late Sunday night, the day before my surgery only consuming clear liquids and probably pacing a lot.
Women have hysterectomies every day. I’ll just be one of them. The only difference is, I’m going to talk about it constantly. When someone mentions they lost their car keys or their wallet I will say things like “Oh yeah, I lost my uterus, so suck it!” I’m never going to have to buy another extra-absorbant overnight super heavy duty maxi pad again, or shove three of them in my underwear so I won’t have to wake up to my bed looking like a crime scene. I’ll only have to shower once a day. I can eventually stop calculating how much iron is in my food along with what foods to eat with it in order to absorb the iron more efficiently. I’ll be able to stop wearing extra layers of clothing in the summer because I’m always so cold. And I’ll be the same exact person as I am now, just without a lady box. All woman, no uterus. Me and 20 million other women.