The hysterectomy. It is a go.
After a lot of phone calls and delays, twists and turns, and tweets, it happened. I’m scheduled for January 10, 2018.
That’s the first time I think I’ve typed 2018 on this blog. January 10, 2018 is the date that I will no longer have a uterus which suddenly feels like a big deal. I mean, I am definitely interested in the ‘pros’ such as losing the pain, no more fibroids, no more risk of uterine or cervical cancer. I feel absolutely zero negative feelings about not ever being pregnant or having a child – that’s the greatest, best decision I ever made in my whole entire life.
While I was working on a blog post update about the Period Dignity campaign by The Velvet Hearts and New Voices Pittsburgh, it suddenly hit me that after my surgery (and recovery) I will not need to use tampons or pads again.
I got my first period in 8th grade. I’ve been regularly menstruating for 34 years. That’s 408 cycles. It is estimated that the typical menstrual cycle requires 20 tampons or pads. That’s 8,160 tampons or pads. I would definitely round-up that number.
I used pads as a kid. I used tampons sporadically, but I was scared of them. There was no one to discuss this with really. After I was diagnosed with endometriosis in 1994, I switched over to reusable pads made from organic cotton. I even had a moon jar to soak the pads until they were washed. That lasted about a year.
My attitude toward menstruation and my body changed when I received that diagnosis. I educated myself on all of the things, starting with the book ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ which I still have. I was living in a rural Western Kentucky community where the local women taught me how they used rags as menstrual pads to conserve money.
Not organic, cute printed cotton pads. No moon jars. Not a choice. Rags. I learned this because I was running a thrift store and wondered why so many of our local volunteers took home the rags in quantities far beyond what seemed useful for cleaning. They used the rags for toilet paper and pads. And other things.
I know some women who use a menstrual cup which is certainly fine. But the snobbery of privilege occasionally seeps into these conversations, especially when discussing providing products to vulnerable girls and women. Menstrual cups are not practical for or desired by a lot of women. That doesn’t make them a bad thing, but in a society where girls miss school because they don’t have products and adults use rags … we need to offer dignified options, not impose our personal choices on other people. Dignity around reproductive health is not an entitlement, it is a human right.
And with that segueway, I realize that I’m not as reconciled to a hysterectomy as I thought. My defacto stance is to turn things that make me uncomfortable into a project or social justice thread. When I catch myself doing this, I need to take a few steps backwards and reexamine.
As you would expect, I’m a little anxious about the surgery and the recovery. What if something goes wrong? What if I end up needing a full abdominal incision rather than a laparoscopic procedure? What if they find something unexpected and have to remove my ovaries? What if the pathology reports indicate cancer? What if I don’t handle the anesthesia well? What about feeling completely vulnerable and helpless in a space where no one can save me? After, all #MeToo.
Then there is the recovery. Will it go smoothly? Will I sob? Do I have enough supplies? Should I buy more sweatpants? Will I be shamed because I take a benzo for anxiety and may need an opiate for pain management? (My doctor already discussed this with me, but I’ve been shamed before.) How will Ledcat get to and from the T while I can’t drive? How are we going to deal with the increasingly senile, screaming cat whose weight is over the approved lift-limit, but who can’t jump onto the bed on his own?
What impact will removing a uterus that’s filled with the equivalent of an orange and two plums have on my body itself? I expect that being pain-free and less existentially worried about cancer will mean I’ll feel better, but what does better feel like? I’ve been very sick for two and a half solid months so I don’t even remember better. I’ve been walking around like this since 1994 or earlier so God knows what to expect. Have I ever experienced better or will this be completely new?
And sex. The surgeon brought up the topic while discussing removal of the cervix. He told us that some women are concerned that their male partners won’t enjoy intercourse without a cervix. We both laughed. He thought it was because we are lesbians. I told him that no, it was because neither of us would ever want the other person to make healthcare decisions based on the perceived sexual satisfaction of the other. Sexuality is always impacted by poor health and sexuality is fluid enough to adapt to body changes. Plus, we’ve both read ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves.’ We trust science-based and evidence based information.
I do think what’s bothering me is my vulnerability. I feel wrung out and fragile right now. I have to trust people I don’t know while I’m helpless. Add to that the fact that my therapist is leaving Persad next week so I don’t have that relationship to fall back upon to process all of this. Persad itself is changing leadership so I have no idea about the future of AMPLIFY as a fiscally sponsored project.
As tempting as it is to step into saviour mode to focus on all of the issues that are so much more important than my stuff right now, I literally have to stay focused on this soon to be empty space inside my core and figure out what it means. Yes, I am removing something I have lugged around for 34 years (in functioning mode) but really for 47 years as an essential part of my being. Epigenetics and the study of inherited trauma suggest that the egg that would become Sue was formed not in 1970, but in mid 1942 when my mother was in-utero:
girls are born with their one and only lifetime supply of eggs. Around the 20th week of gestation, a female fetus has developed a reproductive system, including 6 to 7 million eggs in her ovaries.
The matrilineal line looks much like a nested Russian doll.
The egg that created you was formed inside of your mother’s fetus while she was inside of your grandmother’s womb.
This could explain my interest in my 2x great grandmothers since my two grandmothers were created by eggs formed inside their mother’s fetus while they were inside the wombs of my second great-grandmothers.
See, another digression. I’m better at this than I thought.
So while I haven’t used my uterus the way the Good Lord intended (no fetus), it certainly has occupied a lot of my physical and emotional (and financial) energy for the last forever amount of years. I’m ready to say good-bye, but honest enough to do so in my own way. I want this to be a decision that strengthens me, not renders me more vulnerable in a society that already perceives me as weak and ripe for exploitation.
So the date is set. The pet sitter is coming to the house for the day. The presurgical routine is ready. We have a lot of tea. Ledcat has requested time-off. I joined the HysterSisters website which is brimming with diversity of experiences and opinions.
We all know I’ll pick up something to champion as I process my own recovery. I’m horrified by the impact of menstrual stigma on my immediate circle of friends – cis women who just assume they are in menopause and don’t seek medical support, my transgender and nonbinary friends whose experienes with reproductive healthcare has been traumatizing, young people with uteri who still don’t resist the ‘curse’ of pain and heavy bleeding, and so forth.
Please don’t let stigma keep you from accessing the healthcare you deserve. If you don’t feel comfortable asking your own doctor, seek out other sources. If you don’t have access to respectful care, consider Planned Parenthood or ask, ask, ask. You aren’t doomed to pain in your youth and you aren’t fated to misery in midlife because you have a uterus.
Healthcare is our right. Remember that.
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