One Year After My Hysterectomy

When I think back to my surgery, a few random thoughts leap to mind.

I remember thirst. My surgeon had allowed me to have Gatorade right up to the moment I went into the pre-surgery room. But there was a delay for the patient ahead of me (they ended up okay so no worries) that delayed my surgery – and prolonged my lack of fluids – by several hours. I was hooked up to an IV so I wasn’t dehydrated, but I was somewhat miserable.

I remember no pillows. The pre-surgery room is usually not occupied for long periods of time so while there was an abundance of warmed towels, hospital socks, and other comforts – no pillows. I was trying to get comfortable on a transport bed using warmed towels as a pillow substitute, hoping a quick nap would make me forget that my mouth had forgotten how to function due to the lack of fluid or ice chips.

I remember freaking out when I woke up from my uncomfortable nap and the room was semi-dark. It was midafternoon and literally every other patient had left along with most of the staff. I half expected to see Carol Burnett’s cleaning lady character in the corner finishing up for the day, but that was probably the self-induced delirium over the lack of moisture anywhere in my body. The next thing I recall was being whisked away from the semi-dark room by a team of doctors and nurses and other masked people.

I knew that anesthesia would soon ease my thirst and I probably would wake to a comfortable room with ice chips and a ginger ale to slowly savor. And a few pillows.

Instead, I came to in a very cramped hospital room, demanding that someone take me to Eat n’ Park immediately and bring me my phone. I sort of remember that and Ledcat filled in the details. I had expected to be discharged, but the lateness of the surgery triggered some little hospital rule that required me to spend the night because I wouldn’t be far along enough in the post-anesthesia protocol for discharge. I was willing to trade my freedom for ice chips so I voiced no complaint.

I drank 14 containers of water, consumed a turkey sandwich, checked Facebook and passed out again.

That was the longest night, mostly because I had to get up a lot to pee. Ouch. The rest of my recovery was relatively smooth at least physically. I was cranky, lonely, and housebound during a horrible bout of winter.

I’m not even sure this is an anniversary to acknowledge. I guess just because I’m glad I had the procedure and it was a major surgery. I don’t have any regrets, just a few wishes for things to go better. And I feel quite fortunate because so, so many people who have these procedures encounter medical difficulties. Most of my difficulties were institutional and that could actually be changed.

I have adapted to not menstruating very easily. I recently had my hormone levels tested and they confirmed I am still ovulating and not near menopause. So I still get the fun of a little PMS, etc, but it is pretty bearable. I definitely do not miss having to buy pads and tampons.

Every once in a while, I’ll find a stray pad or tampon in a purse or tucked into a pocket or drawer. I keep a little pile that I keep intending to donate or give to a friend. It is harder than I expected to stop hoarding a “just in case” item that has been part of my life since 1983. It isn’t hard to stop buying them, but hard to stop carrying them around.

I don’t feel any less of a woman or less connected to my nature. In my mind, the removal of my uterus and cervix were a natural response to their flaws. If anything, I rejoice because my intention to never, ever bring a child into this world is irrevocably resolved. I have experienced sexual violence and assault. I will never have to experience an unwanted pregnancy, even if I were assaulted again. That’s a fucked up sense of comfort, but there you have it.

This surgery was transformative in freeing me of pain and misery as well as unlocking a door to childhood and young adulthood trauma that I thought I could never pry open. That’s a mixed blessing, but it helps me continue to explore the realities of life in America as a middle-aged queer woman who is absolutely not going to have or raise children. It doesn’t mean I don’t like or love children (see every reference to niblings and career in social work), but that I have cleaved myself of role of mother by choice.

But the newly opened door leads to a better understanding of me so I can’t regret that. I regret what I was forced to endure for so many years and the ensuing years of trying to figure out what the hell was wrong with me. Turns out, nothing was wrong with me. My wonky uterus probably protected me from unwanted pregnancy during those years of bad decisions. And its final gift to me was to remind me that I have survived.

One final thought – so many of my siblings experiencing hysterectomies struggle mightily with feeling like they are less of a woman. Perhaps because of queer identity and the massive amount of cisgender privilege I will always have regardless of my internal organs, I don’t share those concerns. I understand and honor that they are genuine, but I simply do not worry about that. Perhaps it is because my lover is also a woman and also queer and did not expect me to ‘bounce back’ to penetrative sexual activity 3 weeks after my surgery – seriously, who does that? Assholes.

Don’t live in pain, my friends. Find allies and advocates and health care providers who listen to you. Question everything. Doublecheck everything. Trust yourself. Talk about menstruation with the young ones who menstruate in your life. Donate pads and tampons to shelters and youth programs and queer spaces.

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