“Oh… she still has her ovaries.”
Those were the first words I heard a nurse say as I started to wake up in recovery from surgery a little over a year ago. There were two nurses standing at the foot of my bed, and I don’t think either of them realized I could hear them. I was scheduled to have a myomectomy, but wound up having a hysterectomy instead. I suffered from uterine fibroids which are [usually] benign tumors that are actually pretty common in women (one in four over the age of 35); however, fibroids disproportionately affect African American women and are often hereditary. And unfortunately, I come from a long line of women affected by these little suckers. I’d had them since I was 19 and after a difficult pregnancy and the birth of my daughter, my symptoms began to worsen.
I was hurt. I was actually in mourning. I felt like something had been stolen from me and not just the ability to carry a child, but some version of the life I envisioned for myself.
Now, let’s get back to that recovery room. Even through the haze of waning anesthesia, one thing was clear to me- I would never be able to give birth again. I knew a hysterectomy was a slight possibility, but I was hoping it wouldn’t come to that. And over the next few weeks, I did what I usually do when I’m confronted with something I’d rather not deal with… I go in to “So, what’s next?” mode.
I started researching hysterectomies. Were my other organs going to shift? Was I likely to go into early menopause? Was this like losing a limb, where sometimes I might actually feel like it’s still there? (No, seriously, I felt like that.)
Then, I started exploring other alternatives to having another baby. At 33, how many eggs should I still be able to produce and what were my odds of having some harvested and frozen for later? Excuse me, it costs HOW much to have my eggs extracted and frozen?! Was I a good candidate for adopting a baby?
And then I started investigating how other women in similar situations were coping with this change. An important note: There’s a whole community of hysterectomy support online- my personal fave is www.hystersisters.com where I also discovered the etymology of the word hysterectomy. (It’s pretty interesting.) And apparently, last fall, the first uterine transplant was performed in Sweden!
Anyway, every time one of my girlfriends asked me how I felt about not having any more kids, my standard response was “I’m a little sad, but I’m really just happy to be healthy…and I’m feeling better already.” Ok, that was somewhat true, but here’s what else I was thinking…
“I’m a single parent, and adoption is VERY expensive, and so is surrogacy. I really wanted my daughter to have a sibling. I should have had the surgery earlier and maybe things wouldn’t have been so bad and my uterus could have been saved. What if I fall in love with a man who wants children of his own, and I have to explain that I can’t give him any?”
And then I was angry. I was angry that because of those stupid fibroids I had never even had the chance to have a “normal” pregnancy. I’d spent most of it cooped up on bed rest and gone into pre-term labor three times because of them. And since my ex and I split when I was six months pregnant, I didn’t know what it was like to have a supportive partner in all that. And now, all my chances for a do-over were gone! Yep, I was mad! And I was hurt. I was actually in mourning. I felt like something had been stolen from me and not just the ability to carry a child, but some version of the life I envisioned for myself.
I’ve had a year now to get used to the idea. The feeling of loss is still there to some degree, but I am certainly not the only woman in history to have a hysterectomy. Nor am I the only woman in the world who can no longer have children (think menopause). And there are so many women who suffer from infertility… which makes me truly thankful for my Gabby.
So here’s the bright side. All of the difficulty I experienced before was worth it because Gabby and I both made it through, and I have always had the support of my family. My future husband may show up with some kids of his own, and if not, he may not care that I can’t have anymore. And if what I’m really after is the experience of loving and caring for a child, I can be a foster parent. And I am indeed MUCH healthier and happier.
All is not lost.
Have you struggled with a similar experience? Leave me a comment and we’ll commiserate.