It all began when I was fourteen years old and was having chronic ovarian cysts rupture multiple times a month. They were painful and I had no idea what was happening. I lived solely with my dad, and pretty much relied on the care of Planned Parenthood to help me through all of my “female” issues because I was too embarrassed to talk with my dad about them. I became very good friends with the nurses at Planned Parenthood which was walking distance from my high school. They tried numerous forms of birth control to try and control the cysts, and for a few years, I self-medicated for the pain. About that same point in life, I was in a car crash and had to have reconstructive spinal surgery so that became my family’s medical focus…and it’s a heck of a lot less embarrassing to talk to your father about your spine than your hoohah!
Eighteen years old and living on my own, I would experience hideous menstrual cycles, so back to Planned Parenthood I went. The doctor told me in “layman terms” that only one of my ovaries functioned and my uterus was covered in endometriosis. He said that the odds of me having a baby were slim. Since my spinal surgeon had told me that it was not a great idea to get pregnant because of the stress on my spine, I concluded that babies were not in my future. So I popped birth control pills every day and did not allow myself to have a period. Four years later I was pregnant….ummm WHAT, how did that happen (yea, yea I know how it happened) but I was on birth control with only one working ovary. WOW, did I feel like Miranda from Sex and the City!
One beautiful baby girl later, and I was figuring out this motherhood thing (barely, but I was doing it!) When my daughter was six, I got married to an amazing man who had a three-year-old little boy and we formed our little family. Before we got married, we talked and talked about having a baby between the two of us. He knew the odds were slim, but it was a glimmer of hope in our relationship. However during our honeymoon, I spent much of it with such horrendous cramping and curled up in the fetal position.
By this point in my life I had a Mirena IUD instead of birth control pills. A few emergency trips later it was discovered that the IUD had perforated my uterus and I was mimicking childbirth. After many different treatments my gynecologist informed me that due to damage and infection I needed a full hysterectomy. I was a 30-year-old newlywed.
Two days later I was in the operating room losing my uterus and ovaries.
The reality had not yet hit, I was just happy to have some answers and possible relief to the excruciating pain. Maybe I could go to the grocery store and not have to stop in the cereal aisle and use my lamaze breathing because my uterus thought I was in labor. Maybe I would have a day that I did not feel like stabbing myself in the stomach in order to relieve my pain.
Fast forward through recovery and to the day of attending my best friends baby shower. I was so ecstatic for her. She was, in fact, the same friend who offered to be a surrogate for me if I still wanted another baby. But all of a sudden I am sitting across the room from her and watching her ooh and ahh at tiny slippers and my heart broke in a million pieces. I excused myself and and made my two hour drive home, crying the entire time. At one point, I pulled into a rest stop because I was sobbing so hard that I was hyperventilating.
No one warned me that I would feel like I had lost part of myself, like I had lost myself, like I had lost my choice, like I had lost my control of my own femininity.
When I was fourteen I was raped, my virginity was taken from me. At thirty-years-old I felt like the same 14 year old girl. Like everything that involved my vagina was out of my own control.
Almost ten years later, I can look back and make this connection; I did not understand that I was feeling a lack of power over my womanhood because I had a hysterectomy. Instead, I thought I was solely grieving for the fact that I could never have a child with my husband, that I could not fulfill his desire to have a baby with me. I thought I was only grieving because I felt like a disappointment.
As women we are blessed to have the anatomy to grow children in our womb and we often take lightly the incredible honor and gift that this is. When it is taken away from us, we do not realize that we need to grieve the loss of what might have been. This is true not just with hysterectomies, but also sexual abuse. Often when women are sexually abused, they experience medical endocrine issues, sometimes a year later and sometimes ten years later. It is where the pain from our trauma is held and can end up causing a range of physical and emotional pain. The mind is an incredibly powerful tool – it can heal us, yet create so much pain.
Every day I am grateful that I am blessed with a daughter and a stepson. They are my world, and I know that there is a reason my family is designed as it is. I have also accepted that it is okay that I grieve for my uterus, along with my virginity.