IT HAPPENED TO ME: I Had A Partial Hysterectomy at 33
Giving up my fertility was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make. For a long time, I regretted it.
I was in my early 20s when I first heard about uterine fibroids. A triage nurse was giving me an ultrasound after some rather... amorous activity with a guy who would eventually become my husband. She pointed to several specks on the screen and said there would be nothing to worry about since they were so small and. Unless I got knocked up, they wouldn’t be an issue.
What the nurse didn’t tell me was that the fibroids would get bigger, which meant longer, heavier, and more painful periods. Over time, my fibroids would acquire an appetite for blood that would rival Audrey II. According to the Center for Uterine Fibroids, they account for ⅓ of all hysterectomies performed in the U.S., and African-American women are three times more likely to develop them. (Incidentally, I can count the number of friends and acquaintances who have undergone surgery to remove them on two hands.)
There were days I was afraid to leave the house because I knew that, by noon, I’d need a change of clothes. I started referring to my ladybits as the “Rex Grossman of Vaginas.” My. Entire. Life. Revolved. Around. My. Fucking. Period.
By 2009, I had enough. It was time to see the wizard for a myomectomy.
My gynecologist agreed, and soon the plans were set in motion. Finally, I said to myself, I could have a happy period, like all those racially ambiguous girls in those tampon commercials! I’ll be cartwheeling through meadows in a white dress! Exchanging “Mmhmm, girl!” looks with my girlfriend after slipping her a sleek, designer sanitary pad undetectable only to those of the opposite sex! I could taste freedom, and Dr. Adams was going to be my pocketbook’s Harriet Tubman.
And then I got pregnant.
What’s worse than fibroids? Being pregnant with fibroids. As such, I was deemed “high-risk” and spent most of my days either chained to my bed or raging out over uncleaned lint traps. It was a bleak period in the Nesbitt Golden household. Had it been a Ken Burns documentary, it would’ve been jam-packed with sepia-toned angst and austere Morgan Freeman voice overs.
At one point, a fibroid attached itself to my placenta -- sucking nutrients from my son -- and I was ordered on bedrest. (Yeah, I didn’t understand it either. Soon I’d realize the level of prenatal care I received was only slightly better than what other women received in third world countries. But that’s another story for another time.)
I’d told my doctor that I wanted a natural birth, which she said was possible since none of the fibroids were blocking the birth canal. As the due date approached, I was assigned another specialist (a gruff Brazilian whose bedside manner could only be described as “Housian”) things would change and my only option would be a C-section.
I must say, though, that the highlight of my prenatal checkups was when the doctor would call in another specialist, point to the ultrasound screen, and exclaim, “That’s a big ass fibroid!” (Ok, so he didn’t say that in so many words, but the rest of that totally happened.)
After my son arrived, my doctors assumed the fibroids would shrink on their own. I was told to wait six months before going through with my myomectomy plans. That six months would turn into 12. By then, I’d sought the expertise of Dr. Norstrom, a woman I’d still kiss on the mouth to this day.
Though myomectomy was still an option, there was no guarantee the tumors wouldn’t return bigger and badder than ever. So the doctor wanted me to consider the idea of a partial hysterectomy.
In my head, it made perfect sense. I’d already had a child and was absolutely certain that I didn’t want any more. Still, I asked for a few days to weigh the pros and cons. A week later, the surgery was scheduled.
There’s something that happens when one is faced with a life-changing decision. They become reflective. Quieter. They observe the world around them with renewed interest.
In the weeks leading up to the surgery, I looked up old friends, rediscovered myself through old writings. I sifted through the detritus of memory, clutching every good moment and holding it close. Since I was more concerned with surviving the surgery than losing my fertility, I joined HysterSisters to stop me from driving myself crazy. My mother, an old-school type who believed that womanhood is tied to the ability to reproduce, was worried that I’d somehow lose my femininity.
“I’ll still be me,” I told her, “only with a little less baggage.” I had to keep telling myself that, too.
The surgery came as fast as it went, and soon I was home, recovering. It took weeks for the incision to heal, months for the numbness around my abdomen to fade away. But the emotional scars stuck around. For a girl who was so certain that she’d be fine if she never had another child, I would tear up every time I saw a little girl reach for her mother’s hand, every time a pregnant woman rubbed her belly. I had dreams about little brown girls I’d never give birth to. I didn’t realize that these feelings were normal until I talked to a therapist.
Some days, I’d trace the scar on my stomach in the shower, fighting the tears. Even my son, who was entering toddlerhood at the time, could sense the sadness. In the next year and a half, I’d do a lot of soul-searching and have a number of early-morning conversations about loss and recovery. It took some time for me to realize that I had been in mourning, that I was still angry about my choice being taken away, angry about my body betraying me.
But friends helped. And therapy. And journaling. Lots and lots of journaling. With the second anniversary of my hysterectomy around the corner, I’m a little closer to finally making peace with my decision. Time makes things easier, not necessarily better. Though there are still days when I feel that twinge of sadness, I’m grateful for the tiny, amazing person currently destroying his mommy’s pony collection. Hopefully I’ll get through the toddler years without having to list him on eBay.