Please tell me that everything is going to be okay…”
No, that’s not really how the song goes, but it’s what I keep hearing in my head. You can listen to the song, in this case performed by Cheryl Crow and Emmylou Harris, here: https://youtu.be/6xT3GCkhvoA
Once again, I turn to my blog as a way of helping me to make sense of things, melanging images and words to ease my mind (and perhaps that of someone reading this from afar). It’s interesting how photos that I have made awhile ago sometimes become more poignant and appropriate months or even a year or so down the road. This one is a case in point.
Yesterday was a monumental day for me. After months of knowing that my fibroid embolization had failed; after months of experiencing daily, sometimes crippling, pain; after a lifetime of experiencing hemorrhagic bleeding every single month; after more than twenty years of believing that I had endometriosis and finally having that diagnosis confirmed… yesterday, I took a deep breath and scheduled my hysterectomy to take place in April.
I’m scared. It’s normal, this is a major surgery, and the endometriosis makes it even more complicated. My doctor is gentle and compassionate. He listens well, and he is the first doctor who suspected that I had endometriosis and validated how it and the fibroids have caused me a lot of pain and suffering over the years. He has a manner that is reassuring, and I trust him. I am confident that he will do everything in his power to make sure that the procedure goes well. It’s still scary, however. Things happen. Not everything is within his locus of control. My last experience with anesthesia wasn’t a good one, but he has assured me that I will be completely asleep this time and will not feel anything during the procedure. I will be blissfully unaware of what is happening and have no memory of it. I am holding onto that notion, clenching it tightly in both hands.
The word “Hysterectomy” brings up stuff for a lot of women. Some women are scared of losing their femininity, seeing the womb as the ultimate symbol of their womanhood. One of the women who lives in our village, whom I encounter regularly on my afternoon walks, told me that her hysterectomy was 25 years ago and that it took her months to get over the loss of her uterus because for her, it had been the home of her babies. She grieved hard after her hysterectomy. Other women have told me that it was the best decision they have ever made, that it gave them back their bodily autonomy and their liberty. Others have said that they did it because they had no other choice, that what they were experiencing was just not sustainable. They were rather stoic about it.
I am 49 years old. In my case, the baby-making factory shut its doors many years ago. My daughter is 26, and I knew after her birth that I had no intention of ever becoming pregnant again. I don’t grieve for symbolic loss of my femininity. It is not my uterus that makes me a woman, although there is a certain nostalgia that surrounds the notion of the womb. My children are the only ones with whom I have had such an intense bond that they actually breathed through my body. And given that he is no longer here, on this round, blue planet, I cherish that unique connection to my son. The scar on my abdomen that resulted from his birth remains a tangible testament to the fact that there was once a time when he was here, when I could physically feel his presence, when he was a part of me. The last time I touched him was almost 11 years ago, and my scar aches when I think about that last touch and how hard it struck me when I noticed at precisely that moment, that he had my hands.
The body remembers.
My uterus aches with joy when I think of the moment of my daughter’s birth, immediately after her first breath, when I had been completely unaware of whether she was a boy or a girl. The doctor teased me for a few seconds before finally relenting and telling me that she was a healthy, little girl. I forced myself to sit up and verify that indeed, she was a girl. Then I lay back on the bed and said breathlessly, “Thank god! That means that I never have to do this again!” I drifted off into a state of delirium and bliss, oxytocin coursing through my veins, as they handed her to me and she nursed for the first time. I had wanted a little girl so much, and she was, and still is, the most precious gift I have ever received.
Yesterday my doctor told me that some women experience fantom pains after a hysterectomy, which is something I had never heard. Their nerves send signals to the brain as if the sick uterus is still there, behaving as it always did. I knew this was the case with amputated limbs, but not with the uterus. Not that I anticipate having that problem I just find it fascinating. As a trauma therapist, I was taught that the body catalogs and codes memories at the cellular level at the precise point of injury, that they are not just something that exists within the rolodex of certain regions of the brain. Our history is embedded into every muscle and nerve fiber of our being, into the atoms that make up our blood. We carry our past with us. Wherever we go, there it is.
Today, I honor the voyage that brought me here, the moments of grace and the moments of gut-wrenching grief that have punctuated my life. I honor the moments of quiet reflection and those of intimate, authentic connection with others. So many people have shared their stories with me and listened as I shared mine. What an honor and a privilege it has been to have been a part of their journey, even if only for a limited time. In the end, all time is limited, isn’t it? I vow to move forward toward this surgery with an openness toward the possibility of better health and a lightness of being, with reverence for everything that has brought me to this point, with gratitude for those whom I have known and loved. I vow to remain open to the Muse, to invite her to come in and drink a cup of tea with me while we see where this leads me in an artistic sense. Art and writing are the only ways I know how to make sense of my experience. I am lucky— The Muse is no stranger to me. She will heed the call, and together we will transform this into something that is melancholic and beautiful in equal measure. And finally, I vow to move toward the surgery with the knowledge that, though I am scared, I can do this, and in the end, I will be better for it. And so I shall…
Until next time…