I had a complete and total hysterectomy last summer. I was 32 years old. The day before I checked into the hospital I left my children and their suitcases with my parents, then John and I went out for gelato. He held my hand in the car as I stared out the window and he asked what I was thinking. My voice was thick with emotion as I answered back, “Well… it’s a disappointing ending.”
Sometimes we don’t get the answers we’re hoping for and sometimes the final word on a matter hits like a dagger to the heart.
I’ve known we wouldn’t have biological children for several years. Oh sure, the doctors said there was a miniscule chance (less than 5%) which left just enough room for unlikely hope. But deep down inside I knew. I knew the way some women just know the gender of the baby they’re carrying… I knew I’d never be pregnant ever again. I knew I’d never deliver a child that wasn’t immediately placed in a medical waste bag. What I didn’t know back then was that the part of me that provided a home to those two children, if only for a little while, would soon be placed in a medical waste bag too.
We wrestled with the idea of a hysterectomy for nearly two years. I had scheduled the surgery for December 2015 and then canceled. I took my time thinking through it all, exploring my options, and praying about something that would turn an ellipsis into a period… to move forward with the surgery would be a definitive ending to one of my life’s greatest questions: would I ever have a biological baby?
In the end the decision was easy. I simply couldn’t keep living the way I was. My quality of life had been diminishing due to a horrible disease that caused me relentless pain. John had been missing work to care for our kids while I lay in bed. My stomach lining was eroding from the use of pain killers which landed me in the hospital for more procedures. When it came down to learning that I could no longer use pain medication to make it through the day (and the awfully long nights) the fight was over. To hold out any longer would have been detrimental to my health – both physical and mental – it would have been unfair to myself, my husband, and my children.
So I scheduled the surgery for a few months out, which gave John and I plenty of time to process what this really meant. We had a lot of peace about our decision, and while I was a little frightened of the actual surgery (that whole “what if I never wake up?” question had my nerves on edge for weeks) I never once doubted that it was the right thing to do. I felt a little sad on occasion, but no real big grief.
I’d done my grieving years before: each time a month passed with me staring at a negative sign on the little white stick, each time the labor cramps started in the first trimester, each time I sat in the waiting room of yet another specialist, every time I drove an hour for weekly injections, and every time another medication caused horrible side effects. I grieved when I went through menopause for nine months at 24 years of age and when the doctor called to say babies weren’t possible. I’d already grieved through the recoveries from previous surgeries and countless procedures. And I grieved during all those nights I lay awake crying from the hurt in my body and the ache in my heart. Yes, I’d already grieved everything I was standing to lose with the hysterectomy. But, I’d also already healed.
My healing came with each month I wiped my face, threw the white stick in the trash and chose to face the day. It was in the arms of my husband and the love of my friends and family as we grieved the losses of two babies born to heaven. Healing came as I stood up for myself and changed doctors and demanded better care. Healing came in the answers… the ones I liked and the ones I didn’t. It came with a slow, hard, quiet acceptance of a life I didn’t expect. It came in looking in the mirror at all my scars and seeing myself as beautiful because of them, not in spite of them. And I found healing in places I never expected: in the deep green eyes of twin toddlers who let me love them for a few beautiful months, on the red brick courtyard of an orphanage in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, and in a small room the size of a closet in that same city on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Healing came in casting aside the god I had created and instead finding the God who had already written the most beautiful of stories for me. He redeemed my broken heart, He can certainly redeem my broken body.
But what is profoundly true is while I had nothing but peace and confidence walking into the hospital the morning of my hysterectomy, I was still sad and a little disappointed. And that’s something I’ve been learning my whole life: peace and sadness are not mutually exclusive. Because for all the acceptance and healing I had experienced in the previous years, I still hoped perhaps the ending would be a little different. There was always the thought, “…but maybe…” in the back of my mind.
A few months ago I found myself weeping in the shower. I tried to blame it on my poor hormones that are trying to find a bit of balance these days, but the truth was that I had forgotten for a moment that I was truly and finally barren. The thought came, uninvited and out of nowhere, that maybe I could be pregnant. Almost immediately I remembered that was no longer even remotely possible and the tears came like a flood. It was the first time since my surgery that I had cried over the total loss of my fertility and as confused as I was by the tears, I also recognized them as completely normal.
Today, seven months post-operation, I can tell you that having a hysterectomy was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made for myself. Our family went around the table at Thanksgiving and shared what we were each grateful for that year… I shared that I was thankful to be pain-free for the first time in nearly twenty years. I can’t put into words how much greater my quality of life is now. My son says, “It’s like one hundred!”
So how do I feel about having a hysterectomy at 32 years old? Well, a little sad. But mostly I’m incredibly grateful and I am at total peace with it. My life has been filled with deep grief and even greater joy. The things that have sometimes hurt the most have led to the most beautiful gifts. This is just another part of that greater story – one that I wouldn’t trade for anyone else’s.
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