In 2014, at 29, I had a complete hysterectomy. But what I experienced next was a shock, please, let me explain.
From the age of 10 I had experienced heavy and painful periods, by the time I was in my teens they were much worse, I was chronically anemic and no amount of iron tablets seemed to help. Doctors kept assuring me that it was quite common and that once I had a child they would be better.
I tried every type of pill available over the following years, cheap ones, expensive ones, ones that you take just a few days a month, ones that you take continuously, ones that stop your period once it starts. They all made me feel terrible, caused horrible side effects and left me feeling emotionally wrecked, and did little or nothing to control the physical symptoms that they were prescribed to help.
By the time I was in my 20’s I was experiencing heavy bleeding and pain anywhere between 10-25 days a month, and had developed an extreme form of PMS called PMDD (which was not diagnosed for several more years). I went back on the pill which helped a little to regulate the extreme moods, but exacerbated my underlying depression.
At 22, after months of trying for a baby, I was given my first pelvic ultrasound and diagnosed with PCOS. Just a few weeks later though we fell pregnant with our first child and we were so joyful. And then 2 and a bit years later we welcomed our second son into our family. The pregnancies were rough on my body, and delivery was even worse, followed by severe PND both times (a story for another time), but at the end we had beautiful and healthy little boys and it was worth every second of it.
The promised respite those Doctors in my teens had promised me never came. In fact my periods became more painful, more heavy, more irregular, closer together. I started to worry that I would not be able to live with the pain. There were times that I could not get out of bed unassisted, where I could not drive because I was fearful of fainting from the pain. I started getting cysts that would swell and burst, and ended up in the emergency department twice before I realised that I was best to stay home and treat myself unless a temperature spiked!
Finally I visited my GP again, she could not examine my belly because of how tender and swollen I was after one cyst burst, I had endometriosis, and she immediately referred me to a Gynecologist and the process of finding a treatment that would work was started again.
Again more tests, more pills, more reactions. This time though I had found an awesome Specialist Doctor though who was sympathetic, kind. He did not pressure me to try things that had already been tried, and after we had ticked these other treatments off his list, he said the words I had both longed for and dreaded…. “I think we need to consider a hysterectomy.”.
I left his office that day and cried and cried. And when I thought I’d cried enough, I cried some more. There was a huge sense of relief. I’d been having psychotic thoughts of taking a knife to my own belly and performing my own hysterectomy, so this should have been a relief, but it was also frightening.
It was a year later I had the hysterectomy. A year of worsening symptoms, a year of agony, a year more of chronic anemia. To check into the hospital that morning in November, to see my Doctor give me his kind and reassuring smile, it was such a relief, finally, this pain was going to end. I’d be able to drive my kids to school, I could work without fear of fainting half way through someone’s weddings. Maybe my depression would even lift?!
After the operation I was diagnosed with Adenomyosis (which gave me the “trifecta”, as previously I’d been diagnosed with PCOS and Endometriosis), there was a sense of relief that there was a reason for this pain, for the heavy bleeding, finally it had a name!
Adenomyosis is when the lining of the womb grows into the muscle walls of the uterus. It causes incredibly painful and often heavy periods, as the uterus contracts violently to try and rid the blood that is pooling in the muscles.
But, the thing I was not at all prepared for though was the grief. After the operation and for the months after, I was shocked by the deep sense of grief.
There was anger, I was angry at my body, angry that it had let me down so badly that I had to take such drastic measures to receive relief from the symptoms. There was loss, I had lost the womb that had grown and nurtured my babies. There was a loss of self, I no longer felt feminine, I felt like I had died in a way, and that I was no longer a woman.
The depression was stronger than ever. My husband was supportive and gentle with me, he booked me in to have my nails painted, and my hair done, he bought me pretty dresses and feminine shoes, and treated me as though I was the most beautiful woman in the world. He reminded me constantly that I was still a female regardless of if I had my uterus or not.
It took me a long time to realise that just because I had a hysterectomy I was still a woman, a mum, a wife. I was still as feminine as I let myself be! So much of my life and identity had been tied up in the battle with my body, it had been a shock when it was over. But at the end of it all, I was still me, the same person, and I am still a woman. I was so blessed to be able to have a family, so many women in my situation are not as lucky as I was.
Womb or not, children or not, this should not define any womans femininity!