“Maybe I should get a hysterectomy,” I began. I looked my doctor in the face, but she remained quiet. “I mean, I am not going to have any more kids,” I said with a chuckle as if she knew this fact already though I think she only half-heartedly believed me.
“I think this will take care of the entire problem.” I was shocked by how quickly my doctor agreed with me, but her words were the only validation I needed to decide to get a hysterectomy. The problem, as it were, is my uterine fibroids. I’ve had them for as long as I can remember.
They are simply part of who I am. They define my entire reproductive existence — as complicated as they have made my ability to conceive. My doctor and I sat together as she outlined alternative options to a hysterectomy none of them sounded right to me. By the time I left her office, I decided to get a partial hysterectomy. The removal of my uterus and fallopian tubes, leaving my ovaries intact, in effect, solved a lifelong problem. I’d dealt with complications from my menstrual cycles (excessive bleeding) to bowel movements (or lack thereof). My last surgery was not that long ago. I vowed never to put my body through another surgery, and now I am planning to get another surgery.
In a study reported by McLeod Health, a nonprofit based in the Carolinas, 25% of African American women suffer from fibroids by the age of 25. By the age of 50, 80% of African American women will be diagnosed with fibroids compared to 70% of their white female counterparts. For me, surgery was my only option to get pregnant and have a shot at staying pregnant. Earlier this year, I opted to have a hernia removal surgery. The recovery for that one was worse than my recovery from my c-section. The same doctor who performed my c-section is the doctor who knew my insides better than I did. She advised me (thankfully) to get the hernia removed, a daily reminder of my twin pregnancy, which at the time caused me problems too, mainly abdominal bloating alone with a hideous protrusion just above my belly button. She was the same OBGYN who (rightly so) squashed my dreams of having a natural childbirth experience when I begged for a vaginal birth during my pregnancy. She knew how stubborn I was, how much I wanted what I wanted, and 7+years ago, I got pregnant.
I have wanted to be pregnant since I was a little girl. She was the same doctor who helped me stay pregnant, carrying the twins to 36 weeks before my planned c-section. In the United States, c-sections are the number one surgery women in their reproductive years get according to the CDC. I needed a c-section. Before my c-section, I had abdominal surgery to remove uterine fibroids. During the surgery, my gynecologist cut into my uterus to remove over fifteen benign growths in the lining of my uterine wall. The surgery, called a myomectomy, lasted for hours, and once completed, my chances of carrying a pregnancy to full-term increased. This was the only reason I wanted to even do the surgery. My gynecologist informed me even before my surgery that my window to get pregnant before the fibroids returned was two years or less. The clock was ticking.
By the time I got pregnant, after my first in-vitro fertilization failed, I worried I’d never get pregnant. As a lesbian, trying to get pregnant took careful thought, lots of planning, finding a queer-friendly clinic, the right donor, and so much more. We planned for our family every step of the way. On top of all our tasks, I was responsible for making sure my body was ready to carry a baby, my body also gave me trouble with the uterine fibroids. Typically, the rate at which women get fibroids increases with a woman’s age. I was diagnosed with uterine fibroids in my twenties. Then my periods lasted six days, and when I bled, I bled a lot. Then there was constipation which quickly became a way of life.
The bloating and the appearance that I was pregnant never left — even though I did not get pregnant until my early 30’s. I carried around fifteen plus fibroids everywhere I went. Now, at almost forty, I am ready to experience a new normal — life without the interference of fibroids. For me, a partial hysterectomy is the only option. My doctor gave me the full scope of what my options could be from the embolization of my fallopian tubes to birth control pills to help shrink the fibroids from a partial hysterectomy to a full hysterectomy (though she advised against it due to my age).
On average, in the United States over 500,000 women get hysterectomies each year, making hysterectomies the second most performed surgery in the United States. I didn’t expect to be on either of these “most” lists. I thought I’d have an easy pregnancy but got preeclampsia at 30 weeks which earned me a five-day stay in the hospital. I also got a wake-up call when I was told I could not deliver my girls vaginally because of my previous surgeries because there were two of them, and because of my uterine fibroids which had grown during my pregnancy. I mean, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that with all of the drugs I used to help me get pregnant through IVF and then stay pregnant during those first few weeks after conception, and then carrying the twins to full term, I had lots of estrogen and progesterone in my body, the two hormones that help uterine fibroids grow. These fibroids were a ticking time bomb inside of my uterus.
After my surgery, my partial hysterectomy will (I hope) be my final surgery on my reproductive system. What I’ve learned along the way is that life is too short to walk around uncomfortable, in pain, or putting off what I know in my heart to be inevitable. For me, deciding to get yet another surgery means that I am choosing, once again, to take care of my reproductive health including saying goodbye to the very organ I counted on to help bring two lives into this world. It didn’t fail me then, and now it’s time I let it go.