I started my period when I was 11 years old. By the time I was 12, my mom consulted with a pediatrician who recommended birth control because my period was heavy and my cramps were debilitating. I was attempting to skip my period altogether by taking continuous birth control at 14, but my period would still show up at the most inconvenient times. I don’t remember a time when my periods were not painful. But doctors never seemed concerned. It was all I knew. It was my normal.
When I was 20, I saw a new OB-GYN. She was young. I was more open with her. The conversation went something like this: “If you are only having sex with women, why are you on birth control?” I told her about my history with heavy and painful periods. “Have you considered the Mirena IUD?” She put one in a week later. The Mirena IUD pretty much stopped my period except for random bleeding every few months. Life continued.
One February morning, I went to a Pure Barre class per usual. I left feeling like something was off with my body, but I walked across the street to meet a friend for a Sunday fun-day boozy brunch anyway. One mimosa in, I knew something was wrong. “I think I need to go to the hospital.”
By the time I walked through the emergency department doors, I was doubled over. The triage nurse took my ID and told me to have a seat. I threw myself on the floor because it was cold and never mind the germs — I was in pain. Multiple people went up to the triage desk. “Someone needs to help that girl right now.”
It was clear I was in distress. A nurse brought 5 mg of morphine, pulled my sleeve up, and stuck me with the needle without even asking if I wanted any pain medicine. It did nothing. She came back again with 1 mg of Dilaudid, and this time gave me the shot in my butt cheek. It did nothing. She started an IV and brought back 2 more mg of Dilaudid. Finally. I could breathe.
We started with a CT scan. We moved on to an ultrasound. I had an ovarian cyst. “I always have ovarian cysts.”
We moved on to a transvaginal ultrasound. I threw up from the pressure. My vagina started to bleed. The OB-GYN on-call came to see me and said, “If you are in this much pain, we should do an exploratory surgery and — at the very least — take a look in your abdomen.” I agreed.
I was on the OR table a few hours later.
My mom and sister were standing over me when I woke up in the post-anesthesia care unit. “How are you feeling? The doctor called from the OR — your right ovary was twisted in adhesions. You lost the ovary to torsion, and she found endometriosis.”
Endometriosis is a disease where cells similar to those found in the lining of the uterus are misplaced throughout a woman’s abdomen. These cells turn into lesions like open sores and bleed throughout a menstrual cycle. There is no place for the blood to go, so it stays put causing inflammation and adhesions (scar tissue). Adhesions cause your organs to stick together. Endometriosis is known to cause debilitating pain in some women.
It all made sense. I had years of symptoms pointing towards endometriosis, but doctors never listened or looked at the whole picture.
I left the hospital, but my pain never improved. A few months later, another OB-GYN performed an excision surgery on the endometriosis. I would later learn that surgery wasn’t successful. The pain continued. Between February and December, I had four surgeries and spent 63 nights admitted to the hospital.
I was determined that the next year would be better. After three ER visits in five days in March, I e-mailed one of my OB-GYNs. “Something has to be done. I need to see a doctor who can help me ASAP.” He e-mailed me back almost immediately, “I don’t think my surgical skills are advanced enough to help you, but let me think on this.”
A few hours later, he e-mailed me the name of another doctor who he personally reached out to and explained my case. He agreed to see me. I took his first available appointment.
This doctor spent close to two hours with me. We went through everything. He asked more questions than any other doctor did. He asked how my endometriosis affected my life. I cried. “It’s ruining everything.” He asked me specific questions about my period. “Nonstop blood clots.” He asked me about my sex life. “My sheets look like a scene from Gone Girl with any penetrative sex. Orgasms can be painful. It’s awful.”
He was the first doctor to say, “I think there is something bigger going on here, maybe adenomyosis, maybe severe adhesions. The continued pain beyond your period, blood clots, and bleeding from sex make me think something else is wrong.” He asked me what I wanted. “I am ready to put this disease behind me.” He said, “I don’t think it is unreasonable for you to move forward with a hysterectomy at this point. Think on it. E-mail me.”
I didn’t make it to the elevator before I started crying again. I knew a hysterectomy was my next step. There wasn’t any thinking to be done. I texted my sister and my best friend. They were kind, generous with their words, and told me they supported whatever decision I made for myself.
But they were the only ones.
“Whatever you do, do not have a hysterectomy.”
“You are 25. You will regret this.”
“A hysterectomy is my biggest regret!”
“Sex is horrible for me since my hysterectomy! Don’t do it.”
“You should have a child before.”
“You are too young to make a decision like this!”
“A hysterectomy was the worst decision I made in my life.”
“A hysterectomy changed everything for me and not in a good way!”
One woman blatantly told me I was stupid.
My mom said, “I do not think you should do this, but I know you will because you have always made your own decisions. I will support you no matter what.”
My mom was right. I waited a few days, but scheduled the surgery.
Leading up to my surgery, I read many stories from other women who had hysterectomies. Stories about their thank-you letters to their uteruses. While they each had something very wrong with their uteruses, they could still write sweet odes thanking their uteruses for giving them their children. The youngest was 37 years old and gave birth naturally.
I don’t have any children. I was 25. My uterus never did me a favor. My uterus never cooperated with me. All I could think about were the things my uterus fucked up and the ways my uterus held me back.
I felt calm the morning of my hysterectomy. The anesthesiologist said to me, “A hysterectomy? You’re 25. Why are you having a hysterectomy?” I told her. “A hysterectomy seems pointless,” she said. I wanted to punch her in the face. “I feel good about my decision.”
A little while later, my surgeon stopped by. He grabbed my hand and said, “If your uterus looks fine, I will leave it.” He squeezed my hand tighter. I knew right then there was zero chance my uterus would make it out of this surgery. We hugged. I thanked him. Someone made a joke about HPV. We laughed.
We started IV pain medication and one of the anesthesiologist residents gave me a happy benzo cocktail through my IV. Things started to get warm and comfortable. Two kind OB-GYN residents brought me back to the OR. They didn’t leave my side. They told me about their husbands. I told them I was gay. I climbed onto the OR table, and that was it. I woke up almost six hours later talking to the same two OB-GYN residents as if nothing happened.
Over the course of the next few days, my surgeon stopped by multiple times to explain that my uterus was fused to both my abdominal wall and intestines all while still being pulled to the right side of my body by adhesions. He said he had to call in a GI surgeon to assist with the dissection of my uterus because it was too much for him to handle on his own. He explained that my uterus felt hard as a rock and normal uteruses do not feel that way.
He found fibroids in my uterus and more endometriosis throughout my abdominal cavity, and he told me he could visually see how tense my pelvic muscles were from years of pain. He was able to save my remaining ovary. He told me that my uterus would never have carried a pregnancy to term. “Nothing was normal about your uterus.”
He brought pictures. “This is your uterus attached to your intestines. You know how you said you felt like your insides were pulling? Well, they were. A hysterectomy was the only thing we could have done to release your uterus from your intestines. I know you feel like shit right now, but the hysterectomy was a good idea. You will feel so much better.”
“I know you feel like shit right now, but the hysterectomy was a good idea. You will feel so much better.”
That was all I needed to hear. My hysterectomy has since become more than just a good idea. I don’t wake up in pain and go to bed with pain anymore. My bed sheets don’t look like a scene from Gone Girl anymore. I don’t feel like my insides are ripping anymore. I’m not exhausted all day, every day anymore.
My hysterectomy is up there on my top 10 list of “best life choices” next to things like attending a women’s college and living abroad in South Africa for a year. My hysterectomy gave more to me than it took away. I might not have my uterus, cervix, or tubes anymore, but I have my health and that is almost everything to me. My uterus can never hold me back again.
I find myself telling every woman I meet about my hysterectomy. The women next to me in the waiting room at my follow up OB-GYN appointments, my baristas, my neighbors, the women behind me in the checkout line at the farmers market — any woman is fair game. It is important to me that women know another woman had a hysterectomy and it was the best choice for her. It is important to me that women know a hysterectomy happened in my life and all these terrible things I was told would happen didn’t happen. It is important to me that women hear a positive experience about a hysterectomy.
I want everyone to know I had a hysterectomy, and I lived to tell about it. I want everyone to know I had a hysterectomy, and I can still live a full life. I want everyone to know I had a hysterectomy, and I can still become a mom through adoption and that child will be no less mine just because they didn’t come from my uterus. I want everyone to know I had a hysterectomy, and my sex life is not ruined and orgasms are still a thing. I want everyone to know I had a hysterectomy, and I am still just as much of a woman as I was before. I want everyone to know I had a hysterectomy, and I do not regret it.
I want everyone to know I had a hysterectomy, and it changed me. My life is better for it.