Ladyguide: So You’re Having A Hysterectomy

[E] Selena MacIntoshLadyguides13 Comments

sofasogood

So it’s time to send your uterus and/or ovaries away for not toeing the company line.  The Internet is full (and I mean full) of stories of women who’ve had the procedure, and there is no shortage of horror stories.  I’m here to help.

I had my hysterectomy on 1/20/2009, at 12 noon Eastern time, the exact moment President Obama was being inaugurated.  So, my bush was getting trimmed in the last moments of the Bush administration.  Yes, in fact, I did get a lot of mileage out of that joke in the hospital.  Results were mixed.

I had terrible periods for my whole life.  From the moment I started, at age 13, until the hysterectomy my periods were heavy, extremely painful and the source of more ruined clothes, bedding and cool points than I’d like to recount.  Doctor after doctor told me it was normal, and I think I heard, “Women tend to exaggerate their menstrual symptoms” more than two dozen times.  If I ever get a TARDIS, the first thing I’m doing is traveling back in time to say, “Fuck you” to every single doctor, then I’m erasing whoever thought it would be a good idea to tell doctors that most women exaggerate their menstrual symptoms.

In the months leading up to my hysterectomy, my periods were getting increasingly worse.  The flow was 2-3x as heavy, the cramps were worse and the number of bleeding days increased until I was having a period all the time.  After a month of non-stop bleeding, my doctor discovered a fibroid tumor which had grown so large inside my uterus that it prolapsed from my cervix.  I was at a specialist the next day.

The specialist, a woman OB/GYN with the same first name as me, was awesome.  She took a peek at Mr. Tumor and decided the best option was to do a hysterectomy.  At this point in time, she was relatively confident the tumor was benign (which it was) and that without a hysterectomy I was likely in store for a series of surgeries to remove other fibroid tumors.   After trying, unsuccessfully, for 8 years to get pregnant, I was mostly in shock.  I think I’d accepted on some level that I wasn’t going to be pregnant before this happened, but it was still a pretty big blow.

I had to wait a week for the surgery, which was a requirement of my insurance company (which, incidentally, denied the claim later because I had a history of heavy periods.  Those heavy periods I apparently exaggerated because of my silly ladybrain.) The day before the surgery, I had to have blood tests, a chest x-ray, an interview with an admissions clerk in the hospital and I had to watch an informed consent video.  The latter was lots of fun, and implied I’d come out of surgery as an adorable elderly woman playing tennis in a purple velour pantsuit.  The video talked about what would happen during the surgery, and made a point to mention at least four times that hysterectomies don’t cause depression.  Which is technically true, but even if the surgery itself doesn’t trigger a depressive episode, many women who have hysterectomies do experience new or increased depression after the surgery. I also had to ask, specifically, not to be placed on the maternity ward after surgery, which is where they normally house hysterectomy patients.   IMHO, that’s pretty damned cruel.

The hysterectomy has a long and colorful history.  The name itself comes from the original intended outcome – women who were deemed “hysterical” had their uteri removed.  As recently as the 1980s, some women with intellectual disabilities were given hysterectomies without their consent.  There have been controversies for years that the procedure is overused, when less invasive and irrevocable options for treating the underlying conditions leading to hysterectomies are available.   Getting a second opinion is never a bad idea, and if you think your doctor is acting too hastily by recommending a hysterectomy, it’s perfectly fine to try and find a doctor who’s willing to try more conservative options first.

The day of the surgery, I had to be at the hospital several hours before hand.  The prep was pretty simple, after a bush trim and a shot in my ass, I was stoned out of my mind and confused as hell by Aretha’s hat.  Next thing I knew, I was in recovery.

Modern medicine is pretty amazing, until very recently, hysterectomies were always performed through an incision in the abdomen.  Abdominal surgery takes a really, really long time to recover from and it’s really painful, as anyone who’s had an appendix or spleen removed can tell you.  In some cases, doctors are able to do a laparoscopic hysterectomy, which is what I had.  Instead of removing the uterus through the abdomen, tiny cameras inserted in tiny slits on the abdomen allow the doc to disconnect (dislodge? disengage? cut?) the uterus from all the connecting parts before they yank it out the vagina.   Yank may be a strong word, but if the way my vadge felt after surgery is any indication, it is in fact apt.  One thing I did not know before the surgery – when they take your uterus, they take your cervix too.  My vagina now works like a fleshlight.

Because I was pre-menopausal and my ovaries were fine, they left them in.  This means I did not go through spontaneous menopause after surgery.  I still have PMS, and my ovaries still work as though there was somewhere for the eggs they release to land.   I try not to think of my insides like the ship in Aliens that was full of eggs.

Post surgery, the only pain I had was in my vagina, as previously mentioned.  That pain went away within 12 hours, and I didn’t need any painkillers stronger than Tylenol.  I’m kind of a wimp when it comes to pain, too, so if I needed the good stuff I would have taken it as often as possible.  I was in the hospital for less than 18 hours total.  I had to rest a lot during the first two weeks, but then I was able to slowly get back into the groove of my normal routine.  Sexytimes were forbidden for eight weeks following the surgery, to make sure the brand new roof on my vagina healed properly.

The long term physical effects have been pretty mild.  I don’t miss having periods at all.  AT ALL.  Since some of our natural ladylube comes from the cervix, I produce less, but that’s easy to compensate for with all the water-based lubes on the market today.

About a month after the surgery I did have a major depressive episode.  I didn’t have a support system after the surgery and I was unprepared for how hard being irrevocably infertile would hit me.  It’s been over two years, but it still gets to me.  I know a path in all the stores to avoid the baby sections.  I don’t go to Facebook.   I made friends with a lot of childfree by choice people, because nearly every friend I have who is a parent has said something unintentionally (usually.) hurtful.  They’ve also never said the words that sends a rage chill through the spine of every other infertile I know- “Why don’t you just adopt?”  The takeaway here isn’t that having a hysterectomy will make you depressed and hate your fertile friends, though, it’s that your individual emotional reaction to the surgery will likely be as individual as you are, and there’s nothing wrong with any reaction you might have.

It’s relatively rare for a woman my age or younger to have a hysterectomy, so there isn’t a lot of information out there aimed at those of us not quite ready for purple velour pantsuits.  If you need or want more information, I’m happy to point you to the few resources I found and help you find more.

Related
Avatar of [E] Selena MacIntosh
Find me on

[E] Selena MacIntosh

Editor-in-Chief at Persephone Magazine
Selena MacIntosh is the owner and editor of Persephone Magazine. She also fixes it when it breaks. She is fueled by Diet Coke, coffee with a lot of cream in it, and cat hair.
Avatar of [E] Selena MacIntosh
Find me on
Thanks for rating this! Now tell the world how you feel via Twitter.
What feel do you feel after reading this post?
  • Inspired
  • Smart
  • Tickled
  • Hungry
  • Sad
  • Smash!
[E] Selena MacIntoshLadyguide: So You’re Having A Hysterectomy

13 Comments on “Ladyguide: So You’re Having A Hysterectomy”

Leave a Reply

  1. Avatar of Kitty Conner
    Kitty Conner

    If another jerk ever asks me “Well, have you considered adoption?” I may kick them in the teeth. Or buy a button that says “Adoption, Yay!” and wear it around.

    You’re a brave woman. I’ve got the fibroid tumor thing and the long, unending, painful period thing. And a stupid brain (and husband)that really, really wants a child. A hysterectomy was gently brought up as an excellent avenue to symptom relief. I am too chicken and unwilling to face that reality. (Though apparently masochistic enough to be willing to deal with the constant bleeding and discomfort.)

    But you make me a little less chicken. A little more willing to consider. Merci for sharing, darling.

  2. Avatar of wannabemusicologist
    wannabemusicologist

    Thank you for writing about this. I have a friend who recently had a hysterectomy at the super young age of 23 due to ovarian cancer.Your post really helped me think of ways to be a better friend to her, especially in a time in our lives when facebook is filling up with couples trying to/getting pregnant. Your openness and willingness to talk about this is so appreciated.

  3. Avatar of paperispatient
    paperispatient

    Thank you for writing about this! I knew the nuts and bolts, so to speak, of what a hysterectomy can involve but had never really read any firsthand accounts of women’s experiences with the procedure.

  4. Avatar of lostinalunchbox
    lostinalunchbox

    I’m not sure how old exactly you were when you had your hysterectomy. If you were under 40 and did strongly want children, I’m surprised your MD did not consider doing a myomectomy (taking out that fibroid that prolapsed through your cervix) instead, and then seeing what happened. It might not have worked but you can always go back and do the hyst later if the more conservative procedure fails.

    Also, a correction, the cervix doesn’t always come out with a hysterectomy. Even laparoscopically you can do a supra-cervical hyst, where the cervix stays behind. Not everyone is a candidate for that – if you’ve had any abnormal pap smears in the past, most docs will recommend taking the cervix out just to be safe – but that is something you should have been counseled about before the surgery…. so, if anyone is reading this and is put off from a necessary surgical procedure for fear of losing her cervix, rest assured you can have the uterus out but have the cervix stay so that the vagina seems like it was not touched.

      1. Avatar of [M] QoB
        [M] QoB

        I’m sorry :( It unfortunately sounds like your doctors were less forthcoming than they could/should have been with you.

      2. Avatar of lostinalunchbox
        lostinalunchbox

        sorry, i didn’t mean to make you sad! that’s the kind of stuff i end up spending alot of time talking to my patients about when i am doing their pre-op visits…. the whole cervix in/cervix out thing, and convincing young women who think they want “everything out” that they really shouldn’t get rid of the ovaries. of course, the old supervising attendings are always yelling at me for being too slow and talking too much, so that should tell you something about why many of us end up not being the best counselors for our patients….

        Thinking about it, since you had the fibroid through the cervix, your doc probably though it would be too tricky to try to do the supracervical hyst and be sure they got the whole fibroid out without taking the cervix, and just didn’t even think to make that distinction for you. If it makes you feel better, long term follow up of women who kept or lost their cervix shows no real difference in satisfaction/sexual function between the two, and you are pretty much saved from worrying about cervical cancer. plus, some ladies who keep their cervix then have prolapse later in life and need the cervix out, and that surgery (called a trachelectomy) is actually pretty tricky to do. So, in the end, you are probably better off not having the cervix anyway…..

  5. Avatar of Laura Stewart
    Laura Stewart

    “The name itself comes from the original intended outcome – women who were deemed “hysterical” had their uteri removed.”

    I’m afraid you’ve got your etymology confused. “Hysterectomy” is a very straightforward derivative of Greek for “cutting out the womb”. “Hystera” was “womb” in Greek. “Ektome” was “cutting out”. It is interesting that “Hysteria”/”Hysterical” were coined because the disorder was considered to have to do with a problem of the uterus (“uterus” also comes down etymologically from “hystera”) or other terribly delicate and mysterious lady bits.

    But “hysterical” does not have an unrelated etymology that then turned into “hysterectomy” for “cutting out the hysteria” or something of that nature.

    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=uterus
    http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hysterical

    Also see the etymological notes in any dictionary for the words in question.

    Cheers.

  6. Avatar of Mag
    Mag

    Apparently I blew out my mom’s uterus.She has a hysterectomy all due to me. I was a huge baby because I was already a full month old when I was born. Heh.

    Let’s ignore the fact that I’m 4’9″ and up until almost a year ago I was still wearing a size 0.

Leave a Reply