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.