I am writing this public service announcement for mid-life women like myself across the universe. So if you’re in that category, listen up. Don’t trust OB-GYNs with your hoo-ha unless you’ve done your homework.
After giving birth to four children and enduring three nightmarish miscarriages for a total of seven pregnancies, it was time for my over-utilized uterus to go. Some kind of alien cyst I nicknamed “Ripley” had eaten one of my ovaries, and I did not need that thing crawling out from the inside. So about a year and a half ago, I had to have a hysterectomy.
In addition to being a complete pain in the vag, hysterectomies are a complete pain in the ass. Not ever having a period (or a baby) again seems like a trade-off for the surgical hell you’re facing, and I didn’t have much of a choice. Picking a doctor who is going to rip some of your guts out is an important decision I did not make wisely. I’d had a baby on Maryland’s Eastern Shore and let’s just say it didn’t go really well, so I crossed the bay bridge and had my last kid in Annapolis where there’s a proper hospital for people versus a country hospital for dogs, or badly sewn stitches in your hand.
I got the impression from the man-doctor-with-no-vagina that the recovery from a hysterectomy was not a big deal. This wasn’t true. I ended up having to quit my job because I still couldn’t return to work after four weeks. The hormone hell change had plagued me in several ways, including two-three major migraines a week. I couldn’t drive with the migraine medicine and couldn’t live without it. I had to go on hormone replacement, which increases my risk for several different kinds of cancer.
Fast forward to six months later. All of a sudden, I’m cramping and bleeding. How can I be bleeding when I have no uterus? It’s a great question, one I went to have answered in Annapolis. Turns out the surgeon, without my knowledge, in what was supposed to be a full hysterectomy, left my cervix behind. This meant that a.) Since I still had one ovary, I could potentially get pregnant and miscarry soon after on any given month and b.) I could have “mini periods” every month.
Oh you can’t be serious, doc.
But yes, he was. He explained that the “easy way out” in a hysterectomy is to leave the cervix behind because it’s surgically trickier to remove since it’s close to the bladder, which could get nicked. Also, as it turns out, “old school” doctors often left the cervix behind during hysterectomies because a very old fashioned line of thinking went that men would enjoy sex more with a woman who still had a cervix. Like that's more important than an increased risk of cervical cancer.
So now I’m some kind of 1950s “vintage” medicine victim. I’ve got three scars from the surgery I’ve already had, and even though I had made it through seven pregnancies without a full abdominal scar, now I am facing complicated, risky surgery done by robotics, no less, to remove the cervix, causing both The Big Scar and an even more hellish recovery. Or, I can go on the pill to stop the monthly ghostly visitor.
The pill. Yeah. The one I snuck to Planned Parenthood in the ghetto to get when I was 16 and Catholic and didn’t want to be pregnant. The pill I was on for a decade to avoid getting pregnant because I had a motherfucking uterus at that time. The pill, that makes you gain 10 pounds just by having it on your nightstand for an hour, before you take a single one.
I hate my options. I hate that I have to make a decision because some lazy sexist asshole butcher didn’t get it right when I was opened up the first time. And you know what I hate more than any of that? That women who are having hysterectomies don’t know about this important choice. It’s not the 50s anymore. A friend of mine had the surgery a few months ago and I told her about my experience. She ended up requesting the cervix removal when she found out the doctor hadn’t planned on doing it.
Women’s rights advocates talk about our rights to our bodies all the time, but this just isn’t the kind of “choice” we hear about on bumper stickers. So I’m writing this article with the hopes even one woman will become educated by doing additional research on her hysterectomy options. Because who wants C3PO and R2D2 doing surgery on your vajayjay?
Mary McCarthy @marymac blogs at Pajamas and Coffee.
Thank you for this column. You scared the shit out of me, in a positive way.