My Welcome to Club Hysterectomy
Removing my uterus was actually one of the best things I did for my body.
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, thousands of women have hysterectomies every year. I never thought I’d be one of them, even though my mother had the surgery. I delivered my first child at 20 and endured pain because the birth tilted my uterus. I suffered in silence for years, especially after sex. That became my norm until I transitioned into menopause when I was 50. I figured I was safe after that. No more menses, no more babies, no more pain, right? I was wrong.
One day, as I sat on the toilet, I could feel my vaginal area bulging. When I explained it to my nurse practitioner, she had some concerns too and referred me to a urogynecologist, Dr. Briana Walton. Turns out, my once-tilted uterus had fallen completely out of place. I was diagnosed with pelvic organ prolapse, a condition that occurs when the pelvic muscles and ligaments weaken, and the uterus, bladder or rectum droop into or out of the vagina. Almost half of all women will experience some form of prolapse as they age.
My husband watched helplessly as I endured pain, discomfort and uncertainty. He gently asked — he knew to tread ever so lightly — “I know it’s your body, but have you thought about getting your uterus removed?”
It made sense. Why was I holding on to it for dear life and allowing my organs to define my womanhood? Was it based on my belief that I came here with these body parts and I wanted to leave with them, especially since many of my African ancestors didn’t have that option when theirs were stolen? Was it because of what my grandmother had told my mother before her hysterectomy? “No man will want you if you get that done,” she’d said, even though Mom was already married.
My situation wasn’t as complicated as it was for many other women who are thrust into making this decision, those who are forced to deal with the heartbreaking inability to have children or find themselves prematurely thrown into menopause, some at an early age. My body had been a vessel for five souls and I was already in menopause. It was time to reclaim my body for myself. I was liberated by the thought of being pain-free after more than 30 years.
There are countless horror stories about women who are forced or duped into having hysterectomies, and the claims that it’s one of the major procedures doctors exploit to make money didn’t calm my worries. (Even my mother’s doctor — a woman — warned Mom that she needed to have one or she could no longer help her). I’ve heard of women having hysterectomies because of fibroids, cysts, tumors and cancers. I’ve never heard of anyone having one because of prolapsed organs. Of course it would happen to me.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 20 million American women have had a hysterectomy ; 600,000 are performed annually in this country alone. Contrary to what I thought, just because I wanted the surgery didn’t mean I could have it right away. It took almost a year. There was a process to determine if I was an acceptable candidate: consultations, tests, paperwork, everything short of a psych evaluation, which probably would’ve been required if I needed to conquer my concerns and reservations about having the procedure.
I was fortunate. Dr. Walton explained my options from top to bottom with diagrams and anatomical devices. I did have a huge “holdup, pump-the-brakes” moment when she explained that, after she removed my uterus, she’d have to insert a piece of transvaginal surgical mesh to help support my bladder. I remembered seeing commercials about class-action lawsuits and the horror stories of controversies and complications.
She listened intently to my questions and understood my fears. Her compassionate answers were reassuring and I felt empowered to make my own decisions. Not once did she try to persuade or even encourage me one way or another. She truly respected the fact that it was my choice for my body.
Every surgery or procedure has its own risks, which is why you must investigate and research the options that are best for your situation, including getting a second opinion, if necessary. There are so many extenuating circumstances that can make one outcome differ from another. Stories abound from women who say a hysterectomy left them worse than they were before the surgery. I was blessed to feel better, so much so that I wondered why I didn’t have my uterus removed sooner.
A year later, my sister-friend called me to say she was having a hysterectomy for organ prolapse too. All I could say was “welcome to the club.”