Monday, June 26, 2006

Don't call me Hysterical


Shortly before I underwent a hysterectomy in November, I received an anonymous letter via e-mail. I had not been shy about my need for surgery. I am more than aware that my uterus is a political organ. I fear that just as SCOTUS has recently ruled that there's no need for a "knock-knock" before violating civil rights, so too, it will soon be permissible to enter a woman's vagina without her consent. Or, as the case is more likely to be, to tell a woman that she can't make decisions about what may or may not enter and lodge inside her uterus.

And so, knowing that the personal is political, to quote what was once a revolutionary statement but which seems to have lost its meaning, I chose to write about my decision, and my fear, in undergoing this procedure.

Thus, someone out in the blogosphere decided to send me a letter, under a pseudonym, in which they denounced my decision to be public about what I was about to undergo. In the letter, the person described to me how I'd been duped by the male medical establishment, how six months after my surgery I would begin to suffer the horrible effects of various blood vessels dying in my pelvic region, how I would feel like shit. And worse, this person pointed out, I would be responsible for the positive push I may have given other women to have the same operation done. That by talking positively about my decision to have my uterus removed, I was contributing to the ruin of other women.

All of this vitriol arrived just a few days before my surgery.

And so, given that it is now over seven months since my operation, I feel that I should check in with the world, and let other women know what the effects have been of having my political organ removed.

I feel fantastic. The condition that necessitated surgery was adenomyosis, a condition in which I bled profusely throughout the month. It was unpredictable, and frequently, in the middle of sexual intercourse, I would start hemorrhaging. I have never been squeamish about sex during menses, and I've been fortunate that I've had partners who were also not turned off by blood. So, the blood was not the issue. The issue was the constant pain, and the weakness caused by anemia. I felt sick all the time. My uterus was approximately the size of a 13-week pregnancy, and for someone who is tiny like me, it meant that my stomach bulged. Again, no big deal. But I felt permanently bloated.

We tried other therapies to alleviate the problem. They didn't work, and in fact, made things worse. One night, after having hemorrhaged for the entire day, and now, too weak to stand, a friend took me to the emergency room. My gynecologist came in to see me, and we decided then that there was no point in putting off the surgery. It was time to overcome my fears and do what was best for me.

My biggest fear about hysterectomy was about sex. And so, I want to talk frankly about that here.

I was deathly afraid that I would no longer be able to have orgasms, or if I did have them, that they would be pale shadows of their former selves. For me, orgasms build, and when they reach their crescendo, I feel contractions deep inside of me--intense, starbursts of pleasure that I had always assumed was the result of my uterus responding to the electricity racing across my flesh. How would I experience that level of pleasure if there was no uterus to contract?

I was haunted by the idea that I would lose a sensation that is of paramount importance to me. Perhaps it makes me shallow, this desire to feast at the full banquet of sex. But I believe that there are few things that are freely available to us, and for me, sex--both the connection I feel to another human being and the loss of boundaries I experience during orgasm--is an integral part of who I am.

I was terrified of losing that.

After surgery, one is advised not to have intercourse for six weeks. For the first couple of weeks after surgery, I felt awful. I lost a lot of blood during the procedure, and my iron level was down to 27 (normal is 42). So, I wasn't thinking a lot about sex. But, things started to wake up, and I decided to take matters into my own hands, so to speak. When the orgasm came--complete with the deep sensations of contraction and vibration--I wept. I wept. I called my closest friends. I shared my joy. I felt no shame in doing so. And, when I was able to resume intercourse, it was to discover that everything still worked. In fact, it worked better, as I now did not feel this sluggish, clogged-up sensation in my pelvis.

And life without periods has been interesting. I don't bleed, of course, but since I still have my tubes and my ovaries, I experience a normal cycle, complete with bloating, crankiness, and breast tenderness. Woohoo!

I realize that for many, this may be too much information. But I was open about having the procedure before I had it done, and I feel an obligation to let those who reached out to me prior to surgery know that I'm well. I'm fabulous.

I also want to say that there were women who reached across the internet to let me know that I would be okay. They shared their experiences with me privately. And I thank them for that. I may cringe when I see this posted, but I just want to reach out to those who may be in similar positions to the one I was in last fall and tell them: it's okay. It will be okay.

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