The Fall-Out After a Hysterectomy {what I want others to know}

One purpose for my blog is to share my experience with other women who are going through a hysterectomy or facing infertility.  I’ve had multiple conversations with women who have undergone a hysterectomy and while some women were like “Good Riddance!”, this is not the case for the majority of ones that I’ve spoken to.  Even though my hysterectomy occurred before I could really conceptualize the impact of it, I still had overwhelming thoughts about what had happened.  Not only was I confused by them, I couldn’t even appreciate or understood why confusion existed.

Although having a hysterectomy may be required at times and has become a bit more simple of a surgery, the emotional experience can be very difficult to navigate.  I want to help others going through a hysterectomy by sharing a few of the thoughts that I have experienced in my life.  (Please note that not everyone may feel this way)

  • “I am not female anymore.”  Believe it or not, this is a thought that can occur once someone has a hysterectomy.  The question of “What am I?” may cross a woman’s mind.
  • “I am no longer attractive to my mate.”  Yep.  Women DO struggle with this after a hysterectomy.  I used to believe that other girls/women put off a sexier or more womanly vibe that I possessed and that guys could tell; like men could tell that I was infertile. Seem crazy to me now, but it was a truth in my life that I had to overcome.  I compensated for it; sometimes, with bad decisions and other times with the “I don’t care about any of it” attitude.
  • “I must have done something wrong.”  Shame. Guilt.  Unworthy.  Although ridiculous in many ways, these words can describe the feelings that come about after undergoing a hysterectomy.  Infertility has a way of shouting this to us as well.
  • “I am broken.”  Despair upon despair.  Damaged goods.  It is hard to put a word that truly gives the meaning of what women go through after a hysterectomy.  Broken seems just about right.

Often, women do not want to talk about their feelings because they are embarrassed to feel the way they do or fear they might be misunderstood.  This seems to be especially true for younger women who are faced with the onslaught of friends complaining about periods and announcing pregnancies.  Infertility is one thing but when you throw in a hysterectomy, the game changes.

For most people, these doubts and feelings will not make sense.  For many others, though, there is great emotional fall-out after a hysterectomy, and, it is one that is surprising in nature.

If you have had a hysterectomy and are struggling, please know that what you are experiencing is normal.  Don’t be too hard on yourself.  Allow yourself time to grieve, and know that there are others who have had shared your emotions time and again.

Writing My Story

A few years ago I felt the urge to write.  It seemed as though the Lord was telling me to write my story down; although, I had no clue how to start the process.  The last writing class I took was in 1992 or so when I was in college.  My friend knew my desire, or perhaps the Lord’s calling on my heart, to start writing so she bought me some journals.  I carried them everywhere and would write down different thoughts or words that sparked my memories or pertained to my history.  I even used my iPhone to record thoughts that came to me when writing was not possible.  Gotta love technology!

I had no idea as to where this project was going or if there was really anything important to say.  The fact is that everyone has a story.  All of us have a uniquely designed existence that is of no greater matter or significance than the other.  We are all significant in the eyes of the Lord.  I personally feel that the most inspiring stories are those told from people who come from the most humble situations.

As I started writing, it felt as though my heart and my mind were pricked.  Suddenly, there was this release of all of the captive moments, long forgotten thoughts, and stifled persuasions that I had carried around for nearly my entire life; or at least, my life after age eleven.  Words were pouring out of me that brought me to tears.

Soon, I turned to my computer to start writing.  I craved it.  Early mornings and late evenings were often accompanied by the patter of my fingertips on the keyboard as I delved into my solitary world of infertility.  I had to reach out to others during this time for feedback, their memories of my story, and just plain old support.  However, for the most part, it was me, my computer, my memories, and the Lord’s prodding.

I finished the manuscript within a few months.  Once I started writing, I could not stop until I got it all out.  I grieved for the child I was who became so ill.  I fretted for the teenager who, despite seeming and acting like every other teen girl, held within her dark glimpses of despair.  I felt the anger of a young woman in her twenties who was torn between wondering if her future career would be her “baby” or if she was ever going to have a baby to call her own.  I celebrated the woman who ran to the Lord after years of ignoring Him.  Lastly, I shed tears of joy for the foster-mother whose life was impacted for the better by the humbling refinement that is foster care and adoption.

I still have the manuscript on my computer.  I do not know where it is going or what it is supposed to be.  That is okay though.  There is great cleansing in writing one’s life story even if no one reads it.  Writing my story down has brought about a desire to continue to bring to life the words my heart feels but often my lips cannot form.  Writing my story has also revealed the incredible essence of survival, faith, mercy, grace, and hope.

I would like to share an excerpt from it if you don’t mind.  I have already inserted a few lines  from the manuscript from time to time into previous blog posts.  Even though this is just a glimpse, I welcome any comments.  I may share more as I feel the need…

I do not remember much about the week I was in the hospital prior to the doctors discovering what was ravaging my body.  My memories are more like flashing images from a movie.  I do however remember waking up at one point with my dad and a doctor looking over me.  My dad simply and courageously stated “You can always make love, but you will never be able to have children.”  Or, did he say that?  I remember hearing it, but not sure if it was said to me or about me.  Nevertheless, in my hazy mind, I tried to comprehend what he was saying.  Make love?  What does that mean?  I had not even kissed a boy yet.  Have children? It really had not crossed my mind much.  But, I heard him loud and clear.  I knew something big had happened.  This event that occurred forever changed who I was and the path my life would take.  There was not a choice – it was either my life or my organs.  Oh, the agony my parents were feeling.  What irony really…the organs with which life begins had nearly destroyed mine.  I was eleven years old, I had never had a period, and now I was forever infertile.  I had just been thrust in to the world of infertility.  Trapped in a little girl’s body was a pre-menopausal woman.

Glass door

Growing up I felt there was this glass door between me and the other girls.  I could get right up close to it, but never go through.  My surgery, being barren, not having a period…all of these things separated me from being  just like them.  This is something I kept to myself though.  It was hard enough being an adolescent.  As an adult, it has been hard work to remind myself that while I may be different, I’m still just as much a woman as any other female out there.

I think hysterectomies are difficult for women to undergo.  Mine happened at such a young age that I grew into womanhood already feeling as if I was not wholly female.  Women of any age might not feel completely whole after a hysterectomy.  If the surgery happens at a younger age, then it is more than just losing some organs.  It’s losing the ones that are vital to a women’s experience in this life.

As I have developed through the years, the recognition of the impact on my physical, emotional, and spiritual health became clearer with each milestone or emotional age.  I could tell that infertility was not going to get easier, but harder, much harder.  I stood by and watched my friends’ life cycle continue on.  From the announcements of their pregnancies, to the first baby bumps appearing, the baby showers, flushed cheeks, and swollen feet…  I was on the side-lines watching.  I often heard them talk about their pregnancies and tried to act like I knew what they were talking about.  But the truth is, I did not know and honestly did not care to know.  It would never happen for me.

Infertility creates such a distinct type of isolation.  People just don’t know how to react when one says “I can’t have children”.  Instantly, there is an awkward silence usually followed by some words of wisdom that may or may not be too wise.  It is sadly refreshing sometimes to be around other women who cannot have children.  The conversations tend to be more driven by genuine empathy and understanding for each other.  We don’t have to “be strong” and hide our emotions about it.

There are also those universal themes that tend to come out while discussing infertility with fellow women who are struggling.  First, baby showers are the worst things to attend when you cannot have children.  They can create a raw and digging pain that is usually held in until after the shower is over.  I venture to guess that a lot of infertile women cry themselves home after baby showers.  I know I did before I adopted.  I actually dreaded going to them.  I would “fake” my way through them, drive home as quickly as I could,  and then curl up on my bed in a sobbing mess.  The rest of the day following a baby shower was usually filled with emotions and apathy.

Second, it really hurts when people say to you “if it’s God’s will, then it will happen”.  Most believers agree that things happen in our lives that are within God’s will, but it does not take away the pain.  It may not be within the Lord’s will for any of us to children – biological or adopted.  Unbeknownst to people who say this, an infertile woman might start thinking “if I can’t have children then God must not want me to be a mom”.  This is an awful place to be at.  I’ve been there.  I’ve thought “perhaps God doesn’t think I will be a good mom”, or “God must not want us to be parents”.

Third, pregnancy and birth announcements are wonderful and sweet unless you will never be the one sending them out.  That may sound selfish.  I’m a little embarassed to admit this, but sometimes I would think “why does she get to have another baby when I can’t even have one?”  This does not mean that those of us who cannot have biological children aren’t happy for our family members or friends.  Sometimes, the announcements and the excitement that follows reminds us of what we cannot have.

Growing up, I always felt that maybe I was the only one out there like me.  In some way, this may have been true since I was so young when my hysterectomy happened.  But, now as an adult, I know my experience, though somewhat different, is one that is shared by many.  Being an infertile woman in a world of baby-bearing bliss is difficult.  It can be socially isolating.  It can cause tension between spouses, friends, and family members.  For those of you who may be struggling with handling your journey of infertility or adoption, don’t be too hard on yourself.   Just know that there are others out there on your side of the glass door.