Requiem for the ‘Lady Parts’

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Last summer, a cyst on my right ovary burst on the Fourth of July and sent me to the operating room.

It was the second time a problem with an ovary has required surgery. And a third time, a fibroid in my uterus threw a major temper tantrum, sending me back to the hospital less than a week after my daughter was born.

In between surgeries and hospital visits, I’ve had 15 years of anemia-inducing periods, chronic abdominal pain, intestinal symptoms that mirror the effects of IBS, painful sexual encounters, and inconvenient or anxiety-filled social situations as a result of these medical problems.

My condition – a combination of cysts, fibroids and endometriosis – is quite common.

More women than not will develop fibroids before they reach the age of 50 (though many will not realize it because the fibroids shrink or grow in un-troublesome spots). Ovarian cysts are less frequent but still common — about 8% of pre-menopausal women will develop cysts that require some sort of treatment. And nearly 30% of women in the United States will suffer from endometriosis, a condition in which endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus and sticks to other organs like the ovaries, bladder, intestines, and (in rarer cases) lungs, brain, and skin.

In addition to the symptoms I’ve experienced, many women also struggle with infertility as a result of endometriosis in particular, which is how they first become aware of the problem.

Yet despite the sizable population of women who can no doubt empathize with my situation, I’ve kept it mostly to myself, postponed fixing it, and struggled with anxiety around it for a number of reasons I think many will relate.

We don’t feel empowered by or in control of our bodies. This isn’t about sex or childbearing; it’s about health. But in too many instances, our culture still places more value on what a woman’s ovaries, uterus, and vagina can do for someone else than what they can do (or what they do to) her.

I have a wonderful female doctor who has been telling me for years that hysterectomy (removal of the uterus) coupled with oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) is the most likely outcome of my prognosis. I am finally coming around to this, and have scheduled my surgery (hopefully my last of this nature) for the end of December. But I will reluctantly admit the fear of what happens as a result of these surgeries has held me back and keeps me up at night. I am afraid of the ensuing changes in my body (no longer able to bear children, changes in sexual function, changes in my physical appearance), and how that might affect how I’m perceived by others, particularly men.

Speaking of men… Men are calling the shots. After an experience in the hospital with a ruptured fibroid – the pain of which far transcended that of childbirth – I asked my gynecologist about treatment options, including tubal ligation. That may not have been a viable solution to my health issues, but rather than talk to me about options that might have worked (uterine ablation, hysterectomy), he cautioned me against any procedure that might limit my ability to have more children in the future. He advised me to “just hang in there”. I eventually found a new doctor.

Periods are still a taboo. Even in progressive cultures in 2016, we are conditioned not to speak of what is a normal, healthy, monthly biological function. Boys aren’t educated about girls’ bodies. Hygiene products are marketed for their discrete packaging. Every woman I know slips a tampon up her sleeve rather than carry it in her hand on the way to the office restroom. If we can’t talk about a functional menstrual cycle, we sure as heck can’t talk about one on its last legs.

We hate to age. The other taboo in this story is that of aging. Again, this is especially hard for women, I think. Men are sexy and powerful when their hair grays and their resume builds. Too often, aging women are perceived as less attractive sexually, and either more intimidating or (if they’ve taken a break to raise children) more obsolete professionally. A breakdown in health, particularly one that comes with the loss of childbearing capabilities, is bound to trigger anxieties around aging. Our culture is not gentle in this regard.

I don’t know what the solution to any of this is, but I do think it can’t hurt to put some of it in writing – to remove a bit of the mystery and chip away at the taboos. I want a healthy body in 2017, and for anyone else struggling with these issues, I hope she finds relief as quickly as possible. Open conversations in a healthy culture will help us all, surely.

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3 thoughts on “Requiem for the ‘Lady Parts’

  1. Thank you Knight. There is so much truth in this, I know I cannot respond adequately. So I will start with, yes. Emphatically yes. A few years ago at the yoga studio where I teach we held a workshop about the pelvic floor, and I was blown away by the number of women who attended, shared their stories and tears and laughter, and educated me on matters I should have already had knowledge of. Also, as a yoga instructor it is important for me to know if a women is menstruating. It is amazing how such a simple question for some is wrapped up in stigma and embarrassment for others. Like you, I do no know exactly how to change this, except to start with myself and to continue to shed some old habits and thoughts that I still carry that perpetuate the stigma about women and our bodies. Here’s to health and honesty.

  2. Oh my, this really hit home. I suffered many of the same issues, finally choosing a partial hysterectomy at age 36. Male doctor after male doctor had also urged me to “hang in there” even though I not only had two children, but had my tubes tied after the last one. They still seemed to think hanging on to my moth-eaten and angry uterus somehow made me complete as a woman. If my appendix or gall bladder had been acting up they would have sliced me in an instant. I admit to a feeling of being adrift after my hysterectomy, not that I missed the pain and Old Faithful style gushers, but because I no longer needed to track time. Since the age of thirteen I’d been a calendar watcher, always counting ahead and putting that all important “P” in the estimated square. For the first few months sans uteri I constantly had that feeling that I was forgetting something. That said, my health improved immediately. My energy level skyrocketed and I realized that I had forgotten what it felt like to feel so GOOD. I’d worked so hard at not letting my “lady issues” affect my life that I’d never realized what a drain (no pun intended) it actually was. I was bouncy, cheerful, and upbeat while I bled to death. Once the old gal was removed I was genuinely bubbly and vibrant – it was the best thing I’ve ever done for my health, EVER. Whatever you think might be lost, understand that you will gain a hundred times more. Sex life? Only about a thousand times better. When you reclaim your health, even when you think you’ve been chugging along just fine, it’s like going from black and white to color. More than a decade later I have absolutely no regrets. Alright, sorry for the novella. Here’s to you, lovely Knight, and all of the days of sparkling good health ahead of you!

    • Thank you so, so much for sharing your story in detail and COLOR. You have no idea how much that helps. I know exactly what you mean about working so hard at not letting your “lady issues” affect your life. So true.

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