Life as Amber knows it

"An adventure in the making…"

Flashback: Why I’m celebrating the anniversary of my hysterectomy

Three years later, I still celebrate the day I lost my uterus. For me, it was a decision I made on my own terms, and one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made, and one I have never once regretted. Originally posted on Indie Author Barry Crowther’s website, this essay was also the first guest post and my first foray into the Indie Author Arena. It is also an essay I’m still proud of today, and one that also appeared in my book, 4 a.m., a collection. It is also the essay that has received the most feedback from readers. I hope you’ll indulge me as I repost this again this year:

 

 

Why I’m celebrating the anniversary of my hysterectomy

Once upon a time, there was a little auburn haired girl with big green eyes. When people would ask her what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer was always the same, “A mother.”

Okay, so that may be cheesy, but it’s the truth. The only thing I have ever wanted desperately was to become a mother. I always figured my life would go something like this: Go to college, get degree, meet guy, marry guy, buy a house, start feeling a big sick to my stomach, go to the doctor and be told, “Congratulations! You’re pregnant!”

Of course, in my life, nothing EVER goes according to plan.

To being with, I pulled out of college at the last minute. For me, it was a necessary decision: I had no idea what I wanted to do other than be a mother. Wasting four years and my college fund, not to mention the scholarships I earned for my writing, would have been a gigantic waste. So, I continued with my job in the retail market, and the truth is, I really liked it. I was damn good at it, and got promoted to management, which I loathed. I liked being a grunt and getting down and dirty with putting stock up on the shelves.

At nineteen, I made the mistake of marrying a man who I knew was the worst thing for me. But I wasn’t strong enough to break free. What followed was four and a half years of being humiliated, treated like shit, and spending most of my time alone and depressed. What finally opened my eyes was him breaking my ribs throwing me against the wall after I became angry to find out he had, once again, cheated on me. But that final time, not only had he cheated on me, he had gotten the other woman pregnant. I left for good, filed for divorce, and watched from a distance as he lost his job, sunk even deeper into alcohol abuse, and got arrested for a DUI.

I had been diagnosed with Poly-Cystic Ovarian Syndrome at age 20, and right before my 25th birthday, was literally bitch-slapped with shock when a pap smear turned up abnormal results. After further testing, I found out I had the beginning stages of a very aggressive cervical cancer. Fortunately, it was caught very early, and I underwent the LEEP procedure, which in layman’s terms means the OB numbed my cervix, shot it with a laser, and then removed the cancerous tissue. Three days later, I was back in the doctor’s office, suffering from pelvic inflammation. All I’ll say about PI is that any time I’ve read about it being a risk for a procedure, my first response has always been, “Oh shit… not again!” While I’ve thankfully never had a recurrence, every pap-smear has sent me into a tail spin of anxiety.

In early December of 2002, I finally agreed to have laparoscopic surgery to see if we could narrow down what had been causing me such horrifically painful periods. Just six weeks shy of my 26th birthday, I went under the knife and camera. Coming out of anesthesia, Dr. Fong was there, and he said the words that would shatter my heart: “I found Endometriosis.” I had began dating a close friend after my divorce, and we had fallen in love and just gotten engaged.

No one knows what causes Endometriosis, which is a condition in which the lining of the uterus is found outside the uterus in places such as actually on the outside of the uterus, on your ovaries, on your fallopian tubes, other internal organs, and in one horrific case I read about, they actually found it on a woman’s brain. The endometrial tissue acts just like it does within the uterus: once a month, it swells up and then sheds, but unlike in the uterus where the shredded tissue is removed by nature’s monthly gift of all around psychotic behavior, cramps, and gorging yourself on chocolate, the tissue outside has no where to go. Endometriosis is an illness where there are no outward signs: You can have the illness, and no one would know unless you told them. The only way to diagnose it 100% is through laparoscopic surgery, which also has the added benefit of treatment by lesions being removed via laser. It is one of the leading causes of infertility in women. A woman with endometriosis can undergo laparoscopic surgery to “up” her fertility (and boy, can it ever, but that’s for later). For me, having Endometriosis, before and after my diagnosis, was horrifically painful, and most months, it was debilitating.

But the worst part for me wasn’t the physical pain: it was the emotional pain. The idea I might never have a baby broke my heart. The idea I might not be able to give Brian a baby ripped me into pieces. I wanted one thing in the entire world, to be a mother, and I didn’t know if I was going to get that chance.

So I began taking a high-level birth control pill to keep my cycle under control and hopefully contain the endometriosis. Which for the most part, it did accomplish; but the further out from my surgery I got, the worse each month got. I gained 30 pounds from the birth control, not to mention the loopy and sluggish effect the pain medication I was prescribed had on my body. And somehow, strangely, knowing what the actual issue was made the physical pain that much worse. It should have been the happiest time in my life: I was engaged to a wonderful man, but I was heartbroken I might not be able to give him biological children.

Flash forward about a year: Brian and I got married in Las Vegas. I’d stopped taking birth control six months before our wedding in the hopes that by the time we got married, I’d be ovulating again. No such luck. Two weeks after our honeymoon, my period came to visit. When my next ovulation time came up, both Brian and I were horribly busy with work. I can remember that night so vividly: It was the last night of my ovulation cycle. I looked at Brian and said, “I most likely won’t get pregnant, but let’s have sex just to have sex!”

Three weeks later, feeling nauseated, needing to pee every two minutes, missing my period, and feeling like my boobs were about to explode, I took a pregnancy test. I didn’t even have time to set it down before the second line showed up. “Oh. My. GOD!” I called Brian at work: “Brian, you’re going to be a father! I’m pregnant!” To which he replied, in the most loving manner you can say the following words, “Holy shit!”

Amethyst was born on December 18, 2004 exactly on her due date. She was perfect. My younger brother, upon seeing his brand new niece, said in a reverent whisper, “My god, she’s beautiful!” We were totally, completely and deeply in love with this little angel, this miracle, this dream we were blessed with. We still are, even moreso to this day, almost seven years later.

We wanted another child. Not to have another child, but because we were so crazy about Amethyst and just loving our little family, we couldn’t imagine not having any more children. So after Amethyst turned 1, we started trying. And we tried, then tried again. I could go on, but I won’t. A year after we began trying, I started on Clomid, and went through the hell of every single possible side effect you can get. On cycle three, my period was late. But every single pregnancy test I took came back negative. Finally, fifty-eight days into what was a usual twenty-four-day menstral cycle, I went into see my OBGYN. The news was bad: Not only was I not pregnant, I had hyper-stimulated my ovaries, and had a total of eight ovarian cysts split between the two.

I went home with orders to take my prescriptions, to couch it, and to come back in two weeks. I also was resolved. I could no longer take it. Month after month of not getting pregnant was ripping me apart. I couldn’t stand what it was doing to me. I had a wonderful husband and a beautiful, healthy and happy daughter, and both were a blessing. When I got home and told Brian, he was his usual supportive self. We decided that while we weren’t going to prevent pregnancy, we were no longer going to try to achieve it.

I spent the next several months just taking it easy and healing from the cysts. My heart began to heal as well, and Brian and I began talking about the possibility of adoption. I myself am an adoptee, so I know first hand that families are made by love, not by DNA.

In July of 2007, I was cleaning out our bathroom when I came across a pregnancy test. I noticed it would expire in one month, so I figured, “Hey, why not? No one else is using it and it’s going to go to waste anyways!”

It was positive.

I was in shock. We had tried and tried to conceive with no results. I took fertility drugs, with no results. I go out and buy a new wardrobe and BAM, I’m pregnant. I was ecstatic! We called everyone, and everyone cheered with us. After 20 months, we were finally going to have a second baby.

A few weeks later, I went to the bathroom, only to discover I was bleeding heavily. I called my OBGYN but he was out of town on vacation. I spoke to the on-call doctor, and what he had to say was grim: If I were losing the baby, there really wasn’t anything they could do for me except ease my physical pain. I spent that night in denial, tears streaming down my face, and the next day, I went in to have a sonogram. I felt ten feet outside of my body, as if I were watching myself. I was dazed. I was in shock, so much so that I did not realize I had been slowly plucking the hair out of my arm.

The sonogram room at my OBGYN’s office is a dream come true if you have a pregnancy that’s progressing correctly: leather reclining seats, DVD burner for the sonograms, big scream television so you can see Little Bit so much more clearly than if you’re craning your neck repeatedly to look at the doctor’s computer screen. But when things have gone wrong? Staring at your empty uterus makes you want to scream at how unfair the whole fucking thing is. How you’ve worked and prayed and begged and practically sold your soul for the greatest gift you could ever receive, and you finally get it, only to have it ripped away from you almost immediately.

The doctor and the nurses all told me they were sorry, as well as the rest of the office staff. Irrational as it may seem, I wanted to shout at them, “Fuck your apology! Do you think you telling me you’re sorry is going to bring my baby back? Do you think it’s going to ease my pain?” But I didn’t. I held it together until I got home, but once I saw Brian’s blue eyes raised to mine like a question, I lost it. I sobbed until my throat was a raw, scratchy mess. Brian made the telephone calls I couldn’t bring myself to make, and I emailed other people that knew, telling them I had lost the baby, and that I’d appreciate it if they’d give me some time to myself and to never bring it up.

I closed myself off from everyone except for Amethyst and Brian. I felt angry. I felt empty. I felt like a complete and total failure. I knew that everyone was there for me, that they loved me and that they supported me, but I wanted to be left alone.

A few weeks later, my brother and his wife told me they were pregnant. They were very sensitive and kind, taking into consideration what Brian and I had just gone through. I had an odd mixture of emotions: I was happy and excited that I was going to be an Aunt again. But I was sad that I wasn’t going to be a mother for a second time. Not once did I feel anger towards my younger brother and his wife; how could I? They did not get pregnant to cause me pain; they did it for their own growing family. Throughout the pregnancy, though, it was a reminder of what I had lost. Every time my sister in law hit a milestone, I’d think to myself, “I would have just done that….”

By February of 2008, it was very obvious I needed to repeat the laparoscopic surgery. My periods were once again quite painful, and had become extremely erratic. I needed some relief, even if it was only for a small space of time. The surgery went fine, and my recovery was much easier than the first time I went under the knife and laser. Towards the end of March, I was talking to my sister-in-law on the phone and mentioned that I was late for my cycle, but fine for the medical community’s cycle. “Go buy a test then call me back and take it while I’m on the phone with you!” My sister-in-law was nine huge months pregnant at the time, and in total honesty, I really wanted to be in the delivery room when my new nephew was born. You simply do not piss off a pregnant woman, so I ran to the store, bought a test, got home, went into the bathroom followed by Brian while dialing, and yes, I peed while I was on the phone with my sister-in-law. Within three seconds, the test was positive.

We were all ecstatic. But I was certain something would go wrong. I spent my entire pregnancy on edge, filled with worry, wondering when the bombs were going to start dropping from the sky. To lose another baby would have shattered me completely.

On November 25, 2008, Autumn came into the world: bright eyed, gorgeous, and perfect in every single way. She looked so much like Amethyst I couldn’t stop myself from saying it over and over again. “You’re sure she’s fine? You’re sure she’s healthy?” I kept pestering the pediatrician. Now almost three years later, Autumn is the comedian of the family, full of life, and determined to find trouble if there’s none laying around waiting for her.

About six months after Autumn was born, the endometriosis came back, and it came back with a vengeance. I was furious. I had two beautiful daughters, both of which were gloriously healthy, and I wanted to spend my time with them, not spend it curled up in pain on the couch from a god-awful period. In July of 2009, I made an appointment to see my OBGYN. I told him I had thought very hard about it, and that I wanted a hysterectomy. I was tired of the horrific pain, the random periods, and exhaustion that came with it all. My doctor listened, which is why I’ve been with him for twelve years. He explained to me that while it might become a reality some day, having a hysterectomy was a huge shock to the body, and if we could hold off on it, just for a bit longer, it would be best for my health. We agreed to repeat the laparoscopic surgery, again, and that I’d continue with my super-strength birth control pills.

Surgery in August 2009 went as it should. My recovery was about the same as it had been in 2008, and I was just grateful to have a period that was what most people would consider normal. My life was going fantastic: Brian and I had been happily married for five years, and we had two beautiful, healthy daughters. One night, we were sitting in Brian’s home office, I looked at him and asked, “Would you ever want a third baby?” He looked at me and said, “If it’s that important to you, then I could get on board with it. But I’d want us to be more financially stable.” Which made perfect sense to me, but I did not even know if I wanted a third child. It seemed like we were asking for a kick in the ass to have a third when we had already been so blessed with our two girls, never mind the fact that I shouldn’t have been able to have children.

One night in early October 2009, I was trying to go to sleep when out of nowhere, my heart started racing and I broke out in a sweat. My stomach started churning, so I ran to the bathroom and vomited. “What the hell?” I said. The next day, I was horribly nauseated, and threw up three or four times. On day three, I decided enough was enough and was going to the doctor. But my GP wasn’t in the office that day, and I was miserable, so I went to a walk-in clinic. Three hours later, they took blood and had me give a urine sample. I had my head between my legs and was trying not to vomit yet again when the doctor came in.

“Did you know you’re pregnant?” She asked.

“That can’t be. I’m on the pill.”

“Well, you tested positive for pregnancy, and the pill is only 97% effective.”

“Yes, but I’m considered infertile.” And so on and so forth. I couldn’t believe it. I wouldn’t believe it. I mean, come on! Three rounds of Clomid has just hyper-stimulated my ovaries. It took me ages to get pregnant with Autumn, and that took surgery to accomplish. I stayed in denial all the way to the check-out counter while I paid my co-pay, all the way out the door, and all the way to the closest drug store where I bought a pregnancy test. They had to be wrong. There was no way I could be pregnant.

I arrived home, got Brian, and stomped into the bathroom. I don’t even know what I wanted the test to come out as. Brian had always said two kids were fine with him, that we had a perfect little family. If I could choose exactly how many kids I could have, it would have been three, but not without my husband being 100% on board with it. I sat on the lid of the toilet, waiting for the test to complete.

It was positive.

I burst into tears. Not because I didn’t want to be pregnant; but because I was pregnant and that meant nine months living in fear of having my heart broken if I lost this baby, and because I honestly was not sure how Brian would react. We hadn’t planned on this, and we’d figured with my fertility history and birth control, we were free to get down to business whenever we wanted.

I took a deep breath and looked up. There stood my husband of almost six years, grinning like a kid in a candy store, which calmed me down. I made a phone call to my OBGYN’s office and left the doctor this message, “The next surgery you perform on me is to make sure I’m sterile. Every time you operate, I get pregnant.”

The next nine months were a bit of a haze. I was worried about us making ends meet. I was worried about our vehicle situation. I was terrified of what went into two under two, both in diapers, because I’d seen it first hand with my brother and his wife’s second and third children. I was worried that having back to back pregnancies would be bad for the new baby. I felt horribly guilty and bad for Autumn, because unlike Amethyst who had one on one time with me for almost four years before she got a younger sibling, Autumn would only be eighteen months old when the new baby would arrive. Would she feel neglected? Would she hate us? Would she try to eat her new brother or sister?

Delivery day arrived, and I was a bundle of nerves. I was induced, and four contractions in, the anesthesiologist arrived to give me my lovely epidural. Before the sixth contraction started, I was totally numb from the waist down. The day passed by slowly with periodic visits from my doctor. I passed the time taking advantage of the hospital’s WIFI and played games while we waited. When I finally reached 7 centimeters dilated, my sister-in-law came up to the hospital to be a second support person. Finally it was time.

My son, the greatest surprise I’ve ever been gifted with, was determined to make a huge entrance.

Right as I was starting to push, I began to feel my toes. The next thing I knew, a contraction was ripping through me, and I screamed, grabbing hold of the bed rail. The nurse looked at me in a panic and asked, “Is the epidural not working?” I shook my head no, and she ran over to the dispenser, gasped and exclaimed, “Shit!” and ran to page the anesthesiologist. Pain was ripping through me every minute, over and over again, and getting stronger with each contraction as my body un-numbed. I pushed as hard as I could with each contraction, knowing that the only way to stop the horrific pain was to get the baby out. I thought of my grandmother and how she had only two out of nine deliveries in a hospital, no benefit of even Demerol to get her through. I thought of how only I could get me through this, and reminded myself that the calmer I remained, the easier it would be. I fought against tensing up, and just concentrated on pushing the baby out. At one point, Brian was holding my right leg, and the labor and delivery nurse was holding my left leg up, and my OBGYN was telling me, “You need to push harder, Amber. Harder!” I was so exhausted and loopy from the pain that I could actually see myself pulling my leg away from Brian and kicking the doctor in the head and asking him if that was hard enough. Finally, forty minutes after I started pushing, I felt a horrific ripping pain, and my son slid into the world.

He then proceeded to piss all over everyone and everything.

Benjamin had quite literally ripped me a new one: I had a third-degree-tear and it took the doctor quite awhile to finish stitching me up. The nurse brought Benjamin back to me, told me he was beautiful, and I held him and got a very good look at my son, my surprise, my miracle. He was perfect, and he looked so much like his two big sisters that I was overcome with nostalgia. He was so tiny, but yet the biggest of all my children. He had the chubbiest cheeks that just begged to be kissed.

For whatever reason, against every single odd that was stacked against me, I was given three amazing, beautiful, gloriously healthy miracles.

Life as a family of five was rough at first. Eventually we adjusted, and things went back to normal. My uterus on the other hand, had plans for making my life a living hell. Barely healed from giving birth, my periods started up again and would come every two or three weeks with horrific cramping. And every time, I’d phone my doctor and he’d either have me come in so he could take a look, or he’d write me a prescription for pain medicine. But that was just a band-aid for the problem, and it was a band-aid that didn’t really stick. I was so very tired of it. I’d been through so much physical pain and had my heart broken so many times on the way to motherhood. How good of a mother was I, really? How present could I be if I was in massive pain, or taking a pain medication that made me loopy? Brian had been taking care of me for ten years. Ten years of doctors appointments and huge medical bills and surgeries and watching me struggle.

It wasn’t a hard decision to make. Three children was exactly how many I wanted, and I was very blessed to have the three I was given. We were done having children. It did not in any way make me sad to think I would no longer be able to have children. So appointments were made, blood tests were drawn, deep discussions with my doctor were had. He laid everything out on the table, the good and the bad, the easy and the hard, and gave me every possible option to choose from. I went with the DaVinci partial hysterectomy. I’d still have my tubes and ovaries,  but I’d no longer have a uterus, so no periods, and no longer have my cervix, so I could finally stop worrying about a recurrence of the cervical cancer. Brian took two weeks off of work to care for me and to take care of the kids since I wouldn’t be able to pick them up for two weeks.

The morning of, both Autumn and Benjamin woke up with Brian, Amethyst and I. I cuddled and hugged and held my two babies, trying to get my fill (I didn’t succeed) before we left. My in-laws were going to watch the younger two and pick Amethyst up from school that afternoon if my surgery ran late and Brian wasn’t able to. I had let Amethyst’s Kindergarten teacher know what was going on, and she promised me that Amethyst was in good hands and they’d keep her mind off of it. I didn’t doubt it one bit. I hugged my littlest ones good bye, and we took Amethyst to school. I made sure to tell her how much I loved her and to remind her that if I wasn’t able to come home that evening, Daddy would bring her up to visit me that evening.

We drove to the hospital, the same hospital I had had surgeries #2 and #3, and well as gave birth to Autumn and Benjamin. If I could have ran from the car into the operating room, I probably would have. While we were waiting for the nurse to take me back to pre-op, I sent a text to my nearest and dearest, letting them know I was about to go back, and that I loved them all.

We sat in the waiting room, holding hands, and while we were sitting there, I thought about everything I had been through. It was almost over. I’d never again have a period. I’d never again be stuck in bed for two or three days because I was having a debilitating endometriosis flare up. And bonus: I’d never again have sex with either the fear or the hope of pregnancy in mind. Sex with my husband would just be sex.

I was taken back to pre-op, and I noticed that everyone seemed to be walking on eggshells around me. They were overly kind, and it hit me that it was because of what I was having surgery for. I was thirty-three years old, and not many women that age opt to have a hysterectomy, even just a partial.

My doctor came in, and I gave him a huge smile in greeting. He asked me if I was sure I was ready to go through with it since it would be permanent. “Let’s get this party started!” I told him, and I meant it. I’d been through so much pain, cried so many tears, been heartbroken time and time again. I’d spent years in fear: fear of infertility, of not having a baby, of losing a pregnancy, of wondering how bad each period was going to be in terms of pain.

I kissed Brian goodbye, and the anesthesiologist rolled me down the hall. He injected me with something lovely to relax me, and I thought of my three beautiful children, who I’d see later that day. I thought about how lucky I was Brian had always taken such good care of me without ever complaining once.

The next thing I knew, my OBGYN was leaning over me, and I said, “Oh good. You didn’t kill me this time!” He laughed and told me everything went great, and that it was finally over. He told me he’d come back later to check on me, and I closed my eyes and rested a bit. The nurse came over to me, and I asked her for some ice, which they didn’t have. She let me have some cold water as long as I took little sips.

I was rolled into my room, and Brian was there waiting. My new nurse smiled and told me that he understood I planned on leaving as soon as I could rather than staying the night. I said, “Yep.” He then told me I had to go to the bathroom, walk across the room, and hold down some food before he’d let me go. I did all three, and after waiting for the doctor’s official okay, I was allowed to change into my pajamas, and they rolled me down the hall.

It was very peaceful on the ride home. I wasn’t worried about the pain that would set in when the drugs they gave me at the hospital wore off. All I knew was that once I recovered, I would never again suffer from the debilitating pain that had been my constant companion for years. That I’d finally be able to run, and play, and be the type of mother I was meant to be for my kids. We arrived home, and there they were, Benjamin flapping around in his grandmother’s arms, Autumn yelling out, “Mama!” and Amethyst giving me a hug and showing me what she did in art class that day.

November 5, 2010 was the day I had my uterus removed. My only regret is the doctor wouldn’t let me take it to the firing range and practice shooting at it, kind of an active therapy. But they wanted to study my uterus, see what mysteries about Endometriosis it might reveal. I hope that it helps at least one person.

I’ve never looked back and thought, “I wish I wouldn’t have done the surgery.” Not when friends told me they were pregnant again, not when my brother and his wife announced they were having their fourth, and definitely not when my youngest nephew came into the world, and I was there, so proud to be a part of watching this little miracle take his very first breath. I’m thankful I was able to make the decision before it was made for me, and that I was financially able to choose the method I wanted.

I’m celebrating the anniversary of my hysterectomy because I can. Because for years, I had to go along with what my body was putting me through, and all I could do at times was grit my teeth and bear it. I took one of the most heartbreaking and painful experiences in my life, and I turned it into a positive.

And seriously, ladies, wouldn’t you celebrate no longer needing to use tampons and maxi pads?

 

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