I spent my morning in the wilds of Rockville seeing a specialist to see if my fibroids could be removed laparoscopically. I was hoping he’d say yes, in great part, because the surgery would then have been done via robot and, come on, who doesn’t want to be able to say they’ve been operated on by a robot? I did, however, have an inkling going in that because of the size of the largest mass that laparoscopic surgery, which would’ve meant basically cutting the mass into smaller pieces so it could be extracted through tiny incisions, wasn’t going to be an option for me. Turns out size wasn’t the doctor’s concern at all; rather there was a line in my ultrasound report that hinted that there was a slight possibility of cancer cells, and so it’s best to remove the mass intact so that if it does turn out to be at all cancerous, there’s no risk of accidentally spreading it throughout the body because the surgeon’s sliced and diced the tumor into little bits. And while the fact that Dr. B raised the “c” word made me face a possibility that I’d steadfastly been avoiding, it’s actually a conversation that happened after my exam that was more troubling.
Somehow Dr. B thought I wanted a hysterectomy while I was looking for a myomectomy, which would remove the fibroids but leave my uterus (hopefully) intact. It was while I was filling out paperwork to secure my surgical date that I noticed the error. Dr. B popped in again to talk to me and said that he would be happy to do just a myomectomy, HOWEVER, I had to understand that given the size of the mass I might end up with a hysterectomy as the only course of action once they had opened me up and could really assess the situation.
My feelings about my uterus have always been ambivalent. It was the reason I was grouchy once a month, but, for the most part, except for one abnormal pap smear in my early 20s, it’s behaved itself quite admirably. As for kids, well, when I was in college, I was convinced that I wanted to be a mom, but as the years went by and I remained unmarried—a prerequisite for me when it comes to having children—I decided I was fairly ambivalent about the situation. I figured that if my husband wanted kids, we’d have some, and if he didn’t, we wouldn’t. Also, having watched a dear friend struggle with the heartbreak of fertility treatments that just didn’t work over a period of several years, I decided fairly early on that if I couldn’t get pregnant the old-fashioned way, I had no interest in pursuing assisted options.
Given all that, I was surprised, after my fibroids diagnosis shortly after my 40th birthday, to find out that I did want kids. In the initial consultation with the gynecologist, the first option she asked me about was a hysterectomy, which would immediately relieve my symptoms. The obscenely heavy bleeding during my period, the chronic anemia, the heartburn, the difficulty breathing that was unrelated to my pneumonia-generated issues, the insomnia. But I found myself telling her that she needed to only give me options that meant I could still conceive a child. I had taken the whole day off from work, even though my appointment was in the morning. The doctor’s office was in Takoma Park and I had planned to walk to Old Town Takoma and treat myself to lunch cause I believe everyone deserves a treat after poking and prodding from lab-coat types. As I wandered the long stretch of Carroll Avenue from Adventist Hospital to Mark’s Kitchen, I was overwhelmed by my longing for a child. It occurred to me perhaps my ambivalence was only another protective spell, a way to stave off the true grief at not having found a partner though I’d fully expected two decades prior to graduate with a Mrs. degree, or at least to “earn” one fairly soon after graduation.
For various reasons, I did not go through with the surgery that year. And sometimes, I think it’s a minor miracle, or maybe not so minor, that this time around, I’ve been researching my options and making doctor’s appointments to find out which procedures are viable for me if I’d like to keep my womb.
I’ve had more than a few conversations with my best friend D, and she doesn’t quite understand why I’m so attached to my uterus. I sort of see her point given how many sheets I’ve ruined because of the fibroids, or how many overnight visits to friends I haven’t made because I’m scared of damaging their furniture, or how many times I’ve spent the day dizzy and semi-delirious at work because my flow has been so relentlessly heavy that I’ve done a good approximation of “bleeding out.” But somehow it feels like if I give up my uterus, it means that I give up my chance at marriage, which makes absolutely positively no sense to my brain, but is absolutely positively the view my heart takes. I am terrified of the emotional devastation I will feel if I come out of anesthesia and Doctor B. has to break it to me that my uterus is no more.
Do I know that I can adopt or foster? Of course, I do. Do I know that given the age range of men I’m looking to date that there’s a good chance I’ll have stepchildren to love and mother? Of course, I do. But again, that part of the conversation’s taking place in my head. My heart really can’t see past the possibility of the emptiness inside me. Somehow she seems to think that not only babies, but also love is born in the middle of me, at my center.
I can’t help but think that maybe it would be easier if there was some ritual, some way to grieve this loss. Even if I don’t lose my uterus in the surgery, the fact is I’m turning 43 tomorrow, which according to most gynecologists is when a woman’s fertility significantly plummets. The italics aren’t mine. They’re the way my primary gynecologist emphasizes the word every time she reminds me that my biological clock is winding down. And yes, I know women have conceived in their 40s, but the fact remains that for women who have never been pregnant, it’s a possibility to have baby mojo past that point, but not a probability. (And yes, for my believer friends, I know that God can make anything happen, but I’m talking about the purely biological view right now.)
Don’t those of us who didn’t make the choice to not have children, but for reasons of just not finding the right person in time, or medical issues, or whatever reason, that’s the end result get to grieve that loss? There should be some symbolic way of saying goodbye to our fertility when we’re desperate to hold onto it for a few more years but biology or health issues won’t allow. There should be a way to mourn that hollowness radiating from that place where you were sure that some day you would feel the squirrellings of life.
I’ll end here with the fact that I know some of you will want to post comforting things. Sure, it could be worse and I’d be better off worrying about the cancer possibility if I’m going to worry about something. Sure I can adopt. Sure my life can be—and is—significant and meaningful and worthwhile irregardless of the state of my uterus or whether or not I have kids. But none of that should mean that I don’t get to grieve. That I don’t get to fill my mouth with wails of grief and loss, to sob an ocean of tears. Morning will come, but first comes mourning.