Tuesday, July 09, 2013

My Uterus - a Look Back

Wouldn't you know that during the year after my hysterectomy, public discussion of the uterus is more popular than ever?

Despite my lack of a uterus and ovaries, I don't feel particularly left out. Jim and I felt early on that one kid was plenty and that my anatomy did not mean I had to have many children. We were always extremely careful about birth control, stopped using it when we were ready to have a child, had a child, returned to mandatory birth control use and then Jim had a vasectomy when we were sure we were ready for that. We made those plans and we retained control of the size of our family and of our reproductive health.

At the same time, while birth control no longer impacts me directly, I have always very strongly believed that individuals must have easy access to birth control, Plan B, and abortion. So I will continue to stand with women across the country who must fight the state to retain their rights to unimpeded birth control and abortion.

I didn't wake up one morning and decide "I think I'll get rid of my uterus and ovaries so I'll never need to worry about them again." I'd had a few rounds of ovarian cysts that got progressively more painful and led to multiple surgeries. In fact, when the cysts came back again when I was 51, I switched to a new gynecologist whenever I was told "You should have a hysterectomy." After all, I was well into perimenopause, and menopause itself tends to stop ovarian cysts from reoccurring. But, at 55, I was still having painful periods and then got quite sick. So I was more than ready to say "Enough, I'll finally have a hysterectomy." It was my decision. My choice. I had the surgery because I was ready for it.

Women should always be able to make their own decisions about their reproductive health care, something that is no longer true in states like Texas, Ohio, North Carolina, Oklahoma...the list goes on.

If you look up information about hysterectomies online, you'll read all kinds of information, some of it quite scary. Women are different, and the age you have a hysterectomy makes a huge difference. Since I was 55, my ovaries were already making less estrogen. Since I have a history of endometriosis and am a DES daughter, I could not consider going on hormone replacement therapy after the surgery. I admit, I was a little concerned about that, even though I've never been a "girly girl" type. Would a hysterectomy create more problems than it would fix?

While I had some problems post-op (an infected ovary led to an infection that migrated to the surgical wound which required all kinds of extra treatment (but, luckily, no additional hospitalization)), I recovered pretty rapidly. I felt I was about 95% back to normal within 6 weeks of surgery. Jim and I went to Chicon and while I couldn't carry much, I walked a lot and had some great meals out.

A year post-op, I feel pretty good. I lost and regained 20 pounds, so I weigh about the same I had for the last couple of years. My weight "realigned" a little - my skin is a little looser, my breasts are a little smaller and so on. I'm walking a little over 2 miles a day (I've walked over 1,000 miles since early 2012 when I increased my walking and started using MapMyWalk to track my activity). But the frequent pelvic pain and all that extra bleeding is gone and I generally feel better. I still have a horrible case of insomnia, so I'm exhausted much of the time and my concentration is so-so - the hysterectomy had no impact on that at all.

So, do I talk a little about sex? A hysterectomy impacts a woman's sex life in many ways. The issue here is that while I may want to be very open about how I feel about sex, I'm part of a longtime couple, and Jim is not fond of TMI-type discussions because they involve him too, and I do respect his privacy. A hysterectomy has to impact your sexual response over the short term because of scar tissue, the lack of a uterus, lack of estrogen...but, after a few months, if you take sex very easy (think of any kind of physical rehab), it can be as good as before. Sex is slightly different for me, but really not that much. My advice is don't panic during the first couple of months about sex after a hysterectomy, but if you have severe pain, go see your doctor. In general, if you had a positive attitude/experience about sex pre-surgery, you'll make adjustments and have a positive attitude/experience afterwards.

Support from family and friends after any major surgery was extremely helpful. I was very moved to get many messages from folks online after my surgery. I was very active in an online forum called Hystersisters for a few months which is for women who are having/have had hysterectomies. I had some mixed feelings about the forum. Most of the information they gave was accurate and practical, and sharing posts with other women who were pretty-much home-bound for a few weeks about their experiences was good. But...it was cutesy in places ("pamper the princess" - UGH), they tended to be overly cautious on activity and there's some odd group-think that goes on among the leaders. With those cautions, I do recommend that hysterectomy patients check out the forum to see if it's helpful to them.

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