real life

GUEST POST: be careful what you wish for

After having 3 babies in 18 months, Melissa was content to say goodbye to her reproductive career. However, after an emergency hysterectomy at the age of 36, suddenly she found herself wishing for the days of tampons, pap smears and birth control…. reconciling shattered dreams with gratitude…..

I’m an optimist at heart. When someone shows me a half-empty glass I like to argue with them that it’s half full. I find that positive thinking will usually procure a positive outcome, or at least teach me something useful. Sometimes, however, this doesn’t work.

My optimism and positive attitude served me well in recent times. When you have a baby in your first year of marriage, quickly followed by twins 18 months later, staying positive isn¹t just helpful, it¹s a necessity. We vowed no more babies after a veritable overload of nappies, teething, bottles and breastfeeding. We didn’t recognise ourselves as people anymore, we were Mummy and Daddy, 24/7.

Then things were wrong with me gynaecologically. After the three babies in a year, I suffered from a uterine collapse, and a hormonal growth that was impinging on my internal organs. It was annoying and inconvenient. I just wanted to feel well again so that I could look after my kids.

So when my specialist scheduled me in for day surgery which should fix it all, I was relieved. Day surgery too meant that I could be home with my girl and that there would be minimal disruption.

I went to my pre-op appointment the day prior to my scheduled procedure and felt uneasy. Although just a formality, the ­bloodwork, ECG, appointment with anaesthetist, and again with my specialist had me a little nervous. He did say that the plan was to try and do the procedure vaginally, but should that go wrong, they may need to operate, which carried a small risk of haemorrhage, or hysterectomy.

I was my usual optimistic self. Of course they need to say that.

I’d survived paralysed lungs and ICU after Eloise’s birth, I survived twins for goodness sake, I can kick that!

My husband, who had dropped me off at 6am for my day surgery, was expecting a call from me at lunch to ask him to collect me. He was not expecting a call from my doctor instructing him to come in to the hospital as they weren’t sure I was going to make it.

Things didn’t go so well. Shortly before my procedure – while I was awake – my uterus ruptured. I thought I was dying. It took an enormous team of staff (22 I’m told) 4.5 hours and numerous blood transfusions to work out what happened, remove my uterus and cervix, and save my life by doing so.

I woke up in intensive care late that evening didn’t quite understand what was going on. My specialist arrived and told me the news. “I’m sorry, it didn’t go so well, we did have to perform an emergency hysterectomy, but we’re very lucky to have you here”.

It didn’t really sink in, all I wanted was to see my babies and my hubby. The fact that I nearly died overshadowed everything else. I felt relieved the ordeal was over. I was in so much pain. I made a quick and efficient recovery (good training after two caesareans!) and miraculously left the hospital 5 days after arriving. This recovery was motivated by the lovely staff who echoed the same thing: “Oh you¹re so young”, “At least you have three lovely children”, “Lucky you, no more periods or pap smears”.

I felt the need to say “I’m happy to be here! It could be so much worse!” and I did, on almost an hourly basis. When I got home, I set about getting well and getting on with things. After two days at home, however, my world came crashing down.

Every time I opened a magazine or watched TV there was someone having a baby. There was a tampon or sanitary napkin ad. When picking up my antibiotics at the chemist, he asked me what birth control I was using as there could be an drug interaction. I had to say the words out loud without crying: I just had a hysterectomy.

I felt suffocated by grief. I opened my drawer to get dressed and found­ tampons and a prescription for birth control. I flew into a rage, throwing everything in the bin. I sobbed uncontrollably for days.

I was angry with my husband: he could leave me tomorrow and have babies with anyone. I could not. This was not rational, but I felt insecure and worthless as a woman ­ I no longer had anything to offer. I had an ugly lateral incision and thirty-six staples on my stomach.. a permanent reminder of what I felt was stolen from me. My youth and my choices.

I now felt like a 36 year old woman in 56 year old woman’s body. I didn’t

feel like I could talk to anyone about it. It was hard to articulate because I knew I was lucky to have three such beautiful, vibrant daughters. I was lucky be alive. I felt ungrateful and like I was in my own impenetrable pity party. Sympathy made me feel worse. My friendships suffered. I shut people out. I had issues with my family. I felt very alone.

If I wanted to have a baby I couldn’t. My life-long dream and ambition of donating eggs to a childless couple were gone. That was very important to me.

My husband was going through his own grief. Firstly, the shock of almost losing me, and, he had to finally accept he would have no sons, something of which he had not, until now, given up hope.

Eventually we did seek the services of a counsellor (separately), and this, for me, helped put things in perspective. I’m allowed to feel angry and ripped off.

I’m not selfish for feeling this way. People are going to have to understand if I¹m not over it in five minutes.

I’m not over it. I don¹t think I’ll ever get over it. Still, I don’t cry every day, every week anymore. My body image, my levels of intimacy are still suffering, but it’s a long, long road. I can feel happy when a friend is pregnant, hold a baby, see a tampon advertisement, without my heart racing and trying very hard to hold back the emotions.

 

One day I hope to set up some Australian online resources and support for younger (and even older)  women who have experienced hysterectomy.

 

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