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The 'big O' after the 'big H': One woman's hysterectomy experience.

It can be difficult in an intimate relationship when sex is taken away.

For husband and I we had to navigate how to be intimate without being “intimate” during my last pregnancy and recovery period. With all the raging hormones during pregnancy at first it was difficult to keep our hands to ourselves (it is like this most of the time, which is partly the reason we have four kids), but when my pregnancy complications forced me onto bed rest, and eventual hospitalisation, any thoughts of hanky panky were thrown out the window.

At 19 weeks we were devastated to hear that this would not only be our last pregnancy, that potentially we might not get a baby at the end of it, and that my life was compromised. On top of that we were told that during delivery I would lose my uterus. After weeping loudly, chest heaving in agony at realising my fate, our visits with our OB conjured up some topics previous pregnancies hadn’t required.

We were left wondering “Will I be able to orgasm without a cervix or uterus? Will it feel the same? If my husband calls into my vagina will my vagina echo as I will be essentially ’empty’ inside? Will husband recognise my vagina, or will it feel like a stranger to him?”

I clearly remember the day my husband and I sat opposite our OB, a gentle, kind and patient man, and asked some very personal questions. Before long, my husband and the OB were in the throes of a conversation about orgasms. At this point in the pregnancy, before we knew the extent of my complications, sex was definitely off the table, but our OB was happy to discuss other ways to climax. I honestly don’t think I have heard the word orgasm thrown about so freely before, and repeated so frequently; all I could hear ringing in my ears was ‘orgasm, orgasm, orgasm!’.

As you do, we went home and tried these other techniques that don’t involve sex to reach climax. We weren’t strangers to these, but in our relationship they served more as foreplay rather than the main event. But even these options were cast aside when I experienced orgasms that induced full uterine spasms resulting in painful cramping and vomiting. (Yes, my husband is good at what he does, I’ll give him that.)

However, when the reality I would certainly lose my uterus hit, I had my own questions, “Will I still be a woman? Will I feel the same, will I feel feminine? Will my husband still be attracted to me? Will being barren be a turn off?”

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Rachel and her husband Nathan. (Image provided)

After losing my woman bits and pieces the doctor almost proudly told my husband that I had a “remodelled vagina”. I looked sideways at husband to try and gauge his reaction. Was he impressed with his new ‘toy’? Would he like to take it for a spin once things had settled and I had finally recovered? Would he only be interested in sex because it had been months since he had had any? Yet he held my hand, firmly and with support. He innately knew I was unsure about my “new” body, torn apart and sewn back together, weaker in many ways, and yet stronger in others.

I had a lot of work to do, to comprehend the differences my body now held. Firstly the scar was unavoidable. It runs almost the entire length of my abdomen from top to bottom. I have an inbuilt Halloween costume, much like a fleshy zipper. But slowly my body healed, I weaned off the heavy pain meds and gained strength in my legs as I began walking again. I pushed myself to recover for my family, my husband by my side. I knew he would never rush me for sex, he is a patient man who puts my needs above his own. It was up to me to say when I was ready - the way it should be.

Listen: When's the right time to get back in the sack after giving birth? An expert explains. (Post continues...)

After several weeks we attended my final check up with my OB. He did a physical examination. I flinched in pain and he told husband “She’s not ready, that was only one finger”. In a way I was happy my OB took it upon himself to speak for me on this matter, but I also knew I wanted to get to a place where my husband and I could enjoy each other's bodies once more. Eventually, the day came when I did feel ready. Our baby would soon be released from hospital after a long NICU stay, and I knew once she was finally home with us, she would be the only one I would want to hold close to me. So we had a small window to try things out.

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We set aside some time for us, to explore each other, to caress each other, to be with each other. I was self conscious about my body, unable to bring myself to touch my scar, shuddering at the trauma of what my body went through. My husband was gentle and we took things really slowly.

As I had our first time after our first baby was born, my eyes filled with tears, for I knew I was no longer the same woman I had been prior to giving birth. We were worried it would never feel the same, that I would no longer be able to enjoy this part of our relationship. I can’t even explain the emotion we both felt when I did climax, and climax hard, and several times in a row! We nearly did a high-five as waves of relief flooded our bodies. Afterwards I questioned husband about how it was for him. He was honest and open and truthful. He told me it felt even better now, he never had to worry I would get pregnant again, risking my life to give life. He said I still felt the same to him.

Listen: Mia Freedman interviews surrogate Shannon Garner, about what it's like lending other people your uterus...

A year on from my cesarean-hysterectomy, and our sex life feels normal. It feels great. My husband is still amazing in bed, and while I still harbour doubts about my sex appeal to him as I grapple with thoughts of feeling like a blow-up doll, empty of woman bits, and I wear a singlet to hide my scar, my husband helps me learn to love my new lines. He gently traces my scar and we joke about how it directs him where to go, and he kisses my neck and whispers in my ear how strong I am and how he is proud of me for what I have given us. I have provided our unity with children, and sacrificed a piece of my identity to do so.

I have been brave, I have been strong.

So ladies who have a c-hyst or a regular hyst, don’t deter. If I’m to be brutally honest, the only differences I have noted is that there is no monthly off-season if you catch my drift, so not only can I wear white all year round, every night is potential game on.

A uterus doesn’t define us as women, and being “uterless” doesn’t mean you need to be sexless. But most importantly, there almost certainly is a Big O after the big H, an abundance to be had and enjoyed.

This article originally appeared on Mummy Minute and has been republished with full permission. For more from Rachel, you can also follow her on Instagram.