Pedicures, shopping sprees, yoga, dinner with friends, general anesthesia…
You don’t really think of a massive organ purge as self-care, but I’m here to tell you that you’re wrong.
It has been 143 days since I’ve had a uterus, some fallopian tubes, my cervix, and my right ovary.
But as The Weepies say, the world spins madly on.
Hysterectomies are one of those things that look gory and intense when they happen, but by the time you’re up and walking to the kitchen on your own, people assume you’re largely back to normal.
I know as women we often need reminded of this after we do stuff like have babies, get biopsies, or go to the hospital in any capacity, but this was a major medical event. Complete recovery can take 6 months or more, and in pure internet form, it’s also a journey that is largely under-discussed.
I mean, sure, holding a pillow against my lower abdomen was helpful in the week or two after surgery when I coughed or sneezed, but what about months later when I’m crying in a restaurant because the instrumental version of Octopus Garden is playing, or when I’m walking through a store and have to grab myself when hit with a sudden lighting bolt shock to the crotch, and wtf are these phantom ovulation pains that keep happening?
It’s been five months since my hysterectomy and mid-urethral sling, and I’m still very much recovering, but I want to talk about what exactly that looks like.
Where I am Physically:
Honestly, it took me a solid nine weeks to stick my finger inside of me.
Blunt way to open, eh? But for real, like you wouldn’t be curious?
To be fair, my urologist flat out told me that absolutely nothing could enter the Chamber of Secrets for a solid 9-12 weeks as my urethral sling healed. No licks, no dicks, no tampons sticks, I was repeatedly reminded in front of my mother.
I was anxious to peak around in there, as I have always had a very low sitting cervix, and during my period, it sat even lower, making menstrual cups a bitch to use, and sex sometimes painful.
Now it’s just… empty? Not like, deserted 80’s mall empty, but just free of obstacles empty. Like, man this room would make a great office if not for all the boxes of VHS tapes and unused litter boxes empty.
Every morning I wake up and run my hands across my lower belly, wondering which version of post-hysterectomy Brittany I am gonna get that day.
At least once every two weeks it’s swelly-belly-can’t-wear-pants Brittany. The kind of bloated, painful swelling you get when you’ve eaten all the dessert you had every intention of (not) sharing with your husband, and you have to drive home moaning with your pants undone. The shit part is that is that I can go from normal to swollen in a matter of seconds, which is why I keep leggings and giant underwear rolled up in my glove compartment for reasons other than accidentally sneezing and peeing my pants, now.
Of all the incisions involved (large incision across my lower abdomen, three on my mons pubis, two in my belly button, small ones from a failed laparoscopic attempt on my stomach, and some internal vaginal incisions), my belly button is giving me the most trouble. It could be due to scar tissue from my past gall bladder surgery, but I feel like I’m constantly chasing irritation and infection there. It can get pretty gross, and I’m suddenly very insecure about my potential belly button smell at any given moment.
However, I have almost zero feeling in the skin of my lower abdomen (let’s pretend this is normal so I don’t get the urge to google if it’s not), so now’s the time to get that gut tattoo I’ve always wanted.
In terms of my mid-urethral sling, things have been really easy in terms of recovery and activity post-surgery. I can’t explain to you how different my life is now that I am not living in absorbent pads and underwear, or avoiding sitting on Andy’s lap, being active with my family, or jumping in and dancing drunk with my friends.
In fact, I had the stomach flu last week, and for the first time in 11 years, I threw up for two days straight and didn’t pee my pants once! How amazing is that? Vomiting has been a shameful and isolating act for me for so long, rolling beach towels between my legs and then waiting until no one was paying attention to run them, soaked, to the washing machine, or locking the door so that Andy couldn’t see me on my urine-soaked knees crying and puking into the toilet. It’s a game changer.
The only side-effect I’ve been struggling with are a couple of urinary tract infections (two since surgery), but I was warned this could be an issue.
Unlike my pre-surgery life of never keeping pee inside me for very long, suddenly, I’m retaining a bladder full of urine, and like a baby, I’m relearning how I’m supposed to completely empty it appropriately and all at one time.
Adulthood, so damn weird, right?
On one hand, I haven’t had a period or leaked urine in 143 days, and man, what a glorious time to be alive!
On the other hand, I’m a mess, y’all. I retained an ovary, but even that didn’t save me from some more serious than anticipated emotional and hormonal adjustments. I cry a lot, and while my anxiety has remained largely controlled with my normal medications, I’ve been battling depression in ways I’m completely unfamiliar with.
I’m angry. I’m mostly alone in this experience in my immediate friend community. I am exhausted by 2pm every day, and everything that seems to happen around that time is frustrating. I feel misunderstood often, I feel sad often, I’m apologizing to people often, but I’m also not demanding the adjustment period to this that I desperately need, so I have some things to work on.
Medication is helping, my doctor is helping, I’m still working on giving myself the patience to help me, too.
My Sex Life:
This is why you are here, and it’s the question I get approached about the most.
Has my hysterectomy effected my sex life?
When you search online for information about this, you get a lot of soundbites about dryness and lower sex drive, but the truth is, many of those issues also come with age. Women under 50 getting hysterectomies? We exist, internet. Ask us about doing it.
So, 38 year old woman, has your hysterectomy effected my sex life?
Short answer: No, unless you count it being awesome!
Long answer: Hey, let’s google vaginal cuff together.
Because I had my cervix removed during my hysterectomy, my doctor sewed in it’s place a vaginal cuff. Basically, she closed off the hole between my vagina and the rest of my body so I’m not walking around like a giant tube sock.
Vaginal cuffs take a long time to heal, and if you hit it before it’s healed (like with a penis) it can tear open and bleed and be a serious situation. I asked if this meant that my organs could accidentally fall out of my vagina if this was ripped open, and my nurse just stared at me, so I feel like the answer to this is yes.
I was very nervous about my vaginal cuff for a really long time, and as a result, I put off penetration until 10 weeks post-hysterectomy, though I was technically cleared by my surgeon at 8 weeks.
I am making the “penetration” distinction because did engage in some 8 weeks post-op outercourse, because I was watching a lot of Riverdale during my recovery, and I had some Skeet Ulrich thoughts I need to work out with my hitachi wand.
Everyone’s experience and recovery is unique, but in terms of my own: I had an abdominal hysterectomy and I am still having multiple orgasms at a time. I am not experiencing any dryness. I no longer feel pain during sex. My sex life has gotten better post surgery.
“I wish I’d had this done years ago,” is a saying I hate.
Do I wish I’d done this years ago? Sure, it’d have been great to not be riddled with painful ovarian cysts, endo scar tissue, have a period, and not feel the humiliation of incontinence. But, my access to healthcare isn’t always fair or up to me, so my best advice in this process remains to be loud about your bodies. Go to the doctor, take up space while you’re there, speak loudly, bring a list, overshare all over the place, go home, keep making your list, and go right back to your doctor and do it again. Your doctor not listening to you? Find a different one, they work for you, they take your money, you give up whole work days waiting in waiting rooms for them, stop paying people who don’t listen to you.
You wouldn’t pay a painter who paints your bathroom purple when you asked for grey.
Stop undervaluing your bodies.