My Reproductive Organs Took Me On A Wild Ride I Never Saw Coming. Now I’ve Given Them Up.
When my gynecologist first suggested a hysterectomy after reading the pathology report showing precancerous cells in my cervix, my hand instantly flew up into the air in a “thumbs up” position. A hysterectomy sounded like a magic wand that would remove any possibility of cancer from my body. Case closed. Bloodwork confirmed that my 53-year-old body was now post-menopause. I was initially happy to hear that too. No more surprise periods or painful cramps. No more seeking out the most enormous overnight sanitary pads with wings at Target.
Two weeks later, I left an oncology office armed with a glossy folder filled with pre-op instructions and endless forms. I sat in my car for a few minutes before driving home, staring at the photo of the smiling doctor next to the robotic surgery machine. He was certainly experienced. He was informative and pleasant. He was also very matter-of-fact about it all. Any lingering fears were taken out of the equation.
As my upcoming surgery started to sink in, I found myself thinking about my son, Noah. More specifically, I thought about being pregnant with my son. I was 40 years old and an excited newlywed when I found out I was pregnant with him. It had all been so easy, happening almost as soon as I tossed the birth control pills.
My pregnancy went smoothly, too. My reproductive organs seemed to be waiting 40 years to “strut their stuff.” Noah turned breech in his last week and was born in 2008 via cesarean section. He was perfect, with a head full of dark hair.
My body amazed me. I could feel my uterus tighten as it shrank back down when I breastfed Noah. My body made a human! I am woman; hear me roar!
The two years that followed his birth were everything I thought they might be ― exhausting, emotional, fun, and hard. I was fortunate to be able to stay home with Noah. He always woke up happy, with a sloppy kiss for me. I slowly got the hang of being a new mom, with all the supplies and sleeplessness. I’d expertly pack his bright orange diaper bag with everything we could possibly need for days out in our busy New Jersey neighborhood.
He went nuts when he saw dogs — squealing and pointing. He especially liked to smile at ladies with long brown hair. And when Valerie Bertinelli’s old Jenny Craig commercial came on television, he stopped whatever he was doing. He was mesmerized by her.
He ate everything from cookies to mushrooms and usually needed a bath after every meal. “Wanna go bubbles?” I’d ask, and off he’d run to the bathtub yelling, “BUBBLES!!!” He’d pour in the bubble bath as I ran the water. He was pure joy, and I was never happier.
And then something I’d never imagined could happen happened. Noah went out a door to the backyard of my father’s house and drowned in the in-ground pool.
I was in the very next room. It happened in minutes. It was a door I never thought he could — or would — open. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more children, ages 1-4, die from accidental drowning than any other cause other than birth defects. We’d become that statistic.
Now, instantly thrown into this world of child loss and grief, we soon started to try to get pregnant again. How could we just not be parents anymore? The silence of losing a child is deafening, and we didn’t want to go on in this painfully quiet world.
We started trying naturally to get pregnant again, but, month after month, it was negative pregnancy tests. We were completely heartbroken, but I was convinced my reproductive organs would rev up their miraculous engines again. They didn’t. And bloodwork confirmed my less than 2% chance of getting pregnant on our own. I was now 42 years old.
I never thought I’d enter the terrifying world of fertility. No matter what brings a woman into that waiting room, we all had the same goal: a baby. I was angry and ashamed of my reproductive organs. I’d once cheered for them. Now I wanted to shout at them, “C’mon! You did it once before! You can totally do it again! There must be one more magical egg in there!”
But there wasn’t.
So now, the IVF world lived side by side with the grief. Procedures, injections, bloodwork, rinse and repeat.
We were constantly looking for signs that we would have a child again ― dragonflies swirling around in odd places, finding socks and old belongings of Noah’s that we thought were long packed away, and dreams. This little blonde girl had appeared in my husband’s dreams a few times. He always woke up hopeful, and when he’d describe her to me, I shared his hope for that moment. We had to have hope. There was no other choice. I was almost 45.
Two and half years after Noah died, Miriam Phoenix was born. As the doctor pulled her out of my belly, I just grinned. Blissfully numb from the waist down, I had none of the fear that I had when Noah was born. Miriam had blonde hair, just like the little blonde girl that had appeared in my husband’s dream at our lowest point. I had made it to the finish line of a race. I ran like my life depended on it.
The pregnancy had been different than my first. Instead of memories of that positive drugstore pregnancy test and our ecstatic tears, I had a glossy 8×10 photo of the inside of my uterus after it was primed for pregnancy with a hysteroscopy. I have a photo of her as cells dividing in a petri dish. I witnessed the actual blip of light as her embryo was placed inside me.
My body still felt every bit miraculous. But I was also aware of being the sum of my own parts. Science and hope worked together to create the rebirth of our family. Our Phoenix from the flames.
It’s been 10 years since Miriam was born. She’s still blonde, just like the girl in my husband’s dream. And as she begins to learn about where babies come from, I prepared to say goodbye to that place inside me.
I’ve had the best of both worlds. I’ve seen what my reproductive organs can do as nature intended. And I’ve seen what they can do with medical science. I consider myself lucky. Still, saying goodbye to my cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries feel like saying goodbye to my son’s creation and my daughter’s hard-fought existence. A part of me wishes I could hold on to them as I might to an old ticket stub — something for the scrapbook. But I can’t. I moved onward. Next stop: hysterectomy. Thanks for the memories, dear body.
Recovery was slow and steady. Chocolate pudding was in endless supply. I slept more than I have in years. And when the oncologist called to inform me that what he thought were high-grade precancerous cells had already changed to cancer upon biopsy, I cried. Tears of relief. Tears of knowing for sure I’d made the right decision.
The cancer was early enough that no further treatment was required ― just a PAP every three months for the next year. I joke that I’m now a hollow chocolate bunny. But I’m far from hollow. Instead, I’m filled with so many emotions.
I’m filled with gratitude that I was able to have my daughter before my reproductive organs hit the proverbial fan. I have a greater appreciation of every stage of a woman’s body ― from my own early years of awkward health class discussions, periods synching with college roommates, and the ease of simply being on the pill for birth control. There was the anomaly of getting pregnant easily at 40, followed by a parade of doctors and bloodwork and injections until it all culminated in a showstopping performance of birth.
My organs may be a memory, but I’m so thankful I’ll be here to make many more, proudly showing off those five horizontal laparoscopic scars to anyone who wants to see them. My reproductive organs wrote an eloquent resignation letter that I accepted with grace.
Erica Landis started her writing career in Mrs. Kelly’s second-grade class with a tear-jerking essay about a No. 2 pencil. In eighth grade, she went on to write herself and her friends into a 1980′s “General Hospital” storyline. The notebook pages were passed around like wildfire. She often writes about life after loss, the power of humor, and resilience. Her writing can be found on many lifestyle and parenting blogs. Find her on Facebook at Erica Landis ― I’m a Writer and follow her blog at www.atoptheferriswheel.com.
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