In the operating room, I cried.
“I’m sad,” I announced to the over-bright room, and a nurse appeared in the space above my head. I looked up into her eyes. I couldn’t remember her name. “I’m sad. I know it’s silly, but I’m sad because my uterus was the first home for my children, and now you’re taking it away.” I had meant to give my stomach a ceremonial rub before this moment, to offer up some sort of prayer or ritual of gratitude, but somehow in the lead-up to surgery, I had forgotten.
“Please,” I begged the woman in the multi-colored hairnet, “please give it a pat for me before you throw it away.”
“Before we send it off,” a nurse on my other side corrected with a laugh. They held my hands, one on each side, as I wept for the first “imperfect” home my babies had ever known.
Imperfect. “That’s a very awkward uterus,” I once thought a heavily-accented doctor had said to me as he conducted a diagnostic ultrasound. It took me days of Googling to work out that he’d actually called it a very “arcuate” uterus. The ultrasound was meant to find a reason for my preterm delivery the year before.
My first child had come eight weeks early, spending three weeks in the NICU and it turned out that my misshaped, arcuate/awkward uterus was the cause. My second baby came only six weeks early, with a week in the NICU, and the third and fourth babies made it nearly to term.
My uterus stretched a little more with each baby, though not without months of contractions along the way. Between all the pregnancies combined, I spent a cumulative year of my life on bedrest.
And now, my uterus was filled up again, this time with a giant fibroid.
I probably wouldn’t have had surgery just to remove a fibroid, but they’d also found a suspicious cyst on my left ovary. The cyst had to come out in case it was cancerous, so while they were in there they would also be removing the fibroid-filled uterus, too.
“I’m going to give you some medicine to relax you,” came the anesthesiologist’s voice from somewhere behind my head.
“What time is it?” I asked, and the person answered.
“Is it benign?” I said.
“Did they leave my right ovary?”
“Can I have an ice chip?”
The weird thing about all these questions was that I didn’t feel like they were actually coming out of my mouth. “Can you hear me, when I talk to you?” I asked, not quite believing the answer.
When I was 12 and first started my period, I decided that I couldn’t wait to be 55. That was my one life goal: to make it through all this bloody business and come out on the other side.
It wasn’t just the mess or the pain. It was, somehow without being able to articulate this to myself at the time, the idea of being sexually uninteresting to men that I craved. At 12 years old, when I could not yet remember the abuse I’d endured many years earlier, I had some vague idea that fertility made me a target. To be post-fertile would be to be free.
And here I was, waking up in a recovery room with no uterus, 14 years ahead of schedule.
I know what I need to do, I thought in my anesthesia-induced haze, as I remembered my young self and all the girls like her. I’m ready to mother the world.
Obviously, the babies I incubated in my uterus still need me. They are 14, 12,10 and 8, and I have no intention of relegating my responsibility to them. And obviously, 10 weeks from now, I will continue to be sexually available to my husband. Some women even report that their sex lives improve after hysterectomies.
But it was symbolic, the removal of this organ that had caused me so much grief for me. From the terrible cramps and monthly puking of my adolescence to the bedrest and the NICU stays of my baby days to the fibroid symptoms as of late.
I’m incredibly grateful for the incredible people that my uterus gave me. But with my uterus gone, I have more room—more room in my body, more room in my heart, more room in my life. My children already show signs of someday becoming independent creatures, of needing less of me. And so, I stride into the future now, even though I once envisioned it at a set age of 55.
I’m 41. I have no uterus. I am still a mother. And I am free.