A friend of sixteen years
A boyfriend I thought I’d marry
A lover I wanted to marry
All that I have lost in the last two years.
I’m sure it will make sense one day. Right now, however, my head and my heart are at war with each other and I cannot get them to communicate at all.
It’s been five weeks since I’ve had my uterus removed. As I write this, I can feel tears wanting to well up in my eyes, but they seem to be stuck in my heart. The middle of my chest, to be exact. There is a hole there, in between my lungs and it feels like The Nothing. I’d say that where my womb once was feels the same, but right now my belly feels like a lead brick, swollen and tight. I’ve lost feeling above and below my incision from the severing of several nerves, and I can no longer see my pubic area over the pooch of my abdomen.
But this isn’t all that weighs me down. Weeks before I sobbed in the doctor’s office making the decision to have a hysterectomy- YES! I want to keep my cervix, please!, I let go of a friendship of sixteen years. This friend was like a sister to me; as we often do with family, she started to treat me as disposable.
There seems to be quite a few things I’m excusing lately and it doesn’t feel fair, she texted.
At first, I remained silent and open to feedback. Really? I thought to myself days later. Is my behaviour and personality so offensive it must be excused? And more than once? I decided my heart could no longer take the finger pointing and the lack of self-reflection.
Through these weeks and weeks of healing I have had the time, and finally the energy to process my decision. I realized that the weeping I was experiencing was a ten-fold account of all the losses I had just endured. How long has it been since I felt good?
Then one month into my recovery, came an unexpected call from a high school friend.
“Guess what?” She says. “I’m pregnant!”
“Congratulations,” I reply,“Guess what?!?! I’ve just had a hysterectomy!”
“What happened?” she asks.
I vaguely speak of my experience but quickly stumble upon heavy words: “I’ve been suffering since…” I trail off. I can’t remember. It feels like forever.
“I remember your suffering, ” she says.
We have known each other since we were sixteen, and we are now forty years old. Yes, I made the right decision.
This realization does not take away the pain of my loss , the disfiguration of my body or the scar on my spirit. I’m sure I will bounce back but right now I am tired and alone.
I am also processing so much.
I have hardly ever felt connected to my womb. Though I have had dreams of her, danced for her, prayed to her, our conversations always consisted of me asking her “WHY?!?!?” over and over and over again. Why so much pain? Every. Single. Month. This, followed by screaming, crying, hunching, cursing and sometimes even punching my lower belly in hopes that the torment would stop. Yes, the pain was that bad.
Still the void remained; a wild land. An unknowable cave, icy even after a heating pad, a scalding shower, castor oil packs, acupuncture, yoga, chiropractors, moxa, herbs, prayer and more. So much more.
Now you truly are empty, I say, and touch the swell of my belly. Patches of red still exist from an allergic reaction to the adhesives.
“I want to feel good again!” I cry to my sister, the only family member who was able to visit, two weeks after the surgery.
“It’s gonna take time,” she says. “It’s still so new.”
But the battle between my head and my heart will not let me be. I find myself jumping back to the friend, the one I’ve just let go of. She is almost a year into being a new mother, our lives are completely different. I do not regret closing this chapter, but I am sad that we were never able to elevate our friendship to a higher level than the one we’ve always known.
During the endless nights of hallucinations from the prescription opioids, I came to the realization that several people in my life do not have the tools to communicate with me when things go awry. It seems easier for them to blame me or shut down rather than talking things through. This breaks my heart. I am always open to the growing pains of relationships, but I have grown tired of getting a cold shoulder or being stung. The wounds are deep, and I haven’t the desire to keep trying to make these relationships work. I am not disposable.
My thoughts spiral into a dark grave and I weep for an old self and a friendship that no longer serves. I cannot do the work of others. My heart has taken one too many beatings.
When I emerge, I feel clear, though I cannot yet see. It will take time for the soil to settle within the murky pond waters of my decision.
Meanwhile, every month of my adult life I have suffered more and more. During the last menstrual cycle before my surgery, I hobbled to the bathroom after throwing my phone on the bed, making sure it was near me, as I actually believed I was going to die. Who will take care of my dog I think as I finally made it to the toilet. I’m here alone, who will find her? Who will find me? I
I dug the nails so deeply into my palms that night that in the morning there were half moon shapes embedded in the flesh for two days afterward. My body had peaked: the medicine, shower, oil pack and perhaps, divine intervention, had finally kicked in, but then I was lucid dreaming, unsure of where or who I was.
I woke and called in sick to work. The tears welled up as I made the call; I was trying to hold it together. Nobody knows, unless they know, and those women out there whom have known this pain, my heart is with you. Your silent suffering is understood here.
On the day of my surgery, the first nurse blew the vein on my left hand while trying to set up the IV, the second had a go on my right hand and struggled as well but finally succeeded. My veins are massive blue-green rivers rushing on the tops of my hands, it was hard to believe they were having difficulty. This mishap caused anxiety. Needles scare me and I started to cry.
I wish I had a mother here, I think to myself. I wish I had a partner.
My friend, who is my life support system at this point, comes in after the IV incident. We talk to normalize the scene, yet I am not fully present as my fear takes a hold of me. We meet the anesthesiologist and he makes an off-handed remark about how he doesn’t think that people should take pain meds unless they are actually feeling pain. This is a bizarre remark, as once the pain has peaked, the meds do little to bring it down. I glance over at my friend with fear in my eyes. I should have known that this was a foreshadowing of what was to come, as I woke up screaming and began hyperventilating from the pain. Somebody made a huge mistake. I felt EVERYTHING upon awakening. The pain was unlike anything I can describe or can be imagined. Through the blur, I could see the anesthesiologist and the nurses scrambling to find a proper pain medicine, and finally, after being pumped full of four narcotics, I started to pass out. Thank you for yet another layer of trauma to work through. I still can’t talk about this without tearing up.
While in the recovery room, I’m so full of drugs that I begin to hallucinate- or maybe I am dreaming. I glance at my phone and see a text from my former lover, a man I feel in love with. I am surprised to hear from him as we had ended it just a month before my surgery. I am so happy to see his text, with a heart emoji at the end, but my eyes are getting so blurry and I feel excruciatingly tired so I decide to sleep before responding.
When I wake, I remember the text and excitedly grab my phone to respond, but there is nothing from him in my text feed. Did I delete it by mistake? I think. No, Amy. There was nothing ever there. I imagined this. It was all in my dream.
I am heartbroken and let myself fall back asleep after pushing the button to administer more pain medicine, but even the strongest drugs can’t help with the sadness now living in my chest. I am reminded of the book My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh. I want nothing more than to disappear into the ethers. Wake me in a year, I think, maybe then my heart will be done grieving.
Back at home, I must relearn to walk, sit, stand and move, barely, as it feels like my insides will spill out. My legs are like wet noodles, ready to collapse at any moment. I look down at my distended belly. Never lose your belly. It’s so beautiful, I hear my lover’s voice say. I wonder what he would say now. I begin to cry, but only gently as every movement hurts, and I try to imagine how I will feel the next time I sleep with someone. Will I love my body as much as he did?
At least I will no longer have monthly cycle pain! Is the pep talk I give myself, in hopes that I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. But this is a new pain and therefore a new growing. A place, I’m sure, of evolution.
Meanwhile, back on the phone with my high school friend, I say, “I basically had a cesarean but without giving birth.” She reflects on this a moment and then responds:
“I saw you giving birth to your inner child.”
I get chills when she says this and I start to get emotional, yet it’s been two years since we last spoke so I try to keep it together. We have the sweetest of conversations and when we hang up I proceed to sob. This must be why I put a picture of me at seven years old on my mantle months ago.
My neglected little girl self was left to her own devices. I can’t remember ever being played with by either of my parents or hardly even being paid attention to- unless I was getting into trouble. An alcoholic mother, an abusive sibling and my absentee father, no wonder my womb is broken.
I sit at my altar and hold the picture of me as a little girl. Barely a smile upon my face and already a life etched with sadness in my seven year old face. I gaze at her for a long while before speaking a prayer out loud:
I promise to love you, always.
I promise to listen to you.
Play with you.
Pray for you.
And hear you.
And I promise to never abandon you again.
You are safe and loved.
I put her picture to my chest, the same spot that’s been empty for years. Perhaps empty since the beginning of my life. I begin to sob as I think of the babies I will never have, the relationships I’ve lost, the friends I’ve let go of and for the body I don’t yet know. I cry about the pain my beautiful, disabled womb suffered for so many years and then I cry about the life I’ve had up until now.
I’ve spent more than half of my life in pain.
I pull the picture away from my chest and vow to never disregard myself again. I glance one more time at seven-year-old me and swear I see a flash of a smile slightly bigger than before. I smile back at her.
“Let the healing begin,” I say. And with that, I make peace with my sisterectomy.