WRITTEN BY ELISSA HARRIS
It’s hard to know where to start on a story that has always ‘existed’ in your early teens to now early thirties. When you sit, do the maths I have lived this journey for exactly 20 years but my menstrual cycle ended abruptly six weeks ago to the day when I had a full abdominal hysterectomy.
Isn’t it funny but when life changing and significant traumatic events happen in my life my world stands still, frozen in the moment of uncertainty but in 2020 not only my world stopped but so did yours.
As I mentioned earlier it’s hard to know when I first noticed that my cycles seemed to be unusual I was always that teenage girl at school who had to scoot out of class with a jumper around my waist to hide that I got blood on my school dress, again. Or a double decker pad situation with two pairs of undies in panic crisis mode when it was time for my period and shuffling around pretending NOT to have my period, I mean periods are gross right?!
It would take years for me to recognise that my excessive blood loss, migraines, persistent hair growth and severe PMD symptoms to even address this with a GP, and then I met my first transvaginal ultrasound device- what a beauty that is. ‘For anyone that knows what I am talking about, the sheer terror of looking at that thing for the first time is worse than the experience. Thankfully.
I had my first laproscopy and D & C after it was found I had a thickening in my endometrium, I was 26 newly married and warned many times ‘if you are not planning on getting pregnant asap be careful as the stats for pregnancies after these procedures are high’ But, who would listen to such wise words. NOT I. And the following month we fell pregnant with our first daughter Lola.
My laproscopy showed that I had some fibroids in my uterus, what were they and are they to be of concern? I was assured that although they live and grow from hormones and particularly estrogen that they should not be a point of concern throughout the gestation and although the fibroids were feeding off my hormones and grew to be the same weight of our teeny tiny pocket Lola was born, and as the focus becomes onto the baby and not the mum all was forgotten. Who has time for complications when the excitement of a newborn baby is bought into our lives.
Two years later, round 2 and we were pregnant with our second daughter Georgie. Things were different with Georgie I bled heavily at week 7 & week 11, the blood was so bright and flowing I was convinced that I was experiencing a miscarriage but too my surprise and blessings the pregnancy continued but so were my fibroids growing rapidly and restricting me to feel any movements which caused concerns and I was admitted into hospital for monitoring 10 days before our scheduled c section. The day she was scheduled to be born I distinctly took a moment, looked in the mirror and had a visual snapshot of myself at full term pregnancy… I knew and felt that I would never experience a pregnancy again due to the complexities and stress it took on my physical and mental health. If only I knew this had just begun….
Georgie was born she was so calm and had a beautiful presence about her, she was so chilled unfortunately I can’t say the same for me. I immediately had significant pelvic pain after my c section (on the recovery table voicing to the drs something felt wrong) but was dismissed that it was my body taking longer to respond to my second c section and too be patient. This was the first of many times that I felt my pain was being dismissed by medical professionals and feeling helpless.
For the next two years I would be suffering intense and painful bloating and I mean BLOATING, migraines, extreme fatigue, heavy bleeding and clotting and my family would often find me collapsed on the ground after fainting from either excess blood loss or my legs losing feeling from all the nerve pain. After endless hospital trips, GP’s, iron infusions and gastrointestinal procedures I felt completely hopeless and my despair lead me to being diagnosed with Post Natal Depression. I started thinking that maybe my physical health was all a result of my mental health and instability, maybe it was all in my head…
That leads me to the final chapter, after 12 weeks of continuous menstruating it was suggested that I see a gynaecologist again, on my arrival he looked at my scans and ultrasounds and referred me for yet again, another laproscopy and D & C. I wasn’t nervous, I felt that I have always been told that fibroids were common and manageable little did I know that I would wake up after the procedure with a failed biopsy of my uterus and intense pain from the hysteroscopy that went wrong, I now had large fibroids and cervical stenosis and causing a blockage of the passage for the medical team to complete a biopsy of my uterus, as this was a serious concern I was fast tracked for a hysterectomy.
I was told my uterus had grown to the size of a rockmelon and filled with 10 fibriods in, around and through. The surgeon also mentioned that there was significant damage to my bladder and bowel and suggested the adhesions may have been caused by a poor ‘c section job’ which reaffirmed my initial concerns post birth. The dr removed my cervix but was able to conserve my ovaries and fallopian tubes which was the ideal situation so I could avoid menopause for the foreseeable future, but most importantly there was NO evidence of cancer.
The immediate pain was unbearable, it took my breath away and I spent the first day in recovery screaming for the nurses to help me, one nurse said that the body’s immediate response can replicate childbirth and I felt what a cruel way to cement the finality and confirmation of being infertile, just one more ‘dig’. But time and rest, rest and time and each day I feel stronger, capable and proud that I have been able to go through the physical and mental anguish of a hysterectomy.
Being told that my uterus is going to be removed due to fibroid tumours and suspected cancerous cells or suspicion your brain doesn’t allow yourself to even consider other options, I just wanted to get it out and start living a better quality of life. For me the decision to have this done may have been easier to accept with the fact I have had two pregnancies and had the opportunity to be childbearing but the concept of my own femininity, sexuality and overall feeling of being ‘less than’ was a compounded emotion that I struggled to unpack and will continue to do over the years.
AT 33 years old my identity and perception of being a ‘woman’ has been challenged but begs the question, what even is it that makes us a ‘woman’ anyway?