As I write this I am 2 weeks away from having a hysterectomy.
I was going to write “my first” but that goes without saying; it is a once in a
lifetime experience. This decision comes after 5 years of struggle with
endometriosis. I have had a previous surgery, monthly hormone injections, and a
huge gamut of alternative treatments chosen from states of stubbornness, desperation,
and hope. I have read and researched. I feel very good about my decision to have
a hysterectomy now. In fact, I am even looking forward to the new start it should
give me healthwise.
And yet…there is this lingering shame. In writing my yearly
holiday letter I found myself avoiding saying what kind of surgery I am having,
something I would not do if I were having back, knee, heart surgery or if they
were removing my appendix. I hesitate to tell people. Since I am therapy minded
and not embarrassed about body parts in general, I have been curious. What is
this shame about?
There are the ghosts of the medical establishment past in my
head. Old messages, from generations back (although still lingering around the
world no doubt), saying horrid things about “female troubles” and the weakness
of the female mind and body. The idea that somehow I am unable to handle the
potency of the female body, that the female organs themselves are sources of neurosis
and weakness, are haunting me. This is surprising, since I rationally disagree
with these old men who perpetrated crimes against women through the guise of healthcare
back in the day. I rationally resist. I know better. I probably initially read
these ideas in a state of indignant, feminist rage, critically minded, thinking
of the words as a piece of history. But they got in my head.
And then I realize, there are ghosts whispering from the other
side of the aisle too, although these ghosts are a bit more fleshy and
contemporary. These are the ghosts of feminist theory past that tell me that
women have just been pawns in the patriarchal rush to remove our female organs,
as though this can remove our female power. That the uterus is a sacred part of
who we are and should be preserved like some internal icon. They shame me too
and make me doubt that I know what is best for me. Even as I am encouraged to
be empowered, they whisper, “Are you just another woman giving in, giving up a
piece of themselves?”
So I am writing this now because I know I am not the only
one haunted by these extremes. I know I am not the only one who feels like
everyone has a say about how I should care for my body. And I am not the only
one who has been taught that her body defines who she is. No more. Not for me. I
am a grown up, wise women, who has a unique body with unique needs. I know what
is best for me. I know who I am. And
that is what I have to remind myself as I stand in the face of so many invitations
to doubt my own mind and to feel like my body belongs to a larger cultural conversation
that doesn’t regard the individual that I am.
So if you relate, even a little, for reasons of your own, feel
me joining you in solidarity. It is important to acknowledge how insidious
these old messages can be, even when we have consciously rejected them. It is
an ongoing process to ignore their whispers in our heads. We can get rid of the
ghosts if we trust ourselves. We can do more if we trust and encourage each other
to make our own choices. Wish me luck!