Earlier this fall a friend about my age (early 40s) posted in online group that she was nervous about her upcoming hysterectomy, and two other friends, same age, reassured her that it would be fine and they were very glad they’d had theirs. So I asked all three about their experiences! This is not in any way a comprehensive look at most people’s hysterectomies at this age but I still think it’s interesting how different these three experiences can be. The following has been edited and condensed:
When the idea of getting a hysterectomy first entered the picture:
M.B., 42 in IL. Children are 8 and 11 years old. Hysterectomy performed earlier in 2020: When I was 30 and had my first surgery for endometriosis, before trying to get pregnant my doctor said “Let’s get you pregnant ASAP and once you’re done having kids we should do a hysterectomy.” I was shocked she said that because it sounded so drastic but put it out of my mind for years til I was 1000% sure I was done having kids.
E.H., 42 in Wisconsin. Kids are 15 and 10. Hysterectomy performed early in October 2020: I had heard about uterine prolapse before because I'm one of those people who goes down the rabbit hole to look up every possible terrible thing that could happen. Basically one day I felt it just drop: “Bloop.” I was like, “Oh, shit.” It was like you could feel a big blob. I called my doctor and they referred me to a pelvic health clinic. Basically they said “Your uterus is at the opening of your vagina. I think you're going to need a hysterectomy.” It took quite a while for me to be able to get an appointment: until then I was worried it was going to fall out. There's was basically nothing holding it in. I couldn’t see it, but I could feel it. It felt like a nose, since it’s cartilage. Walking around, it felt like a full tampon, where it’s so full it’s going to come out, all the time.
K.K., 44 in TX. Kids 15 and 7. Hysterectomy performed 2018: Before I had my son which was 15 years ago, I was on birth control and so my periods were fairly normal. I got an IUD after I had my son and so my periods were pretty much nonexistent during that time. After I had my daughter in 2013 my periods were bloodbath. We’re talkin’ these super ultra max tampons that if you showed it to a teenager they would pass out. Changing one of those every hour was just a nightmare. I had considered a process called endometrial ablation where basically they cauterize the inside of your uterus, but because I have fibroids my doctor said that it wasn’t a sure fix. Then I developed an ovarian cyst that started causing discomfort and my doctor told me it was large enough I needed to have surgery to take care of it so it didn’t rupture. At that point I said, “Well, I’m having surgery anyway, so if you’re gonna be rootin’ around in there, you might as well just pop that uterus right out, because I’m not using it anymore.”
E.H.: Because I was done having kids it was almost, “OK fine, just do it.” I will say, I had this little inkling of, “Am I still a woman without my uterus?” You connect womanhood so much to the reproductive piece, which is so stupid. Even though I’m very liberal and progressive, even though it’s ridiculous and you know it is, it’s there. I looked at that and said “No, womanhood does not have to do with your organs.”
When it was finally time for surgery I was a little bit freaked out going in, since COVID is ridiculous here in Wisconsin. But all the COVID patients were in a totally different wing and everybody was very safe. The hardest thing was that I couldn’t even have my husband there. I was there by myself just waiting.
The process itself:
K.K.: It was a laparoscopic surgery. It turned out that the cyst was really growing on my fallopian tube and not on my ovary, so the doctor removed the fallopian tube, my uterus, and my cervix but I still have my ovaries so I’m not dealing with any sort of hormonal issues as of yet. I’m sure if you ask my husband he’d say something different. It was a morning appointment and I was home that evening. It was not any sort of problem at all. The main unease with the surgery was the anesthesia, that loss of control, your life being in someone else's hands. That was the first surgery I’ve ever had, besides having my wisdom teeth taken out under twilight sleep. The surgery itself was, I thought, super easy. They just took everything out and sewed me up and sent me home.
M.B.: My surgery was very involved, about two and a half hours, fixing a bunch of endometriosis issues while they were in there. The hysterectomy was honestly just icing on the cake. Immediately after I was so out of it, but they wanted me to pee before I left the hospital and I remember it burning and my tummy was so big and painful from the gas they pump into you during laparoscopic surgery.
E.H.: They took my uterus out through the vagina because it was right there but I also had to have other repairs because I had a bladder prolapse and I needed a sling and I had to have what they have perineoplasty where they sew up your taint. They had to basically re-align my vaginal canal because of the prolapse. I checked into the hospital at 8 and then my surgery was around 10 and when I woke up and asked what time it was, it was like 2. I stayed overnight. When I woke up, I was in a lot of pain. I started coming to and they’re like “Do you want some morphine?” “Yessss.” That first night was really really rough. When they’d ask me how it hurt on a scale of 1-10, it was a 9 or 10.
K.K.: The surgery was on a Friday. I stayed in bed that weekend, and I was sore, but except for the lifting restrictions, where I made my husband take out the trash basically, I was really back to normal the following week. I didn’t take any painkillers, just Advil. I was just so thrilled not to deal with the bloodbath periods anymore.
E.H.: They had told me that the recovery would be slow and it certainly has been. The first week I slept a lot and they told me I’d be exhausted. You'd be awake for an hour and all of a sudden you have to sleep. Your body is repairing yourself.
I wanted to wean myself off the morphine really quickly. I don’t like being on it. I know that morphine is addictive and I don't want that for very long. Luckily I didn't need it for more than a couple days. I can’t lift anything over 8 pounds or get back to activities like exercise or sex for 6 weeks. In one way it gets me out of doing chores. but it’s also annoying because I’m used to doing those things. A few days ago I got in the car and drove for the first time. If I walk around for too long, I get sore and have to stop.
M.B.: I was completely unavailable to help my kids for the first week- thank god for my parents being in town. I only got up for brief periods and it was usually to eat, take meds (I was super tripped out on codeine and hated it so within 4 days I only took tons of ibuprofen round the clock), then laid back down. That what I tried to do as much as possible the first 3 weeks. ‘Thankfully’ because of covid I was newly unemployed so didn’t have to worry about going back to work. I don’t remember exactly when I started to feel ’normal’ but it was at least the full 12+ weeks my doctor warned me about.
No period, but no menopause:
E.H.: I told the doctors I’d like to keep my ovaries, but not everyone does. I didn't want to go into menopause right now. One thing they told me which was interesting is that when you're having a hysterectomy, doctors usually like to take your fallopian tubes because there’s some kind of correlation between having them and other types of cancer as you get older. I have no period, which is hurray forever, but I am still bleeding and have to wear pads for quite a while. I assume I'll still have some sort of hormonal cycle. They did say I’m not going to get cramps anymore. Hurray for that.
Would have been nice to know:
E.H.: One of the things I found interesting, once I started talking about this with some friends, all of a sudden I started hearing “I had one,” “My mom had one,’ “My grandma had one.” I first feel like “Oh maybe I should keep this a secret: it's embarrassing because it has to do with my vagina” or “Oh, what’s wrong with me? My body’s decaying.” But once you start talking to people you feel less alone about it.
Also, when I went to my surgeon the first time, she asked me how how old my oldest is. When I told her she’s almost 15, she said. “You're right on schedule. This happens a lot. You've had two vaginal births and a lot of damage to the vaginal area from tearing.” I had pushed really hard with my births. That’s one thing that would be nice to know. I thought I was being tough, giving birth vaginally without anesthetic, but if I had known that would have been a risk factor for prolapse, I might have said “Just give me the freaking epidural.” I feel like that's something that should be talked about.
M.B.: Don’t squat too soon! We were doing a light family walk in the woods when i was about 7 weeks out and I had to squat and pee outside and BARF. Didn’t feel good. I think for the better part of 2+ months you should be horizontal as much as possible. But really at least the first few weeks.
E.H.: The best advice I got was to force yourself to slow down because you’ll have to. That’s one of the reasons I taught myself to knit, because I knew I’d have to be less active than I normally am. I knew that I didn't want to be sitting on my phone all day, just watching mindless TV all day. If you want to do that, that's fine, but I wanted something to keep my hands busy.
K.K.: It almost worked out perfectly with the cyst giving me the excuse to schedule the surgery. If I hadn’t had that nudge I probably would have gone through who knows how many years of the super heavy periods. From what I understand, that's not that uncommon as women get older. A friend of mine told me about endometrial ablation because she had had it and it had worked great for her. Before that, she told me she had to keep spare pairs of pants in her office.
What are the upsides of having your hysto?
MB: My periods were horrendous and it’s truly amazing that i will never ever have a period again. Granted my periods were a nightmare for the last 25 years due to endometriosis so I was beyond ready and this was a very good decision for me. But I didn’t get there lightly! I tried 5000 things before this last effort.
K.K.: Every month I think to myself I’m so glad I had a hysterectomy. There have been no negatives. Another thing that is specific to my case is that I have health anxiety. Having my cervix removed means that’s one less cancer that my brain can convince me that I have. That’s nice too. I'm a big cheerleader for having organs taken out.
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