Losing My Womb and Finding Womanhood

When in doubt, write what you know.
Womanhood Agba Bu Mma Nwanyi Painting
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I don’t write about gender because feminism, certainly the way I see it being “taught” and explored in the Caribbean depresses me. One of these days I will write about why it irritates me in greater detail. But today, I’m going to take the plunge and write what I know. And what I know is me.

One year and 6 months ago I had a hysterectomy. I was 38. The decision was radical and had everything to do with my health and quality of life. I had spent more than two decades of my life experiencing the most excruciating menstrual cycles. I feared getting my period because of how painful they were. Cramps that spanned from my navel to my knees. Diarrhoea, vomiting and delirious thoughts of taking the butter knife on the table in front of me and carving my uterus out to stop the pain. In my twenties it went from intense pain and normal bleeding to intense pain and heavy bleeding that would last for months at a time. In any case, you get the picture. I had endometriosis. Bad endometriosis. And it only worsened and worsened until it was endometriosis and adenomyosis all at the same time. I was taking painkillers and hormones every 12 hours. If I was off by half an hour the pain and the heavy bleeding returned. I coped with this for years. Air conditioning was not my friend, ever. I didn’t even dare own a pair of white shorts because when would I really be able to wear it?

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When I travelled the change in time zones seemed to make the bleeding and the pain even worse. There is a gentleman in Slovakia who has fond memories of me screaming through a particularly painful period and then knocking myself out with painkillers and slivovichka brandy. No, I’m not a lush; but pain makes you do silly things.

One of the things having a wonky womb did to me was make me self conscious about sexual contact. Because: blood. I was also cautious about receiving oral sex. Always happy to give, but never to receive. The other thing it did was make me invest in an all black wardrobe: especially skirts and trousers.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t a sexual introvert. Far from it. I just had to be very comfortable with my partners.

By 2013 though, things were getting rough. Neither the bleeding nor the pain would stop. My gynecologist had more access to my vagina than my boyfriend and I became extremely focused on my womb. Only a woman who is battling endometriosis can understand how your womb becomes your entire world. Everything becomes structured around whether you are bleeding and how much pain you are coping with. Wardrobe, events, activities and your mood. I can say openly now that I had little interest in anything else,but went through the motions. Of everything. Of life, really. And then I ended up in hospital, needing a blood transfusion. I knew then it was time.

Both my parents had been advocating a hysterectomy for quite some time. My mother is old fashioned in some ways, but weirdly forward thinking when it comes to women’s health issues.”Get rid of that thing, girl!” My dad was much more delicate with his words, but he agreed with her.

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I was the staller. All of a sudden, at 38, the idea of being wombless frightened me. And for all the wrong reasons. For a brief period of time, I was battling thoughts of “not being a woman”. What if it changed my boyfriend’s feelings towards me because he had indicated he wanted kids. What if the physical changes were too much to cope with. Surgery was such a final thing. Would I still feel female?

The answer is even more so than before. Having a hysterectomy forced me to reacquaint myself with my body. At my sickest, I had become bloated. My breasts had gone up to a disturbing 38G bra size. I look at the bras I wore then and marvel that I stood upright at all. I was nauseous all the time. Lethargic. Disinterested. Unable to focus for long spells. I was unlike myself.

Surgery forced me to slow down. Literally get in touch with myself and closely observe all of the changes in my body chemistry.

I had to heal before I could have sex. Masturbation became my friend as I waited out those weeks. And because of that, I learned a lot about what I liked and didn’t like in terms of touch.

In the last 9 months of my life, I’ve begun to have sex differently. More experimental. And because I know that not even a torn condom can knock me up, with a greater sense of relief.

Being womb-free also means that I cannot offer men what many of them want from a relationship: a child. And during my pre-surgery days, I shed tears over that realisation. In my post-surgery wisdom, I wonder why I even bothered to cry about it. Having no womb cuts through the bullshit. The minute the guy starts talking about babies, you know there is no future; and as a woman you decide whether you’re going to have sex with him and then move on…or just move on. Period.

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You restructure your priorities. Your finances. Every damn thing! You begin to think seriously about adoption. As a single parent.You embrace all of the new freedoms that come with losing a part of yourself. And realise that surgery was not the end of the road, but a junction. And then you buy a pair of white shorts and wear the heck out of it. Because: You can.

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