Sheena Hernandez is a wife and a mother of two very active boys. She is also a “more than full-time” educator.
I don’t know whether or not I even wanted more children, but suddenly it was too late to have the conversation. When my doctor called me on a Sunday evening and told me in her no-nonsense southern twang that I was so anemic I could die, I didn’t really think about if I had enough children or not.
I hit puberty (a phrase I hate…I didn’t punch it so much as it smacked me) around the same age as most girls. Nothing seemed unusual about it. Sure, my “monthlies” were a little longer (a lot longer) than other girls starting out, and they were a bit heavier that the other girls (and continued to be so), but I got them every month like clockwork, and I never thought they were a problem. No one ever TOLD me I had a problem. I was just a little more tired than the other girls. And it never got better.
Instead, as the years passed and I had one, then two children, the exhaustion got worse. But every time I went to a doctor, a male doctor, a different one each time, I was told I was fine. That I was normal. That it was “in my head.” I wouldn’t be surprised if a doctor wrote “hypochondriac” on my chart (and my office mate will attest that this is not far from the case; I swim in hand sanitizer like I’m practicing for the 2020 Olympics).
However, I could not shake the thought that it was not normal to spend half of every month barely conscious. Or to have to pack extra clothes with me everywhere in case I had an “accident.” Or to carry my huge purse stuffed with overnight-strength sanitary pads (cute little tampons were a pipe dream) lest I be caught out and embarrassed. Or to plan my life, and later those of my husband and sons, around that torturous 7-8-9 days that came every month.
Finally, in my 27th year, I decided to go see one last doctor. This time a woman. She listened patiently, did all the tests, and finally introduced me to Megatron (the nickname I have for the huge internal ultrasound machine–We became best friends). All of this lead to that call one Sunday evening, where my no-nonsense, southern-bred doctor told me that I needed to come back to see her ASAP, and we needed to find a solution for my adenomyosis, a fancy word for “worn out old lady womb.” Typically, this condition develops in women much older than my then 27 years.
For six months, we tried pills (nope), shots (hell nope…I had a six month period), and finally (the last result) surgery. When I chose it, I was just giddy that it was all going to be over. Finally, I could be like every other woman out there. I could own a pair of white pants and stop falling asleep at my desk.
I remember waking up after the surgery groggy and numb. The TV was on; I think it was Maury Povich or a show like that. A nurse must’ve been monitoring me because a few seconds later she walked in as I was groggily picking my nose. She assured me that everything was going to be fine. I remember that she was very soothing, and I couldn’t understand why. Didn’t she realize I was free? I had two wonderful nurses—one was pregnant, and one was battling cancer. She even let me rub her head where her hair was finally growing back. I felt for both of them, but I wasn’t like them anymore. I was healed.
The next week passed in a blur of Percocet. The week after, I was well enough to make it around a little bit, and the week after that I went back to work. After about six weeks, I was fully healed from my hysterectomy. I was still a bit slow, but I felt like a person…just a person. A non-descript, asexual person.
When I stopped to think about it, I didn’t really feel like this free woman that I thought I would be. I felt like the parts of me that actually made me a woman were gone. As happy as I was to be healthy, as happy as I was to not spend $150 a month on sanitary supplies (I know, right?), I couldn’t help but be aggrieved at this loss that I couldn’t quite pin down. What was wrong with me? What was I missing besides some old ratty uterus that never did me any favors? I had a husband, I had two boisterous sons, I had a fulfilling-if-sometimes-exhausting-career—I had the full Cosmo-approved package. But I felt like a bro in my own home. I felt “in-between.” …but I chose it.
People asked me how I felt after the surgery, and I said what anyone who has the surgery says: “I felt great, like a new woman.” “It’s amazing.” “I am so glad.” (I wonder why we say this, even to other people who have had the surgery.) But I wasn’t, not 100%. I was happy to be able to give more to the people around me, but I was mourning the people that weren’t going to be. …but I chose it.
It’s not like they’d want to hear that anyway. When my mother and aunts and cousins would ask me when the next one was coming, I’d laugh it off and tell them I was “out of the game.” I didn’t even have a seat on the bench anymore. …but I chose it.
Later, in my 30s, I realized what I lost was my choice. It was no longer on the table for me to have more children or not. I was definitely a not.
I have learned not to be bitter about it, and most days it isn’t bothersome–until someone announces they are having a baby, or I pass by the baby section of a store, or I see a sweet baby smile and pudgy baby legs.
And I have learned that being happy for other people does not take away from my happiness, and just because I cannot have children anymore does not mean that I am any less the woman I was before. I chose the hysterectomy. And I am choosing to live beyond biological definitions of womanhood.