Words by Karen Broaddus
I am breaking up with my uterus. Yes, you read that correctly. I am in the final days of owning one of my most identifiable, gender specific organs, and my emotions are all over the place. I have been diagnosed with adenomyosis and uterine polyps, and for those that are unfamiliar, it is a condition that occurs when the tissue that lines the uterus begins to grow into the interior muscular wall of the uterus, creating clusters of cyst-like pockets. Adenomyosis causes severely painful and heavy periods, the kind that are debilitating and lifestyle altering. It also places women like myself in a higher risk category for uterine cancer even though the condition itself is not cancer causing. Women with adenomyosis also struggle with infertility, though that was not my experience. I am a 43-year-old mother of three children, gratefully. With a diagnosis confirmed, and many discussions with my doctor, I am set to have a partial hysterectomy at the end of this month. Thus begins the break up that I never saw coming.
The uterus is an organ. I should be able to part ways with it, be able to see that medically speaking, I do not need it anymore. I am done having kids, and at my age, I’m not sure I could survive another pregnancy. All of my deliveries were via c-section, my first an emergency due to non-dilation. Likewise, pregnancies were not a cake walk for me, more so after giving birth, as my body would experience postpartum preeclampsia. My last child, who is now five, almost took me out. I developed a heart condition due to that pregnancy and had to stay longer in the hospital post-birth until my body could stabilize. Also, healing from a caesarean birth is not an easy task, ask anyone who’s had one. All of this to say that women endure so much physical and emotional change during and after pregnancy. There are some studies that suggest adenomyosis can develop in women who have had multiple children and have delivered via c-section, but the data are inconclusive, and the standard answer of “We really don’t know what causes it” has to suffice. So, I find myself in this space, this phase of life, facing a surgery that quite frankly feels like the death of a part of my identity; not only of my gender, but of my motherhood. Upon sleepless nights of worry and reflection, it dawned on me why I was feeling that way and my head and my heart have been at war ever since.
Losing my uterus is kind of like losing a part of my motherhood because it is putting to rest a part of me that was life bearing, life sustaining, and identity driven. I didn’t realize how emotionally attached I was to one of my very own organs, and that it would so strongly signify my relationship to motherhood, but how could it not? My uterus housed three of the most beautiful creations I’ve ever made. My relationship with my children also houses a deep love and connection to life, my purpose, my creation for this world and the next. But unlike a uterus, motherhood operates in phases. I am now entering a new phase of motherhood where I am no longer the “baby” mom. I am no longer needed in that survival mode of newborn or infant care, the life or death attention that requires me to be the sole provider of food, water, safety, or entertainment. My kids are older, much more independent and do not need me for every little thing. It amazes me that a wealth of information and books are available to teach you about pregnancy and newborns and “what to expect”. Yet, no one prepares you for the work, or for the phases that motherhood encompasses. I tend to think of it like an ocean. Motherhood has brought me some of the most giant waves, ones I didn’t think I would survive, or stay afloat. And it has brought me some of the calmer, more gentler waves, the kind you like to soak in, wade in and relax. As I look up from over a decade of hardcore mothering, I realize the next wave is coming. I assumed that this would be the case, but now that I’m faced with losing my uterus, could it be that my heart also feels like I’m losing a part of my motherhood too?
The stark reality of two major shifts happening simultaneously is not lost on me, and I am hearing the message loud and clear... life is all about changes, whether we feel ready for them or not. My head knows that I must slough off my connection to these identities of female and motherhood, much like a snakeskin or as a caterpillar morphs into butterfly. It is my heart that cannot seem to cut the cords of this tender human experience that has become so much a part of who I believe I am. My heart longs to have this perfect body, one that functions properly and doesn’t require surgery. And my heart longs to hold each one of my babies one more time like when they were newborns all tiny and fragile. My heart aches to think of those days as passed and wonders, was I present enough? Likewise and oddly, as I count the days left with my uterus, did I really appreciate all that it did for me? Through prayer and meditation I can tell you that the answer is yes-BUT. Yes, I was fully present for all the sleepless nights, late night feedings, diaper changes, crying episodes, giggles, and baby-firsts. BUT what I didn't know is how quickly that time would pass. Was I there for all of the pregnant sensations, like baby kicking and hiccups, and for the not so pleasant pains and heartburn? Yes, BUT I didn’t realize or truly appreciate how my uterus was working so hard, protecting and growing my humans, giving me everything it had in form and function. Likewise with my periods, dreaded as they may be, cursed as I may have shouted, I didn’t realize that there was an underlying medical condition, and that I would ultimately be saying goodbye so soon. I didn’t know that I would feel this intensely about the loss of my uterus and actually mourn the days left. It is just a uterus.
I am terrified, literally shook, to have to endure a surgery where I am to lose a part of my body, let alone a part that identifies with my femininity and sanctity of motherhood. I am scared to endure the long recovery, the physical pain that will undoubtedly be associated with cutting and stitching. And ultimately, I am afraid to feel the phantom-ness of my uterus that was once there. (Anyone who’s had something removed can tell you, phantom pains or sensations are a real thing). I am living with fear, real tangible fear of losing my uterus, something I assumed I would die with intact. What do I do with all of this fear? How do I transform this fear into something useful? How do I keep it from making me frozen or just an emotional mess? Some days my head takes the lead with knowledge, knowing that I will no longer suffer from adenomyosis. I know that my risk of uterine cancer will be 0% and that polyps or cysts will no longer grow there. For a moment, that puts me at ease. It settles my heart. I will also be free from debilitating menstrual pain that has left me bed-ridden and unable to function, and I will be leaving all of that behind and moving onto a healthier, more pain free lifestyle. What’s not to love? I know all these things to be true in my head, yet it is my heart that still needs convincing. It is a strange connection, I don’t disagree. As this war continues between my head and my heart, I will tell you that I accept the change, though moving through it may not be comfortable or easy, and I am open to grace and to the spiritual growth to come of it.
What my heart knows is that no matter what lies ahead, life will always be filled with deep heartfelt emotions, for me anyway, and I am OK with that because I am a human living in a world filled with unknowns. Life is like the ocean filled with deep water and shallow, giant waves and small ones, and inevitably, all those waves make their way back to beautiful shorelines. I may not know what to expect, and I may not know how high my waves will crest, but I do know that the life I have experienced up to this point can help to guide me onto the next wave. I can quickly glance back over my shoulder at the wave I am on and know that it has carried me as far as it can go, and it gave me everything it had in strength and grace. But then, I find it time to look forward onto the next wave, just building, new with energy and strength and know that it too can carry me to shoreline just as all waves do.
If I can accept that this is how it will be, then the struggle really is useless and only wears me down. My head and heart can know that whatever happens, no matter the circumstance, I can do this... I have done hard things and made it through. Saying goodbye to people, phases of life, or a uterus is the toughest for me because my heart wants to hold on just a little longer. And to be fair, I’ve paddled here a little longer than I should have in order to give it the attention I know it needs. When it comes to the head and the heart, they are two very different beasts. What I can say is that you must give them both their due attention if they are to work in synchronicity. To navigate life and motherhood, you will most certainly need both. It is a balancing act for sure, but the message that they each can deliver is valid and life sustaining. So maybe this break up needed to happen... for my health and for my heart. Maybe motherhood is more about the time we spend being present at every moment, knowing we will ebb and flow. And maybe life is about taking time to listen to yourself, feel what you’re feeling, and to connect the waves of your head and your heart. Yet, “time and tide waits for no (wo)man”, so ready or not, I must trust myself, love myself, take a deep breath, stand up, and surf. My shoreline awaits.
About the Author:
Karen lives in Austin, TX, and is a mother of 3 children. Married for 13 years, she and her husband have lived several places across the country and have many adventurous stories to tell about parenting and family life. When not full-time momming, Karen spends her time with friends and family, and enjoys writing, freelance photography, seeing live music, yoga, running, and power lifting. Her motto is “I am grateful for this time, right now”, and she mostly writes about living a life of gratitude and finding simple joy in life. She looks for opportunities to connect with other women and moms in order to share all the ups and downs that we all experience. Connect with her on Instagram.