I am 42 years old, and being in my 40s doesn’t just feel good, it feels great.
It’s the beginning of July in #thesix. The air is warm, the trees are gently swaying, the birds are singing, and I am on the way to the hospital with my Mom for what will be my fourth surgery since 2015.
I’m generally a healthy person. Going to the hospital to see specialists was never a thing. Until it was.
The breeze warms my cheek in the taxi, and I think to myself, I’m okay. Today, I am having a hysterectomy.
Pause. The empathy you may feel as a reader is appreciated, but please know that I was and still am at peace with the departing uterus, tubes, and cervix. My bits were tired. My uterus had been weeping for a long time. My hope is that girlfriend is now slow-sipping Mai Tais on a beach with the other weeping uteruses of the world. She deserves it—they all do.
Solstice has just passed, which for me was a magical day partaking in a River Goddess photo shoot. A tarot card was pulled before going into the river. The card was Queen of the Outsiders. I thought, On-point, universe. Namaste. I find water grounding, soothing, healing. Just like we are always shifting, always changing, no one moment is the same; so is the flow of water. I wanted to not only feel grounded walking into this surgery, I wanted to feel empowered. And just like no moment is the same, no surgery is the same.
A few days prior to my surgery, I’d booked in to see my osteopath. As I was laying on the table, she said, “Let’s reframe the word hysterectomy. You are still a woman, as well as a strong, beautiful, smart, funny, kind, sexual being.” (A massive yassss with finger snaps to this!)
As I left the appointment in my blissed-out state, I continued to think about our conversation and about the word hysterectomy. I like to gather information as a means to be self-informed, especially when it comes to my personal health story. I dove in to the Google vortex: “Hysteria” comes from the Greek root “hystera,” meaning uterus. It was believed that hysteria and hysterical symptoms were caused by a defect in the womb, thus, only women could be hysterical, causing not only physical problems, but psychological problems. That if a woman’s uterus was better aligned it would be an easy fix.
That analogy is almost as absurd as my surgery story.
When I arrive at the hospital, it’s buzzing as all hospitals are. We head to admitting, check in, and go upstairs to the pre-surgery waiting area. It’s packed. It’s sticky. It’s uncomfortably quiet. If you haven’t had surgery, what typically happens is that we spend the next two hours going back and forth with nurses, our surgeons, interns, and the anesthesiologist. Think of it like mini interviews as they take your vitals. The longer it goes on, the more the waiting room becomes alive with extremely inappropriate jokes—because as I’ve said before, “When you’re in the dark, find comfort in the womb of comedy.”
Everything is going smoothly until the anesthesiologist shows up. Today does not look like her day. All I can focus on is our karmic connection. Judge me all you want. The woman will be putting me to sleep. I want a soul acknowledging another soul kind of connection before that happens.
The time has come. I bid my Mom adieu and walk into the pink operating room where my Gyne Gail has Whitney Houston blasting. The entire team greets me with a “Heyyy!” The song playing isn’t “I’m Every Woman,” but let me tell you, it’s what I hear! I shout, “Pretty in pink!” Cue: laughter. End scene. I place myself on the table and the team does their thing until I hear, “Jessica go to sleep.” I’m completely confused. How does one go to sleep—am I supposed to go to sleep right this second?! I feel like that’s going to be impossible because—Out. Cold. Byyyyeee.
After 4.5 hours, I wake up feeling very heavy, very drugged, and extremely nauseated. It feels hot and tight. I’m told that the surgery went great (yay), and in some form of broken English, I attempt to express my extreme nausea. That I’m going to be sick everywhere. I need to get to a bathroom for fear of what’s going to come out (and from where). There are a few nurses around, and then suddenly, there are none. So, I decide that I’m the only one who can save me. I grab both bars on either side of the bed and come flying up to a seated position. I’m able to swing my legs around, but I can’t hold my head up, not to mention a stitch has now popped in my belly button—and let’s be honest, I must look like the exorcist risen.
The next few hours are confusing, and in moments, an upsetting blur. My first nurse in recovery is clearly having a bad day. My experience of her is not a positive one; however, I’m not interested in giving it energy that it does not deserve. What might be worth noting here is my nomination of her for “Queer Eyes Fab 5.” They are chicken soup for the soul, and we all need a hearty cup of feeling seen, feeling heard, and knowing that we matter. Because after all as Nikita Gill says, “We have calcium in our bones, iron in our veins, carbon in our souls, and nitrogen in our brains. We are 93 percent stardust, with souls made of flames, we are all just stars that have people names.”
A week after, I’m back at my osteopath, and again we revisit the word hysterectomy. The air is light. We reframe it with herstorectomy. Her is a verb or preposition to refer to a female person. With the uterus being a part of the female anatomy, using the pronoun her seems to fit just right, because it is after all, her story; she deserves to own it.
A friend once said, “You’re a concrete marshmallow. You care so much about everybody, yet you are so tough. You’re sensitive but guarded. You’re hard like concrete but really you’re a soft gooey marshmallow inside.” I thought it was hilarious, as it was quite true. (Side note: I love a good metaphor.)
Deep reflection settles in about all of the times I presented the cool, rough, concrete exterior version of me, when in reality, it was just feeling scared and vulnerable. Even with my first surgery, I went alone. I didn’t let anyone in. With this most recent surgery, my Mom wanted to hug me before going in, and I brushed it off as though I didn’t need or want it.
What can I say? I’m a work in progress and happy to be here! Do I care too much? Yes. Have I figured everything out in regards to setting boundaries for myself? No. Have I shed my shame like a snake sheds its skin? In some regards, yes. Have I let go of my anger, my hurt, my pain? Not entirely.
What I know now is that the body—my body—is protecting me from being hurt. It prepares me for battle and the concrete it exudes is my shield. It’s there to protect me, the sensitive marshmallow.
Truth bomb: the only person I’ve been at battle with is myself.
Surgery saves lives, but it is also traumatic. With that trauma comes the breaking down of the concrete to reveal the vulnerable self, a.k.a. the marshmallow. A.k.a. me. The end result: the true self is not only found but shines through. It has allowed me to do exactly that as I come through the other side of self-forgiveness, of functioning anxiety, and finding what calm means for me so I can root in self-love.
Hello, boundaries! You’re gorgeous!
My alternative health practitioners, along with my yoga practice and long walks with my golden retriever Hank Hinkson, have also been an integral part of my recovery process. I have amazing friends whom I feel lucky to have in my life. Robbie and Matty, love you forever. To my Mom who is my biggest fan, supporter, fun person to laugh with, and my chosen advocate for that day. Thank you. You were my necessary hero. You stepped in, you supported me, and you were my voice when I needed you to be. To my other three nurses, thank you for your immense kindness. To the new interns, you all need a Dr. Miranda Bailey on your asses—stat. Last but not least, thank you to the gal in scrubs who baton twirled half of an IV stand while marching in place as I was leaving to go home the following day. That was next level.
To my fellow concrete marshmallows of the world: find your people and hold them close.
It’s okay to be that person who gives 14,000 f*cks. People are going to talk. Some will build a narrative around you. That story doesn’t belong to you. Let them have it—and then go to work. When you want to destruct, construct.
“The opposite of hot mess is cold, predictable, tidy. That’s not where your magic lives. Be brave and choose the mess.” ~ Elizabeth Gilbert