“Being a woman is hard work.”–Maya Angelou
What makes a woman a woman?
Is it the curve of her hips, the scent of her hair, the sparkle in her eyes, the suggestion in her smile? Or is it her generous spirit, her fearless heart, her nurturing embrace? Could it possibly be that what distinguishes a woman from her male counterparts is her uncanny abilities to see a sliver of beauty and good in every dismal situation, to find comfort in a box of chocolates or the bottom of a Lays potato chip bag, to believe that “They were on sale” is a perfectly acceptable reason to buy a seventh pair of jeans that looks strikingly similar to her other six pairs–or is it her ability to stand strong against any storm and then softly melt when the storm has passed?
Well, if that’s all it takes . . . then I think I’ve got those bases covered.
But what if it’s more than that–or more precisely, what if it’s less? What if, when all the outward embellishments and behavioral displays are stripped away, when all the superficial layers are peeled back until the very primal core of her being is exposed–what if the only thing that truly makes a woman a woman is nothing more than a set of internal body parts specific to her gender?
And if so, what happens when those body parts are taken away?
I guess I’m about to find out.
I had hoped this day would never come. I had convinced myself that even though my mom had a hysterectomy at age 36 and my sister needed hers at 41, I would be the lucky one to outrun and outsmart fate. I almost did. My doctor wanted to perform the surgery last year, but I stubbornly refused–it was too invasive, too drastic, too expensive. And besides, I reasoned, we hadn’t tried all the other options yet. So he reluctantly relented, and now, 16 months later, I have been forced to accept that all the other options have failed and that maybe I should have listened to him to begin with.
“You really shouldn’t put this off any longer,” he said.
“You really should do this now while you’re still relatively young and in good health,” he said.
“You really should get this taken care of while your test results are still good,” he said.
And then he said, “But it’s your choice.”
And so I have packed away my biking shorts because I won’t be needing them anytime soon, and I have hung my invisible Wonder Woman cape in the back of the closet because for the next four to six weeks my superhero powers will be focused on feats a little more personal than combating all those nasty threats against humanity (cleverly disguised as unrelenting household chores). Sorry, but for now someone else will have to find the remote, retrieve the mail, feed the dogs, corral the dust bunnies, smell the milk . . . okay, so maybe retirement has made me a little lazy and I haven’t been wearing the cape much lately anyway. But still.
I can’t help feeling a little sad over the upcoming events and a little betrayed as well. In a few hours my good doctor and his trusted robot DaVinci will be slicing and dicing, making small incisions and removing large chunks of me. True, those chunks are no longer functioning properly, but at one time they were quite spectacular, assisting in the creation of three incredible young men and providing them with temporary housing until the world was ready for their magnificence. It’s hard not to be sentimental. It’s also hard not to feel betrayed. I have taken care of this body–I have inspected it regularly, clothed it properly, exercised it occasionally and certainly fed it exceedingly well. And this is the thanks I get?
But more than anything, I can’t help feeling scared–and not just a little. Thinking rationally has never been a strong suit of mine, but when I try really hard, I can rationalize that hysterectomies are relatively safe, that women have them every day and I will be just one of the many. I can rationalize that the type of hysterectomy I’m having will be much less invasive and less painful than the type my mom or even my sister had (and I know I’m much tougher than she is, so if she could handle it, so can I). I can rationalize that I’ll be tired and sore for a while, that I’ll probably sleep a lot and complain even more, and that there will be many things I just can’t do until I’m better.
But, as is so often the case, the irrational part of me is in control here. I’m scared that the physical pain will dig deeper and last longer than what I’m prepared for. I’m scared that the surgery will put me in the fast lane on the Highway to Hormone Hell–and since I’ve already taken a few test drives on that hilly, winding road, I know for a fact that it’s no joy ride. I’m scared that four to six weeks of forced inactivity will fog my brain and make me an unwitting victim of daytime television (gee, it’s almost time for Hoda and Kathie Lee–I can’t wait to see what they’re drinking today!). And I’m scared that same inactivity will turn my muscles to mush and my belly to jelly–which will be especially discouraging since I’m counting on a substantial, initial weight loss. In fact, I’ve already Googled, “How much does a uterus weigh?” and since the average weight is estimated to be less than one pound, I’m guessing mine will be closer to 15. (And since he’ll already be in there anyway, maybe the good doctor can haul out a few fat cells while he’s at it.)
Like every other person who has ever had too much time to contemplate the surgeon’s knife, my mind is a continuous whirl of “what ifs,” with my worst fear of all being, “What if I go to sleep and just don’t wake up?” If I were in control, I simply would not allow that to happen–I would set my internal alarm clock, scream in my ears and slap myself silly until I shuddered awake from my drug-induced slumber. Will the doctor and anesthesiologist go to the same lengths on my behalf? I need them to understand that I have too many sunrises yet to marvel, too many flowers yet to inhale, too many waterfalls yet to chase, too many words yet to write–and more importantly, too many words like “I love you,” “I’m sorry” and “You’re beautiful” yet to whisper.
I’m trying to look on the bright side, though. My recovery period will get me out of all kinds of work around the house, and nothing in my post-op instructions says I can’t spend that recovery period reclining on the back deck in the sunshine. I’ll never again have to worry about cervical, uterine or ovarian cancer (which leaves only 200 other types of cancers for me to worry about), and I’ll never again have to worry about the possibility of paying for an unplanned pregnancy with my retirement funds. And even though I won’t be hopping back on my bike anytime soon, I have been offered an enticing recovery incentive–a bike ride through the Florida Keys in the fall with a bunch of Parrot Heads. (You bet I’ll be ready!)
The house is cleaned, the laundry is done, the refrigerator is stocked and the pillows are plumped on the couch, awaiting my timid return–along with a big ol’ bag of peanut butter M&Ms hidden safely underneath those pillows (my idea of “comfort food”). I may be coming home with a few less body parts than I left with, but I will be coming home . . . and I will still be woman. I just hope that woman is the ME I remember and not some cranky, old biddy wearing my pajamas–in which case it might be necessary to pull my invisible Wonder Woman cape back out of the closet and do a little butt-kicking for the sake of humanity.
“A new journey to be started. A new promise to be fulfilled. A new page to be written.
Go forth unto this waiting world with pen in hand, all you young scribes,
the open book awaits. Be creative. Be adventurous. Be original.
And above all else, be young.
For youth is your greatest weapon, your greatest tool. Use it wisely.”
–Wonder Woman # 62 by George Perez
And just because this woman likes her flowers . . .