I knew what a period was. My parents - my mother, in particular - were always open in answering any questions I posed to them, ensuring the information they shared with me was age appropriate. Additionally, the girls in my school's 4th grade classes were invited to watch film presentations enlightening us about the changes our bodies would soon undergo. Yet, I was highly skeptical what Mommy and Daddy were saying was correct. Exactly one week later, while playing with my Barbie dolls in my bedroom, I went to the bathroom and saw evidence that my parents weren't as nutty as I thought. Indeed, my period began...and the band played on for the next 39 years. This all ended last week on January 19th, when I underwent a total hysterectomy.
Having heavy menstrual cycles was not unusual for me. I remember in my early teen years having blood run down my legs before stepping into my bathtub, and having flows so heavy that my pants would get soiled. But, as I matured into adulthood, my flow became considerably lighter and my cycles more manageable. Life goes on, I get married and we are blessed with 3 beautiful, healthy babies. Leading up to the delivery of my last baby, I thoughtfully considered what type of birth control I wanted to use. My husband and I were pretty sure no. 3 was it, and so I decided to have a tubal ligation immediately following my son's delivery. This seemed like a rash decision to the attending physician, but I assured him I understood what this meant.
When my menstrual cycles resumed following this procedure, I noticed my flow became heavy once again and the OB/GYN doctor I had at the time suggested I take oral contraceptives to control my cycle. Taking a daily pill is what I didn't want to do, hence the reason why I had the tubal ligation. But, the flows I experienced quickly convinced me to overcome any ambivalent feelings I possessed.
Fast forward about 5 years later, I am diagnosed with uterine fibroid tumors which triggered major changes in my menstrual cycles which were no longer controlled by hormonal contraceptives. My periods were extremely heavy - I would easily soak through super-absorbent tampons AND overnight maxi pads in just under 2 hours. Additionally, I experienced pelvic pain before, during and after my periods. I had undergone various minimally invasive procedures which would initially help, but soon proved to be temporary. Additionally, I learned my heavy bleeding led to an anemia diagnosis which threatened adverse affects on my heart health. I had serious decisions I had to make regarding my health, which I referenced in an October 2012 blog post.
The decision to have a hysterectomy was not taken lightly or made hurriedly but was, in fact, contemplated for more than a year. Two of my children are officially in their adult years, with the youngest knocking on adulthood's door. I can see the "Empty Nest" stage of my life on the very near horizon, and I have to say I love it! So, the need to maintain uterine function for childbearing purposes was non-existent for me. However, I did feel a sense of loyalty and an emotional attachment to the organ which cradled, protected and nourished my children, so I delayed having the discussion with my doctor. While I continued this delay, my menstrual cycles continued being heavy and painful, and even increased its frequency, ranging anywhere from 18 to 28 days. Can you imagine having multiple periods within the same month?! I couldn't do it anymore, and I concluded that having a hysterectomy was the best course of action for me.
My gynecologist referred me to an OB/GYN surgeon within my hospital's health system, and together we reviewed my medical history, the diagnostic images of my uterus and the huge fibroid mass attached to its base, and developed the "game plan" he'd follow to remove both. In the event I had any second thoughts, my menstrual cycle convinced me to proceed with the plan. It arrived on Christmas Day, and not since I was nine years old has a period been so painful that I actually cried. The poetry that it was my first and last periods causing this reaction was not lost on me.
My hysterectomy was performed robotically through small abdominal incisions, and while the procedure itself proved to be more challenging than initially thought, everything went well and I am on the road to recovery. In fact, today was my 2-week post-operative check-up and with the exception of sex, I have no restrictions on my activities provided I'm feeling comfortable. I still have some discomfort for which I'm only taking Motrin, and I still tire pretty quickly, but I am feeling better now than I felt post-childbirth.
I'm looking forward to resuming all my activities and getting back into shape. I've lost 10 pounds in the past 11 days, about 2.5 of which was my uterus and fibroid mass. I learned this type of weight loss is typical following surgery because the body uses approximately 1000 calories per day for healing, so I will have to hit the gym to continue the weight loss momentum and build up my stamina. But, what I am really looking forward to is life without watching the calendar, counting days and making sure I have sufficient supplies of tampons and maxi pads stashed at home and work for "just in case". No more pain! No more heavy bleeding! Just life!
P.S. Some facts about hysterectomy...
- The United States has the highest rate of hysterectomy in the industrialized world.
- According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hysterectomy is the second most frequently performed surgical procedure (after cesarean section) for U.S. women.
- Approximately 600,000 hysterectomies are performed annually in the United States.
- Approximately 20 million American women have had a hysterectomy.