Content Warning: Fertility issues, loss, and medical trauma.
In the comically large orange plastic bottle, there are two Ativan. They clunk around under my dry tongue, refusing to disappear while Dr. Claire talks to me. I maneuver them over to one side of my tongue and slur through my mask. The pills haven’t even kicked in but I tell her, “Let’s just get it over with.”
I grab my phone and focus on pictures of Christmas trees. For both the pap smear and the colposcopy, my doctor uses the pediatric speculum. It’s smaller, still cold and intense but I’ll take what I can get.
“I’m scared,” I say.
“Well, you have two kids, don’t you? You’ve been through worse,” the nurse tells me impatiently.
There’s a secret doctor list that circulates social media sites. It’s curated by people with uteruses. To be more accurate, it’s curated by people without them. In the age of erosion, this might ring some medical rights activists’ warning bells, but call off the hounds. It’s of doctors willing to perform hysterectomies.
For trans and nonbinary individuals, folks who are childfree, and people who suffer chronic pain, a hysterectomy is the obvious answer. While it is a radical and permanent surgery to remove the uterus, it’s not a choice people make lightly. Yet the reason this list exists is because experiences like mine, the dismissal of women’s pain, the weaponization of the phrase not that bad, are increasingly common.
Over the years, I’ve taken special care to catalogue my pain. I go through the memories like they’re rosary beads. I’ve had a few traumatic surgeries. Most recently, I was diagnosed with adenomyosis, which means my uterus is ripping through my muscles. Cool, huh? My current Ob-Gyn knows my history and has been patient and kind. We first explore non-surgery options. Then I have an abnormal pap smear.
Winners of these results get treated with a procedure called a colposcopy. Five tiny chunks of my flesh are gathered from my unanesthetized cervix. It is agony, both painful and reminiscent of my medical trauma. That’s why I asked for the Ativan, though I knew it would be frowned upon and dispensed with disapproval.
In my early twenties, a missed miscarriage turned infectious. I committed the sin of coming to the follow-up appointment without a backup person to drive, so when I went into emergency surgery, they gave me only a shot of ibuprofen mixed with water. Later, I had fertility issues and had to get an x-ray called an HSG, which involved a stinging salt water and dye mixture they shot up my tubes. In the middle of the pandemic, I gave birth to my second child via cesarean in Switzerland and was denied pain medication. While I writhed in pain, the head of the hospital came to my room to chastise me for posting in a private Facebook mothers group asking for advice about how to get the nurses to answer my bell.
The expectation of motherhood is well-documented and critiqued in the activist community. Perhaps that’s why I’ve been able to find a provider who is willing to remove my uterus. People with uteruses are treated as pregnancies waiting to happen. The World Health Organization even released recommendations on alcohol consumption that spelled this out in plain words: If you have a uterus, you’ll be treated like a baby vessel. I often see my childfree friends lamenting how difficult requesting any sterilization is for those without children. It feels dissonant, like I’ve skipped a step or gotten an unearned cheat code. I had two children. I wasn’t questioned when I asked for my tubes to be tied.
A secondary dissonance is this strange freedom from the immense cultural pressure to conform to femininity. It tugged at me my whole life; as an adult, I’ve forced myself to wrestle with the gender binary I accepted so unquestioningly.
Growing up, I was often told how my period pain was a badge of spiritual honor, that birth was supposed to be painful, that being a woman was pain and discomfort. Trying to run from it would land you yanked by the leash and on your back crying. My stepmother nearly bled out from a post-hysterectomy hemorrhage. I remember her shouting for my dad, and then falling unusually quiet. I could almost hear the unspoken ‘Told you so.’ from God.
Hysteria is a disruptive and uncouth shout of pure rage at the injustice of being coded as female in the world; the world made a lot more sense when I found out its etymology.
Earlier this month, I was on the fence. Now the idea of a hysterectomy seems like a release. I have lived with pain since middle school. It’s time to kick the roommate out.