Hysterics, Hysterectomy and Hormones

Posted on: 13 September 2010 by Diane Priestley

A hysterectomy can be the answer to many health problems in mid-life from debilitating period pain to minimising risk of cervical cancer. Despite this, women should not elect to undergo the procedure lightly.

Dealing with hysterectomy

In 2001, at the age of 44, I had a hysterectomy. A hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the uterus (I kept my hormone-pumping ovaries, thank you.) Like all major operations, the impact on body and mind is profound. The removal of an organ is traumatic and it took me three months to fully recover.

Why did I choose to undergo such radical surgery? For more than a decade I had suffered from nightmarish Pre-Menstrual Syndrome (PMS) and painful, debilitating periods. Life was a roller coaster ride. I could be fine one day and the next day would plummet into an abyss.

I could be interviewing someone, then suddenly get dizzy and almost faint. This was the effect of a rapid drop in progesterone just before a period. I tried to fit social arrangements around my cycle because I knew I would be flat on my back, wiped out with zero energy and groaning in pain for days when the dreaded curse hit.

Like many women, I was patronised and ignored by doctors when I complained of the severity of my monthly cycle. I was never tested to discover the underlying cause of my suffering.

When I reached my 40s, with two magnificent teenage children, I resigned myself to the fact I wouldn’t be having any more babies. I was ready to shut up shop, so carefully considered the Big H.

There seemed to be a lot of benefits. It would mean an abrupt end to monthly bleeding. I had come to feel embarrassed and repulsed by the sight and smell of blood every month. I am sure many older women past their baby-making prime feel the same, but don’t want to admit to their abhorrence at what should be a natural female bodily function.

The Op would spell the end of the PMS insanity (a great relief for the whole family who had to put up with my rants and rages) and of course the end to the monthly incapacitating pain. I would step off the roller coaster ride once and for all and regain stability with my health and wellbeing. The sort of stability most men enjoy.

A hysterectomy would also remove the risk of cervical cancer, prevent an unwanted pregnancy and prevent my poor prolapsed uterus from dropping even more. As an added bonus, the removal of my troublesome, wandering womb would be a great boon to our sex life.

All these benefits were hard to resist and seemed to be worth the pain of the operation and inconvenient post-op convalescence. It was a fair exchange for a new lease on life.

I would never encourage any woman to have a hysterectomy without being informed about all of its consequences.

The brutality of the operation was a complete shock. I came out of the anesthetic, extremely sore and sorry for myself.

There is also the risk of complications. You have to be prepared for six weeks of bed rest while the wound heals and six more weeks of taking it easy, with time off work, no stretching or bending or strenuous activities. I even lost interest in shopping!

There was also the psychological adjustment to losing my womb. I experienced a lingering grief for the loss of my womanhood and the dramatic end of my reproductive stage of life. For quite some time, I felt like there was a piece of me missing (and there was!) and that other people could sense I was incomplete and that I was somehow less of a woman.

Crazy thinking, I know, because the reality was the loss was ultimately empowering. I became much stronger and healthier with more stamina and vitality, fit to work, create, love, socialise, exercise and travel.

It’s not for everyone, but in my case a hysterectomy proved to be a wise decision. The surgeon told me after the operation that I had in fact had endometriosis, which explains my years of agony. It’s a condition where blood cells attach and grow outside the uterus in the lining of the pelvis causing pelvic pain and cramping.

Looking back, I don’t think I would have coped with many more years of monthly cycles. At 47 I weathered a marriage crisis, which I barely survived with my sanity intact. Had I been suffering mad PMS and painful periods as well, I could have easily gone under.

Which brings me to menopause: at the age of 48, my trusty little ovaries were still producing hormones but needed some help. I heard a talk by a dedicated female doctor who outlined a litany of symptoms caused by insufficient estrogen. It was enough to convince me.

I opted for Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT). She recommended a bio-identical pill that closely matches the human body’s own hormones. I stayed on my little pill for five years until earlier this year, at 53, when I decided, it was enough. I was through the worst of the hot flushes and my libido was still raging, much to my female doctor’s utter amazement and envy.

I now take soya milk in my tea and my body hums along with pleasure to be at this thrilling new stage of life, where my feminine nurturing and creativity can be re-directed into worthy causes, free of monthly pain and disruption and emotional turmoil, free to be wholly me.

You can find out more about hysterectomy, the procedure and what the right option for you is by visiting NHS Choices and the Hysterectomy Association.

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