TBD: At 28, I Was Forced To Have A Hysterectomy
Six years ago in the depths of winter, I was waiting for an Uber ride outside the Mall of America in Minneapolis, fanning myself in 20-degree weather. The elderly woman next to me, looking confused, asked if I was hot. She held her jacket tightly as she looked at me strangely as if I were an extraterrestrial. I’m fine. I’m just having a hot flash. She chuckled. You’re too young darling. My thoughts ran through my head. No, you’re never too young for tragedy to invade your body.
My tragedy began in March of 2013, two years after that day at the mall. At the age of 28, my body had turned on the menopause switch, complete with hot flashes, vaginal dryness, weight gain, mood swings, aches and pains in my bones, low libido, and the list goes on. One sunny March day in Florida, I was laying on my bed, typing away, when I suddenly felt a sharp pain in my stomach. Quite frankly, I thought it was gas from Tuesday night’s tacos, but I just couldn't bare it. I went to the emergency room, and because I had a medical history with reproductive issues, I was told I needed further tests. After waiting for several hours, they gave me Advil for the pain and referred me to my gynecologist.
The following week, I showed up for my gynecologist appointment, and a nurse took me aside to conduct more blood work. My heart knew that something wasn't right, judging by the look on the nurse’s face. My palms were sweaty as I tried not to panic. The doctor came into the room, and poked and prodded at my body.
I’ll never forget the moment when I received my results.
The sonogram looked like a rendition of Picasso made by a kindergartener. I could hardly pronounce the word endometriosis. I thought, eh, just give me a patch, pill, or prayer and I’ll go on my way because that for sure would do the cure. To my surprise, it was more severe than that. I had tumors of all sizes taking over my ovaries. The doctor opted to do a partial hysterectomy, but said a full hysterectomy might be necessary—we wouldn’t know the severity of my endometriosis until I was open on the surgical bed.
The doctor urged me to have the surgery as soon as possible. I spent two weeks explaining to my insurance that the surgery was necessary. Without insurance, hysterectomies cost between $30,000 - $50,000. Insurance finally agreed to cover some of the costs, so I scheduled my surgery.
The morning of my surgery, my mom dropped me off at the entrance before she parked. As I opened the car door, she told me No matter what happens, God will be with you. Her words eased my nerves as I sat in my gown in the pre-op room, imagining the post-surgery pain and recovery. Before long, the nurses wheeled me back to the operation room and lifted me onto the surgical bed. They placed several sensors on my body with sticky pads and covered my mouth and nose with the oxygen mask. Ironically, the mask made it harder to breath, but I told myself to relax. Before I knew it, I was asleep.
I woke up from surgery in a haze in an empty recovery room. I felt like I’d gotten hit by a car. My abdomen was stitched up, leaving me in pain, stiff, and unable to move. After a few hours, nurses came in and gave me morphine for the pain, but the morphine didn’t seem to work. I was still in severe pain, and my bandage started leaking heavily. Doctors came in to examine me. They said it appeared I had a severe blood clot, and I needed to be rushed back into surgery. The doctors said I literally had one option: a full hysterectomy. I couldn’t hear anything the doctors were saying, and that’s where it all went downhill. The rest of my time in the hospital was a blur, full of pain, confusion, shock, and disbelief. I was completely exhausted.
A year passed by, and as I reflected on my hysterectomy, I kicked myself. I kept wondering why I didn’t seek more opinions. I was still in shock. As I looked back, I realized I wasn’t informed about my options, and no one explained them to me. Not once did anyone tell me about freezing my eggs, or my rights as a woman, or the optional non-invasive treatments that could be monitored. I felt like a number.
My body changed before my eyes. The scar lingered, but worse was the constant pain, the emotional rollercoaster, and the hormonal imbalance. I had a constant burning sensation under the skin on my right side, just below the incision site. I had extreme back pain that tortured me day and night. I had chronic constipation thanks to the opiates. All this pain and discomfort made me incredibly irritable. I didn’t know who I was anymore, and I no longer recognized my body. It felt like hell.
As my 30th birthday approached, I visited my gynecologist for my check-up. I sat in the exam room, looking at the plastic female anatomy sitting on the counter. Pamphlets full of information—the kind I wish I’d had before my hysterectomy—were spread across the exam room counter, giving me every scenario of how my days could only get worse. Tears started running down my face. It was like a VHS tape, fast-forwarding all my dreams of having a big Dominican family. Of my babies running around with platanos in their hands, dancing the merengue. Of seeing the reflection of my DNA smiling at me. I was so emotionally drained, I just gave up. The feeling of depression enveloped me.
I suddenly realized I had to forget about relationships and a sex life, because who would really understand my situation? Who could empathize with my new journey? Who could stand beside me as I heal naturally without hormone injections? Forget about dating. At that moment, I signed, sealed, and delivered to myself that being alone with my dog, until death do us part, would be just fine. Life had left me with no other choice.
Today, six years have passed since my surgery, and now I find strength in my scars. I choose to be a spokesperson for getting personal with your body. I encourage anyone with endometriosis, cervical cancer, or menstrual or reproductive setbacks: prima, you have choices. You have options. You just need to find a good doctor who will go to the moon and back for you.
So. Many. Women. are going through this, and we need to talk about it. About 20% of women in the United States have hysterectomies before the age of 40. And 33% of women have hysterectomies by the age of 65. Shockingly, about 1 in 5 hysterectomies are unnecessary.
It’s time for us to demand more research. We need to talk about the options and share knowledge so that no woman has her womb needlessly removed because of poor communication or a lack of research.
I write as an Afro-Latina who has battled depression, confusion, betrayal, and hurt. For years, I thought my inability to have children would defeat me. I thought the changes would drive me insane. I thought each new terrifying symptom would be my end.
Over time, I learned to love my new self and my beautifully flawed body. I found a fantastic wife who accepts me and the medical terminology that I came with. I’ve shaped my mindset to be happy and free of regret. I didn’t think I had a choice when I was 28, but I have an opportunity now…to spread my story and spark conversations so that other women can better navigate their own health issues, equipped with knowledge of their options and conviction to demand the best care.
We need to talk about forced hysterectomies and how they’ve become a cash cow of the medical industry, even for young women in their 20s and 30s. Hystersisters across the world could have avoided the chop of their internal heirlooms.
We need to demand explanations, so we understand all our options and the treatments we undergo before we endure them. In general, we need to talk about women’s health so it isn’t taboo anymore.
And so I close with this: listen to your body. Look at your body proudly. Understand the woman you are and the real power of your beautiful being. Never stop asking questions, so whatever care you need, you can know you made the right choice.