Health and wellness touch each of us differently. This is one person’s story.

The day I decided to get a hysterectomy at age 41, I felt relieved.

Finally, after living with the pain of a uterine fibroid and many months spent attempting nonsurgical options, I told my doctor to sign me up for the surgery that would end all the anguish.

My tangerine-sized fibroid was a benign growth in my uterus but it was greatly impacting my quality of life.

My periods were so frequent they were almost constant, and the minor intermittent pelvic and back discomfort had crossed into the category of constant nagging pain.

While I had options, I ultimately chose the surgical route.

I’d fought against the idea of a hysterectomy for months. It seemed so drastic, so final.

But other than my fear of the recovery, I couldn’t come up with a concrete reason not to go through with it.

After all, I already had two children and wasn’t planning on having more, and the fibroid was too large to simply remove by laparoscopy. I had no desire to live like that for an unknown number of years until the all-natural fibroid shrinker called menopause kicked in.

Plus, every woman I talked to who had undergone a hysterectomy proclaimed it one of the best things they’d ever done for their health.

I walked into the hospital on surgery day prepped with items I was told to pack and advice from other women who’d gotten a hysterectomy. They warned me to stay ahead of my pain medication, to rest and ask for help during my four- to six-week recovery, to listen to my body’s cues, and to ease back into normal life gradually.

But there was something my sisterhood didn’t warn me about.

They told me all about what would happen to me physically. What they neglected to mention was the emotional aftermath.

Goodbye uterus, hello grief

I’m not sure exactly what triggered a sense of loss after the surgery. Maybe it was because I was recovering on a maternity ward. I was surrounded by babies and happy new parents as I faced my own expulsion from the club of fertile women.

When strangers started congratulating me because they assumed I had just delivered a baby, it was a harsh reminder that I was on day one of my new status as an infertile woman.

Although I’d made the decision to have the surgery, I still experienced a kind of mourning for those parts of me that had been removed, a part of my womanhood that left me with a pervasive feeling of emptiness.

And while I’d said my goodbyes to my uterus before the surgery, thanking it for its service and the beautiful children it gave me, I was hoping for a couple of days to get used to the idea of it being gone without having to talk about it.

I thought I would snap out of my sorrow once I left the hospital. But I didn’t.

Was I less of a woman because my body was no longer capable of doing what a woman’s body was evolutionarily made to do?

I struggled at home with pain, night sweats, bad reactions to my medicine, and extreme fatigue. Still, the sense of emptiness remained so visceral it was as if I could feel that part of my womanhood was missing, almost like I imagine an amputee feels phantom limb pain.

I kept telling myself I was done having children. The kids I had with my ex-husband were 10 and 14, and although I had discussed expanding our family numerous times with my live-in boyfriend, I couldn’t imagine waking up for midnight feedings while worrying about my teenage boy doing teenage things like having sex and doing drugs. My parenting mindset had long surpassed the baby stage and the thought of backtracking to diapers exhausted me.

On the other hand, I couldn’t help but think: I’m only 41. I’m not too old to have another baby, but thanks to the hysterectomy, I relinquished my option to try.

Before the surgery I said I wouldn’t have any more children. Now I had to say I couldn’t have any more children.

Social media and the time on my hands as I took medical leave from work didn’t help my frame of mind.

One friend tweeted that she hated her uterus because of her cramps, and I flinched with an odd jealousy because she had a uterus and I didn’t.

Another friend shared a picture of her pregnant belly on Facebook, and I thought about how I’ll never again feel the kicks of a life inside me.

It seemed like fertile women were everywhere and I couldn’t help but compare them to my new infertility. A deeper fear became clear: Was I less of a woman because my body was no longer capable of doing what a woman’s body was evolutionarily made to do?

Overcoming the loss by reminding myself of all that makes me a woman

A month into my recovery, pangs of grief for my perceived womanhood were still hitting me regularly. I tried tough love on myself.

Some days I stared in the bathroom mirror and said firmly aloud, “You do not have a uterus. You will never have another baby. Get over it.”

My response, as the mirror showed me a woman who wasn’t sleeping and could barely walk to the mailbox, was hope that eventually the emptiness would fade.

Then one day, when my recovery had reached the point where I was off all medication and I felt almost ready to return to work, a friend checked in on me and asked, “Isn’t it fantastic not having periods?”

Well, yes, it was fantastic not having periods.

With that chunk of positivity, I decided to revisit that collection of advice from my friends with hysterectomies, those women who claimed it was the best decision they had ever made, and my thoughts took a different turn.

When I feel like I’m less of a woman, I remind myself that my uterus was only a piece of what makes me a woman, not everything that makes me a woman. And that piece was making me miserable so it was time for it to go.

“You don’t have a uterus. You will never have another baby,” I said to my reflection. But instead of feeling deflated, I thought of why I chose to have a hysterectomy to begin with.

I will never again endure the pain of a fibroid. I will never again curl up in bed with a heating pad because of debilitating cramps. I will never again have to pack half a pharmacy when I go on vacation. I will never again have to deal with birth control. And I will never again have an uncomfortable or inconvenient period.

I still occasionally have twinges of loss similar to those that plagued me right after my surgery. But I acknowledge those feelings and counter them with my list of positives.

When I feel like I’m less of a woman, I remind myself that my uterus was only a piece of what makes me a woman, not everything that makes me a woman. And that piece was making me miserable so it was time for it to go.

My womanhood is evident with one look at my children, both of whom look so much like me that there’s no mistaking that my body was, at one point in time, capable of creating them.

My womanhood showed up in the mirror the first time I got dressed up after the surgery to go on a long-awaited date with my boyfriend, and he kissed me and told me I was beautiful.

My womanhood is all around me in forms both big and small, from my perspective as a writer to the middle-of-the-night wake-ups from a sick child who doesn’t want to be consoled by anyone but mom.

Being a woman means so much more than having certain feminine body parts.

I chose to have a hysterectomy so I could be healthy. It may have been difficult to believe those long-term benefits were coming, but as my recovery neared its end and I began resuming normal activities, I realized how much that fibroid had affected my daily life.

And I now know I can handle whatever feelings of loss and what-ifs come my way, because my wellness is worth it.


Heather Sweeney is a freelance writer and blogger, an associate editor at Military.com, a mother of two, an avid runner, and a former military spouse. She has a master’s degree in elementary education and blogs about her life after divorce on her website. You can also find her on Twitter.