Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Ode To My Reproductive System

I was a late bloomer. All my friends got their periods before I did. My best friend at age twelve got hers when she was ten years old. I was the last one at age fourteen. So, when it finally came, I knew exactly what to do. My mother didn't need to tell me, thank goodness, because she absolutely couldn't. I remember when I was about eight or nine years old, and after having another baby, my mother was hemorrhaging at home. She had been in bed and I was her helper. But, when she left a trail of blood from her bedroom to the bathroom, I thought she was dying. I panicked and called Gummy (our maternal grandmother). We were living in Norwood, Massachusetts and Gummy lived in Newton Upper Falls, about thirty minutes' drive away.

"Gummy, Mummy is dying!" I screamed and cried into the telephone. "There's blood everywhere. She's dying!" I heard a loud and hearty laugh at the other end of the line. Gummy was laughing! I did not know what to think, but I felt really stupid and mad. "She's not dying, Kathleen, she'll be fine. Don't worry." That's it. That's all I got. How could I not worry! My mother was bleeding all over the house! I went into my mother's bedroom after she got back into bed and told her what Gummy said. She asked me to sit on the bed and she tried her best to explain what was happening. Women didn't talk about this stuff in the 1950's, and I left that conversation feeling better that I believed her when she told me she wasn't dying, but I was still in the dark about the whole experience, and about women's bleeding in general.

In seventh grade, we moved back to The Falls and I attended Meadowbrook Junior High School after spending the first six years of my academic life in St. Catherine's Parochial Elementary School in Norwood. I was a complete innocent then, and very holy. I never even started my birthday without going to Mass and receiving Communion first. Not only was I the last to get my period, but I was also the last of my young girlfriends to wear a bra. I'll never forget how proud I was when my mother bought me my first training bra. Now, I will be like my friends and wear white blouses, so everyone will see my bra straps through my shirt, and see how grown up I am. I was probably ten or eleven years old.

Seventh grade gym class was divided into half years: half was gym, the other half was "health". Our health class is where I learned about the reproductive systems. Once I learned the technicalities of my body, I understood jokes I heard friends laughing at that I didn't. I laughed along with them to make them think I understood, but secretly I did not.

Lucky for me, I had very regular and easy periods most of my life. I remember a couple of years in my late twenties, I experienced very severe cramping. But I never had debilitating pain like some of my friends described. I even got pregnant the first time I had sex with my son's father. It was the textbook time frame of two weeks after my period ended.  I had just turned twenty years old. The only problem was, we were not married. I knew in that moment I was pregnant, and told my best friend as much the next day. She thought I was crazy. I said, "Wait a month, and I'll prove it to you." I did, and I was.

My pregnancy was easy (also lucky for me). I was living at home and working as a clerk/typist in a local office. Everyone was very supportive as my pregnancy progressed, and over time I figured out how to deal with my family and society as a result of my deviance. My family and my friends were very supportive and helpful. I was so blessed. Alas, I got toxemia, and had to leave work a month early. I had planned to work until my baby was born, but you know what they say about the best laid plans.

A friend from work gave me a plain, gold wedding band to wear. I was grateful because it was just easier to lie about my marital status. When I took birthing classes alone, I told everyone my name was "Mrs. Paul Crowley". Paul was my father's name. "My husband is in Vietnam," I lied. My twenty-year-old body was healthy and worked like a charm. Labor pains lasted three hours total. Natural childbirth was not an option for me then, so I got a saddle block to numb my body from just below my breasts. The doctor pulled my beautiful six-pound boy out of my body with forceps while a nurse pushed on my stomach to move him down the canal. The first thing my baby did when I saw him was to stick his tongue out at me. I laughed and cried, then called my parents to tell them the news.

My body has always been pretty healthy. I am very grateful for it. I even had a relatively easy time with menopause. I never took hormone therapy, but some black cohosh, evening primrose oil, and estrogen from clover pills that I bought from the drug store. Eventually, I got acupuncture treatments. I never had a really bad time with hot flashes or severe discomfort from night sweats. I believe acupuncture helped with those. I just noticed my core body temperature rose at about age forty-eight, and it never went down. The most disconcerting thing I had to deal with was my out-of-control emotions that flared up when I was professionally stating my case to my supervisor to get another raise. Sucking those tears back to finish a sentence was so much harder than any physical discomfort I experienced. I completed menopause at about age fifty-four.

I make it a point to be informed. I do research about everything I need to know. But in all my menopausal research, I don't remember reading anything that told me what is happening right now. In many women, when estrogen is gone, gravity takes over. When gravity takes over, it begins pushing on our reproductive system and the other organs surrounding it until they actually fall out of your vagina! I have a prolapsed bladder and uterus. I get PAP smears every year, and my primary care doctor and I have been watching my bladder drop for about five years now. "Where is it now?" I would ask. This year, she advised me to go see a gynecologist as my answer.

My Valentine's Day gift from God this year is bladder repair surgery and a total hysterectomy. I will keep my ovaries, but everything else is coming out through my vagina next Tuesday. I am really looking forward to the bladder repair. I cannot tell you how much it freaks me out to push that bulb back up there multiple times a day. The bladder they repair. The prolapsed uterus just gets taken out. I wonder about this lack of respect for a system that serves women so well all their lives. Mine has served me well all of mine. It gave me relatively easy periods and a beautiful son. It dried up with grace. But now, instead of getting repaired like my more necessary bladder, it just gets cut out and discarded. It pains my heart to think of this total disrespect and disregard for an anatomical system that provides so much joy.

I love my cervix and my uterus. I am going to miss them. I am grateful for the healthy life they lived inside me. I am grateful for my healthy body and all the joy it continues to provide me. I am beginning a mourning process for my reproductive system. I found myself shedding tears in bed for them this morning, so I got up and wrote this blog post.

I am not worried about my surgery next week, but I am nervous. My doctor explained that I will have three sets of stitches inside me that will dissolve over four to six weeks after surgery. I researched images of the surgery. Just as I suspected, they will pry my vagina open with tools to get inside and do what they feel has to be done. After all, my beautiful vagina spread open on its own to push a person out of my body. It is adaptable and flexible. I just don't like thinking about it being forced open like that.

I am not looking forward to the pain I am imagining I will be experiencing. "The pre-op nurse joked with me when she explained what would happen, "This is why we have an opioid epidemic." Then she suggested I bring walking shoes I like to use because they will get me up right away to walk around. I don't like pain. I can suck up some level of pain, but I have a problem with what I imagine is the rest. I will take the drugs they give me, but I will be mindful of them as well.

Please pray for me. I am nervous, but I am not worried. I am sure I will be fine, and the women doctors who will perform my surgery will do a great job. Please think of me and send me healing energy, that my body will snap back just like it did after I had my baby. I know I'm older now, but I am healthy, and I respect my body's ability to respond and heal. I love my body, and I am happy to be reading these words back to myself. I love my body. I love my Self.

Thank you, God, for my beautiful body, my good health and for the reproductive system that provided me so much joy throughout my younger lifetime. Going forward, God, please give me the strength and the courage to respect my body and my whole Self with Love and Grace. Thank you, God. Amen.