Last night I participated in the second annual Memphis Monologues. It's a local take on Eve Ensler's Vagina Monologues to raise funds for Planned Parenthood. Warren and I learned about the production when we attended a "Condoms & Cocktails" mixer a few months back. He said he thought I should sign up. I said he was crazy. Then I told my friend, Aimee, who happens to be the Development Director at Planned Parenthood, how crazy Warren was and she said, "You should totally do it!"
It was two against one, so I agreed. We were told that we could discuss anything we wanted related to womanhood. I was stumped for awhile and then remembered an essay I wrote a couple of years back called "Hysteria" that never found a home. I showed it to the Memphis Monologues producer, Elizabeth Cawein, and she loved it. I was golden.
I practiced reading it over and over and made some minor edits to make it more monologue friendly. Then I did a test run on Aimee and a few other friends. I felt pretty good by the time showtime arrived, although speaking in public does make me pretty nervous. Luckily I didn't have to wear high heels and everyone was enjoying a few glasses of wine, so I kept my cool.
There were eight of us total, and I had my own cheering section. I was the seventh person to go, and felt pretty relaxed by then. I prepped the audience by telling them I was going to be a downer and that I was going to talk about "my stuff." (Most of the women before me spoke on more general matters.) But then oddly enough, I got laughs at almost everything I said. It was pretty awesome. After a minute or so I dare say I even started to enjoy myself!
For those of you who missed it, I am pasting my monologue below. If you don't like hearing about blood, you may want to stop reading now!
At 37, I felt ridiculous going to the doctor about my heavy periods. I could already hear the nurse practitioner telling me to just take an iron pill. Changing my giant, winged maxi-pad every thirty minutes wasn’t anything to be alarmed about, right? I could time my bathroom breaks so that the huge gush of blood that came out when I stood up from my desk didn’t stain my pants.
However, this deluge of blood oysters became increasingly more complicated, especially when I wasn’t sitting safely at work. For instance, I volunteered at my then five- and seven-year-old sons’ school one day in February and felt pretty self-conscious going to the office to use the adult bathroom every half hour. On my third trip, I wanted to say, “I’m not snorting coke; I’m just freshening up!”
Despite these precautions, by lunchtime I had bled all over my khakis. My junior high nightmare was now a reality, only in my kids’ Montessori school. I snuck out, drove home, put on dark colored pants, and came back hoping no one would notice my absence, much less my wardrobe change.
In March, I was roller-skating around Patriot Lake in Shelby Farms Park while the boys fed the ducks and played along the banks. Half way around the one mile track, I felt a massive rush of blood. The public bathrooms had already closed, so I was screwed. By the time I made it to my car I had no choice but to stuff my sport skort with the stash of emergency clothes I kept in the car for the kids.
“Why are you putting my surfer shirt in your skirt?” asked my oldest son, Satchel. “I had an accident,” I explained as I hurried him and his younger brother, Jiro, into their car seats. Jiro, who was normally the one in need of an outfit change, smiled understandingly as he buckled himself in.
I could feel the blood pouring out of my uterus and crashing on the waves of Satchel’s bunched up t-shirt as I buckled my own seatbelt. I quickly passed from embarrassment and inconvenience into fear. The mother in me hid my increasing panic, and although I convinced myself that it didn’t seem bad enough to stop at the Baptist ER, I found myself quite uncharacteristically praying all the way home. Please don’t let me die in front of my kids, please don’t let me wreck the car and kill my kids, please, please, please.
The next day I went to see the doctor. When I told her what had been happening she looked very serious, which made me feel both better and worse. “That’s what we call hemorrhaging,” she explained before sending me off for a battery of tests and referring me to an obstetrician. “Call today,” she added gravely.
Having not found anything unusually wrong with me except for the heavy bleeding, the first thing the O.B. simply asked me was if I was done having kids. “Absolutely,” I said, nodding my head. Then, I found myself adding the obligatory, “I’ve got my hands full with two.” My husband’s hands weren’t full enough for him to consider a vasectomy, but you know...
The doctor described a new, out-patient procedure called uterine ablation that uses radio waves to permanently remove the uterine lining, while leaving the uterus intact—a “hysterectomy-light” She called it. Thirty years ago, when my mother wasn’t much older than I was then, she had her uterus and her ovaries removed “just to be sure” after the doctor found a (benign) tumor in her uterus. My sisters and I had since nicknamed her “Hormonal,” or “Mo,” for short, since she always had hot flashes from her now required hormone pills. I definitely didn’t want that.
“I’m not going to remove your ovaries or do anything unnecessary like those male doctors used to do,” the doctor said soothingly as she handed me a brochure. The procedure had a confidence boosting brand name, Novasure. On the cover was a smiling woman in her forties walking along a beach in white pants. I couldn’t imagine ever wearing white pants.
Then the doctor and I had a carefully worded conversation about the risks of uterine ablation. The procedure all but eliminates menstruation, but it doesn’t cause infertility. A woman can still get pregnant, but she can’t safely carry the baby to term. I mulled this over.
“So, should I get my tubes tied too?” I asked. If I was going to be on the beach in white pants, why not have the option of ripping them off for some wild, unprotected sex (with my husband, of course)?
I scheduled the surgery for early May and went home to tell Warren the news. This is what he heard: “You never have to wear a condom again.”
In the weeks leading up to the surgery, however, I was still fertile. When Warren asked why he still had to wear a condom, I not-so-patiently explained to him how a woman’s body works and how I could still get pregnant.
“So?” he said with that survival-of-the-fittest look in his eye.
“What? Do you want to have another baby?” I asked, imaginary clock ticking in the background. “I thought we were sure? Novasure.”
Our family of four fit neatly into our two bedroom house and our four-seater car and we could pretty much do whatever we wanted now. I mean, we were talking about hiking the freaking Appalachian Trail!
He put on the condom and we didn’t talk about it again.
But then I started fantasizing about having another baby. I knew that I would have to take a pregnancy test on the day of the procedure as a formality. I imagined what it would be like to have the nurse say, “You’re not having your uterus ablated today. You’re having a baby!” It would be an unplanned, surprise, miracle baby like on television or in the movies.
I like surprises and miracles just as much as the next girl, but Warren’s sperm would have to make its way through a little latex if we were “meant” to have a third child.
When it came time for me to go to the hospital, I needed to focus on addressing more practical matters with the boys—like why I wouldn’t be able to pick them up from school, and why I might be in bed for a few days. I certainly couldn't use the blunt, no nonsense description I’d been using in emails to my girlfriends. They are going to fry my uterus with radio waves and then tie my tubes, I typed, hoping to sound cavalier.
I broached the topic over breakfast. “You know how Mommy bleeds a lot sometimes and has to wear a band-aid in her underwear?” I started, suddenly imagining myself explaining (quite poorly) the birds and the bees to them one day.
“I’m going to the hospital to have that fixed, but I’ll be home for dinner,” I said. “Gigi will pick you up from school.”
I actually had happy memories from my mom’s hysterectomy thanks to the person who sent a giant box of every flavor ever made of Jelly Bellies to her hospital room. I hoped someone would think to send me junk food during my convalescence.
On the big day, Warren and I dropped the boys off at school and then drove to the hospital. The pregnancy test came back negative like I knew it would, but it still made me a little sad. There would be no miracles that day…but I still worried about surprises.
I started fixating on the mechanics of what I’d signed up for and my sadness was soon eclipsed by terror. I did my best to avoid hospitals and I’d never had an elective surgery. I gave birth to Satchel and Jiro at home, where everything felt safe.
Warren was terrified too. He looked at me and asked, “What if you die?” I didn’t know what to do other than try not to cry and wait for it to be over.
And a few hours later, it was.
After school the boys ran into my bedroom to see me. They were fascinated by the small scar in my bellybutton and the giant purple bruises surrounding it. I explained how the doctor did everything with a tiny camera and completely blew their minds. They thought uterine ablation and tubal ligation were AWESOME!
I couldn't pick the boys up or carry them for a few weeks, but other than that, they were unaffected by my delicate condition. It was almost annoying how fast I healed and how quickly I was back at my desk. The doctor said I could take up to three weeks off, but I felt guilty even taking one.
I felt so good so fast, I was ready to be the uterine ablation spokeswoman!
Then the “having one more” conversation came up at a party. I was talking to some other two-kid moms and one of them asked if I ever thought about having a third—maybe a girl. I’d had this conversation a hundred times before, but…“I can’t,” I blurted out. It was the first time I’d said it out loud, and it hit me. It didn’t matter if I wanted a third. I couldn’t have one.
The words strangled me. I watched as my friend’s smile turned to concern, and then the other moms stopped looking me in the eye. I had a few friends who’d happily gotten IUDs, and there was a sprinkling of vasectomies among the husbands, but I was the first mother to voluntarily and irrevocably shut my uterus down.
Just a few days later the conversation came up again, this time with a father of two little girls. When he asked me if I ever thought about having a third, I just shook my head. I couldn’t even speak. While I consciously tried to stop my face from flushing and my eyes from watering, I let my friend enthusiastically go on (and on) about how he really wanted a third. His wife was probably already pregnant!
What an asshole!
Even my own children were conspiring against me. At school they started helping out with the director’s newborn twins—playing with them, holding them, and even changing diapers. It was like they were unconsciously trying to punish me. Satchel started saying, “I want you to have another baby.” When I told him that wasn’t going to happen, he looked at me like I was the biggest liar ever and said, “But how do you know?”
“I just know,” I said and walked away.
I couldn’t even find solace at roller derby practice. Usually I spent the two hours getting a good workout and looking forward to drinks afterwards with the Z-girls. Suddenly I found myself staring at a baby that had started attending practice with his mom, a skater we called Blown Fuse. While she was busy learning how to do a T-stop, this adorable, rough and tumble, eight month old little boy was busy exploring our nasty, concrete floor. I wanted to scoop him up (clean his hands off) and take him home with me.
Instead I watched as Fuse picked him up and he snuggled into the space between her chest and her neck and wrapped his chubby arms around her. What was left of my uterus actually quivered.
I imagined I could smell his sweet, lavender scented curls from across the big, empty warehouse. He reminded me of Satchel and Jiro so much.
At that moment the baby hunger I had finally made sense. I didn’t really want a new baby. I just missed my babies actually being babies. By choosing to have my uterus ablated and therefore greatly improving my day-to-day quality of life, I had prematurely joined the ranks of the post-menopausal women in the grocery stores who stop new moms just to say, “Enjoy it while you can. They grow up so fast.”
But really, at five and seven my babies still had an awful lot of growing up to do. I definitely wasn’t anywhere near ready to start roaming the cereal aisle in my white pants. It was time to get my head back in the game.
And maybe plan a beach trip.