At the age of twenty-five, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and had a hysterectomy.
It was the mid-70’s, forty-odd years ago, and a very different time.
Although I was constantly bleeding and in terrible pain, and had been for over eighteen months, my GP wouldn’t refer me to a gynaecologist. He said I was too young to be considered for a hysterectomy, I was still of childbearing age, and I wasn’t married.
I was divorced, the mother of two boys under six years and young enough to remarry with a new husband who would want children of his own.
I’m still angry at the memory of this doctor’s power to make decisions about my life based on his perception of me as a woman and unmarried mother. The possibility of a man, a husband, in the future was more important than my continual bleeding for nearly twelve months. I was in terrible pain and needed regular iron injections, yet my role as a possible carrier of a man’s child was more important.
Finally, after nearly two years, and learning I had private health insurance, I was given a referral to a gynaecologist/surgeon. If I thought a woman was going to be more understanding and sympathetic to my situation, I was very wrong. The female gynaecologist/surgeon sat in judgement of me and from behind her desk was more scathing than my GP had been.
Pregnant at eighteen, an arranged marriage (in blue, white wasn’t a choice) divorced at twenty-two and now living in sin with a ‘male’ friend. The gynaecologist smirked from behind her desk, talking down to me, outlining her scholarly journey through medical school and her hours of hard work and determination that had led her to become a gynaecologist and surgeon.
While I . . . slut that I was, lay on my back!
Legal papers were presented requiring my boyfriend’s signature authorising the surgery. He protested that it was my body and I should be the one signing. Not so, it needed a man’s signature as it was the removal of my womb. He also had to sign a waiver to any future lawsuit as I was to become a ‘non-childbearing woman’.
I found the whole experience profoundly shaming.
The shame and guilt I had suffered at finding my self pregnant at eighteen and being forced to marry was relived. The accusations hurled at me and then being cut off from the family when I applied for a divorce came to the surface. Any sense of my self as a young woman, a mother, trying to live my own life, and do the best for my kids without family support, was gone.
I felt condemned by the community, no longer a real woman, not wanted in the eyes of men. I began to feel the judgement of others as if I was somehow outside of society, not only because I was divorced and a woman bringing up her children alone, but also because I could no longer give a man a child.
I had wanted the surgery because I no longer had regular periods but was bleeding almost continually and flooding a lot of the time. I had terrible stomach and back pain, headaches and lightheadedness, and lacked the energy to care for two young children. It had seemed a health issue.
Suddenly I’d become an outsider.
The shame hung over me for months, and I became paranoid, refusing to see friends or leave the house. I had endless problems from the surgery and had to go back as an outpatient for the next six months, and every time I became overcome with panic attacks. I knew everyone in the hospital was whispering behind my back. It took several years to overcome the agoraphobia that took hold.
While shame was one of the strongest emotions, I felt, I was also experiencing rage… my anger was overwhelming. It consumed me.
For the first time, I fully understood the absolute sexual freedom men enjoyed. I had no idea how much the worry of becoming pregnant weigh on me until it was gone. I suddenly understood why men were able to take advantage of everything on offer, jobs, travel, sex, partying because they didn’t have a care in the world.
Suddenly, I understood their attitude to sex, the total disregard they had for birth control, the ease at which they roll on and off with only pleasure in their thoughts. And I finally got how there was no stigma attached to them. They weren’t in any way to blame or held accountable or responsible for unwanted pregnancy, that was all heaped on the women.
I fumed, I ranted, I raved, fists closed I wanted to batter and hit out.
And now I was one of them, free to live my life without this constant pressure, without the need to keep a man handy in case I became pregnant.
These felt like very radical thoughts for me as a young single mother in 1978. And as my mind began to understand my new freedom, so I began to understand women’s oppression in an equally original way. My dabbling in feminism became a lifetime commitment. A passion that by my late twenties saw me Come Out!
Menopause again at 50
For the last two and a half decades, I have been living with menopausal women. Their hot flushes, night sweats and mood swings, set off my menopause symptoms until I didn’t know what symptoms were their’s and which were mine.
Of the three relationships, I was in over this time, one partner had been suffering from menopausal symptoms for over ten years, a second had a hysterectomy and was immediately thrown into menopause as I had when I was twenty-five and my wife in my present relationship stopped bleeding within a few months of us living together.
It’s only now at sixty-six, I am free of menopause symptoms, no hot flashes, night sweats, mood swings, headaches, mind-fog, lack of energy or interrupted sleep.
With each partner it became the norm to wake and strip wet bedding, to sleep with towels on the bed and pillow, a gradual lessening of sexual desire until neither of us had any sex drive, plus the secondary menopausal symptoms of dry vagina, lack of bladder control, weight gain and general feelings of anxiety or depression.
What I experienced but haven’t found talked about or discussed is the general feeling of not wanting to be touched. Just as sexual desire leaves it would seem a physical intimacy of holding, hugging, and general touch could replace lovemaking, and yet it has been as if our whole body says “enough”. I have been touched and probed, prodded and pushed sufficiently. As if preparing us to stand alone, to find out who we are now without the constant wants and needs of others.
I have found this Crone stage of my life to be freeing in a new way.
I feel free to pursue my life without the rules and confines of other people’s ideas of how I should act, behaviour, dress, or spend my time. As if now I am beyond childbearing age I have no use and have become invisible; an invisibility that allows me to fly under the radar of men and society so I can indulge in anything that takes my fancy, start an online business, play golf, take the grandchildren on holiday, colour my hair purple, walk in the rain.
While menopause ends one phase of our lives, it is also the gateway to another. A time when we can be the woman all the years of experience and wisdom have formed.
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