It was a year ago today that I had my hysterectomy. To say that it has been quite a year is an understatement. It has felt much like a roller coaster ride. The surgery itself was necessary for medical reasons. I knew that. The logical part of me (Yes, there is actually a logical part of me!) understood the necessity. I was basically miserable from fibroid tumors. It was to the point that there were days when I couldn’t get off of the couch because I was doubled over in pain. Let me assure you that this is not the easiest way to take care of a family of 11. You kind of have to be able to, you know, walk and move. So it was not an decision, but it was necessary.
I was prepared for the physical pain following the surgery. I had done a ton of reading and research. I joined the online group, “Hystersisters.” (Don’t laugh! I know that the name is completely cheesy, but it was extremely helpful and full of tons of information and tips.) I knew that the first two weeks were crucial to healing properly. I had to take it easy. No heavy lifting was allowed. No driving. Limited movement was a necessity. I couldn’t even sit up for too long because the pressure on my internal incision would become very uncomfortable. Basically I couldn’t do anything. Try to explain that to a 3 year old and a 1 year old. “Sorry kids, I can’t pick you up or bend over or cook for you or take you anywhere…” Yes, that went over really well. Thank goodness I have been blessed by the most amazing family and friends. My mom was here constantly to help with the kids and housework. My mother-in-law helped with driving everybody around. My friends made us so many meals that I didn’t have to cook dinner for a month! My sister, my aunts, my friends, everyone was amazing. My husband was wonderful. He was constantly making me “Sit down and rest!” He took really good care of me. It was so eye-opening for me to realize how truly good people really are. People like to do good things for others. It was kind of hard for me to just sit back and allow people to basically do my “work” for me. But I eventually realized that people like to help. Sometimes the best thing that we can do is just smile and say thank you.
To be honest it was probably about 6 weeks before I really felt ok physically. I expected this. I knew that it would take a little while to get back in the groove physically, but I was shocked at how long it took me to get it together mentally. I would be fine and then I would be overcome by feelings of overwhelming sadness. It would just come out of nowhere. I would be folding laundry and it would hit me that I would never be pregnant again. I would never nurse a teeny little one again. I would never get to pick out a “coming home from the hospital” newborn outfit. That part of my life was over. Obviously, my brain knew that, but it took quite a while for my heart to catch up.( A year later, it still stings. ) I think that so much of my identity had been wrapped up in being a mom. I think that is how it should be, at least to a point. But I really struggled with how I was going to be me again, now that my body had been changed. So much of who and what I was had been tied to my pregnancies and my babies. I had basically been pregnant and or nursing for 10 years straight. I loved that. I feel as if being a mom isn’t just my “job” it’s my vocation. This is what I had been called to do. So now what? I felt stuck. I was still a mom. I still had 9 kids that needed me to be present for them. It didn’t matter that I didn’t feel like I was a mom. I was and they needed me.
For a little while, the hormones and the sadness sort of took over. I was extremely moody and angry. I could feel it coming on, sort of like a wave. But now instead of the overwhelming sadness, it was anger…almost a rage-like anger. It got to the point that I would just go to my room and shut the door. I had to get away from everything and everyone. There were a few times when I just looked at Brian and say, “I need to leave. If I don’t get out of here, something bad is going to happen.” He was confused and didn’t really understand what I was going through. But he tried to be supportive and he was very patient. He was and is amazing. This was such a difficult thing for me to handle. I was a mom, just like I always wanted to be. God had entrusted me with these 9 gifts. I had been blessed beyond blessed, but I wasn’t living up to my end of my vocation. I was just angry and sad. That does not make for a happy or a good mother. Or happy kids for that matter. To make things even worse, I was feeling very distant from God. I felt like He just couldn’t hear me, or maybe didn’t want to hear me. Why did I have to go through all of this? Why the fibroids? Why the stupid surgery? Why me? (I know…I was kind of pathetic. Ok, really pathetic. I was struggling. Please don’t judge.)
It didn’t help that I had gained about 40 pounds since my surgery. So on top of the hormones and the depression/anger, I felt awful. That upset me even more. I had the stupid surgery so that I would feel better and instead, I was a miserable, angry, out of shape, fat mess. Awesome…I was just stuck in this awful cycle. I had to figure out a way out. None of us could keep going the way that we were.
I finally went to see my doctor. I started to tell her about what was going on and I just broke down. I cried and cried. I told her that I was sad and angry and tired. I was a terrible mom. I had no energy and that I had gained a ton of weight. After my little outburst, she looked at me and said that she could help. She told me that she thought that I needed some medication. She also told me that I wasn’t crazy. What I was going through was normal, especially at my age. Apparently all kinds of crazy things start up around 37. Nobody ever talks about that. She assured me that I would have been going through a lot of this anyway. The surgery just kind of bumped up the intensity a little bit. Ummm, that would have been good to know before I thought that I was becoming psychotic. I was under the impression that all of that hormonal, premenopausal stuff didn’t start until you were in your late 40’s. Not true. So all of you lovely ladies out there in your late 30’s and early 40’s, hear me out… You are not crazy! What you are feeling is normal. Talk to your doctor and be honest about what is going on! They can help you! What my doctor offered me wasn’t just medication, it was hope. I left her office feeling like I just might be able to get a little bit of myself back.
She gave me something to help with my low energy and she gave me a prescription for Prozac. At first I was a little bit embarrassed that I needed medication. I thought that I should just be happy that God had blessed me with a wonderful family. I felt guilty that I wasn’t feeling the way that I should be. I didn’t know if it would help. I didn’t know if anything would help. But I had to try something, so bring on the Prozac!
That was about 6 months ago. I cannot even begin to tell you how much better I feel. The crazy mood swings and the anger and depression are gone. I still have moments of sadness over the surgery, but nothing like before. After I had been on Prozac for a few weeks, DJ made a comment that I seemed so much happier. I think that is when it hit me…I was happier. That comment reinforced that I really did need the help from the medication. Taking it was the right thing to do…at least for me. I have never had a problem with people taking medication when they have needed it. I just didn’t think that I would ever need to. I figured that I could deal with everything on my own. Well, I was wrong. I needed a little bit of help. Thankfully I was able to get it. These last 6 months have been about finding my balance again. Balance was what I was missing so desperately. I was out of balance physically and spiritually. I have more energy and I have started to exercise regularly. That has helped me to lose some weight, which has made me feel better about myself. This has given me more confidence which has caused me to exercise more. It is that whole cycle thing again, but this time it is a good thing. I have also really dedicated myself to having a more structured prayer life. I have always prayed, but this is different. Instead of throwing up random prayers (which I still do!) throughout the day, I have started to link my prayers with my exercise. I say my rosary while I run. (Yes, that was not a typo! I can actually run now. For the first time ever….without hyperventilating! Yep, I am one of those girls now! heehee!) I listen to the daily readings on my ipod while I am on the elliptical. I also have a few podcasts that I enjoy listening to while I exercise. It is the perfect way for me to incorporate both things into my crazy days. I have made both things a priority. I have made taking care of myself (both physically and spiritually) a priority. This has given me the energy and more importantly the grace needed to be the kind of mom that I have always wanted to be. I am by no means a perfect mom. Some days, I am not even sure that I am a good mom, but I am a better mom. I am closer to being the kind of mom that I think that God has called me to be. Little by little, day by day, things are getting better. I am getting better.
Part of this balance has been getting my house in order. I know that for me, and probably for a lot of you, if my house is cluttered and messy, then my brain feels cluttered. I slowly started to house clean the upstairs. I started to get rid of things that we didn’t need. It was kind of like I began to reverse nest. It was as if my body finally realized that my uterus was gone. So instead of gathering things together, like you do when you are pregnant and nesting, I was getting rid of things. Once I finished the upstairs, I ventured to the basement. I got rid of bag after bag after bag of clothing that I was saving. I got rid of toys that haven’t been touched in years. It is very satisfying to purge unnecessary things. It is so rewarding to actually see the difference I have made. It is actually possible to walk through the laundry room without worrying that you will either be buried by a mountain of laundry or knock down a tower of bins on your head. I feel as if I can breath again. I feel as if I am me again. The real me. The me that loves to be a mom. The me that feels as if I actually have a relationship with God and that he really, truly, does love me. I am the old me but with an upgrade. I have embraced being a different kind of mother. While I am not able to have any more babies, I am beginning to really enjoy this phase of motherhood. Yes, it makes me sad that my “baby” is already 2 years old. It makes me terrified that I have two kids counting down the days until they move out and go to college. I have kids at pretty much every stage of maturity and development and that is exhausting, frustrating, amazing and magical. I am finally able to see that for the blessing that is. I have the energy that I need to keep up with each of them. (Well, most of the time.) Each birth changed our family’s normal. Each child added their own twist, their own spark and spirit to our family. This hysterectomy did the same sort of thing. The difference was that instead of adding a new baby, it forced me to change myself. I added my own spark and spirit back in to our family. Our normal shifted again. While I will probably always be sad that my childbearing time is over, I have been given this gift. I have received the gift of myself back. That is the gift that I can give back to my children.