On Thursday, January 12, 2023, I’m officially going to the hospital, separating from my reproductive system, and making the “Yeah, I don’t think I’m doing the motherhood” subtext text. If you’re the kind of person that measures a woman’s worth by the bun in the oven, or one of those dudes who loves to talk about how it’s evolutionary psychology that makes you like 22 year old girls with long shiny barrel curled hair because fertility, I’ve ceased to be relevant as a human being to you, if I ever ways (doubtful). If you’re anyone else, this probably doesn’t, or even shouldn’t, make any impression at all. Mine is a routine procedure and eventually all AFAB people must bid adieu to their reproductive function, whether by hook, crook, illness, menopause or elective surgery. I have opted for the latter.
The cause is not cancer or gender identity or chronic, debilitating illness but something like convenience and pain management. Mine is a minimally invasive procedure ( I love that phrase–minimally invasive and how it sounds like a euphemism for US Cold War-era foreign policy). It will, with a constellation of delicate incisions remove most of my derelict babymaking gadgetry in order to dispense with the uncomfortable, unpredictable potato-sized tumors that have filled and then refilled the unused space after the last enormously painful, expensive and inconvenient procedure that promised to get rid of them came up short.
This is sort of the nuclear option as far as these things go. I didn’t want to end up here. Believe me. I hate hospitals. Surgery is no one’s idea of a good time. I dread the rest and healing. I don’t do couch naps or daytime pajamas well. I thought about waiting it out. They tell me nature will eventually rid me of this problem. But nature is unpredictable. No one has the slightest idea when I might hit menopause. Could be next week. Could be next year. Could be ten years from now. Seems like the kind of thing medical science might have progressed to figure out. But women’s health, in particular women’s health pertaining to Not Looking Younger and Hotter for Longer or Not Having Babies still gets short shrift when it comes to where medical science wants to exert its energy. After all, there’s nothing sexy or even useful about crones, unless you’re trying to use their dubious advice to try and murder your way to the Scottish throne. And who isn’t, honestly?
From a political perspective, my timing is on point. Why bother having reproductive machinery at a time when a whole half of the country (or at least a whole half of its representative government) believes I should be barred from making any decisions about it? My state—southern, swing, purple—is maybe one worst case election shy of being subsumed into Dixie Gilead (a hoop skirt does suit a scarlet gown). I’m old enough and single enough that I probably wouldn’t have to worry about that regardless. But, selfishly, it will be nice to know there’s one less uterus in the world to worry about.
You know what else won’t be my problem anymore? Crimson tide. Shark week. Aunt Rosie. British army inspection. Communists in the gazebo. Painters in the stairway. The red scare. It feels a little too tidy to say that it would be nice to redirect my monthly tithe toward the women’s division of Procter & Gamble toward, like, taking down the patriarchy. Solid odds it will go toward party dresses and booze. Do I apologize for this? Do I feel guilty?
I don’t know how to feel.
Surgery’s been in the works now since roughly May of 2022. A long time. I had my first consult with my surgical team—smart, widely recommended, genuinely nice and comforting people, all the way back in August. At the time I was coming off the back side of a particularly flavor of hypochondriacal anxiety that made my chest hurt because my chest hurt and that made my chest hurt which WebMD tells you is always probably a heart attack. Always. Probably. Except when it’s not. The surgeon was the nicest, most patient doctor I’d talked to in months, probably because she wasn’t annoyed with me asking repeatedly if she was sure I wasn’t dying. Like, I mean, right now. And if so, would you judge my life as a mostly or complete failure.
We did not talk about any of that. We talked about incisions. We talked about anesthesia and pain killers. We talked about how long I would have to wait to lift things (8 weeks) or have sex (four months). We talked about what pieces I wanted to keep and which ones I wanted gone for sure. I circled a date on a calendar and wondered, given the last few years, what the state of the my life, what the state of the world would be like when I got there. Who could say? January 12. 2023.
Then I didn’t think about it. At all.
I mean. Why would I? People tend toward elective surgery because they want an upgrade or a restoration. They want to change something about themselves or their lives. They want to become Version 2.0, or maybe they want to try and get back to 1.0. A version of self that conforms that looks like the picture in their head. A version that feels like person they know they are. A version without the pain. A version with all the freedom pain and worry and illness has stolen. And even though it doesn’t exactly feel that way, it’s why I’m doing it doing this, right? One less thing to worry about. One less ache to feel. One less unnecessary pang. One more part I’m not using.
I’m being too flippant here. I know that. I apologize. Surgery is not just a glow-up. The desire to endure less pain or worry is not a selfish one. And then there are the altruists. My dad needs a kidney, pretty much ASAP. There are a boatload of reasons I’m not a good match, which no reserve of guilt, no matter how large, can mitigate. Someone out there may, out of the kindness of their heart, come through for him, undergo surgery, and willingly endure all the indecision, the anxiety, the fear, the ambivalence. Or maybe the importance of the mission diminishes the rest. You become bigger than yourself, or at least, big enough to ignore your own neuroses and do the thing, because at some time along the path, it stops being about you.
This, what I’m doing, is all about me. Maybe that’s why I’m so bored with it.
The week before Christmas, my best friend and I drove out to meet my surgeon in person. She answered some questions, performed a biopsy–“People have described this pain as both the worst pain they’ve ever experienced in their life or not a big deal at all. My suspicion is, for you, it will fall somewhere in between” (It did)—and told me what brand of liquid soap I needed to wash myself with before surgery (Dial). I felt okay when I left the appointment that day, even I did feel a little like the surgery was an overreaction. Was my circumstance so grave to require this? What pain is enough pain to be unendurable? Certainly mine wasn’t. Isn’t it some flavor of stolen valor or, as my family would say, “drama” to insist on complicated, expensive, surgical treatment for something that is actually, probabaly NBD?
Can you tell I’m wavering? I’m wavering. Is it possible to feel like you don’t deserve a thing at the same time that you feel like you don’t want a thing at the same time that you feel like if you don’t take the thing on offer you’re a coward or just a lazy, hedonistic flibbertigibbet who’d rather suffer long term than sacrifice the inconvience of recuperation. I mean, I’ll be honest with you: Relaxing makes me nervous. I do not like sitting still. When things get calm and quiet, when you are at rest, that’s when the monsters come out.
Last week, stricken by my first cold in three years (not Covid, evidently, but still shitty and thanks for playing) that blew up my plans for my first New Year’s Eve in three years and threatened to derail this whole process, I dawdled around the internet, looking for additional information about my new, post-surgical life. The National Health Service (UK) suggested that some shocking percentage of patients feel depressed afterwards because they “no longer feel like a real woman. ” I sat on that one for a while. The most surprising part for me is not so much the “real woman” but the “no longer,” because I’m still trying to work out exactly what a real woman feels like. Cellulite? Velvet? A late spring rain storm? A nice beach trip? That waxy, palepink tip on an OG black-labeled Chapstick? A salty dress on a ship in a storm? A Jameson on the rocks and could you make that a double, because lord, it’s been a day? I’m 46 years old, still pointed toward the pink side of the dial and I cannot possibly tell you what it a real woman feels like. It seems like a lot of Goddess imagery and earth toned connotations to lay on someone that’s only ever really had time for the fuschia sequined version of femininity. Which is to say, I don’t need to oven to work to have a fabulous time in the kitchen. So why does it even matter? I should be overjoyed. I can keep all the tulle, and never have to worry about pretending to love playing house again.
It’s age though, isn’t it? Isn’t that the thing? It’s the closing doors, even the doors you were never going to go through. I’ve been watching “Fleischman is in Trouble” (it’s pretty great, peak X-ennial midlife crisis bait) while I’ve been getting over this cold and grieving my stupid, wonderful cat (my stupid, wonderful cat died on New Year’s Morning. Did I mention? Did you know? It was peaceful, and he’s one less 10+ pound thing I won’t have to worry about lifting by accident after surgery, but I miss him). There’s something weirdly cathartic about watching famous people give voice to your interior monologue, to hear Lizzy Caplan lament the lost possibilities, the possibilities she didn’t even want, the ones she wasn’t even fully aware she had.
I never wanted kids. And my two little sisters did a fine job of turning out a couple of nephews this fall, who I have every intention of spoiling shamefully. This is not about that. It’s that in my heart, I still feel like I’m seventeen, still standing out in the rain waiting to find an unlocked window, some crack in the façade that I might be able to slip through and finally enter into the world, the richness, the beauty, the opportunity, the magic, the heartbreak, the romance, the vastness of it all. In my head, though, I’m almost forty-seven, and I know that this is the life, this is my only life–this waiting, this trying, this standing at the metaphorical glass and imagining that the people on the other side are living a real, truly live adventure, free from whatever sadness, frustration, disappointment, and yeah, just flat-out effing boredom I feel at the limitations of myself and my circumstance.
When I asked the surgeon about the physical and emotional side effects of menopause, we talked about all the big stuff and all the gross stuff and all the stuff you’re embarrassed to ask your mother. But there were the questions I was too embarrassed to ask. Like, will I still get butterflies when someone with pretty eyes smiles at me and says something unexpectedly tender and clever all at once? And will I feel that flicker of promise when the sun sets and stars start to come out? Will things continue to feel weird and sexy and funny and exciting and breathless and gorgeous and complicated and really fucking ridiculous? Is there any point in hoping for better than “not worse” when imagining my future? Am I a baby for even wanting that? (I am a giant baby).
There are things I know, rationally, will not be impacted by surgery. This is not about where or how my uterus is going. It is very definitively about where and how I think I might be. And honestly, I don’t love the view from here.
A bit ago, the nurse called back to confirm that the surgery is taking place, that whatever rattling remnant of a cough is no reason to postpone the operation, and unless I’m actively, definitively sick, they’ll see me and I’m my Dial-ed body on Thursday.
I’m okay, by the way, ramble to the contrary. Pet dies, you get sick, people ask. I’m okay in all the ways a person can be okay. I’m comfortable enough. I know how I lucky I am. I’m sensible. Ish. The corridors just get narrow sometimes. And I’ll get through it, and I’ll be fine, and you can all remind me how silly I was being, how petty. What a flibbertigibbet, tis Alison. What a way to begin a new year.
PS: If you’re local and want to lift a bag of groceries or roll out a trashcan for me between now and the middle of March, give me a holler.