A Story of Feminine Awakening and Redefining Womanhood After Hysterectomy
Contribution by Rita M. Vasquez
This is the story of boy meets girl. This is not the story of the type of the happy ending that was heavily ingrained in my completely Hispanic Texican upbringing. This is not the story of first comes love then comes marriage than comes a baby in a baby carriage. But this is my story.
It is a story of my feminine awakening. It is a story about redefining what being a woman means for me. It is a story about how I learned to love myself, how I am learning to love myself, how I stopped resisting, and how I leaned in to my life and let go of my attachment to the outcome.
Around August of 2010, I received a call from my gynecologist. Not the nurse, not the clerical staff, but my actual gynecologist. “Do you have a minute to talk? Are you in a place where you feel safe? Are you in a place where you can stop for a minute to take everything in?” he asked. I wasn’t. I was driving to my next appointment for work, but I assured him all was well and I could speak openly. “Your pap smear came back irregular and we need to run some tests. There is a high possibility that you have cancer or the beginnings of cancer.” A whirlwind of emotions hit me and I thought, “Well, I am going to be gone for the next 7 months for work, so I don’t have time for tests. The universe is taking care of me. I will just let this play out like it needs to play out.”
To save time and words, I will say that the next several years flew by and my pap smears all came back healthy and normal again. The universe had my back. My story has a happy ending and I knew that everything was working out as it should. I beat the cancer that was trying to kill me without even trying. And I came to a resolution: I didn’t want children. I wanted to explore the world, move on a whim, party all night, and see the sun set and rise all in the same night as often as I could.
In March of 2012, I met a man who I instantly fell in love with-that kind of love that I only thought existed in the minds of hopeful pre-teens and in movies. He was mine. He didn’t even know it yet. Within a few weeks of meeting him, I told him he was gonna love me and marry me and I was gonna change his world in ways he never imagined. And I did. But that’s another story. My husband wanted children; at the very least, he wanted one child. And I suddenly wanted a child so badly. Not A child. Not any child. I wanted HIS child. I wanted to have HIS baby. I wanted to experience the creation of life with him, the sexual intimacy that happens when you know you are trying to create life, the hand on my stomach feeling our baby move, the “my water broke- I think it’s time” moment. I saw all of those things in his eyes and I saw his deep desire to be a father. And I wanted to give that to him. I wanted to give that to us. I wanted to give that to our marriage.
And so we began trying. After meeting in March 2012, my husband and I became engaged in September of 2012. And I was determined to make our wedding date December 21, 2012- the day the Mayan calendar ended and the day the world was supposed to end with it. If the world did end that night, it would have ended with me being married to who I truly believe is my soul mate. Spoiler alert: the world didn’t end that night, but our world as we knew it ended. Partying became the last priority on our list. I wanted a little family with a barefoot baby running around in the grass and a bed and breakfast as our source of income so I could stay home and enjoy every minute of my baby, our baby, growing up.
Just 9 months after meeting, we were married and forging a life together. We immediately sat out to begin our family. I was 34 years old and my body needed to get pregnant quickly; I wanted to give birth within a few months of turning 35. I am a consummate planner. I wanted to see our child graduate when I was 52. I wanted to send him or her to Paris when it was time to graduate. I wanted to see the first steps and hear the first words and watch my amazing husband blossom into an amazing father.
To quote that siren of song Tori Amos, “Then the baby came before I found the magic how to keep her happy.” I miscarried our first pregnancy in January of 2013. And I miscarried again in April of 2013. My new gynecologist was monitoring me closely via frequent pap smears. I was a runner. I was healthy. There was no reason for me to keep miscarrying. And then a pap smear came back abnormal. A whirlwind of events ensued and all I can really remember is another phone call.
“Are you sitting down?” my gynecologist asked. “We really need to talk about the changes in your pap smear from April to August. Would you like to come in so we can talk?” By this point in my life, I had a desk job and I didn’t have the time to take off work. “We can talk over the phone now,” I urged him. A long silent pause. “I’m sorry to say, but you have carcinoma-in-situ.” He said a bunch of other things I can’t recall, but he emphasized that it was not cancer… yet. However, it was stage progressing at an alarming rate. “If you all want to get pregnant, you need to get pregnant soon. You will most likely need to have a hysterectomy right after the baby is born. I also need to warn you that the pregnancy could exacerbate the stage progression and you could wind up losing other organs. I am not trying to alarm you, but these are all things you need to know.”
I sat. In shock. I called my mom. I called my husband. I told my boss because I needed to let her know that I would need to take time off work in the upcoming months. Everyone decided that I needed to move forward with treatment, whatever that meant. Our hope for a baby was secondary to my life and chance of survival. I don’t remember much of the next few months. Words like weak cervix, colposcopy, conization, seeding and other things were said. Seeding: a word you don’t REALLY know unless you have cancer or the beginnings of cancer. Seeding. It sounds like something healthy you to your garden in spring. But it has more sinister connotations for someone whose body has an invasive entity residing within it. That word is a word that will stay with me forever. It means that if they make any sudden movements in the area where the cancer cells are, the cells could potentially thrash about violently and spread to other places in the surrounding area.
“The margins are infiltrated with stage 1 cancer.” One month later. September 2013. What was definitely not cancer just one month before was now cancer. October 2013. “The cancer is spreading quickly. A hysterectomy is your best option at this point, but the choice is always yours.” No time to think. No cognizance to think. A hysterectomy it was. My husband and I both believed that was our best choice. And so we pressed forward, our little family of he and I and the pup we adopted in October 2013, the most healing part of this entire journey. That sweet little pup with his infinite love and exuberance and loyalty.
There are some dates you remember. There are some dates you wish to forget. There are some dates that are ingrained in you and will stay with you forever. Birthdays. Marriages. Divorces. And this. This date stays with me. My hysterectomy was scheduled for November 21, 2013. I secretly prayed that the universe would have my back and I would get pregnant and they wouldn’t be able to move on with the hysterectomy until a baby had been created, grown inside my belly, been slapped on the butt, cried its first cry, and I had held him for a few minutes before being whisked back to the operating room to get rid of this incredibly invasive cancer that had decided to grow inside me alongside our sweet baby. I prayed the cancer would just share the space for a little while so that our dream could happen. I hadn’t had my period since October. And then November 11, 2013, in a cruel last reminder, my period came. My body bled for 10 days straight. I was still bleeding the morning of my hysterectomy. I came to see it as my body weeping for what would not be, what it would never be able to do. It was weeping and I was weeping because I was now facing a tough question: How was I supposed to be a woman now? At 35 years old, how was I supposed to be a women when my body wasn’t capable of any of those beautiful, mystical, magical things being a woman meant to me?
I was never able to create life. I was not going to bond over matching cycles and the moon affecting my body. I was never going to feel a baby kick inside of me. And that, to me, was being a woman. Hips don’t lie. Hips grow and expand so we can give birth. Breasts swell and engorge and fill with milk to give sustenance. Everything about my body was a reminder of the things I could not do. And I was no longer a woman.
Until I reinvented my idea of feminity. It has been a long road to get here. Being a woman, being a human is about creation. But we can create in so many ways. I create happiness for others by simply being who I am. I create a home for my husband and myself and our party guests to feel comforted and cozy and well-received. I create art when the mood strikes. I create photographs. I create entries in my gratitude journal every day. I create prose and poetry and I pair words and phrases together into cohesive pieces of written sentiment.
And I nurture. Being a woman, for me, meant nurturing. I hug. I am a hugger. I hug someone who is crying, not to rescue them from their pain, but to let them know I am there. I nurture my sweet October 2013 rescue pup and his June 2014 rescue pup companion. I nurture my husband with love and compassion and by helping him become the amazing man I know he already is and is becoming. I nurture friends. I nurture co-workers. I want to help others grow. So while I will never have a life grow inside me, I have helped lives grow all around me.
While my breasts will never provide sustenance for my baby, I still feed others. I love to cook and entertain. I bake brownies and sprinkle them with gold glitter and tiny candies and love. I cook meals 5 nights a week and I love seeing other people enjoy my food. I cook for parties and watch others feast on the things I have lovingly set out. And I feed other’s souls by giving them a different perspective from what they know by sharing the things I have learned in my almost 40 years of life. Sustenance can be so many things. And I still help sustain life in so many ways.
I am divinely feminine. I have regained my sense of what it means to be a woman. I have regained my sense of sexual identity. My husband and I no longer make love in hopes of creating life. We make love because we want to connect. We have passionate sex because we want each other in that moment. We have found our new sexual identity together and it has been an amazing journey. At first, I felt as though there was no point to sex. I mean, my cervix is gone. My uterus is gone. All I have is a canal, a vaginal cuff (to use precise terminology). Our sex life is more amazing now than it ever was when we were trying to get pregnant. I am a sexual being and I am fully aware of that now. There is a confidence I have in my body, in my hips, in my breasts because we all have survived so much together. My body does not bleed and so we can have sex all the time anywhere (no towels needed). We can explore each other’s bodies and I can make him feel good with my mouth, with my caress, with my vagina. I still have orgasms and they are still as intense as ever. My body is still capable of sexual desire. And I have a new found love for my body. It may not be able to create life, but it has survived cancer. It has survived diverticulitis. It has survived depression and anxiety and weight gain. It has survived abuse because I didn’t feel worthy of love. And it has blossomed into an amazingly strong body because I am a survivor and I am enough just as I am.
So the lifestyle we wanted of me plus him plus a baby I created in my womb and a puppy strolling down the street together is no longer an option. Adoption isn’t a choice we want to make (aside from our sweet adopted pups, of course). We have settled into our cozy little family, into our cozy little home, and into our cozy little life. We have our own lifestyle that we love, but that’s another story for another day.
Rita M. Bass Vasquez is a Texican through and through. She has a passion for life, avocados, whiskey, and gratitude. She writes in her gratitude journal on a daily basis because there is so much in life to be thankful for. She knows the universe has her back and trusts that it truly conspires for her greatest good and her best life possible. She believes synchronicity is her bestie. Oh, and she will stop mid-run in the hottest part of any Texas day to pet puppies.