Breaking the Silence in More Than One Way
Talking about the uterus and what happens to it contributes to the liberation of women as human beings. Domestic and sexual violence are not the only topics that affect women but we keep in silence. Other topics that we don’t want to talk about and are related to women’s bodies and experiences include P.M.S., menstruation, and hysterectomy. By keeping them in silence we make invisible important aspects of being women and we perpetuate the status quo. We need to name things in order to change them. We need to talk about our reality in order to change it. With this in mind, allow me to talk about the loss of my uterus.
No More Silence About my Uterus
Today I mark six weeks since my surgery. It has been enough time to reflect on it and realize that having a hysterectomy results in gains and losses. Nonetheless, I am convinced that ritual helps us to celebrate the gains and mourn the losses.
When I first published the picture featured with this article in one of my facebook photo albums I got no ‘likes’ or comments. I thought no one had actually seen it. That was until some friends asked me why I dared to post it. They were surprised that I had shared with the world how my inside looks like now, even though what is inside should not be seen. Even worse, I shared with the world my inside female parts, those that nobody wants to talk about
While I am amazed that talking about the uterus is still taboo in the United States and in the 21st century I had been going along with it. I had refused to answer the questions, “What kind of surgery are you having?” and “What are you having surgery for?” Well, I will not continue my participation in such taboo. I need to speak about my surgery, about my uterus, and about losing it.
Medicine, the Scientific Method, Embodiment, and Me
When my doctors first suggested a hysterectomy I refused. They were surprised that I was so fond of a body part that I was not going to use any more and that in their opinion I did not need anymore. Conversely, I was surprised at how easily they suggested to get rid of a body part and at how the uterus had less value for them than a leg or an arm because it had done its job and now I did not need it anymore. My worldview could not swallow such pragmatism.
But more than surprised I was angry at the way that medicine works. I learned that medicine addresses symptoms and follows a method of trial and error to get rid of the symptoms. I asked all my doctors, therapists, and specialists “why” but none of them tried to find out. All explained that this is the accepted way of handling these symptoms. They were all ‘scientific’ while I was being ‘unreasonable.’ From their perspective, I was unreasonable because I wanted to know the root cause of my symptoms so I could make an informed decision about my treatment and because I wanted to keep a body part that I did not need any longer. Well, after trying several treatments that either did not control the symptoms or that caused other symptoms that required additional treatments I made the ‘reasonable’ decision to have the hysterectomy. I never got an answer to my ‘why’ question. Either the answer does not exist or no one knows it. Now I have no answer and no uterus.
Gains: No More Ps
I should be happy. Some friends even congratulated me on learning about my hysterectomy. Having no uterus means no more pain, no more pills, no more periods, and no more PAP tests. Because they took out everything but the ovaries, now I even have lower risks of ovarian cancer and no risks of cervix cancer. I should be happy.
Turning the Mourning Into Dance Through Ritual
In a way I am happy, but the reality is that I just experienced a huge loss and I am still learning of the implications of it. I lost more than my uterus but very few people understand how I feel about the other things I lost with it. In the midst of those transitions, while I was making peace with my decision and getting ready for surgery I needed the strength that comes with the power of ritual. But there are certain rituals that are not provided by the church even though women need them, as Scholar Agustina Luvis points out in Creada a su imagen: una pastoral integral para la mujer. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2012)
In the absence of a long tradition of rites of passage or rituals for the occasion of losing a body part we created one. I am extremely grateful for my very close friends who understood my need for this ritual and creatively generated one for me and with me. We did not plan it ahead. We just agreed on a time and place. When we gathered in such time and place we marked them and made them sacred. Then we shared what we brought. I brought a picture of a baby inside a uterus and a quote about God’s motherly qualities. Two of us brought poems saying good-bye to the uterus, thanking for the good things, asking for forgiveness for the not-so-good things, and letting go. Another person read scripture and shared some strengthening words. Two others shared prayers. One gave me a nest with an egg.
I had my ritual and I had the support of a community walking with me and helping me get ready for the next stage of my life missing a body part. They reminded me that I am still a woman and still have the power to generate life. It is not having a uterus what makes us women, just as it is not having babies what makes us life-givers. Regardless of gender and body parts, regardless of how we choose to use our bodies, we all have spaces that God may fill with life. We all have the possibility of giving of ourselves for the well being of our communities. That is giving birth; that is giving life. Yet, reminding us of our possibilities for being life-giving beings: that is the power of ritual.