Monday, February 28, 2011

Taking the Womb out of a Woman

I was Tweeting last night about how I’d love to get my uterus carved out of me. One of my male, pro-choice friends astonished me with his reaction. He said, “You don’t mean that. Your uterus is wonderful.”

Wonderful is it? I can imagine using the same line on someone facing a tonsillectomy, “Your tonsils are wonderful!” That would be a ridiculous thing to say. So why is it less ridiculous when we’re talking about reproductive organs? I conveyed some of my loathing for my uterus, and the pain it routinely causes me.
“Small price to pay for being a real woman.”
What’s a real woman? Is a Real Woman a woman with a uterus? My grandmother had her uterus removed (along with my aunt who she was pregnant with) when she was 6 months into her 5th pregnancy. My grandmother had ovarian cancer. Incubators and at-the-time modern medicine were able to keep my aunt alive. (She’s now a kick-ass grandma who competes in triathlons and has the figure of a Barbie doll.)

Was my grandmother, a semi-professional non-medically-trained midwife, not a “real woman” during all the time I knew her, because her uterus and ovaries wer gone? What about my god-mother? She had breast cancer. When I was 14, she underwent a double radical mastectomy (bye bye boobies.) Did she stop being a “real woman” when her breasts, the mighty organs capable of providing nutrition to live young, were lopped off to save her life? What about trans women? Are they not real women? Of course, you can’t fit that into 140 characters, so what I said instead was this:

“If being a ‘real woman’ requires bleeding, cramping, feeling suicidal and being a total bitch to the ones I love, I’ll pass. “

To which he responded:
“I think your uterus is sacred despite the monthly misery. None of your loved ones disagree.”

The second sentence was easy to debunk. Viking (my boyfriend, and step-father to my son) supports my choice to remove the organ that causes me to double over in pain and cry for hours, even though he wishes my health and our finances were otherwise, so that we could have a child mixed of our genes.

The first sentence was bafflingly woo-ish in its language. (Like me, my friend is an atheist and doesn’t believe in souls, spirits, or I had thought, the sacred.) To me it all sounded a bit too much like fertility worship, and my childhood cult was, at its core, a fertility cult.

This sense of awe and wonder surrounding the uterus is a good way to keep women separate, different, other. I mean, in a way I guess it’s nice to have these things praised rather than vilified (so glad I don’t have to spend my rag-week hiding my “uncleanliness” from the men folk in a tent.) But at the end of the day, making women about their wombs is bad for women.

I was molested, for a year, as a small girl. When I finally broke through “this will be our secret” and found the courage to tell my mom what was happening with that old man neighbor down the street, I went to a doctor for a rape-kit exam. At 8 years old, sneaking in doorways, I overheard the doctor describing the damage to one of his nurses. “She’ll be lucky to ever carry a kid to term.”

I spent my childhood thinking I was barren, that biological children were not in the cards for me. Belonging to a Christian sect focused on the act of birth itself, this made me an outcast. I felt I was flawed, broken, wrong, and most of all “not a real woman.

I was jealous of women who could conceive and bear children with (relative, apparent) ease, and I despised women who had abortions. Didn’t they know childless women were jealous?? I planned to adopt, and as I grew older and came to care more about social justice, I planned to adopt an older non-white child out of the foster care system. (Still plan to, when my son is grown.)

I am not my uterus. I am my brain. All my memories, thoughts, feelings, ideas, loves, and hates are there. My uterus is just full of lining which must be sloughed off routinely, in a brutal and messy fashion.

Like many people who want to voice their opinions on my uterus, my friend is a man, someone who has never and will never experience menstruation or PMS. How “small” of a price it is should always be up to the bearer. (I’m pro-choice when it comes to birth and abortion. I’m also pro-choice when it comes to removing one’s bodily organs. MY body, MY organs, MY choice. This also applies to men in their decision to get or not get vasectomies. Their bodies, their organs, their choices.)

So, for those of you who haven’t experienced menstruation (whether you’re a “real woman” or not) let me break it down for you.

Puberty hit and my first period arrived when I was 12, on April 1, 1995 (it had to be on April Fools, and the first day of Spring Break the year I’d bought a one-piece white bathing suit, of course.) Since then, in many ways I feel that I (my brain, my mind, ME) have been at war with the Other: my uterus.

I like to think of myself as a rational person (and who among us doesn’t?) I try to be fair with the ones I love, and be mindful that words can be hurtful and even abusive. Three weeks of out four, I can do this. One week a month, in a way I find not at all comical, my personality is taken over by a weepy, hysterical, and frequently suicidal bitch who says hateful things to people I adore. I do not like MYSELF when I am being so affected by hormones.

I have cramps for four days leading up to my period. These are painful enough to be distracting – I have to stop mid-conversation to make a face and concentrate on breathing through the pain. Frequently, Viking will give me his hand to squeeze during this.

When the bleeding starts, it is heavy. I go through a super size tampon or maxi pad (designed to hold 10 oz of fluid!) every two hours for the first five days of my period. Then it gets a bit more reasonable for the remaining 5 days of bleeding. That’s right, I bleed for ten days. And sometimes, my periods don’t have the decency to wait a full month before coming back again, the bitches.

I've gone through times in my life when I had 10 periods in six months. That’s 10 periods of 14 days of pain and discomfort, blood and expensive feminine hygiene products. And let’s not forget the luteal phase of my menstrual cycle! I get cramps during and after ovulation, too. I have severe, painful, distracting cramps about half of my life.

Now, as it turns out, my cycle is somewhat worse than what most women experience. Still, 2% of women have endometriosis (which is, what I believe without being able to afford medical tests to know for certain, what causes me so much misery.)

An evolution-accepting atheist like my friend should be able to recognize that while our bodies are COOL and NIFTY and GROSS and WEIRD, they are not intelligently designed. Things go wrong, in every organ of the body, male and female.

My fertility does not define me. It doesn’t even define my femininity. I desire, strongly, to be infertile. While I have an admitted case of penis envy (or really, Not Being Female envy) I am still a woman. Wanting kids, being able to bear them, being unable to bear them: None of these TOUCH what womanhood is, not to me.

Pregnancy with my son was a shock and I learned about it at 19 weeks past conception (oops.) Multiple ER trips, months of bed rest (that I couldn’t afford to actually take,) two occasions where I nearly lost the fetus, and one occasion where I nearly died myself (and lost 10 pounds! During my 8th month of pregnancy,) and a 98-hour back labor later, I was “lucky to ever carry a kid to term.” I have my son and it’s a “miracle” but I won’t be banking on any more of those coming through for me.

My friend went on to tell me,
“I’ve always been in awe of the power that lies between a woman’s hips. Don’t knock it. There’s true magic there.”

What lies between my hips is a malfunctioning organ with the power to kill me. There’s nothing magical about that, and thanks very much but I’ll knock the pain, the nausea, the cramps, and the personality-overhaul as much as I damn well please.

Now, who wants to send me money for an “elective” hysterectomy?

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