On a cold, grey day in October 2012, in an uninspiring ultrasound room, my new life journey quietly began.
I was 42, ‘childless by circumstance’ and in an ironic twist of fate, life had delivered me freedom on one hand, and taken it away with the other. After far too many years spent planning my life and holidays around severely heavy, prolonged menstrual periods, I had reluctantly added a weak bladder to the mix. This was not a situation I intended to put up with, so I decided it was time to take action by requesting an ultrasound scan.
As a former sonographer, my GP was happy to oblige, which is how I ended up lying on a couch, looking at the ultrasound scans, and seeing only one obvious pathway ahead.
Hysterectomy. The final act of a disappointing uterus that had lived a colourful life.
My uterus, the source of years of gynaecological problems, countless surgeries, three failed pregnancies and anaemia, was now so diseased, it extended across almost the entire width of my abdomen. Other organs were indistinguishable, my bladder was compressed and fighting for space and my ovaries were pushed so far down, they were nowhere to be seen.
The minute I saw the images, I knew a hysterectomy was not an ‘if’ but a ‘must’. I’d expected this day to arrive at some point, so I mostly felt relief, resignation and a sense of calm. What was harder to process however, were my underlying feelings of grief, confusion, disquiet and failure.
Facing a hysterectomy as a childless woman brought me up close and personal with an inner question I never knew I had.
What I was here for and why did I matter if I wasn’t able to do something other women could do?
In other words, what exactly was my purpose? What did I do when the door finally closed on the one aspect of being a woman I was theoretically designed to do?
It might sound stupid, but this is exactly what went through my head.
I remember this question lodging itself in my mind before I even left the ultrasound room. I was less concerned about the loss of my uterus than I was about the loss of my sense of purpose. I had no idea where the question came from or why it chose now to appear, but I remember that for days after the surgery, I felt such a failure as a result, I couldn’t stop crying.
It was a time of raging emotions, rising grief, complicated feelings and slow adjustment to a new phase of life. As I emerged from the first few groggy days after the surgery, I knew that whether I liked it or not, the only way through was to trust that the question would find an answer, and to have faith that when it did, life would would feel brighter on the other side.
Big life questions don’t tend to go away once they’ve been heard and my purpose question was no different.
It nudged me when I was daydreaming and stole my attention when I was trying to read. It visited me in my dreams and appeared in my mind every morning. Being brought face to face with such a big question was not comfortable, but it wouldn’t go away until I did something about it.
If I’m honest, the question scared me. It also annoyed me and made me want to escape my own head. Recovering from major surgery is hard enough as it is, without existential life questions prodding your subconscious whenever you try to avoid them!
Bit by bit and step by step, however, I slowly began to heal and recover.
As my hormones settled and my mood improved, my ability to focus and concentrate returned. I was able to sit for longer and my natural sense of curiosity returned. Although I still had an inner sense I had somehow failed as a woman, I decided to use my recovery time to journal about it.
I started out by writing without any rules or boundaries. I gave myself full permission to write without censoring or judging, creating space and time for whatever wanted to come out. The first entry in my journal was not a pretty one! It was an emotional offload that I wrote whilst crying my eyes out, but once those initial emotions emerged, I felt several pounds lighter, and my head felt significantly quieter.
The next time I wrote, I discovered my sense of humour had returned.
I amused myself as I wrote that the answer to life is 42 in the Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, the same age I was at the time, so the perfect time for my head to ask me why I mattered.
This didn’t make the question itself any easier, but it did reinforce my sense of trust that this period of my life would serve me well over time.
By the time I could focus for long enough to write whole pages at a time, I had also mastered getting out of bed, walking to the end of the close I lived in and standing up for longer periods in the shower. Being able to physically move again helped enormously with my ability to process changes and get out of my own whirring head.
With each day and week that passed, my grief and guilt eased as my sense of self returned. By writing most days in my journal, even if only to write a sentence, I processed my feelings and reconnected to myself. I still felt deeply sad sometimes, but I also discovered a sense of hope for a different future, free from the worries of having to plan holidays or outings around certain times of the month and free to wear white jeans and skirts whenever I wanted to.
Those journal entries reminded me how much power there is in pausing to reflect and ask yourself difficult questions. I may not have answered the question of purpose fully, but I definitely rediscovered my sense of the woman I had always been, hiding amongst the words revealed by my pen.
All because of a decision to request an ultrasound scan.