Just a Baby Carriage
Lois Greene Stone
How does this sentence, published in a 1956 textbook of surgery, grab you: "Myomectomy is the operation of choice when it is necessary to save the uterus for reproduction, or for sentiment." Even 21st century women are hearing that same condescending comment about having sentimental feelings for an important body part.
Okay, men can't really understand why some women are reluctant to have a hysterectomy, but why make female feelings seem irrational? I went through a grieving process after this operation, refused medication quickly offered to help me 'cope' as I needed to mourn. Why didn't my gynecologist understand that rather than label me irrational’ and attempt to mask moods with pills?
A submissive role was 'programmed' into my girlhood. The feminist movement, and aging, has enabled me to have some verbal battles; I've even won a few.
Decades ago, a booklet about menstruation, Growing Up and Liking It, said girls were not to get chilled, wash their hair, or walk in the rain during a
period. My mother prepared me with positive philosophy and the wonder that my body would eventually house a human.
When I was pre-teen, my secondary ovarian failure (which became a 34-year problem) was treated with a pat on my head, and an it'll regulate itself’ attitude. Iron deficiency anemia from prolonged periods was met with pills. In high school, the swim teacher wouldn't believe anyone could 'normally' bleed for more than ten days at a time, so a sympathetic male doctor had me drop swimming to spare me humiliation; ten days, for me, was normal.
Allergic to my own progesterone, I monthly vomited, sweat, bled. My mother, however, did such a superb job with my perception of being female, I accepted, coped, and didn't give in to disability of twisting cramps or excessive blood flow.
In college, tampons represented freedom to swim, and certainly more comfort during classes when combined with a protective pad. Painful cramps were endured.
"When you get married your periods will be within average normal limits" a patronizing internist stated; he thought my cramps and irritability were products of my active mind. Later, I heard "when you have children," then, "when you're
older..." Even my husband, who was a medical student when we married in 1956, was actually taught in class that dysmenorrhea was mental and some menstrual problems a product of penis envy.
Three planned times, with temperature chart and drugs, my uterus swelled with human life. Again, grateful to my mother, I went through many physiological problems but was emotionally high. In 1959, giving birth to my first of three children, without anesthesia, was an incredible act my aware body performed. Every cycle was worth the excitement and privilege to bear down and see an infant's head in a mirror while most of its body was still housed inside me. The transition between fetus and baby, done with an explosive push, showed the sex of my child. Why, this pain was productive!
I had an endometrial biopsy, also a D & C to shock my body to cease prolonged bleeding, and secretly continued to smile at the wonder of being female.
Endometriosis planted itself in my uterus, and for 14 years I also refused advice for surgical removal of the organ as I heard "What do you need it for, you aren't having any more children?" But the choice was still mine, I quietly considered; I might not have any more, but I CAN.....
My husband asked if I'd feel less like a woman, and was this a reason to reject surgery? He, too, couldn't comprehend why I wanted to hold on to my uterus. What a mixed message men give depending upon a woman's age. Fortunately, he was tender during my post-surgery grieving period, and, without ridicule, helped me adjust to my feeling of emptiness
Why did I want to keep it within me? I was nearly finished with my pre-destined cycle and, oddly enough, the bleeding was more regular than ever. If I could just make five more years, I questioned, might it shrink? We'd been dealing with one another since I was twelve. It had given biologic immortality to generations that preceded me. It withstood a placenta hole once, and a possible placenta praevia another time, action from pitocin, yet still housed-nourished-issued-by-contraction three humans who see, hear, think, feel, smell, taste. What did I want it for? It was a friend, not a curse. It gave me an edge: I may not command salary for service a man gets, but I've given birth. Some men must feel threatened by this, though none would ever admit it.
Sentiment? Maybe. Its action governed 35 years of my life, 35 years of circles on calendars savoring the few comfortable days a month and accepting still the rest. There was a harmony, an order, a routine, that began with a body message I'd hoped would end same way.
Why hold onto it? Did I really need a reason?
Sometimes now, with eleven grandchildren so far, I touch the slender scar on my still thin body and recall the cynical surgeon's words 'get rid of it; it's just a baby carriage.' Confusion and anger about that comment has stayed unchanged: "Just?"
© Lois Greene Stone
Lois Greene Stone, writer and poet, has been syndicated worldwide. Collections of her personal items/ photos/ memorabilia are in major
museums including twelve different divisions of The Smithsonian.
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