It dawned on me that I have begun marking time with, life before and after the loss of my uterus. This year, I celebrated Mother’s Day without my uterus.
I feel guilty that I’m holding onto this silent grief when I have two beautiful children in front of me. This loss represents so much more than an organ or tissue. It is the loss of the daughter I was so sure I would someday carry.
Now, all I can think is how naïve I was to assume I had time and to assume that everything will always go as you plan. That bright-eyed, well-read, quintessential naïve, new, young mother—that was me. I remember that version of myself, and I smile at her now, with all of her energy, fresh out of grad school, newly married, and feeling equipped with all of the most up-to-date, evidence-backed research fresh in her pocket and ready to welcome a new life into the world.
In line with my personality, I was ready to do it right. I was ready to follow a conscious parenting approach, my husband and I listened to podcasts, and as anyone who knows me well knows, I love a good list, and I had many.
Now, as anyone who has actually lived with a newborn knows, there is no list and no podcasts—there is only survival.
There is hope that food has not gone bad in the fridge and prayers that your partner believes you are actually asleep when the baby is crying and decides to get up.
While it is easy to make light of this now, at the time, I actually suffered deeply from postpartum depression with my first son and felt as though I was failing him at every turn. Nevertheless, I felt as though I missed out on that precious time of his life when I was being held underwater by a relentless depression. I would be remiss if I did not mention that I would have never survived this time in my life without an incredible therapist who without a doubt saved my life.
Slowly, things got better, and my husband and I had another son. (I was still waiting on that girl!). This time around, I was able to be present during the time he was a newborn. Around this time, I faced the new normal challenge as a woman with strong career goals, navigating the balance of giving all of myself to my patients and all of myself to my kids. At the end of the day, there was nothing left of me.
Yet, these are the gifts we have of motherhood, gifts we have as women who are working hard in our careers. We are able to love our work and love our children and dream about our future and what may lie ahead for our family.
All of this falls in the category of me with my uterus.
All of these experiences and the possibilities of motherhood feel darker now. It seemed I was riding along with my fellow mothers on a certain path, and while it was not always glamorous, I could commiserate, laugh, and rejoice as we were all experiencing the same journey. Right around the time I was being wheeled into postop, it felt like my “mommy club card” was revoked. Are these my people anymore?
My path has now changed, and I’m not sure what the future looks like, but it doesn’t resemble the future I had dreamed of before. I carry all of these unfulfilled hopes and dreams for the daughter who never was and never will be.
There is a wedding dress in my basement I had saved for my daughter, there are mother-daughter trips planned out in my head that won’t come to fruition. I can see ballet slippers hanging by the front door just as easily as I see the cleats. Something that hurts my heart the most is the relationship that will never form between my husband and the daughter who will never be. These thoughts feel forbidden and shameful because I have been raised to be grateful for everything I have, and of course, there’s always someone who has it worse than you.
However, the reality is that society has not carved out a path for young women who experience the loss of their reproductive organs before nature has its way.
What happens when a woman abruptly reaches the end of her reproductive journey is not often discussed among groups of friends or colleagues. I can tell you from my experience that these are some pretty complex feelings.
Mostly, people are not sure what to say and will start out by saying, “ At least . . .” I’m going to go ahead and say that anything coming after those two words is usually invalidating (even if unintentional).
At least they caught it early. At least it didn’t spread. At least you have two kids already. At least you won’t have to get fat again being pregnant. At least now you can adopt.
Now, I will talk to the person who is in my shoes, wherever she may be, you are entitled to your pain and your grief. It does not matter if you have children or not, a piece of you has been taken and it has turned your journey in a new direction that you didn’t expect. All that matters is that you have had a loss and you deserve to care for yourself and for your pain. Do not belittle your loss or invalidate your loss. Allow yourself this time and provide yourself with some grace.
You aren’t alone, you’re still a mom, your heart will heal, and you’ll find your people again.