The night before tomorrow (on – reluctantly – relinquishing control.)

exam gown

I took this pic at my last oncologist appointment, just because it amused me to have a “sexy” selfie in an exam gown.

My hysterectomy (due to a diagnosis of early-stage cervical cancer earlier this spring) is scheduled for tomorrow, Tuesday, at noon EST.

I’ve been going back and forth between completely calm and freaking out over the last few days, but the closer I get to the hour the more I just want it to be over with so I can know what to expect. Because, I’m realizing, I’m really not good at not knowing what to expect.

Which is why advice like “Every woman is different” drive me nuts. That’s not good enough! I want to know precisely the moment I will feel able to ditch the strong meds; the moment I’ll be able to drive the kids somewhere or go for a long walk again.

And I know there’s no way to know that. Not today and not even tomorrow. I’ll find out as I go, one day at a time.

Darnit.

This whole thing is foreign to me. I’ve never had surgery, unless you count getting my wisdom teeth out (and I cried like a baby before that procedure, too.) I’ve never even had a broken bone!

And it occurs to me that I have looked forward to the births of each of my five children – a process that was almost certainly more painful than this one will be, and probably, statistically speaking, carried more risk – with a lot less anxiety. Certainly in part, that was because of the reward on the other end: a brand-new baby!

But also, I think, it was because after the first one, I knew more or less what to expect. (With the first one, I think I was just fueled by Bradley-Method-inspired optimism, so it didn’t occur to me to feel anxious until I was way too busy having a baby to feel anxious.)

I know there were plenty of potentially bad outcomes in childbirth, too, but I never really worried about them. I just had a strong sense that having babies was what I was meant to do, and that it would all be OK. And it was, not once but five times.

This doesn’t feel like that. Obviously. In fact, surgically relinquishing my reproductive organs might be as unlike my experiences of giving birth as humanly possible, even though it’ll be happening in the same vicinity.

As I’ve written before, I went far out of my way to avoid medical intervention during labor and delivery, not out of a sense of obligation or woo-woo birth-junkie spirituality, but because the alternative – needles and scalpels and unfamiliar medications – scared me way more.

So this feels almost like an enormous cosmic joke, though it’s more of the “teaching you a lesson, lady” kind than the funny kind. My uterus – the sturdy organ that housed my five babies and gave them a safe space to grow – will exit the same way they all did (my surgeon will perform the procedure vaginally)…yet unlike my birth experiences, any semblance of control will be stripped away. And I don’t LIKE it. 

In fact, I just found out that surgeons often have to perform episiotomies during vaginal hysterectomies to create more room in which to maneuver. When I found that out, I had to take deep breaths to calm myself down: after working so hard to avoid an episiotomy with all those births, I might end up with one after all?

Of course,  it’s not really the possibility of an episiotomy that pushed me over the edge. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not that big a deal. But it’s symbolic, really, of the loss of control, the not-knowing, the not having a say, that bothers me most. 

And then there are the more horrible what-ifs that I don’t let myself dwell on for long, but of course, they are always there fighting for attention.

Deep breaths. I know that the lesson here for me is that there will always be things in life I cannot control or predict. There will always be what-ifs and I, my family, will always be in some level of danger. Life itself is risk. 

While I’m pretty stoic in general, I’ve noticed lately that I cry a lot around medical people. And I think it has a lot to do with the relinquishing of control. Being around all those white coats just reminds me how very much I am not in control, and how very much I have to put myself in the hands of others, people more knowledgeable than I am about the workings of the human body, in order to be healthy and well.

So, I will probably want to cry when I check into the hospital tomorrow, and you know what? I think I’m going to set aside that very female urge to make everything OK for everyone around me, to not make anyone uncomfortable, and I’m just gonna cry. If it means I weep my way through my pre-op paperwork and hand the receptionist a soggy insurance card; if it means the anesthesiologist nervously clears his throat or the nurse secretly thinks I’m being a drama queen, well, too bad.

Because how else are you supposed to let others know how you’re feeling, to ask for the help or the hand-squeeze or the reassurance you need, unless you sometimes lay yourself bare?

In a way, I guess that’s what I’m doing here, with all of you. Putting it out there: Yeah, I’m nervous, and a little sad, and in need of a hand-squeeze or two.

I know it will get better, and I’ll get through it, and go back to my optimistic, cheery, productive self…but for right now, I’m just going to ride the wave and let myself be weak, human, and most decidedly not in control.

It feels good just to give in and admit it. I don’t know it all, and sometimes there’s nothing you can do but show up and trust. 

Maybe a good reminder for the rest of life, hm?

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