A GIFT AWAITS.
HOW A HYSTERECTOMY TAUGHT ME TO SEE LIFE EVERYWHERE.
A gift awaits - slowly unravels
Not through revealing, questioning, prodding or working
A gift awaits - slowly unravels
through the quiet of loving and the trust of opening
The willingness to hear, follow, accept and act
marry passion and courage
over and again
welcoming each with the love needed at the time
in the moment
The design on the front of the greeting card caught my eye as I walked past the nick-knack shelf in my office. A small bird holds in its beak the base of a very large, and very sparkly, flower. The flower spouts out fuscia-colored rhinestones, like some sort of ruby-volcano-tulip. Glitter-green type spells out the phrase: "Find your song and sing it."
I walk by this card almost every day, and most days I cringe when I see it. It reminds me of a time in my life filled with pain and misery. So why keep it, even though it has such a sweet message? I picked up the card to look inside and decide whether there's a point in keeping the card. When I opened it, I found, written in my own hand, the words that began this post.
Not through revealing, questioning, prodding or working.
In 2011, after experiencing chronic health issues for 3 years that limited my ability to eat, exercise, work, and otherwise be a human, I decided to undergo a partial hysterectomy. In 2008, when I first sought help, the doctors offered surgery right away. I told myself, "I'll do anything BUT surgery" to get better. I'd read all the statistics about the large numbers of hysterectomies in western countries, and I'd read the research showing that many were medically unnecessary. I didn't want to be another woman who, from what I'd read, underwent the knife out of supposed convenience.
Instead of surgery, I went to work on my health. I tried every form of treatment available, spending thousands (and thousands!) of dollars on herbal, homeopathic, and every form of "natural" medicine anyone can think of (yes, even that one that you just thought about). I watched my weight drop because my wrecked body rejected food. I watched my exercise habits disappear because of the physical pain and inflammation. I stopped visiting friends because I didn't feel well enough to socialize. No matter how much I avoided wheat, underwent acupuncture, drank tons of tinctures, smeared my body with herb-filled lotions, underwent massage and energy work, my body's direction continued down hill, wasting away month after month.
A gift awaits - slowly unravels, through the quiet of loving and the trust of opening.
In May of 2011, I lost over 15 pounds in six weeks as my symptoms ramped up to a whole new level. Miserable, I sought refuge and healing from the sand and the water at Sauvie's Island, with the migrating geese and the ever-watchful eagles. When I got there, I felt pretty shaky, but decided I'd just move slowly. On my way from the parking lot to the river I made it halfway across the sand and collapsed. Exhausted and hit with sudden sharp pain, the sand held me while I focused on oxygen. As long as I have oxygen, I thought, I'll be alright. I inventoried my possessions to keep my mind busy and out of panic mode: cell phone, warm clothes, rain coat, keys, wallet. I counted my in and out breaths. Five minutes later my adrenaline kicked in. I pushed myself to sit, then stand, then walk back to the car. Sitting in the driver's seat, I pulled out my phone and placed a call to my gynecologist. This was no way to live. I needed surgery.
The willingness to hear, follow, accept and act.
At the pre-op appointment, I explained that I really didn't want surgery, but that I also couldn't watch my health continue to fail any further. The gyno doc listened. She had suggested surgery three years before, so she was more than used to the idea. She said, "Well, at least you never wanted to have kids, so maybe that will make this whole thing a little bit easier."
I felt punched in the gut. I never told her that I didn't want kids. I think my doc assumed that because of my gender presentation and sexual orientation (butch lesbian) I must not want to have my own baby. Or I must not feel the longing in my own body, my body's ability to create life. The thing is, I did feel all of those things. I'd felt it most strongly in my mid-thirties. I knew that a life was available for me, if I wanted to create it. I could feel it, just there, on the other side of the veil, willing. I could feel the womb in my body respond with a deep longing. As I looked around my life, though, I felt clear that what I wanted most was to be an Aunty, not a mother. I felt the loss that decision generated, felt the available child drift away. Facing a partial hysterectomy, the finality of my body losing the ability to bear a child stirred a deep grief in my being.
Marry passion and courage, over and again.
I decided the best way to approach the whole thing would be to treat the hysterectomy as a kind of ceremony: a purging of 37 years worth of pent up illness, stickiness, sickness that I'd ignored, out of my own confusion and pain. I prepared my heart and spirit ahead of time for the huge release available through the surgery. I asked for help from the spiritual teachers and healers in my life. I asked for a guide to be with me through the process.
Aware that the hysterectomy would be a milestone in my life, an event that would generate a kind of "before and after" moment that people rarely have the opportunity to plan for, I decided to write myself a card in the days leading up to the surgery. I put it in an envelope and left it for myself on the desk. After the surgery, I'd find it. I would come home to a kind of wish for what I could have on the other side, after the release, after the loss of my physical womb.
What did I write? The free verse that began this post.
Welcoming each with the love needed at the time.
Once on the other side of surgery, I didn't feel instantly better. Instead, I moved slowly and experimented with growth. I learned to listen more deeply to the rhythms of my body, of my ovaries, which still cycle, even though I don't still bleed. Four years after a partial hysterectomy, my body, mind, heart and spirit are all strong and full of a vitality I have never experienced before. The health I enjoy today is not a result of the hysterectomy. It's a result of the jagged edge that the health problems I experienced brought me up against, and the choices I made when faced with that edge. I went to the place where my mind was so attached to a certain rule (no surgery!) and certain beliefs (if I just try and work hard, I'll get better!) and held to these stories while my body deteriorated beyond recognition. To heal required releasing all the stories I had about what it meant to be healthy, and to stoop so low as to utilize western medicine (gasp!). To heal required creating space to separate from the stories of violence, pain, and suffering in my life long enough to release the physical form associated with those stories.
In the moment to grow.
As I read the inside of the card today, in May of 2015, I felt surprised. Wow! That was some wisdom from my pre-hysterectomy self. Why did I forget that I'd written that? Why did I just leave it on the nick-knack shelf and frown whenever I saw it?
I didn't have answers, just habit, so I took Dash out on our usual morning walk through Greenway park. Dash and I were walking along Fanno creek when a coyote ran by, its chocolate coat blending in with the weather-stained cedar fences lining the west side of the park. The coyote jogged onto the paved trail, stopped about a one hundred yards ahead of me, then turned up a trail that led out of the park. I altered my steps until my feet mirrored the coyote's trail. I walked its path cautiously, quietly feeling the quality of coyote.
When I reached the trail junction, I looked up the slight incline and saw the coyote lying at the base of a large cedar tree. I froze, and waited. The coyote watched me, and the street, and the sky. It sniffed, and twisted its head here and there. A biker passed me on the trail, a jogger too, then three more bikes and 4 more joggers. All the while coyote, Dash and me shared the space.
The coyote eventually stood up and walked away, first towards a neighborhood and then back into a more wooded/grassy section of the park. I went on my way as well, looping back towards my house, my heart swelling at the magic of the morning. I turned out of the park onto the neighborhood sidewalk, thinking to myself that I must write about expectancy, and gifts, and the magic of circumstance, and then I saw a hawk feather, on the sidewalk, right at my feet, shed from a newly born hawk.
Post-hysterectomy, I've discovered that although I will never bear a child of my own, life is born around me in every moment. In daily walks around the neighborhood, the earth offers up new life, year round. Coyotes in the morning. Hawk feathers on the sidewalk. Trees, shrubs, and ground cover too many to name, even in the cold frost hours of winter. In relationship with dear friends and family, I celebrate children born into this world. I witness and share the joy of the connection between mother and child, father and child, aunty and child. Post-hysterectomy, I've become a student of that special force we call life, the manifestation of physical form and spirit, in everything around me. I feel life, follow life, listen to life, guard life, nurture life, as I am able, physical womb or no.
I've moved the card off the nick knack shelf and into a more prominent position on my desk. I want to take in the messages the card sends. Every day, I want to look at the front of the card and appreciate the reminder: "Find your song and sing it."
Even when the song is one that I've never heard before, and didn't realize I could sing.