February 2 marks the one year anniversary of my hysterectomy, the day I lost my womb, the seat of feminine energy and elemental symbol of womanhood, to a massive fibroid. I’m celebrating this milestone by sharing my story. The fact that I’m being so open about it is a milestone in itself and a byproduct of reconnecting to my womb energy, which we carry even if the uterus itself is gone. I know this may sound “woo woo” to many of you, my dear readers, but if this information triggers you or sounds unfamiliar, perhaps today you’ll give yourself a chance to be exposed to something new. In the past 365 days, I’ve been peeling off layers upon layers of fears of self-expression to live a life that feels aligned. In hindsight, I now see that my hysterectomy was an extreme message my body sent me to reconnect me to alignment, awaken my feminine power and give me strength to express my ideas, beliefs and values without a paralyzing fear of judgment.
My fibroid diagnosis
Fibroids are tumors made of muscle cells and fibrous tissue that develop in the uterus. I learned about my ball-shaped fibroid in 2020 on a yearly wellness visit to my gynecologist. A year later, the kind doctor told me that the mass of tissue and blood had doubled in size. Due to the rate of growth, size, and the round shape (“a small melon,” the doctor said), it could potentially be cancerous. The chances were very small, but a biopsy was only possible post-surgery. Though there are many treatment options for fibroids, both my gynecologist and another top doctor I consulted for a second opinion recommended a hysterectomy. My uterus needed to be removed and we had to act fast. Though I tried to ignore the “C” word beaming in the background, it started to hang above my head and I had no intentions to play around with it.
Hysterectomies are common and yet we don’t talk about them
According to the CDC, 1 out 3 women in the US has had a hysterectomy by the age of 60. The procedure is common and yet there is so much stigma around it. It’s an intimate experience that makes us feel raw and vulnerable. It has taken me a full year to open the lid on my mine. So much of our womanhood is associated with having an uterus to procreate, so even if we make the conscious choice not to birth children, there is a profound psychological impact in knowing that the birth vessel is no longer inside of us.
Prepping for my hysterectomy
My gynecologist believed that he could perform a vaginal hysterectomy, a procedure that means just that: my uterus would be removed through my vagina. If the fibroids turned out to be too big for the vaginal canal, then the surgery would be abdominal. The night before the surgery, my doctor called me, his voice exuding both warmth and concern. He consulted the head of gynecological affairs at the top cancer hospital in Texas. They agreed that if I was the rare patient whose fibroids turned out to be malignant, the vaginal option would spread the cancer to the rest of my body. With that knowledge, he asked for my permission to cut me straight through my belly.
The procedure would safely place my uterus inside a plastic bag before removing it, avoiding contamination with the nearby organs. My ovaries would remain intact; I wouldn’t face early menopause or endure hormone therapy. The cut would be below my bikini line, the end of my menstrual period the only side effect.
It was bad news interlaced with good news, and as the optimist that I am I held on to the silver linings. Unlike many women, I never hated menstruation. In fact, I valued it, a powerful symbol of the life force we carry, the cycles of life we’re meant to experience. Still, there was relief in knowing that I wouldn’t have to wear pads and tampons again.
In the background, more drama unfolding: not only was the Covid-19 pandemic still raging chaos, but my health insurance plan didn’t authorize my surgery until 12 hours before the scheduled time. The anxiety of waiting for an answer until the very last moment was nerve racking.
On top of that, my career break travels, which were planned over several months, were now only a month away. I feared I would have to postpone the experience. To my comfort, my doctor told me to keep my trip in the books. Walking would benefit my recovery. “Just lower the pace of your explorations: sightseeing in the morning, rest in the afternoon.” It was a good compromise.
Body, mind, soul
I believe in Western science and also subscribe to Eastern philosophies that look at body, mind and soul as a holistic unit. My story encompasses the physical, emotional and spiritual realms and it’s evolving. There is a beginning, but there’s no end in sight. I’m in the middle of it, chapters filled with the ups and downs of spiritual liberation. The beginning goes back to childhood, to my teenage years, to adulthood. To those moments when I didn’t follow my intuition, those moments I stopped creating possibilities. To the times I allowed all sorts of micro and macro aggressions in because I had internalized some old dialogue that I deserved them.
I now sense that the beginning goes back even further than that, it travels in time and space, it lived in the womb of my mother and my mother’s mother. We women arrive on this planet already carrying all of the eggs we’ll ever produce. I was an egg inside my mother when she was a fetus inside her mother’s womb, like a set of Russian dolls. My life’s programs include the programs of my ancestors. Their dreams and sorrows are embedded in my flesh. My DNA is inlaid with vortexes of genealogical spiritual growth and wounds. There is plenty of scientific research suggesting this.
Women carry more burdens than we consciously acknowledge, and our wombs fall sick when we prioritize other people’s lives and put our needs on the back burner. When we give too much but are unable to receive it. Our womb fails when we don’t know how to set limits or become overly critical of our actions and ways of being. In sum, it wilts when we disconnect from the whispers of our soul.
What exactly is feminine energy?
Feminine power has an energy of “being,” rather than energy of “doing.” For most of my life, I internalized the patriarchal model that values masculine energy and masculine values. Masculine energy gives us strength to get things done, to act and push forward. It relates to independence, ambition, assertiveness and power, all wonderful qualities if well balanced. On the other hand, creation, feelings, intuition, empathy, pause, reflection, sensuality and vulnerability live in the realm of feminine energy. Like the moon, healthy femininity also embraces our shadow side, our darkness, the parts of ourselves that we are told are imperfect. Feminine energy is about opening, surrendering, receiving. When you’re open, you invite in miracles, big and small. Men and women carry both kinds of energy and none is better than the other. They complement each other.
The womb is the house of creativity
Symbolically, the womb represents the power of creation. It’s the soil where life grows. Since antiquity, it’s been acclaimed as the house of intuition, a creative center that holds cosmic strength to birth not just babies, but also ideas, dreams and possibilities. The universe itself is a vast dark womb that births galaxies, stars, planets, life. Men also carry womb energy with them, for they too came from one.
When I learned that my uterus didn’t have much time left, I instantly knew that I had created that reality. My fibroids weren’t a result of choosing to be child-free, something I heard from an acquaintance with doses of judgment for my choice. A few years before my hysterectomy, I made a conscious decision not to have children. Though I love little ones, I value my independence. My condition, my disease, came from exactly that: a lack of ease with the feminine parts of me.
For years my internal dialogue was filled with self-criticism. I tended to rationalize decisions as opposed to trust my intuition and the clues that my body was giving me to go in this or that direction. Consequently, I was often stuck in a web of resentment for some of my choices, even though on the surface I lived a life of incredible privilege. For too long I vibrated on that stagnant energy and in a period of two years that toxic idleness grew into a ball of fibroids. I would now have to release it, as if giving birth to a monster to claim emotional freedom.
Finding spiritual protection and emotional support
In the weeks leading up to my surgery, I created space for introspection. Meditation, journaling, prayers, books and consultations with holistic practitioners gave me solid spiritual strength. On the procedure’s eve, meditation delivered a powerful mystical experience. While I focused on my breathing, Jesus and Mary showed up for me smiling, Mary touching my stomach and telling me that everything would be just fine. There wasn’t a sliver of criticism emanating from her, from them. Just love and warmth. It was a delightful surprise that the woman who represents sacred motherhood was now in my psyche telling me that everything would be OK. Physically removing my womb wouldn’t remove my soul or creativity. Blessed be the fruit that was coming out of me: it was rotten and extreme, but it served a purpose. For context, I grew up Catholic but am highly critical of organized religion. The irony again. And the blessing.
I interpreted February 2, the scheduled date, as another sign that powers beyond this Earth were keeping me safe. I held on to that belief like a magnet. In my native Brazil it’s when we celebrate Yemanjá, the Afro-Brazilian goddess of waters, depicted as a mermaid, protector of women and associated with feminine mysteries.
I also felt emotionally supported by my family, close friends and the few colleagues who knew what was going on. One special friend, a nurse practitioner who also underwent a hysterectomy, provided me enormous comfort by openly sharing her story without stigma. Sisterhood never fails.
Surgery time and a letter to my uterus
The night before the surgery I wrote a letter to my uterus. Among other things, I asked for forgiveness: for my incapacity to prioritize my creative ideas, such as my writing, or for putting other people’s needs ahead of my own.
On surgery day, I was calm. The surgery was scheduled for 7am. I woke up at 4:30am to wash myself with antibacterial soap, part of the procedure’s preparation. I looked at my naked body in the mirror, my abdomen, my belly button. That one and only belly I have, the one I had mistreated for so long. In a couple of hours it would be cut open and I would return home with a scar.
My husband drove us to the hospital, the night veil still on, the air blowing the frigid winds of winter. He held my hands until the moment I was taken to the surgery room, his warm and kind eyes nurturing me under the cold white hospital lights. An army of nurses and doctors came and in out to check on me, take my vitals and instruct me about what was soon to come. The lead nurse wore a mermaid brooch. I smiled. I knew.
“What if this is the end?” went through my head a few times. “What if this is indeed cancer?” Rationally, I knew that the chances of something going wrong were minimal. If the mass inside of me was indeed cancerous, the procedure was basically the treatment. Besides, I was in one of the best women’s hospitals in the country, in the hands of a doctor who trained hundreds of other doctors to perform hysterectomies. A doctor who also brought the children of astronauts to this world. My doctor was the right man to send my physical womb back to the metaphysical powers of the cosmos.
A nurse gave me a pill to ease my way into the epidural, the injection given at the lower part of a woman’s back to numb her pain when she’s about to give birth. If the Universe is a joker, it was laughing hard in my face and somehow I was now laughing with it. I was the butt of the joke and yet I totally got it. My resistance was gone. Within moments I drifted into deep sleep.
The surgery lasted three and a half hours. I woke up in my hospital bed, my husband watching over me, my fibroids, and therefore my uterus, successfully removed. A few days later, I found out that it wasn’t malignant. Relief washed over me like a clear and soothing river.
Post surgery and recovery
After two nights at the hospital, I went home to recover under the care of my husband and niece. She happened to be visiting me from abroad when we found out about the surgery. To me, another serendipitous sign of abundance and protection in my life.
My doctor ordered me to rest: lay down, watch TV, read a book. I was eating healthy, but still lost weight. I wore a binder around my waist for weeks. I couldn’t take a regular shower or bath, so I had to be creative. I washed my hair in the kitchen sink, almost clogging it, but was committed to smelling good.
Four weeks later, my stitches were gone. After regaining my physical strength and with my doctor’s permission, I was boarding a plane to Lisbon to kick off my career break. I traded my economy class ticket purchased with air miles for a real treat: business class seats. Doctor’s orders! I was completely aware of my privilege: the healthcare I received, the emotional support all around me, the opportunity to travel for pleasure at the front of the plane laying flat on my back.
On March 29, while in Granada, Spain, the local gynecologist told me that my insides were completely healed. My scar was there, but it never really bothered me. It’s not my first. I celebrated the great news with a glass of wine, delicious food and happy tears.
Embracing my feminine power after my hysterectomy
I had to lose my womb to start to understand how this whole thing about feminine energy works. It’s still a work in progress. And I know, as mentioned earlier, my story sounds like crazy “woo-woo.” I get it. But it makes sense to me, to my personal journey. It helps me process what was happening to me and perhaps it can provide guidance or comfort to others.
In the weeks following my surgery, my career break created the perfect space to allow femininity in. Not only was I living a lifelong dream, I was also having ecstatic sensorial experiences in the 12 countries I visited: new foods, sights, music, scents, textures. I had to use my intuition often to know where to go or who to trust. I experienced the most serendipitous connections with complete strangers, people who gave me generous gifts: tour guides who let me take extra tours for free, locals who helped carry my ridiculous large luggage, strangers who shared their intimate life stories with me.
With the loving help of my career break coach, little by little I started to feel good under my skin, as if I was breaking out of a shell. I was posting my experiences on social media without fear of how I sounded. Creative ideas poured through my head in high voltage, like a beautiful summer storm with a million sparks of lightning. I started to really embrace my bubbly personality. I overcame the resistance to post bikini pictures. I fell in love with my body, not just with its shape, but with the miracle it is. For it allows me to sense. It allows me to feel. My scar is a tattoo representing what’s possible to create.
A year after my surgery my phantom womb is more powerful than ever. Instead of fearing my voice and my choices, I now rejoice in their melodic symphony. When the vibration is off key I pause to listen to what it’s trying to tell me. Some days are hard, but I’ve reconnected with my intuition and am also doing a much better job at expressing my needs and my desires. I’m redesigning my life, creating space to spend more time doing things that give me pleasure. Redefining how I spend my days and who I spend my time with.
Would you share my story with a woman you know could benefit from it?
In this new space of creation, I feel free and empowered to share my hysterectomy story with the world. There is no shame in it. In fact, if my story can empower / bring comfort to at least one woman, then I made the right decision to make it public. Not having an uterus doesn’t define my womanhood or anybody’s womanhood. Let’s break the stigma. The world is better when sisterhood is strong and when men advocate for us.
May the power to create be a force that strengthens and enlightens you.