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Challenge: Reducing Holiday Stress

'Twas the Night Before Surgery: A Hysterectomy for Hanukkah

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I'm sitting at my desk, trying to write a witty article about the stress of the holiday season on moms, but all I can think about is the hysterectomy I'm having tomorrow morning. I know I shouldn't worry. I know that after three C-sections it will be fine, that my body will heal and move on and that this is a temporary blip. But I also remember the not-so-fun parts, like the pain. The lack of sleep. The invasion of my body. How out of control I feel when I know I’m about to get anesthesia.

Latkes cooked by my husband, a new member of the tribe!

I spoke to the nurse at my surgeon’s office today who mentioned that my family could wait upstairs on the 11th floor while I had my surgery. My surgery will probably be in the sub-basement of the hospital. I started to panic inside thinking about my unconscious body being wheeled through hospital hallways, perhaps even intubated, while my family sips coffee and reads the paper upstairs. While they’re glancing out the window, hearing the honks of the cars going down Fifth Avenue, ignoring the constant ringing of phones at the nurse’s station, checking their emails, monitoring Instagram. Meanwhile, I’ll be in the bowels of the building, having little incisions cut into my belly, robotic tools inserted inside me, feeling around tentatively like a space rover on the surface of Mars.

There may be a moment when the surgeon slices out something that looks suspicious and delivers the frozen tissue sample to a lab across the hall to see if it’s cancerous. Meanwhile, I’ll be breathing through a tube, unconscious. I’ll never know what that scene really looks like despite being the lead character in it. It’s like it will happen but not really. The closest I can compare it to is how I think about my funeral. I’ll be there. But not really. Obviously this is not as dramatic and final. But the lack of consciousness in an unfamiliar place is jarring.

Loving our new Jonathan Adler menorah.

As my family gets up to stretch their legs and get some water, I’ll be having an 8-centimeter fibroid extracted from my belly along with my entire uterus and cervix and whatever else is around there. My uterus. The home where my four kids began the miracle of their existence. It’s like I’m taking a bulldozer to their first house, blasting it to bits. Forget any sentimentality. My female reproductive organs have gone through a lot to have these babies. And they’ve triumphed. They’ve given me four beautiful, healthy human beings with their own personalities, styles, issues and challenges. They’ve left me to simply usher these people into the greater world, trying to shape them into the types of good human beings I long for them to be, trying to diminish some of the more negative characteristics they may have inherited.

Having launched these babies into the world, now my body is left to be swept aside. Practically useless. Over and done. Hollow. What will it feel like to have nothing left inside? To have a big space where something used to be, including the space that the fibroid has been taking up as it pushes everything around inside me, pressing up against my back like a stranger in a packed subway car. I know it will likely be fine.

Packed and ready to go.

My daughter was worrying about me for a minute and I tried to reassure her by telling her how common the procedure was for women. I googled it with her. It’s the second most common surgery for women after C-sections. 500,000 women a year have this surgery!

“Is it like when I got my tonsils out?” she asked.

“Yes!” I said.

We looked that up. 500,000 children a year have their tonsils out. It made me feel enormously better. My daughter and my niece had already had theirs out. Everything had gone just fine. I just don’t know anyone else who has had a hysterectomy, aside from my mother-in-law, later in life. I’m sure more of my friends will, over time, but at age 41 I’m pretty young.

I’m blazing a trail of uterus expulsion. And I’m nervous. I’m nervous that something routine will go wrong. (Which, I’m telling myself, it won’t.) I’m nervous that I’ll be unconscious for a while whereas now I can’t even go to the bathroom without one of my four kids barging in (I just deleted “knocking on the door” because please, let’s be real). I can’t work out for 10 minutes without some kid-related phone call. Yet for two hours, I’ll be sliced apart like a freshly cooked skirt steak. Life temporarily on pause.

Because of the rapid growth, there’s a chance the fibroid is actually a cancerous tumor, the surgeon said. Not a large chance. About 2 percent of all fibroids are cancerous. But of the ones that are cancerous, rapid growth is associated with most cases. Which mine has been doing. Everything will likely be fine. My blood work all came back completely normal. But there’s doubt lingering about. I can feel it, like a thick layer of humidity blanketing my home.

Today at 1 p.m., after my husband cooked me a beautiful brunch of an onion and pepper omelette, tomato salad and a skillet-baked chocolate chip cookie, I chased the meal with magnesium citrate and 8 ounces of water. I launched YouTube and played my husband the ad from the 1980s where the actor who played Benson hawked Milk of Magnesium. (M-O-M. Mom is gentle!) And then every 15 minutes all day since then, I’ve had to run to the bathroom. Only water to drink. Nothing past midnight.

We lit the Hanukkah candles with my mother between my episodes. My mother flew in from the Southwest today to help out, bearing thoughtful gifts and encouraging words.


Hot Cocoa (my stuffed monkey) in my hospital bed.

My dad is coming by to wish me luck while I check in. My best friend is taking the train up from Philly in the morning to be there, even though I’ll be out on the table when she arrives. It makes me feel good knowing she’ll be there.

My amazing, wonderful husband who I forget is still “new” will also be there. My husband who has been hugging me tightly for days. He feels our separation coming. On a good day, we can’t stand to be apart for long. He’s feeling the string that links our hearts together stretching tomorrow as he rides up to the 11th floor and I stay down below. He’s worried, although like me, we both know logically that this is routine.

But we worry. You never know.

I’m telling him to get a good night’s sleep. I made him go to the Knicks vs. Lakers game after Hanukkah tonight to clear out while my digestive track gets flushed out like my kids’ fish tank after a good washing. Will the kids be OK if anything happens? I know: nothing bad will happen. But it’s hard not to ask the questions.

I have to wash off my belly soon with something called a Hibiclens wash. I need to get some sleep. I’ve told many friends about tomorrow. They’ve all asked what they can do to help. Telling them and having them ask me what they could do was actually what helped me already. Knowing there is a halo of loved ones whizzing around the city tomorrow doing their thing but keeping me in their thoughts comforts me more than anything. As does knowing that so many fellow moms will be having my kids over for play dates and sleepovers as I recover, particularly for the first week home.

I have to go pack my suitcase. I’ll try to find the one painting my 4-year-old did of an ambulance to take to the hospital. Maybe some other kids’ artwork and pictures. And my lucky stuffed monkey who I call Hot Cocoa. (No, not joking.) I have to get ready. I have to say goodbye to my uterus. I have to say hello to the surgeon. I’ll be OK. It will be fine. But I’m nervous.


The surgery the following day went great! It ended up taking 4.5 hours because the fibroid was bigger than they though (10 centimeters, like a grapefruit) and in a different place than expected. But no cancer! Still, the fear of it, and knowing that so many others do end up getting the undesirable diagnosis, makes me pause. I am so grateful to my surgeon, to God, to everyone, to my family and friends, for carrying me on their collective shoulders during this experience. Now I can just sit on the couch, recover and manage the pain. Let’s see how my four kids handle this version of myself! But it’s all worth it. The hysterectomy turned out to be the best Hanukkah gift of all. Happy Holidays, from my abandoned uterus to yours.

Thanks to everyone who sent flowers and goodies. So nice of you!! xxoo

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