My Planned Hysterectomy Is Bringing Back the Loss of My Son

By Erica Landis
March 21, 2022

When my ob-gyn first suggested a hysterectomy, I was all for it. In fact, my hand flew up into the air in a thumbs-up position. I’d read the pathology report showing precancerous cells in my cervix. A hysterectomy sounded like a magic wand that would wave away any possibility of cancer. Case closed.

Bloodwork confirmed that my 53-year-old body was now postmenopause. No more surprise periods or painful cramps. No more seeking out the most enormous overnight sanitary pads with wings at Target. I was happy to hear that, too.

Two weeks later, I left an oncologist’s office with a glossy folder filled with preop instructions and forms. I sat in my car for a few minutes before driving home. I stared at the doctor’s photo in the brochure. He was experienced. He was informative and even pleasant. He was also pretty matter-of-fact about it all. I wasn’t scared.

I just didn’t expect it to bring back so much pain.

A Return of Grief

As my upcoming surgery started to sink in, I found myself thinking about my son, Noah. More specifically, I thought about being pregnant with my son. I was 40 years old and an excited newlywed when I found out I was pregnant with him. It had all been so easy, happening almost as soon as I tossed the birth control pills.

My pregnancy went smoothly, too. My reproductive organs seemed to be waiting 40 years to strut their stuff. Noah turned breech in his last week and was born in 2008 via cesarean section. He was perfect. He had a head full of dark hair.

My body amazed me. My uterus tightened as it shrank back down when I breastfed Noah. My body made a human, I kept thinking. I am woman, hear me roar!

The Tragedy That Changed Me

The two years that followed his birth were everything I had hoped they might be. I was fortunate to be able to stay home with Noah. He always woke up happy, with a sloppy kiss for me.

I slowly got the hang of being a new mom, with all the supplies and exhaustion. I’d pack his bright orange diaper bag with everything under the sun for that day in our busy New Jersey neighborhood. He especially liked to smile at ladies with long brown hair and went nuts when he saw dogs. And when Valerie Bertinelli’s Weight Watchers commercial came on television, he stopped whatever he was doing and was mesmerized.

He ate everything from cookies to mushrooms and usually needed a bath after every meal. ‘Wanna go bubbles?’ I’d ask, and off he’d run to the bathtub, yelling, “Bubbles!” He’d pour in the bubble bath as I ran the water. He was pure joy. I was never happier.

And then a tragedy happened that I’d never imagined could happen. Noah went out a door to the backyard of my father’s house and drowned in the in-ground pool.

I was in the very next room. It happened in minutes. It was a door I never thought he could—or would—open. It turns out that more children ages 1-4 die from accidental drowning than any other cause other than birth defects, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We’d become that statistic.

Now instantly thrown into this world of child loss and grief, we tried to get pregnant again right away. How could we just not be parents anymore?

The silence of losing a child is deafening, and we didn’t want to go on in this painfully quiet world. We’d change the channel quickly when diaper commercials came on the television. We avoided anything that showed happy families. Our own social media scroll of friends and their kids became painful as everything showed us what we’d lost. Any scenes of water were trauma triggers that manifested physically in our bodies.

We started trying naturally to get pregnant again, but the negative pregnancy tests, month after month, were like being kicked over and over when we were already at our lowest. How could that dream just be over? We were completely heartbroken, but I was convinced my reproductive organs would rev up their miraculous engines again.

They didn’t. And bloodwork confirmed my less-than-2% chance of getting pregnant on our own.

Infertility Shocked Me

I never thought I’d enter the terrifying world of infertility. No matter what brings a woman into that waiting room, we all had the same goal. A baby.

I was angry and ashamed of my reproductive organs. I’d once cheered for them. Now, I wanted to shout at them. “C’mon! You did it once before! You can totally do it again! There must be one more magical egg in there that can simply fertilize with no external push!”

But there wasn’t.

Now, in addition to the grief, I was also living in the roller coaster world of in vitro fertilization. A cycle of disappointment and hope. Procedures, injections, bloodwork, rinse and repeat.

A New Beginning

Two and half years after Noah died, Miriam Phoenix was born. She looked just like the little blond girl that had appeared in my husband’s dream at our lowest point.

We were constantly looking for signs that we would have a child again. Dragonflies swirling around in odd places, finding socks and old belongings of Noah’s that we thought were long packed away, and dreams. This little blond girl had appeared in my husband’s dreams a few times. He always woke up hopeful, and when he’d describe her to me, I shared his hope for that moment.

We had to have hope. There was no other choice. I was almost 45.

The pregnancy had been different than my first. Instead of memories of that positive drugstore pregnancy test and our ecstatic tears, I had a glossy 8-by-10-inch photo of the inside of my uterus after it was primed for pregnancy with a hysteroscopy. I have a photo of her as cells dividing in a petri dish. I witnessed the actual blip of light as her embryo was placed inside me.

My body still felt every bit as miraculous. Science and hope worked together to create the rebirth of our family. Our Phoenix from the flames.

A Different Kind of Goodbye

It’s been nine years since Miriam was born. She’s still blond, just like the girl in my husband’s dream. And as she begins to learn about where babies come from, I prepare to say goodbye to that place inside me.

I’ve had the best of both worlds. I’ve seen what my reproductive organs can do as nature intended. And I’ve seen what they can do with medical science. I consider myself lucky.

Still, saying goodbye to my cervix, uterus, fallopian tubes, and ovaries feels like saying goodbye to my son’s creation and my daughter’s hard-fought existence. A part of me wishes I could hold on to them, like I might to an old ticket stub. Something for the scrapbook. But I can’t. And I know this is true.

I have to move onward. And the next stop is a hysterectomy. Thanks for the memories, dear body. And here’s to making many more.

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