The intention of this post is to provide advice for someone who has a friend that is faced with the decision to or is considering having a hysterectomy.
“But I don’t know anyone who is talking about having a hysterectomy, not me, all of my friends are so young.”
Chances are you do, or you will. Hysterectomies are happening all around you, to folks of all different ages, for all kinds of different reasons. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that approximately 600,000 hysterectomies are performed every year. Also factor in the lack of conversations that are had about the uterus & the problems that come with them. It’s been my experience that people only wanted to talk about my uterus when it came to asking me when I was going to use it to have a baby (future blog post for sure). Maybe you do know someone but they don’t feel there is space to talk about it.
I have very specific memories of things that very well intentioned friends and family members said to me that left me feeling confused and frustrated about my hysterectomy. I am not going to write about those moments here, because I do not feel it is appropriate or productive to shame or call out people for not understanding my experience completely. Instead I choose to use those moments of frustration to create new ways of bridging the hysterectomy gap.
Below is a list of things that may be helpful in providing support to a friend who is faced with the decision to have a hysterectomy. Everyone will have different needs, this list is short because I know attention spans are also short, and I will revisit this again.
Listen. It is important that your friend feels heard. Instead of talking about what your opinions of their experience are, be prepared to listen. Don’t worry about saying the ‘wrong thing.’ Instead focus on learning as much as you can about how your friend feels about their experience. This will also provide you with other ways you can provide support.
There will be lots & lots of doctor appointments,
Offer to go with. Waiting rooms are stressful, having a friend can make it more enjoyable. It can also provide support in advocating for your friend’s needs. Not everyone has the most amazing doctor like I did.
Meet them before or after their appointment. Making plans for coffee or grabbing lunch before or after can turn a stressful day into a good memory of spending time with a friend.
Care Packages. My sister mailed me a care package full of very thoughtful gifts that I found to be incredibly useful durning my hospital stay. Also, it was really nice getting to open a present during a time I was managing so many difficult and stressful aspects of preparing for surgery. Here is a list of what was inside:
– Face wipes – Chapstick – Hand sanitizer – Magazines
– Slippers, with rubber grips on the bottom (the nurses won’t let you walk without them, make sure they have them).
– Robe (made me feel more comfortable when I was relearning how to walk up and down the hallways).
– Notebooks and a pen to write down instructions from the doctors/nurses. You’re given a lot of information, and you’re on a lot of pain medication, it’s helpful to write down questions, schedules, instructions and schedules.
Hospital Gown. Having worked in a hospital as an Art Therapist, I was very aware of the gown I would have to wear following surgery. I recalled people complaining about them, and honestly I felt that wearing something I enjoyed might make me feel better, and it did! A quick search on Etsy and you’ll find many options. It helped my 3 nights in the hospital feel a lot more comfortable by allowing me some choice during a time I didn’t have many.
Plan something fun before surgery. My partner and I planned more time doing things outside of our normal routine of my school work and his job. Experiencing a baseball game, going to dinner, and most importantly LAUGHING together. This was so important in preparing me for surgery and the emotional and physical changes I was about to experience.
Meals & Home Visits. Recovery following a hysterectomy is different for everyone, but I can tell you that it took me longer than I anticipated to get around the house and take care of myself again. It was so important that my partner prepared my food. Also having friends offer to visit helped pass the time. It gets really boring not being able to move all day.
If you have any questions, or would like more suggestions of ways to provide support, please feel free to ask. I am happy to talk about it all.
I dedicate this post to my new friend Anica. We met because of our shared experiences of having to remove a problematic uterus. To find such a similar & challenging life experience in a stranger is a beautiful gift. It was because of her decision to be open about her story that we were able to cross paths. Anica’s perspective, support and validation of the importance of speaking up about our bodies continues to inspire me to create more ways to bridge the hysterectomy gap.
Happy Birthday Anica! I am grateful for you.
RIP, Your Uterus
card made for Anica before her hysterectomy
photo credit: Anica