I never had children. There was a time I wanted one; maybe two. Girls. Once upon a time, I even picked out their names. But the desire passed before I graduated from high school, attributable to reading a book or two that supposedly documented a cycle of abuse. Asserted that those who are abused as children will, in turn, abuse their own children. Though I didn’t believe I would ever be capable of hurting an innocent child, especially my own, I decided I couldn’t take the chance. I didn’t want anyone to suffer the way I had suffered, particularly at the hand of a parent who was supposed to protect them. My hand. So, I set that daydream aside, swallowed the pain and disappointment and decided I would never give birth or parent a little one.
The years flew by. And then one fall, I received the results of my annual exam. My PAP was abnormal. Further testing indicated my cervix was covered with severe dysplasia. Abnormal cells. Pre-cancerous. My doctor recommended an immediate hysterectomy. I was concerned about the time I would have to miss from work…a job I had just gotten not quite a year before. My boss was not sympathetic to my situation. He seemed to delight in pressuring me to “earn my keep.” To contribute more than the men who reported to him. I, a mere woman, was expected to work longer and harder to prove my worth. That meant forgoing necessary medical treatment if I wanted to keep my job. But the doctor insisted. They said my only option was to have the hysterectomy immediately because the cells were quickly progressing and nearing a cancerous state.
Even then, immediately didn’t quite work for me. Feeling the need to do my duty, I put it off for a few months, mainly trying to get through the holidays. I wanted to find a time that would be more convenient for my staff and for friends who would be helping me out afterwards. I made it until February. My doctor pestered me, strongly insisting that I was putting myself in danger. Telling me I couldn’t wait any longer, no matter what.
And so, it was arranged. Two weeks later, a friend took me to the hospital early in the morning and I was prepped for surgery. She graciously opted to stay with me, waiting in my room to watch over me as I slept and woke repetitively from my morphine-induced haze that first day.
I was touched. It turned out to be a more emotional experience than I had anticipated.
You see, my room was on the 2nd floor. They asked me if I would mind if they put me in a room on that particular floor before the surgery and I had agreed to their request. I didn’t think it would matter. Didn’t think it would be a big deal. But as it turned out, it was harder than I thought.
The 2nd floor was the maternity floor. I had never been in the maternity ward before. My first stay in this particular area of the hospital was not to give birth, but to have all that baby-making equipment removed. And surprisingly, it hurt. Even though I had set aside that dream many years before.
I was old enough by the time I made it to the 2nd floor, no one should have supposed I was there to have a baby. But the young man who wheeled me down to my friend’s car upon my release from the hospital said, “Just you? You’re not leaving with anyone?” And he sounded rather sad. I wanted to laugh…I mean, I WAS far too old. But for some reason, I also wanted to cry.
I told him, “Yes. Just me.” Not leaving with anyone. No new little life. Never did that. Never had that experience. Never will.
Didn’t even have a husband to pull the car around and help me into the passenger seat.
As I said, it was mostly by choice…never having a baby. I was so afraid of damaging a child. I read too many books, research papers and articles about abused people abusing. I would prefer not to risk it…it was too big of a chance to take. So, even though I felt strongly and would rather die than abuse an innocent little one, I chose the safest path. I was concerned the brokenness of my soul and all the things that were missing in me would create lasting problems for a tiny little being left in my care. It was better avoid the risk. So, I remained childless. And now it was far, far too late to change my mind.
Sometimes it still hurts a lot. Sometimes I feel good about the decision I made. More often than not, I believe I did the right thing in sacrificing my own selfish desire. Most of the time, I only experience a dull ache and the regret is bearable.
My stay on the 2nd floor was short. I was only in the hospital for a total of 32 hours. The room they gave me was toward the end of the floor and there weren’t any others in my “pod.” I think they did this on purpose, so I wouldn’t be near the nursery or the new mothers. Near those who had just given birth. I didn’t see a single other patient during the mandatory walks I made after my hysterectomy. But I didn’t venture too far down the hall either. I walked in a circle around my lonely little pod. I didn’t want to see. I didn’t want to encounter a tiny new life, a beaming new mom, a proud new father. Hearing the muted cries from the other end of the floor was surprisingly heartbreaking.
Sometimes, when I think back on that experience, I am suddenly flooded with regret and sadness. There is a wistfulness that comes over me. A horrible emptiness. As much as I was willing to sacrifice to ensure I never hurt a child, I can’t help but wonder. Might I have been a reasonably decent parent if I had really tried? Reached out for help? Did I give up my dream too easily? Was it wisdom or overkill?
Now that I am approaching old age, now that I am totally alone, I realize it would be comforting to know a little piece of me would live on in a child. That through them, a particle of my soul might go forward into some distant future. That perhaps I could have even given them the love I never received myself. And given them the ability to trust, to believe, to feel, to hope, to dream.
It would be comforting to think someone would be there to see me off when I arrived at my last day of life. But these are selfish thoughts. And I have always fought to avoid selfishness.
There is no rewind button. No going back. No do-overs. The choices made are written in stone. The story of our life, once lived, can’t be rewritten or revised. What is done is done.
And so, my one and only stay on the maternity floor of the hospital was to recover from a hysterectomy. Highlighting everything I had lost. And the losses were massive and deeply painful. I lost the chance to live for someone else. To be needed in that special way a child needs a parent. To heal. To know joy and connection. I lost so much more than my ovaries, uterus and cervix. So very much more.
I can never go back and take a different path. I will have no opportunity to repair all that was broken inside of me. All that is sick or was eaten away. No chance to repair all that was taken from me. I can never start fresh. That time has come and gone. I left important pieces of myself behind on the 2nd floor. They rolled me out in the wheelchair, gutted and alone. In more ways than one.