Scene: 1970’s, living room of my family home. “Mrs. Smith is having surgery,” my mom says. She leans in, her face serious, her voice hushed, “Female problems.”
I know, I know. This was the polite way to talk about the female anatomy in the 70’s. You didn’t say hysterectomy or uterus or ovaries. You said, “female problems.”
This may have been polite-speak, but it was terrifying to me. “I’m a female! What horrors await me that are so hideous they have to be whispered? How will I know if I have female problems? What shame am I fated to?”
Yes, I was that dramatic. Of course, those words didn’t follow right away. They came later. But the emotion was there. Female problems equal shame, and surgery.
I suppose if my mom had said the word “hysterectomy,” my response would have been, “What’s that mean?” and she would have had to tell me that it means removing the part of the female reproductive system that grows a baby. And that might have lead to other questions that she would be forced to answer or evade… Or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe I would have shrugged my shoulders at the word “hysterectomy” and gone back to my Barbies. Who knows?
My intention today is not to fault my mom or society for their effort to be appropriate. They meant well. My intention is to say what needs to be said in my life and about my body without shame – to stop perpetuating fear and shame, while respecting privacy and being mindful of others’ tolerance for graphic medical “stuff.” That’s my intention.
I appreciate so much today’s open dialog concerning hysterectomies and breast cancer and ovarian cancer. There is healing in speaking about it. There is healing in finding support from those who have walked those paths. Deep healing.
I think our culture no longer blushes over the word “ovaries” and probably nobody feels shame when illness strikes those parts of us. Well, okay, maybe I do flinch a little. Residual shame, perhaps? But that’s okay – that’s where the deep healing comes in.