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Why I Said No to a Hysterectomy

My doctor recommended a hysterectomy for cervical cancer. I refused because I want children.
Andrea Tyrell
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Andrea Tyrell

I grew up wanting children. I remember as a teenager staring into my vanity mirror, puffing out my stomach, hoping to reflect one of my pregnant teachers. When I started dating and looking for a life partner, I would swipe left on men who said they never wanted babies. Biological motherhood was always going to be a part of my future.

But then I got cancer.

Here are your choices

I was diagnosed with stage 1 cervical cancer at the age of 33. My oncologist recommended I have a hysterectomy, citing the risk of the cancer coming back later in my life. I had also contracted human papillomavirus (HPV), which developed into the cancer, meaning if I didn’t adamantly practice safe sex, I risked getting infected again.

I refused his medical advice. Call me stubborn, but having a hysterectomy would ruin my childhood dream of carrying a baby. I thought about my teenage daydreams, imagining myself with a full, pregnant belly. I thought about never feeling a life grow inside of me. I’d never feel my baby kick. I’d never sing to my baby while it grew in my womb.

I even thought about how I would never experience the negative sides of pregnancy: weight gain, morning sickness and so on. I decided I couldn’t part with my uterus. It’s such a part of me and my future.

Another option

Instead of a hysterectomy, I had a cone biopsy: The cancerous portion of my cervix was removed. That way, I could have children in the future.

That procedure had its own series of risks, though. In an article in the Journal of Gynecologic Oncology, doctors from Seoul National University asserted that a cone biopsy increases, by approximately 30 percent, the risk for pregnancies ending in early birth, due to a weakened cervix.

Without the full weight of my cervix, I could also experience prolonged bed rest and intense discomfort. I thought about both options and considered the biopsy to be the lesser of the two evils. So I went through with that surgery. It was successful, removing the cancer from my body.

After surgery

It’s been almost two years since the surgery to remove my cancer. Since then, I’ve become a low-key hypochondriac thinking about the state of my reproductive system.

Every day, the idea of having a hysterectomy gets less and less scary. My thoughts about children have been consistent, although they have morphed into different dreams. Now I’m 35 years old. In baby-making terms, having a baby after 35 is considered a “geriatric pregnancy.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, geriatric pregnancies carry a series of risks:

  • Pregnancy loss (miscarriages and stillbirths) is higher
  • Greater risk of developing high blood pressure and gestational diabetes
  • The child has greater risk of being born with developmental abnormalities

Add to all of those risks the possibility of having an early birth and/or being bound by nine-month-long bed rest.

And so I’ve been exploring different family options: adoption, surrogacy; maybe I’ll become a stepparent one day.

I’m also teaching myself that it will be OK if I don’t have children. I question myself about why I feel the need to raise a family. Perhaps because I felt like I never had a strong relationship with my own? I also think (somewhat selfishly, I might add) about who will care for me in old age. People have children for many reasons. And people don’t have children for perfectly fine reasons, as well.

I do know that if I become a parent one day, regardless of the way I have children, I will be making the most informed decision about my body and my health. I want to be the best parent I can be.

One day, when I tell my future child or children about my experience with cancer, I will tell them that while family is a major factor in life, your health matters above all else.

Take care of yourself, and your life will figure out a way to take care of your dreams.