Category Archives: marriage

How I’m Feeling about My Upcoming Hysterectomy

When people find out that I—a childless woman in my early thirties—will be having a hysterectomy, the first question they inevitably ask is, “How are you feeling about that?”

 

And I will be honest with you, after attempting to be diplomatic, after trying to come up with the “short version” for acquaintances and patiently articulating the long version for those closest to me, I have this to say: STOP ASKING ME HOW I’M FEELING (please). I’m so sick of being asked this question—because the answer is not what everyone asking this question wants or expects to hear. People want me to be broken up about it. People expect me to be devastated. And I think it offends some of them that I’m not sad about it. Of course, all of these expectations are rooted, however loosely, in the ancient belief that childbearing is the only thing women exist to do in this life. And I guess if I had that perception of myself and my life’s purpose, then sure, maybe I’d be heartbroken over this development. But dealing with the realities of my pending surgery has been loads easier than trying to walk on the eggshells of people’s expectations of my devastation and their devastation on my behalf.

 

Only a few people knew this before now, but I’ve always suspected I would never be able to have my own children. I could never explain exactly why or how this was the case, but from the time I was seventeen, I just somehow knew that my womb wouldn’t grow children. I told one person back then—and it’s doubtful she remembers such a prediction because it would’ve sounded ridiculous. And yet here we are. Because of this instinct of mine, I acclimated many, many years ago to the idea of expanding my future family through adoption. And so this fork in the road isn’t some great tragedy for me. It is a newer adjustment for my husband, and he is probably and understandably a little sadder about it than I am. But overall, we are fine. And I am fine.

 

But I’ll tell you about a time when I was not fine. I won’t recount the details of 2010—2015, from the time the fibroids were discovered to the time of my first surgery to remove them while leaving my uterus intact—a period during which I was also less than fine. But I’ve recounted at least some of those details elsewhere.

 

What I want to tell you about is what happened after that first surgery. I had been married all of eight months when I had surgery in November 2015. I had broached the subject of a hysterectomy multiple times with my doctor, both while I was still single and after I was newly married. I somehow knew all along, in my gut, that it would eventually come to that, and I wanted to feel better, sooner. I wanted to get it over with, sooner. I was ready long ago to embrace the idea of potential, someday adoption.

 

I was not ready to pull the trigger on pregnancy during my first year of marriage. And yet my doctor was adamant about a hysterectomy not being solely “my” decision (even when I was single!). She was adamant about preserving my uterus and my ability to bear children, even after I got married and even after David and I, together, expressed that we would rather do a hysterectomy than risk a surgery that might not solve the problem. She was adamant that we not rush into making that decision, and even though I disagreed then and it has now come to what it has, I don’t resent her. She’s seen a lot more than I have, experienced a lot more than I have, and she’s the medical expert. I respect her expertise, and I appreciate her objective in looking out for regrets I might have later. I did, once, try to explain to her my “feeling” that I might not be able to get pregnant anyway, once I was ready to begin trying. As a practitioner of science and medicine, it is her job to dismiss anything that has no tangible, explicable basis, and she did just that: “Why would you think that? There is absolutely no reason to believe that you cannot get pregnant.” And I let the conversation end there.

 

So, fast forward to after my first surgery. I recovered, I went back to work, and six months later, I went for the follow-up ultrasound the doctor insisted I receive. The goal was to find out whether my uterus was still uninhabited. I expected the fibroids to be back, and they were—with a vengeance. At the time of surgery, the doctor removed six and left four. Six months after that, the ultrasound showed too many fibroids to count. Too many to count. A literal invasion. For those last six months, I had also been on a contraceptive that was injectable. Its aim, beyond keeping me from getting pregnant, was to shrink fibroids. It had been unsuccessful.

 

My next birth control injection appointment was scheduled sometime in July 2016, but after the less-than-desirable results of the ultrasound, David and I had a decision to make. According to the doctor, it was now or never. “If you’re going to use your uterus to have children, you’ve gotta do it now. I don’t know how long your uterus will remain a safe environment for a fetus. The fibroids that are in there now are small—but they’re numerous. And there’s no telling how fast they’ll grow. The clock is ticking. Not to mention, you’re about to be 32. You just don’t have time to lollygag about this.”

 

So here we were, now sixteen months wed, and forced to decide whether we were ready for me to be pregnant. Our original plan, upon marrying, included an adjustment period of about five years before we started talking children. So, in short, no. I was not ready to be pregnant. We both had low-paying jobs with no improvement in sight. I’m still paying on a student loan. Our house is really too small to build a family that includes more than one child, especially if they’re of different genders. We only have one bedroom besides our own. And we didn’t want to have an only child. One thing we agree on is that, if we expand our family through children, we want it to be multiple.

 

So I went off birth control. We didn’t tell a lot of people about this development because it was fraught with pressure, with anxiety, with fear, with uncertainty. The people we did tell used a term I hate: trying. I preferred to go a different linguistic direction and told people, “We’re not preventing.” But those were the months, as opposed to now, when I needed to be asked and to articulate how I was feeling.

 

Earlier in this post, I used the word invasion to describe what the fibroids have done to my uterus. In early January of this year, I went out for dessert with a close friend, just after making the decision to have a hysterectomy, and when she asked how I was feeling about it, I described to her my thoughts about needing an emotional outlet six months ago rather than now. In that conversation, I said that “my uterus was drafted into service,” partly without my consent. Near the end of January 2017, in a text conversation with a different friend who was, again, asking how I felt about it, I had this to say: “I feel great about it. I’m tired of being at war with my reproductive system. I’m a pacifist!”

 

I was half-joking, but it wasn’t until I used the word invasion in this blog post that I remembered my phrases “drafted into service” and “I’m a pacifist” and realized that, all along, I’ve been subconsciously using war-themed language to describe my difficult, emotionally wrought, and long-suffering experience with the childbearing parts of my body. And it shouldn’t have to be that way. My body is supposed to work for me, not against me. Or, if not for me, at least with me. Biologically speaking, my uterus is supposed to sit relatively quietly until I’m ready for it to serve its designed purpose. It’s not supposed to wage war, bring its own army of soldiers too numerous to count, and wreak havoc inside me.

 

And so, during the months between ultrasounds (July—December 2016), when I went off birth control and we started “trying,” I was constantly on edge. I was excited about the possibility of having a baby by that time next year (summerish 2017), but I was also terrified, which I think is pretty normal. We started to sketch out plans: Okay, suppose I get pregnant by this date, at the earliest. That would give us this many months before we really NEED to start thinking about a new living situation. We tentatively imagined how we would make an announcement. In our church parking lot, there are a couple of reserved spaces for “new and expecting parents,” and we casually joked about an announcement that included a picture of the reserved sign with accompanying text that said something like, “We are eligible to park in this space now!”

 

We told both sets of our parents that we had stopped preventing, which just added a new level of tension every time we had something to talk to them about. When we got our kitten, Zuri, we had to spit out the news immediately because we knew that if we dragged out the “we have something to tell you” part, they would all four jump to conclusions and inevitably be disappointed. Living in that constant tension was difficult for me. I don’t want to be a disappointment to either my parents or my husband’s parents. Inevitably, I feel like one anyway. Once parents get to a certain age, and once their children are married off, it seems like their only dreams are of grandchildren. And, if my parents are any indication, it only gets worse once they get their first taste of it. Grandparents always want more grandchildren. It’s difficult to be a harbinger of bad news in that respect. It is not fun to crush a loved one’s dreams in that way.

 

My doctor, for her part, talked as if she fully expected us to be nearing the end of the first trimester by the time of my next scheduled ultrasound in December 2016, and we left her office in July with instructions on what to do—call and schedule an appointment immediately—were I to find myself missing a period or showing a positive on a home pregnancy test. I knew that was unlikely. And yet, every month when I did get my period, I experienced a legitimately mixed reaction of disappointment and relief. It was exhausting having that much emotion tied to a spot of blood in my underwear.

 

The worst, most difficult emotion I worked through during those months between ultrasounds was a feeling of failure. I have never been pregnant and I’ve never been someone’s legal guardian, but nonetheless I felt like I had failed as a mother—simply because I could not guarantee that my body would be a safe place for an embryo to grow into a fetus to grow into a human being. I think it was natural for me to feel this way because, even if childbearing isn’t a woman’s only purpose in life, it is a biological purpose that is designed into a woman’s cells and DNA. And to realize that I cannot participate in that basic, natural facet of “being a woman” did make me feel like I had failed in some way. Thankfully, that place of despair isn’t where my emotions ended.

 

At the end of 2016, I had another ultrasound that showed worse results than the previous one, which I had been expecting. And I was so relieved—more than any other competing emotion—when I finally heard my doctor say, “It’s time to consider a hysterectomy.” As disappointing as it is in the minds of some people not to be able to create life on your own, disappointment was not really in the pantheon of emotions I felt that day and during the following week as David and I discussed our options and a plan for moving forward.

 

Let me tell you, since so many of you have asked so many times, what I was feeling: Relief, that my reproductive nightmare was finally going to end. Hope, that David and I could decide to expand our family when we truly wanted to and were ready, rather than being pushed into it too soon. Joy, at the idea that if we do someday decide to adopt, we will have the opportunity to offer love to a child in need. Excitement, wondering what God has planned for us and where our adventure will take us next.

 

I fully recognize that I may feel differently about all this later, after it’s all over. Hopefully how I feel post-surgery won’t change a lot from how I feel now, though. They’re leaving all my hormone producers in, so I shouldn’t experience anything too drastically different. But I’m prepared to feel a sense of loss that I can’t quite imagine at this time. I hope, in that event, that I will grieve appropriately and move on, just as we do with any other loss we experience in life.

 

Some people have said to me that, when they try to imagine putting themselves in my situation, losing the ability to choose is the worst part of it. To an extent, yes, that is difficult. I will never be able to choose to be pregnant and carry a child to term in my womb. But on the other hand, I am choosing to go forward with a hysterectomy. That is my choice. Certainly it’s a choice that is a result of other factors, but it’s still a choice, and it is one I feel good about.

 

So if you’ve asked me recently how I’m feeling, this pretty much sums it up. Please don’t feel sorry for me—because then I feel obligated to feel sad just so that your sorrow feels appropriate. But I’m not sad. And your sorrow for me, in this situation, is not appropriate. I will, however, gladly accept your prayers and well wishes for a successful surgery and a smooth recovery!

 

The journey is ever changing, and I’m just grateful to be on it.

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#married

Well, I’m married. So that’s weird. And awesome.

Our wedding was the day I hoped it would be. It was fun, and unique, and nontraditional, and different. And we got a lot of compliments from our guests about how we structured the ceremony and the things we chose to include. One person said it was “the coolest wedding she’d ever attended” (and she’s in her fifties, so I think it’s reasonable to assume she’s been to quite a few). Another person said that so many brides and grooms forget to have fun on their wedding day because there’s so much to worry about, and he said he could tell that the only thing we were doing was having fun. Two people asked for copies of the vows we said to each other. And my brother commented at one point, “The only thing traditional about your wedding is that you’re having it in a church.”

These were all very high compliments, and I am grateful people took the time to say them to us. We did have a lot of fun on our wedding day. Nothing was stressful or rushed, and nothing went wrong. (Of course, if you talk to my mom and dad, they might say something different about the stressful part, considering how much work they did.) But overall, it was a hitch-free, smooth, awesome wedding. And I’m really glad people appreciated the nontraditional parts because those were the most fun to dream up.

The two nontraditional decisions we made that we expected to get the weirdest looks for are the two that probably went over the best – the no-gifts request and our name change announcement.

You might remember the post I wrote in September discussing the reasoning behind our request for no gifts, and my fears that people would ignore our desires, and my struggle with whether it was disrespectful of me, and of us, to go against the grain. But my fears turned out to be unfounded because we got three physical presents in total (two were from my grandpa, one from my office), and everyone else gave us money (including that same grandpa who gave us two gifts). So we raised enough to take the full honeymoon we want, and go to every city and baseball stadium we hoped to, and be gone as long as we dreamed. And I’m sure I’ll blog about that (with pictures) after we get back. Stay tuned in July.

And, three other people gave us gift cards, which allowed us to buy an espresso machine (yes, I married a coffee snob) and a rolling kitchen cart I’ve been dreaming about for years that will afford both more storage and more counter space in the kitchen. And finally, one extremely generous guest is paying for one of our honeymoon nights in a hotel out in San Francisco, and it is a very nice hotel. So, despite my fears, the whole no-gift thing turned out far better than I ever expected, and we are very grateful for the generosity and indulgence of our friends and family who have showed their love for us many times over in respecting our nontraditional desires and in helping us have the best honeymoon we could conceive of.

Now, about the name. Since I shut down my Facebook account several months ago, there may be some who read this blog who aren’t aware of what we are doing with our name. Previously I was Marvin and he was Spencer. Now, as a married couple, we are Spiven, a hybrid of both names. The reasoning behind the whole thing would be another blog post entirely, so I’ll just summarize the points for you:

1) Giving up Marvin entirely was harder than I thought it would be.
2) We like to have fun, and this is fun!
3) Patriarchal tradition is boring.
4) There’s an element of creative fun involved.
5) Carving out your own path is a huge part of the joy of getting and staying married.
6) We think it’s FUN!
7) Sexism is stupid.
8) Have I mentioned how much fun we had cooking up the name?
9) Spiven is a great name.
10) F-U-N.

The best part about our name change is how well the news has been received by the people who mean the most to us. Even David’s grandfather, the patriarch of the Spencer family, told us he thought it was “great” and that he thinks every new couple has the right to do whatever they want to do to ensure their life is their own, and he told us we chose a creative, unique, and fun way to start. That was a relief because we both love Grandpa Spencer dearly, and we were afraid he might be hurt by our decision, or not understand it. But you’ve got to give an octogenarian credit where credit is due. Honestly, he may not understand the decision, but he has made it very clear that he respects our right to make it. He seems to understand that loving us and making sure we know he loves us is more important than understanding the decision. And that’s a rare and valuable quality in an elderly person. I feel very loved, and grateful to be part of and welcomed into this wonderful patriarch’s family.

Married life has not been total and complete bliss, though. We stayed in a really nice (read: expensive) hotel on the plaza for two days after the wedding, and they gave us a gift to bring home with us afterward: bed bugs! So tomorrow we’ll have our second visit from the exterminator in a week. Luckily this is a check-up visit and much more low-key than the first one, before which we had to prepare the house for treatment by removing all our outlet and light switch covers and bagging up all our clothes, bed linens, towels, and curtains for quarantine. We sealed up 56 plastic bags with our cloth and fabric belongings. The only things that didn’t get bagged up were the clothes on our backs that we wore out of the house while treatment took place. We had to be out (animals included) for two and a half hours, and then when we were allowed to come home, we had to run everything that was in the bags through the dryer for a minimum of 30 minutes. Some of that stuff had to be washed first, so we have spent the entirety of the past week running the washer and dryer perpetually. I counted a few minutes ago, and there are only 18 bags left for drying, so we are almost home free. The first couple days were the worst. We had no clothes and no curtains. We apologize to any of our neighbors who may have glimpsed us in indecent states. We even had to skip church last Sunday because we didn’t have a shower curtain. So it’s been a busy week, to say the least.

But, honestly, when I think about last Saturday, I think less about all the work we did and more about the long walk we took around the neighborhood while we waited for it to be safe to get back in our house again. The weather was nice, and we walked 10 blocks north and about 5 east. In the middle of it, we stumbled on college softball and baseball games and stopped to watch a couple innings of each. Strangely enough, it was the kind of scene I always used to imagine when I pictured married life: walking hand in hand together through our neighborhood, with no agenda, enjoying each other’s company and conversation and simply reveling in the presence of my soul mate. It was perfect. And it probably wouldn’t have happened if not for the bed bugs, so I’m not even mad at the hotel anymore.

Okay fine I’m still a little mad. We had to sign over our firstborn child to the exterminator to be able to afford the treatment. That’s not a cheap deal.

But seriously. We are happy. And when things don’t go our way, we do our best to make lemonade out of sour grapes. I think our future together is bright.

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No Gifts, Please

Something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately, in the midst of wedding planning, is how the very idea of the wedding itself (at least, in American culture) is contradictory to a lot of the values I’ve claimed I want to foster and maintain in my life. Right at the start of our planning, I knew I didn’t want an expensive wedding, but that has a lot to do with the fact that I’m 30, and covering some of the cost myself. Setting money aside for a minute, I thought I would hate every second, every detail, of wedding planning. I have always thought that. I’ve always, my entire life, dreaded the idea of planning a wedding.

And, to be perfectly honest with you, I have hated some of it. We haven’t been treated well by all the vendors we’ve contacted, and I can’t help but see dollar signs looming over every decision we are asked to make. I’ve worked hard over the last five years or so to try to embody a personal philosophy of living simply. I haven’t been as successful as some friends of mine who attempt to do the same thing, but I’ve done my best. I do own a house, which I will have owned for five years by the time our wedding rolls around. Funny thing about having more space than you need is that you tend to fill it up with things you think you need that you really don’t need. In truth, yes, my house is larger than Soren and I – by ourselves – needed. My reasons for buying it would encompass another post entirely. (Luckily, it’s going to be a perfect size for myself, a husband, and three dogs.)

But the point is, because I’m 30, and because I’ve lived in my house for five years already, I have accumulated everything I need to have a home that is decorated the way I want, enough furniture to entertain, proper kitchenware for cooking and eating, and appropriate bedding. Add to that the fact that I’m marrying a man who is in essentially the same position (minus maybe a few things here and there, given that he doesn’t own a house), and you get a weird combination in the end that adds up to a lot of duplicate stuff, a lot of stuff you don’t need, and, just in general, a lot of stuff.

To put it simply, “stuff” stresses me out. I see it as clutter. After moving in and out of a dorm room for four years, I then spent the next four years moving in and out of two apartments and two houses (the second house being the one I’m in now). I’ve moved a fair amount. It’s stressful and tedious, and it’s a good way to get rid of things you realize you don’t need. It’s also been the main conduit for my finding out that I don’t like “stuff.”

So, keeping all these factors in mind, I was ecstatic when I spoke to David about gifts and a registry and found that he thought along the same lines I do, which is: We don’t want gifts. We just don’t need anything, and the idea of asking for things we don’t need makes me feel a little sick to my stomach, not to mention greedy. I had a friend get married a few years ago, and she had all her own stuff already as well but still did a full registry, even asking for things she already had. When I asked why she was replacing items she already had that were still in excellent condition, she said, “Because. It’s fun to get new stuff. You’ll understand when it’s your turn.”

As condescending as that felt, I conceded that, yes, maybe I would understand when it was my turn. It’s been almost four years since that happened, though, and I still don’t understand. And I don’t have to understand. She can do what she wants. But I don’t have to do what she wants. The beauty of planning our own wedding, everyone has told us, is that we get to do what we want. And what we want happens to be very different from what other people want (which is, again, fine).

One of the things we do want, however, is help paying for our honeymoon. We have this epic, two-week, baseball-centered, west-coast trip planned, but baseball games and the west coast ain’t cheap. So, since we don’t need anything for our home, we decided to set up a honeymoon fund, where people can either give us general gifts, or contribute in specific ways to different portions of our trip (we’re also planning to go to Six Flags Magic Mountain!).

The thing about this is, some people think that it’s tacky for us to ask for money/vacation help, or they just think it’s tacky to give money in general, or something. I’m not sure, but there has been some resistance to our simple request for no gifts. I’ve been advised that plenty of people will ignore the request entirely, so we might as well create a registry because, if we’re going to get something, might as well get something we want. So I followed this advice, and we created a registry, and guess how many items it has on it? Nine. And they’re not really low-cost items either. They are all items we would have plans to purchase within the first two years of our marriage, probably, but we certainly can’t afford them now, or soon, given wedding costs.

Other voices have told me, “Screw what other people say. It’s your wedding. If you don’t want gifts, don’t be afraid to say that. If people ignore you, they’re being rude.”

And that is where I struggle. The idea that it’s rude for someone to go expressly against our wishes and give us a wedding gift has reigned supreme in my mind over the last several weeks. I understand the arguments of sentimentality, of contributing something that will last, of wanting a gift to mean something. I would argue that contributing to our honeymoon is sentimental to both David and myself, that our memories of it will last our entire lives (whereas a coffee pot will eventually break, or a quesadilla maker may never even get used), and that the knowledge that our friends and family want to help us have the best honeymoon we can dream up means a very great deal to us, even if they do not realize it or think so.

So it’s easy for me to get defensive about the gifts thing. I truly don’t want them. It’s not a pretense of humility. I cringe every time I imagine having to find space for something kitchen gadget-y, or having to write an insincere thank-you note for something I plan to give to Goodwill within a month. And I tell myself it’s okay to stand my ground on this because, as others have told me so many times, “It’s our wedding, not their wedding, and we can do what we want.”

But there’s a nudge. There’s a tickle. In the back of my mind, in the damp, dimly lit, cobwebby space where my conscience (or the Holy Spirit, based on your belief system) resides, there is a check that says, Is it?

Is it okay for me to be indignant about someone wanting to follow tradition, despite what I’ve specifically requested? Or is it my responsibility to accept whatever is given, which is given in love, graciously and thankfully, despite what I’ve specifically requested?

Though it’s okay for me to buck tradition, and I feel comfortable doing so, is it okay for me to expect others, who may be uncomfortable doing so, to follow suit, just because I’ve asked them to? Or should I allow our friends, family, and wedding guests to show their support for our union in whatever way they feel most comfortable, even if it goes against our express wishes?

Maybe I’m making too much of this. Maybe we’ll get more contributions to our honeymoon fund than I’m anticipating, and maybe we’ll only get one gravy boat in the mail from one great-great-great aunt neither of us has ever met (in which case we’ll just attend an ugly sweater white elephant Christmas party next year to take care of it!). Or, maybe we’ll get something we never thought of but that we desperately appreciate. I don’t know. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t know how the “no gifts” request is going to go over once the invitations get sent out (they’ve gone to the printer, though, so there’s no turning back now!).

What I do know is that David and I will smile on our wedding day, and we will be grateful for the many and varied ways that people have chosen to show their support and love for us.

(But I’m not going to feel guilty for re-gifting that gravy boat! I don’t even know how to make gravy! Doesn’t it have to do with the gross parts of a bird? No thank you.)

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