What I Didn’t Know Before I Had My Ovaries Removed
It has been 7 years since I had my ovaries removed, and despite it all, it was well worth it. I thought I was going into it fully understanding the changes that would happen. I had no idea just how much would change internally and externally. Let’s rewind, shall we? In March 2015, at 36 years old, I had both ovaries removed laparoscopically, or what most folks call with “laser surgery.” The medical term for this procedure is bilateral oophorectomy. They told me I would likely go home that day… nope. As strong as my mind and spirit are, my body did not like surgery. I woke up vomiting, something I would learn was a reaction to anesthesia. I had difficulty staying awake and aware, so it required an overnight stay. At the time, I was engaged, so when I went home the following day, I had someone to ensure I took my meds between long bouts of sleep. After a few days, I felt better.
Then about two weeks later, the night sweats and hot flashes began. I remember finding it hilarious when my aunts suddenly began taking off their layers and opening their windows in the dead of winter. Now, my entire body felt like a thermometer, with the mercury quickly rising from my waist to my chest, neck, and forehead. I felt like I would explode. Then in a “flash” it was gone. The remaining sweat beads were the only evidence that I was just boiling a few moments ago. The doctors told me avoiding coffee, and red wine would decrease my hot flashes. How was I supposed to work on a dissertation with a three-year-old and a full-time job without coffee in the morning and Cabernet at night? Not to mention, three weeks after surgery, I would be hosting an empowerment luncheon. No way. I would have to wear those same layers I clowned my aunties about for years.
Having my ovaries removed meant instead of the gradual menopause most women experienced, I would plummet into it. The medical term is surgical menopause. I thought it just meant host flushes and mood swings. I had no clue the mood swings would make me damn near homicidal; I would feel fits of rage and cry over anything. I was never one to put my emotions on display, other than excitement, but that shifted dramatically. A few months after surgery, my cousin asked me to be her maid of honor with a gift box and card. I burst into tears and cried uncontrollably, to the shock of everyone in my family. To this day, I cannot stop crying when I am moved.
My libido also did a disappearing act. I didn’t notice because I attributed it to everyday stress and the emotional disconnect I felt towards my partner before surgery. One day I thought he had given me an STD because I had some itching below. Nope, all clear; turns out it was from the vaginal dryness, another effect of menopause. Even after our relationship was over, my appetite for intimacy was diminished.
My OBGYN provided me with a vaginal lubricant to address the dryness, but that wasn’t the only place I was dry. No matter how much shea butter, baby oil, or petroleum jelly I used, my skin was dry, as was my scalp. My nails became brittle, and my body spread like jam on warm toast. The same exercises and diets would not work anymore. I was miserable and didn’t even know it. I thought that this was just life.
A nurse midwife with the same name as my mother told me after two years of misery, I didn’t have to suffer. It was safe for me to go on hormone replacement therapy. Within a week, I felt like a new woman. Night sweats no longer kept me awake; I slept like a baby. I was more tolerant of living in a house full of males and the teenage students I taught daily. My skin and my lady parts gained their suppleness. And my sex drive returned; unfortunately, by then, I was single. That 2017.
For the last five years, I’ve been on a low-dose HRT therapy, required to take a pill every day, much like a birth control pill. Just like with birth control pills, I forget every now and then. I know that I might be headed for death row by day three of missing those pills. Depending on the time of year, I pay anything from $40- $150 for one to three refills. Again, well worth it.
Although the therapy has countered most of my menopause symptoms, over the years, I have become more susceptible to pulls, tears, and injuries when working out, which can be attributed to changes in my bone composition. Still, I follow recommendations to do more weight-bearing exercises because decreased bone density is a part of aging that is unavoidable.
Going into this process, I felt well-informed about what I was doing and was undoubtedly clear about why. I was prepared for the recovery process and ready to give up my ability to bear more children. I wasn’t prepared for all the rapid physical changes surgical menopause would bring, nor ready for the gradual physical and emotional changes. I could say that, in hindsight, I wish I had asked more questions or that the doctors were more transparent, less minimizing about the side effects. However, deep down inside, I feel that nothing would have prepared me for menopause, and nothing would have changed my mind. In 2021, I lost a paternal aunt to ovarian cancer. That made three women in family. The fact that I am still here with my sons and now a grandson was reason enough.
To learn more about the back story behind my decision, check out my article originally published in 2015 on For Harriet.