We all go through times in our lives when the burden of multiple responsibilities weighs heavily. The past two years have increasingly been like this, juggling family life, my business, and supporting my husband through seminary, while I too complete a certificate program. Not surprisingly, my energy and fruitfulness have been steadily sapped by the relentless pace, particularly in the past 9 months. In March, during the week of my Spiritual Direction spring residency, we reflected daily on John 15, the “True Vine” Scripture passage:
“I am the true vine, and my Father is the vinegrower. 2 He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit. 3 You have already been cleansed by the word that I have spoken to you. 4 Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me.
During centering prayer, I wondered what branch in me stopped producing fruit and needed to be pruned. I knew I needed something to change. Some answers. I prayed for God to show me – and to be merciful.
Soon after, I learned that I needed a total hysterectomy due to uterine prolapse. This was my branch that had stopped producing fruit. To say that it was unexpected is an understatement. The diagnosis came even as a surprise to my doctor, who assumed at first it was something else based on my symptoms alone. I cried for days. Sometimes I still cry. I hoped to never have another pelvic surgery again after having life-threatening complications during the c-section I had when my daughter was born. Let’s not prune too much, please! I am trying to lean into the promise that this pruning will eventually produce a flowering more abundant than I can imagine.
As someone who loves to garden, I know pruning is necessary – spent blossoms and yellowed leaves direct energy away from the plant’s ability to grow and thrive. And this is what is happening to me, both in my life and inside my body. Ultimately, this was a call to radical self-care on multiple levels that I had neglected. It is the reminder to prune away the things in my life – obligations, responsibilities, expectations, relationships – that are withering my ability to flower. This has been a hard message to hear and live out, but I also know it is one I will carry forth later into my healing ministry that will eventually be of help to others.
Many of the women I’ve spoken to about their hysterectomies have been very matter-of-fact about how glad they were once it was done, and the freedom or peace it offered them. For some, the procedure was done because of cervical dysplasia, uterine cancer, years of unremitting pain and bleeding, or other complications. I can appreciate and understand the relief these women felt afterwards. Suffering like that is no way to live. Often it’s in silence because culturally we balk at discussing women’s health issues, especially “down there.”
My feelings are more complicated. I had a long labor that ended in a c-section and multiple complications, including a massive post-partum hemorrhage that led to a long, difficult recovery. It was a frightening, devastating introduction to motherhood. The obstetrician who did my surgery decided to retain my uterus, rather than remove it as conventional obstetrical medicine would normally dictate under those circumstances. Perhaps she did it in case I wanted another child. However, my uterus was badly scarred, and every OB-GYN I saw after that told me having another child was far too risky. On one hand, I was grateful for still having my uterus – I felt a very strong connection to it as the place where my child grew and lived inside me for 9 months. On the other hand, it was now fallow.
There’s a line in John 15 that often gives people pause: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers; such branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” This is more of Jesus’s tough love, the kind of steely-eyed tone a mother offers to a child when she warns about looking both ways before crossing the street or stranger danger. And yet, one of my instructors reminded us that when branches are burned, they form ash which contains trace elements that help nourish the soil. Nothing that God creates is ever wasted; it is just put to new use for the purposes of furthering creation. Abiding in God’s love and presence makes the process of being pruned easier to bear. But even if we rely too heavily on our own agency to get us through challenging times, all that is burned away is still made anew. You may wonder where I’m going with this analogy. I’m not entirely sure, but I think it’s simply to remind myself that all is not lost. In the words of Julian of Norwich, “…all shall be well and all manner of thing shall be well.”
As a holistic healer, I view the body as an integrated whole. Removing an organ from the body is no small thing, physically or energetically. I take any kind of surgery very seriously, because I know it will have implications for how the rest of the body compensates for the loss. When a person recovers from surgery, they are recovering not only from the incisions or corrective work. They are also recovering from the trauma to the body and the disruption of energetic connections on several levels. The connections are still there, even when a part of the body is removed – just ask anyone who has lost a limb. I experienced such tremendous trauma in the aftermath of my daughter’s birth that keeping my uterus helped me recover and re-establish energetic connections I needed at the time for my own emotional and spiritual healing.
The Japanese technique known as kintsugi is the art of repairing broken pottery with lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. Rather than tossing the broken pottery away, kintsugi views the breakage and repair as part of the history of an object. (Wikipedia) During pelvic ultrasounds, I could easily identify the calcified scarring on my uterus from the c-section incision and where the placenta had been cut away. Those scars are my kintsugi.
I’m only a few years away from menopause. I figured my uterus and I would move into that season of life together, like old friends who argue and fuss but somehow still hang out year after year because they can’t imagine what life would be without the other’s presence. Somewhere in storage, I still have the letter my mother wrote me to 33 years ago to mark the occasion of when I “became a woman” and had my first menstrual period. It has been hard to accept the loss of my uterus.
Recently, my friend Sara, a chaplain, remarked: “Your uterus really has been through some challenges and it sounds like she’s telling you she needs to rest from her labors.” Hearing that finally gave me some peace about my surgery. This has become the letter I’m writing to mark the occasion of my final days with my uterus. To her I say: thank you for helping me become the woman in fullness of body and spirit that I am today. Thank you for your fertile ground of being. Thank you for cradling my child in safety as she grew. Thank you for the scars you bore for both of our sakes. Go and rest with love and blessings for work well done, my friend.
(Image credit: “Expansion” by Paige Bradley http://paigebradley.com/sculpture/goddess/expansion/)