The fibroid in my uterus is so large, the doctor says, it feels like I’m pregnant. I tell him I’ll be seriously pissed off if I am and the only way it could have happened is through some sort of alien abduction where they sedated and impregnated me. If something green and vaguely humanoid (or not) bursts out of me like it did to Sigourney Weaver in Alien, spawning a frenzy of feminist critiquing, I’ll go with the abduction theory. Another possibility that the doctor doesn’t suggest but that I’ve heard of, is that there are bits of a twin I sort of ate in the womb. A friend of mine had the cells that make up teeth and hair attached to one of her ovaries. Barring either possibilities, fibroids it is. The doctor says I’ll need a scan to find out how far the fibroids have spread so we can decide on the best way to treat them. He says there are treatments to shrink and remove them without affecting my fertility or damaging my uterus, but a hysterectomy is the most common procedure. Taking out my womb. Right. I tell my mum about it who, unhelpfully, says that “the alternative lot” would say that, because I spent time thinking about having my tubes tied a few months ago, my body has responded by making the decision for me by filling my uterus with benign growths. What a load of fucking shite, is all I can think to say and I take out my irritation at the idea that people get the conditions they deserve on the clips I hammer into the wall to hold my telephone extension cable in place.
Georgia, Minnie and Olivia come to see what I’m up to and give the cable a nibble in case it’s one of the delicacies they’re convinced they’re going to find on the floor one day. Olivia’s booked in to get spayed the week after next and, as she boings about, over-enthusiastically nibbling bits of me, I wonder if she’ll know something’s changed. Will she feel suddenly incomplete – somehow less of a doe because she has a gap where her womb used to be? Does the inability to have baby rats make her less female or won’t she care because it’s just a process and, though an instinct to care for her young would kick in when they were born, there’s no emotion attached to any of it – it doesn’t come with the baggage humans attribute to it?
Being female is something I know quite a lot about. I am one, for a start. I’ve spent a great deal of time talking, thinking and writing about being a woman – who we are, why we behave the way we do, what we want, what we don’t want, what we’re told we should want no matter how damaging it may be, how we are versus how we’re supposed to be. I’ve been calling myself a feminist since my teens. I sign petitions against the stoning of rape victims accused of adultery. I lobby MPs for women’s right to have equal representation in the workplace and education; access to free, clean and legal family planning, abortion and aftercare; to be free to dress and behave however they want without fear of assault and, should they be attacked, to be able to report it and seek prosecution without being subjected to attempts to discredit them at every turn and to the sort of interrogation usually reserved for criminals. I campaign against the sexualisation of girls from an increasingly early age which has led to the loss of childhood to porn; the sexism and mysogyny gone viral in our media; and the societal attitudes that allow pictures of women breastfeeding to be banned but groups who make jokes about rape defended as examples of free speech. I’ve read the books and written one of my own, looking at the ways indecent exposure affects and reflects our views of male and female sexuality. I’ve got a “This Is What A Feminist Looks Like” t-shirt, dammit.
I know all this stuff – I’ve got a head full of it. What I didn’t know was what my uterus had to do with any of it. I campaign for women’s right to choose what they do with theirs, but until I found a fuck-off fibroid in it, I’d never really thought about my own. I’ve known I don’t want kids for the past few years – I don’t like most of them and the unrelenting labour of caring for them makes me want to have a nap just thinking about it. I used to think, if I got pregnant, I’d have an abortion, but then my nephew was born and the smile he gave his mum when she said “and it was you in my tummy!” made me realise I couldn’t go through with it. Thinking that, if I wouldn’t get an abortion, it was better not to get pregnant in the first place, I went to the doctor to ask about getting my tubes tied. I smiled while he drew a diagram of my reproductory system and explained which bit was which and where the clips would go. He told me it was irreversible (it isn’t, though reversal success rates aren’t brilliant) and there was a great difference between not wanting to have kids and not being able to. Therefore, I needed to consider it carefully.
Now, unless a less invasive procedure works, I’ll be having my womb taken out. No fibroids, no periods, no babies. It’ll be super! I think, but I’m not always sure. I know we’re not just our reproductive systems. I know it’s just anatomy. I know my womb isn’t some dumping ground where fibroma flourish to punish me for all my no-children-thank-you thoughts. I know a womb maketh not a woman. I know there’s a helluva lot more goes into being a woman than the ability to reproduce, but there’s this thing like a tiny stick figure in my head that says, minus a uterus, I’ll somehow be less of a woman. It’s a pointless and nonsensical thought, but it’s there. Like there’s no pleasing me – I might not want to have kids but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to be able to have them even though I don’t want them. I want to tell the stick figure to shut up. It’s my womb and I’ll have it taken out if I want to! My friends make me laugh, telling me it won’t make the slightest difference, I’ll always be “all woman”, and asking if I’ll still be able to orgasm – “First things first honey!” Yes, lots of orgasms and no babies or periods, I say. Of course, this might all be academic. I’ve read about the other treatments so often I’ve started dreaming of a powerpoint presentation on them given by my doctor (in stilettos for some reason) so it’s not like I don’t know there are other ways to go. Maybe the £21.99 investment in a mooncup won’t be a waste of money (it’s not like I can give it to the charity shop), maybe I’ll still get periods, maybe that stick figure will go away till it finds something else to make me wonder about, maybe I’ll have all those orgasms and no kids or periods. So many maybes. There’s one thing of which I’m certain, though – if there are any aliens, teeth or hair in there, I don’t want to know.