My ovary flipped. Twisted up in the fallopian tube, cutting off blood supply. In the hospital I lay curled into the fetal position, crying and groaning involuntarily. Nurses doped me up on a cocktail of morphine, fentanyl, and ketamine that caused me to hallucinate wildly and my blood pressure and oxygen levels to dip dangerously low, but still could not control the pain. Delirious, I was an animal, writhing.
Seven hours they let me lay like that. The surgeon shrugged off my condition (“this isn’t technically an emergency”) and smirked at my question about whether the ovary could be saved (“Why do you need it? You have another one”).
When I finally woke up on the other side of surgery, the same surgeon proudly showed me a photo on his cell phone- a snapshot of my dead, blackened ovary. “See?” He gloated. “It was dead. I couldn’t have saved it.”
Fast forward to a week after my oophorectomy: I sat in an exam room with an older female physician and a young female intern, answering questions about how my body was faring post surgery. The doctor mentioned that on ultrasound they’d detected a uterine fibroid. “Is that serious?” I asked.
“No,” she said, “it’s very common. As we age, eventually 95% of people… will have uterine fibroids.” I looked at her, confused. “People with uteruses,” she added, awkwardly.
This was when it dawned on me that she was avoiding the word “woman.” I knew I had used it, and I made a point to use it a couple more times, just for good measure, but still this doctor could not bring herself to utter the term. “People with ovaries,” she said, performing linguistic gymnastics, “people who go through menopause… people with… people who…”
Since early adolescence, almost every stage my life has been shaped and impacted by my reproductive system. From menstrual migraines and teenage insecurity about my too-flat chest, to the birth of my first baby when I was 19, to the ectopic pregnancy that ruptured and almost killed me when I was 33, to miscarriages, postpartum hemorrhages, years of breastfeeding, and the four beautiful humans who call me their mother. For me, in this life of mine, this is what it has meant to be a woman.
I’ve had more than my share of reproductive health care, and if you have a couple of hours and a nice pot of tea, I can share some stories that will make your blood boil. For the sake of brevity I’ll spare you the details now, but as a woman, I’m fed up with uncaring treatment from medical providers. And I’m not alone. Ask any handful of women who’ve given birth in a hospital for their stories and see how many of them felt helpless, angry, and afraid while medical staff treated their requests like a nuisance and ignored their needs.
Though inexcusable, the surgeon’s callousness in treating my ovarian torsion was another one of these familiar stories. I filed a complaint with the hospital. I told my friends. I told my dad. It took some time to get over the memory of fear and pain and powerlessness.
But a doctor who wouldn’t even say woman; that was a new one for me. A senior doctor teaching a younger doctor to eliminate the very word for the sake of “inclusivity.” (I’m going to employ an annoying number of quotations in this next sentence, because this language isn’t mine and I don’t like using it.) In her attempt to be “inclusive” to the “identity” of some hypothetical person or persons not in the room with us, this doctor was refusing to “affirm” my “identity.” The irony of this was not lost on me. Nor was the irony of the 12 foot high letters looking down from the outside of the building as we drove away, declaring the clinic’s name boldly: “UW WOMEN’S HEALTH CENTER.” Hm. Dissonance, anyone?
I am a woman. I am not a “person with a uterus” or an “Assigned Female at Birth Person with a Vulva” or any other such vulgar, objectifying, pornographic, and dehumanizing label intended to protect the feelings of women and men who have been conned into believing they can alchemize themselves into the opposite sex using a magic spell of will-power, social collusion, and medical intervention. You can play your word games, but do not force them on me. We women have put up with a lot of abuse from the medical industry, and now it seems they seek to reduce us merely to body parts. It is time for us to take back control of our care and demand the basic respect we are due. Hear this well, medical profession: we may be feminine, we may be butch, we may be young, or old, we may have both of our ovaries or none anymore, we may be childless or mothers of many. But we are what we are: we are women.
This is an amazing article!! Not just for the excellent content, but your style, your voice, very powerful!!
Oh, this is so very beautiful! What an excellent article. Thank you for writing this!