World-renowned Sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar recently underwent a hysterectomy. It is a surgery in which a woman’s uterus is removed.
As many as 13 tumours were removed from her abdomen. While this surgery was absolutely necessary, removal of her uterus, a symbol of ‘womanliness’ spiralled her into a period of depression.
In a post on Twitter, Shankar wrote about her health, insecurity, and coming to terms with the surgery.
Hysterectomy is one of the most common non-pregnancy-related surgery performed in the world.
As of last month, I no longer have a uterus. I had a double surgery: a gynaecological-oncologist performed a hysterectomy due to my large fibroids, which made my uterus as big as if it were six-month pregnant, and an incredible surgeon removed multiple further tumours from my abdomen (which I blessedly then heard were all benign). One tumour had grown through my muscles and was visible protruding from my stomach. There were 13 tumours in all.
When I found out a few months ago that I needed to have my uterus taken out, I went into a short-term depression. The news triggered fears about my womanliness, my possible desire to have more children in the future, the fear of dying in surgery and leaving my kids without a mother, the effect the changes may have on my sex life, and more. I spoke to friends and family about my news and was shocked to discover how many women had had hysterectomies although I’d never known they had.
I wondered why the surgery wasn’t talked about more if it was so common. When I asked, one woman said in response, Well, we aren’t exactly going to flash our lady-bits everywhere, are we?”
I look back and grieve for my younger self and all the girls I knew, for how much we were expected to cope in silence. I’ve always thought of myself as someone who comfortable shares most thoughts and experiences. Yet I look back and realise I allowed my internalised embarrassment and shame around sexual health and my period, in particular, to remain unchallenged all these years. So…
Here’s my gynaecological CV:
I got my period young, at eleven. I effectively bled for half my teenaged life: ten days at a time every 20-25 days. Doctors’ only suggestion was to put me on the Pill, which exacerbated my agonising migraines. I had horrendous cramps that would have me rolling on the floor in pain.
When I was 26, I discovered a fibroid the size of a large cantaloupe melon growing in my uterus. I had a myomectomy which thanks to my incredible doctors, removed the fibroid whilst preserving my uterus, thus enabling me to give birth to my two beautiful boys in subsequent years.
My first Caesarean was an emergency procedure, as there was fear of uterine rupture. Immediately afterwards I caught an agonising infection at the incision site and also became dangerously anaemic. Every day I went to the hospital to have my incision poked open with a small wooden stick so the nurse could drain the infection out. I was so weak, my family used to physically place tiny Zubin on my body so I could breastfeed him. I was depressed for months afterwards, trying to tour and release an album, whilst endlessly breastfeeding a hungry child on, at most, three hours sleep a night.
When I was pregnant with Mohan, I was so sick I thought I was being eaten alive from the inside, and my migraines increase in pain and frequency, (it has been common since then for me to have migraines three to four times a month).
(All I ever posted about the births of my boys at the time were happy photos. How do you share these tumultuous experiences whilst in the eye of the storm, when the world says you’re meant to show everyone how easy it is and how brilliantly you’re doing?)
After a recent period of prolonged and intense stress, constant bleeding, backache and migraines, I learned I had multiple large fibroids again. This time we opted for hysterectomy.
I’m now home and healing well. I am blessed to have fantastic support; I am not asking for advice or pity. I know my stories are hardly unique and women suffer far worse every day, However, it just doesn’t sit right with me to have been vague with you some months ago about my need for ‘a surgery’. It has been drilled into me since I was young that as far as reproductive health is concerned, we woman are just supposed to hide our symptoms and cope. I don’t want to do that anymore. I have had a hysterectomy, and removal of additional abdominal tumours.
And that is nothing to be discreet about.
LADY BITS, by Anoushka Shankar
(Swipe to read about why I no longer have a uterus, and why I decided to tell you) pic.twitter.com/60laJGTWTg
— Anoushka Shankar (@ShankarAnoushka) August 30, 2019
If you too have an inspiring story to tell the world, send us your story