In her deeply insightful blog Sarah Miller shares her life-disrupting journey with surgical menopause and beyond. The attentiveness, sensitivity and care Sarah brought to her experience is instructive and soothing in equal parts – providing a story of community, of rich spiritual composting and the exquisite/excruciating poetry of the power of embracing what is.
I have experienced many blessings through surgical menopause. It’s not what I would have asked for or intended, but I’m really grateful for what I have been gifted through this process, and I hope that you too can see the blessings of this initiation, if that’s the path you are walking, or if you are supporting another woman on this journey.
It may sound strange to see blessings in surgical menopause but for many women, there is often relief at having the condition or experience that led to the surgery, removed. I had cervical cancer and although I tried many natural therapies for 18 months to avoid such cancer, once it was diagnosed, I chose quite quickly to have surgery. And almost two years later there is no sign of any cancer in my body, nor the Human Papilloma Virus, which caused it, and for this I am very grateful.
One of the biggest opportunities of surgical menopause for me, was the time I had to contemplate menopause, and my life in general. After the surgery I was required to rest for a considerable amount of time, to heal. It took my body a long time to recover, and I am actually still recovering, though this isn’t visible to others. This meant I wasn’t working, and I was not responsible for family. I was primarily responsible for looking after myself and healing. I was on serious pain killers for at least six weeks and most of my focus was initially on healing my sizeable wound. I’d had abdominal surgery which included the removal of my womb, tissue around my womb, my ovaries and lymph nodes. So it was a challenge, and yet I had all this time.
Time provided me with the understanding that during menopause we really want to gift ourselves with time. Time to reflect on our life thus far, what have been the patterns and stories we are living by? And what are the areas of unresolved grief? And through reflection, we can come to imagine possibilities and futures. How do we want to live the rest of our life? Are we heading in the direction we want to? For me having such a radical intervention, not to mention having cancer, gives me great pause. It gave me time to be with these questions. I spent many hours in my garden, resting, dozing, being with myself, allowing myself the time I needed to reflect and heal. And my healing is ongoing. Allowing myself time to experience the full depth of this experience was and is so vital. I now recommend to those experiencing menopause to find as much time as you can to be with yourself.
Celebration was another vital blessing of my surgical menopause journey. In preparation for losing my womb I initiated and received womb ceremonies. These were profound opportunities to be with the experience of womb loss, to surrender to the process I was undergoing, and to make sacred this sacrifice of my womb. The loss of my womb, what my womb meant to me, how sad I was to surrender it, were all foci of these ceremonies. I had the opportunity to share my experience with my friends, to grieve together, and it gave them an opportunity to reflect on their own relationship with their wombs, which were for a couple of women, very challenging relationships.
And so there were lots of tears. We could all grieve the way in which our wombs are not fully appreciated and celebrated in this culture. We could grieve the traumas that have been endured by these wombs, the babies not born, or still-born. We came together in this. If menopause is in your future I encourage you to hold a ceremony at the beginning of this journey, to reflect on this process in your life, and to be held by other women in this. I also had a small and special ritual with my partner, where we honoured and blessed my womb, for her holding and growing of our beautiful children, for holding our lovemaking, for creativity, and just for being a part of me. These ceremonies have given me great strength through this whole journey. Through them I was spiritually and emotionally prepared for what was to come.
One of the big differences of surgical versus organic menopause is the suddenness of the onset of menopause. Within 24 hours of surgery oestrogen levels plummet. There is no slow ratcheting down, as once the ovaries are gone, our body’s capacity to produce oestrogen is radically reduced. Although the adrenals and fat tissue will continue to produce small amounts of oestrogen these levels are fairly minimal. The levels of testosterone and progesterone also plummet. So the symptoms associated with menopause may come on more quickly and with a higher intensity than with a natural menopause – and I was told that my symptoms could be severe. But I have found that by framing my menopause as a sacred rite of passage, as an opportunity for huge growth, has meant that whatever I am experiencing, is okay.
You may no longer have the “high” of ovulation, you may not have the same hormones stimulating you that way, but there is a steadier energy on the other side of the peri/menopause dance. And what a dance it is! I am still dancing though this initiation and despite the challenges (hot flushes, mood swings, vaginal dryness to name a few) I am relishing this opportunity to step more fully into myself.
I see the post menopausal out there and I celebrate their wisdom. I honour their commitment to themselves and to the world. They know themselves, they meet themselves and others from this deep wellspring of knowing. There is no one else to do this journey work for me, there is no other me, and there is no other you. So celebrate your unique Menopause journey. Celebrate this dance with descent, welcoming the wisdom that comes.
Sarah Miller is a Teacher of the Four Seasons Journey and MoonSong (Menstrual Wellness) Workshop for the School of Shamanic Womancraft. She is also the founder of Embodiments Dance, Drum, Circle and an emerging playwright. Through her work she aims to enable women's deep connection to self and to honour the wisdom and power of the moving body, and the earth.