What Makes A Woman?
How my health crisis is opening awareness to my identity.
Last Friday, on March 4th, everything was more or less normal in my life. I was dealing with an irritating fibroid in my uterus, but overall, I was okay. My birthday was coming up, and that was my annual reminder to also get my mammogram done.
Instead of good news regarding the fibroid — preferably that it was shrinking or at least, not growing — I got bad news.
I would need a hysterectomy. I was stunned. I hoped against hope and it was devastating. The other treatments for the fibroid wouldn’t work. A myomectomy would’ve resulted in a similar manner as a hysterectomy, because the fibroid was large and the placement would’ve required removing the entire uterus. An embolization was rarely successful and would result in months of pain, something I would prefer to avoid.
I wanted more children, even if the prospect was slim to none. With my age, there were risks. My previous pregnancies were high risk. Financially, I was not stable nor ready. Even so, I had the option. Now… now my choice was being taken away from me.
A hysterectomy meant no more children. I couldn’t afford to freeze my eggs and use a surrogate in the future. I’m not sure how I’d feel about using a donor egg. Adoption? That would cost just as much!
I wanted the child to be mine. I wanted to feel the fetus grow inside me, to suffer and endure all the physical changes that would accompany the pregnancy. I wanted to nurse the baby at my breast….
Then Sunday, I got more devastating news. They found a mass in my left breast. It was a small one, no bigger than 6 millimeters, less than a quarter of an inch. I couldn’t feel it, and believe me, I tried! But they found it.
While my doctor was confident it was nothing to worry about, that it was likely a cyst or a fibroid (more of those, ugh!), we were going to follow-up with a diagnostic mammogram. The earliest I could get in was in June. Three months of anxiety and worry until then.
However, my current crisis led me to the topic so many seem to want to avoid.
What makes a woman?
Am I still a woman if I have no breasts? What if I had to have a double mastectomy? Am I still a woman once my uterus is removed? What parts verify my existence?
In so many ways, that crosses — or intersects — with the growing existence (as it were) of transgender identities. It’s a discussion I’ve had many a time with transphobes on Facebook or Twitter. Too often, their argument was that a person who was born with a uterus was a woman, period. My argument was that a person’s parts did not confirm their gender, but rather, their identity did.
A trans man was no less a man because he was born with a uterus. A trans woman was no less a woman because she was born with a penis.
I’ve held firmly to that for a long time, and still do.
We are more than the sum of our parts. We are more than what our bodies can do. Our identities are not rooted in our breasts, uterus, or penis.
A cis woman is no less a woman because she has a non-functioning uterus, or because she was infertile. Just as a cis man is no less a man because he was sterile.
Indeed, a family is still a family, even if the children were adopted or permanent fosters. Blood ties are but one way a family exists.
Am I still a woman?
I turned that question over in my head as I, for the fifth time, tried in vain to find that mass in my breast. I can’t find it, not among all the other tidbits inside me. The milk ducts, fibrous tissue, and so much else, all that make up a breast, interfere with my ability to suss out the small lump.
If a mastectomy was needed, I likely wouldn’t be able to afford breast reconstruction. I’m not certain my insurance would cover it. A single mastectomy or two, we won’t know until it happens.
My child-bearing days would be over once my uterus was removed. I only wish it had been my choice, as opposed to being forced upon me by this fibroid that seemed determined to wreak havoc inside me.
My identity though? It’s not wrapped up and dependent on my breasts or uterus. I know I’m a woman, with or without these parts. I’ll likely still grieve their losses, and that’s human. It’s okay to grieve.
No one can say I’m less a woman because they’re gone. I won’t let them.
I’m a woman because I say I’m a woman.
And that’s all that matters.