March is Women’s History Month. So this is a little piece of the history of a woman.
When she was 32 years old, my grandmother got a hysterectomy without her knowledge or consent.
She had already had three children–my dad and his two siblings. She had been experiencing some issues like pain and leakage, so she went into surgery to fix things up. She was told beforehand she should only have to stay in the hospital to recover for four days. She ended up staying for ten.
In the following months, she realized she wasn’t getting her period, and went to her doctor to check it out. He checked her paperwork, and told her that she had undergone a full hysterectomy. My grandmother was confused as to what that meant–she was an immigrant from Italy, and didn’t speak much English–and when it was explained to her, she was shocked.
During the surgery, they had realized there was too much damage, and so elected to remove the entire uterus. At no point beforehand was my grandmother informed that this was a possibility. At no point during the ten days she was in the hospital recovering was she informed that this had happened. At no point in the time since had she been informed that this had happened. The doctors had decided that since she already had three children, they could not only make the decision for her to perform a full hysterectomy, but not even tell her that it had happened.
For a few months afterwards, my grandmother experienced a depression. While no longer in physical pain, this major surgery had been done without her consent, and that was hard to process. When she told her doctor, he told her to go meet her friends and take a walk and get a coffee. She’d be fine.
When my grandmother and my grandfather went to a lawyer to see if they could press charges, he told them they didn’t have enough money to do so. They were recent immigrants, who didn’t speak much English and had working class jobs. They didn’t have the money, so nothing could be done.
My grandmother is still alive and kicking. She’s relatively healthy for her age. She has her three grown children and four grandchildren. She remained married to my grandfather until his death in 2019. But that doesn’t erase the fact that what was done to her should never had happened.
I’m 29 years old, and I turn 30 in September. I have not given birth to any children, and I do not plan to (I would prefer to adopt or take in children in the future). But if this happened to me without my knowledge or consent, I would still be horrified. And on the flipside, I know that there are people with uteruses who ask their doctor for years to get a hysterectomy, due to either health problems or pain or due to transition, but get denied because they’re young, because they might want kids later, because they might change their mind.
What happened to my grandmother happened in 1971, and it’s easy to say that this was a product of its time, and would never happen now. Or that at least if it happens now, its rare, and would blow up social media if shared. But if it happened to my grandmother, how many women could this have happened to? How many Canadians, how many immigrants, how many women all over the world could tell a similar story, right down to the fact that they could do nothing about it in the end?
March is Women’s History Month. And this is a little piece of the history of a woman.