"No, way," my doctor responded firmly. "I can't perform a hysterectomy on you."
I was taken aback by his blunt reply. I had been suffering from monthly pains since the age of eleven years old. When I turned seventeen, my doctor performed a diagnostic laparoscopy that revealed that the source of my pain was endometriosis. Endometriosis is a condition in which parts of the uterus's lining stick inside the cervix, which causes pain during menstruation. Before the diagnosis, my doctor had been trying unsuccessfully to treat my pain with pills and shots. Unfortunately, the treatment for endometriosis typically involved the same things, so the diagnosis did not result in any different medical treatment.
I did not want to deal with monthly pain until menopause, which would not occur for at least another twenty years or longer. Then, when I turned twenty, one book on endometriosis gave me new hope. It said some women with endometriosis had been helped by hysterectomies. A hysterectomy is the removal of the uterus, which eliminates the monthly cycle as well as the woman's ability to bear children. To me, it was the perfect answer. My pain occurred mostly around and during the time of my cycle, and because I didn’t want children, the sterility was an added bonus for me. That is why I was shocked by my doctor's immediate refusal.
"Why not?" I demanded.
"You won't be able to have children."
"But I don't want children!"
"Oh, you're only sixteen years old," he said. "Many women say that at that age, and they all change their minds."
Trying to control my anger, I argued that there must be some exceptions. After all, I must be one of them, I explained, since I never, ever wanted children. Then I reminded him of how my pain forced me to spend a week or two out of every month in bed. Even if I did want children, how could I raise them under those conditions? Logic, however, was no match for prejudice. His belief in the stereotypical myth that all young women are fickle and change their minds about having children was far too strong. He was certain that I, too, would later decide I wanted children and regret my decision. To him, a hysterectomy was a last resort to be performed only on women who had children already and were nearing menopause.
I don’t want to be too critical of my doctor, because at age twenty, I won the battle that I had been fighting with him since age sixteen; he performed the surgery that now enables me to live a normal life. Because of the hurdles I had to jump to get that surgery, I now realize how widespread the stereotype about women truly is.
After I convinced my doctor, he told me I had to get three other gynecologists to agree as well. They all expressed virtually the same sentiments that he did, and it took a lot of talking, pleading, and even tears to convince them that I truly needed the surgery. I even had to see a psychiatrist so that these doctors could be certain that I was mentally stable. I guess they believed that only a crazy woman would not mind sacrificing her fertility to escape chronic pain.
The one person who backed me up was my mother. Since I was twenty, not twenty-one, her signature of permission was required for me to have the surgery, so thank God that I had her support. To her, my health was more important than unborn grandchildren.
I feel so much healthier and happier as a result of my surgery. I would not exchange my pain-free life for anything in the world. I still receive criticism from family and friends for this decision. They always feed me the same old arguments: "You’re young, you'll change your mind, you'll regret not being able to have children." My mother, too, has been criticized for signing her permission and typically hears, "She'll hate you one day for not talking her out of this." The ignorance of such remarks never ceases to amaze me.
One of the worst things about people who rigidly follow stereotypes is that they fail to realize that there are exceptions to every one of them. The world would be a much better place if all people would only examine the fallacy of stereotypes. Until that day arrives, however, prejudice will continue to blind the world.