(Essay) What’s In an Empty Womb? by Amy Barron Smolinski, MA

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Credit: Andrew Trimmer

Why is my uterus such a vital part of me?  What makes it so important?

My initial response to these questions, asked sincerely by a good friend offering support, was shock that they could even be asked.  Why is an internal organ important?  Well, for starters, because it is a physical piece of me.   If I were facing the loss of a kidney or a lung, would anyone ask WHY I was upset at the potential lifelong ramifications of losing an internal organ?  If I were facing loss of a limb, or even a digit, I doubt anyone would argue that even my pinkie toe isn’t worth being considered important, or that losing it doesn’t constitute a true loss, both at the time of amputation and for the rest of my life afterward, as my physical anatomy would be permanently altered from optimal human form.  As my mother is fond of saying, “I’m kind of attached to my internal organs.  I like them on the inside of me.”

If I were facing the loss of a breast, the external “female” organs, there would be an outpouring of support and sympathy.  How horrible to be disfigured by losing a mammary gland, because then I would have VISIBLE scars and be lessened in my appearance.  Under the patriarchal culture, losing one’s breast is seen as a great tragedy, but for patently wrong reasons.  In the first place, breasts are not uniquely female, despite cultural assignation as such.  In the second place, breasts are held up as a physical measure of a woman’s value through attractiveness, yet their much more miraculous function as nourishment and nurturance for our young, is considered shameful and to be hidden because it steals away patriarchy’s insistent objectification of women and female beauty.  That’s a discussion for another time.

But a uterus?  Why would my uterus be important to me?  Why is my womb so vital to my sense of self?  I’m 35, I’m finished having children, and so now I’m supposed to believe that my uterus has outlived its purpose and should simply be discarded.  That it’s something as inconsequential as the chicken bones left from dinner.

There are the physical reasons.  My uterus is intimately connected to my hormonal balance, which is already delicate.  My uterus occupies space inside my body, holding other organs in place.  It is physical tissue that belongs inside my body, and it serves a biological purpose to cycle regularly, in conjunction with my other reproductive organs, to bring balance to my body’s unique biochemistry.  And it’s part of the reproductive system in my body, and intimately interactive with several other systems—the endocrine, neurological, and circulatory systems.  The human body operates as a closed system, and taking out a piece of that system permanently alters the way that body operates for the rest of its life.  My uterus is important because it is part of my body.

And there are the other reasons.  They are physical, but also metaphysical.  They are spiritual, psychological, and emotional.  I am fearful to discuss them, because they are shadowy, intangible, and feminine in nature, and therefore the cultural knee-jerk reaction is to dismiss them out of hand in the face of the medical problems my uterus is having.  Under the culture of patriarchy, medicine and physical conditions are “real”; while emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects of human experience are inconvenient distractions to be “worked through.”  But, here, now, in this moment, I consciously reject this fear.  I reclaim the power of my intuitive, spiritual self.  I reclaim the VERY REAL existence of my psychological and emotional needs.  I weep as I write this.

My uterus, my womb, is me, and it is more than me.  It is my connection to all those who have lived before me and all those who will come after.  It is the manifestation of the miracle of life, not only in its remarkable capability to gestate and bring forth life, but in its ability to renew and regenerate itself when it is not bringing forth life.  It is a source of great pleasure during sexual orgasm, which makes it a place of powerful connection to my husband.  My spirituality is centered around the sacred gifts of the Divine Feminine, of the Great Goddess, who is not only Mother to all, but who is the constant change of seasons and cycles.  I follow the ancient religious teachings that the Earth itself is one great Womb from which all vegetative and animal life comes forth and to which all life returns, where it is regenerated and born again anew.  I follow the ancient wisdom that the universe is the Great Mother.  The sky itself is dark, the inside of the Great Womb, the great flashes of light and energy that swirl around in the cosmos are each a new birth.  The forces of gravity cause cyclical orbit patterns, like our very own moon, whose cycles are clearly matched with the unfooled-around-with, natural menstrual cycle of every womb in every woman on Earth.

It has taken me a long time to come to the place where I honor the cycles of my body, and my womb is the literal center of these cycles.  I have discovered the sacredness of ovulation and menstruation; I have learned to respect the power in my womb blood.  When any other place in the body bleeds, it is a sign of distress, of a violation of the body’s perfect system, of a vulnerability to the outside world.  When my womb bleeds each month, it is a sign of the power my body holds within it, to regenerate itself, to choose to bring another new life into this world or not, to cleanse itself and release that which I no longer need.  It is a reminder, every month, of the fecundity and the wisdom of my body, and of every woman’s body.  It is a marker, every month, of the abundance and plenty of life—that of the thousands of eggs in my body, most will not need to be used.  It is an hourglass, each month, that reminds me of the passing of time, and of the undeniable fact that in the lifeline of the Triple Goddess—the stages of Maiden, Mother, and Crone—I am at least halfway through, and I had better not squander the wisdom I have gained through experience or the opportunities I am presented through experience to gain more wisdom.

It is a marker of the precious rarity of the children I do have.  Frankly, I’m pretty proud of my womb.  It’s a bit of an overachiever.  Three times I have become pregnant, three times it has swelled with new life.  Three times, an egg of mine has become fertilized, implanted, and gestated—and from these three eggs and pregnancies, FOUR children have been born, each of whom is a miracle of paradox, complexity, enigma, and humanity.

My womb has been cut open, sewn back up, and gone on to birth naturally, twice.  My womb held my twins and kept them alive with one placenta that, it was discovered during my C-section, had a dead spot inside of it.  The efforts required by my womb to bring my middle son into the world were nothing short of a superpower.  During my last pregnancy, the egg implanted first on my C-section scar, but, finding that unsatisfactory, it moved and re-implanted in a more suitable location.  Two placentas grew for that baby (and he’s still extremely particular about his environment being exactly to his liking).

Afterwards, my womb held on to that placenta.  My doctor had to remove it surgically, and even then a piece of the placenta had grown so deep into my womb that it was ten months before it was finally removed.  Clearly, my womb is more acutely aware than my consciousness of my deep desire to hold on to this last baby.  To hold on to the desire for the daughter it will never bear, and for HER womb that it will never grow.  To hold on to the remote possibility, despite the impracticalities, risks, and dangers (not to mention the physical impossibility) of a surprise baby.  I don’t really want another baby.  For every wistful thought or teary moment I have about each milestone my youngest marks, because his “first” is my “last,” I remember on a cellular level what an ordeal my last pregnancy was, and my womb reminds me that no, we really cannot EVER do that again.  And I am at peace with being finished having children.  But my womb gives physical voice to my deepest feelings and intuition, remembering for me both how relieved and truly joyful I am—yet, at the same time, how deeply saddened I am to be finished bearing children.

This is why it is so important to me.  So vital to who I am.  This is what my womb means to me.  It is the carrier of my memories on a cellular level—both the corporeal memories of ovulation, menstruation, sexual union, fertility, gestation, birth, pain, joy, ecstasy—and the intergenerational and metaphysical memories of the ancient and everlasting power of being a woman.

My womb is in dis-ease.  I have a fibroid and adenomyosis, which together are creating conditions in my womb that are painful and distressing.  In all likelihood, these conditions will only get progressively worse.  My doctor and most of my friends feel that the best course of action would be to have it excised, which would eliminate the disease.  It would be a medically justified decision.

But what then?  Without my womb to signal me when something is out of balance, what would happen to my intuition, to my energy, to my spiritual connection to the Great Mother and Her Womb?  There may come a time when I have to let my womb go.  There may come a time when I must cut out this central piece of myself in order to move forward, when I must descend into the darkness of an underworld (another Womb of the Great Goddess), to give up part of myself in order to ascend into a rebirth and grow into new wisdom.  If this time comes, I will do what must be done.  But until I am satisfied that I have exhausted all other chances to heal my womb and remain whole, I am keeping Her inside me.  We go back too far for me to give up on Her.

Read (Meet Mago Contributor) Amy Barron Smolinski.

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What a fantastic piece. I have given birth three times to four children, I remember the last pregnancy vividly (it was quite horrible). None of my pregnancies were easy, probably because my body protested because I was in an abusive relationship. I recognize the longing for more children but know that I newer want to do it again, and am at peace with the four wonderful children and recognize your feelings. Especially the twins were difficult to carry but they stayed in the womb (with one placenta) and came out exactly the same size. I breastfed them for almost a… Read more »
Love this piece. You touch on such important points. I felt the same way, however I had a hysterectomy because my womb was diseased and my health was at risk. I honored my womb through ritual before surgery and I am no less of a spiritual, magical woman without it. If you are not tuned into your body, with or without your womb, one can’t get the full power of it anyway. I’m here to say I am even more powerful without it because, like those who lose eyesight or hearing, other aspects of my spirit have strengthened, most notably… Read more »
Vajra Ma

What a beautiful, poignant, powerful and highly personal expression of love for your womb! Thank you.