Posted in:

Motherhood after major surgery

Finding strength and leaning on others

In last month’s issue, I got real (and a little TMI) about my upcoming hysterectomy. This month I’m reporting back on how surgery went and what the life of a recovering mom looks like. ** spoiler alert: she needs a lot of help, and probably a shower.

I checked in for surgery early in the morning on July 17. My nerves were firing at full speed and anxiety shot through my body like electricity as I waited and waited for over two hours in the little pre-op room. My toes curled inside the scratchy hospital socks. The plastic mattress liner crinkled as I shifted from one uncomfortable position to another. An IV slowly dripped fluids into my veins and I read the words of my upcoming procedures listed on the whiteboard on the wall, over and over again:


Rectocele repair

Bladder sling

Perineal reconstruction

Possible vaginal vault

Irrational thoughts raced through my mind. Visions of nightmare-ish outcomes cycled on repeat. My womanhood, my femaleness, literally rested in the hands of my surgeon.

Finally, a stream of nurses, anesthesiologists and my doctor checked in with me and away we went.

I woke up five hours later, searing pain shooting up my rectum as nurses held my hands back from tearing my catheter out. (History has proved that I do not come out of anesthesia with any kind of gracefulness. It more closely resembles hysteria).

In my foggy confusion I begged for more pain medicine. My mom stroked my forehead and I asked her over and over again if I still had a vagina, if my uterus came out like it should, if I was going to be okay. She whispered her answers into my ear. Yes, I was fine. Yes, I still had all of my normal body parts. Yes, my uterus was gone. No, I could not have any more babies. Yes I was going to be alright.

The next 24 hours went by in an uncomfortable blur. At one point I was sitting on the toilet trying to communicate with the muscles in my bladder to just pee already as a nurse kneeled in front of me spraying warm water on my swollen vulva.

While giving birth to three babies means that any trace of dignity or modesty had disappeared a long time ago, I reached such amazing heights of vulnerability and awfulness in that first 24 hours post surgery. Again I say, this baby making process and everything that follows is no small consequence.

When the doctor came to talk to me the following day, she explained that my tissue was very fragile. For some reason, there was so little good tissue and muscle for her to work with. She had to search very hard to find salvageable parts to sew back together. Because of this, I needed to take recovery very seriously or I faced the risk of some severe damage.

The most daunting instruction that my doctor gave me was to not lift anything over 10 lbs for 6 weeks. “Tell that to my 45 pound two-year-old and my 18 pound baby,” I thought.

I am now in week five of recovery, I am barely starting to feel human again.

My husband has worked double time, spending all day at work and all evening running the household. My mother-in-law and then my mom came to stay with us. They were my arms and legs. My children worked them all to exhaustion.

When my mother left I still had two weeks left of lifting restrictions. Alone with my kids, I have had to get very creative in the way that we do things like lunch and naptime. I have been conservative with my energy and kept my expectations for each day very, very low. I have also had to suck up my pride and ask for help.

I have texted neighbors to run over and lift my baby out of her crib. I have hired teenagers to come and hang out with me during the day to lift my babies in and out of their high chairs. I have looked at mountains of laundry and just let them be. I have asked a stranger to lift my baby from her car seat into a shopping cart. I created a fun game for my two-year-old that involves him climbing on a stool on top of a chair to get himself in and out of his crib.

You know what I’ve learned though? Every single person I asked for help has not only lent a hand cheerfully, but has asked to do more. People have been good and kind and wonderful in this roughneck oil town.

I have also learned that slowing things down is not bad.

From my perch on the couch, I have watched my little baby learn to crawl and pull herself up to stand over the last month. I haven’t been able to hold her nearly as much as I would like and she has adapted. I have taken a nap nearly every day as my kids drive their cars on my legs. Rather than have scooter races up and down our block (one of our favorite activities), my children and I have sat and read many books over these last few weeks. We have watched more TV than ever and have eaten quick meals like macaroni and cheese and corn dogs every day.

Guess what? We are all fine.

I have a whole new appreciation and admiration for parents with physical, mental or emotional limitations. Sometimes it’s just about getting through the day, the week, or even the year.

In another week, I will return to my job at the county newspaper, my five-year-old will go off to Kindergarten and I will be able to lift up my baby and snuggle her as many times a day as I want to. I will probably also have to start attacking the mountain of laundry and maybe wash a dish or two.

Cheers to health and recovery and the next chapter of life in the Ryan household.

Written by Betsy Ryan


Betsy Ryan resides in Watford City and is a recent transplant to Western North Dakota. She is learning to navigate her new landscape along with her husband and their two boys. Betsy writes for the McKenzie County Farmer and also shares her experiences in North Dakota on her blog,

23 posts