Surgical menopause: dealing with a total abdominal hysterectomy at an early age

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Sophie’s story

We met Sophie on a photo shoot for the menopause underwear brand Become. We were apprehensive about stripping down to our undies (that’s another story), as was Sophie, and understandably so. She was recovering from surgery which had put her into a surgical menopause. She shares her experience, recovery and some valuable tips for anyone else who may be about to have a hysterectomy.

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Surmeno...what it means to me. 

Surmeno (surgical menopause) hit me like a freight train after a total abdominal hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy aged 32 in February 2018. I’d struggled with PMDD and endometriosis since aged 13 and was hopeful that the surgery would be the start of a happier, pain free life!  I truly believed that I would wake up from surgery and have my sparkle back, this couldn’t be any further from reality.  

Even now, after 8 months, I still feel shell shocked at the ferocity in which I was thrown into surgical menopause, the night sweats and hot flushes in particular were instantaneous.  Initially I was changing my nightie up to 5 times a night, waking shivering and soaked through became routine for me, I was beyond exhausted.  This lasted for several weeks I’d been told that that the GnRH injections I’d been on for 3 years would prepare me for surgery and life after; the injections switch off your ovaries and induce a medical menopause.  In reality the injections didn’t prepare me at all.  I’d been told that the first few weeks would be difficult whilst my body adjusted... understatement of the century.  I was discharged from hospital 3 days after surgery, with no post-op check-up, this left me feeling incredibly afraid and alone. It became abundantly clear to me that most of the literature and guidelines provided by hospitals regarding hysterectomy is not only out of date, it’s aimed at women over 50.

Understanding of Surmeno and HRT across the NHS seems to a postcode lottery and grossly inconsistent.  So many women, like me, are being prescribed anti-depressants instead of HRT.   This makes receiving the right support and care a real struggle, a battle that should not have to be fought. The UK desperately needs more menopause clinics and training.  

The eight months since surgery have been a rollercoaster and I’ve never been a fan of rides! Nothing could’ve prepared me for the unimaginable impact it’s had on my confidence, career and relationships. I’ve had so many comments, ‘why aren’t you better now, I know someone who was fine after 6 weeks’ ...’don’t you feel bad that you can’t give your fiancé children?’ Usually followed by someone else asking me ‘when is your baby due?’ - this one in particular seems so cruel, my stomach is swollen since surgery, this can last up for a year. It’s a cruel reminder of what I can’t have. 

There is a baby boom in my friendship group right now, whilst I feel such joy at seeing my friends blossom into beautiful mothers and fathers, I cannot remember a time that a visit didn’t result in tears just silently falling (in private) afterwards. I know I’m not alone in feeling this way and I think it’s important to acknowledge it and allow yourself time to grieve.

One important lesson I’ve learned from this journey is that it is really good to talk, Surmeno can be isolating. I began an Instagram blog and have met incredibly strong, inspirational women. After my search for a menopause support group in my area bought no results, I set one up. Every third week I meet with women in natural or surgical menopause and we just get things off our chest, sometimes we have a cry but mostly we just share our feelings, hints and tips and have a good giggle along the way. 

For anyone facing Surmeno, I would recommend the following:

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Nourish to flourish

Your body needs different nutrients, I’ve felt the benefit of adapting my diet. 

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Read up on Surmeno

Knowledge is power.  In a world where Surmeno still isn’t understood, it’s good to be clued up. Organisations like the Surmeno Connection and the Daisy Network are fab. 

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Acceptance

This has been a big struggle but it’s important to accept and learn to love your new body 

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It’s good to talk

Talk about it, you are not alone in this.  

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Ask to be referred to a specialist

If you aren’t happy with the care you are receiving, refer to the NICE guidelines, it’s your right to request a referral to a specialist menopause clinic.  

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Hot flush fans

Carry a fan in your handbag, I bought a rechargeable fan, if I have a hot flush it helps keep me cool and calm. 

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Cool clothing

Invest in cooling undies and nightwear, they really do help.  

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Self-care

Most of all, look after you. Practice self-care, I have begun yoga and even though I generally spend most of the time trying not to expel bodily gasses (😂) it allows me time and space to just be. 

#positivepause

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Follow Sophie on Instagram @menopause_and_me

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