The expectations don’t always match reality. The typical timeline given after a minimally invasive hysterectomy is to return to a sedentary job at around 4 weeks and resume normal activities/return to non-sedentary job at 6 to 8 weeks. It’s natural to assume that healing is complete at the six to eight-week mark and that life will resume as before surgery. However, six (or eight) isn’t a magic number. It’s simply the amount of time that it takes for the incisions to be mostly healed. Tissues are still healing for months afterwards and they are not as strong and resilient as they once were. Any complications during early recovery can also prolong healing.
This timeframe after surgery can be nearly as challenging as early recovery. Some women take on normal life activities at this point without ill effects while others cannot. It is difficult if you fall into the latter category. Then, once restrictions are lifted, suddenly, you are bearing the weight of partner and family expectations, work obligations and the pressure to “get back to normal”. How do you navigate these expectations and continue to care for your still-healing body?
My husband used to joke that "it isn’t a uteri or uteryou and it is a uter-us." He always sympathized while I was huddled on the couch with my heating pad. He’d bring me ibuprofen and ask if I needed anything. But for the most part, I was functional and could take care of myself. Since my hysterectomy, he’s had to take on quite a bit more. Even once I have my post-op appointment and get the all clear, I won't be able to immediately go back to doing everything I've always done.
Partners or family members may not understand that despite the doctor saying, “restrictions lifted”, it doesn’t mean your body will automatically no longer be tired. It doesn’t mean that that all the aches and swelling will be gone. It doesn’t mean you are done healing. As throughout the early recovery period, communication is crucial now as well. Tell others what you need on days when you feel exceptionally tired or achy. Hopefully, you’ve received help during the first few weeks post-op and that help will continue from here on out, even when you feel amazing!
My doctor said, "Absolutely no vacuuming." I hope he means forever.
Returning to work adds to the pressure to be “done” with recovery. However, even desk jobs can be physically demanding those first weeks back. Sitting in an upright position for prolonged stretches of time may create abdominal pressure and discomfort. If you have co-workers, they may inadvertently ask you to do more than you should (because “you look fine”). In addition, habits emerge when in your work environment. Autopilot may lead to picking up a box of paper to reload the printer or pushing a heavy cart or doing other things you probably shouldn’t be doing yet. Even after clearance to return to full duties, you are still healing. Give yourself grace if you cannot instantly take on as much as what you were doing pre-surgery.
The desire to immediately get back to everything that was put on hold is difficult to ignore, especially once you start feeling pretty good (finally). Internal tissues are still healing and aren’t as strong as they were. Too much demand on those tissues before they are ready may result in setbacks or injury. It’s a fine line between building up to doing more and crossing into too much.
At six weeks post-op, I am feeling more energy and fewer painful twinges than a couple of weeks ago. But if I’m being honest, I don’t feel nearly as great as I thought I would at this point. It’s still easy to do too much (which isn’t much at all!) resulting pelvic pressure and strange abdominal pains. Relatively low physical effort increases my heart rate and breathing to surprising levels. For as active as I was prior to surgery, this is disconcerting... but I know it won't be like this forever. Even so, the annoyance at being limited is growing. I’m annoyed that I can’t comfortably wear my favorite jeans. I’m annoyed that I can’t pick up over 10 pounds. I'm annoyed that I can't go for long walks or teach my Jazzercise classes. And I'm most annoyed on the days I feel fine.
Yet, I'm also grateful. And happy. And humbled. This recovery is a test of patience and uncovers what self-care truly means. I'll be better for having gone through it (and not just because I am no longer burdened by an enlarged, angry uterus!)
I'm looking forward to slowly building my way back to where I was and going even further. How will I get there? I'll share some tips for returning to exercise post-hysterectomy as well as my plans for getting back to it in February. (Next post-op appointment is at the end of January and my fingers are crossed for good news!) Later this month I'll be sharing my 50 before 50 list and some of my favorite at-home exercise equipment. Stay in the loop by subscribing to my newsletter here.