The Best Underwear for Healing After Your Hysterectomy
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In February, I underwent a total laparoscopic hysterectomy and salpingectomy. This means that my surgeon used small incisions and a laparoscope to cut and remove my uterus, cervix, and fallopian tubes, leaving behind my ovaries. This was very much a wanted procedure to fix chronic period-associated pain. However, the six-week-long recovery period did require some planning – not least in the area of underwear!
Unlike Cora's open myomectomy, my hysterectomy left only three small incisions, one in the belly button and one each on either side of my lower abdomen. Thus, avoiding external irritation was a secondary, rather than main concern. Mostly, I found that I needed underthings that did not place any pressure on my abdomen through very firm fabrics or elastics. Here are a few things that will help you get through the post-hysterectomy tenderness.
Avoiding placing pressure on your abdomen will be your primary concern. While externally, the scars might not look like much, internally the body is not only healing from incisions, but adjusting to a new physical arrangement. During surgery, the bowel and bladder are moved as surgeons cut the uterus out, which means your body will need some time to re-develop nerve sensation.
The best underwear for the job that I found came from Lane Bryant’s intimates line, Cacique. Plus size intimates have a reputation for being more covered up, or indeed, more staid, than their smaller-sized counterparts. While that certainly isn't always true, this is one time when that reputation really works in our favor, as the Cacique high-waisted brief is more truly high-waisted and more full coverage than those on offer at any other mall store brand.
I wish this panty came in many more colors, as it stays comfortably in place. When recovering from a laparoscopic hysterectomy, “high-waisted” underwear that hits near the belly button can be a problem, because one of the incisions usually goes in through the navel. These come well above that, with a band of soft elastic at the waist. In sizes 14/16-26/28, these cost $9.50 a pair.
While I don't wear thongs on a day-to-day basis anyway, the additional discomfort caused by gas, bloating, and constipation during the recovery period made me reach for any underwear that would comfortably stay put in back. Remember that narcotic painkillers can cause constipation and that, while you're recovering, you won't have much use of your abdominal muscles. Be kind to your gastro-intestinal system at this time!
I turn to Aerie by American Eagle for many of my day-to-day underwear, as they come in many fun prints and tend to be soft and have full back coverage. While they do not come all the way to my natural waist, the soft, wide trims used for waistbands and leg elastic do not pinch or bind, and I find that they help keep the back from riding up.
I like that they come in a changing variety of colors and materials so I can add to my collection as pairs wear out. I do wish they had a bigger range of sizes, especially given how much their advertising treads on "body positive" messages. Aerie briefs come in sizes XXS-XXL and cost $14.50 a pair.
I have lots of decadent loungewear that I love, but while I was feeling achy, leaky, and sore, I embraced the cozy comfort of a loose, oversized flannel nightgown. Warm, loose-fitting loungewear will be necessary in those first weeks – ditch the pajama pants if you can! My hysterectomy was in winter, so I had extra reason to bundle up. No matter what time of year your surgery is, remember that you might be moving around less than usual during recovery and will need some warmth. A cozy robe, some thick socks, and a heating pad will be your best friends.
For soft, loose flannel, the classic comfort of LL Bean’s plaid nightgown is hard to beat. I do wish they didn't upcharge for plus sizes; a more equitable way of managing the cost of additional fabric is to equalize prices across the board. It comes in multiple plaid colors and sizes XS-3X, at a price of $59.95-64.95.
Deciding to have a hysterectomy and the process of recovery are deeply personal and individual. For me, surgery came after years of increasing difficult and painful periods as well as many trials with hormonal birth control options that caused me major depression and left me with psychological trauma. Getting clearance to have surgery felt like a huge cause for celebration and a chance to live in a body that felt both less painful and more affirming of the non-parenting, genderqueer person I was striving to be.
When you're recovering, you might not feel up for your pretty, fancy, or extravagant lingerie. But, whatever your relationship to your surgery, honoring your body with something a little special, a little out of the ordinary, can be one way of recognizing the immense physical and mental work you're going through.
When I wanted a little extra physical and emotional support, I turned to my custom indigo briefs from Serpent & Bow Their briefs are high-waisted with a low-cut leg that offers full coverage, out of an organic cotton knit that gently hugs the body. Just as important, they’re made with a thoughtfulness that emphasizes caring for your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs. I love these Venus briefs for honoring connections to the moon, earth, and peoples of our pasts. These briefs are made to order in your size and cost $68.
Healing processes vary widely, depending on how much time, if any, you can take off of work, what your other responsibilities are, and what kind of help you have. Your body will definitely feel different -- taking out a whole organ is no small thing! But your mind and emotions might also feel different, as your body uses critical energy to heal and your hormones re-settle (or work entirely differently, if one or both ovaries are also removed).
During the six-week initial recovery, I struggled a lot with the lethargy of my mind as so much of my energy was devoted to healing. I also found myself coming up against internalized ableist notions of what it means to be "good" and "productive" in our society, and what it means to ask for help.
It took me six months or so to really feel comfortable in snug jeans and trousers again, and I got extremely frustrated with having to wear the same soft leggings and loose dresses everywhere. Know that you might struggle! Having some loungewear I was happy to return to at home helped a lot.
About eight months post-surgery now, I feel great and so happy that this surgical option was available to me. While the healing process challenged me physically and emotionally at times, listening to my body’s needs allowed me to move through it and into a new relationship to my body.