FOR Rhiannon Bending, the vivid scars across her stomach mark more than the hysterectomy she had just two years ago.
They are a symbol of the happiness she now feels at being able to lead a normal life — although she can no longer have children of her own.
Rhiannon had been ravaged by an extreme version of endometriosis — a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places.
For healthcare assistant Rhiannon, now 30, that meant two years of extreme pain, bloating, bleeding and depression. She was even housebound for 18 months.
She says: “It might be hard for people to understand, but I am happier without my womb.
“Knowing I’ll never carry my own babies is hard but I wouldn’t change my decision. It was a sacrifice I’m so pleased I made. I spent days sobbing into my pillow as I couldn’t envision my future without kids, but now feel like a weight has been lifted.”
What is a hysterectomy?
A hysterectomy is an operation to remove the womb, which marks the end of a woman's reproductive period.
After having the surgery, you will no longer be able to get pregnant - and your periods will stop.
There were around 30,500 hysterectomies carried out in England in 2012 and 2013, mostly for women in their 40s.
She says: “They suspected that I might have appendicitis but after a scan I was given codeine and dismissed with period pains.
“The pains were relentless from that evening onwards. I visited my GP a month later, in December 2016, as I constantly felt like I was being stabbed in the stomach.
“Even the eight codeine tablets per day weren’t helping. The bleeding got heavier and heavier. My womb expanded and people would ask, ‘When are you due?’
“I was constantly panicking that I would never lead a normal life. At the end of December, I became too weak to work and was signed off. I couldn’t really go out for 18 months.”
When she was 26, Rhiannon, from Cardiff, woke one night in extreme pain. Her partner Chris Davies, 34, who is a nurse, drove her to A&E.
After being turned away countless times from her local GP with “period pains”, she was sent to a gynaecologist in April 2017. There, she was diagnosed with endometriosis and in May she had surgery to remove fibroids, non-cancerous growths that had developed around the womb.
But she suffered a heavy bleed during surgery and the operation had to be halted. At this point her mum, Karen Bennett, 57, paid for her to have private scans.
Rhiannon says: “The doctor laid photos out on the table. One snap showed a smooth womb and the other was lumpy and abnormal — this was my scan. I was told if the doctor removed the fibroids there would be a high chance of the endometriosis returning, and my womb would be full of scar tissue meaning it would be impossible for me to carry a baby.
“It was so upsetting to know I could never have a baby. I was at the lowest point of my life. I longed for normality, even doing the food shopping. I didn’t want this pain any more, so a removal of my womb was the best option and that finally put a smile on my face.”
Her operation was booked for four weeks later. Rhiannon says: “Waking after two hours in surgery, I was overwhelmed that the months of pain and depression were over.
“After a few days, I even happily went to Tesco with Chris. It was great to carry out day-to-day duties.
“At the end of February 2018, there was snow and I felt excited for the first time in a long while. Chris and I had a snowball fight. It was brilliant to laugh again.”
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Four months after surgery, Rhiannon was fit enough to return to work. She says: “I finally have my freedom back and I have lost four stone in weight.
“In an ideal world I wouldn’t have had a hysterectomy at 28, but I did and I couldn’t be happier. As a couple, Chris and I aren’t ready for children yet.
“But in the future, once my body has fully recovered from everything it has been through, we will look into surrogacy.”
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