By Leslie Kendall Dye

Sweatpants and Coffee | Personal Essays | Hysteria

For at least two thousand years of Western history, until the late nineteenth century, hysteria referred to a medical condition thought to be particular to women and caused by disturbances of the uterus.

You never want to bleed at the wrong time of the month. If you tell your gynecologist this is happening, you might have to have a procedure called a hysteroscopy, in which your doctor scrapes your uterus, looking for a malignancy lurking within its mysterious fluid. It’s done under anesthesia (a nap !) but you cramp and bleed for a week afterward. Yes, you endure an “extra” menstrual cycle after the procedure. And then you ovulate. And then you bleed again.

“Less than one percent chance that it’s anything to worry about,” my doctor said.

“Take it out,” I said “I don’t want the damned thing. Take anything out that might get sick and prevent me from seeing my child grow up.”

“I doubt that will be necessary,” my doctor said. She is used to being patient with me. My uterus has its own schedule.

When I was pregnant, it had started contracting at 10 weeks. By 30 weeks, I was in labor. It lasted eight more weeks.

My daughter, ever the iconoclast, lay transverse in my uterus. The uterus is oblong, like a Christmas stocking. Beings that grow within it are meant to align themselves vertically. My daughter had settled herself hammock-style instead, stretching across the stocking at its narrowest point.

That hurt quite a bit. It also made me walk funny. I used to position my body like a ramp, my behind up in the air, until I felt her body slide lengthways. Ah, the relief! But within an hour, she had snuggled back into her hammock, and I was bed-bound and contracting once more.

I cried from my prison-bed, breathing through the contractions  and waiting. I watched The Bourne Identity on cable 800 times, trying to distract myself with Paris and Matt Damon. Labor should not be 20 weeks long.

Then, at 38 weeks, my daughter kicked her way out of my five–foot frame. I heard a snapping sound and suddenly we had a water-bed. As my husband scrambled to find our suitcase, he slipped on the briny fluid that gushed from my uterine depths.

They had told us it never gushes. They had said that only happens in the movies. They had said usually your water doesn’t break at all, and if it does, it is a trickle that can be mistaken for a bit of leaking pee.

It was exactly like in the movies. My daughter’s karate chop had pierced her sack like a water balloon, and my shoes filled like capsized canoes as my husband ran into the night in search of a taxi.

Our doorman, like a character in a romantic comedy, began to sweat and kept repeating: “Where is your husband? Please don’t have the baby here.”

My seven-pound, 20-inch cherub emerged 12 hours later. I instantly forgave her the crummy pregnancy.

My uterus took a bit longer.

* * *

Three years later I am chatting with an anesthesiologist. He is asking about any medical conditions I have.

“Irritable uterus,” I reply.

“Is that a thing?” The anesthesiologist looks blank. Most people look blank at 6: 30 am under the bright light of an operating room, but this blank registered someone who had never owned a uterus.

“Yes,” I say. “It’s a thing.”

I talk to nurses. I am stripped of my dearest possessions: my phone, my paperback, and my underwire bra. I am given a surgical cap and a granny gown with origami sashes. I think about the fluorescent light and the cap. It is a very unflattering situation.

“You need to have someone pick you up,” the nurse says.

“There isn’t anyone,” I say. “My husband is watching our toddler, and my friends all work.”

“He can bring her here,” she persists. ““You can’t go wandering out on East 98th Street after anesthesia.” It sounds like fun, wandering out on East 98th Street after anesthesia. Still, I text my husband to let him know he has to bring our daughter to the hospital.

I worry she is too young to see her mother in a hospital. Then I remember that she started her life in a hospital. Perhaps it wasn’t the gentlest entrance to the world, but she’s okay. She’s a happy kid.

Anesthesia is fabulous when you haven’t slept through the night in years. It is not only permission to sleep, it is enforced sleep. You hear some murmuring, there’s a cool wind in your throat, and out you go.

You wake up. You’re freezing. You’re bleeding and cramping. There are graham crackers and water by your gurney and blue curtains surround you. There are voices.

“You sailed through,” your doctor tells you, then he vanishes.

A week later, I notice that the green leaves outside our window are turning yellow and red. I love cycles; they are reassuring.

My eyes drift from the autumnal finery to the little face on our baby monitor. She is nestled into our bed, her curls framing her face. She’s ridiculous.

Wait, I think. am I crazy? Cycles are the very opposite of reassuring. We are immature. Then we grow ripe. After that, we rot. Don’t we? Must we?

Ping! A new email arrives. A message for my uterus has been sent through the Mount Sinai portal.

My adrenal glands pump out cortisol, and the red and yellow leaves grow blurry. It is suddenly very cold. I need a towel for the sweat and a cardigan for the chill.

I click the link.


Biopsy: Normal.

I lean over to tell my husband. He says he’s not surprised. My uterus is too grouchy to house an illness. I laugh but know how lucky I am. Still wrapped in my cardigan and still sweating, I put my head down on my desk. I whisper to my uterus.

“Thank you,” I say. “Thank you for putting up with my endocrine system . Thank you for housing a sideways baby for 38 weeks. Thank you for my child and my life.”

My uterus grunts.

“Shucks,” it says. “I like the kid. She’s great. There’s no need to get hysterical.”


Leslie Kendall Dye is an actor and dancer in New York City. She has written for Vela Magazine, Salon, The Washington Post,The Toast, Brain, Child, Word Riot, Off the Shelf, and others. You can find her writing at, at Twitter (@LKendallDye) or trying to put her child to bed at a reasonable hour. Mostly that last one.


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