I’ve been here before. When I woke up in the ICU after having my son, Nathan, and found out that I no longer had a uterus I went through a long process of dealing with the fact that my reproductive powers were no longer under my control. And, hey, if you don’t have a uterus any more, well, you think about what it means to be a woman.

This brings up the question; who decides what it means to be a woman? Society and my religious views have very divergent thoughts on what it means to be a woman. The world concentrates on outward things like sex, hair, breasts, sex, fashion, sex. I grew up in a Mormon culture that celebrated motherhood, nurturing, homemaking, and teaching as some of the best aspects of womanhood. And it’s easy to say that is what I believe in and that all those other, outward things don’t matter so much, until one of them is taken from you. Many of these aspects of womanhood cannot be easily separated from each other. I mean, let’s face it; a woman is her body in so many ways. Sex is wrapped up in love, breasts are beautiful, but they also mean nourishment for a baby. A womb is for having children, but what if you can’t have children? What if your body betrays your dreams of what you picture your life to be?

My mom has breast cancer. The last two months have been a whirlwind of doctors, tests, emotions, surgery, soul searching, prayer and fasting. What does it mean to a woman to have her breast cut off and have her hair fall out? We can say that we are not our breasts, we are not our hair, but it still hurts, it is still very upsetting to look down and see a scar where there used to be a body part. It made me cry to watch my mom run her hands through her beautiful silver hair, knowing that in a few days it would all be in the trash can.

The only thing that really helps a woman in these kinds of situations is to try and be proactive. It is always easier to act then be acted upon. That is certainly one of the reasons I decided to adopt. The days that Jacob and Ben were placed in to my arms were the most healing days of my life. Yesterday, when my mom decided we should have a party to cut off her hair was a healing day. It was girls only, pink food, crazy hats, silly wigs and lots of laughing. It didn’t change the facts. My mom still has months of crappy chemo and radiation to endure. Her breast is still gone. Her hair is still gone. But it did change our hearts. There is no horror in it now. We all took our power back through humor.

Is my mom less of a woman because her body is different now and her hair is gone? Of course not. Things like this shake your place in the universe. You have to make it through the quake and then when things settle down, you will find that you still like who you are- maybe even like yourself more now. Now you know that you are not your hair, you are not your ability to produce children; you are not your cup size. You are a compassionate, understanding person, whose heart has been stretched and changed into a wondrous new shape. You are a woman.