I’m sitting on a birthing ball looking down at my ever-expanding belly. A kick, then another reminds me of the beautiful baby growing inside. At seven months it’s still hard to wrap my mind around it. I’m really pregnant.
When I look back on the journey of how I got here, it was as if I had to run a marathon with no end in sight. My body had given out, my mind was numb, and my spirit was crushed. For much of that run I was losing the race, ready at any minute to throw in the towel.
It all began in a cold doctors office.
I was standing there looking at the sketch my doctor had drawn along with the words “endometriosis.” She tried to explain using the diagram how these adhesions float around our bodies and implant themselves in different places. Sometimes on your Fallopian tubes, your uterus, your bladder, your intestines, maybe even your brain! Then during your menstrual cycle, when you bleed these adhesions bleed too causing severe pain and other strange symptoms. “The only way we can make a definitive diagnosis is through surgery,” said the doctor.
A month later I was wheeled into surgery. I started the race like a champ, waving at my husband as I entered the operating room and laughing with the doctors and nurses before going under anesthesia. But little did I know that it was going to get worse before it got better.
In middle school I was the first of my friends to get my period. My family celebrated me becoming a “woman” and my friends were jealous saying how they wished they could grow up quickly like me. But I hated everything about it. I hated not having the energy to play with friends, I hated wearing these torturous monster pads in my underwear, and I hated being crippled over with pain every month.
I thought as time went by I would get used to the pain…
but instead it seemed to only get worse. I suffered anemia and the lack of blood would leave me dizzy and passing out. My mother gave me painkillers but they would usually wear off within the hour.
When I wasn’t home from school from the pain I was in the nurses office, lying on one of their pink beds in the fetal position. They knew me by name. They expected me every month, even saving a bed for me. I would usually meet up with my friend Ana. She would get her period for two full weeks each month. We would commiserate together. The nurses and our classmates thought we were just being dramatic or that we just couldn’t handle pain. But the truth was we were fighting a disease; an illness that goes undiagnosed in most societies as women suffer in silence.
Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women during their reproductive years.
It’s a silent diseases and women can often go eight years undiagnosed before it is detected and treated. This is because most doctors are not trained to focus on the symptoms of endometriosis. And women are great at masking their pain so as not to appear weak. The combination of silence and non education has left many women thinking that this is the type of pain you just have to live with! It isn’t until they try to conceive that they recognize the truth: something is most definitely wrong.
While most newlyweds spend their first year honeymooning, I spent the first year of my marriage struggling with the after effects of surgery. The procedure had reawakened me to the pain I had endured all through high school and college. It was forcing me to relive the past: curled over in pain and popping pain killers like candy. My husband was a God sent, carrying me to the bathroom when I couldn’t walk, feeding me soup, comforting me through crying fits.
The pain was unbearable and I lived on Vicodin and Perkocet for weeks after the surgery. Even after they ran out, I found myself asking my friends for their prescription painkillers. One day I looked at myself in the mirror, my raccoon eyes covered in make up to try to hide my pain from the world, I could barely recognize myself. I knew something had to change.
This endometriosis was ruining me.
I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Someone desperate for painkillers? A shell of a being? A woman completely ruled by pain?
The doctor wanted me to start on a regime of pills that would stop the sex hormones completely and push my body into menopause. They would then slowly reintroduce the hormones so as to regulate them properly. I remember feeling very uncertain about this process. The more I looked into the drug and its side effects, the less inclined I felt to bring it anywhere near my body. Did I really need yet another drug to control me? To numb me? To make me feel even less than a woman than I already felt?
The truth about endometriosis is that it’s not just the pain that ruins you, it’s the shame, it’s the drain on your energy, it’s the demise of any social life you once had. “If I go out tonight, I need to make sure I take enough tampons and pads.” Or, “I need to make sure I don’t mix alcohol with all these pain pills I’m on.” Generally you just find yourself lying on the couch, a useless bundle of emotions eating ice cream and crying over romantic comedies. Except the crying is from the pain or the realization of how this disease has its hold on you.
In the year after my surgery I can honestly say I let the endometriosis take me over. I defined myself as the girl with endo, I curled into a ball and I wallowed there in the darkness. This was me giving into the pain. My body was healing from surgery, but my mind was still on the operating table.
It took me a year and a half to crawl out the hole. I realized that out here in the light, the world had kept spinning. There were birds and butterflies and blue skies I had been missing. Determined to get back to my Self, I embarked on a two year long healing process that did not involve doctors or drugs or surgeries. It instead involved listening to my soul.
My newfound healing was spurred by a trip to a Reiki Master. When I received my first energy healing I realized there was a whole world of healing out there that didn’t involve prescription drugs. I started doing yoga regularly, reading books on meditation and mindfulness and changed my diet. Going vegetarian was one of the best decisions I made, because I could limit the amount of processed foods or meats pumped with antibiotics or hormones. I went back to the simplest form of eating- fruits and vegetables from the earth. I received herbal supplements from traditional Chinese doctors and a year and a half after my surgery I was ovulating on my own, the endometriosis pain had subsided, and I was in the best shape of my life.
Six months later I found out we were expecting our first child. This was something I thought I would have to struggle with. My doctors had given me a 25% chance of conceiving naturally since I had a diagnosis of endometriosis and poly cystic ovarian syndrome. And yet here I was with a beautiful blessing growing in my belly.
I could have let endometriosis ruin me. Or worse, define me and keep me locked in a box of pain, depression and despair. But I wasn’t ready to give up the fight. I’m grateful to celebrities like Padma Lakshmi, Lena Durnham and Jillian Michaels for opening up about their struggles with endometriosis.
There are over 176 million women nationwide suffering with this silent disease…
and the more awareness we can raise, the more doctors will know to make the right diagnosis. Women need to be better informed on the symptoms and that “dealing with” the pain does not have to be part of your monthly curse. There’s a way out.
As I await the birth of my little miracle baby, I’m so glad I didn’t throw in the towel on this race.
The finish line is in sight and I’m ready to cross the red line.