When it happened, the pain was so severe I couldn’t move or speak. It felt as though something had violently burst inside of me, tearing my insides to shreds. I couldn’t explain to my boyfriend why suddenly in the middle of the night I was first screaming then saying nothing, rendered unable to communicate to him what was happening. I couldn’t even cry, I almost couldn’t breathe, barely able to mouth the words, “I think I need to go to the hospital.”
I barely remember getting into the cab, checking into the hospital, or waiting in the waiting room, though all three of these things must have happened. The pain disoriented me, left me unable to process what was going on. By the time a doctor came to see me it was 6:30 in the morning and I was so exhausted, my eyes were barely open. Unable to explain the situation, the doctor told me to come back at nine for an ultrasound.
I went home but didn’t sleep, only to return to the hospital a couple hours later. The ultrasound was uncomfortable, and I was concerned, increasingly so as the technician kept returning to one spot in particular. I became anxious. What could she see?
“I’m going to get the doctor,” the technician said. “Stay here.”
I lay on the table, my heart racing, and I waited for the doctor to come tell me what was wrong. “You had an ovarian cyst rupture,” he explained. “Your ovary looks like a bagel, but it should go back to normal soon. You will be fine.”
A bagel? Fine? He sent me home, but I wasn’t fine. In addition to worrying about my now bread-shaped reproductive organ, the pain never fully went away. Months before the incident, I had started experiencing crippling, sudden pains that were so severe I would have to stop whatever I was doing and remain perfectly still. I had gone to the doctor about it, but they told me, again, that everything was fine. The pain was becoming much more frequent, happening several times a day.
I went back to the doctor, but nobody seemed concerned. Nobody was willing to listen to my stories about the “phantom” pains I was experiencing. I knew something was wrong and I wanted answers.
A former classmate of mine had endometriosis and was seeing a specialist about it. I asked for her doctor’s name, and then promptly got a referral from my own doctor. If he wouldn’t listen to me, I wanted to talk to someone who would. This was in October and it was just starting to get cold outside. It is customary to have to wait for a specialist appointment, so I started counting down the days to January.
When I finally saw the specialist, she ordered a new set of ultrasounds. She didn’t take long to call me back, requesting I return to her office only a few days later. “You appear to have something blocking us from being able to fully see what’s going on inside of you,” she said. “I recommend exploratory surgery to determine the cause.”
Surgery? This sinking feeling began to overtake me. I was scared. What was inside of me? Did I have cancer? Did I have endometriosis? Would I ever be able to have children? You don’t realize how bad you want children until there’s a possibility you might not be able to. At 22, it was a luxury I assumed would be afforded to me and now I felt like it was being taken away.
I agreed to the surgery. For the next month, the world looked different to me. I imagined a different life for myself than the one I assumed I’d have, the eventual home, a husband, and two kids. I wondered how this would affect my relationship. Would he eventually leave me because I was infertile? In those nights when I worried, he held me and promised he wouldn’t. My sister and a friend offered to carry a baby for me. I cried into their arms, overwhelmed by the kindness of their offers. I felt so close to them, these people who came through for me in a confusing and difficult time. I met other women who were going through the same thing as me. I’m not sure how the conversations ever happened, how we ever discovered we shared this connection, but somehow the stars aligned and I found support in strangers. Together we mourned the children we were not sure we’d ever have.
These thoughts plagued me until I was able to undergo a small day surgery called a laparoscopy.
My specialist called me back in shortly after. She went straight to the point as she pulled out a diagram. “You have a large uterine fibroid the size of a grapefruit attached to your uterus,” she said, once again my reproductive organs were compared to a breakfast food. She took out a pen and drew a giant fibroid beside the pre-printed uterus to give me perspective. Uterine fibroids are usually benign, she explained, and I was beyond grateful to learn a biopsy showed mine was too. Fibroids have been linked to infertility when they grow inside of the uterus. Luckily, she said, mine was outside. It’s unlikely my fertility down the road would be affected.
I breathed a sigh of relief. A huge weight lifted off my shoulders knowing I would be able to have children. Even though I was still in pain and my journey was ongoing, hearing that made me feel like I was allowed to be 22 again.
My specialist told me I should undergo another surgery to have it removed right away. I agreed, and less than a month later I found myself in the operating room once again.
I couldn’t stop thinking about how none of the other doctors or technicians had noticed this before. How did something so large go undetected? Fibroids are actually more common than people think, affecting as many as one in five women in their childbearing years. Many women never even know they have them. In fact, the reason mine was likely causing problems is that it was actually attached to my uterus by what’s called a stalk. The fibroid would twist causing the stalk to get pinched, shooting sharp pains through my body.
Laying on the operating table cloaked in hospital light, I was less afraid this time even though the surgery was a more complex procedure. It would four leave tiny scars, a permanent reminder that nothing is in this life is ever guaranteed. But I felt so much more at ease. I was no longer worried about whether or not I was dying, or if I’d be able to have children of my own one day. For the first time in months I had answers.
It felt like I had lived so many lives during that time, forced to think about my life in its entirely in ways I hadn’t really considered before. For a while everything changed. And now, just one more surgery and it would all be back to normal again. I’d heal and go back to my job. My social life would resume. I would be okay. Everything finally would be fine. So I closed my eyes and counted down from 10.