What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I heard my gynecologist’s words. I’m just not sure I understood them then.
“Wait a year before trying to get pregnant,” he said.
It was either before or after – I no longer remember – my laparascopic myomectomy, the robotic surgical procedure to remove fibroids and preserve fertility. I wasn’t even in a relationship so if my doctor thought my imaginary husband and I were eager to start a family because I was finally fibroid-free, he was wrong.
“I’ll wait, thank you,” I responded.
But in retrospect, my doctor’s statement was less of a suggestion to wait 365 days and more of a warning to launch “Project Procreate” on day 366 because a followup ultrasound revealed the regrowth of a tiny fibroid.
I wish the ultrasound could detect the root cause. There should be a list of potential culprits, like an allergy test, next to little checkboxes. Too much meat? Check. Caffeine? Check. Vodka? Check. Excess estrogen? Check.
Some medical studies inconclusively link fibroids to relaxers. (Say it ain’t so!) Other research points to genetics and hormones. This seems plausible considering at least four first cousins (on the same familial side) within my age group suffered from fibroids and all but one of us have been surgically treated (or retreated) within the past few years.
Up to 75 percent of women have uterine fibroids during their lifetime but many remain asymptomatic. They don’t know about the frequent bathroom visits or paralyzing lower back pain. Yet here I am nearly three years post-surgery with all-too-familiar signs: the tiny round abdomen but I’m really not pregnant and weight and muscle loss because at least one fibroid siphons all my available red blood cells and hemoglobin.
The latter was enough – a total loss of 12 pounds and a uterus the size of a twelve-week pregnancy – to send me to the operating room within a month the first time to remove at least six fibroids. But I convinced myself I had things under control this time, even with the headaches, excessive naps and the inability to walk from the bedroom to the kitchen without taking a break. I also told myself it would take nearly another decade before I needed medical treatment again because that’s about how long it took for the first surgery.
One recent morning as I stood under a usual stream of hot water, I felt extremely weak, warm and slightly out-of-breath. Turning the water down to a cooler temperature didn’t help; neither did sitting on the edge of the tub. The lingering steam only exacerbated the problem. Surrounded by porcelain, I envisioned a few knots, gashes and a concussion in my immediate future if I didn’t move.
I stumbled out of the tub knocking over bottles of body wash. My vision went black and I hit the floor.
I actually fainted.
I remembered weeks prior to my first surgery, my gynecologist said, “You’ll need to take iron supplements or face a blood transfusion.” I was beyond iron-deficient three weeks ago. This time I had slipped into anemia.
My well-being isn’t an afterthought, though. I prefer to not faint, hemorrhage, spot or deteriorate. Having fibroids can be extremely inconvenient and messy. I’ve seriously considered skipping a second surgery and telling my doctor “Here, just take my uterus.” I miss my white pants anyway. And I’m tired of the rear view checks before I walk into a store or restaurant. But there’s that gnawing part of me that wants to maintain the option of biological motherhood and childbirth. Yet I can’t help but wonder if a myomectomy only gives me another short window to conceive, is it really worth it?
A little over two weeks into an iron regimen I’m almost back to normal, as in being able to function and having only common symptoms. Coincidentally, shortly after my fainting spell, I read two separate tweets from two different fibroid sufferers: one working on flattening her “pregnant pooch,” practicing pilates and eating right and the other soliciting natural ways to manage fibroids.
The Twitter suggestions ranged from limiting foods “tainted” with growth hormones – chicken, red meat and milk – to taking guinea hen weed, a wild Jamaican plant used to treat a wide variety of health-related issues in men and non-pregnant women. It made me realize how unbalanced my eating habits have become. Gone are the days of green juice and organic fruits and chicken and I took my last multivitamin months ago. Lately I’ve eaten whatever whenever and my body seems to rebel. I guess there’s definitely some credence to how our bodies react to what we put in it. Maybe Twitter was on to something.
I do realize alternative treatment may very well be equivalent to a placebo drug and no amount of postponing and “self-medicating” can change what is already evident and what could be my reality. I am susceptible to frequent and multiple fibroids. Perhaps I also need to prepare for the possibility that child-bearing simply may not be in my future.
Reprinted with permission from Clutch.