What is a time of joy for many women was my darkest hour.
I remember my first pregnancy test.
I bought it at a Walgreens 27 blocks away from my apartment, so I wouldn’t be seen. I was in my early twenties, but I could have been 14 and my reaction would have been the same. I felt a sense of shame as I bought it ... along with a box of tampons, hoping to throw the cashier off the scent of my poor decision-making.
My period was two months late. This was all a terrible mistake.
I was raised by a single mom in Florida. She’s a high-school teacher, who also works nights, weekends and summers. If I know anything about hard work and sacrifice, it’s because of her.
My mother always worked at least two jobs at a time so I could take dance lessons, Tae Kwon Do lessons, ice-skating lessons…and so my mind never had to grow up faster than my body did.
I didn’t necessarily know what my mother’s dream was, I just knew the career path she took to give me a stable existence. I appreciated her for that, but that wasn’t a sacrifice I was ready or willing to make for another “me” at the time.
I was still in college, working on completing my degree in the arts. I lived in a studio apartment in San Francisco with four friends from high school, and at night I told jokes about my vagina on stage.
I sat in my bathroom for 15 minutes, thinking. I read the instructions on the box over and over. I thought about my future and how having a child was never on my top list of priorities.
I used to sit in my friend’s apartment, talking about my future career with the same passion she had when gushing about her future children. I used to tell my mom the only grandkids she was going to get were four-legged.
I thought about how I was supposed to become so successful that I could buy her a condo in Hawaii, not ask her for help with the family I accidentally created.
I thought about my current relationship and how “being nice” doesn’t exactly qualify you as a life partner. There are other things to consider like -- do we agree on anything important -- religion, politics, baby names? And how, if the answer to any of those questions was yes, I probably wouldn’t have been on the verge of a nervous breakdown in my bathroom.
When I came out to confront my anxious boyfriend, it was still in the package.
“I can’t do it,” I said, defeated.
He calmed me down by saying that, though not ideal, this situation wouldn’t “ruin my life,” which was the phrase I kept repeating.
I hid the pregnancy test in a drawer and the next day I went to my job as a nanny, where I got paid to take care of another couple’s kid. She was 10 months old and every time I fed her, changed her diaper or talked her down from a tantrum, I looked at my stomach and tried to picture what it would feel like if I didn’t get to give her back at the end of the day.
When I finally took the test, it was negative, and eventually, my almost-baby-daddy and I broke up.
It is a couple years later and I am sitting in my gynecologist’s office.
“The doctor will be in in just a few moments,” the nurse said, then left the room.
I have been there so many times in the past few months that I’ve finally worked my way through all the Nurse Practitioners and am about to spread my legs to the Head Honcho of Gynecology herself.
So far, no one can figure out what’s wrong with me. I am just in pain. Pain in my abdomen, pain when I put in a tampon, pain when I have sex. And most recently, a week of heavy, painful, irregular bleeding that felt like it was sucking the life out of me. I have been tested for UTIs, STDs, LMNOPs and other various infections, and they have all come up negative.
Since I was filled with mystery pain and nothing tangible to prove its existence, the gang of gynos did what every doctor does when they have no idea what’s wrong with you: They chalked it up to “stress.”
I hated that diagnosis, it stressed me out. So now every time I have a long week at work, I have to worry that my body is going to straight-up rebel against me and start hemorrhaging? We have to do better than that, docs.
So finally, I am here seeing the lady whose name is on the office door. When she comes in, she is friendly, straight to the point and funny, which is everything I look for in a doctor. After a few minutes of checking under the hood, she lets me sit up and says,
“Have you ever heard of Endometriosis?”
I have WebMD bookmarked on my Internet browser, so yeah, I’ve heard of it.
Endometriosis is essentially where the lining that is supposed to be on the inside of your Uterus, grows on the outside of your Uterus.
(You had ONE job, Uterus lining).
It can cause extreme, debilitating pain, often requires surgery and one of its major side effects is infertility.
She gives me a pamphlet to take home, that I immediately throw into a drawer, because I can’t read it without my heart rate increasing. I know this disease encompasses so much more, but for now, “infertility” is all that’s on my mind.
I went from “Maybe I don’t want to have kids naturally” to “Maybe I can’t have kids naturally” and I couldn’t help but feel robbed of the choice I didn’t know I wanted.
By now, I am dating someone new. He’s hilarious and loud and has one of the biggest hearts I’ve ever known a human to possess.
In our current relationship, he is helping me raise a kitten. In the past, he had helped raise a child that wasn’t his own. And even though they don’t have contact anymore, his apartment is still decorated with drawings and photos of her. Something that should have melted my heart, as the product of a single-parent household, instead, filled me with jealousy and anger. All of a sudden, I wanted to be a part of that.
It felt unfair that my body was breaking down as I was falling in love with someone who would, someday, make the best dad ever. It broke my heart to see how much he missed his fatherly role, knowing that I may never be able to give that to him.
I felt like an asshole when yet another friend announced her pregnancy and I thought, “You too? Congratulations. Everyone’s body works except mine.”
Of course that’s not true. Endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women in the US and 176 MILLION women worldwide.
But it doesn’t feel like 1 in 10. It feels isolating. I’ve met hundreds of people with periods and ONE person who is open about her Endometriosis. ONE. And it feels isolating because there is still so much that even doctors don’t know about the disease.
“OK, so let me get this straight…it doesn’t always show up on MRIs or Ultrasounds? And it affects my uterus lining but removing my uterus doesn’t necessarily cure it or give me any relief? So, I should just settle in for a lifetime of pain and frustration? Neat.”
I don’t know what my future is with this disease. It’s still very new to me. But I do know that it has already taught me not to take things for granted.
It was easy for me to take a no baby makin’ stance because I thought the option would always be available to me. It has made me more compassionate and understanding of other women. I know I’ll continue reading the Endo pages and the Endo articles that help me draw strength from other strong, inspiring women who are in my same position, or worse.
I remember my last pregnancy test.
I sat in my bathroom for 15 minutes, thinking. I unwrapped the test, which I bought at a Walgreens two blocks away from my apartment, sans tampons. I thought about my future and how having a child has moved up on my list of priorities.
I thought about my mom and how she would make the best grandma ever and how cool it would be to teach my kids to swim in front of her condo in Hawaii. I thought about my current relationship and how we agree on almost everything important -- religion, politics, baby names.
And how, even though I was 99% sure the test would be negative, I probably wouldn’t have had a nervous breakdown if it wasn’t.