Most woman have a dream of becoming a mother one day. I was one of them. Since I was a kid, I always played with my dolls imagining they were my babies. I dreamed of having a big house, finding a good husband and having 5 children. But, before my husband freaks out reading this, let me clarify that I am not currently planing on having 5 children. We have two lovely daughters that keep us busy and it may stay like that for a while longer.
Going back to my dream of becoming a mother, as a young child or teenager, I really didn’t understand all the responsibilities that would come with it, but it was nice to imagine having my own little happy family. Although it was a happy ending for me with my two smart and beautiful (sometimes defiant) daughters, the road wasn’t smooth to get here.
It all started with pain. For most of my life I lived with pain thinking that it was normal. Since very young age, around 13-14 years old I had very strong debilitating pelvic pain during my periods. I had to be picked up at school and take very strong pain killers. The pain was so severe, that I would vomit and even faint because of it. I was offended when a teacher asked if I was pregnant. “This looks like pregnancy symptoms to me. What have you done?” I was only a kid and had never been with a man, so it was very insulting! Anyways, I got over it as I was more focused on getting home and get some hot packs and pain killers.
My grandma told me that “some women were like that” and “it will get better once you have a child”. My mother used to get menstrual cramps before she had me, so everyone assumed that my pain was “normal”. I am not sure they fully appreciated how bad I felt, but I trusted their judgement and lived with this pain missing school days here and there.
Most people don’t understand pain unless they had it themselves or if it is from something obvious like an injury. Pain is somewhat subjective as the tolerance is different for each person. I am not an expert, so I will leave the pain discussion here. For me, those 2-3 days of every moth were the worse days of my life. I wanted to die. I wanted to pull everything out of me. For a couple days following the pain, I didn’t have much energy, just wanted to lay down and recover while some people would call me lazy.
With time, I learned how to cope with this pain, it was part of me. I already knew what medications to take, although none of them got me to a pain-free state. I continued with my life complaining once in a while and questioning God “why me?”
The pain followed me through high school, college, grad school… it was there just waiting for those 2-3 days to show up. I was called anti-social many times as I didn’t feel like going out with my pain. Some people said “you are always sick, what’s wrong with you?” So, I decided to keep my pain to myself and I found other excuses to not hang out during these 2-3 days of every month.
I had a few gynecologists and they all said I was fine as they prescribed some birth control pills that were supposed to help stop the pain. It didn’t.
I heard everything from “it’s your imagination” to “you probably did something bad in your previous life” to justify what I was felling. It was difficult to explain that it wasn’t my imagination, it really hurt! Never mind arguing whether I had done something really bad in a previous life… I just felt inferior, weak… but I pushed it through.
At some point, the pain was almost like a best friend. I could count that it would come and hang out for a while. It was predictable and I knew how to deal with it. I did get frustrated with it sometimes and I cried many other times. But I knew it wouldn’t matter how much I cried or complained, after all those years I should be nothing more than accepting of it.
Then, something happened. I was looking for a new post doctoral appointment when I came across an offer to work on endometriosis research. I’d never heard about it before, but it sounded like a great opportunity and it was related to women’s health, a topic I was very interested in.
As I did my homework and studied all about endometriosis, talked to my advisor and colleagues in the lab, something clicked in. Maybe this is what causes my pain! I had a glimpse of hope to at least understand why I was feeling this pain for so many years. And learning that I was not the only one (approximately 1 in 10 woman has endometriosis) reassured me that it was definitely not my imagination!
But what is endometriosis? Endometriosis is a condition where tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found elsewhere in the body. It is most commonly found in the pelvic cavity attaching to any of the female reproductive organs, bladder and bowls. Endometriosis is known to cause infertility and intense debilitating pelvic pain. Not all woman have symptoms, but some do even at the early stages of the disease. If you would like to know more I recommend you check out this website: Endometriosis Foundation of America.
It was almost a magical moment when I realized that I had a lot of the symptoms associated with endometriosis. I couldn’t believe none of the doctors I’d seen before didn’t even mentioned it! As I was working on endometriosis research, I had access to the best scientists and physicians in the field. I talked to all of them and they believed it was possible that I had endometriosis based on my symptoms; however, for a proper diagnose I would need a laparoscopic surgery.
Great, I probably found the cause of my pain, but I would have to undergo surgery to diagnose it. The good news is that if they did find endometriosis lesions during the laparoscopy, they would be able to remove it right away. I wasn’t ready for that step, not yet. So I stayed with my pain for a little longer.
I was certain that I had endometriosis although I hadn’t been properly diagnosed yet. One of the doctors we worked with as part of my research had a new method of diagnosing via ultrasound with more 90% accuracy for certain cases. It was a brand new technique and the doctor kindly sent me to his team to be tested. They found something on my uterus that looked like a deep endometriosis lesion. So, there was a 90% chance, based on this doctor’s findings, that I had the disease. I still wasn’t convinced I should go for surgery.
As I got married and planned on having children, I knew that having endometriosis could compromise this dream. We tried to conceive for several months but I couldn’t get pregnant. I was over 30 years old so I went directly to a fertility doctor that was also specialized in endometriosis. He was amazing, we had very good scientific discussions and the treatment went as smooth as it could have.
First, my husband and I got tested for several things to make sure the infertility wasn’t coming from something else, but all looked good. Following initial tests, I went to get a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) (to check Fallopian tubes) which the doctor couldn’t continue due to the extreme pain it was causing me.
Finally, my doctor and I agreed that laparoscopy was my best shot and that he could do the HSG while I was under anesthesia. I scheduled my surgery with excitement. During my work on endometriosis I had watched a couple laparoscopic surgeries so I wasn’t afraid of it. The day of the surgery my husband and I headed to the hospital with our hopes up. The medical team was great, and I felt very good but also anxious to know what was inside me. As the anesthesiologist talked to me, the drugs kicked in and I was out. I woke up a few hours later feeling like I just had a quick nap. The nurse gave me some water and some crackers and my husband came to see me. He looked so scared! But he was happy to see I was looking okay and even joked about me smiling and chatting as if nothing had happened.
Then, my doctor came to see me with a smile on his face: “Your surgery went very well! You had stage 2 endometriosis, with lesions on your uterus, bladder and right ovary. We were able to remove them all.” He then takes some papers out of his folders with pictures of my endometriosis. They were there! All these years, suffering with pain because of these tiny lesions on my organs. They were gone now.
I couldn’t really process what all that meant as I was a little groggy from the drugs. The doctor gave me my pictures and said that I should be okay now. My husband took me home and took care of me for about a week while I recovered. I won’t lie to you, the recovery wasn’t easy, I had pain and it was difficult to do things around the house but I had my dear husband’s support going through it all.
I asked my doctor when I could try to get pregnant again and he said I could try after 1-2 months. So I did. I got pregnant right away (without any other intervention). When I called my doctor to let him know, his response was “already??” I was so happy. I was finally able to accomplish one of my biggest dream. I was going to be a mother.
I had no complications with either of my pregnancies and both of my children were born healthy. I know there is a chance that the endometriosis can come back, but for now, I don’t have more than mild to no pain during my periods and had no problem getting pregnant a second time. It is almost unbelievable for me that I don’t need those strong medicines anymore and I can go through those 2-3 days of every month being like myself.
My message is for girls and women to not accept that pain is normal. It is not normal to feel pain and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Women are not meant to suffer. We are meant to be happy and successful in any way we choose to.
I am glad to see that people are more aware about endometriosis today than they were in the past, although the mechanisms of how the disease works are still being investigated. I am glad to see highly respected scientists and physicians joining efforts to find a cure or better treatments to help women around the world. And for me, I am happy and thankful for all the people in my life that, in one way or another, supported me through my pain and for having the opportunity to learn, get treated, and to have the family that I always dreamed of.