It was just days after my 33rd birthday when my doctor delivered the worst news of my life: I will likely never have a child and fulfill my greatest wish of being a mother. When hit with the news that I am infertile, I could not stop crying. And not only was it very unlikely I’d ever conceive, my health was in jeopardy.
How did I get here? One word: endometriosis.
I’ve been reluctant to share the story of my infertility because it is so personal. But I was persuaded by the manager in my doctor’s office to tell my story because, as she put it, “Many women suffer in silence alone. Please share your story.”
I am not alone. I am one of an estimated nearly 176 million women globally who suffer with endometriosis, a chronic condition where endometrial tissue grows outside of the uterus on other organs or structures in the body. There is often an autoimmune component to the disease.
The symptoms can be intense and life-altering: debilitating pain, cramps, menstruation that lasts more than a week, bowel and urinary disorders and infertility. Some women, however, have no sign of the disease and it’s not until they try in vain to conceive a child that silent endometriosis (asymptomatic endo) is discovered.
In my case, I did not have symptoms until my body was under acute attack.
Women diagnosed with endometriosis do not all wind up in a similar situation. Here’s what happened in my case:
It was Feb. 1, 2016, and it was one of my happiest days at work. I joined my colleagues in fawning over a group of adorable puppies for an “Animal Planet” segment on “Puppy Bowl.” It was a day filled with smiles.
But later that afternoon, I suddenly became very ill. I was bleeding heavily; I had an intense pain on my right side.
Confused and scared, I reached out to Fox News’ Dr. Manny Alvarez. He offered several possibilities, then told me I should see my gynecologist as soon as possible.
I was unable to get an appointment with my doctor, who was booked solid. My fear grew as the bleeding continued and I developed a high fever.
I decided to go to the emergency room.
I waited there for several hours before I saw a general practitioner. He said he could not find anything wrong, but said that I should get an ultrasound – which was not available at the hospital at the time I was being treated. So, I was sent on my way.
I grew sicker and sicker.
When I finally got an appointment with my gynecologist, she looked at me and said, “Oh, you look so sick.” I sat in her office pale, sweaty, fighting back tears. She, too, could find nothing wrong.
My condition continued to worsen, so I went to a specialist.
A few minutes into my exam, the doctor discovered a mass in my uterus. As she delivered the news, my heart raced and my legs shook. She explained that I would need surgery and something called an egg reserve blood test to see if my fertility was compromised.
Two days later, she called to say that I would need surgery immediately. I was shocked at the sudden urgency, but she explained that my low egg reserve indicated aggressive endometriosis.
I was then referred to the team of doctors I now call my “Earth angels.” Dr. Andrea Vidali, his partner Dr. Jeffrey Braverman and Dr. Mutahar Ahmed. If not for their expertise and the quality care of their medical teams, I likely would have had a hysterectomy at the age of 33!
Last year, I underwent a 3 ½ -hour surgery on my uterus, ovaries and bladder to remove the endometrial tissue that was causing the excessive bleeding and paralyzing pain.
After months of healing and physical therapy, I completed two rounds of egg retrieval to save the eggs I have left. I still have one more round of the retrieval process, which is extremely taxing, both emotionally and physically.
While I often dream about the child I want, the one I may not be able to have, I will forever be grateful to the doctors who have given me even a small chance to be a mother. I am grateful, too, that I have access to top medical care. I know there are women who are not able to get a proper diagnosis or care.
I have shed many tears because of endometriosis. But this illness, which made my body so weak, has also made me so strong.
So, I tell my story here for all the ladies in the world. If you have symptoms of endometriosis, do not be afraid to advocate for yourself. Trust your intuition and seek out a specialist. Remember, not all medical practitioners are well-versed with the signs of this disease.
As for me, my story is still being written. I wish I could offer a Hollywood happily-ever-after ending. I can’t. But for now my contribution is knowledge from experience.
The more we talk about women's health issues, the sooner we will get to finding cures and better treatment options.
You are not alone.