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March is endometriosis awareness month, and I’ve partnered with The Center for Innovative GYN Care to help raise awareness about this “invisible” yet excruciating disorder. As I have been diagnosed with two chronic conditions, polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis, I feel it’s important to share my story.
This is my infertility journey….
I’ll never forget the feelings of failure and loss when I had a miscarriage. I was scared, and I couldn’t stop crying… I was truly defeated. Little did I know that was the beginning of a 4-year long battle to get pregnant.
As all of my friends were getting pregnant, having healthy pregnancies, and delivering beautiful babies, I kept going month to month, hoping for a positive test. As the days, months and years went by, I would tell myself, “now just isn’t the right time.” As a woman, it’s in our biological nature to carry and bear a child. Some women want children, and others don’t, but I desperately wanted a child. The questions I hear women ask themselves when struggling with fertility, and a few I would ask myself were:
- Why is this happening to me?
- What’s wrong with me?
- What makes me different from everyone else?
- Am I unhealthy?
- Am I too old to have children?
- What can I do to fix this?
- Is this genetic?
- What did I do wrong?
During the period of time I was trying to conceive, my anxiety was at its peak; I was debilitated with panic attacks, feelings of doubt, insecurity, and hopelessness. The miscarriage I suffered in 2009 and the ominous sense of defeat, being incapable of conceiving, was wearing me down, physically and emotionally. After 4 years of still not getting pregnant and diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome, my OBGYN recommended I go to a fertility specialist. I had been carrying multiple cysts in my left ovary since high school, and at this point, there was nothing else my obstetrician could do. To put it into perspective, a woman’s ovary is the size of an almond; just one cyst I was carrying was the size of a golf ball. The fertility doctor concurred with my obstetrician that I do have PCOS and possibly endometriosis. At this point, at least I knew why my cycles were irregular and why I was more likely to have difficulty conceiving and carrying a child to full term. But at the same time, it raised the question, “What are we going to do about it?”
My fertility doctor then recommended I go to one of the most advanced GYN surgical specialists in the country, The Center for Innovative GYN Care or CIGC for short. I had my first visit with Dr. Paul MacKoul and his team in the summer of 2012 to explain my options. Dr. MacKoul was very kind, calm, and reassuring. However, he didn’t sugarcoat anything either, which I liked. He was upfront and honest with me about what needed to be done to ensure I could get pregnant and get my cycles back to normal. Based on all the options available and the cyst that no doubt needed to be removed, Dr. MacKoul recommended surgery. Specifically, a minimally invasive procedure called laparoscopy.
The mere thought of going under “the knife” was scary at first, but if this was the first step in conceiving my baby, I was all in. When explaining the details of what surgery would entail and how it would impact me, Dr. MacKoul was honest about the possibility that it may not be possible to keep my left ovary; however, he assured me that he was going to do his best to keep everything intact. It was decided I would have my surgery in September of 2012.
As I arrived at the hospital that morning, my nerves were through the roof. Fortunately, I had the love and support of my family, along with a team of incredible doctors by my side every step of the way. The surgery was minimally invasive, the recovery time took only days, and I was back on my yoga mat within two weeks. Coming out of surgery, I remember the first question I asked, “Did they save my ovary?” Yes, they did. Dr. MacKoul was able to remove the cysts and kept my ovary intact.
As it turns out, by going through this procedure, Dr. MacKoul discovered that I do have endometriosis, which can’t be diagnosed without going through laparoscopy. For those that aren’t aware of what endometriosis is, it’s a “painful disorder in which tissue similar to the tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus.”(MayoClinic.com, 2020) It is a complex GYN condition that can be difficult to diagnose. Approximately one-third to one-half of women with endometriosis have difficulty getting pregnant, and if they do conceive, they have difficulty carrying a fetus to full term. (MayoClinic.com, 2020) Treating endometriosis early with surgical diagnosis and removal addresses symptoms such as pain and infertility. Just having that diagnosis alone provided me with immense clarity and allowed my doctors and my surgeon to make recommendations on how to manage the chronic condition. Dr. MacKoul also reiterated that endometriosis is an “invisible” condition by stating in this Refinery29 article, “One problem with endometriosis is that you can’t identify it well with ultrasounds.” He goes on to say, “Most patients will need a laparoscopy.” If you experience pain during both sex and mensuration, he recommends seeing a specialist who can help you treat the condition. (Longman, Refinery29.com)
One month after my surgery and being cleared by Dr. MacKoul, I went back into my fertility doctor’s office. The doctor handed me a packet of fertility treatment information and pricing. Something inside of me, I believe my intuition or – “my higher self” said to wait. I told my doctor that I was going to hold off and give my body time to heal. Sure enough, 6 weeks later, when I took my first pregnancy test, low and behold, I couldn’t believe my eyes, but the test was positive. I was in shock! So much so, I took one more test… positive. I thought something must have been wrong with that box, so I went to the grocery store, got the foolproof $25 EPT tests, went home, and took two more… PREGNANT, PREGNANT. The words I had been yearning to see for 4 years were right there in front of me… I still have all four tests in a zip lock bag in my closet. The tests are my reminder of the feelings I felt that day and the 10 months of my pregnancy. The tests are my reminder that anything and everything is possible. I felt pure undeniable joy, and that day changed the course of my life forever.
The next time I would walk into the fertility office was December 13th, 2012. That was the day I saw Olivia’s heartbeat on the monitor for the first time. I was 6 weeks and 5 days pregnant. You do the math… I had surgery in September, and I found out I was 6 weeks pregnant by December 13th. Following my surgery, I had one cycle and conceived Olivia that following month. I had tried to conceive for 4 years, and it only took one month after my surgery to conceive. The days between the positive at-home tests and seeing Olivia on the sonogram felt like decades. I’ll never forget seeing her on the screen with my own eyes – the feeling of love is indescribable, and the word “love” frankly isn’t strong enough. I had so much love for this baby growing inside of me that I had never met, but who I also had waited so incredibly long for. Olivia was born on July 31st, 2013… Healthy and strong.
If it weren’t for CIGC and Dr. MacKoul’s incredible team, Olivia wouldn’t be here. Period. Olivia was waiting for the right time and the right medical team to fix her mommy so that I could hold and carry her safely. I live with polycystic ovarian syndrome and endometriosis. Both of these conditions are chronic and have no cure. I have since had one other surgery with CIGC to remove a newly developed cyst in 2017, but my endometriosis has been at bay since then. After having my first surgery in 2013, my cycles are normal, and I’m healthy. I no longer live in pain every month, and I know that if I have challenges conceiving in the future, my team at CIGC will be there. Olivia is now 6 and a half and the pure light of my life. I am so incredibly grateful to CIGC’s amazing team! They are truly experts in their field, and you shouldn’t think twice about a consultation.
I can’t stress enough that if you are having trouble conceiving or have had trouble conceiving in the past, please allow yourself to explore all options available before fertility treatment. Perhaps there is an alternative, less invasive way than fertility drugs. In my instance, I had two conditions that stood in my way of conceiving and carrying a child. Once those obstacles were removed, and a treatment plan was given, I conceived and have since managed my conditions with a plan set by Dr. Mackoul ever since. Olivia is living proof that one visit to CIGC can literally change your life.
I found these articles from MayoClinic and the Refinery 29 article to be incredibly helpful and cited them in my post today.
Endometriosis: https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/endometriosis/symptoms-causes/syc-20354656 Accessed March 24th,2020
Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS): https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pcos/symptoms-causes/syc-20353439 Accessed March 24th,2020
If You’re in Pain During Sex, Read This: Molly Longman – https://www.refinery29.com/en-us/why-does-sex-hurt-during Accessed March 24th,2020