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Disclaimer: If you don't have or never had a uterus, you might not want to read this post. Just sayin' 🙂
So, you may have noticed that I haven't been writing new posts recently. I'd like to say that it's due to the fact that my freelance writing business and position as a prevention instructor for a nonprofit organization are keeping me so busy, I just haven't had time to devote to the blog. Now while part of that is true (I am extremely busy writing and teaching), being busy is not the main reason for my absence.
No matter what I am doing in my professional life, one of my passions has always been writing. And although I do write professionally, I still enjoy (believe it or not), writing for myself. Some people really hate writing. Scratch that. I mean they LOATHE writing. It's like they would rather get a tooth pulled than write a paragraph. Not me, though. I'm the opposite. I LOVE writing...I love it enough to do it as my job and as my hobby. And I do it for ME.
So, I suppose now we're back to part where I explain why I haven't been posting much in recent months. Unfortunately, I have been dealing with some medical issues which, until a few weeks ago, went undiagnosed for quite some time. I'll start with endometriosis because that's the one disease I already knew I had.
Getting Diagnosed with Endometriosis & Becoming Pregnant
I became pregnant with my first daughter at the age of 29 after several years of trying with no hope and no explanation or known cause from any doctor I saw until I finally found my current gynecology group. It was discovered during the first visit that I had a uterine polyp and suspected endometriosis. I told the doctor my symptoms and an internal ultrasound was done which is what revealed the polyp. No doctor I had seen in the past had even offered to perform an ultrasound. I was told repeatedly that I'm young and to give it six months before infertility can be discussed. Needless to say, not only did I have a uterine polyp, but endometriosis was also discovered. After both were removed, I became pregnant within several weeks.
Fast forward about a year and a half later and I was back in the hospital to remove another polyp that had been discovered. The plan was to have another baby but it didn't happen. When it was a little more than two years after having my first baby, I assumed the endometriosis must have come back by now. Thinking there was no possible way I could become pregnant again with it, I was quite surprised to find out another little girl would be arriving.
Neither baby, of course, came without drama. The first was born prematurely at 35 weeks via C-section after I spent three weeks in the hospital on bed rest as the amniotic fluid was no longer measurable. The second time around, doctors were ahead of the game by placing me in the "high-risk" pregnancy category. Ultrasounds repeatedly showed the fluid level was right on par. Everything was going well until one day I stopped feeling the baby moving. After visiting my doctor and being sent to the hospital, I ended up in emergency C-section that night at 36 weeks. It was discovered the cord was wrapped around the baby's neck twice and that I had been in labor for approximately two or three days prior. Hey, how would I know? I never felt labor before.
These babies are now nine and six. Oh, how time flies! With that being said, there has been an awful lot of time for my endometriosis to come back in full force. According to my doctor, endometriosis never goes away. The laparoscopic surgery done to remove the disease only lasts for a few cycles. Pregnancy and hormonal contraceptives also keep this beast at bay due to the lack of ovulation. About a year after my second daughter was born, I did take birth control pills on and off for a while when some ovarian cysts were discovered. However, a I stopped after about two years because I was concerned about the side effects, such as weight gain, moodiness and a spike in blood pressure. So, one day I just decided to stop taking them all together.
Cue lion's roar. Guess what? It's baaack. Oh, excuse me. I mean, it's wooorse. It never went away; it was merely suppressed. And it took me a long time to understand that fully. I got so used to not having symptoms when I was taking the medication that I forgot what it was like to have them at all. So, little by little, month after month, cycle after cycle, the disease continued to spread like the plague bringing with it unbearable pain, extremely heavy and ridiculously lengthy periods, fatigue, dizziness, headaches, nausea, anemia and a new symptom - gastrointestinal issues.
It's a Gas, Gas, Gas!
The funny part about it though was that I only had the gastro issues shortly before and during my period. Hmm...strange. The bloating was so bad, some days I looked six months pregnant. I remember lying on the floor after eating out with the family following my daughter's dance recital, screaming in pain from indigestion. That night, I drove to Walgreens at 10:00 to stock up on Gas-X. Somehow this became a family joke because my husband and daughter were amused to put these chewable gems in my Christmas stocking this year. Hahaha! So funny! In case you were wondering, that was written with the most sarcasm possible.
Anyway, in addition to the symptoms already described, I also had pain and pressure on the bladder and bowels. There were days I couldn't even sit down without pain. In fact, one day I was driving to work and thought I was going to pass out from the pain. I was convinced it was an ovarian cyst again. I had had them before and also felt the excruciating pain of them rupturing. So, I took some ibuprofen, sucked it up and taught my classes.
Dealing with Depression & a New Diagnosis
As my menstrual cycle grew shorter and shorter (down to 25 days) and my periods grew longer and longer (sometimes 10-12 days), my quality of life began declining. The pain was overwhelming and the only way I can describe it is that it felt like there was someone inside of me trying to cut his or her way out with a knife. I spiraled into a state of depression. I stopped making time for myself and instead of blogging, creating new recipes and working out at the gym, I focused on work and responsibilities at home, such as the kids and housekeeping. It took a long time for me to realize that I needed to finally do something about this.
It was time to make an appointment to see my gynecologist. I described my symptoms and waited to hear that I had an ovarian cyst and my endometriosis was probably "back." Instead, I was told that in addition to the endometriosis that "never went away," the doctor suspected I most likely also now had something called adenomyosis. Adding fuel to the fire, the doctor noticed some gastro issues as well with the potential diagnosis being IBS-C related to menstruation.
So, all my ferocious beasts came together. The roaring lion (endometriosis), the sneaky tiger (adenomyosis) and the bear (IBS), which awakens from its hibernation ready to pounce.
Not Ready for the News
I had never heard of adenomyosis before. Unlike endometriosis which is when the endometrium grows outside of the uterus, adenomyosis is when endometrial tissue exists and grows the uterine wall. It also causes an enlarged uterus. Unfortunately, the only cure is hysterectomy. When that word came out of my doctor's mouth, it hit me like a ton of bricks.
"Now hold on a minute! I'm not even 40 yet!" I screamed (in my head, to myself).
At this time, I am not ready to blast right into menopause before the age of 40. And although I am not actively trying for a third child, I don't want to be forced to make that decision right now. The finality of it is what I am struggling with and what ultimately led me to consider the other options for treatment, one of which was going back on hormonal birth control, but this time, continuously without the placebo pills. The purpose of doing this is to stop menstruation from occurring, thereby (hopefully) eliminating the symptoms associated with it.
Before making a decision about the medication, I slipped into a state of depression again. I isolated myself and felt lonely and less "womanly." I cried. I thought too much. And then, I finally decided it was time to take my life back. I called the doctor's office and request the prescription be called into my pharmacy. The doctor chose a different pill than any I had taken in the past. Perhaps this time I will be able to tolerate any side effects. I just have to remind myself what to compare them to...the lion, the tiger and the bear.
If anyone reading this has experienced or is experiencing any of these conditions, please feel free to comment below. I would love to hear your feedback, if this post helped you in any way, how you are doing, what worked/didn't work for you and any insight you may have. I look forward to providing an update in the future and posting a new recipe very soon.
The State of the Uterus - Controlling Endometriosis Pain
When I first started taking the continuous birth control medication, which was the treatment suggested by my doctor in lieu of hysterectomy, the endometriosis pain and the pain I had been experiencing due to my related IBS and potential adenomyosis seemed to lighten up significantly. However, on the downside, instead of no period, I had a perpetual period. I think it was five months of constant bleeding minus a week or two here and there. Not the result I was hoping for! I had to experiment with dosage and then...Eureka! Something finally worked! It turned out that I needed a much higher estrogen dose than is typically prescribed.
I'm happy to report that without having a monthly period, the endometriosis pain has subsided significantly! And, I'm feeling better than I ever have! But, perhaps I can't contribute everything to the medicine alone. I did DRASTICALLY change my diet as well, primarily cutting out refined sugars and gluten, which in addition to the medicine, has helped control some of the pain and hormonal issues like acne. Doing so also helped me lose 10 pounds and significantly reduced my bloated belly.
I also later decided to adopt a vegan diet, which has helped as well. Unfortunately, I know that the medication is just a "bandaid" and that I can't take it forever, especially with such a high dose of estrogen. That's why I turned to diet changes as well. For now, I'm doing well, but will post any new information as it arises.
If you're concerned about being vegan and taking hormonal birth control, check out this article on Live Kindly.