When I turned 21, my body crashed.
I chalked it up to the regular 21-year-old things that are normally to blame on “being fat:” exhaustion, digestion issues, lower abdominal pain while exercising, weight gain, acne, and excruciating periods.
I was also coming out of an intense year of sleep deprivation, over-exertion, poor nutrition, and no real access to health care. There were those reasons, sure. But mostly, I was fat. And fat was reason enough, I thought.
After months of doctors visits, specialists, and encountering unbridled disbelief from multiple doctors who mostly all chalked my symptoms up to being fat, I walked into a GI specialist’s office. I was weary, I was tired of not being believed. I figured I was in for the same shoulder-shrugging, disbelieving, “It’s all in your head, fatty” treatment I had received for seven months.
But this doctor was different. He had three medical students. He took the most detailed “health and major event history” of my life. The intake interview with one of the students took an hour. And before I even donned the too-small examination robe, he had a theory: Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). He referred me to another specialist, and two weeks later, I underwent surgery which uncovered several spots of endometriosis in addition to my very cystic ovaries.
I was given meds and a long speech after my surgery. My uterus and ovaries were in much worse shape than my surgeon had suspected. If he had secured prior consent, he would have removed my uterus because of the extensive endometriosis and hopeless ovaries. My chances of successful pregnancies would be slim, so I needed to manage my expectations and those of my future partner. Reproductive health had to be my highest priority.
For the next seven years, I nervously shared this damning information with any man I dated for longer than a couple of weeks. When I say that it did not matter to them, I’m serious. It didn’t. But it mattered to me. I was marked.
When I married my husband, we made it clear to both of our families that talking about baby-making timelines was off limits. We would initiate that conversation when we were ready, but it was too painful for me to talk about casually. I knew I was deficient, that my body had already failed me with every bloody cycle. I didn’t want to be reminded of my dysfunction, and I certainly didn’t want to pretend as though I was normal. I wasn’t. I was broken in a way that people couldn’t see.