If you’re suffering from Endometriosis or experiencing symptoms, always seek medical advice from your doctor for diagnosis and treatment options.
I was out for dinner with a girlfriend last weekend and made the thoughtless decision to ask when she wanted to have kids.
The minute it came out of my mouth, I knew I’d just thrown a boomerang that was coming straight back to me. And it did. She answered, then asked me the same question.
I laughed awkwardly. “Ages,” I said. “Maybe 10 years? I can’t imagine having children by 30. I refuse to even think about it. I’m only 21.”
Of course, I was lying through my teeth.
I think about it most days. Some days the thought genuinely consumes me. Like a fleeting and intense storm that stops as fast as it starts, its onslaught gives little warning and its damage doesn’t discriminate.
In moments when I am ambushed by fear and confusion and worry, I find myself trying to navigate something that doesn’t affect me now, but may well in 10 years time.
Because the thing about fertility, and infertility for that matter, is that it’s a surprisingly exclusive conversation. As if your voice and emotions have more gravitas and credibility the moment you start trying for kids. In this domain, the women that have the monopoly on the conversation are the ones living through it: The ones trying and the ones struggling. It’s simply an older woman’s conversation.
Infertility is a fairly persistent cloud that follows me around, unrelenting in it's potential to be part of my story. Endometriosis is the cause. In the essence of full disclosure, one thing to note is that it’s not an absolute: it may not leave me completely infertile. But the links between the two are as assumed as they are well-documented.
Much of the diagnosis is now a fuzzy memory. It was a prolonged period of slow epiphanies about why the hell so many small, unassuming things brought me so much pain.
The conversation I had with my specialist, just days after surgery though was crystal clear. "Fertility?" I awkwardly asked, conscious of not being dramatic but fairly desperate for answers. She gave me a warm, but firm smile back. "We will cross that bridge when we come to it, lest we need to come to it," she told me.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, one thing I've found for certain over these last few years is that telling someone not to worry about something will only exacerbate the worry. And crossing the bridge later seems illogical when I find myself with one foot already planted on it.
The great paradox for me now, of course, is being told it is career suicide to get pregnant in your 20s. Why talk about fertility now? Focus on your work, your career is your jam.
But hold up. Now you’re in your 30s? Tick-tock! That clock is more like a time bomb now, and you’re about to fall victim to its hands.
It seems like there's a two-year window in a woman's life between 31-33 years where it's both socially acceptable and an optimal time biologically to fall pregnant and actually talk about fertility. But there’s a gaping hole where young women aren’t part of the conversation.
Why don't we hear from the young women who know they might have fertility issues in the future, but can’t do anything about it just yet? Why don’t we ever hear from the ones who have to tread water for years in a cruel kind of no-man's land, a painful kind of purgatory, worrying about something they can’t fix for a very long time?
So where are we? We are simply buying time. Navigating the worry without the emotional maturity. Keeping mum, ironically, on a character we may never get to play.
The further irony of it all, of course, is the question of how you can possibly comprehend something that’s probably broken now but that you’re not allowed to fix just yet, much less talk about.
It is, I’ve found, not the best conversation starter at my age. Who wants get that heavy and think that far in advance when most my age spend their weekends weighing up how little time they can dedicate to a uni assignment without failing?
The few times I have raised it, I’ve found there is one natural and overwhelming response: “Fertility? Oh, by the time you have kids, the science surely will have caught up! And if not, how many other options will you have by then? Not to worry now, poppet!”
Sure, no one I know calls me poppet and talks with that much exclamation nor enthusiasm, but the narrative is the same: This isn’t your problem yet.
At its best, it’s good intentions enveloped by ignorance. At its worst, it’s dismissive, close-minded and dangerous.
At its very bedrock, fertility is a universal problem. It will betray the healthiest bodies and the most positive minds. It forces many to navigate and understand that our love has value, and will have value, beyond the confines of the maternal. It’s complicated and stressful and confusing at its very core.
But being locked out of the conversation to begin with? Well that’s where it just gets dangerous.
Mamamia's Endo Awareness Week, curated by Founder of EndoActive Syl Freedman, shines a light on a disease suffered by one in 10 Australian women. To read more from Endo Awareness Week, click here. If you'd like to find out more information on Endometriosis, Syl's story or Endo Active, visit endoactive.org.au and keep up to date on their Facebook page.