I was 26 when I married Marc, my best friend and the love of my life. At our wedding, my family members were already asking us when we’d be expecting.
My husband and I, the type-A people that we are, told them we had a five-year plan. When I was 30, I thought, that’s when I would get pregnant.
We wanted to enjoy our first years of marriage together before we brought a baby into our lives.
When my 30th birthday came around, we started trying. Six months later, we hadn’t conceived, so I went to my gynaecologist, where she did a routine exam to find what might be preventing me from getting pregnant.
When the results came back, she told me I had uterine fibroids.
Panic took over when I heard those words. I had no idea what fibroids were, but I knew they sounded scary – especially when my doctor said that they were tumours. Benign tumours, yes, but still tumours.
According to the National Institutes of Health, by age 50, more than 80% of African American women will develop fibroids, which are benign muscular tumours that grow inside the uterus.
For many, they don’t cause symptoms.
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My doctor referred me to a fertility specialist, who scheduled me for the first of what would become many surgeries. It was a myomectomy, a surgical procedure that removes fibroids and increases pregnancy chances.
After a bikini-cut incision and thankfully no complications, I was fully recovered within two months. I was ready to get back to trying to conceive. Without the fibroids in the way, my doctor told me, it would be a lot easier.
That couldn’t have been further from the truth. Every month, I was a little more disappointed to find out that I still wasn’t pregnant. I started to feel like a failure, and as the years went by, I started to get nervous that my biological clock was ticking. I was worried that, at this rate, I would run out of time to have a baby safely.
Five years later, I still wasn’t pregnant. Even more devastating, the fibroids were back. This time, they brought shooting pain, heavy bleeding and discomfort during sex. My doctor told me that my fibroids were even larger and more aggressive than last time.
I had to have another myomectomy – and they had to make a huge incision to remove all of the fibroids. I couldn’t stop the tears from falling in the doctor’s office when I learnt I would have another surgery. Not only was I worried about the scarring, but I also started to think that I would never get to have a child.
Within the next three years, I had yet another fibroid surgery, plus a few more to fix an obstruction in my small bowel, caused by a prior fibroid surgery, and do damage control from other surgical complications.
I remember days when my fibroids were so bad that I started haemorrhaging, a common side effect of the heavy bleeding associated with fibroids. I was rushed to the hospital to stop my loss of blood.
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After all of these complications, my doctor told me that I would never get pregnant without IVF because of my medical history and my age. So in between my various surgeries, I started pumping my body with hormones to boost my fertility, went in for sonograms and had my eggs extracted. It was exhausting.
I thought it had all paid off when I got pregnant after the first round of IVF, only to find out that I miscarried shortly after. My husband and I were disappointed, but we were relieved to see that I could get pregnant at all, given my medical history. We knew there was hope and we were determined to have a baby.
I went through three more rounds of IVF after that, and every one of those attempts failed. The hormones I was taking turned me into an angry, easily triggered person – the complete opposite of who I am normally. Though my husband was my rock and loved me through every extreme mood swing, we started fighting a lot more than before.
The strain that every round of IVF put on our marriage made it even more frustrating when the pregnancy tests all came back negative. I felt helpless. I felt like a failure.
When my doctor asked me if I wanted to try a fifth round, I had just gotten out of the hospital after my third fibroid surgery. At 39 years old, with years of surgeries and complications behind me, I didn’t think my body could physically handle another IVF treatment.
But still, I couldn’t talk myself out of trying one more time. After that last round, I finally got pregnant with our daughter, Nia.
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My husband and I must have cried for an entire day when we found out. Joy doesn’t come close to describing how I felt after learning that it had really worked. Of course, we were nervous about the possibility of another miscarriage, but we had the support of our family, friends and each other. Everyone we knew was praying for us and our baby.
Pregnancy was smooth sailing until about 21 weeks. My fibroids came back, and this time, they were taking away some of Nia’s blood supply in the womb, which caused foetal growth restriction.
My doctors knew then that I wouldn’t be able to carry to full-term, which could cause serious problems for my baby. On top of that, foetal growth restriction is known to cause preeclampsia, or high blood pressure, in mothers. Because I have a kidney disease, the high-blood pressure could cause renal failure. It could be life-threatening for me.
With all of these risks in mind, they urged me to consider terminating the pregnancy I had waited 10 years for. Once again, I knew I wasn’t ready to give up. Neither was my daughter. She fought until I was 32 weeks pregnant, when my doctors said she’d have a better chance outside of my womb than in it.
I fought through a difficult end to my pregnancy too, and my doctors helped me keep my blood pressure down as much as possible. I had a C-section, and my daughter was born weighing just 1.1 kilos. She was small, but she was feisty. She has been ever since.
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I call Nia my “miracle baby”, because during that 10-year battle with severe fibroids and unrelenting infertility, I never thought she would be here. She has inspired me to coach other women struggling with uterine fibroids as they try to have miracle babies of their own.
I’ve travelled around the world to empower women, and I’ve written a book about my story, and the stories of 15 other women who fought through their fibroids and became the mothers they dreamed of being, too.
My battle with uterine fibroids ended with a hysterectomy in 2015, when my uterus was removed. But I stand in solidarity and support of all women with fibroids who still have hopes of getting pregnant. To them, I’ll say this: You’re stronger than you feel, you have more options than you think, and you are not alone.
This article was originally featured on www.womenshealthsa.co.za
Image credit: iStock