Fertility. As we grow up, we’re reminded time and time again to be extra safe in order not to fall pregnant. The clip of Coach Carr in Mean Girls comes to mind, “Don’t have sex, because you will get pregnant and die!”
Growing up I never gave my fertility much thought. Throughout my teens, it was more about avoiding getting pregnant, and through my early 20’s it was all about focusing on my studies.
My late 20’s saw me throw myself into my career and I had always assumed that when the time was right and I’d met the person I wanted to start a family with, I’d be able to decide when to have children and it’d be an easy process.
Nothing prepared me for the fact that for many women, including myself, this is simply not the case.
It was 2017, I was 28, engaged to be married the following year and had plans to begin trying for a baby a year or two later. We weren’t in a rush to have children and hadn’t really given it much thought as a couple.
Of course, we’d talked about the day when we would have kids. Fighting over whether it’d be a boy or a girl, whose eye colour they’d have, what traits they’d inherit and of course putting together a list of names that the both of us agreed on.
I’m a serial planner and I have spreadsheets mapping out and organising every inch of my life! I’d reached all of the other goals I’d set including education, career and relationship goals. So I was pretty certain the rest of my tick list would be easily attainable.
I started experiencing pain in what I thought was my lower back. After years of suffering kidney infections and intermittent UTI’s as a young woman, I assumed it was the same issue. I went to the doctor to have this confirmed and I was prescribed antibiotics and was advised to drink lots of water and take it easy.
After a few weeks, I went to my local A&E unit, late on a Friday night in absolute agony. Again, I provided a urine sample and was told that I had a UTI. Confused, I went home and tried to dose up with painkillers to manage the pain.
The next morning I had a call from my GP’s office who had been provided with the out of hours notes from the A&E department. They said to me, ‘As you know, your urine sample came back as positive’ which was a shock to both me and my partner. It turns out that they’d in fact ticked a box incorrectly on the paperwork and that I wasn’t pregnant at all.
My feelings of relief did get me thinking about how I’d have felt if I had been pregnant, and whether I would have felt ready or not. It also made me wonder about my fertility, and whether the issues I was having would affect it. As someone who is well known for overthinking, it did send me down a rabbit hole of Google searches and more. Never a good move when you’re suffering from something unknown.
At the end of that week, with the pain refusing to subside, I booked an appointment with a female GP that I hadn’t seen before. I felt like my normal GP hadn’t taken me overly seriously and he hadn’t physically assessed me in any of the appointments. The female GP instantly had a feel of my abdomen after listening to my symptoms and referred me for an ultrasound that took place a few days later.
I will always be thankful for this GP. I felt that she listened to what I was saying, rather than waving me away. As a fellow woman, she understood that I knew my body well and that the pain I was enduring was not normal. I’d hate to think how long it would have taken to get answers if I’d not seen her.
After the ultrasound, I was quickly referred for an MRI and a CT scan. I was in and out of the hospital over a few days, dipping in and out of work and trying my best to carry on as normal. Inside I was of course concerned and worried. The fear of not knowing what was wrong was the scariest part and I felt constantly on edge throughout the entire process.
People close to me said “Oh don’t you worry. It won’t be anything serious. You’ll see.” I really wish people wouldn’t say things like that to people going through medical issues. I may be an overthinker but I’m also slightly superstitious… “Don’t tempt fate” my Mum always says.
The consultant I was referred to said that a ‘mass’ had been found on my left ovary but that the scans weren’t conclusive. The only way to be completely sure was to take a look up close and personal. I was booked in for surgery a month later.
My reaction was, of course, to be extremely upset. I was worried about taking the six weeks off work. I was suddenly worried about my future fertility, I had so many questions and I felt overwhelmed with the possibilities of what this mass could be. Of course, the worry that it was cancer was high on my mind and I felt my world crumble around me in the time leading up to the operation.
I was promised that where possible, they would preserve my ovaries/reproductive organs to the best of their ability. I was kept informed at every stage of the process and never felt like a question I asked was redundant or stupid.
On the 11th of October 2017, I had a serous tumour removed along with my left ovary. The serous tumour is a type of borderline ovarian tumour, different to ovarian cancer in the way that they don’t grow into the supportive tissue of the ovary (the stroma). They tend to grow slowly and in a more controlled way than cancer cells.
The main treatment for borderline tumours is surgery. Most women are cured and have no further problems. There is a small risk of the tumour coming back. Very rarely, the borderline tumour cells change into cancer cells.
Mine had grown to the size of a large orange and was infused with my ovary, meaning they couldn’t tell what part was tumour and what part was ovary. The operation had been carried out perfectly and although the opening of my stomach had to be made larger than first anticipated, I’m quite proud of the cesarean style scar and it reminds me constantly of how wonderful and strong the human body is.
I, of course, had millions of questions for my consultant. And she patiently answered each and every one of them. A lot of the questions I had were impossible to answer, my worries were of reoccurrence, whether I’d be able to fall pregnant and so on. Being diagnosed with a borderline ovarian tumour can be a confusing and difficult time. It is usual to feel a wide range of emotions.
Isn’t it funny though, that when you’re told you may not be able to have or do something you realise how much you’ve always wanted it?
My consultant has always been positive that I will be able to have a baby naturally. There isn’t anything to say that I won’t. However, two years on and I am still trying to get pregnant. Unfortunately, I suffered a miscarriage in February last year which was heartbreaking but at the same time, it provided me with some hope that my body is capable of getting pregnant.
The process has been difficult in a number of ways. Emotionally as well as physically. I am hopeful that I can have a child naturally in the near future, and that my right ovary continues to remain healthy and functional.
Each time my routine appointment comes up on the calendar for an internal scan I begin the process of worrying and fretting. Each time that I’m told the scan is normal and that my right ovary is still healthy, I breathe a huge sigh of relief.
In this issue, I share some of the notes from my consultant, to give you an idea of the timeframes I have been given and the answers I was provided about the chances of reoccurrence and about my fertility.
I feel as though fertility issues aren’t talked about as much as they should be. After speaking to family and friends about my experience I found so many of the women in my life have had similar experiences or at least issues with fertility including battling with polycystic ovaries, fibroids, constant miscarriages and more. Many of them had suffered in silence or felt as though their issues with fertility made them less of a woman.
The female reproductive system is such a complex thing. If only I’d been provided with more insight and knowledge about my own body as a young female in education! Forget putting condoms on bananas and focusing on fear-mongering young girls into what they shouldn’t be doing with their bodies! Perhaps we should be teaching them about the intricacies of how their bodies work, how to spot if something isn’t as it should be and encouraging them to speak about it.
I’ve come a long way and learned a lot about my body. I’m proud of it and it’s resilience. I’d love to hear from you if you’ve had a similar experience or are currently trying to get pregnant. Join the conversation today.