Some days I could sit for hours daydreaming about projects, planning everything I will make for the holiday season, sketching up pattern ideas, and not even notice the hours passing by.
It is a whole other thing when you have no choice but to sit for hours and then do that again the next day, and the day after that.
But apparently, this is what one must do after having surgery, especially when it involves the abdomen.
I didn’t realize how much I rely on my abdominal muscles for day-to-day tasks. From standing and sitting to laughing, catching something falling, adjusting oneself in bed or a chair, putting on socks, changing the toilet paper roll, the list goes on. I was taking it all for granted and now, at least in the short term, I’m reliant on my husband to do these things for me. I can't even bend down to pet the pups much to their dismay.
I drop something on the floor. Nope, can’t pick it up. There it will sit until he can help. But that’s OK; it’s a small worry in the scheme of things.
Last Wednesday, I had laparoscopic surgery to remove a “huge” cyst. “Huge” isn’t my word, it’s what the nurses at the surgical center called it. And while they were in there, they found several others that had to come out. My doctor assured me that I would leave the surgery center in much better shape than I came in. So while I heal, I will hold onto that. And start a list of questions to ask at my follow-up appointment. My Dad, who is now retired, was an electrical engineer. He said I must have engineer in me too because I always have so many questions.
In the spirit of being transparent, I will share with you that I have PCOS- Polycystic ovary syndrome. That is no doubt the culprit behind these cysts, though I will know more at my follow up appointment.
If you are going to quantify how “bad” diseases are compared to one another, I’m sure there are “worse” things than PCOS but I will tell you I certainly don’t recommend it. If you aren't familiar, in short it’s a hormonal disorder that affects metabolism and a host of other things. One of the most devastating effects in my case is fertility problems.
I finally found the husband of my dreams, only to find out two months before our wedding date that I have a 5% chance of ever getting pregnant. My new doctor, who was also the surgeon for my recent procedure, says we will talk more about this after I’m healed when she will know more. But I won’t hold my breath. It’s taken me two and a half years after being told I may never have children to finally wrap my head around it. To accept it as much as I can.
I will never forget the day I was told. It was one of the most difficult days of my life. I had been referred to one of the most highly rated fertility clinics in the area. I had gone through multiple appointments, imaging of various types, and blood draws to finally get to the results day. The doctor sat my husband (then fiancé) and I down to review the results and said “I’ll cut right to the chase. The numbers aren’t good.” He proceeded to say traditional medications used to help with infertility wouldn’t be likely to help in this case and my best bet would be to either do in vitro with an egg donor or adopt. OH and “You may also be in perimenopause”. At 35 years old.
I sat forcing a polite smile. He tried to hand me a tissue while I cocked my head, perplexed at the gesture. And then shoo, shoo out the door with you.
What are you supposed to do with that?
As I walked down the hall away from his office I could feel the tension in my chest building from a dull rumble to a seismic wave threatening to consume my entire being. I flew past the receptionist (whom I later had to call because I failed to check out) and to the car. The tears began before I had even sat down. The force behind my sorrow was like nothing I had ever felt. Caught in its storm the entire drive home, that evening, waking me up during the nights… This proceeded for months. Until the wedding came as a pleasant distraction. But the waves still come. Out of the blue like bizarre sun showers.
In a way, I’m glad I found out before the wedding so I don’t have to live with the nagging anxiety that perhaps Tim wouldn’t have married me if he had known ahead of time. I know it’s silly. Our bond is stronger than this but I feel a pang of incredibly deep guilt that I can’t give him children. He would rank in the top 99th percentile of excellent Dad's. He's built for it.
Though I know I shouldn’t, I am constantly wondering why he loves me as deeply as he does when I can’t perform a basic function of a female of the species. I feel like a defective woman, a lemon. In the wild, I would be left out of the evolutionary tree. I would be abandoned by the pack. Eaten by the wolves. Not a productive member of society.
Before you try to console me and tell me one of the thousands of good-intentioned-sudo-comforting things like “Not everyone is supposed to have kids”, “You don’t need kids to be a woman”, “There are plenty of fulfilled, successful women who don’t have children”, know that I understand that. But I don’t get a choice. I don’t get to decide if it doesn’t fit my lifestyle, goals, and dreams. Even if we could swing it, in vitro wouldn't be with my eggs.
Like my abdominal muscles now after the surgery, child-bearing is something a lot of people take for granted, except when it’s not an option.
Ok, ok, enough pity-party because that’s not what I set out to do, and that’s not where I am with it now, for the most part. (I have my moments still...)
I have no hate for anyone with children, quite the opposite. They are a blessing and true, not everyone should or wants to have them and that’s fine. Perhaps parenthood isn’t for Tim and I, other than being puppy-parents. Or perhaps, just perhaps, 5% is greater than 0. And there is also adoption or in vitro to consider if one can weigh the health and financial risks involved properly.
An aside: being a pet-parent it awesome, too. Teddy is our youngest and has been very concerned that I haven't allowed him to use me as a springboard lately, haha.
It’s amazing to me as I’ve navigated this path how many women in my life have PCOS and I never even knew. How many have fertility problems or choose not to have kids for other reasons. I am certainly not alone and we are strong. We are amazing friends, family members, aunts, wives, co-workers… quilters?!
It doesn’t define us. And it can be overcome. It’s just something I need to approach from a different angle. We can drive ourselves, get behind the wheel, set our sights on that ambitious horizon.
After my frustrating experience with the fertility doctor years ago, I decided to seek a new OBGYN, Dr. Adams, who did my surgery last week. She has gone above and beyond for me in every way so far. Even at the hospital when I was nervous before surgery, she dimmed the lights and rubbed my forehead while leading me through breathing exercises. She apologized for my experience with the previous fertility doctor as they hadn’t offered me any follow-up counseling or anything. I told her it wasn't her fault and no need to apologize for it, but she said this is a problem in the field. That I'm not (and won't be the last) woman to tell her a story such as this. She also shook her head regarding the “perimenopause” comment and said my bloodwork just looks like PCOS markers.
I am looking forward to a more positive and productive relationship with her than I have had with doctors in the past. While I’m not expecting miracles, I am going to keep my mind open to them.
Speaking of miracles, my husband is a real-life one for me. He has been taking care of me, the household, and the dogs while I’m unable during recovery. The pups have been concerned about me, looking at me like “What’s wrong with mom?” Toby especially has been super tuned-into me and cuddly.
I also am very thankful for some truly amazing friends and family in my life. I'm thankful for them everyday, but the amount of people checking in on me during my recovery has been humbling and has filled my heart. My mom also happens to be recovering from surgery at the same time so her and I have been able to support each other through it.
The moral is one as old as time: life doesn’t always give us what we expect. It’s a hard pill to swallow sometimes and it’s easy to get lost in sorrow, regret, self-pity. But when you can see through the driving rain to the other side, you might find new (better?) opportunities. You may find your struggles have turned you into the person you are meant to be. There's no rainbows without the rain. (I discussed this in my post on the small quilt Cracks piece as well).
PCOS has given me a lot of challenges. Those, along with my anxiety (which are probably related) have given me a lot of self-doubt and uncertainty throughout my life. But with them, I also feel this drive to overcome, to take care of those I love, and be more present in each day. I feel things very strongly and deeply, including my creativity which is one of my biggest blessings. Everything that’s happened is allowing me to put my priorities in order and aim my path in a meaningful direction. Being open with my struggles has given me stronger connections with friends and family and made me feel less alone.
One of my favorite songs comes to mind, “Drive” by Incubus.
But lately, I am beginning to find
That when I drive myself my light is found
So whatever tomorrow brings
I'll be there with open arms and open eyes
Whatever tomorrow brings
I'll be there, I'll be there