“Once she told me she was sorry she’d been a disappointment to me…Not once did it occur to me that I’d been an even greater disappointment to her.” – Carlos Ruiz Zafón, Shadow of the Wind
“What do you want from me? I don’t work miracles!”
My gynecologist was furious that I was in his office again. He had inserted Mirena, the hormonal IUD, in June. It was late October. I was still bleeding.
“Please just take it out,” I begged. “Something doesn’t feel right.”
“You haven’t regulated to it yet. Just wait.”
I waited a total of eight months before the daily bleeding and constant pain finally subsided. In the six years since that first implant, two cysts would grow on my ovaries. They were visible on scans but doctors were never concerned. Only once was I informed of their presence, when a technician casually mentioned that there were two chocolate cysts on the imaging.
“Chocolate cysts?” I was anxious.
“Small ones. Nothing to worry about.”
Except I have a history of cysts. And endometriosis. And visits to the ER for hemorrhagic ruptures. And surgery. Yet this medical history was deemed irrelevant by a seeming cavalcade of cavalier doctors who advised me to see a psychiatrist to deal with my phantom pains, fatigue, spasms, and emotional breakdowns. I was the archetypal woman with a slight hysterical tendency, overreacting to invented maladies and yellow wallpaper.
But my problems were very much extant. The two chocolate cysts would continue to grow, becoming so heavy, they would drop and adhere to each other and to my colon. This was discovered during another ER visit in July of 2020, exactly six years after the first implant. Exactly twenty years since my first ER visit and subsequent surgery for a hemorrhagic ovarian cyst. This time around, everything had to come out. The uterus with multiple fibroids, the cysts ballooning my ovaries, the pernicious endometrial adhesions were all excised by expert hands.
I had asked for a hysterectomy after my first surgery in 2000. By that point, I had been suffering from endometriosis and ruptured ovarian cysts for several years. The doctors could not assure me that the surgery would prevent future cysts, so I asked them to remove my ovaries too. The request was denied, obviously.
I was told that getting pregnant would solve the problem of painful periods and hormonal birth control would address the recurring cysts. Both pieces of medical advice were ill-conceived and inaccurate. I was a single twenty-year-old woefully unprepared for and uninterested in parenthood. Becoming a mother was not an option. I started The Pill.
The side effects and symptoms I experienced forced doctors to switch my pill three times with minimal reprieve. Eight years later, I simply stopped taking it. Within a few months the bloody, painful ramifications crippled me once again. Every year from the age of thirty, I approached my doctors with the request for a hysterectomy. Each time, I was denied.
“You’re too young.”
“You haven’t had children yet.”
“What if you meet the love of your life?”
My body was not mine. I was deprived of volition. The fact that I was a grown woman who had suffered since the age of twelve was irrelevant. That I had determined to remain childless and never marry was of no consequence. Exasperated and lacking options, I heeded my doctor’s assurances and inserted the IUD. What followed were eight months of agony which would only be fully resolved six years later in a hospital on the other side of the world, where I would finally have my hysterectomy. I was released from the hospital on my birthday. I was 41.
A few weeks after the surgery, I ruefully reflected that if only I had felt this good when I was younger, perhaps I would have wanted to have children. I would have been a good mother.
The Yellow Wallpaper (short story)