Endometriosis and Pregnancy

I’ve suffered from endometriosis (endo) most of my life. Endometriosis is a condition where the endometrium lining of the uterus grows outside the uterus in the woman’s abdomen and on other organs. This is a tissue that thickens for preparation of a pregnancy and if no pregnancy has occurred it bleeds out each month during menstruation. Unlike in the uterus, this tissue now has nowhere to leave the body and so the surrounding organs absorb the blood which induces extreme inflammation. This can lead to a variety of problems for the woman from extreme chronic pain to issues with scar adhesions damaging organs and is the leading cause of infertility in women. Many women have heard of endo, but very few really understand how it can affect the lives if sufferers. This post describes it really, really well.

I was diagnosed in my first surgery at the age of 19. The severity of the endo at that time caused doctors to warn me that my chances of ever having children were greatly reduced, particularly if I waited past my 20′s to start trying to conceive as this is a progressive disease that causes more damage with time.

As life happened to work out, I didn’t meet the love of my life and settle down for raising a family until after I turned 30. So, it was a wonderful surprise that I was able to get pregnant with my son with fairly normal efforts and length of time.

We did have a difficult pregnancy and birth recovery as well as an intensely “high needs baby” who continued to be a non-sleeper for the first couple years of his life. All of it made my husband and me hesitant to consider a second baby. We tried to be content with the one special miracle we’d been blessed with. After all, it was more than we’d ever expected and we were such a happy family of three we didn’t want to push our luck. Over time we couldn’t ignore that there was still a missing spot in our lives and our hearts.

With complicated emotions and fears, we decided to open the door to a second baby.

We stopped preventing pregnancy and continued life as usual to see if maybe fate would step in. It went on like that for over a year with no results. In this time, the symptoms of my endo had increased significantly, my quality of life was diminishing. Through a pelvic exam my doctor confirmed that my uterus was indeed hardened with scar tissue and quite immovable. We decided to have another surgery to “clean out” the built up scar tissue and endo lesions throughout my abdomen and other organs. This is done through a laproscopic abdominal surgery every few years in women with endo. It can provide some relief for a while but unfortunately the endo always grows back and continues to ravage the internals.

The surgery was a great success and within a month I was feeling much better. Many women with endo find that post surgery is their best chance at conceiving, so my husband and I decided to take full advantage of this respite from the disease and get serious about trying to conceive. I started to thoroughly chart my cycles and ovulation to ensure that we were catching that egg each month. Unlike when we did this the first time around, I was still not getting pregnant this way. After only six months of post operative pain relief, the endo symptoms started coming back in full force. I started an anti-inflammatory diet which helped tremendously with the painful symptoms but still wasn’t bringing us positive pregnancy results.

I was incredibly discouraged and started spending most of my time and emotions concentrated on accepting that we were meant to be an only-child family. Time was running out and I couldn’t help feeling like the endo had finally won out over my body. I knew something was wrong. I started to be convinced that the scar tissue from the endo damage had finally closed off my Fallopian tubes which is a common cause of infertility in women with endo.

In that second year of fruitless trying I eventually made a lot of progress in coming to peace with the fact that our family would remain just us three and that empty spot I felt would have to be filled in some other way. But still, I couldn’t let go fully until I got a final answer about what was happening inside my body.

After discussing it with my doctor we decided to go in for a Hysterosalpingogram (HSG) test. This is an X-ray process where a special dye is flushed through the woman’s uterus and tubes while it is observed on a screen to see if there are any blockages. Depending on the causes and severity of the blockage, a woman can then decide to try surgery or in vitro fertilization (IVF) to get pregnant. We had no plan to pursue those options or attempt to correct any issues that we would find. This procedure was entirely for me to get closure and move on in my life.

Women have different descriptions of how this procedure feels. Some say it’s mildly uncomfortable for them, others experience tremendous pain and pressure. Unfortunately I was in the latter group. As I laid on the table gritting my teeth through the discomfort and watching the screen, it was no surprise to me at all to see the dye stop short of the ovaries. The doctor pointed it out and explained that my intuition was correct, my tubes were blocked and had been preventing any eggs released by my ovaries from being able to meet with sperm and create a baby. I finally had my answer as to why we’d had no success in the last couple years of trying to get pregnant.

Then my doctor suggested that they could turn the pressure up on the dye and see if they could flush out the blockage. I hadn’t known this was even a possibility. The pressure already felt near unbearable to me but I agreed it was worth a try and I braced myself. To my complete surprise, this worked! Finally the dye broke through and spilled out to my ovaries, clearing the way. The feeling of this can best be described as those old commercials where the Kool-aid man busts through a brick wall. It left me shaken and sweaty but also with new hope! They informed me that in cases like this the tubes often collapse again after a few months. So if I was ever going to get pregnant, it was probably now or never!

I knew there could be other factors contributing to our infertility but having this literal blockage removed was truly exciting even if we only had a small window of time to take advantage of it. Thankfully, that was all we needed! I got pregnant the second month after the procedure. But my doctor explained to me that with my age (now classified as “advanced maternal age”) combined with the endometriosis, surgeries, and ongoing issues in my body, my chances of losing the pregnancy were incredibly high. I was put on daily progesterone and pelvic rest for the duration of the first trimester to increase my chances of the pregnancy staying healthy. So at this point, I was still unable to get truly excited and believe that we would have a real addition to our family by the end of this. We were more hopeful than ever of course, but very cautiously so.

I am now well into the third trimester of a perfectly healthy pregnancy! It took quite some time to switch my vision of our future as a family to include another person since I’d spent so long trying to wipe that hope from my heart. Now we simply can not wait for our final family addition to arrive. I’ll never stop being grateful for how lucky we are to have beaten the odds against me and my health.

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