Just like clockwork, I’m back in the hospital waiting room.
My leg bounces as I wait for my name to be called, hoping that this month’s consultation will have better news than the last. But it never does.
‘Maybe next month!’ my nurse will tell me – knowing there’s nothing she can say that will actually ease my frustration at an ever-growing waiting list for surgery.
I lift up my sleeve, ready for my monthly dose of Prostap – a drug that keeps my body in a menopausal state. I clench my fist in preparation for the pain, but the injection will never hurt as much as the sound of newborns crying from down the hall.
The thing is, I have chronic pain, bladder issues, and as a result of my endometriosis, I’m in a chemical menopause.
After being diagnosed with endometriosis in 2019, at 19, almost seven years after my nauseating pain, heavy periods and painful sex began, I initially felt hopeful. I knew why I was in so much pain, and was optimistic that my condition would improve post-surgery.
However, my endometriosis – and the pain – returned with a vengeance in the first COVID-19 lockdown, and has continued to worsen ever since.
The past two years have seen visits to A&E, countless confused doctors, and a lot of new medication. My life revolves around my endometriosis: taking meds, paying attention to when I drink to avoid irritating my bladder, my social life – you name it, my endometriosis will come into consideration one way or another.
I am angry that, as a 21-year-old woman, I’ve been left to deal with this experience alone
While I no longer have periods, I still have a cycle of my own – returning to the hospital once a month for the injection that keeps my body in menopause, and sitting alone in a waiting room that’s full of happy couples awaiting ultrasounds, and new mothers cradling babies.
This cycle has a pain that cuts deeper than any physical pain.
Every month, my injections stand as a crippling reminder of what I can’t have. Instead of blood, I shed tears, as I sit in the menopause management waiting room, sticking out like a sore thumb because of my age.
I’ve always known that I wanted to be a mother. Being the eldest of five means my maternal instincts have always been at play; from bottle feeding, to helping my siblings with their homework. Adults around me would always say I’d make a wonderful mother one day.
Knowing my diagnosis may prevent me from having my own biological child was hard enough, but since I have been in the menopause because of my endometriosis, waves of broodiness have crippled me in ways I didn’t know possible.
Seeing baby videos on social media is enough to make my heart sink, and I become overwhelmed, not only because I know I don’t want children right now, but because I don’t know if I’ll ever be able to have them at all.
Being broody is hardly a conversation starter at my age, either. Just like my injection, a tearful conversation with my partner of almost six years seems to have become a monthly occurrence, as the isolation of menopause symptoms and broodiness engulfs me.
Though I can count on my partner for love and support, it can be hard talking about it with others when you’re met with piteous, non-understanding eyes. But the more I have experienced these soul-crushing appointments, scenarios and uncomfortable conversations, the more anger I have felt.
Why do I feel so ashamed for seeking support for being broody at my age? In fact, why am I having to try so hard to find it in the first place?
On the rare occasions that I have looked for genuine help online – whether that be websites or helplines – I have found nothing available to me.
I cannot afford to freeze my eggs, and the only responses I have had from gynaecologists about my fertility is: ‘We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it’, or: ‘If you’re that worried, we’d advise thinking about children sooner rather than later’.
Endometriosis is incurable, and so those with the condition will often require repeat surgeries to help control their symptoms when the endometriosis returns.
Since my first laparoscopy – a diagnostic keyhole surgery which is currently the only way to diagnose endometriosis – in 2019, my initial symptoms have returned, as well as suspected endometriosis of the bladder, and so I am currently awaiting another laparoscopy to help treat my endometriosis and a cystoscopy, which will investigate my bladder issues.
As recently highlighted by the BBC, gynaecology waiting lists have soared by 60% as a result of the pandemic and, like many others, I have absolutely no certainty or comfort to work with.
The only consolation I have had for my broodiness has been late-night scrolling through threads about broodiness on mumsnet, where for a moment – aside from the age gap – I feel less alone.
It’s bittersweet seeing those you went to school with begin to settle down and announce their pregnancies – even though I don’t want that for myself right now, it’s hard to see when I’m so obsessive about my own fertility. I can try to avoid social media on my more difficult days, but this doesn’t make the reality any easier.
I am angry that, as a 21-year-old woman, I’ve been left to deal with this experience alone. But what makes me more angry than this is that I know this is not an isolated experience.
Whether it’s broodiness, menopause, or the basic questions about women’s and people assigned female at birth’s (AFAB) health – such as vaginal infections, period symptoms or the colour of our discharge – we seem to be left to ‘just deal with it’ on our own.
What’s more is endometriosis – a condition estimated to affect 1 in 10 people AFAB – is something many people have never even heard of.
To medical professionals we’re just another patient, but to people like me, endometriosis and its consequences torment us every single day. It feels like I’ve been left to suffer in silence, the uncertainty of my future laying in someone else’s hands.
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