“Three days of the month you experience intense pain. That is thirty-six days of the year. If men experienced that much pain every time they had an erection there would definitely be a cure already.” My doctor stood across the room from me as I sat up and tucked my sweater dress underneath my knees. The white paper crinkled under me as I moved. I clenched my legs shut. She looked at me from behind her thick glasses and short-cropped hair. She saw a lot of patients like me. She knew what she was talking about. At least most of the time she did. We finished our conversation and I walked down the septic smelling hallway, my shoes making the familiar swish, swish on the linoleum floor. I began to cross the parking lot with a feeling of discontent swelling in my gut.
The number three stuck in my brain. It didn’t feel right. More than that, I realized it wasn’t right. I began to calculate the numbers of days I felt pain as I continued on my way. I pulled out my pocket-sized calendar from my purse and looked at the red ticks where I tracked my cycle. Each tick was a glaring stop sign. Last month, I had two weeks of PMS and that time I could feel my egg trying to squeeze its way through my too tight fallopian tube. I saw an ultrasound of my tubes once and at the risk of ruining sausage, that’s what it looked like, an overstuffed sausage. Yeah, that’s right not only do I feel it when I ovulate, but it hurts. I don’t care about the arguments around whether or not women can feel it, I certainly do. I can feel that bowling ball of an egg as it tries to squeeze its way through. It feels like someone is trying to squeeze a pumpkin through the barrel of a shotgun. It makes me think of the one time my family and I shot off potato guns. You would squeeze the potato into a tight hole, use air compression and swoosh! You would see that potato fly though the air, released from its tiny prison. That’s what it’s like. Intense pain and then it’s gone. Well, the PMS pain is gone.
There is also the occasional day when a cyst pops. That same ultrasound also showed that I have grown a few friends called chocolate cysts. They are the kind of friends that seem all cool and harmless, till wham! One day for seemingly no reason at all, they explode. Only these friends I can’t ghost on social media. I get to carry them with me everywhere I go. A womb full of Kardashian like besties. Let’s pause for a moment to admire the name of those cysts. Chocolate cysts? Why? Endometriosis has ruined enough for me. Why must it taint one of the few things that I hold sacred? I googled it once and it described them as ‘brown tar like sacks filled with old menstruation and other tissues.” Ugh. Talk about toxic relationships.
I opened my car door and sat down in the driver’s seat. Before I began to drive, my mom texted me asking how my appointment went. She recently stayed over at my house and for the first time witnessed how sick I can become. She saw it all. We were supposed to have a nice weekend but instead “Aunt Flo” unpredictably came to visit and with it the bloating, the headaches, the vomit. I have learned that when I start to see spots in front of my eyes, I better sit down or gravity becomes my enemy. During this time, the only thing I am motivated by is hunger and sleep. And even those things aren’t so simple. I can’t eat too much or too little of one thing or another, or my bowels act like the stormy sea. My sleep is constantly interrupted. There is pain no matter how I lay, even when I have taken all the Advil. And, I mean ALL the Advil. At this time of the month, my husband likes to affectionately call me a hibernating grizzly bear. I growl, lounge, eat. And my mother got to witness it all. I had spoken to her about my disease previously, but she had no idea I had been living this way for years. I start the car and begin the drive home, my thoughts swirling about me.
In my pre-teen years I would get massive headaches and cramps so severe that I would crawl downstairs on my hands and knees to get painkillers. There were several times I blacked out only to find myself awake moments later on the floor wondering what had happened. The worst incident was when I passed out before jumping in the shower one morning before school. I woke to hitting my head on the edge of the bathtub. I lay on the floor exposed and delirious. When I told my mom I passed out, I got the usual, “Well, you’re good now! Let’s go!” That phrase was internalized and had become a way of life. I knew nothing else but my experience. Maybe this was what it was like for everyone? My phone pinged again, and I knew it was my husband asking if I would be home soon. It made me think of a whole other number that my doctor didn’t consider.
Because it’s not just the painful days of PMS and menstruation that needed to be added to the equation. It’s the moments when I look into my husband’s face and see in his eyes, that I am the reason we can’t have kids. He has never said anything negative to me about it. When he found out I couldn’t give him children, this man who was adopted and had looked forward to creating his own biological family his entire life, all he said was, “I am just worried about you.” And you think that would help. He is so selfless and kind and caring that when the doctor told us I had endometriosis, all he worried about was me. But somehow, it felt worse. Why isn’t there a word in the English language for feeling incredibly loved, disappointed and guilty all at the same time?
In a few minutes I would pull up to my house and fall into the evening routine that my husband and I had. Feed dog, feed us, and numb our brains on an unending stream of beautiful garbage from Netflix. No demands from a tiny mouth for us. No pitter-patter of tiny feet. My doctor left out that pain too. The days when I would have regrets. Maybe I should have tried getting pregnant younger? Maybe I should have been tested sooner? Maybe I shouldn’t have focused so much on what I wanted? Was I selfish?
It’s a strange thing to mourn for something you never had. My uterus is a creature that has betrayed me in more ways than one and turning on my biological clock is the first of many. The constant tick, tick, tick of yearning is irritating enough without all the previously mentioned drama. I wish someone had warned me when I was younger that the uterus was capable of so much joy and pain. It’s a sleeping beast until you turn twelve than it acts like Bilbo Baggins has broken into your cave and is trying to steal your gold. That’s right, the uterus is definitely Smaug, the dragon of body parts. All fire and smoke.
I pulled up to my house and parked in the garage. I could have got out, but I sat for a few moments. Took a breath. Checked my phone. It wasn’t a text from my husband that pinged earlier, but a friend who asked how I was doing. She’s one of the few that knew about my “situation.” Because I can’t talk about it with most people. Why? Because it has to do with my vagina. That’s right. The “V” word. The weird thing about that word is that people often use it to describe the whole entirety of a woman’s reproductive organs. There is way more to our downstairs than our vaginas. But because of that one word, that one part of that whole complicated, intricate and unmerciful system, I can’t take days off from work. Others throw up or get fevers and stay home. I powered through. I can’t explain why. I have never in my life had a boss who would get it. Could you imagine? “Hey boss, I have my period can I go home?” My career would crumble faster than my health has. The second reason is because I got responses like this,
“Oh, my sister has that and she’s fine. You should be fine too.”
“You probably can still have babies.”
“At least it’s not cancer.”
“Have you tried essential oils?”
To which my only choice is to roll my eyes or just nod my head. It’s usually the latter because as a woman, I must always be polite. I cannot upset anyone or be upset. I must put other needs before mine. And I definitely, cannot be gross. So, when my doctor says, “three days,” and I know she means it in a compassionate and understanding way, I just nod and smile and act appreciative like a good woman should.
I sat there surrounded by the blurred cloud of thoughts, the door that connected the house to the garage opened and my husband peeked out, curiosity on his face. A small, black nose poked around his leg and our dog ran up to the car. I could smell spices and I knew dinner had been cooked and the dishes had been done. Warmth filled my insides. I smiled, picked up my purse and went home. I might not give life but life for me, goes on.
© Tara Tasse
About the Author: Tara Tasse is a humanities teacher in Edmonton, Canada. During the school year, when she is not caught in the battle to inspire future generations to appreciate the artistry of the written word, she can be found at home with a book or trying to hone her own writing skills. During summer vacation, she is most likely hiding in a jungle on another continent. Her dog is her biggest fan.