*Some of you who follow me have noticed a shift in my social media posts as of late. While I will always offer my support to a variety of women for a variety of health issues (far beyond weight loss), I’ve decided to focus my practice on helping women heal their bodies so they can get pregnant. Since I’ve been in practice, that’s largely why women come to me for help, and some may know that that isn’t a coincidence, but it’s time that I share with you why.
1 in 8 women in this country suffer from infertility, and I am one of them. I’ve never shared my entire story with anyone (including my family and husband) because I was afraid to be judged, I was afraid to acknowledge my feelings and perceived inadequacies, and most of all I was afraid of feeling regret for what happened along my journey because what I did (and most of all, did not) do. So here goes.
I was 23 when I was diagnosed with cervical cancer. A few months prior I moved from Pennsylvania to Washington state for my first post-college job… I had health insurance so I figured I would finally go get my VERY FIRST pap smear because I wanted to be put on birth control. I had horribly painful cystic acne, and I had been battling really painful, heavy, and LONG periods (2 weeks on/2 weeks off) basically since I started getting my period at age 14… now that I was in the professional world and the only female working in my office, I felt that I needed birth control to get my body under control so that I could thrive in my career. At that point in my life, my period was debilitating and I realized I needed to function better. I had no idea that a horrible period could’ve indicated anything wrong with my body because both my mother (had a complete hysterectomy at 32) and my sister (had her hysterectomy at 37) had suffered the same kind of periods their entire lives too, so I was just under the impression that this was normal and life as a woman was basically just misery.
Now, 23 year-old post-college Janelle didn’t want to get married, nor did I want to have children. 1 am 1 of 6 children, with 10 nieces and nephews to boot, so I figured I didn’t really need to contribute to the family pool any further because my siblings had taken care of that for me. Furthermore, I had also experienced losing a child when my niece Valerie was born prematurely, I was devastated- but seeing how that loss impacted my sister was brutal, I just couldn’t fathom taking that risk myself. So all I wanted were two handsome, scrappy rescue pups to be named Pudge and Biscuit, and collectively we’d be named PB&J (I know, I know), but that was my family plan at age 23.
It was a Monday morning, first appointment of the day, for my pap smear. I pulled in to the medical center parking lot sweating profusely and just had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. I was so terrified to have someone look at me ‘down there’. (Grew up in a Pentecostal church too so that could be a whole other blog post about that! … and if you know, you KNOW why I’d be so scared)… anywho, I literally bawled while the nurse practitioner gave me my pap smear because I was so scared and so uncomfortable, but it’s what I needed to do in order to get the prescription for birth control so I could stop my awful periods and hopefully clear up my skin. That was the ONLY reason I was there. The nurse practitioner said that she could see dysplasia with her naked eye, so I’d have to have the OB/GYN come and take a look to determine if they should biopsy it right away. WTF. Biopsy?!?! Like what in the actual F would you need to biopsy anything in a 23 year old who has a lot a zits and horrible cramps?!? So, my OB/GYN came and did the biopsy. Writing this write now I can feel the pain of the biopsy, which is a feeling I (unfortunately) had to endure more times that I care to share. With the biopsy done, they handed me the prescription for birth control and told me they’d call me soon with the results and sent me on my way. At no point in time did anyone ask me questions about my period or lifestyle, it was never once mentioned to me that my period experience wasn’t normal. I look back at this appointment with so many regrets for not asking questions and trying to figure things out for myself, and be my own advocate because I DIDN’T KNOW WHAT I DIDN’T KNOW.
Wednesday, two days after my first pap smear and day 2 taking birth control (you best believe I filled that prescription right away!), and I received a phone call from my doctor saying that my biopsy showed I had cervical cancer cells that extended beyond the area of the biopsy. I tested negative for HPV, and they wanted to do a LEEP procedure (where they essentially cut out a large portion of your cervix) on Friday morning. So, I informed my male employer that I needed to take emergency sick leave (who proceed to ask for details of my emergency medical leave and then proceeded to educate me on his thoughts of female anatomy- NOT kidding), and after fighting with my insurance company the following day because they claimed this was a pre-existing condition and they wouldn’t cover the surgery, everything was a go. I had called my Mom back in Pennsylvania to tell her what’s going on, and she told me not to worry because these things happen all the time, at least it wasn’t a hysterectomy because those are far more invasive and painful.
Friday, 4 days after my pap smear, and I’m wheeled in for surgery. I think it was a fairly quick procedure, but I remember waking up in the recovery room to the sobs of a woman next to me who had had a DNC after suffering a miscarriage. I will never forget the sound of her sobbing, my heart broke in to a million pieces for her.
My recovery from my LEEP procedure was odd to say the least. Lots of weird things happen ‘down there’, and matters were only complicated further because 2 days after my procedure I had to fly to Washington, D.C. for a week-long business development trip- basically my firms biggest business trip of the year. If you’ve ever worked in the schmoozy Defense industry, you know trips like this are easily 18 hour days on your feet, nonstop chit chatting with one ego after the next. On top of that, imagine being a 23 year old girl surrounded by a bunch of pervy old men… It was exhausting but I got through it.
The only good thing that seemed to happen at that point in time was that my skin was clearer than it had been in years, and I finally had a period that only lasted 5 or so days! But after you have cervical cancer (or dysplasia even), doctors require that you go in more frequently for check-ups, and rightfully so. Catching cancerous cells early is imperative to ensure they don’t spread elsewhere. Over the course of the next 2 years, I had irregular pap smears every single time I went to the doctor. Eventually they decided to give me internal radiation therapy as the final ‘zap’, which was deemed successful. Over this period of time, however, I also had been diagnosed with psoriasis, an autoimmune disease and that’s when I started to really research on my own about diet and health (beyond weight loss), and if there’s anything I could be doing from a nutrition standpoint to improve my health. I should also state that at no time during my procedures and treatment did anyone once say or recommend that I should consider making changes to my diet or lifestyle, or that someone larger could be going on in my body. NOR did they tell me that all of this could result in my not being able to get pregnant.
Eventually I moved to the other Washington- Washington, D.C. I was still working for the Department of Defense and still taking birth control, which made me feel tired all the time but I was happy to at least not have horrible acne and long, painful periods anymore. I had started seeing a new doctor (obvs- new state), who just was the worst. I had gone in for a pap smear like usual, and she had noticed slight dysplasia so immediately proceeded to a biopsy… I recall asking her (because I was 25 at this point and it truly hadn’t crossed my mind) ‘Will all of this prevent me from having a baby?’ and she literally laughed out loud and said ‘What do you think? You’re way past that.’
Now, her reaction and those words stung a little in that moment. NOW IT PISSES ME THE EFF OFF. (She is still in practice today in Alexandria, VA and her reviews still show that she’s the same A-hole today as she was then.)…but that could probably be a whole other blog topic.
Moving on- I heard her say those words to me 3 months before I met my husband. I met a man who literally loved every flawed square inch of me. I met a man who had been married before and had a son, so in my 25 year old mind I told myself that this was God’s doing because this was his answer to my inability to conceive. But one day when we were dating, we had just gotten done doing one of those 10 Minute Trainer workout videos in my living room at my apartment when he looked over at me and said “I would have a baby with you if you wanted”. That’s when I had to tell him what had happened to me. That’s when I felt completely inadequate and broken. That’s when I felt like I had let him down. That’s when I realized that I really did think I could be a really great Mom and together we could make a some really cute babies (I say ‘babies’ because we’re both fraternal twins and to me that means I would’ve had quadruplets). But it was too late, there was nothing I could do because I didn’t have any options for myself. Hell, I had never been given any options throughout the entire process. I was a naïve young woman blindly listening to her doctors, not asking questions, and seemingly allowing others choose the outcome of my life for me.
Knowing what I know now makes my situation back then seem that much more ridiculous. Why didn’t my doctors want to get to the root cause of my terrible periods? Why didn’t anyone mention some of the things I could’ve done to help support my immune system better through food and lifestyle so that my body could’ve fought off the cancer? Why didn’t I get a pap smear when I started getting my period, why did I believe it was ‘wrong’ to get an examination? Why didn’t anyone tell me about the other issues that could stem from being on birth control instead of just giving me a pill I asked for (as someone who was uninformed and NOT a medical professional)?
So, over the years that man I was dating became my husband. His son became my son. We adopted my handsome, scrappy puppy Pudge (who has lived up to every ounce that I always dreamt him to be) who just turned 10. People would always ask when we’re having kids, and I’d just quickly dismiss that MOST ANNOYING NONE OF YOUR FREAKING BUSINESS QUESTION EVER. And still, after all of this, however, I still had pretty bad periods. After I was told that I was infertile, I went off of birth control right away because I didn’t like the way it made me feel. The result? I felt human again, I just had awful periods. Thankfully, they had started to improve over the years due to the much healthier lifestyle I had grown to lead. Nutrition became my hobby and passion. But one day when I was 32, I had a breakdown in my OB/GYN’s office. My friends were all having children, and while I was blessed to have my stepson and my handsome Pudge, I told my doctor that every month of getting my period was a painful reminder of what I could not have myself. And with that, I had an endometrial ablation to put that reminder behind me. No more periods, no more reminders…
NOW- I realize that some may judge me for this and that is OK. This is my journey, this is my story. I was always someone who pushed feelings and emotions aside so that I could be everything I needed to be for everyone else around me. And honestly, I never fully let myself accept the fact that I struggled with infertility because 1. Infertility for me didn’t look like anyone else I knew and 2. Because I never really grew up wanting children of my own, I sort of felt like this was in some way a punishment for that- like the universe giving me what I had asked for in some way… I’ve also never shared my story before because I’m scared of your judgment, because boooyyyy have I been judged. I’ve had people tell me that I’m ‘Just a stepmom’, or tell me ‘You’re so lucky you get to travel and do all the things without having to worry about kids’… Lucky??? JUST???
Doing this work and helping so many women is so incredibly rewarding. And it’s also made me realize that I have a lot of unresolved feelings and emotions about my past. All the woulda/coulda/shoulda moments. I wish I would’ve fought for myself. I feel as though I just gave up and accepted things as they were. But that’s why I do what I do. I fight for women and their unborn babies. Every woman I help in turn helps me in my own healing and for that, I feel selfish! But I don’t want anyone to experience what I went through. Had I known better, I would’ve started going to see an OB/GYN when you’re supposed to after your first period. I would’ve asked someone to figure out why my periods were so terrible instead of asking for birth control to fix the symptoms of a bigger issue. I would’ve asked the questions about the things that I could do to support my own health. I would have fought for me, so this is my way of fighting for you.
If you are someone or know of someone who struggles with infertility, horrible periods, or just knows there’s something off. I’d love to talk with you/them. Please don’t think you ever have to go through this alone or have to settle for what a doctor tells you is your only option. We are in this together, you’ve got a tribe.
I am 1 in 8.