Today’s post features the story of a beautiful endo warrior named Melissa. She is a licensed massage therapist and doula and owner of Rising Lotus Massage and Doula Support. I hope that you too find inspiration from her words 🙂
Remember that scene from the movie Fried Green Tomatoes, where all the women get in touch with the source of their female strength by using hand mirrors to check out their vaginas? Well, my mom and I did the same thing when I was on the cusp of adolescence. Although it was the epitome of awkwardness at the time, I’m now grateful for her candor about the female reproductive system.
She had been diagnosed with uterine cancer at age 24. That was one small way she wanted to empower and help her daughter understand and listen to her body- but getting there has taken a me long time.
I watched my mom suffer because of her uterus. Unpredictable bleeding. Intense pain. An scary diagnosis followed by surgery, radiation and chemo. Later, she took a more peaceful route: Herbal treatment, mind-body medicine, nutrition. She went in and out of remission.
The mistrust of her own body stayed with her and fueled an overprotective instinct as I reached puberty. Maybe she sensed that something was wrong with me, too.
When my cycles did come, they were intense, scary. My mom watched with weary eyes as I lie on the cool bathroom floor, whimpering.
I felt ridiculous, thinking “She dealt with a huge malignant tumor literally devouring her uterus. I can’t even handle a period!”
Her health took a turn and the cancer metastasized. Now the enemy was “Non-Hodgekins Lymphoma”. Whatever, it was still her uterus’ fault, in my mind. A few months later, she passed. 10 years after her initial diagnosis and 2 weeks before my 16th birthday.
Although time eased my grief, it tore through my body. My cycles became even more violent and unpredictable. My dad was concerned. Multiple gynecologists dismissed our worries until one wrote a birth control prescription, promising relief that never came.
Shortly before my mom’s death, I survived a violent sexual attack. With everything going on at the time, I never processed that pain. The weight and shame of that experience resurfaced with every derisive comment and cold seat in the stirrups. Each cycle was emotionally and physically draining, as well.
After many, many more visits and tests, I eventually received a diagnosis of endometriosis and ovarian cysts. Sometimes a diagnosis can help, but it didn’t seem to make a bit of difference.
‘Endo Life’ was dealt with in a mixture of self-pity and shame. I was told to suppress my cycles by skipping the “sugar pill” week when taking my pills. This meant each year-long script lasted only about 9 months. I was subjected to another invasive pelvic exam every 9 months to renew my birth control.
Pain and fear became the status quo and remained that way for years. Later, I became fascinated by natural healing and the holistic lifestyle. I enrolled in massage school and began to understand the interconnected nature of the body.
One day we were focusing on pelvic massage and the uterus. As my lab partner’s hand pressed into my abdomen, I fought back tears. The body will armor itself against vulnerablity, especially the abdomen. I explained to my mentor my many issues about self-worth, trust and pain surrounding my uterus. She urged me to address them.
So began my journey of embracing knowledge and feminine energy. I read about the female cycles and how artificial hormones disrupted them. Refusing to exacerbate the problem, my pills were tossed in the trash. I braced for the imminent storm as my body went into withdrawal from a decade’s worth of extra hormones.
During my “hormone detox”, I spent a lot of energy on emotional healing and re-processing my grief and anger. A mentor taught me how to channel it in a positive way, because the uterus is a muscle subject to the same cycle of fear, tension and pain that applied to other muscles.
A year later, I was a licensed massage therapist working in a holistic doctor’s office. My fiancé and I were talking about planning our wedding and trying to conceive. My cycles were still painful and sometimes debilitating but getting a little easier each month as my body adjusted.
Still, my cycles were still unpredictable and I doubted my fertility. I cried to my husband that I didn’t see it ever happening for us. A few weeks later, a positive test came back. Doubt about my body came creeping back, too.
Having as natural a birth as possible was important to us- but I had to trust myself to achieve it. Practicing self-hypnosis helped me trust my body and intuition.
In those few months, I came across a beautiful quote about childbirth, that is equally as profound for women with endo:
“Your contractions can’t be stronger than you because they ARE you.”
I set out to fully embrace my experience: the beautiful, the peaceful and even the painful. Just like life. Using that idea as a sort of mantra, I had my son, in an unmedicated natural waterbirth. It was an exhilarating, profound and unimaginably empowering experience to finally work with my body.
It ushered in my motherhood but it was also life-changing in another way. The good, the bad and the ugly: I confronted each and found the body had not been my adversary, but had been crying for help this whole time. For understanding, for teamwork.
Since my son’s birth, endo has reared its head. It laid dormant for a year postpartum until a particularly bad flare-up landed me in the ER. It scared my husband and I pretty bad. I now chart my cycles and watch my diet to try to control and understand it.
Today, I believe in the wisdom of my body. Emotional healing begets and compliments physical healing. This is not to say that I am ‘cured’ at all, but I am at peace. For me, healing and curing are not the same. Healing is an ongoing process that will never end.
Endometriosis is a part of my story and will always be a part of me. In some way, I see it as a way to feel connected to my mother. Some days it helps me feel connected to some innate feminine strength. Just like life, when I think I have it figured out, endo reminds me that it’s unpredictable and sometimes unfair.
My endo serves to remind me to treat each person with kind tenderness- and to do the same for myself. Now I work as both a massage therapist and a childbirth doula, and my personal experiences help me to relate to my client’s unique stories with empathy. Each journey is personal and sometimes painful, and they are all beautiful.
I was raised in a home where the female reproductive system was a frequent subject of dinner conversation. Now I am raising my son in a way that also respects, embraces and reveres the human body- even when it’s not perfect. I hope that he’ll learn to trust and flow with the wisdom of his own body. For my son’s sake, I’ll be skipping the little hand-held mirror anatomy lesson, though.
I want to thank you Melissa for sharing her story. I love your outlook on healing and feminine energy 🙂 Much, much love to you.
Do you relate to Melissa’s story? I’d love to hear from you.
Until next time….