April. Following the appointments and the blood tests and the waiting and the googling – oh, the googling – leading me to suspect what the phone call will tell me: “Your labs and symptoms point to Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. It doesn’t mean that you won’t be able to conceive, but you’ll need help. To confirm the diagnosis, we’ll need to confirm the presence of cysts on your ovaries. We do that with an internal ultrasound,” the nurse says over the phone.
I want to vomit. I start to cry. “Um. Okay. It’s just. I want a baby so bad. This is hard news. Um. If we have to do this, I will, but can you schedule it as soon as possible? It’s just, it’s going to be really hard for me. Um. I have a sexual trauma history. And just, the longer I have to wait, the worse my anxiety is going to be.” I tell her. I never tell them. But this time I do.
“Oh, honey. Let’s see. We can get you in in two days, okay? And I’m going to clear my schedule – when you get to the office, ask for Dorothy – and I’ll hold your hand and we’ll get through it. Okay?” I sob. I’m grateful.
I call my friend immediately, who sat on her couch with me late one night, just a month ago, and listened while I told her my story. “And so…I’m freaking out. It’s an internal ultrasound. She said it lasts about 20 minutes. I can’t.”
My friend listens, and in a very compassionate, yet matter-of-fact way, which is how she is, tells me, “Eye on the prize. This is what you need to do to have a baby. It’s bigger than you now. Focus on that.”
Eye on the prize. It becomes my mantra the next few months.
I go to the appointment. I elect to not bring my husband. I do (relatively) better with doctors when I only have me to focus on. I take a Xanax, though I haven’t needed to take one in a long time, but today isn’t the time I want to try to be a hero. Dorothy stands next to me and holds my hand as I lie back on the table. The technician has me put my legs in the stirrups and as she inserts the ultrasound probe I start to sob. Dorothy talks me through breathing, through relaxing my body, reminding me I’m safe. I sob and clutch her hand. Afterwards, she tells me how well I did and how impressed she is.
It’s 10:30. I go to work. I can’t be alone with my body and my thoughts.
A day later, they confirm PCOS. We make an appointment with fertility. It’s not until JulyIn a very uncharacteristic manner, I call my mom and bawl, “Haven’t I been through enough? Don’t I just get a break for once?”
July. We meet with the fertility doctor. She says we’re going to start a medication. They monitor whether or not it’s working by internal ultrasounds, where they look for growth of a follicle. I’ll need to go several times following each medication cycle to determine whether or not it’s working. Husband looks at me and I just nod. Eye on the prize.
A pattern begins: Take a Xanax, go for the ultrasound, feel violated and have body memories for a while after, get coffee on the way to work to try to counteract the sedation of the Xanax, try not to hurt myself.
And then, around ultrasound 10 or so, I forget to take a Xanax. It doesn’t occur to me until I leave the appointment – I was fine. I was anxious and I had to focus on breathing, but I was okay. No panic attack. No vomiting. No passing out.
I call my friend and tell her that in some weird way, this is desensitizing me.
One appointment, it happens. They tell me it’s working. A few days later they give us the go on next steps, ending with “come in in 2 weeks for a pregnancy blood test.”
And two weeks later, the blood test confirms I’m pregnant.
We go for 6-week and 8-week scans with our fertility doctor. Internal ultrasounds. I breathe. I’m okay. Because the bigger picture is we get to see our tiny baby. Eye on the prize.
October. At our 10-week appointment, we meet with one of the nurse-midwives. I like her immediately. At the end, she says she’s going to do a quick physical exam, including a pap smear. Partly because it’s standard procedure in pregnancy, partly because do I know I haven’t had one in 4 years? Husband leaves the room after checking with me first.
I start to tear up and decide it’s enough. Enough having things end with panic, fainting, vomiting, flashbacks. Enough suffering in silence. Enough.
“I just want to tell you – I don’t do well with these exams.”
“Okay,” she pauses and looks at me. “Most women don’t like this exam – but, do you have a sense of why it’s hard for you?”
I don’t miss a beat. Get. It. Out. “I have a sexual trauma history.”
“Ah. That was going to be my next question,” she said.
And for the first time in my life, in a medical setting, I continue. “From several different people. Different times. But in large part, at the hands of my pediatrician. So. While I think this would all be hard for me anyway, given all the….things I’ve experienced, having been molested by my pediatrician just really complicates things even more.” I exhale. I can’t believe I just said that.
She looks me in the eye. She says sweet, compassionate, understanding things.
“I’m going to go as fast as I can,” she says. “But I’ll be gentle. It’s not going to hurt. And if it does, you tell me.”
I breathe deep. She’s done in maybe 30 seconds. My heart is racing and I feel anxious, but I’m not in a flashback. I’m not throwing up. I’m not needing to be sedated. I’m not needing to go crawl into bed and try to survive for the next few days.
I text my friend later, “Weird texts I could only ever say to you: I just had the best pap smear of my life.”
And the word pops into my head: resilient. I am resilient. I have survived, over and over again. And I’m not only just getting by – but I’m using my voice. I’m getting it out. I’m telling my story, and helping myself in the process.
And now I’m going to be a mother. And to help myself, and to help my baby girl, I will keep talking. I’ll tell each doctor and each nurse, and I will learn to trust them, and I will be open and honest. I will talk to friends, and I will ask questions, and I will figure out how I am going to get through labor and delivery and birth. I will advocate for myself and I will have plans and I will not hide my fear and my panic. I will not hide in silence. Never again.
Help some SISters out!!!!
We want to meet you! Since we launched a little over a year ago, we’ve told our story to communities, parent groups, and at faith based retreats- mostly in the New England area. We’ve done workshops in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Maryland.
Now we’re looking to do speaking engagements and workshops around the country and we need to know where you are! Because we’re at the beginning stages of being a non-profit we are looking to gauge what areas can support a workshop and some speaking engagements so as to best utilize our resources.
Weigh in on the poll below. If you live in (or near) any of the areas/states mentioned in the poll, please let us know. If there’s nothing near you in the options, let us know that in the comments section (tell us where you are) or shoot us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org – we want to get some dates on the books!
Laura & Mary