Pain is Universal

by Nola

CS and I had dinner last night with a friend who confided that she is going through a difficult time. And I recognized something awful in her eyes: deep, raw pain. And it immediately took me to a place of reserved pain that I involuntarily hold within. I had intended not to blog about this issue of mine for various personal reasons. But last night made me rethink that decision at least a bit to discuss the issue of the universality of pain.

A week before Katrina hit, CS and I went to my gynecologist to discuss with him the fact that I’d been off birth control for over a year and had not gotten pregnant. That was the first day the “F word” was thrown out to me–we had a fertility problem. I shut down before we reached the elevator. My doctor referred us to a fertility specialist. I had previously decided that I was not one of those people who’d ever go through the hormone treatments and shots and in vitro. I didn’t want to know who had the problem–CS or me. This was the end of the line for me. I walked out of that office and into my own personal storm. Then Katrina hit and made it easy to ignore this “problem.”

Upon returning to New Orleans, my trusted gynecologist, along with countless other doctors, had relocated out of state. Not knowing what step to take, I made an appointment with the fertility doctor my gynecologist had recommended. I was not ready for this, though, and stormed out of the waiting room unable even to complete the new patient forms. What did me in? The question of whether this problem was negatively affecting my marriage. It was.

I decided I’d start over. I found a new gynecologist–one that would do the initial screening some gynecologists do prior to sending their patients off to a specialist. This felt safe. To make a very long story short, he diagnosed me as having a “T”-shaped uterus. He didn’t know what caused this deformity, other than I was born with a defunct uterus. He explained that getting pregnant would be extremely difficult and maintaining a pregnancy would be all but impossible.

My world fell apart. Completely. It was like Hurricane Katrina ravaged the insides of my body and no one knew. The fault was mine, not CS’s. My body had failed me; I had failed myself. My shock, disappointment, and pain were palpable. I could barely function. Work was the only thing I even attempted to focus on, and, I assure you, that was very difficult. Most days, it was all I could do just to get out of bed, bathe and put clothes on (and some days I failed even at this). I had never felt depression the way I felt this.

Then I was told that a relative was pregnant. And a good friend’s wife. Understandably, I did not handle this type of news well. My family was never brought in on our secret. It was way too painful to explain to them, so instead I wore a mask when I could not avoid them. A few very close friends who had had their own problems in having a child were told, and these friends became my lifeline during this very trying time. The despair was all I knew. I was upset and embarrassed and ashamed. I felt cheated and angry and at the same time deserving of this shit. I mean, wasn’t I the one that had said a decade ago that I never wanted children? Wasn’t I the one that put my education and career before settling down and having a child?

Then my gynecologist recommended that I see a specialist in New York to perform surgery to “stretch” my uterus. This was out of the question for me. It would not be covered by our insurance and I suspected it wouldn’t do any good anyway. If we were going to spend copious amounts of money (or, to state more accurately, go into serious debt) on having a child, it would be in the way of adoption–where we’d be guaranteed a child in the end. But I was struggling with the idea of adoption as well. It was my guilt in not being able to give CS “a child of his own.” I got really good at beating myself up.

Again, long story short, against the advice of my gynecologist, I made another appointment with the local fertility doctor recommended by my previous gynecologist. I wanted to know with certainty that, as I suspected, there was no hope. If, however, he agreed with my new gynecologist that surgery was a viable option, then maybe I needed to reconsider it.

At our first visit with the fertility doctor, he looked at my HSG (hysterosalpingogram) film and said this to me: “Your uterus is ‘T-ish’ shaped. It isn’t technically T-shaped. I see them regularly; this is not one.” I didn’t believe what I had heard; I couldn’t believe it; I wouldn’t believe it. Omitting the details, after 5 months of fertility treatment, I was pregnant. And it is with great relief that I can report that things have gone quite smoothly in my pregnancy.

Now, there is a LOT I can (and, in time, will) write about this whole experience. But the part that sticks in my throat, and I suspect always will, is that pain. All my heart-wrenching pain came to the surface last night when I saw that similar look of pain in my friend’s eyes. The reason for her pain may have been different, but the depth of her pain was the same. I know because once you experience pain that deeply, you can recognize it in another. It’s universal.

I know that her pain is her own, and my pain is my own. And neither of us will ever really know the dark corners of each other’s suffering. But I equally know that real pain, raw pain is universal. And I have learned that the best salve for this type of pain is the help and support of your close and trusted friends.

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