I came to my doctor’s office today with the full intention of getting on a new birth control. I love my doctor. She’s a pretty Russian woman with a thick accent, long blonde hair, who talks to you like a close friend, and walks around her office in house slippers or spiked stilettos - my kind of girl. For the past couple of months my periods have been heavy and unpredictable, accompanied by nausea inducing cramps, and bloating so visible I need literal period pants. These are all things birth control should manage, but as of late, that hasn’t been happening. My last period I found myself clinching my desk while doing Lamaze breathing techniques (or what I think were Lamaze breathing techniques based on every sitcom I’ve ever seen) because I was convinced my cramps became contractions. There’s no way those weren’t contractions.
“Listen, I can switch your birth control if you want, but if there’s something else at play, that will have been for nothing. We really need to do an ultrasound,” she said with a tone of severity noticeably different from her usual joviality.
“My insurance won’t cover the ultrasound, and I really can’t afford it right now,” I told her in half a whisper of shame and an awkward smile. This is why you should build your savings account Jessica, I thought to myself.
“Let me see what I can do,” she said before swiftly walking out of the exam room. She returned five minutes later confirming that I don’t need to worry about payment. She’d talked it over with her office manager, and they would take care of it. I thanked her profusely, and undressed, to put on the exam robe. Why is it so dark in here? I wondered as I entered the ultrasound room. Looking at the machine, my mind started to wonder if I’ll ever be in a room like this again to hear a heartbeat. To see that my baby is the size of a peach? Will we want to know the sex now or later? I was snapped back into reality by the assistant nurse who entered the room.
I got as comfortable as I could manage in the chair, and then she inserted the probe, which still somehow startled me even though she told me it was coming. Lo and behold my doctor’s suspicions about the cause of my symptoms were true. There was the mass in my uterus on the screen. The nurse called my doctor back in to review their findings, all the while I’m spread eagle with a foreign object inside me.
“Okay, so we see it, but we have to confirm that it’s a polyp. So we’re going to put a solution into your uterus so we can clearly see it on the screen,” the doctor explained to me. They numbed the area as much as possible, but the pain of the injection was still so intense. If contractions are worse than this, I don’t even know if I want to give birth. I thought to myself as I squeezed the nurse’s hand.
The next step is pre-op blood work, and then scheduling surgery to remove the polyp. It’s all happening so fast that I don’t have time to fully process what’s going on. I’ve never had surgery before save for wisdom teeth extraction almost ten years ago, so this is all new and honestly scary.
“Listen, this is the best possible news. Our uterus is the first alert our body gives us that we need to make a change. You are very healthy, and this is very common, we just have to get that fucker out of there,” my doctor said with a wide grin which put me at ease.
I’ll spend the next two weeks prepping for the big day: letting my job know the days I need off, setting up my ride home, informing my local friends that I may or may not need some assistance after surgery, and most importantly convincing my mom that she doesn’t need to fly to New York to take care of me.
I arrive at my doctor’s office bright and early, a ball of nerves and anxiety. The office isn’t sterile and cold, like I expected. The room, much like the nurses and my doctor are warm and comforting. They call me back to prep for surgery after giving me two pills which are intended to relax the uterus. I guess now would be a good time to tell the anesthesiologist that I had a drink or two last night. “Relax, it was just a few drinks. You’ll be fine,” he says. His voice is thick with the same Russian accent as my doctor, and a reassuring tone. “Don’t be nervous. We’re gonna take good care of you,” he tells me as I sit on the edge of the exam table wringing my hands. He can sense my apprehension about what’s to take place.
After giving me time to undress, and put on the burgundy colored gown, they escort me to the operating room where the extraction will take place. I get in the chair, place my feet in the stirrups, and lay back. I scoot down almost instinctively, because I know from every exam I’ve ever had that I never scoot down far enough for the doctor to insert the speculum. For some reason I always become even more conscious of my body in the presence of doctors who look at bodies all day. I have nothing they haven’t seen before, yet I always neglect to scoot down far enough for them to do their job. Maybe it’s a subconscious way of maintaining some level of modesty or dignity in the face of a stranger inspecting a part of your body that you haven’t even inspected that deeply. I extend both arms out to either side of me for them to insert the IV’s. This is the worst part, because of my small veins, which make it difficult to insert needles and draw blood. Yet another trait I’ve inherited from my mother. I can hear my pulse racing via the monitor. “Ready?” I hear the anesthesiologist ask, and I’m out.
I swear I blinked and all of a sudden I’m coming out of surgery. The initial cramps are terrible. They give me cheese crackers and a soda to see if I can keep it down, followed by some pain meds before releasing me to my friend. By the time I get home and in bed, I feel fine. I order food, and respond to text messages from friends, family, and coworkers checking in on me.
My brother’s wedding day in Atlanta is filled with the joy and giddiness that comes with newly joined family members getting to know each other, old ones reminiscing on good times, and way too much food and alcohol. For me, home in Atlanta is a welcome vacation from New York. It refreshes and refuels me to be in the presence of so much familiarity and comfort. Yet, on this day that should be about my brother and his new wife, my comfort was disrupted fielding questions concerning my own dating life. “Are you dating anyone up there?” “All those people up there, and you haven’t found one?” “But I don’t understand you’re such a pretty girl.” “If you’re planning on having children, you should really hurry up before it’s too late.” “Aren’t you the only one of your friends who isn’t married?” I turn 30 on July 30th. I moved to New York by myself with less than $500 to my name. No job. No place of my own. No friends. Five years later, and I have two jobs, a second degree, a growing business, and gainful employment. Yet none of that matters, because I’ve come to my brother’s wedding sans date. This is why white women in romantic comedies just pay someone to be their date. My highest self knows that none of this is done out of malic. These are just the questions typically asked of single girls of a certain age. You answer them with as much of Michelle Obama’s grace and class as you can channel, you smile, and you move on. After all, the weekend is about our family growing and celebrating that growth. But sometimes when you’re alone, as I often am, those questions, and the inability to answer them with anything new or promising come back to haunt you. They poke at your confidence and sense of self. They seep into your subconscious and you even start to question yourself. Is there something wrong here? Why am I the only one out? Why can’t I seem to meet a good guy in a city filled with so many people? What’s wrong with me?
June 6th 10am
The Tuesday following the wedding I head back to my doctor’s office for my post op follow up exam.
“So everything looks good. The polyp was benign as we suspected. Now we have to discuss prevention,” she said. “You already know what to do in terms of eating better, getting exercise more often, and those things. You should consider getting back into therapy to manage your stress level, and also look into acupuncture.” I smile and nod, anxiously awaiting an end to the whole thing. “Are you comfortable with the birth control I put you on?” I reply yes.
“So what are your plans in terms of having children?” she asked.
I shifted my eyes right to left, and smiled nervously as the silence grew longer and longer. I could feel a catch in my throat as I turned the question over in my mind. “I’m not really sure. I’m not seeing anyone, so I don’t know what my plans are,” I replied, my voice shaking, as the tears welled up in my eyes.
“Well consider freezing your eggs just in case. We don’t do it here, and it’s very expensive, but something you should start to think about just in case.”
June 7th 12AM
I cried myself to sleep. I woke up, my pillow wet and stained from mascara, my face burnt to the touch from streaks of tears. All of the questions I had been asked days ago at the wedding came flooding back to me. I so desperately wanted to be able to answer their questions, and my doctor’s with a definitive response, but I had no real reply. Having children and when I want to have them isn’t the kind of decision I was prepared to answer at 29, let alone by myself.
About a year ago I started to question motherhood. Do I actually want to be a mom, or is this some shit I feel socially obligated to do? I started to wonder why I would want to be a mom in the first place. What am I hoping the purpose will be? Just to say I did it, or is there a desire somewhere I just can’t find, because I don’t know if it’s in the cards for me? Will I feel that I missed out on something if I don’t? Will life be less fulfilling?
I have this friend who has the worst case of baby fever I’ve ever seen. She sends me pics of cute kids she sees online, with messages that read, “I can’t wait to have one.” I never really knew how to respond, and even less so now.
I prayed for peace and direction over and over again, and eventually dozed off. I wake up to puffy, swollen, red eyes, and even more questions for myself than I went to bed with. Sleep alludes me for weeks afterwards. In all the time I’ve been single, I have never felt more alone than on these nights, because no one could help me arrive at an answer. Not even me.
Today I scrolled through Senator Kamalah Harris’ Instagram. As of late, she’s been sharing stories of Americans with serious illnesses, some of them terminal, who are at risk of losing their healthcare, and who likely would’ve died, or gone into poverty without the Affordable Care Act. It was so sobering to see how many of us can be one untreated/undiagnosed illness away from death or homelessness.
I started to think of all of the what if’s associated with my procedure. What if I didn’t have a full time job, with great health insurance? What if I didn’t have sick days and vacation days to use for recovery? What if the painful, unpredictable, heavy periods had continued until the polyp became something more? What if I didn’t have people calling to check on me every day for weeks afterward making sure I was okay?
Suddenly, the uncertainty of motherhood just didn’t seem so bad. I then became grateful. Grateful that I have a healthy body that I have the privilege of taking care of. That I have more time to myself to truly decide what I want to do with my body without someone else’s influence. I don’t want to take my healthy body for granted, or feel that it is worth less if I never carry and birth a child, or that I am worth less if someone doesn’t determine they want me. More than anything, I want me, and today I am exceedingly grateful that I have me.
Written by Jessica Wilkins
You might recognize Jess from this story here. Jessica hails from Atlanta, Georgia, and currently resides in Brooklyn where she writes about fashion, feminism, and pop culture. Check out more of her writing on her website www.notcarriebradshaw.com and follow her on Instagram @notcarriebradshaw