Fibroids: Rockslide on the Road to Motherhood
When I was in graduate school, my friend Sonya believed her intrauterine device (IUD) was the reason she was getting debilitating cramps and prolonged menstruations. Neither of us knew about fibroids—tumors that grow in the uterus—or that they were growing inside her uterus.
Twenty to 80 percent of women develop fibroids during their childbearing years, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office on Women’s Health. While this statistic is an attention-getter, most women are unaffected. Sonya was not so lucky. By the time her fibroids were diagnosed during a routine ultrasound, her 11-week-old fetus was already dead, the victim of several grapefruit-sized fibroids that had claimed Sonya’s uterine blood supply for themselves.
Over the years, Sonya’s massive fibroids had evaded detection during gynecological exams. During the ultrasound, however, a nurse told her that he could feel them through her abdominal wall. It was the first time a medical professional acknowledged a bump she had always thought was abnormal. As for her pregnancy, she was told that she could allow the fetus to miscarry on its own, but because of the fibroids, the safest option was to have a dilation and curettage (D&C).
Fibroid treatment options
There are four types of fibroids: submucosal, intramural, subserosal and pedunculated. All have different options for treatment, including paths that leave the uterus intact for future pregnancies.
Sonya was diagnosed with submucosal, intramural and pedunculated fibroids, and since she and her husband were determined to have a child, her treatment options were limited. She could undergo laparoscopic myomectomy with morcellation, in which a morcellator tool is used to break up large fibroids into smaller pieces for easier removal. However, Sonya had read about Anita Austin, a woman who underwent a similar surgery in 2011 only to discover her fibroids were malignant, and the morcellation process spread cancer throughout her body, where it progressed to stage 4 and ultimately killed her in 2016. Today, morcellation of fibroids is no longer done for fear of spreading cancer from a cancerous fibroid.
Sonya chose her second option, an open abdominal procedure with a longer recovery time and a large abdominal scar. Sonya and her husband agreed that having the doctor’s hands do the work rather than a mechanical tool was a plus, especially since an open procedure gave more assurance that no fibroids would be overlooked.
Recovering & moving forward
Between the heartbreak of losing the fetus, the D&C procedure and the emotional stress of the fibroid-removal surgery, Sonya found solace in support groups. She discovered a world of women who had a passion for writing about and discussing fibroids, women’s health and emotional recovery.
For more than two years after surgery, Sonya and her husband attempted conception with only a miscarriage to show for their efforts. While there is no proof the fibroids caused her subsequent fertility problems, it is possible the surgery weakened her uterus, making it a less viable host. During those confounding years, Sonya concentrated on the two things she does best: She wrote dozens of pages about her experiences and never gave up hope.
Sonya’s resilience paid off when she gave birth to a baby girl who now fills her and her husband’s days with gratitude and joy. Their daughter loves Hello Kitty karaoke, walking the family dog and pulling things around their home in a laundry basket. Regardless of whether Sonya and her husband are able to give their daughter a sibling, Sonya’s journey is one of hope and perseverance.