My name is Hanna, and I have endometriosis. For years I thought the cramping, nausea, and diarrhea that accompanied my period was normal. I was one of the last girls in my group of friends to get my period, and when I finally started bleeding at thirteen, I heard several exclamations of “Finally!” and “Welcome to womanhood!” from my friends and family. I knew prior to my period starting that cramping was normal, but nobody ever described the threshold of pain to me. My friends and my mom told me that what I experienced was normal, so at a young age I began to dismiss my pain.
Throughout middle school, high school, and college I felt an enormous amount of shame every month when I had my period. The bleeding was heavy, and I leaked through my underwear and clothes on a regular basis. I had anxiety during my periods, and I often used both a super tampon and a maxi pad together to prevent having to change my clothes or having to hide the blood from my classmates. The cramps kept me up for hours at night, and I used Motrin every four to six hours to stifle the slow burn of my pain. I felt like an animal for not being able to control my own bleeding and take care of my own body—my period made me feel less than human, and not like a woman at all.
When my boyfriend proposed to me after college and we became engaged, I was looking forward to a year of planning our wedding together; however, my joy at our engagement was short-lived. For over a year, I endured constant badgering from his parents regarding children. They told me I needed to have more than two children (they had two children and wished they had a third) and informed me having one child was not enough. On Christmas Eve that same year, my soon-to-be father-in-law pulled my fiancé aside and said, within my earshot, that the greatest gift my fiancé could give me is children. During a family vacation, my fiancé’s parents would not let the subject of how to raise children go, and I tried to change the subject multiple times. Eventually, I said, “What if I can’t have children one day?” to which they replied, “Well, if you can’t have children, then we don’t need you.” We don’t need you.
The comments continued after we were married. My husband and I have asked my in-laws multiple times to stop with the comments. I’ve ignored the comments, confronted the situation, and shared my feelings on the matter. The comments didn’t stop, but my husband and I have learned to live with these comments. I have distanced myself from the members of his family in order to have mental peace and to allow myself reprieve from the constant influx of inappropriate remarks.
I was diagnosed with endometriosis one month ago. I did not know much about the disease when I was diagnosed, but I am a researcher, and I began to read everything I could about endometriosis, starting with Dr. Seckin’s books, and moving on to articles, blogs, and even social media posts. When I realized the effects endometriosis can have on fertility, all I could think about was the comment my in-laws made during my year of engagement: “If you can’t have children, then we don’t need you.” And here I am, a potentially infertile woman married to a man whose parents’ greatest desire is for me to produce children. The guilt, shame, and horror I felt at this realization plagued me, and I couldn’t sleep.
Within a day or two after my diagnosis, I told my husband that if he wanted to leave me, he could. Giving my husband permission to go was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done, as I love him so much, and I do not want him to go anywhere; however, I could not bear the thought of binding him in a marriage where his family would regard me as half a woman because of my potential inability to have children. When my husband asked me to marry him, he did not know that I had endometriosis—even I did not know. I knew the importance his parents placed on my ability to have children, and all of the dreams of one day having a family seemed stripped away from us. I felt more shame, and I felt like less of a woman because of the endometriosis festering away inside me and because I knew that this diagnosis could destroy my marriage and my ability to have a family.
With tears in his eyes, my husband replied that he would not leave me. He told me he was not going anywhere, and we would have a family one day, after I felt well. He told me he wanted to raise a family with me, and that without me, he would not have the family of our dreams. He told me God would provide us with children, and either we would become pregnant one day, or we would adopt children in need of a loving home. My husband said again and again that he would not leave me, that he would stay with me always, and I believe him.
Since my diagnosis, he has attended every doctor’s appointment and sonogram I’ve had to schedule. He wears a pin in the shape of a uterus so that I won’t feel so alone (that way we both have a uterus) and to show his support. While reading about endometriosis, I discovered the differences between inflammatory and anti-inflammatory foods, and I changed my diet and am now gluten-free to help control my pain and bloating. My husband eats gluten-free dinners with me each evening, and we prepare these meals together. When we go out to eat, he chases down servers—in as subtle of a manner as he can—and finds out if there are gluten-free alternatives on the menu for bread or pasta and which foods do not include gluten. He is my biggest supporter and advocate, and I am grateful for him.
Recently, we went to dinner with my husband’s family. He got up from the table and spoke with a server at the far end of the restaurant. His mother, seated beside me, noticed and asked, “What is he doing?” I told her he probably had a question about the buffet. What I didn’t tell her was that his question was, “Which foods on the buffet are gluten-free?” My husband took a picture of the gluten-free options and handed his phone to me. Ever a curious individual, my mother-in-law leaned in to see the screen, but the font was tiny, and I don’t think she saw the words “gluten-free menu items” at the top. We had a nice meal at the restaurant, and then invited my husband’s family over for dessert at our home. I made a gluten-free blueberry cobbler with rice flour that morning, and we served this dessert. Everyone at our table had seconds, and my in-laws complimented us on a delicious dessert. The whole time, my husband kept my secret and helped me to maintain my worth and dignity.
I am grateful and blessed beyond measure for my husband. His kindness, advocacy, and support has helped me through the first month of knowing of my diagnosis of endometriosis. I have hope for the future knowing that he will remain by my side, no matter what we may face together. He is my defender and protector, and he chose to respect my wishes to not disclose my diagnosis to his family at this time, which I know was and is difficult.
I hope that my story may encourage you. Each day, my husband tells me that he loves me and he tells me that I am beautiful. In fact, he tells me both of these phrases several times a day. I told him a few days ago that he didn’t need to tell me so often, to which he replied, “I am going to continue to tell you I love you and you are beautiful until you believe it, too.”
Remember that you are loved, and you are beautiful, and for any woman with endometriosis, these are words you need to hear and believe each day—they’re true.
Hanna Szigeti lives in Pennsylvania with her husband and their dog, Minnie. She graduated from Albright College in 2015 with a degree in education, and from McDaniel College in May 2021 with a Master’s Degree in Liberal Arts. She is a full-time English teacher. Hanna enjoys writing poetry and stories, reading British and American classic literature, knitting, and thrifting. She enjoys spending time outdoors, and is an amateur gardener and avid squirrel-watcher. As Hanna and her husband continue in their endometriosis journey together, they find strength in their faith and prayerfully seek God’s guidance.
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*Patient stories submitted to EndoFound.org are the views of the patient and not necessarily those of the foundation. All testimonials are from real patients, and may not reflect the typical patient’s experience, and are not intended to represent or guarantee that anyone will achieve the same or similar results.