Friday, March 18, 2016

Being A New Mommy with Endometriosis

'It is Heavy, She is Light', watercolor, 2016, Christy Grace
As I write this, it is March 2016 and Endometriosis Awareness month. Though I am finally getting some time and have processed internally enough to rehash some of my endometriosis and surgery experiences, I wanted to give a current update.


Sometimes pregnancy can change a woman's body enough that endometriosis will no longer be an issue. I heard this while going through surgeries and fertility treatments and I was wishing that would happen in my body - though that would be miracle upon miracle. This didn't happen to me but I am so very grateful for the blessing of our little girl, Eliana.

Oxytocin, the bonding hormone. Painting by Christy Grace

That said, I have been extremely frustrated in how I feel my body is failing me. Two short months after the birth of my daughter my period returned even though I was exclusively breast feeding. The pain, exhaustion, and digestive issues were back almost immediately and by month four, I was prescribed birth control pills to slow the spread. The birth control pills have a warning on them which states that they are not recommended for pregnant or breastfeeding women. I actually refused to take my first pack of pills out of fear that I would hurt my daughter somehow. I talked to the doctors and pharmacists and got on the lowest dose possible and finally started taking them when I was afraid the pain would eclipse my ability to care for Eliana.

Birth Control Warning Label
One of the reasons nursing women avoid birth control pills is the fact that it can lower the milk supply. I found that it affected me immediately and that caused stress which further decreased the amount. Ugh! I did a lot of research and found some supplements and food choices to help supply. I kept with it and, though it has been a roller coaster, I have been able to keep giving my daughter the benefits of breastmilk along with the bonding that nursing brings.

Along with the pain of endometriosis, I have started to notice other pains in my body. I feel like an old woman though I am now just 31. There are muscles and joints that hurt when they should not. Areas of my body and skin feel bruised and sometimes when my husband tickles me, it feels like his fingers are digging in way too deep. I am also exhausted (but what mom is not?) and I feel like my brain is floating in a thick fog. All of this has added up to the possibility of fibromyalgia. I have appointments coming up to look into that deeper. They first have to rule out other things. Through X-rays, the docs have already found the beginning of osteoarthritis in my right knee. Okay, that explains pain there but what about the rest of me?

Really, body? I don't have time for this.
I made this sketch for my docs so I would not forget anything.

I have been processing a lot of this through art and now through words and that has helped. I also have a group of moms, family, and church and close friends that will listen. I still have fears and hopes.

• I fear that I will not be a good mom. I'm afraid of missing out on the precious seconds of Eliana's life while distracted with pain, exhaustion, or mental fog.

• I fear my husband and those close to me will tire of the real answer to their "How are you today?" questions. I am already embarrassed to have complaints and to need help but I am learning to accept it; I just worry about being a burden.

• I fear what my body could become as I age, if this is 31.

• I hope that even though it is rough, I can be the tough lady that I am and work through the pain whenever I can.

• I hope my continuous work to improve my health through workouts, diet, and other self-care will make a difference.

• I hope to be able to keep up with Eliana as she becomes mobile and I need to keep her safe.

• I hope to be the mommy I want to be for Eliana - loving, kind, creative, fun, encouraging, and present.

• I hope to be a good wife, sibling, daughter, and friend to those close to me. Though I know self-care is important, I desire to not be a detriment to those I love so much.

• I hope to find the right balance through all of this, though I know it is a continuing journey.

I wish to always lift you up in so many ways.
Photo by Naomi Walsh. Matching hats by Kelsey Dolezel.
Thank you so much for reading/listening. I am doing my best to continue smiling and kickin' butt and am grateful for outlets like this for my words and art.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Second Endo Surgery - Adhesion Removal

It has been almost two years since my second surgery for endometriosis (endo). In my last post, I talked about endo, how I found out I had it, and my first surgery. This will be a recap of the second surgery and life around that time.

My last post was on April 10, 2014, and my surgery was on May 21, 2014. While waiting for the surgery, the pain continued to get worse. In general, I was in discomfort all the time and in pain three out of four weeks of the month. My teeth clenching through the pain at night ended up cracking my two back bottom molars so I had to get them replaced with gold crowns. No fun and very expensive.

I researched ways to feel better through diet and much of the "endo diet" advice I found discourages many yummy things. On the do not eat list: soy (this was at the top of the list as the estrogen in soy can promote endo adhesion growth), red meat, dairy, chocolate, caffeine, wheat, sugar, fried foods, and more. I did my best to make good food choices and simplified by mainly avoiding soy and wheat because when I did slip up with soy or wheat I could feel the pain level rise. It is a good thing that I love fruits and veggies!

The last week before the surgery had to be one of the worst. I had my period but because of the impending surgery, I was not allowed any pain medication. I remember driving hunched over to an art gallery to retrieve my art after Gallery Night. When I walked into the gallery, my friend saw me and her face fell. "You don't look so good." I was pale faced with a cold sweat and my eyes were tired and sunken. I made it home and immediately crawled into bed with my hot packs.

With this surgery, the doctor knew she had to remove adhesions from my bowels so I was prescribed a bowel prep. This involves drinking a gallon of solution to completely clear out your insides! A person is instructed to drink this the afternoon before the surgery and to stay near a bathroom. Oof. Let's just say that there were some moments of comedy even though it didn't feel so great at the time.

Go-lytely, go quickly, run, run run!!!

The morning of the surgery I was so excited! I am sure the nurses thought I was insane because of the smile on my face. Smiling is sometimes how I work through sadness, nerves, or pain but this particular morning, my smile was filled with hope. My sweet husband Mark was with me until they had to wheel me into the surgery suite.

I remember transferring myself onto the surgery table, counting down, and then the strange, foggy, floating darkness of general anesthesia. Waking up in recovery, the first questions I asked was, "is this the first time I am waking up?". I wanted to make sure that I wasn't too confused coming up from the fog. The next thing I said was that I already felt so much better. Even though there was some pain from the incisions, it felt like a huge, knotted mess inside me had been untied. Relief.

My doctor walked in and started to explain what she found when in surgery. Long story short, she said that it was like an endo bomb went off inside me. A cyst must have popped and spread the endometrial cells throughout my lower abdomen because she found a lot of new spots and adhesions. She said that sometimes this surgery was not too hard because there are different levels of severity, but after this surgery she was physically tired. She removed a lot and did her best to preserve my reproductive organs. I was pretty sleepy then but I made sure to write her a note later to tell her how I was grateful. I also painted her a picture of a blooming reproductive system using hibiscus, rose-hip, and dandelion tea. She wrote back and said, "Next step, pregnancy!". (That process will have to be a whole other post.)

Fertile Flowers painted with tea.

After getting home from the surgery, my cats could tell that I was in pain. My girl kitty, Blue, puffed up and sniffed me nervously. She ended up trying to comfort me by sitting on my lap which isn't the best spot for a kitty after abdominal surgery. We compromised by using a pillow in between us.

You okay, human?

The emotional after-effects were expected but still a little difficult. After resting a while, I got hungry and asked for a banana and peanut butter because I wasn't ready for a full meal. While eating my banana, I felt a huge rush of complex emotions starting to well up. "Mark," I said, "I'm going to cry but I am okay."

My recovery took longer than from the previous surgery but luckily I had a great amount of love and encouragement from my husband, my family, my friends, and my church family. They brought meals over and visited with me while I was healing. Thank you so much, dearhearts!

A week and a half later, I attended an art show. I was still healing and very tender but I wanted to be there to support my fellow local artists. A few friends were also at the show and exclaimed that I looked great and kind of glowed! It was surprising how fast my body was cleansing itself of the toxins that built up during my illness. Though I knew I was not cured, I felt better than I had in a long time and hopeful for the near future - both for feeling at least a little better and for the possibility of pregnancy!

Thanks for reading!