This is my current body. At nine months postpartum, without my layers and colors, I look like I’m twenty-five to thirty weeks pregnant. I have to look at this frame in the mirror everyday, and get familiar with the stretch marks and the lumps. I have the accept the marks as part of my growth and journey. They will forever remind me of the fight I went through to keep Zuli safe inside of me. They will forever remind me of my strength. They are lines of the purest love. And I believe they are the greatest example of what life is all about. Beautiful. Raw. Unapologetic. But underneath these lines of strength, love, and life, live nine uterine fibroids and signs endometriosis. A few of the fibroids are the size of grapefruits, some the size of apples, and others the size of limes and grapes. Those (noncancerous) tumors have to be removed because they almost killed me and my baby, and right now they are hazard to my overall health.
How it all began
I’ve always been tall and thin, fluctuating between sizes two and four between my teenage to adult years. I was about twenty-seven or so when I noticed a small bump when I lay down one evening before bed. Nothing major. It wasn’t noticeable when I sat or stood up, only when I lay on my back. I ignored it for a few weeks because I thought it was part of getting older. I convinced myself that’s what happens when you start to get to the end of your twenties. You get lumps. Then I started feeling some discomfort and tenderness when I touched or pressed on it. The small bump also felt as hard as rock. So I decided to get it check out.
I lay in the examining room for a while after getting an ultrasound, feeling extremely nervous, waiting for the doctor to diagnose my bump. Of course I thought about all sorts of scary things because I googled my symptoms the night before the appointment. And when I finally met with the doctor, I was told that I had a couple of small fibroids and cysts. That the fibroids were not dangerous because they were really small. And that I should not have them removed if I wanted to have children... because that could complicate things. I left feeling relieved that nothing was really wrong with me. And I decided that I should just accept the two small fibroids as part of my body now because our bodies go through changes.
A few years later, I lay on an ob-gyn’s examining table, pregnant with Zuli. She wouldn’t look at my face or say anything. She just kept staring and pressing at my belly. She asked me if she could call a nurse in. And right before I finished nodding, the nurse came in. Now, I had two women staring down at my belly without saying a word. The doctor wrinkled her eyebrows, and said, “You have more fibroids than baby. I would not keep my hopes up. I’m surprised you got pregnant in the first place. Your baby will not make it.” That was my first doctor’s visit.
At my twelve-week check up, that same doctor was surprised to see that I made it that far. She started calling Zuli a miracle. By sixteen weeks, she decided to no longer be my doctor, and had her nurse call me to tell me to find a new doctor. I spent the rest of the year spiralling in and out of a dark place. I lay in bed for days, and couldn’t move. I decided not to love the baby because she would not make it. I hated myself and my body. I hated the fibroids. They started growing and multiplying because of estrogen. And eventually, at my twenty four week check up, I was admitted to the hospital.
I spent thirty-one days in bed in the hospital before Zuli decided she would not longer live with the fibroids in my uterus. She was born on a cold Thursday morning in Austin when I was just twenty-eight weeks pregnant. She simply ran out of space. The fibroids pushed her to a corner, and she could no longer move or grow. The nine fibroids, along with preeclampsia made my pregnancy a living hell.
She was stronger than me. Despite everything she had to fight through, she remained active and kicked often to let me know she was there. However; it was always difficult to find her even through the ultrasound. I had to be strapped to monitors several times everyday so we could listen to her heartbeat, and sometimes, it would take two to three nurses to find her. I looked like I was in my third trimester with twins by the time I was 25 weeks pregnant. And when I told people, I was only pregnant with one baby, they would often question me.
At three months postpartum, I decided to go get my nails done, and start living my life the way I used to before I got pregnant. Before I sat on my chair, a woman glanced up at me smiling, and said, “Congratulations! How far along are you?” I looked at my fibroid-filled bump, smiled back and said: twenty-eight weeks. I lied because I was not ready to talk about what I just went through. Because I didn’t want to explain that I gave birth to a baby when I was just twenty-eight weeks pregnant. And that she was looking at fibroids. Just a week before that, someone else congratulated me, and when I told them that I was not expecting, we sat through an uncomfortable silence until I decided to switch the conversation.
I went to see several highly-recommended surgeons to remove the fibroids after I healed from my c-section. They all told me the same thing: They’re surprised I got pregnant. They’re even more surprised Zuli and I made it. I cannot do robotic surgery- that’s where they make small incisions instead of a larger cut to remove them from the uterus because they’re too big. I will instead have a longer scar than my c-section scar to remove them. And that means I will need a few months in bed to recover.
I’m still fighting for my health now until I can have the surgery. For the past few months, I’ve been seeing a hematologist because of more complications. I cannot get my surgery until I get my blood count up. I go the doctor twice a week, most weeks. Zuli sees several therapists several times a week. I work and try to navigate my crazy schedule filled with doctor’s appointments, therapists, a growing baby, and deadlines. And when I’m asked about my new lifestyle, I respond: We adapt.
Not only do we adapt, but we kick ass while doing it. I stopped feeling sorry for myself. I’ve cried many times looking at my reflection this year. Thin body, round belly, but not pregnant. Perhaps I relied too much on a 24-25 inch waist back then. I kept thinking about how much I missed fitting in my old pants. And tucking in my loose blouses in my skinny pants. I kept thinking about my “swimsuit” body. And I avoided pool parties like the plague this past summer. I asked myself if I could still talk about style on my platform. Would I still be able to be in front of the camera? Then I challenged myself. Not only would I come back, I would not let these fibroids stop my colors.
So here I am. Without my colors. Or layers. Just my truth. But isn’t the truth also part of my colors?
Why am I sharing this?
Last week, I responded to an old college professor’s email about why I couldn’t mentor one of her students when she approached me about it a few months ago. I went into detail all of the struggles I went through, and how I was still healing. She responded: I would have never thought that based on the photos you post. I’m sure she didn’t mean anything malicious by her statement, but it made me realize that I don’t talk about the reality enough. I’m a person, not a brand. And I go through things like everyone else. And while I like my privacy, I believe women should talk about health-related issues more. And maybe I can help prevent this from happening to someone else.
If you start to see your body changing. Don’t take it lightly go see a health professional. Don’t only believe one person. Go get a second or third opinion. Had I gone to another doctor or a few more, this whole thing could have been prevented.
If you’re going through something similar, please remember: You are not broken. Don’t feel sorry for yourself like I did. You are enough. You are a fighter. And you are worthy.