How and why endometriosis caused me to voluntarily become a single mother at 22

Guest post by Amy

We recently talked about making the choice at an early age to never have kids — here’s a post about the opposite.

Amy and her daughter.
When I was little, my rendition of “house” always included pretending I was a single mother struggling to make ends meet. I’m not sure if my eight-year-old self could foresee the future, or if I was just making do with the fact that I didn’t ever have a boy to play my “husband.” I dabbled in dating as a teenager. By “dabble” I mean my relationships never lasted more than three months and most were more like a few days. I just never had much interest in men (or women, for that matter), sexually speaking.

Now, if I ever have to explain my sexuality, I consider myself asexual. For me, life seems much more simple by myself, and sex isn’t great enough to make it worth the effort. A psychologist would probably delve into explanations of past trauma, but I am perfectly happy feeling the way that I do. I don’t think I have ever lost my eight-year-old vision of single motherhood. As much as I have never seen myself in a long-term relationship, I have never seen myself not having children. I had never seriously thought about how it would happen, I just knew it would.

During those years of dabbling, I also started to develop some symptoms of endometriosis. It started out as pain with periods, but by the time I reached 19, I was having pain all day every day. The pain came in waves of intensity, but at the height of it, I would sometimes even pass out.

I must have tried 20 different birth control pills. If anything helped, it only did so for short periods of time. Every time I would visit my gynecologist, I would beg her to do a hysterectomy. She would laugh and we would joke, but there was always an underlying seriousness to it. There came a time when she sat down and said, “Amy, I’m not quite sure what else I can try for you.” She alluded to the fact that the only real solution actually was a hysterectomy.

Jokes aside, this really scared me and I didn’t want it… but this was no way to live a life. So I asked her about pregnancy. She told me that my pain would go away during my pregnancy, and probably for the whole time I breastfed. My mom had endometriosis when she was younger, and hers disappeared completely after her first pregnancy. I was skeptical that this would be the case, but hopeful.

I sat on it awhile. This was a huge decision. I was 20 years old and a senior in college. Very few people make the conscious choice to get pregnant at this age. I wanted to go to graduate school. I was nervous about money. I moved back in with my mom so I could start stockpiling cash just in case.

I waited almost another year. I finished my undergraduate degree and I started a two-year master’s program. As the episodes of passing out grew closer and the reality of the danger came to the foreground, I made a plan. I would get pregnant in September so that I could have the baby in the beginning of the summer, be able to stay home with her/him until school began again. At that point, I would only go to school and not work any longer. I had quit my part-time job and gotten a full-time social work position while attending school full-time as well to save up money. I was as ready as I could be.

I had to pick a sperm donor. It is the strangest thing to look through lists of prospective fathers and try to pick them based on height and hair color and career choice. I cannot put into words how weird it is to know that if you choose one donor over the next, you will have a totally different child than you would have otherwise. As much as you’d like to think you aren’t, you are essentially creating a designer baby.

After fertilization after fertilization failed, I decided I was going to do IVF. Amazingly, my insurance company covered a lot of the cost due to my medical problems. When I got the news by telephone that my blood test had come back positive, I jumped up and down so many times that I thought I the baby would fall right out. I have to admit, there was definitely an “Oh shit. What did I do?” moment. But more than anything, I was ecstatic.

It’s funny how plans work. I had planned to get pregnant in a timely manner so that I could have the baby in the summer. Instead, she was due in the middle of the semester. I had worked out plans with my teachers and the site supervisor at the guidance office that I would be doing my internship at so that I could take a few weeks off after the baby was born. But plans never work out and the health of this baby was top priority, of course. So I took up daytime television, bought Rosetta Stone, and spent the next two months in bed.

There have been times when a partner would have been nice — like when the crying wouldn’t stop for hours and I thought I would go insane. When her temperature closed in on 104 and I was terrified. When I wish I could buy nonessential things and still be able to feed us on our savings that now has to last twice as long. But mostly I appreciate the fact that I get to make all of the parenting decisions. Every time I hear someone complain about how their husband wouldn’t do this that or the other, I’m silently thankful that I have no expectations. I assume that all responsibility lies with me.

I know that I am the one who needs to get up with her every time, without exception. I have no one to be angry and resentful towards because they don’t live up to whatever expectations I have put in place for them. I’ll never worry about a custody battle or if her dad will let her get a tattoo after I say no. Doing everything yourself is immeasurably easier when you know that is the case from the start. Sure, there are great partners out there and resentment is not always the case — I just prefer the ease of not worrying about maintaining a relationship along with my other responsibilities. A personal choice, for sure, but I would do it again in a heartbeat.

Six months after my daughter’s birth, I had my uterus, cervix, and one ovary removed. I’m still storing my frozen embryos and paying annually. Maybe I’ll use a surrogate one day, maybe not. But I like to keep my options open.

(This post was originally published on Offbeat Families in January 2012.)

Comments on How and why endometriosis caused me to voluntarily become a single mother at 22

  1. What a wonderful post. I finally had a hysterectomy in October 2013 and it was a long complicated but totally right decision and I totally totally respect your bravery.

    Mine was also due to to endo. My symptoms started as soon as my periods did (age 11) so I can’t remember when I wasn’t concerned that my fertility was potentially compromised. Astonishingly I didn’t get my endo diagnosis until my late thirties although I had been diagnosed with Poly Cystic Ovarian Syndrome a few years earlier during the a concerted effort to get someone to tell me what was wrong with me. When I got the PCOS diagnosis I finally confronted my fertility and it took some time to separate what I really felt about having children from the overriding fear it wouldn’t happen. Fast forward through much tears and soul searching but in the end it turned out I could imagine life without them but it all came up up again when the Endo got to the point where there was nothing really left to try. Anyway although many of my decisions where different to yours (I didn’t try for a child before my surgery) I totally get that relief at having finally confronting all this and doing what’s right for you. Go lady!

  2. Thanks, Offbeat, for reposting this. I loved it the first time around, and I think it’s great that you’re showing more pro-baby posts (even though I love the non-baby posts).

  3. The weird thing is, I too used to imagine myself as a single mother doing it all. Maybe it was my early determination side. Who knows. I imagined I would have one child, live in a small but nice 2 bedroom apartment, and have a good office job. Thank you for sharing this story (and again) because I’m finding I’m not as odd as I thought I was. 🙂 That it was “normal” to not dream of standards.

    • That was a daydream of mine too…I had always imagined that if I didn’t get married and found myself single at 38 or 39, I would adopt an older kid in the 7-10 year old range. Now I am happily married but find myself still missing that idea at times (I still want to adopt but we want to have our own kid too, and “adoption wisdom” is that you shouldn’t adopt a child who is older than other children already present in the family).

  4. Even though I can’t personally relate to the specifics of your story, I really enjoyed reading this. I bet your daughter is going to grow up to be an awesome strong woman. And I love that picture of you two!

  5. I love this story, and I think it goes to show that giving women as much choice and control over their reproduction as possible not only can work but is so much better than trying to get everyone to do things the same way. Your little girl has such a strong role model in you.

  6. Thanks so much for sharing your story. It really hits home for me, although I’m older than you were, I was recently diagnosed with endo and feel both despair and relief at this diagnosis. Relief that I’m not crazy, despair that this disease tends to not go away and so little is truly understood about it from what I can gather from my research.

  7. You and your story are amazing, thanks for sharing. I wish you the best for your parenting adventure.

  8. As someone who wound up facing infertility for several years before getting pregnant, I think it’s incredibly brave of you to decide what you want and go after it as early as you did. Had I known I would face the trouble I did to get pregnant late in my twenties, I still don’t know if I would have been brave enough to start trying earlier. Very powerful story.

  9. I was so distracted reading this (excellent) post because I kept thinking to myself, “I’ve read this before. No, no really I have” and scrolling up to the top again and again wondering how it could be a 2014 post when I was SURE I’d read it before years ago! I was so relieved to see the re-post disclaimer at the bottom.

    I think it’s a great idea to cross-post related content from Off Beat Families. Unless you think it will deter people from reading, I suggest including the re-post disclaimer at the top of the post instead the bottom.

  10. Love this! As this is a repost, any chance we could get an update from Amy? I aspire to single motherhood myself, and would love to hear how it is going for her!

    • I’m also desperately curious about what effect it had on her endo, if she’d be willing to share.

  11. Oh my god that baby is adorable!! I love the part where you say being the only one responsible is nice when that’s the expectation from the beginning. I think that is so huge for other single parents is the change in expectations when one party no longer wishes to parent. Really thought-provoking.

  12. Really interesting – I’m loving reading all these different takes on family.

    I had to comment, mostly to say that the picture is probably the best photo I’ve ever seen of a mother and baby. There’s something wonderfully carefree and loving about it.

  13. Hey thanks for all of the awesome and empowering comments, guys!

    My bright, beautiful, and hilarious daughter, Avalon is now three years old. She is the light of my life. Single motherhood is hard for a variety of reasons, but a trap that I found myself falling into recently was the one where my child became my entire life. It’s so easy to do, because you’re doing it all. It’s hard to rationalize time away from your kid when you work all day and you are the only parent. I would read articles about the benefits of having a father, and try to replicate those things (fathers roughhouse, build with blocks etc that build mathematical brains). I was so worried that I would screw my kid up by not having father that I was losing my identity trying to do everything. I still worry about those things, but I’ve gotten better. I have to take care of myself in order to adequately take care of my daughter.

    It’s interesting as she gets older to see her wrapping her head around our situation. A few months ago she was watching The Lion King. She asked me, “What happened to Simba’s dad?” I answered simply, “He fell and died.” She waited for a few seconds before replying, “He died? Did my dad die too?” Floored, I replied, “No, baby. You don’t have a dad. You only have a mom.” Without missing a beat, she replied, “No, mom. You’re my dad. You’re my dad and my mom” (insert tears).

    All in all, we are doing well. I finished my master’s degree and I am a school counselor at an elementary school. Avalon and I just bought our first house on some land where we can grow some food and raise some chickens. Things took a little longer, but we got exactly where we wanted to be. I’ve been dating a man who has three boys of his own for a little over a year. It’s been strange to go 180 from not wanting a relationship at all, but it has worked out wonderfully and he fits so perfectly into our lives. I love the feeling of knowing that I can do everything on my own, but loving to be with him for pure love without an ounce of necessity.

    As for my endometriosis, it got bad again after awhile. A year ago this month, I had my last ovary removed. I was sent head first into menopause with all of the joys that accompany it. Fortunately, though, the pain stopped with the loss of the rest of my hormones. I still struggle this time of year because I am about to get my $500 bill to keep my embryos frozen for another year. Ultimately I will choose to keep them frozen because making the permanent decision to let them go or the very difficult decision to donate them are both too much for me to handle.

    I absolutely love single motherhood. I love the quality time and the strong bond we have. Last week Avalon wanted to dye her hair red “like Ariel.” I had no one to question the fact that I chose to use semi-permanent hair color on my 3-year-old’s head. There are rough days. The ones where I want someone to understand the pain I feel when she’s mad at me for being the bad guy and tells me, “Go away! You’re not my friend!” Overall, though, I wouldn’t change a single thing. I’d choose everything 100 times over.

    • Thank you for the update! I was wondering how you and your daughter were doing. Your little home sounds wonderful. So glad that things are working out for you.

    • Congratulations! I’m so glad it worked so well for you.

      I’m 28 and will be taking the Single Mother by Choice route too. I plan to start IUIs in July. I’m excited to read this content on Offbeat Home!

      May I ask how your doctors/ the medical fraternity reacted to your attempting to become a SMBC at such a “young” age? So much that I’ve read about women who decide to become a SMBC seems to assume that women make the decision in their late 30s/early 40s as Plan B. This is definitely Plan A for me (sounds like it was for you too?), and I’m curious about how your decision was received by the medical professionals who treated you.

  14. When I was little, I always used to pretend I was a single mom, too. My “kids” were always kids I adopted, though. As an adult, I’m child-free, and I don’t see that changing for me and my husband any time soon. I really love that OBH is a place where all our different viewpoints can be talked about openly without bullshit and judgement. (Rare, on the internet.)

    I think it’s awesome that you’ve created for yourself and Avalon the life you want. I wish you all the best. Endometriosis is no fun, and even though you had to take steps you didn’t want to take to get rid of it, I’m glad you’re no longer suffering with it.

  15. For those of you with endometriosis, please be aware there is an alternative to having a hysterectomy. Correct treatment of endometriosis is surgical excision of the disease. This means going in, usually laparoscopically, and cutting out all lesions. There are only about 25 endometriosis specialists in the country who have the extensive knowledge and skills it takes to do this surgery correctly. Many women have complete pain relief and improvement in fertility. Having a hysterectomy is not necessary, and most of the time pain will continue, because the disease is left behind in all other areas of the pelvis. If you have endometriosis and the only option your doctor is giving you is a hysterectomy, or they aren’t taking your pain seriously, please consider seeing a specialist!

    • Thing I have to say for liability reasons: we can’t stand behind the validity of any medical advice given on the Offbeat Empire. Talk to your doctor (…which is what Sarah H is suggesting anyway, but I just want to make it really clear.)

    • Speaking as one who has had laparoscopic surgery for endometriosis, it’s not a cure. It’s a temporary resoluton. Although the surgery can remove the current traces of endo, it does not and cannot resolve the underlying issues that cause the endo so it generally speaking does come back. Personally speaking, I had about a year before it started to come back in force.

      It is extremely difficult to find a doctor that’s familiar with endo though. Granted I live in the middle of corn fields but it took over a dozen different doctors over ten years to finally find one familiar enough with endo to figure out that why I was in so much pain.

  16. I did see several doctors and had a laparoscopic surgery to remove the endometriosis. Unfortunately the majority of it was deep tissue and it grew back regardless. I would always suggest second and third opinions and any alternative to a hysterectomy possible. I wouldn’t wish the inability to have future kids, menopause at 24, or as many surgeries as I have had on anyone. Always check other avenues first! Even chiropractic care or acupuncture helped a little for me and may have helped others more with less severe cases.

  17. Hey Amy!

    I just wanted to say that I think your story is extremely admirable and touching. I wanted to reach out and contact you because I was wondering if I could ask you some questions. I am currently a journalism student at Georgia Regents University in Augusta, Ga. This semester I am taking an Advanced Reporting class and we have to do an assignment which involving righting a long article about a topic that we are interested in. I was wondering if I could write an article involving your story? If you could please let me know I would greatly appreciate it! Thanks!

    Maggie Smith

  18. I’m sorry but there is no correct treatment for endometriosis, there is just what each woman chooses to do for her specific situation.

    Hysterectomy is so mired in misunderstanding, having started as the over used cure all for any gynaecological issue it’s now the big bad operation that no apparently right thinking woman should want to consent to. But some of us do and not because we were pushed into it.

    The biggest opposition I got when I decided to have mine at 39 (for endo and adenomyosis) was from other women who couldn’t understand why I might choose it before exhausting all other options. They meant well but I honestly had to fight down almost all my female relatives and many friends who were convinced I’d been hoodwinked by some terrible male doctor.

    Hysterectomy is much less over used than in the past all though of course inappropriate use still occurs but at the same time we still can’t quite handle the fact that it might be something someone would choose. If you are choosing one you really can fall down a gap no one seems to want to understand. I felt right in the choice intellectually but right up until the day I felt anxious and guilty. Waking up in the hospital all that had disappeared and I just KNEW it was right. I was groggy, stiff, sore and I had what seemed to be home plumbing system inserted up me helping me pee but I felt fabulous.

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