Lena Dunham has suffered from endometriosis for over a decade, a condition where tissues that usually grow within the uterus begin to grow outside of it. Symptoms such as debilitating pain during ovulation, bowel movements, urination and sex left Lena so “delirious”, that she felt the only way to move forward would be to have her uterus removed. In a personal essay for the March issue of American Vogue, she admits it wasn’t an easy choice to make. She’s always wanted kids of her own, “As a child, I would stuff my shirt with a pile of hot laundry and march around the living room beaming.” But as her illness progressed, she realised that her pain is too unbearable to allow her care for a child. “With pain like this, I will never be able to be anyone’s mother. Even if I could get pregnant, there’s nothing I can offer.”
The New York native gives a powerful description of her experience in hospital – from nurses accidentally asking if she’s pregnant to their awkward, sympathetic gasps when they realise what she’s gone through. But she’s used to it. Lena had to go through all sorts of psychological evaluations to prove she’d made the decision with a sound mind. A hysterectomy is a huge procedure for any woman, let alone one who’s so young and hasn’t had children yet. Doctors couldn’t risk being sued for medical negligence – so they put her through her paces to ensure she knew exactly what she was signing up for. She did know, and she went into the operating room happy to say goodbye to “pain and uncertainty”.
“It’s been a few months now,” Lena writes. “I am healing like a champ. I have a limp, the result of a pinched nerve in my pelvis, but I rock it like the new Balenciaga boots I bought myself as a push present.
“My mind, my spirit, are another story. Because I had to work so hard to have my pain acknowledged, there was no time to feel fear or grief. To say goodbye. I made a choice that never was a choice for me, yet mourning feels like a luxury I don’t have. I weep, big stupid sobs, alone in the bathtub…” But, admirably, she’s not bitter. “Many of my friends are pregnant, or trying. I was worried I’d handle it badly. Drink too much champagne at the baby shower. Sad old Aunt Lena. But I treasure them each. I cannot wait to meet their children.”
Now that the crippling pain of her illness has subsided, Lena is optimistically considering adoption. “I may have felt choiceless before, but I know I have choices now. Soon I’ll start exploring whether my ovaries, which remain someplace inside me in that vast cavern of organs and scar tissue, have eggs. Adoption is a thrilling truth I’ll pursue with all my might.” Like many women, Lena says she was born to be a mother. She wanted the big belly and “to know what nine months of complete togetherness could feel like. I was meant for the job,” she adds, “but I didn’t pass the interview. And that’s OK. It really is. I might not believe it now, but I will soon enough. And all that will be left is my story and my scars, which are already faded enough that they’re hard to find.”
If you would like more information on endometriosis and the options available to patients in Ireland, visit the Endometriosis Association of Ireland.