Behind Closed Doors

the next chapter (6)

My story started out pretty ordinary. I married the boy I had a crush on in summer camp and we enjoyed our first few years of marriage as newlyweds before we were ready to have children. When I got pregnant the first time, I enjoyed a textbook, uneventful, and healthy pregnancy.  Aside from the fact that my daughter decided to make her appearance 2 1/2 weeks early and had to stay in the NICU for 4 days, everything else was as-to-be expected. 

If only things would have continued that way.

A year and a half after my first daughter was born I found out that I was pregnant with my second and third pregnancy, but unfortunately, I lost those babies. Hashem had other plans and that period of my life saw continual loss, infertility treatment, and heartbreak. 

I knew I had to keep going because I felt like I wasn’t finished.  

I did get pregnant and though it was a frightening delivery my new daughter was born healthy.  That period of time felt very fragile for me because of all my experiences of loss. I was so afraid that something was going to happen to my new baby. Thank God, she was OK and I took a big sigh of relief.  

Then the next saga began.

I started bleeding through my birth control pills. I called my OB/GYN and was told, “It is nothing, don’t worry about it.”  After six months, I went back to my reproductive endocrinologist and I was diagnosed with dysfunctional uterine bleeding. This was something that there was no treatment for and there was no rhyme or reason why it suddenly started. I was petrified because I was told there was nothing I could do, and that I would have to live with it. 

This began my long journey of dealing with months upon months of unrelenting bleeding, cramping, discomfort, and no answers– from doctors, specialists, clergy. I felt so alone. I had no one to talk to, no one who could relate to me, and no one who had been through this and could really help me. I went back every year for my annual appointment to the doctor and left more miserable than ever. We tried so many different medications but nothing seemed to give me more than a few weeks’ reprieve. I was miserable. 

At one point I just went off my pill completely because I figured it would make no difference anyway. Since getting pregnant wasn’t simple for me, I didn’t think it could happen without medical intervention. Well surprise, I got pregnant which was a miracle on its own and I gave birth to my 3rd child, a beautiful, healthy baby boy. I was elated and ecstatic. 

But my joy was damped by my chronic bleeding started to get worse. It affected every moment of my daily life. My OB referred me to other specialists. No one could explain my symptoms. I was disappointed over and over again. 

I finally hit my breaking point when I was at work and had a bleeding episode that was embarrassing and physically debilitating. It took the problem to a whole new level– up until that point it was an issue that I could keep private, but now I had to have uncomfortable conversations at my workplace. My condition was interfering with life on a whole new level. 

I went back to the doctor. That was the first time the word ‘hysterectomy’ was uttered. At 35 it just wasn’t something on my radar. 

Then COVID began, and at this point I had been symptomatic for six years with no answers.  

I had exhausted all options, and my doctor said to me on the phone, “Alana, we have tried everything I can think of, I think it’s time to try a different type of doctor. I can’t help you anymore.”  

Do you know what it feels like when a doctor who has been following your case and trying to help you for over six years turns around and says that? It was devastating. I went to two more doctors but was left in the same position as when I started. 

I finally turned to my husband and said, “That’s it, I am done. I can’t go on like this anymore. I am 35 years old and I can’t fathom dealing with this for another 15 to 20 years.”

In June 2020 I begged my doctor to recommend a surgeon for a hysterectomy. I took my mom with me because I wanted to make sure I asked every question possible. The doctor explained everything and agreed that as long as I was okay not having more children, it was the right thing for me to do. 

That decision did not come lightly to me. I have three children and I didn’t feel like I knew for sure what I wanted for the future. This certainly wasn’t the way I’d envisioned us deciding to be done having children. After much discussion with my husband and having experienced many emotions. I was afraid. 

I asked myself, “Would I regret this?” 

“Is this really going to help me?”

We decided it was the right decision for me and for us. I opted for a robotic hysterectomy and made my appointment for a few weeks later, four days before my 36th birthday.

Thank G-d, the procedure went as planned. They removed my uterus, cervix and tubes, but left my ovaries so I would not go into menopause. When I woke up I felt a sigh of relief. I felt like maybe I had made it to the other side. 

Recovery was challenging at first, but it got easier as the days passed. 

At the follow-up, the surgeon informed me that they had tested my uterus and had finally figured out why I was suffering all those years: I had a condition called Adenomyosis of the uterus: a condition which causes bleeding, cramping and everything I had been experiencing. In my case, a hysterectomy was the only long-term solution.  

I felt validated that I knew my own body, and I had made the right decision. That all that I had suffered wasn’t in my own head. It was real and they had found the source of my pain. 

After all these years I finally had closure. I could move on with my life knowing that I had done everything in my power to find an answer to this medical journey. 

Looking back, I can’t believe how much we’ve been through in the past ten years. 

Looking at us, we look like an ordinary family blessed with three healthy children, active in our community. You would never know what was going on behind closed doors- how much pain, suffering, and loss we were experiencing. People need to be sensitive and non-judgemental, because we really just do not know what is happening in other people’s lives. 

It’s been over a year since my hysterectomy and I no longer live with the chronic symptoms that took up so much space in my life. I feel like I have a second wind, more energy, more presence. After years of feeling lost in my body, lonely, and broken, I finally feel more whole and grateful for a second chance at this phase of my life.  

It’s taken time for me to get here physically and emotionally and there are definitely times I feel pangs of wanting more. Going for medical testing and spotting a young couple checking into the maternity ward or being around new babies– I can feel happy for others and also feel a heaviness from what I’ve been through and what I won’t experience again.  

I’m still working on how to be and feel more kind to my body and I can see that I’ve made progress. I have more appreciation for my health and continue to get stronger everyday.   

Something that has given me strength and meaning is being able to educate others and be there to support women going through similar struggles. 

When I was feeling stuck all those years, I wished I could find relief in being understood by someone else who could relate. 

Now I try to be that person for other people. 

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Alana Shlagbaum is an Early Childhood educator who lives in Teaneck, NJ with her husband Johnny and three beautiful children Rebecca, Gabriella & Jonah. Alana and her family spend the summers at Camp Nesher where she is the Director of Operations. She can be followed on Instagram @alanashlag