Dora Kennedy always believed she'd become a mother—it never occurred to her that her acutely painful periods might prevent that dream from coming true. Read on to see how navigated her endometriosis diagnosis.
Did you always want to be a mother? I can’t remember a time in my life where I didn’t want to be a mother. When I was younger, we lived in a complex, and I was the go-to before-school babysitter for three different moms. I was always the more cautious kid when there were younger kids around, feeling like it was my responsibility to look after the smaller ones.
Before you decided to try and get pregnant, what kind of knowledge did you have of your body? (i.e. were you aware you had any underlying conditions that would interfere with the process, or did you know anything about the connection between age and infertility)? On the last day of elementary school, right before summer hit, I “became a woman”and got my first period. I was 12. It was horrible. I was in so much pain—I could hardly walk, I puked. Every month I found myself in complete agony. I tried to explain to anyone that would listen that something was wrong with me. Three different doctors dismissed it as “bad cramps” that would require over-the-counter pain meds like Midol.
So you knew it was worse than the average period. Well, when I was 20, I went backpacking with a friend to Australia and after about two months, I got hit with a period. It was so bad that I passed out and had to get to the hospital in Brisbane. It wasn’t until then did I learn about endometriosis. A 25-year-old first year resident explained the condition. He told me I had go home immediately and have surgery to remove cysts on my ovaries. I was young and laughed it off and continued to travel for another 18 months. I had no idea of the severity of what I had just been told and that it would affect my chances of getting pregnant.
So fast forward into your fertile years. How old were you when you decided to try to get pregnant? I was 30, just living the dream!
What kind of tools were you given in regards to having endometriosis and its influence on getting pregnant? None really. I was told it was near impossible to get pregnant and we could try for a year, document what we were doing, and if nothing worked they would set me up with help from fertility clinics. I was devastated.
Walk me through what happened next. I had met with a gynaecologist who told me my right ovary was being suffocated by cysts and that they needed to be removed to save that ovary. From there, I had a total of four laparoscopic surgeries to have the cysts removed. I had an exterior ovarian suspension, where a string was tied to the outside of my body to hold up my ovary while it healed on the inside and to not adhere to the outer wall of my uterus, which is what had happened in the three previous surgeries. My final surgery was scheduled to be a half hysterectomy—to have that right ovary removed—but thankfully, I didn’t need it. The doctor was able to preserve my ovary with the exterior suspension procedure.
What was that physical pain like? It was pretty extreme. It would start with mild cramping that would last for a couple hours—usually just enough time to finish whatever I was doing and race home to get prepped for the real pain to begin—imagine a hot almost stabbing feeling in the same pelvic area. Eventually it would turn into multiple episodes of diarrhea, and the pain would be so debilitating, it wasn’t unusual that I would pass out on the bathroom floor—and in dark times, wish I wouldn’t wake up.
How many doctors told you that you would have never carry your children? Three.
That must have been so stressful and depressing. How did that make you feel? I was beyond devastated. Going into any serious relationship, I had to tell my partners that there was a big chance that I’d never be able to offer them a child. It ended two of my relationships.
So you were dumped when you told them you might not be able to have kids? Yeah! As someone who’d always wanted to have kids, I would want to know something that major if I was going into a relationship too. But my husband had faith in me and that’s one of the reasons I married him. He always believed in me!
What was your gut telling you? I was so upset I had no connection to what my gut was telling me. For so many years I had been told by doctors what was going on and how it was going to be, so I started to really believe what they were saying.
What did you do next? I met my (now) husband! I told him about my situation when we first started dating and he said to me, “I’m sure you can have kids so we will cross that bridge when we get to it.” I was shocked that he could just be with me even though he knew this about me and he definitely wanted to have kids. Four years into our relationship, we started doing research about getting pregnant naturally, talked to our pastors and asked for prayers, and started to change our lifestyle to what my body needed to host a baby-making party. I cut out caffeine, and became more aware of what I was putting into my body. I started taking a prenatal vitamin with the most folic acid we could find. I started counselling to explore all the negative thoughts I had harboured up about getting pregnant and what doctors had told me I would never be able to do. I started using a basal thermometer and bought 70 ovulation sticks. One night in November, I was feeling frisky and fun; I tried an ovulation stick out and up came a cute little smiley face that indicated “go time”. Then one day, someone asked me for a tampon. I paused; I hadn’t used one for a long time. We found out we were seven weeks pregnant on December 22, 2016. It was the best day of my entire life. We had only tried that one time! Our beautiful baby girl was born the following August. And her handsome brother came to us after one try only two years later. I did it without intervention or help from doctors. They were wrong about what my body was capable of doing.
What advice would you give to women in a similar position? Sometimes it’s more than “what’s your gut telling you?” that gets you through tough times. I knew I was meant to be a mother one day. I had faith that God had this crazy plan for me. I had to prove to myself that if I wanted it bad enough, I would do whatever it takes to get that. I worked hard and just believed in myself.
Did anyone else (Mum, friends other family) help support you on this? None of my friends really knew what was going on. Since I wasn’t exactly sure what was going on, I didn’t talk much about it.
What advice would you give to women struggling with infertility? Don’t say “it will never happen for me.” Build your body up with positive affirmations and be in a supportive frame of mind, for yourself. It’s one thing to have someone support you—it’s another to be able to support yourself emotionally.
What lessons (if any) have you learned from this? I can overcome. I can be positive. I can heal myself. I know what I am capable of. The power of prayer is real. There’s so many things I have learned throughout this journey. The list could go on and on. But most important… If I don’t love myself, why would I expect love—or a baby— to come from it?
Photos by Ashley Marston