Gabrielle Union has been a champion for women who have struggled with infertility. The 45-year-old actress has gone into detail about her struggles with getting pregnant, her ineffective cycles of IVF, and has even revealed that she has suffered "8 or 9 miscarriages." And while the We Need More Wine author has been candid about her ordeal, there is no doubt everything she has gone through has taken its toll.
Speaking at the BlogHer conference in NYC, Union recently discussed her struggles but also revealed that she finally has more clarity as to what is actually happening with her body. After a slew of misdiagnoses, the doctors were finally able to pinpoint the exact cause of her infertility: Adenomyosis.
Adenomyosis is a gynecologic medical condition defined as the abnormal presence of endometrial tissue, the inner lining of the uterus, growing within the myometrium, or the thick, muscular layer of the uterus. While it is similar to endometriosis and can occur at the same time, they are two distinct conditions. Like endometriosis, adenomyosis presents with symptoms that include heavy menstrual bleeding, chronic pelvic pain, prolonged and painful periods, pain during intercourse, among other symptoms. 11-12% of women suffering from adenomyosis also experience fertilityissues.
Many of the symptoms she was experiencing were treatable with the use of birth control. Doctors wanted to help her control many of the symptoms, but the end goal of getting pregnant didn't seem to be one of them. The pill became a "mask" for the real underlying issue she was having. For anyone trying to get pregnant, the use of birth control is clearly not the answer, and we're left wondering if this approach did more harm than good. She says:
"Every doctor I saw was like let me put you on birth control. Right? The catch all. Note: if you are on birth control for anything other than birth control, to address or treat any sort of period issue, you are not actually treating or addressing a period or reproductive issue. You are masking it. The pill can mask all kinds of things. It is amazing at preventing pregnancy; not so great with addressing anonymous."
Union always felt that she had been misdiagnosed. The Being Mary Jane star says that she spent a lot of time trying to get pregnant with the help of IVF to no avail. She says she felt like "a prisoner" to her efforts. She said:
"For three years, my body has been a prisoner of trying to get pregnant. I've either been about to go into an IVF cycle, in the middle of an IVF cycle or coming out of an IVF cycle."
Many couples will spare no means in the quest to get pregnant. However, not only is IVF expensive, ranging from $12,000 to $17,000 for one round of which many insurance companies will not cover, it's exhausting. Couple that with being misdiagnosed to begin with, Union certainly has dealt with a lot more than anyone should have to. As someone in the public eye, there are so many people with their opinions and mischaracterizations, and for Union, people were especially insensitive in suggesting that she prioritized her career over starting a family. She told the crowd at the BlogHer conference:
"Towards the end of my fertility journey I finally got some answers, because everyone said 'You're a career woman, you've prioritized your career, you waited too long and now you're just too old to have a kid — and that's on you for wanting a career.' The reality is I actually have adenomyosis...The gag is I had it in my early 20s, and instead of someone diagnosing me, they were like, 'Oh you have periods that last 9 or 10 days and you're bleeding through overnight pads? Not a mere inconvenience perhaps there's something more there.'"
While it is beyond unfortunate that it took this long for her to receive a diagnosis, if she chooses, she still has options. There is a procedure that can greatly improve the symptoms of the condition, which, in turn, can increase fertility rates up to 78% (Myometrium or adenomyoma resection). However, the only real "cure" for this medical condition requires complete removal of the uterus, i.e. a hysterectomy.
Her testimony is shining a light on the complexities of fertility issues and giving other women the chance to see that they are not alone. Union's bravery in sharing her story is remarkable, and there is no doubt that she is giving hope to other women with similar issues. The one thing she would tell other women facing similar issues is:
"Just know if you are out there having fertility issues, you are not alone."
Thank you, Gabrielle, for sharing you story. The strength you have shown us on your journey of infertility and misdiagnoses leaves us inspired and hopeful for a positive outcome in your future.