The path to motherhood for me was a slightly difficult one. Not impossible terrain but certainly a few stones and potholes along the way. I have wanted to be a mummy since I was a little girl.
I was fortunate enough to have an incredible stay at home mother and I wanted to be just like her. By age 11, I had it all planned out. I wanted two boys, quite close in age, then a gap then a girl. I had a dream of my little girl having two big brothers to love and protect her.
Their names were to be James and either Oliver or Miles (no judgement!) and my daughter was to be called Isabella.
At fifteen I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. By twenty eight I had had four ovarian cyst removal surgeries and numerous doctors telling me it would be ‘incredibly difficult’ for me to get pregnant and/or sustain that pregnancy.
As like a lot of girls, my twenties were spent trying to avoid getting pregnant. I lived in London for four years. I travelled. I partied. I had relationships. My life changed completely when I met my now husband, Mark Sheppard. It was a whirlwind.
Seven hour Skype sessions with him in Los Angeles and me in London. Trips back and forth then moving to be with him in February 2015. I was traveling with him across America for the Supernatural conventions and by May I had run out of birth control. I was ready to go to a doctor but Mark suggested that after eleven years on the pill that I take a break.
I had a lot of trepidation but we had decided we wanted to be together forever (however childish that sounds) and despite, or maybe because of, our twenty year age difference that we wanted to try for a baby. Like I said, a whirlwind.
We didn’t ‘try’ but we didn’t not try and I was pregnant by July. We were in San Diego at Comic Con. I was at an Entertainment Weekly Party and very excited but I felt so sick and tired and when I turned down champagne I knew something was wrong. We got a positive test and I had to hide my throwing up from everyone for the rest of the weekend.
I didn’t know any doctors in LA so I googled some close to us and simply picked one at random. She had excellent reviews so I decided she was the one. Our first appointment went well and I liked her; she seemed kind but no nonsense. Straight to the point which I like.
She was covered by our health insurance and not too far away in the valley. Overall I had a pretty good pregnancy. I absolutely loved every minute. I had morning sickness (that lasted all day and into the evening) for four months but even that didn’t dampen my excitement.
Around the six month mark I had to have an ultrasound as I was having a lot of pain on my left side. Turns out I had a 8mm kidney stone in my left kidney. I was put on strong medication for the pain, which obviously helped, but there was nothing else they could do while I was pregnant. At one stage I was seven months and I was in so much pain I was admitted to hospital. Mark was filming in Vancouver. My OBGYN decided I needed a cat scan. I remember being on extremely strong painkillers and then a nurse coming in with a consent form for me to sign. Groggily I said ‘am I allowed to have a cat scan while pregnant?’ The nurse said it was ‘no problem’ and I drowsily signed it. I was wheeled down to the radiology lab, wrapped in blankets, when the radiologist asked when I delivered. I replied that I was still pregnant, lifting the blankets to show my prominent bump. He was shocked I had been sent for a cat scan while so far along in my pregnancy and refused to do it. I was taken upstairs and unbeknownst to me, while I was downstairs in the lab, Mark had got on the phone with my doctor. He was furious I had been talked into signing a consent form while under the influence of painkillers. He asked my OBGYN if she could promise there was no danger to our baby or myself; she responded that she had ordered ‘hundreds’ of scans on pregnant women and she had been working as a gynecologist for over thirty years. Mark said that there was nothing that could be done for the stone while I was pregnant anyway so what was the point of the scan! According to Mark, she was very passive aggressive and told him to “do what you want” and hung up on him.
The next three months of visits to my doctor were extremely difficult. She couldn’t manage to put aside her feelings about Mark not agreeing with her and while she completely ignored him she was also cold and indifferent to me. I felt very vulnerable and didn’t stand up for myself or speak my mind; which now when I look back at it, makes me angry. I wish I was more confident at that point in my life. It's such a momentous event in a woman’s life that I look back and wish I had more kindness and care from the woman that would be delivering my baby.
However- the situation was what it was and although I wasn’t getting any professionalism from my doctor, I was getting a reasonably good level of care. I was still on painkillers for the kidney stone and my blood pressure was low. I was in the hospital in December 2015 as I started having contractions; definitely a scary moment as I had to be given drugs to stop them.
They can’t induce before the 39 week mark so as soon as we hit that, the doctor sent me into Tarzana Women’s Hospital to be induced. Suddenly it felt very real.
My nurses were wonderful and they kept me going through the twelve hours of labour. One especially, was so memorable; she was kind and funny and encouraging. They had to break my water which was horribly painful but after that it all happened very fast. My doctor came into my room about 2am. Some of my memories are a little blurred obviously but my mother and my husband both say that she was very cold to me; it was such a shame.
My daughter was born at 2.36am on March 1st 2016. She just missed out on being a leap year baby! My doctor was leaving as the nurse called her back and said “this patient needs stitches doctor”. I vividly remember her sighing loudly and being very annoyed; she gave me stitches so fast that, without going into to much detail, she did a really bad job from which I am still unhappy over four years later; I have been told I can get the area repaired but I have been putting it off. She then left without saying goodbye to me, Mark or my mother. I loved the whole process of giving birth but it was such a negative having a doctor who was so aloof & uncaring.
My daughter, Isabella Rose Sheppard, was perfect and so beautiful that my doctor's attitude was the last thing I was worrying about. I was given a cat scan and the kidney stone was gone; the overall consensus was I passed it at the same time at giving birth; a two birds with one stone sort of scenario! One thing which still surprises me is my doctor did not come to see me while I was in hospital and she discharged me over the phone! My nurses were really shocked that she didn’t come to see me or Isabella. Her duty was to check my stitches, feel my tummy and check that I was healthy enough to be discharged, but she didn’t bother. I still wonder sometimes that if she had come to check on me that some of my damage and pain could have been avoided. I do think that is wishful thinking but you never know?! I saw that doctor for any six week after birth check up then never again. I did think about making a formal complaint but dealing with a newborn and postpartum depression I did not want to start a possibly expensive process to get….what? An apology? Possibly I could have had my stitches redone but I didn’t want to see her again so I let it go.
I know I needed a new OBGYN so I went to a new woman who worked out of the same hospital. She was very energetic and a little younger; brusque but I liked her. This was August 2016. I was having terrible pains in my left side and pelvis; the scan showed nothing unusual. In September of that year, after numerous trips to the emergency room in agony she did laparoscopic surgery on me and found two large cysts on my left ovary that were hidden from view, why the scan didn’t pick them up. They were rubbing against each other which, in her words, was like getting electric shocks every time they touched.
I did feel better for a few months after that first surgery until January 2017. I went back to see her. After waiting on her for an hour she came out into the waiting room to speak to me. I told her my pain was back. She, to my absolute shock, told me that she wasn’t going to see me today as she ‘did her job well’ and if there was anything wrong with me it wasn’t gynecological and I should see a gastroenterologist. Keep in mind this was in front of her three receptionists and numerous patients. I was so upset I could barely talk but I told her that this was not gastro related pain and to please help me. She refused again and started going through some of my medical history, still in front of other people, and how dare I be saying that she didn’t do her job properly. The arrogance was astounding and I am aware she was breaking HIPAA laws but I was too angry to think straight, I left in tears; thinking that my run with gynecologists in this country was cursed. Even all these years later it's hard not to feel angry when I remember these events. I genuinely wish I had stood up for myself - as now I would never let someone treat me that way. Being a mother has made me more self confident and brave; able to tell someone what I require, all without being rude. As my father says ‘if you start with anger, you have nowhere to go.” Always treat the medical receptionists with kindness and respect. They are the front door to your doctor. If there’s an issue talk calmly and tell them you understand they have a hard job and you appreciate their time. It is a hard job. I was a medical receptionist for years and having patients scream at you about something that’s not your fault or out of your control is horrible; it can affect your mood and make you not want to go out of your way for anybody. But the kind people are remembered and you can go far with the right attitude.
My next OBGYN was a man. He was the one who noticed my dilated blood vessels around my uterus, which in turn led to my diagnosis of pelvic congestion syndrome. Unfortunately when I contacted him to ask about the blood vessels he told me that they weren’t important. When I told him I had been reading about pelvic congestion syndrome he told me that it didn’t exist.
I left messages for him after I had been to a specialist and been officially diagnosed but my calls were never returned. Again, a dead end in the gynecologist department.
I think that brings us up to date with my first blog piece. I have recently found a new OBGYN who I am happy with and who will be doing my hysterectomy soon; unfortunately the only option left for me after four years and six other surgeries. There is of course, no solid proof that this will ‘cure’ me; that I will jump out of the hospital bed with abandon and run off to do all the things I’ve missed out on for years. But there is hope; and right now that’s all I have.
I am fortunate enough to have excellent health insurance and be financially secure enough to take the surgery and not worry too much about my out of pocket expenses. That already puts me in a different category to so many other women that require surgery and can’t get it.
I will be keeping everyone updated on when my surgery will be plus the healing process and hopeful journey back to some semblance of health. I want my life to begin again; because I have a pretty amazing one.