Nicole Audrey Spector. As revealed to Nicole Audrey Spector.

My wife and I married when we were both still in our early 20s, and for four years after trying unsuccessfully to conceive we waited in vain for a successful conception.

Since that time, I had 17 miscarriages.

After suffering multiple miscarriages, I visited various doctors to identify why. After being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), endometriosis and uterine fibroids, which explained both my miscarriages as well as horribly heavy and painful periods – these conditions all helped explain them as well as my horribly heavy periods. Treatment options were offered but none helped with infertility – we tried them but none proved beneficial.

As an Army spouse, my health insurance was provided through Tricare due to my husband’s military status; however, Tricare fell short in meeting our family planning needs as it didn’t cover in vitro fertilization or other fertility treatments; we would have had to cover those expenses out-of-pocket instead and it just cost too much.

Even had we had the financial means for fertility treatments, doctors informed me that my chances of carrying to full term were minimal.

My husband did not share my viewpoint regarding adoption and was set on having biological children only, which led to immense strain in our marriage and ultimately led us to part ways and eventually divorce. Soon thereafter he married someone else and soon after had biological offspring himself.

After my husband and I parted ways, I made the decision to enlist myself. Partly due to how much I would miss military life – which had become like home for me – my inspiration for joining was partly knowing how much it meant.

At the time I decided to join the army, I weighed nearly 400 lbs. As soon as I decided on joining, I immediately began changing my diet and exercising regimen to meet basic training’s standards and pass.

While in basic training, I did not get my period. This was expected as physical and psychological strain can interfere with your menstrual cycle and interfere with its normal cycle.

But upon arriving in South Korea, my periods remained irregular. A doctor on base suggested I get the birth control shot to regulate my cycle; upon doing so, my periods became semi-regular.

Sexual activity was part of my duty in South Korea, but it was never part of the plan to become pregnant. After several months without period, two over-the-counter pregnancy tests turned up positive – I couldn’t believe my luck!

As I expected my pregnancy would end any minute now, I was surprised and shocked when it continued for another 10 weeks. Since this had never been my experience before, I was certain it would soon pass us by.

Surprise, surprise–my pregnancy survived! As soon as my second trimester approached, I visited an OB-GYN and they confirmed the baby had an excellent chance of making it to birth!

My active duty career continued, though not in South Korea where my duty station was rural and too small for adequate OB-GYN care. Instead, I was transferred stateside.

As soon as I arrived at my new duty station, I tried to access an OB-GYN on base but was told there wasn’t room. Instead, they suggested I see someone from the community but my request for community care was denied by Tricare. Finally after six weeks without seeing anyone and at week 36 of my pregnancy I was finally able to make an appointment with this clinic; because this had been my only clinic up until then and because I was squeezed in I never received one doctor but instead saw different ones every visit – no assigned doctor – although they tried hard so no matter who came a different doctor every visit compared to what would have been optimal!

Although my situation wasn’t ideal, everything eventually worked out beautifully – and now I have an incredible daughter whom I couldn’t be more thankful for!

After leaving the army when my daughter was two years old, I continued experiencing severe cramping and heavy bleeding during my period. Finally, after meeting with an OB-GYN who recommended endometrial ablation as my only cure, this decision was finalized.

My doctor informed me that this procedure would result in my being unable to have children again, which devastated me but also provided relief from pain. So I underwent what was touted to be an answer – which ended up resulting in my being pregnant during that timeframe.

Unfortunately, my ablation did not alleviate anything. Even though my periods had stopped occurring completely, they still left behind terrible cramping every month when they would normally come.

One day, my pain was so intense that I fainted twice.

After I fainted, my (second and current) husband took me to the ER at the VA for medical testing. Doctors took X-rays and performed an external ultrasound of my abdomen – all seemed normal according to them! To which I responded by saying: “Well it shouldn’t – after having an ablation it should look weird!”

They told me I likely had diverticulitis and sent me for a colonoscopy which came back clear.

After some more frustrating back and forth with the VA, I managed to schedule an appointment with an OB-GYN who performed transvaginal ultrasound and told me everything looked normal despite having undergone ablation. Once again I was perplexed at this conclusion based on my ablation experience.

After I described how intensely painful my symptoms were, the OB-GYN offered to give me naproxen, commonly known by its brand name Aleve; unfortunately this was far too weak a treatment.

“Please understand,” I begged, “the pain is so intense I passed out!”

“I think you need to toughen up,” the doctor suggested.

Yes, as a military veteran I was told to toughen up. Though angry at first, I endured the pain for two more years as my options with medical professionals kept discrediting me.

Once I reached an OB-GYN not covered by the VA – as seeing one within was impossible – my pain was finally taken seriously. A thorough examination revealed that every month, when my period would normally occur, my uterus filled up with endometrial fluid which leaked into my abdomen instead. Ablation had partially failed.

Urgent surgery was necessary. I agreed, and soon afterwards the pain had subsided significantly.

Though I am pain-free now, it still irks me that a doctor in the VA system told me to toughen up. Additionally, it took years for an accurate diagnosis – and had to pay out-of-pocket to finally receive it.

“I am furious not just for myself but for all the women out there who are being left behind by medical experts. I urge them all to stand up and say no – don’t ‘toughen up!’ You are my equal partner in creating an enjoyable life.”

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HealthyWomen presents Real Women, Real Stories to showcase authentic accounts from real women. Views expressed here do not reflect official policy or positions of HealthyWomen and should not be taken as authoritative information.


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