My Endo Belly Is So Bloated I Look Pregnant
I live with stage-four endometriosis. I'm not pregnant.
As society becomes more aware and accepting of the reasons why women can’t or don’t want to have children—whether for personal, political or environmental reasons—it’s become increasingly taboo to ask someone if they are pregnant. Still, in the past three months, I’ve been approached twice by people asking when I’m due.
I’m not pregnant. I live with stage-four endometriosis, diagnosed through surgery earlier this year after ten years of extremely heavy periods and debilitating pain. It’s a full-body disease that is often misinterpreted and dismissed as “hormones” or “bad periods,” but its effects reach far wider than just bleeding. The most notable are reduced fertility and the inability to have children biologically.
Endometriosis has been found on the lungs, brain and liver. In my case, they found extensive “deep infiltrating” cells growing in the lining of my stomach, which has contributed to intense gastric issues that were formerly misdiagnosed as IBS. A hallmark of both IBS and endometriosis is extreme bloating and swelling of the stomach caused by an inflamed abdomen, along with digestive issues that are intensified by the presence of the cells causing the enlarged stomach. Often it makes people with severe endometriosis look like we may be carrying a child.
The Worst Part of My Endo Diagnosis Is That I May Not Be Able to Have My Own Children
Having my bloating mistaken for a baby bump has left me feeling ashamed about the way my body looks to others, but I’m more heartbroken by the knowledge that having a child of my own is a reality I will most likely never experience. I'm desperate for kids. I’ve always wanted tham, and I have a kind of innate feeling inside me that says I’d be good at mothering. I’ve worked with children in various capacities over the years, and whether teaching or nannying, I find caring for children to be incredibly fulfilling. Although I would happily have one of my own now, my partner and our current life setup say otherwise, but there is also the larger issue that I probably can’t have them anyway.
During the operation where my endometriosis was diagnosed, the doctors also found a golf-ball-sized cyst on my ovary. Through sheer luck, and a lot of skill on the surgeon’s part, they removed it without having to take my ovary too. This is a rare occurrence in endo surgery, particularly if the operating team lacks specific experience, which is common. Endometriosis affects one in ten people who menstruate, but the number of patients far outweighs medical professionals trained in the specific treatments we need. In my surgery, they also found four centimeters of endometriosis covering my bowel. This was left untouched during surgery as a bowel specialist is required to be in the operating theater for its removal, as it’s deemed a higher-risk procedure. After coming round from surgery, high on IV morphine and still in excruciating pain, my surgeon showed me images of the inside of my womb covered in black speckles: the endometriosis.
“It looks like your womb is inhospitable,” she said, “but there’s always IVF if you want to give pregnancy a go.” And with that, she was gone, leaving the images on my bedside table and wishing me a speedy recovery, saying we’d meet again to review in six months time.
Strangers Assuming My Endometriosis Belly Is Pregnancy Hurts Me Deeply
When the woman standing across the stall from me at the Saturday farmers' market asked if I was having a boy or a girl, I so badly wished I could say, “Yes, I can’t wait to meet my new daughter.” Instead, I felt my cheeks redden, my eyes cloud and my hands let go of the items I was going to purchase. I walked away clutching my boyfriend’s hand.
I took to Instagram, tried to share the experience while veiling it in humor, to connect with other chronically ill friends who’ve had the same kind of interactions. I laughed about it and hoped my sadness would go away. But every night for the following week, as I drifted off to sleep at night, I thought of all the things I should have said to that woman and all the outfits I should wear to hide my bloating better. I read the statistics, looked up the cost of IVF and considered what I would do if I couldn’t make a child of my own. I’ve always been open to adoption, which aligns with the way I view the world. I grew up in an unconventional home, so I’m not adverse to making a family outside of the tradition.
The Possibility of Not Being Able to Conceive My Own Child Haunts Me
It wasn’t until someone told me I probably cannot create a child the way most other couples do that I started to realize how much I wanted to experience pregnancy. I know, instinctually, I will love and mother any child I bring into my family, whether through adoption, birth or surrogacy, but it’s that intense feeling of growing another life inside me that I don’t think will be replicated any other way.
For now, there is no baby in me—just a lot of gas and misplaced cells swelling my stomach to appear as if I am expecting. The people asking if I’m pregnant don’t know the pain I’m in or the string of questions I ask myself before I get to sleep every night: Will I love my child the same if I can’t conceive her myself? Will I be content? Will it ever be good enough?