Realizing My Bloating Was Not Normal

Jonelle Henry shares her journey with uterine fibroids

Jonelle Henry

Courtesy of Jonelle Henry

Jonelle Henry is a journalist, media consultant, and public speaker. She serves as the Director of Programs for The White Dress Project.

A routine physical changed my life. It was 2017, and as I sat chatting with my doctor at my annual physical, she noticed that my stomach seemed a little bloated. I laughed it off, saying that I needed to cut the carbs. But she looked closer. Her insistence on investigating was the beginning of my journey with uterine fibroids.

My journey has been a little different from many. After my doctor's observation, I thought back. I had felt something in my abdomen, but just assumed it was my intestines. I'm a tall, plus-size woman with great self-confidence and big plans—for my career, personal life, and most of all, to become a mother. Having fibroids wasn't part of my plan.

Jonelle Henry

Would I bleed through my clothes—again? I could never pack enough tampons and pads. I started hiding under my clothes, wearing black because it was safe.

— Jonelle Henry

After confirming her suspicions with an ultrasound, my doctor started talking about what fibroids meant: fertility issues and potentially a hysterectomy to deal with them completely. My heart sank and the conversation was a blur. I was about to turn 40, and now my chances of being a mother were threatened by a diagnosis that I didn't understand or expect.

In the next week, people were flying in from all over the country to celebrate my 40th birthday, but I didn't feel like celebrating. I felt like hiding and crying. But the party reservations were made, and I decided to soldier on. These were my tribe, my fiercest supporters. I'm a woman of faith, and those people flying in were reminders from God that He was going to take care of me, no matter what.

An Overwhelming Diagnosis

Even with God's promise, the reality of fibroids took its toll. When I was diagnosed, we decided to monitor the fibroids and see what they did. They continued to grow. My periods continued to worsen. I bled profusely, although without pain. This natural part of my body was quickly becoming something I couldn't manage.

Jonelle Henry

I was about to turn 40, and now my chances of being a mother were threatened by a diagnosis that I didn't understand or expect.

— Jonelle Henry

By 2019, I was living life to accommodate my period. I never had an idea of when it would start or how heavy it would be. Would I bleed through my clothes—again? I could never pack enough tampons and pads. I started hiding under my clothes, wearing black because it was safe. And as my dreams of motherhood receded, I withdrew from the dating world, making it harder to find my person.

Choosing Surgery

My doctor and I made a plan for a myomectomy to remove the fibroid. And unconsciously, I started taking steps to rebuild my community of support by sharing my story. I shared my struggle with fibroids at the White Dress Project publicly a few weeks before my surgery. Despite having years of public speaking experience, I was nervous. But the only feeling I had after sharing was liberation.

After sharing my story, I found that I had an entirely different community waiting to support me. Through the White Dress Project, I reconnected with Tanika Gray Valburn, a childhood friend, and I found an army of women that knew what I was struggling with. They offered me what I needed: prayer, information about their experiences, and solidarity.

At that point, I had never had surgery before, so I started therapy to deal with the anxiety that came with that. I thought that I was afraid of the surgery, the pain, and the idea of being cut open. But as is often the case with therapy, the surgery was only the tip of the iceberg.

Through my sessions, I was able to process many issues that fibroids brought to the surface. I was fearful that I would never be a mother. If I can't have kids, can I still be maternal? Do I have worth as a woman? I felt successful in my professional life but not in my relationships. I was showing up for other people, but not myself.

Jonelle Henry

Through therapy, I've learned that my fibroid diagnosis isn't a death sentence for me or my dreams. I know that they can come back, but now I'm in a better mental space to deal with that.

— Jonelle Henry

A New Normal

The surgery was successful, and within three months, I felt like I got my life back. The difference in my periods was like night and day. And through therapy, I've learned that my fibroid diagnosis isn't a death sentence for me or my dreams. I know that they can come back, but now I'm in a better mental space to deal with that.

I don't know what the future holds. Maybe I'll be a bonus mom. Maybe I'll be the world's best auntie. Maybe I'll be blessed with a relationship and children of my own. No matter what, I know that there are options for support when I need them, from therapists and the tribe of millions of women dealing with this diagnosis every day.

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