A personal story about wellness, endometriosis & femtech

It is June 2020 and today I am going into surgery for something I’ve lived with for most of my life and yet did not know I had. Let’s start from the beginning.

March 2020. A new gynecologist a woman well into her 60s places the ultrasound scanner and gasps in surprise at the image on the screen. Not a reaction you want from a seasoned professional. Especially a doctor whose career, if it ever were to have a birthday cake, would have more candles than my actual cake.

“Pregnant?” the accompanying nurse inquires in Estonian. My mind races to track down every possibility however unlikely before it’s interrupted by an answer: “Not at all.”

I lay there for a while as the doctor counts and measures every single thing that she deems important in and around my ovaries. With only my mind to keep me company, I begin wondering, what is it that she is documenting so meticulously?

Partly because of the language barrier (my B1 Estonian doesn’t cover the specifics of the reproductive system) and partly not willing to interrupt for fear that she might lose count and one of those evil fuckers will go unaccounted for and will torment me forever, I didn’t dare to ask her what she found.

My new reality was presented to me minutes later. Printed on glossy photo paper.

It took me a moment to readjust to looking at a set of ultrasound images that looked like they belonged on fridges of expectant parents and not in the hands of a recently single 29-year-old. The association of sonograms formed by Hollywood movies is hard to shake. Then the doctor started pointing at the little blots of ink at the center and my confusion intensified, what was I looking at?

As I struggled to not only catch the words but also the meaning behind them (in a mix of Russian and Estonian and a doctoral mumble), she continued, “As a doctor, I have to give you the worst-case scenario…. you may have trouble getting pregnant.”

The Cysts: a musical

Those black blobs in the ultrasound (eerily similar to the drawings I have been compelled to draw in recent months) were cysts. She suspected I had endometriosis, a condition where tissue that normally grows inside the uterus decides that the grass is greener on the other side and decides to grow in other places causing quite a bit of pain and other fun things. (PS. I’m not a doctor and this is not a medical description).

They were not your friendly neighborhood cysts either, more like bullies that harass everyone around and refuse to leave when they should. They have even formed gangs, with one huge gang leader on each side (one 7 cm, and the other 6 cm in length) and little followers of mini cysts tagging along.

OK, maybe my ovaries do not resemble the mean streets of New York for Jets and the Sharks of West Side Story, or Capulets and Montagues in Romeo or Juliet. They may not be feuding families or gangs, but they are for sure feuding with my body and in turn killing my vibe.

After the check-up that lasted for about 1. 5 hours, I left with my head spinning. Two days later Covid-19 put Tallinn on lockdown and me, my ovaries, and my cysts were asked to stay home to self-isolate.

Back to Now

At the time of writing this, I’m hours away from my mom driving me to the hospital for surgery. I couldn’t sleep a wink before my surgery. My ovaries are tense. They know what’s coming. At the hospital, they will pierce some holes through my belly to assess the damage. When I wake up, I should know more about my body than I do now.

Or maybe I knew these things all along but no one listened?

Maybe I was not crazy when I told the doctors that I have severe abdominal pain and excessive bleeding every month. “It’s normal, everyone experiences discomfort during their period,” is a sentence you repeat to yourself as a mantra when you can’t get out of bed.

Or when I felt (and still do) that, “Take Ibuprofen. Don’t exceed the maximum dosage of 2400 mg” is not a good enough solution, only a band-aid covering the underlying problem.

The cherry — my favorite solution — is the super-actionable “Painful periods should go away with your first pregnancy.” Sure, let me get started on that. At 15.

Femtech, Sextech & Shame

Going into the surgery in a few hours I am thinking of that 12-year-old girl who had to rush home in between classes to change her pants after a period incident. Ashamed of someone seeing her skip school and potentially coming late to class, and of having to explain what’s wrong. Shame. How will she ever explain why she had to suddenly leave school?

The above health conditions did not change much for the better part of the last seventeen years. Except for one thing: being confronted with my reproductive system regularly, I somehow missed out on developing shame around talking about it.

Maybe I had a good start with the (non-stigmatizing) sex ed classes at school, or maybe it was the right romantic partner and friends during my teenage years. Or maybe it was that I had come to trust and rely on my body’s repetitive cycles. Even the pain I felt was like a white noise machine. So why would it be shameful?

I was one of the earlier users of the Clue App (a period tracking app that is built on legit research and is dead set on protecting your most intimate data). When I met the founder of Clue, Ida, at Latitude59 I had no better way of expressing my enthusiasm, other than saying “I am a big fan, thank you.”

As I became more aware of #femtech, I marveled at everything that had the potential of making my discomforts more manageable. When I learned about CBD tampons by Daye at Slush 2019, I was in awe. So much potential.

This is interesting

But to tell you exactly when my professional interest in femtech emerged I’d have to go back to Spring 2018. Login Festival in Vilnius, Lithuania. At the time I was not involved in the startup and tech scene in any way or form but I was exploring. (My gig as a content manager for TechChill 2019 followed 3 months later, much influenced by this experience)

Wandering around the conference, I came across the #sextech track and it was a talk by Bryony Cole on the Future of Sex, that opened my eyes to the wide-reaching world of sex tech. It was not just about the gadgets, other topics such as sexual health fell under the same category.

Call me naive, but at the time, I didn’t know that talking about sex, pleasure, and sexual health was taboo, and sex tech — controversial. That realization came later.

It took me a couple of years to understand that these topics that came easily to me, were not as easy for others. I found lots of stigma and shame. Which makes it even more fitting that the day I learned about Sex Tech, was also the day that I sat in the first row as Monica Lewinsky spoke about shame. She touched on the topic of how at the age of 22 she fell in love with her boss, asking the audience, “Haven’t you made mistakes at that age?”.

Takeaways

It’s morning now. I hope that in between the late-night typos and run-on sentences my message doesn’t get lost:

This is just the beginning.

In a few hours, someone will poke at my ovaries. Then I will wake up, recover, and continue writing on topics that will make some people uncomfortable. It will be personal because I cannot remain distant.

What to expect in the coming month? I will continue exploring the topic of health. And yes, I will keep making ceramics, because for me, accepting my creativity means accepting myself.

PS. There’s currently no cure for endometriosis.

I’ll leave you with the following quote:

“As soon as sex becomes about pleasure it becomes a taboo.”Andrea Barrica, Founder and CEO of O.School

Keep in touch.

Greta

Originally Published June 4, 2020

Personal stories and thoughts from my daily life as a content designer and part-time ceramicist — Tallinn, Estonia

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Greta Babarskaité

Greta Babarskaité

Personal stories and thoughts from my daily life as a content designer and part-time ceramicist — Tallinn, Estonia

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