Endometriosis is a painful condition some women experience in which the tissue that lines the inside of the uterus grows on the outside. This condition can also complicate a woman’s fertility. One local couple shares their journey to parenthood through the obstacles of endometriosis.
Menstrual cycles have been unusual for Colleen Contreras since she was a teenager.
“I would miss school, I would miss work,” she describes.
When Colleen was 15-years old she was prescribed the birth control pill to help with the pain and regulate her monthly periods. In 2018, she was diagnosed with endometriosis. Her fertility specialist Dr. Carolina Sueldo explains what endometriosis is.
Dr. Sueldo said, “The tissue where the lining of the uterus that women shed every month with their menses, a portion of that back flows through the fallopian tubes and actually implants in the pelvis in different parts of the pelvis… To be able to tell a patient you have endometriosis typically requires a surgical procedure known as a laporoscopy where we actually insert a camera into the abdomen and we look for those implants and that really confirms the diagnosis.”
Colleen was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis, the most severe and widespread stage of the condition.
“The lesions start to attach to each other because every month you have your period, it’s constantly adding to the lesions that are already in there, on top of that, you do get cysts too,” described Colleen.
Dr. Sueldo said hormone suppression methods like the birth control pill is one of the treatments for endometriosis.
She stated, “Hormone suppression, the idea is to suppress that endometriosis. Endometriosis is an estrogen responsive disease, so when a patient is going through her menstrual cycle, that increase in estrogen can cause flaring of symptoms or growth of those implants.”
As Colleen was managing her endometriosis, she and her husband Anthony were trying to expand their family. But the endometriosis was affecting Colleen’s fertility.
“The endometriosis is very advanced. It develops scar tissues inside the pelvis and can actually affect the ovaries and the fallopian tubes. But even in it’s milder forms, even in the earlier stages, we know that those implants release inflammatory substances, and those inflammatory substances are gonna affect the quality of the eggs that are being released every month with ovulation, and therefore impair fertility,” Dr. Sueldo explained.
Colleen underwent multiple surgeries to try to clean up the lesions, but she and her husband Anthony found they could not conceive naturally.
“It was very frustrating for me as a woman… like I would try and convince myself every month this is my month,” Colleen cried.
Dr. Sueldo suggested the couple undergo IVF or in vitro fertilization. It’s a complex procedure in which a woman’s egg and a man’s sperm are combined outside of the body in a laboratory, and once the embryo or embryos are formed, they are then placed in the uterus.
Anthony added, “It’s not cheap, it can range from $18,000 to $25,000 for the process…a lot of shots, you know, I had to administer them to her, whether it was in the tummy or the abdomen area or the hip area, and they’re big needles.”
The Contreras Family underwent their first round of IVF in April, however, it was not successful. They lean on faith and hope that this Fall, a second try will give them the baby they have prayed for.
Colleen advised, “Research and ask questions…. be an advocate for yourself.”
Dr. Sueldo ended, “I would just say, you know, encourage patients to be their own advocate, to understand that pain symptoms are not normal, particularly if they’re progressively worsening over time.”