I wasn’t thinking about a baby. Painful cramps, PMDD, and maybe if I would be able to be reimbursed through my health insurance for the bougie organic pads that I splurged on every month–most definitely. But a baby? In 2020, during a diagnostic ultrasound that my gynecologist referred me for, thinking that I had fibroids after a recent pelvic exam, I was actually diagnosed with a bicornuate uterus, one of many uterine varieties that can make conception extremely difficult and raise the chances of late-term miscarraige.
What followed for me was hours of endless research (thanks to my radiologist being able to tell me very little about my recent diagnosis, even telling me to “Google it” when I asked him more about the uterine variety) that furthered the rising panic that I had begun feeling.
Here’s what I found: First off, uterine varieties (also commonly called uterine anomalies, a more marginalizing term) are largely understudied, which meant that while researching online, I found a lot repetitive and limited information about the low success rates of folks with bicornuate uteri who try to give birth and very little else about the condition itself.
The complication in giving birth is that folks with bicornuate uteri have less space for the fetus to grow due to the curving “heart shape”. This means that folks with bicornuate uteri might give birth prematurely since there’s no more room left to grow. The limited space also means that the fetus, if born, could potentially have birth defects as well, or be a still born.
As a single woman, who hadn’t yet “manifested” the dating life I desired and often felt anxious and pessimistic about it, I couldn’t shove down deep enough the feeling that was at the core of this new heartbreak: did having a condition that made me more likely to miscarry than folks with “pear” shaped uteri make me less desirable in terms of dating?
My answer was yes. And to feel that was heartbreaking–but beneath that feeling, there was also shame and embarrassment. Of course I have more to offer in a romantic partnership than my potential to carry a child, but among what I sometimes believe are other things about me that make me less appealing to the male gaze, this definitely felt like something that would be a roadblock to me having a satisfying love life.
And when I did have a serious partner that I wanted to someday start a family with, how would I even be able to tell them about my uterine variety? When was even a good time to tell them? Being diagnosed with a bicornuate uterus felt like holding a shameful secret inside my body that I didn’t want to share with a single soul. But didn’t any man that was interested in being with me seriously deserve to know sooner rather than later?
My worries about how my diagnosis would impact my love life were largely embedded with internalized misogynoir stemming from the idea that being a woman who, potentially, can’t physically give birth makes me less desirable. It’s the complete opposite of the encouragement that I would give a friend in a similar situation, but a narrative that I readily told myself as I imagined worst case scenarios in future pregnancy outcomes.
Not only that, but my personal fears of feeling like less than a woman because of my uterine anomaly was leaving out women for whom giving birth isn’t a possibility, like trans women.
We live in a culture that assumes most people with uteri (regardless of gender) will eventually want to give birth. But that isn’t true for everyone, and the pressure to give birth to affirm your identity as a woman is limiting and, in some ways, diminishes the other truly special parts of identifying as a woman.
Cis-women, particularly those that are heterosexual, owe it to ourselves to begin creating versions of womanhood that aren’t condensed to whether or not we can give birth. Doing so would make space for more complex and nuanced identities that already exist in communities of queer and non-binary/trans women, while removing the emphasis of sexual/ romantic relationships with cis-men as a primary motivating factor in our lives.
Almost a year exactly after my diagnosis, I found a primary gynecologist in my city who’s a Black woman. Speaking with her at my first appointment was renewing and I could feel the trauma from my diagnostic ultrasound being soothed as I welcomed a more holistic health visit. Since I was still experiencing some of the pelvic pain that led me to get a diagnosis in the first place, I scheduled another ultrasound at my new clinic.
During my exam, the technician told me that any “curve” in my uterus was slight at most and assured me that my uterus looked very much like the pear shape that most uteri are. It occurred to me that my previous diagnosis was either a misdiagnosis or a medically irresponsible exaggeration.
Even though I may not have an anomaly that could drastically change how my pregnancy outcomes might look, I know that having done the internal reflection on my identity as a woman will lead me to having more compassion and self-love if I am faced with difficulties in conception later in life. I know that having a physical deformity that could impact my ability to give birth will not make me less desirable to someone who is worth partnering with. And though I, admittedly, still have some fear around my body’s ability to conceive, knowing I’ll be a little bit more graceful with my future self gives me all the hope that I could ask for.
Kristen Jeré is a multi-disciplinary writer based in Chicago. She has worked in local newsrooms and artistic/social justice non-profit spaces across the city. Her interests revolve around womb healing, reproductive justice for biopic folks, and Black feminist theory. To manifest her passions, Kristen is currently working towards a career as a sexuality writer and doula with a focus on herbalism.