Madeline: A Bride’s Guide to Uterine Fibroids

What are Uterine Fibroids?

Uterine Fibroids are benign tumors that grow in the uterus. If you ask Dr. Wikipedia, he’ll show you a picture. If you’d rather not, I’ll just quote him here:

“While most fibroids are asymptomatic, they can grow and cause heavy and painful menstruation, painful sexual intercourse, and urinary frequency and urgency. Some fibroids may interfere with pregnancy although this appears to be very rare.”

What happens when a fibroid becomes symptomatic?

Sudden, heavy vaginal bleeding may occur during business meetings. You may need to explain this to your (male) boss. Don’t worry. The Duane Reade on the corner sells underwear. Wipe your shoes and carry on.

Track your period. Seek medical advice. When your doctor prescribes iron pills, take them with a tall glass of water and plenty of food. Order the burger. Ask everyone if they know that apricots are high in iron. They usually don’t. Hah!

Blood may emerge in large clots, of a size you imagine to be consistent with useful internal organs—this is normal. You may wish to call your partner to explain your fear that you are carrying a half-vampire baby who is eating you from the inside. Go ahead. It could be worse, you could have picked the werewolf.

So you’re a bride-to-be?

Bleeding, discomfort, and excessive bathroom use are inconvenient at the best of times, but particularly so during courtship. You may find yourself asking the questions I asked myself last year: Can you communicate that you can’t face sex—again—without feeling guilty? Can you sponge your own bodily fluids off the floor one minute and still feel attractive the next? Is it ok to ask your fiancé to come to your ultrasound appointment when you’re not growing a baby, but a freak lump of flesh? Also, if you have to have a fibroid surgically removed, WILL YOU DIE?

The answer, reader, is yes, yes, yes, and no. But none of them come easy. Get comfortable with honesty, fear, “what if” discussions, and scars.

In other words, congratulations. Fibroids, like any crisis, are your shortcut to some really gnarly communication. This may make the engagement less ideal, but it will strengthen your eventual marriage. Bodily fluids, after all, will be your lifelong companions. It’s as well to make them welcome early. Also: You’ve found someone who will hold your hand and love you, even while your stomach has an uneven lump and you’re hanging cloth menstrual pads to dry all over your shared apartment. You will manage nausea, hormones, digestive upsets, and all the rest, because they are there to remind you: You can manage anything.

Photo by: Kelly Benvenuto Photography

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  • Thank you for this great post! As a woman with endometriosis, I can relate, especially to the strangeness of needing to discuss my period with male bosses. Best wishes for your health.

    • Madeline

      And for yours! Hang in there.

  • This: “You will manage nausea, hormones, digestive upsets, and all the rest, because they are there to remind you: You can manage anything.”

  • Erin

    I can say that, until this day, I have never laughed my ass off OR said “aww!” about anything related to uterine fibroids. I just did both. Madeline, you are one hell of a gifted wordsmith.

  • carrie

    “You may wish to call your partner to explain your fear that you are carrying a half-vampire baby who is eating you from the inside. Go ahead. It could be worse, you could have picked the werewolf.”

    I may have just snorted loud enough that my next door office neighbor asked me what’s so funny. Why, uterine fibroids and a Twilight reference. Duh.

    You rock, Madeline.

  • Anon, Good Nurse

    You know, now I’m wondering if I had this when I was younger. The clots I had during periods when I was in my teens were sometimes so big I was convinced I had cancer or something else terribly wrong with me. It sounds weird, but it sets my mind at ease that this might have been the “normal” result of something happening in my body.

    Also — yes to getting comfortable with each other’s bodily fluids. Once, pre-engagement, still fairly early in the dating phase, I bled pretty badly after sex. At his apartment. I was horrified at the mess and subsequent clean-up that were necessary, but other than being concerned for my well-being, he was unfazed. Now THAT is a gem of a gentleman, in my opinion!

    • Madeline

      It’s really helped me to track my cycle through a site called mymonthlycycles. If something freaky happens it’s comforting to have a process to note it down and know I’ll be able to present a clear picture if I have to see a doctor. A good gentleman helps no end also!

  • Glenn

    Exactly. Plus the gyno who, prior to diagnosis, tells you that your heavy periods are just due to aging (I was 35 then).
    Now I’m just hoping that surgery happens before the wedding because the hormones make me sob at the drop of a hat, break out all over my chin, and cranky with everyone.
    But my fiance has been amazing through all of this — sympathizing when I bled through my skirt because I got stuck in a traffic jam and couldn’t get off the freeway fast enough, running home from the gym with me without finishing his workout because a clot decided to squeeze its way past my tampon with really gross results, accepting the hormone-induced mood swings, and taking over wedding stuff when I just couldn’t deal with anything else.

    • Madeline

      GOOD LUCK! Hormones are so hard, and lazy doctors don’t help. Make sure you find someone really great for surgery. Then enjoy your wedding!

      • meg

        Don’t EVEN GET ME STARTED ON LAZY DOCTORS. My favorite is when they tell you, “Maybe you’re just sad.” Yes, my uterus (in this case) is all sad. That MUST be it. Why did I even come here to speak with you?

        • OMG, seriously. Between sad uteri (argh!), and “well, you just need to lose weight!” Hello? I came to you complaining of sudden unexplained weight fluctuations? That is the *symptom* of something that I want you to figure out!

          • meg

            Once I had a doctor tell me I was sick because I was sad, and I was sad because I was sick. And then refuse to talk to me further.

            Also, can I say? I don’t think they do this to men.

        • My personal favorite is a variation on the “maybe you’re just sad” where they tell you it’s all in your head and that you’re just over thinking/analyzing everything. Of course I am. How silly of me.

          What one doctor said was all in my head when I pointed out a mole I didn’t like turned out to be aggressive melanoma. If you know something is wrong (even if something turns out not to be wrong) and a doctor is being lazy, dismissive or downright rude, FIRE THEM. Get a new doctor who isn’t, get a second opinion, get answers. You never know how serious things could be.

          • I love that you said to fire them. I think too often we forget that they work for us. We pay them, ergo they are our employees, employees who know a whole heck of a lot more about certain things than we do, but that’s what we’ve hired them for in the first place.

            If your accountant is doing a crappy job you fire them. If your mechanic is doing a crappy job you fire them. Doctors are not demi-gods. They are people. And if they aren’t fulfilling your job description for your doctor, fire them.

        • Regarding doctors not doing this to men … I couldn’t agree more.

          My fiance’s new family doctor told him that he would take me on “providing she’s not crazy and going to bother me all the time”. My head kind of exploded with WTFness when he told me that.

          • meg

            Nooooooo. NO. NO. NO.

          • please tell me you found a better doctor for you and your fiance!

        • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

          Hearing about doctors with such attitudes make me so angry! I’ve been really lucky to have a great family doctor. I use to have very painful periods, and I really put off doing something about it. Finally went in, and the lovely gentleman gave me a gentle scolding for not coming in earlier. I know a lot of others who are not that lucky-and a shortage of family doctors in my province means you can’t just go find someone else! Gahhhhhh!

  • ambi

    This may be the best post ever. Honest, really well written, amazing funny, and inspiring. Wow.

  • In January I had fibroids taken out of my uterus. Yes, I had the heavy bleeding, the horrifying cramps, bills for hundreds of dollars of sanitary supplies. The worst symptom, thought? Intense, stabbing pain when I had sex with my fiancé. To the point that I would be tense the entire time, just waiting for the sudden shock of pain. It took a year to determine what was causing them and how best to handle them, and we’re only just now getting back in the swing of things (3 weeks before our wedding!). Is going under anesthesia awesome? Nope, it sure isn’t. But beginning to enjoy sex again instead of waiting to be punched in the uterus definitely is.

    • Madeline

      Totally relate to the pain, but so glad you’re coming through it in time to really enjoy the celebrations–extra congratulations!

    • Anne

      Caitlin — Way to go girl! Wishing you all the best.

  • wow. just wow. I don’t have any of these problems but this really puts things in perspective. thank you for sharing!

  • I had surgery for endometriosis after our wedding. But two months before our wedding I woke him up at 6am on a Sunday so he could drive me to the ER and I could throw up in a bucket on the way there and again in the waiting room of the ER where we discovered my kidneys are full of stones just waiting to strike at the exact wrong time. He cleaned the bucket out both times. I already knew he was a keeper, but that really sealed the deal.

    • Madeline

      Wow. Scary. Also: great that you didn’t have to go through it alone.

  • Tamara Williams Van Horn


    I call my three fibroids “the Dreamgirls-” cuz I have one that’s huge, and two smaller ones. And my fibroids are genetic and another legacy of being African American…and childless. So I have a complex relationship with my girls- I won’t have them removed (yet) because of complicated racial politics around hysterectomy; not having children has made me vulnerable to fibroids, but has allowed me not to be a stereotype/statistic; as is the fact that, unlike many African American women, I am married (to a white man, *gasp*!). In the end, I have come to, if not love, appreciate the Dreamgirls- for they force me out of complacency, into connection with my body, and in fact, they don’t impact my self-concept at all.

    • Madeline

      Awesome comment. Dreamgirls: I LOVE this.

    • “They don’t impact my self-concept at all” – powerful words, thanks for sharing.

  • Thanks, just thanks.
    And like it was said before, best wishes for your health.
    And yes, going through all of that with your fiance, really prepares you for “life”

  • emrose

    Thanks for this. We got engaged a few months ago and I am going through my third severe-yet-due-to-no-discernible-cause mystery illness in the last four years. FH is awesomesauce normally, but has been positively fabulous through each one. I don’t know if I could get through these messes without him by my side. If he loves me and thinks I’m beautiful even when I have hives everywhere and I’m an emotional disaster from the steroids, I think we’ll be good to go the rest of the time.

    • Madeline

      Reading APW I’m struck with the number of women who are dealing with severe health stuff as well as severe wedding stuff. I guess illness makes you self-examine and develop perspective–very Practical in Meg’s sense of the word! Hang in there, and hang onto Mr Awesomesauce. :)

      • emrose

        Totally agree. And I will definitely hang on to him… possibly with a brand new nickname! Do you think he’ll mind if I call him Mr. Awesomesauce to his face??

  • Pregnancy and labour aren’t the same as fibroids, of course, but they sure do get you to a place of comfort about biological functions quickly. When your husband has to help put in your catheter? Yeah, some things can’t be unseen or undone, but damned if they don’t bring you even closer very quickly.

  • Thanks for bringing something tough to discuss to the spotlight like this! I didn’t have fibroids, but I had a condition called adenomyosis (think endometriosis, except instead of escaping entirely, the uterine lining grows into the muscle itself and keeps on bleeding every month) and had a hysterectomy at 21. I feel like my reproductive status and menstrual hells-or-now-lack-thereof has been a topic of constant discussion my entire adult life… I am looking forward to having a family, somehow, in the hopes that once that last uterine-related hurdle has been overcome that we can stop. talking. about my reproductive organs for a change. Seriously, if I talked about my soon to be husband’s bait and tackle in an analytical way 1/10th as much as we’ve talked about MY business, he’d be so uncomfortable I’d never see him naked again.

    Meg, I can’t even tell you how many doctors I saw who told me I was a) young b) depressed c) making it up to get out of going to college (I shit you not) d) etc… it was horrible how little I was taken seriously until someone finally did a biopsy and figured it out.

    • meg

      I want to say I hate doctors, but I know there are brillant ones out there. But there is something deeply broken about the medical establishment that this behavior is allowed to thrive. I have a complicated medical history, and I recently had a doctor tell me she didn’t need to take it, “Because I looked healthy now, and that was the important thing!”

      As a result, I’ve spent a lot of time with acupuncturists, because they really listen and ask questions… which SHOCKINGLY means they can often solve problems. My acupuncturist is skilled enough at working with doctors that she often will give me a preliminary diagnosis, tell me what tests to ask for and what questions to ask… and then low and behold, she’s totally right. Of course you can never say, “My acupuncturist suggested I get this test” or they won’t give it to you.

      • At 13, after being shipped back and forth between doctors and psychotherapists because I was sick because I was sad or I was sad because I was sick, my mom finally took me to a naturopath who saved my life by listening to me. Despite my insurance not paying for my Dr because she’s an ND, I still pay out of pocket because she listens to me and treats the “whole” me, not what the symptom seems to be. I find regular MDs terrifying at this point.

      • I don’t hate doctors… I’ve had some excellent ones (including the one who finally took me seriously and ended up doing the hysterectomy) and the ones I have now are amazing. Plus, I’m an RN now and I have worked with some seriously awesomesauce docs whose hands I would gladly put myself into if God forbid I ended up in the ICU someday! But I agree 100% that it’s become allowable behavior to dismiss patient concerns… I worry that the more they hear “Well, I was looking on WebMD the other day…” the less they listen to us in general. Even the docs I like, I catch falling into this trap – my GI occasionally drifts into “well that doesn’t sound like typical xyz” mode and I have to remind him that this is not my first rodeo. It’s a delicate balance and I definitely don’t envy their jobs sometimes.

        I am such a chickensh*t when it comes to acupuncture. Not because of the needles, more because I know so very little about it that I know I would feel sooo awkward at first! But I hear such very good things from people about it…

      • The medical establishment in your country IS BROKEN. Nonetheless, I personally find it really hard to read any of the posts around medical issues here because how you feel about doctors is pretty clearly reflected in the general doctor bashing that tends to happen in the comment stream. I’m incredibly sorry that you’ve had shitty experiences – I’ve had them too, especially around ‘women’s issues’ with male doctors, so I know about the inherent sexism and unfairness that can be encountered – but for what’s meant to be an inclusive community blog, it just doesn’t feel terribly inclusive around here, then.

    • Madeline

      Yes, I think wistfully of crossing the last uterine-related hurdle. What you say about looking ahead to having a family, though, is very inspiring. It’s a reminder that family is something we are all making happen, regardless of equipment…

      I also had a bunch of doctors say I was having a miscarriage. “No I’m not,” “They all say that,” etc. Really?!

      • meg


        Also, “They all say that” would be the shittiest thing to say to someone ever if they WERE having a miscarriage.

      • What?! “They all say that”?! How traumatizing would that be if you WERE having a miscarriage?

  • Carolyn

    Along these lines, I’ve been having mystery problems for about a year. Went through the whole battery of tests to be left with no answers and a suggestion that exploratory surgery is the only option left. Does anyone have a really amazing awesome gyno in the DC area they can recommend? For the day after I fire my current one…

  • I love this post! What great humor you have to talk about something that makes you want to roll into a ball and die. Talking about uterine fibroids to your mate is important. When I had fibroids, my partner at the time did not offer any kind of real support. I write about my journey with fibroids and natural remedies on my blog at Garlic and Lemons.

  • “Is it ok to ask your fiancé to come to your ultrasound appointment when you’re not growing a baby, but a freak lump of flesh?” LOL. Great post!

    I found out a couple months ago that I have a hydrosalpinx (basically a swollen fallopian tube, which needs a better name because I hate saying, “Ugh my fallopian tube just really hurts today” — let’s go with “egg chute” for now) and sharing the whole experience with my boyfriend was…interesting? While I felt weird about it at first, like you said, bodily fluids will be our lifelong companions, and talking to him about it made me feel a lot closer to him. I’ve found that the whole experience just made me more comfortable talking about my body with him and I’m learning that in a serious relationship, these issues aren’t just MY issues; they are HIS problem too. It’s oddly comforting knowing that someone is as worried about my chute as I am.

  • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

    Being able to discuss any issue regarding reproduction with your significant other is surely an indicator of a great relationship. Things like that definately bring you closer.

    On a less serious note: How about that awkward moment when you have to make indepth explanations about female bodily functions (or anatomy) to your boyfriend, who apparently forgot anything he learned from his two sisters, or health class? Positive aspect-I sure do feel more comfortable around him at certain times of the month!

    • librobot

      I lucked out (maybe?) by having a fiance who spent his impressionable teens years learning about female anatomy by reading his mother’s nursing books, which were chock full of pictures of everything. I mean, EVERYTHING. The only awkward conversation we had to have was why he found that arousing…

      • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

        It’s possible that I prefer my situation…but I still had to giggle.

  • Kristen

    Thank you for this. I am getting married in 39 (holy f-ing cats) days and the husband elect and I deal with both my migraines and ovarian cysts. It is such a double edge sword. I am so blessed to have him as a support system but it kills me to see him worry. I hate to see him making the phone calls to our worried parents as I sit in the ER bed barely able to function or power vomiting into the blue bags they give you. It has taught me to be humble. Say thank you. Be kind when I feel like crap. Ask for help.

    I can also relate to the difficult doctor issues. Both my OBGYN and my neuro told me my best bet at controlling my pain was to get pregnant. Oh and that most women quit their jobs because they find the pain too much. I told them they needed to try harder at their jobs before telling me to quit mine. I was only 25 at the time and in a one year relationship with the husband elect. Pregnant and unemployed as a deliberate choice was not an option for me.

    • Erin

      “Husband elect.” I love it!

  • Mary

    Great post, thank you for sharing Madeline. Hearing other’s stories about struggling with health issues makes me feel less alone!!

    For two years I went to multiple doctors to try to figure out why eating was making me sick and in pain… and the message heard over and over was “it’s in your head.” “you are just stressed, calm down.” “are you sure you aren’t bulimic?” It took one very kind surgeon who actually LISTENED to me and my mom and once he heard my entire history of issues he didn’t need to see my detailed food journal, he was convinced it was my gallbladder. He ended up finding a stone the size of a marble in there (that didn’t show on any tests because my gallbladder wasn’t working).

    I learned from my mom during that incredibly frustrating 2 years to always trust my instincts when something doesn’t feel right, to seek answers and keep seeking when none are given and to keep records of everything medical related.

  • “You may wish to call your partner to explain your fear that you are carrying a half-vampire baby who is eating you from the inside. Go ahead. It could be worse, you could have picked the werewolf.”

    Guffaw. That is what I did. Guffaw.

  • RachelC

    For us it was a severe bout of digestive problems that forcefully opened up that can of ‘bodily fluids’ talk. This, for someone who was never comfortable talking about ‘that stuff’ with a significant other. Being forced to have in depth conversations about our bowel movements (oh look, he struggled with the same thing and understands perfectly, how fantastic) really brought our relationship into a whole new light and well, now we’re married lol. Good ol’ bodily fluids — can’t stop ’em from coming…

  • Marcy

    This really resonated with me. After suffering with severe symptoms for a year, I finally went to my doctor who after some tests diagnosed me with a large fibroid and immediately wanted to schedule me for a hysterectomy. I was 26 at the time! I obviously sought a 2nd opinion, and the next Dr was appalled that a hysterectomy had even been suggested… She said that was the answer 30 years ago! After a successful surgery, I’m so glad I went with my gut about a second opinion.

  • blissing

    I was just thinking, after the worst period I’ve ever had, “What if this is going on on my wedding day?” There’s simply no way I could wear an ivory dress and keep it pristine.

    I’m wondering if my gyno can put me on the pill or something. But I sound so vain! I’ve heard of women who take the pill with no weeks in between so that they never have a period, and thought they were really out of touch with their natural cycles, or hurting themselves in some way down the line. There go I.

    • Megan (from Nova Scotia)

      That does not make you vain, not in the least. I don’t have a wedding date yet, but since the pill makes me predictable I’m gonna do some serious counting to see if I can avoid those weeks. If not, I may do a darker dress, or add leggings. So yeah, see what your options are from your gyno, I’m sure it wouldn’t be the first time a woman started taking a pill to avoid bleeding through her clothes. Its one of the reasons I started taking it- irregular periods= awkward calls home for a family member to bring you a new pair of pants.

    • Rachel

      I am one of those women who takes the pill with no weeks in between and haven’t had a period in about four years. Sure, it’s disconcerting, but when your “natural cycle” makes you want to die, I think I’ll turn it off if I can. Yes, I am concerned that it will hurt me in the future, but I have been assured by my gyno that it is safe. My periods weren’t nearly as bad as yours sound, though I had plenty of breakthrough bleeding at inopportune times. I used to laugh when health teachers said “5-7 days”. Try 8-10 days. I’d be happy to discuss the issue with you more, if you like.

  • Laugh out loud funny, cringe-worthily true.

    You guys are the best.

  • Yay, glad I’m not the only one who has covered reproductive health issues this week!

    On Wednesday I had surgery for suspected (now confirmed) endometriosis.

    It has made my life hell at times. My cycle would be completely normal for months and then do something stupid like go really short. Because of this, our wedding, which was scheduled to be between cycles wound up being on day 2, with day 1 usually being a day I am in so much pain I am bed ridden (the day we had rehersals and venue set up to do).

    It wasnt a fun thing to deal with and created a lot of extra stress. Getting a diagnosis has been nearly 18 months in the making, after tests for almost everything else in the meantime.

    Thank goodness I had a good GP who referred me quickly for additional tests as needed.

  • Larissa

    I realize this post hasn’t been commented on in awhile, but I wanted to say: thank you for it, as many others here have. 1.5 months before my wedding I am in the depths of the worst my chronic illness (chronic migraine headaches) has ever been, crippling anxiety, and depression – not to mention my ‘regular’ experience of pcos, endometriosis and thyroid disorder! I’m terrified I won’t be able to attend my own wedding, but I agree that the experience so far has only brought my partner of 10 years and I even closer together.