Lauren Cross "Paper Dreams"

My gynecologist sat on his wheeled chair across from me as I sat on tissue paper that was somehow supposed to protect me from germs. “So you’ve been on birth control for a few years. Do you still have cramps and pain?”

I have been on birth control since high school. The pain I felt every month was all-consuming, incapacitating. This was the only action I could take in order to hopefully relieve myself. While it initially helped, I began to wonder if it even helped at all when I sat with my head above the toilet each month, my stomach a pit of fire, my mouth salivating and hoping for some wave to come up my throat and relieve my body of that pain. “Yes.”

“Really? Interesting.” This was concerning. Interesting. What does that mean?

Bzzzzz. The incandescent lights above made everything seem almost blue. I felt as though I was in an indie film and all of my senses were magnified without filters to mute them. Why don’t offices have more flattering lighting? Why can we not clothe ourselves in the scents of warm candles and their comforting flames?

“Lauren, has the pain gotten any worse?” His hand was poised above his clipboard, and he decided to move from the chair. Now, he stood and leaned against the counter.

“It hasn’t gotten better. I guess I don’t pass out as often as I used to, but I still have within the past year. I still vomit every month.” I had to explain my cycles to close friends so often because while they seemed to have occasional pain, my symptoms lasted for at least two weeks every month. I felt pain venture from my middle abdomen down toward my pelvis as each cycle progressed as though they were looming dark clouds above a barren farmland. They felt like children’s hands ripping through wrapping paper, bare feet stepping on Legos, the pulsating pain of a bruised and broken finger after getting slammed in a car door. Gripping and seething scratches seemed to burn my pelvic area as though creatures were coming alive from under the cracked dirt. They needed to breathe.

Building a family was never a priority of mine. Many of my friends either already have children or they have lists with their desired names for future babies. They pin baby fashion on Pinterest and dream about where they want to settle. They know if they want to homeschool their children or send them to public or private schools. They know which sports they want their children to excel in or which extracurricular activities they want to help chair.

I do not.

I never shamed others for desiring this—I am happy for them. I love seeing people’s eyes gleam when they talk about their desires and passions. I love when people feel as though they have something to hold on to when everything else in our world may seem as unreliable or as fragile as the tissue paper protecting me on that table. I simply thought, That lifestyle may not be for me.

I’ve been told I will change my mind—maybe I will. Maybe I have. Maybe a part of me tried to forgo this lifestyle because I didn’t want to wonder, What if? What if I, for some reason, one day cannot give birth to my own children? Maybe it is somewhere on my Bucket List, but it is so far near the bottom it is probably squeezed against the bottom of the paper and nearly illegible.

As I sat on the protective tissue paper, my doctor raised a concern: “Lauren, does anyone in your family have a history with these same pains?”

Perspiration built in my palms. Talking about personal problems with a man I barely knew made me squirm with discomfort. “Well, I didn’t say this earlier, but my mom had endometriosis. I don’t know if that has anything to do with it.” My mind replayed scenes from the past few months in which I spent hours researching this complication on every medical site Google would reveal.

He made a note on his clipboard before suggesting the worst: “Well, the only way to truly check for endometriosis is to move forth with surgery.”

Surgery? How was there not another viable option to treat this debilitating pain in 2016? One of the biggest side effects of endometriosis is the inability to bear children. My mom did not encounter this wall until my brother and I were already born. She no longer faced the question When do I want to have children? She endured the pain until she had two children whom she loved.

Do I want children? When would I even want to have them? Is this concern more immediate than I originally thought it was?

As my fingertips pressed into the frail tissue paper and formed small tears along the table’s edge, I wondered, How can I miss something I don’t even have?

The thought of never being able to procreate never occurred to me. I never thought I simply would not be able to have children; however, depending on the severity of my possible endometriosis, this inadvertent fear might truly be a reality. If I fall victim to the anesthetic and the blade, I could wake up to this actuality. I would no longer be sleeping. It would not be considered a nightmare. By succumbing to surgery, I would allow the doctors to clean, sculpt, and repair everything they could. What if they simply could not, though? What then? What if in order to alleviate the pain, they would have to remove all chances of me ever becoming a mother?

I left my appointment that day as I called my mom and asked her to pick me up. I never talked with anyone about the short conversation I had with my gynecologist that day. I never grabbed a pamphlet or more information. I simply tried to ignore it by shoving it under my skin—as fragile and as frail as tissue paper.