“Towards the end of my fertility journey I finally got some answers,” Gabrielle Union told attendees of the BlogHer conference in New York City on August 8. Union, who has been transparent about her fertility struggles, wrote in her 2017 bestseller, We’re Going to Need More Wine that she’d suffered “eight or nine miscarriages.” But as reported by Essence, a recent diagnosis may be the cause of her inability to conceive.
Union’s infertility may have been caused by adenomyosis, a condition that occurs in the uterus causing it to enlarge, along with extremely heavy and painful periods. While most women are diagnosed with the condition in their 40s or 50s, Union, now 45, said she’s been suffering symptoms since her early 20s, yet went undiagnosed by doctors.
Instead of diagnosing me they were like “Oh you have periods that last nine or ten days and you’re bleeding through overnight pads … perhaps there’s something more there” ... every doctor I saw was like “let me put you on birth control.”
But sadly, birth control can only obscure the symptoms of adenomyosis rather than treat the condition; a fact Union made abundantly clear to the BlogHer audience:
Note: if you are on birth control for anything other than birth control, to address or treat any sort of period issue you are not actually treating or addressing a period or reproductive issue. You are masking it. The pill can mask all kinds of things. It is amazing at preventing pregnancy; not so great with addressing adenomyosis.
According to the Mayo Clinic, adenomyosis occurs when the endometrial tissue that lines the uterus grows into the muscular wall. Due to common symptoms, adenomyosis can often be confused with uterine fibroids, though both can occur simultaneously. The best means of diagnosis is via an MRI of the uterus, and while hormonal birth control can ease the discomfort, currently, the only cure is a hysterectomy—though the condition generally abates after menopause.
Studies on adenomyosis have resulted in conflicting information in terms of its link to infertility, but Union’s experience of not receiving an accurate and early diagnosis caused not only physical pain but emotional damage as she struggled to understand what was wrong.
“Judgment renders so many of us immobile,” she told the BlogHer audience. “Everyone said, ‘You’re a career woman, you’ve prioritized your career, you waited too long and now you’re just too old to have a kid—and that’s on you for wanting a career.’”
More than anything, Union wants women to know that fertility issues, while devastating, aren’t uncommon.
“Just know if you are out there having fertility issues—you are not alone,” she said.