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On a recent episode of Katie’s Crib podcast, Gabrielle Union revealed that she had gone undiagnosed for adenomyosis, a form of endometriosis, for years. It wasn’t until Union had gone through several IVF cycles following her struggle to conceive—and years of painful, heavy periods—that one doctor finally took her symptoms seriously.
"I went undiagnosed through multiple rounds of IVF with different leading doctors in the field around the country," Union told host Katie Lowes, according to EOnline.com. "Not until the last doctor, Dr. Kelly Baek in California. That first ultrasound, she was like, 'Oh, so, you have adenomyosis.’"
Union has previously been open about her diagnosis, which “occurs when the tissue that normally lines the uterus (endometrial tissue) grows into the muscular wall of the uterus,” according to Mayo Clinic. It’s a similar condition to endometriosis, in which endometrial tissue grows outside the uterus (though “virtually any part of the body can harbor endometriosis,” as Hello Giggles previously reported). Both conditions can cause severe symptoms, including heavy periods, pelvic pain, and pain during intercourse.
With her diagnosis, Union learned that the condition was the root cause of her struggle to conceive—another potential side effect of adenomyosis.
Though at the BlogHer conference in 2018, Union said that many people blamed her age and lifestyle choices for her infertility issues.
“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. The reality is I actually have adenomyosis,” she said.
She added that she’d experienced symptoms of adenomyosis for decades before she was diagnosed, including heavy periods “that lasted nine or 10 days.” But instead of putting her through proper diagnostic tests, she said, “every doctor I saw was like, 'Let me put you on birth control.'"
Although certain forms of birth control containing hormones can “provide some relief” for some people with adenomyosis, according to Mayo Clinic, Union she said at the BlogHer conference that the Pill wasn’t effective for addressing her condition. Dr. Baek was the first doctor to take the time to listen to Union’s experience, thoroughly investigate her medical history, and take her through proper diagnostic tests.
"When Dr. Baek started asking me more questions going back to my periods and what my experience was like with my periods as a younger woman, I explained that I ended up getting on the pill not for birth control reasons, but because my periods were lasting like a third of the month and I was bleeding like I had been shot in the vagina," Union said on the podcast.
The actor finally learned that the condition was the root cause of her infertility, and she and Dr. Baek were able to come up with a plan to help her conceive. Initially, that plan involved taking the drug Lupon; but Union decided that the drug’s side effects, including brittle bones, wouldn’t square with her active lifestyle. Instead, she and Johnson opted for surrogacy, welcoming their daughter Kaavia via surrogate in 2018. Dr. Baek was the first doctor “to really be honest about” that option, too.
Union is just one of myriad women whose medical conditions go undiagnosed. That’s especially true of endometriosis and its variations, like adenomyosis, which are infamously difficult to diagnose (and simply not recognized in the medical community, as HG wrote). But as more women come forward with their stories, we hope to see the conversation around endometriosis, and women’s health in general, change.