They say that life begins at 30, but in a lot of ways, my 30s was an opportunity to hit the refresh button. I made life-changing decisions in my career and in my life. I started my second career as an attorney, got married to the love of my life, ran my first marathon, got my dream job as an FDA lawyer and bought my first home. Life was good. I mean, “good” for me was living on compounded pain medicine to ease the unbearable “osises” pain two weeks out of every month (I call endometriosis and adenomyosis the osis sisters or the “osises”). A month without missing work, dinner with friends, exercise, birthdays, and not being in bed for a few days, was good. So life was good in my 30s, until it wasn’t.
But before I dig deeper, I have to take a step back to the very beginning, almost 30 years ago.
The day I became a woman, my first menstrual cycle, I fainted in the hallway of my middle school. My parents had to come get me from the nurse’s office. I was embarrassed. I was humiliated because I fainted over a period. Little did I know, it was not just a period, but rather, a monthly ordeal that would be my norm for the next three decades.
In these 30 years, I had to plan my life around my period. When was my period coming and how bad was it going to be? Where am I scheduled to be so I don’t embarrass myself? While my mum had warned me to take ibuprofen because she, too, suffered from painful periods, my experiences weren’t just painful. They were seven days of hell. Seven days of vomiting, fainting spells (including once on a plane to Denver), and seizure-like convulsions.
Doctor after doctor prescribed me extra strength ibuprofen, then Tylenol with codeine, then narcotics, then birth controls, then IUDS, then surgeries, then more surgeries. Nothing worked. My arduous cycle continued: more vomiting, more fainting, and more seizure-like convulsions from the pain.
It wasn’t until 2015, when I could not stop bleeding, meaning, my husband kept changing bed sheet after bed sheet because I’d soaked into the mattress type bleeding, that something had to be done.
What was to be a 30-minute procedure to remove the fibroid that was believed to be the culprit of my woes at Northwestern University Hospital in Chicago turned into a seven-hour deep-excision surgery to remove as much endometriosis as possible. Up until this point, I did not have a name for what made me miserable every month. The post-surgery diagnosis was stage 4 endometriosis, diffuse adenomyosis, and fibroids. These things were all over my uterus, ovaries, fallopian tubes, and bladder.
After the surgery, I had a massive infection that permanently destroyed the function of my fallopian tubes. Due to the latter, I had a bilateral salpingectomy in 2016. At the same time, the doctor found a massive kidney stone, which was the result of the endometriosis blocking my ureter, so a stent had to be put in.
After all of that, we breathed a sigh of relief, believing we were in the clear and ready to finally start our family.
But what I thought I suffered in the “osises” was nothing compared to the infertility that followed. After two IVF cycles, we had a total of four embryos. I thought we hit the jackpot. Little did I know, an embryo is not guaranteed to be a born, living child. From failed implantations to miscarriages, we lost all four embryos. The most painful loss was in the fall of 2018. On our 10–11 week ultrasound, we saw the heartbeat, but couldn’t hear it. Unbeknownst to me, this was not okay. Two days later, we were told our little boy was gone. I couldn’t believe it. I lied on the ultrasound room floor for hours. I couldn’t move, saying to myself, There’s no way, God. There’s no way that this is happening.
All I dreamt about was our son looking like his dad. My husband has the most beautiful smile on this side of heaven, and he is the best human being God ever created. The years of grieving our son has been filled with a sorrow so deep, it’s almost primal as it is visceral.
And so began the battle of the cycles: IVF cycle three, then four, five, six, seven, eight. I stopped counting at eight because we finally had two healthy embryos. But after just about every IVF cycle, I would experience painful ovarian hyperstimulation and sink into a deeper depression. Needless to say, our doctors strongly encouraged us to seek a gestational carrier.
I took breaks in between some of the cycles because my body was so sore, and our hearts just ached. Why was this so hard? After everything we had been through, could we just get some happy news?
Just then, we met someone in the form of a surrogate—a gestational carrier, who we believed was our miracle. In a way, she was, because God used her to remind me that He is still in it with us. Our GC went through the process once and did not get pregnant. She mentioned she needed some time to recuperate before trying again. We believed this was reasonable, so we gave her that. We did not realize that her version of recuperating meant not returning any of our phone calls, text messages, or emails again.
Just then, the “osises” took a turn for the absolute worst. Each month, I was back in the fetal position for at least three days. Going to the ER became a norm every month until yet another diagnosis of frozen pelvis. My uterus was stuck to my bladder, my colon was stuck from the endometriosis, my left ovary was stuck to the uterus, I had massive endometriomas on both ovaries, as well as pain in my coccyx and ribs—hence the name “frozen pelvis.” The only way to fix this was, you guessed it, another surgery.
My 30s were a crumbling decade. I really, really crumbled. The pain and grief would make my knees buckle. The depression became too much to bear, and the tears seemed like they would never stop. My zest for life was gone. Getting out of bed was almost impossible. When I would, I wished I didn’t. That’s the thing about grief, it’s no respecter of persons or environments. It demands attention and needs company. It needs to be sat with and until I started doing this, life was painful, bleak, and futile.
Then on October 18, 2020, at 9:48 a.m., my brother, John, sent it to me. “It” being a song by Jonathan McReynolds that I have known for a long time, but sounded different to me because I finally heard the words:
May your struggles keep you near the cross/And may your troubles show that you need God/ And may your battles end the way they should/And may your bad days prove that God is good/And may your whole life prove that God is good
This song changed my perspective on life and how I dealt with my pain. It deepened my relationship with Christ because you see, for the longest time, I assumed that the “osises” were a life sentence, a sort of doom, and a scarlet letter. But then I realized I can survive, live, believe, and thrive in the “osises.” I can have joy in the midst of my grief. I can experience happiness, and my cup can runneth over in love and grace, especially in loss. So I started being intentional with my grief and with my health. I began emphasizing self-care, changing my diet, researching alternative medicines like acupuncture, and looking into behavioral and grief therapy, amongst other things. It has really helped me.
My 30s left me broken, angry, hurt, bitter, and resentful, and who wants to live with that? So going into my 40s, it was all about my rebirth. A liberation of sorts, a NOW mentality, and a grateful heart.
My parents raised my brothers and I to celebrate each birthday and each moment, often. For as long as I could remember, no matter how difficult our circumstances, my mama and dada always celebrated our birthdays in a big way. January 16, my 40th birthday, would be no exception. While I plan events for a living, when it comes to me, I become indecisive and a procrastinator. So when I made a passing statement to my sister, Sandra, about the possibility of taking a trip, I did not really think we would take one. Sandy kept asking me, “Have you picked a place and a date?” and I kept saying, “I am thinking about it.” Finally, she said, “Just pick a place. Put your finger on a place on a map and we will go.” I initially picked Malta, but when I told my other sisters, Claire and Sheinelle, they threw Dubai in the mix and so Dubai it was.
The more I thought about Dubai, the more it made sense. There’s something about living in a parched place, flourishing in the midst of challenges, and growing when there is no water to replenish your thirst and to support your renewal. I have always heard the desert is the intersection between where heaven ends and earth begins—the perfect place to celebrate a rebirth.
As grief has changed how I interact with people, I knew I wanted an intimate and uplifting environment of just my sisters and my best friends, who are my sisters, too. So I decided on 11 women who are a true reflection of my life. In every phase and every memorable experience, good and bad, these women were there. As I mentioned it to each of the 11 women, I received a resounding yes, no hesitation, no second thoughts, a loud “YES.” Their excitement filled my cup and motivated me to plan an experience we will cherish forever.
From January 11-17, I carefully curated each aspect of the trip to celebrate their love for and support of me. Our trip included days in the Dubai Gardens, shopping in the old city, visiting the Burj Khalifa, walking the skyline, nighttime brunch at The Penthouse in Five Palm Jumeirah, flexing our toes on the dance floor with DJ Jay Beats at the Secret Garden by VII until 3 a.m., hanging in the desert with our majestic camels, Shahim and Jabbah, and Ely Graf sketching each lady’s perfect reflection of strength, sublimity, and timeless beauty in each of his drawings. It was germane to me that I made new memories with these 11 women in my life—the ones who have invested in, poured into, and lifted me up when I could not and did not want to stand—without pain, surgeries, loss, grief, and sadness.
As I gallop into my 40s, I am at peace. I look forward to whatever God allows to come my way. My heart is fully open and present to experience what may come or not come and this includes another opportunity at motherhood. I celebrate our son every day and I am reminded of how fortunate I am to be an aunt. I also realize that I have birthed so many things that are not in the form of a human being – my career, my relationships, the young people I have helped raise through mentorship, my event company, my husband and I’s organization, The Solem Project, etc. I want to celebrate that, too. There’s this false narrative that a woman’s worth is in and through her uterus, but I am so much more than a channel for life. There is life in everything I have touched and impacted and this, too, is valuable – this, too, is worth celebrating.
See photos from her rebirth in Dubai with 11 of her great girlfriends below.
Event Concept, Design + Planning: Cherish August
Day of Coordination: Your Day, Our Time by Funmi Oyelayo
Florals + Décor: Alex Bovdorenko-Dutch Garden of Dreams
Photography: Christophe Viseux
Videography: Tarik Adbelelah of Dry Tape Media
Hair: Sara_hairstylista by Sarah Olando
Live Sketch Artist: Ely Graf
Venue + Performances: Arabian Tours Dubai Desert
Harpist: Patrizia Masutti
Catering: The Ritz Gastron by Arit Okon
Accommodations: JW Marriott Marquis Dubai, Business Bay