You wouldn’t think that one conversation can change your life. It’s more realistic for us to think that one conversation can be a lever, to open up a door for another conversation, and another, with every opening directing you down a certain path.
Surely, then all it takes is one conversation.
At least it was that one conversation for me, that changed everything.
I still remember it, staring into a chipped teal teacup, tears falling into my hot chocolate, my best friend silent and both with sore heads from the night before. It was five years to the day since I was diagnosed with Mayer-Rojitansky-Kuster-Hauser syndrome.
‘Mayer-what-tanksy-syndrome?’ I remember her saying trying to pull me away from the mug.
She won, and once I’d clarified that it wasn’t a piece of Swedish flatpack furniture, I gave a short biology lesson, explaining that whilst my case my ovaries were functional and fabulous, I wouldn’t be able to conceive ‘the traditional way’.
Once my TED talk was over, she held my hand as five years of physical and emotional trauma threatened to spill out, and unable to keep it down anymore, it overflowed.
I didn’t realise at the time that I had never spoken about my fertility issues. Here’s how that conversation went on to change my life.
Firstly, I discovered that there is no normal. When I was six, I thought that by the time you were 25, you automatically moved into a house, a marriage, and had 2.5 children: that was normal. Then you blink, look back and laugh (sometimes hysterically) and wonder, what was I thinking?
The truth is, there is no normal, in life. So why would it be the same with women's bodies? Only after speaking to women on online forums, did I realise that it wasn’t just one thing that could cause fertility complications.
I’d created a bubble. A bubble that let me process and at times grieve. However, I hadn’t realised that it had stopped me from actually understanding fertility. I quickly turned to online forums and began watching people come forward and share their stories.
I began to realise just how many people experience complications with fertility and realised that these were single women, married women, women who had blended families, all at different stages of their journey. Through watching them share, I realised that I wasn’t alone. Even if I wasn’t ready to share yet, that was okay, because they were there to talk about my day: cheering me on through graduations, job offers and even birthdays.
It saved my relationships. Including the one I had with myself.
The truth is, the first conversation was an outlet for me. I remember saying: “I don’t want your sympathy, I don’t want to hear that I have options because I already know that, I just want to feel like a real woman again, I want to feel like my body is beautiful again”.
This simple sentence set the tone for every conversation I would have in the future. I realised that by sharing my thought process, with my loved ones, they were able to understand and respond better.
Then there were intimate relationships. After my long-term relationship broke down, and I had time to fix the relationship I had with myself, I was able to share my story with someone as I did if and when it came up later in my dating life: comfortable doing so, because I’d finally accepted myself.
I found the true meaning of womanhood.
Typically, I steer away from feminist literature. Not because I’m not one, just because I have witnessed first-hand the effect that a ‘No uterus-No opinion’ banner can have on a woman who has just had hers removed, during her fertility journey.
If my conversations with women on my travels have taught me anything, it’s that a woman cannot be defined. Not by labels, societal values or reproductive systems.
From staying with tribal women in the Bornean rainforest who taught me how to be a Wanita Pejuang (warrior woman), to being undercover in London and Phuket with LGBTQ women, I learnt that no woman is the same. The truth is, even when I’m incredibly frustrated with my body I remind myself that there is no scale of femininity and that no person can be more of a woman than another. A beauty that I continue to draw strength from, every day.
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