After a decade of agonising pain that felt like she was being burned and chiselled from the inside, Sinead Hodder is finally free from her anguish, thanks to undergoing a hysterectomy at the age of 30.
"My kids missed out on so much because I was in constant pain three out of four weeks a month," shares the Auckland mum-of-three. "It felt like someone had a jack hammer and was attacking my cervix, and other times it was like my abdomen was getting crushed.
"I'd bloat and look about seven months' pregnant, and couldn't wear pants because the pressure was too much. Even underwear sometimes hurt to wear."
Sinead – mum to Aleesha, 11, and identical twin boys Declan and Noah, three – only has her left ovary remaining after surgeons removed her right one in November last year, along with her uterus, Fallopian tubes and cervix. The ovary they took was riddled with cyst scars and adenomyosis, a condition Sinead describes as endometriosis' ugly sister.
While endometriosis causes uterine tissue to grow outside the womb, adenomyosis is responsible for the tissue growing into the uterus wall.
"Originally, my doctor thought I had endo, since I had surgery for it back in 2011, but I had a gut feeling it was something else because the pain was different," explains Sinead. "It got far worse when I had a termination a year after giving birth to the twins."
Sinead's pelvic problems started as heavy and aching periods during her teens, followed by several miscarriages in her 20s and dangerous complications during her pregnancy with the boys. The expectant mum had to be closely monitored and was diagnosed with preeclampsia at 29 weeks, spending five weeks in hospital.
A year later, just days after her store manager husband Corey, 29, had his vasectomy, Sinead found out she was pregnant again. This time, she was terrified.
"My body wouldn't have handled another pregnancy and so we opted for a termination. It's not that I didn't want more children, it's that I have three living who need their mother," she says. "My midwife told me if I chose to have more children, I was at higher risk of having more complications. My husband said he'd support me whatever decision I made."
Once she got home after the termination, Sinead started gushing blood and that's when things really went downhill. Her pelvic pain amplified, landing her in hospital that day and for further stints of up to 10 days at a time.
Some pain medications she tried had adverse side effects and others knocked her out, so the exhausted mum started asking about a hysterectomy.
"Each time I applied to be seen as a gynaecologist outpatient, I was declined because of my age – even though I was in hospital every other day," she shares. "They'd pretty much dose me up on opioids and nerveblockers, then send me on my way."
In August 2020, Sinead was elated to finally receive a letter saying she could have the surgery within four months.
"I thought, 'It's happening!' But a week before the surgery, they postponed it and they just kept pushing it out," she tells. "It got to a point where my mental health was an absolute mess and I'd lock myself in my room crying."
Three months ago, Sinead approached the media to share her story about falling through the cracks in the public health system and days after her article ran, she received a letter to say her surgery was scheduled for November.
"I was really excited, but also scared because I'd had no confirmation it was endo causing the pain. I remember thinking, 'What if they don't find anything and I'm ripping out my organs for no reason?'
"But my surgeon knew straight away by looking at my bulky uterus that it was adenomyosis. He did say my left ovary looked pretty, though!"
Already, life is vastly different for Sinead, whose crippling pain disappeared after the operation. She's glad it was adenomyosis rather than endometriosis, which could have returned despite the hysterectomy.
"The first thing I did after the surgery was put a pair of pants on! I can wear activewear now too, and don't bloat unless I eat too much," she laughs.
"I can actually take my kids to the playground, on a trip, or hiking without having to tell them, 'Mummy needs a break because I'm sore.' Life has completely changed and it's exciting."
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