In her 2017 New York Times bestselling memoir, Gabrielle Union opened up about her infertility, revealing that she’d gone through several rounds of in-vitro fertilization (IVF) and experienced eight or nine miscarriages, never knowing exactly what was wrong. But a recent diagnosis gave Union the answer. At a BlogHer event on August 8th, Essence reported that Union has adenomyosis, a form of endometriosis that can impact fertility but is rarely spoken about.
Union has been a source of inspiration for years—the actress and advocate doesn’t shy away from talking about her own life experiences to help bring awareness to important issues, such as violence against women and women’s health. So it’s no surprise that Union was a keynote speaker at the #BlogHer18 Creators Summit in New York City, highlighting inspirational women. At the event, she spoke to SheKnows Media CEO Samantha Skey about how she has struggled to become pregnant with her husband, NBA player Dwyane Wade, and how people have incorrectly blamed the fact that she waited “too long” to try to have a child.
The 45-year-old said that she’s had this condition for nearly two decades but doctors never diagnosed her. Instead, she said, they often didn’t take her symptoms seriously. “The gag is I had it in my early 20s, and instead of someone diagnosing me they were like, ‘Oh, you have periods that last 9 or 10 days and you’re bleeding through overnight pads?'” she said. “Every doctor I saw was like, ‘Let me put you on birth control.'”
According to the National Institutes of Health, “In women with adenomyosis, the endometrial tissue (which typically lines the uterus) moves into the outer, muscular walls of the uterus.” The Mayo Clinic notes that this displaced endometrial tissue will continue to act as it normally would if it were lining the uterus, so it thickens, breaks down, and bleeds during menstrual cycles. This can lead to an enlarged uterus.
Some women may show no signs or symptoms of adenomyosis, but others may experience heavy bleeding during menstruation, painful periods, and pain during intercourse. And—as Union noted—while birth control can alleviate some of these symptoms, it doesn’t necessarily address the underlying issue.
As Dr. Jennifer Ashton explained on Good Morning America, adenomyosis can be considered a “cousin” of endometriosis, which is another condition that many women have struggled to get diagnosed accurately. Dr. Aditi Vyas went into more detail about adenomyosis for GMA and explained how it’s difficult for doctors to diagnose in a noninvasive way. Dr. Vyas also noted that while there are ways to treat the symptoms, there is no cure except for undergoing a hysterectomy.
The connection between infertility and adenomyosis is still being researched. But as the 2016 scientific article “The Impact of Adenomyosis on Women’s Fertility” noted, “Although an association between adenomyosis and infertility has not been fully established, based on the available information, recent studies suggested that adenomyosis has a negative impact on female fertility.”
Still, as Dr. Ashton noted on GMA, there is hope that a woman could successfully carry to term even with this diagnosis. And knowing the full picture of what’s going on inside of the woman’s body certainly helps.
As for Union, her comments at the #BlogHer18 Creators Summit make it seem that she’s not done trying to have a biological child with her husband, and she noted that she’ll continue being vocal about her experience. “Just know if you are out there having fertility issues—you are not alone,” Union said.