There she sat, silently sobbing. I looked at her and thought; “What an elegant and beautiful lady.” She looked familiar, then it hit me; she is an International Model with a career that is growing in leaps and bounds. Why the tears though? I remember how as a child my mum would stop my tears from flowing by reminding me that beautiful girls don’t cry! It always worked. Why was this beautiful girl crying? I asked myself. I reached out and gently touched her shoulder; I know the beauty of a touch even when words are unspoken. She smiled wryly and the tears ceased momentarily. Then she cried again. It was an emotional moment for her. I later understood that she was battling a health issue known as endometriosis and had suffered a crisis early in the day, prior to the dinner where she was named an Ambassador for Endometriosis. Sadly, she was in the throes of this very debilitating gynecological health issue which she describes as a nightmare.
Three years later, Millen Magese, beautiful Tanzanian model defies Endometriosis to become a mum and agrees to an Exclusive Interview with Genevieve. Guess who her interviewer is? Me! Apparently, she remembers me from our last encounter. Unlike the last time, the circumstance of this meeting is auspicious and more joyous! Inspite of discouraging statistics about women with endometriosis’ chances of winning the battle against infertility, Millen is a mother! It’s celebration time in the life of this amazing woman who is bringing hope to others like her…AND THEN CAME BABY is a story of the audacity of Hope and Millen’s immense courage…
Congrats on the birth of Prince Kairo! This is a huge testimony considering that women with Endometriosis condition often have to contend with infertility as well. What was that moment like when you knew you were finally going to be a mum!!
Oh my God! What a feeling! I can’t even begin to describe the feeling. IVF is really a very long journey requiring faith, patience and a lot of support! How do I capture the ups and downs, the injections, the wait and the expenses? IVF is very costly and that’s very unfair to many women whose only option is IVF but can’t afford the treatment. We waited for a long time for the egg retrieval and then the transfer. After that, my partner and I had to wait 10 more days to become pregnant. The pressure was high; I was afraid because before this time I had lost several other pregnancies. I didn’t think I could survive another loss. I prayed and prayed and avoided stressful situations and tried to stay positive. When on Day 10 I took a pregnancy test and found I was pregnant I was over joyed. I couldn’t believe it. I cried! But unlike at other times, theses were tears of joy! I felt like telling the world but I had to restrain myself. I didn’t want to announce it because I had lost too many pregnancies already. I kept it a secret until a week after my son was born. I only released my maternity shoot after my son was born. I can’t describe the feeling that moment I held my son in my hands.
I remember trying to console you three years ago at an Endometriosis dinner in Lagos where you were named Ambassador. You cried non stop that night..
The pain was too deep as I listened to Miss Nike Oshinowo share her painful battle with Endometriosis. I could relate with her pain; her journey was similar to mine and I couldn’t stop crying. It was very traumatic for me especially as early in the day I had gone through so much because as soon as I landed in Lagos I was admitted into a hospital. I was on admission until a few hours before the dinner. So, you can imagine my state of mind. It was a roller coaster of emotions. I couldn’t hold back the tears. I remember you reaching out to me that night. Thank you.
We have heard so much about Endometriosis and its twin; infertility! What is it really like to suffer from Endometriosis?
There’s only one word to describe it! NIGHTMARE! You hardly have a life. You can’t plan anything because of the pain that never goes away. You saw how broken I was during a video call with you in the course of this cover and interview. I had had a long day of photo shoot and I needed to send you answers for the cover interview to meet the deadline. The week had also been very challenging and stressful. I couldn’t deal with it all and I just broke down and cried.
You talked about the mental and physical pain you had to endure; what is a typical menstrual cycle like for Endometriosis patients?
Very irregular. I could have three to four periods in a month. That also means four times emergency room visits. If I’m stressed out I bleed! If I take a long flight, I bleed! If I get any shocking news, I bleed! The worse is that I can’t control it. It’s so bad and painful that I hated being around people, especially people who don’t know me. I ended relationships because I just couldn’t take the pressure of trying to look like everything is ok and be the girlfriend man wanted. I preferred long distance relationships too. I couldn’t take the pressure from anyone. I isolated myself from so many things. I hy attend or commit to be at any event because I just never know what will happen.
Endometriosis is an incurable but manageable gynecological condition. It occurs when endometrial implants, comprising tissues normally found within the uterus are present in other areas of the body. What are some of the symptoms??
• Severe menstrual cramps, unrelieved with NSAIDS
• Long-term lower-back and pelvic pain
• Periods lasting longer than 7 days
• Heavy menstrual bleeding where the pad or tampon needs changing every 1 to 2 hours
• Bowel and urinary problems including pain, diarrhea, constipation, and bloating
• Bloody stool or urine
• Nausea and vomiting
• Pain during intercourse
• Spotting or bleeding between periods
Pain is the most common indication of endometriosis, but the severity of the pain does not always correlate with the extent of the disease.Pain often resolves following menopause, when the body stops producing estrogen. However, if hormone therapy is used during menopause, symptoms may persist. Pregnancy may provide temporary relief from symptoms.
Complications from Endometriosis include:
• infertility, which can affect 50 percent of those with the condition.
• increased risk of developing ovarian cancer or endometriosis-associated adenocarcinoma
• ovarian cysts
• scar tissue and adhesion development
• Intestinal and bladder complications
It’s a real Nightmare
How long did you try before your son was born?
Six difficult times! Things went really bad for me in 2015. The pain was unbearable. My doctors said to me; “It’s time for you to make a choice between quality healthy life with a hysterectomy or accept to do more surgeries and try IVF which we don’t think is possible because of your condition.” At that point in time I was already tired of the life I was living. I was tired of everyday pain and many lost job opportunities. I decided to have my uterus removed but a day before the surgery I told my doctor; “I am going to try IVF again. If it doesn’t work then I will agree to remove my uterus.” With that began my long and traumatic journey towards conception. I had almost 1000 injections with 4 per day and so much money went into it all. At a stage I said, “Father Lord, I am tired. My IVF procedure failed many times and I came so close to giving up but God came through for me. Then there came my baby.
As a model strutting on some of the world’s major runways, how were you able to grow a career when you could easily begin to menstruate for days?
Determination and an uncanny energy kept me going. My family is my big motivation. My dad left me with a family before he died and I am responsible for their education and welfare and that includes my mum. I needed my mom to feel comfortable and happy, I needed to work hard. So despite all the struggles, my family was well provided for. That was my motivation to push forward against all odds. Endometriosis is more than the menstruation; speak about the pelvic pains, the everyday fatigue, the Endo belly (I could look 6 months in a sec) the bowel movements issues…it’s a lot yet you still have to look all glamorous and fab on the runway.
Would you like to share some very embarrassing moments with us…like bleeding when you least expect it.
I was never embarrassed about the blood stains but the bloating was the problem. Each time I had blood stain, I excused myself to clean up. My biggest embarrassment has always been about the Endo flare. This is a nightmare. I wish I can control it but I can’t. Happily, you still find very understanding clients who still engage my services. It is not unusual to see me on the runway with a bloated tummy but that never stopped me even while looking as if I am 6 months pregnant. At what age did you realize that your periods were not normal like others? I was 26 and living in South Africa; 13 years after my first period. I was shooting a Cosmopolitan cover and I passed out because of intense pain. When I woke up my booker suggested I saw a doctor right away. On my first visit and examination followed by a small procedure which turned to be a big surgery I was diagnosed with stage four Endometriosis which is severe Endometriosis has stages. In all, I have had 14 surgeries.
As an ambassador for Endometriosis awareness what would you say you have achieved so far and do you find that people relate even more with you now that you have a testimony?
Absolutely yes! People relate now even more. I believe my son brought so much hope. I spoke at Harvard University early March; I was on a panel discussing Branding and Investment in the African Digital Healthcare Market. Who would have thought a small girl from a very poor family somewhere in Africa would have a chance to speak at Harvard University? Dreams are indeed valid. I guess it’s also because of the effort I put together towards my story on raising awareness as well as my humanitarian work. I was also able to speak at the UN. I have received multiple awards which could not have happened if my voice wasn’t heard.
What was that moment like for you when you became a mother?
I was super emotional. I didn’t believe my body could ever do that. Firstly, I was still holding my breath, getting ready to push not knowing that the baby was already out. The minute they placed him on my chest I experienced a rare kind of pain in my heart. I can’t describe the excitement. I was overwhelmed and burst into tears and cried and cried. Then I began to pray. OMG! I’m not sure if you can understand how loud I cried and thanked God for making me a mother. I also thanked my son for choosing me to be his mother. What a relief! I am a mum. I didn’t believe it. I kept saying to my sister (Funmi) is this real???? I could see both my partner and Funmi, my Aunt crying. It was so emotional. So I guess motherhood started right away and I can’t ask God for any other gift.
Did the birth of your son further revalidate God’s awesomeness or what?
Say whaaaaaat!! Hell Yeah. Even my doctors have said so many times that it was a miracle. God lives!!!You need to understand what I went through to actually believe it is a miracle that I’m holding my son right now. It’s a miracle that I actually conceived after 13 surgeries, 2 miscarriages, 4 IVF attempts with no single egg found and total 6 attempts at egg retrieval. My son was my 6th IVF attempt. And his name shall be Prince Kairo!! YES! “THE VICTORIOUS ONE” It’s origin is Arab.I’m sharing my son’s pictures today, not just for my supporters and followers to meet him but I needed to tell a different story. I want to share my story of faith and hope. I need to give hope to others like me by showing a picture of me holding my son. If it happened to me it can happen to you. Do not lose hope. I needed to tell a different story that it is possible! Every woman deserves a child. I would like to appeal for more affordable IVF treatments so every woman afford it. To all the medical researchers out there, I would like to appeal for more effort in the search for a cure for Endometriosis, fibroids and all reproductive diseases that affect women.
Are we expecting a wedding soon with Prince Kairo as ring bearer!
I am very happy where I am for now and still believe the same God who gave me my son will indeed bring that marriage when it’s time (lol). I am not in a hurry. It’s not my priority.
MY GRATITUDE LIST
At a time in my life when all I felt was anger, fear, pain, helplessness and a sense of isolation, it was very assuring to have my partner by my side. I cannot thank him enough for his support especially when I had to take bold decisions; not every man can actually live with a woman with Endometriosis/infertility. I would also like to thank my sister, Funmilayo Alaiyemola, my friends; Ojinika, Lebo, Samantha, Ciano, Jimmy and many more for being there for me.
What do you know for sure?
Every story has its own end. I know for sure if we all raise our voices and speak out about not only Endometriosis/Infertility but also women reproductive health in general, a cure and solution to all these battles will be found. Let every woman be empowered not judged for things she has no control over.
This interview was first published in Genevieve Magazine March/April Issue. Click HERE to purchase.