21 Apr 2023

Natasha Harris’ journey of acceptance that motherhood may never happen

6:45 am on 21 April 2023

Natasha Harris' endometriosis diagnosis led to the realisation that due to her age, children were unlikely in her future.

"Talking to you feels sore in my heart," says Natasha Harris.

"But I want to tell people it's okay and that your life doesn't just have to be about children. I have got a lot of joy in my life."

Natasha Harris is someone who focuses on the positives and for her, they are the days without pain and time out in nature on long tramps. But it has taken a lot of research and soul searching to reach this place of clarity.

"It's been an up and down journey, sometimes I'm totally fine about the possibility of not having children, other times it's really quite hard."

This long road to acceptance was sparked by an endometriosis diagnosis a few years ago.

Harris didn't experience any symptoms until her early 30s, which presented as a stabbing pain in the right side of her abdomen. Then, strangely, that pain disappeared for five years.

When the pain returned at age 38 it came back with a vengeance and was so severe that after a week of hospital stays, doctors decided to operate.

There were fears that the cause was appendicitis, but instead when Natasha awoke from surgery, she was told she had endometriosis.

"It was completely out of the blue, my friend has endometriosis and I could barely even say the word let alone did I ever think that was me. I just thought there was something wrong with my stomach."

Harris is sharing her story as part of an RNZ In Depth series, The Deadline, which aims to speak clearly about the realities of the condition, especially the impact on planning for parenthood.

Read more from this series:

  • The Deadline: I was told to try for children before 30 - what if I'm not ready?
  • When Ruby Rowe got the diagnosis she'd been searching for, it changed everything
  • Persistent medical myths about endometriosis
  • Miriama Kamo's difficult journey to parenthood with endometriosis
  • The search for answers

    Armed with a diagnosis, Harris sought independent, scientific information on what this would mean for her fertility.

    "I started doing a lot of reading online, I focused on New Zealand content to try to feel like it was relevant to me."

    She found it hard to find information on others like her who didn't fit the stereotype of heavy periods or experiencing pain at a young age.

    According to Endometriosis New Zealand, an estimated 120,000 people in the current population - or 1 in 10 women - currently have or will develop endometriosis during their lifetime.

    In most cases, symptoms include period pain, pelvic pain and sub-fertility or infertility. In other cases, there may be no obvious symptoms.

    Harris says she found there was a lot of support for endometriosis, but the effect on fertility was much less clear.

    "I had to do a lot of digging myself."

    She knew fertility differed from person to person, but at her age it wasn't looking good.

    "It didn't scare me too much, it made me feel like I had knowledge so that I could make informed decisions.

    "It felt quite sad to be like okay my fertility is not so good, but then I got tests done to know what my egg levels were like and got professional advice from my gynecologist.

    Being single at the time, Harris also investigated egg freezing. But it was prohibitively expensive, she had no partner to create an embryo and IVF has a relatively low rate of success at her age.

    She came to a tough conclusion, which she recounts through tears.

    "It wasn't worth freezing my eggs.

    "It's hard to accept that being a mother might not happen, but it is something I want to talk about because I know other women are in pain and are hurting, or for other women who are younger and just that feeling of not knowing is really hard."

    illustration of flowers

    Photo: RNZ

    Finding the positive

    Speaking to her friends and hearing other women's stories helped support Harris through this time.

    "There were some women who were older who were able to get pregnant, but I also felt good finding out the bad side as well and arming myself with a lot of knowledge."

    She has also learned to appreciate the days without endometriosis pain.

    "It's helped me to focus on the positive and what I have got, rather than what I don't have."

    Her advice to younger women is to not feel scared into having children because of her story.

    "Doing something out of fear doesn't feel good."

    Instead, her advice for these women and their partners is to focus on what they can control and to do what they can to make their body as healthy as possible.

    Natasha Harris was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 38.

    Natasha Harris was diagnosed with endometriosis at the age of 38. Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

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