Lena Dunham’s Vogue essay details her medical & emotional hysterectomy journey

vo0318_Leading_The_Way_Forward_3

As we discussed, Lena Dunham announced that she underwent a hysterectomy at the age of 31, because of her years of endometriosis. The news came out Tuesday night that Lena had written an essay about her experience with Vogue’s March issue. Vogue waited until midday Wednesday to actually release Lena’s essay: “In Her Own Words: Lena Dunham on Her Decision to Have a Hysterectomy at 31.” You can read the full piece here: I managed to get through it even though Lena’s descriptions are vivid. She writes that everything really started falling apart for her last November, when the endo pain became unbearable. She checked herself into the hospital and stayed for weeks as she made the argument to multiple doctors that she was ready to have a hysterectomy. Here’s part of the essay:

She always wanted to be a mother: “The fact is, I never had a single doubt about having children. Not one, since the day I could understand how families were made….But I know something else, too, and I know it as intensely as I know I want a baby: that something is wrong with my uterus. I can feel it, deeply specific yet unverified, despite so many tests and so much medical dialogue. I just sense that the uterus I have been given is defective.”

Before the surgery: “My family just wants to see me happy again. They are, for the first time after all my shenanigans, truly scared, and my father checks my breath as I sleep, leaning close to my chest. I apologize weakly for what they are witnessing—someone who hurts too much to express themselves, who can’t help but be a nuisance at best and a terror at worst. My beautiful partner, who has seen me through so much pain with compassion and care, has to be away for work, and I can feel us growing slowly apart, since life is so determined to display its full complexity right now. I am surly and distant. I offer nothing. He reminds me again and again that I am still a woman and still alive, but I also know that soon—for so many reasons that have nothing to do with my uterus—we’ll slip away from each other and I will face everything I am losing in impossibly tiny steps.

After the surgery: “I wake up surrounded by family and doctors eager to tell me I was right. My uterus is worse than anyone could have imagined. It’s the Chinatown Chanel purse of nightmares, full of both subtle and glaring flaws. In addition to endometrial disease, an odd humplike protrusion, and a septum running down the middle, I have had retrograde bleeding, a.k.a. my period running in reverse, so that my stomach is full of blood. My ovary has settled in on the muscles around the sacral nerves in my back that allow us to walk. Let’s please not even talk about my uterine lining. The only beautiful detail is that the organ—which is meant to be shaped like a lightbulb—was shaped like a heart. Back in my room I hurt in surprising places: my shoulder, my hip, my ankle bone.

[From Lena Dunham/Vogue]

The timeline has become clearly – she says from August to November was when the pain became unbearable, and November was when she checked herself into the hospital. She details the ordeal she had to go through to get an “elective” (yet necessary) hysterectomy, and cites this time as when she and Jack Antonoff began to fall apart. It’s rough stuff, and I do feel bad for her.

In case anyone is wondering, I have some mixed feelings too, and I think it’s perfectly okay to have mixed feelings. Like, you can feel sympathetic towards Lena because what she went through was brutal at every level, and you can want her story to be a powerful first-person account of a woman articulating her journey through a medical system that didn’t take her pain seriously. You can also think that’s she still an a–hole who needs to apologize to Aurora Perrineau. It’s perfectly fine to hold both thoughts in your head at the same time.

Clive Davis pre-Grammy Gala & Salute to Industry Icons honoring Debra l. Lee

Photo courtesy of Norman Jean Roy for VOGUE. Additional photo courtesy of WENN.

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.

58 Responses to “Lena Dunham’s Vogue essay details her medical & emotional hysterectomy journey”

Comments are Closed

We close comments on older posts to fight comment spam.

  1. OriginalLala says:

    I read the essay last night and it made me a bit teary – reproduction related issues really suck (I have PCOS) and are not taken seriously by alot of doctors. It’s so frustrating. I still think she is problematic for many many reasons, but I do feel alot of empathy for this struggle :(

    • NameChange says:

      For women, it’s not just reproduction related issues, unfortunately. I had a car accident almost three years ago and have been in constant pain in my back and leg since then. I’ve gone to multiple doctors who all acted like I was malingering or trying to set up a lawsuit. One doctor (another woman) finally sent me for MRIs and I have a tear in a tendon in my left hip that’s causing all the pain. I’m fluctuating between being angry at all the doctors who brushed me off and relief at finally knowing that it’s not all in my head.

      • OriginalLala says:

        I read a great article a little while ago about how women’s pain is taken much less seriously than male pain by doctors. It angered me so much. Im sorry you had to go through that.

      • Birdix says:

        A week after giving birth I had horrible pain and went to the ER. The ultrasound technician with his thin mustache told me it was probably gas(!). The next ultrasound technician a few days later said she couldn’t believe he’d missed such an enormous kidney stone.

      • Lela says:

        Yes this is very true! When I was pregnant I had a severe pain in my groin area and no doctor took me seriously, they all brushed me off saying it was just normal pregnancy pain as everything is moving and stretching. It wasn’t until my 4th doctor, a woman, who finally referred me for an ultrasound of the area that we found out I had a torn abductor muscle. Women are never taken seriously enough it’s so enraging!

      • Jess says:

        Namechange, I was the same way with the doctors who refused to believe I was having extreme pain that ended up being endometriosis. I even sent one a letter along with my surgery report explaining how his disbelief and convincing me for two years that I “just couldn’t handle menstrual cramps” had caused so much damage to my reproductive organs that I may not be able to conceive. It felt good to let all that out and basically call him a POS. Maybe you can send your mri results and a letter to those doctors! :)

      • graymatters says:

        I experienced pain and “not feeling right” with my first pregnancy. The first doctor accused me of imagining the pregnancy. The second told me it was normal. The third told me to spend more time with my husband, who was supposed to be in Turkey that week but the trip had been delayed. When I collapsed into convulsions on our bathroom floor, my husband brought me into the ER and I was finally examined and found to be experiencing an ectopic pregnancy. I’m lucky to be alive.

        While I was recovering from the emergncy surgery, Mr. Gray asked why no one took care of me earlier and was told that it was my fault for “complaining of the wrong symptoms.”

        I’m at the point where I’m surprised when a doctor gets it right.

      • Flk says:

        I’m just gonna leave this here, just like I did under the previous article on LD’s endo struggles, to a great response.

        Highly, highly recommend reading this article
        theweek.com/articles/749978/female-price-male-pleasure

      • Severin88 says:

        @namechange In 2016 I went to the ER 5 times with crippling headaches over 3 months. I was just given pills and sent home every time. Finally on the 6th time a doctor seeing me in such pain admitted me and gave me an MRI. Turns out my spine was leaking CSF fluid and my brain and spine had decended in my body… in addition to causing a severe brain bleed. I spent 12 days in the hospital after that, then 3 months recovering. Luckily my body was able to heal itself with minimal drugs and no surgery. I was very lucky. If they had asked more questions to begin with and with every er visit after…the CSF issue could have been solved easily. But I walked around leaking for 3 months.

        All I was ever told in the ER was that I had bad TMJ and that I was stressed. I knew something was horribly wrong but always.. DR KNOWS BEST RIGHT. I am happy and healthy now but my outlook has changed for sure. As women we just eat pain and sometimes it can almost me fatal.

  2. A Croatian says:

    I don’t like her. But I am sorry she had to go through this and I wish her all the best. Yet another proof we don’t know what somebody is going through all the time.

  3. trollontheloose says:

    She is a horrible person but she is still a human, a woman at that, with women problems. for this I have compassion. I had fibroids and it was no joke to feel one that was 6 inches when my bladder was full. Our reproductive systems are no joke and sometimes it feels like a betrayal. That’s when the “o let’s talk about having kids before I can’t anymore because nature has her own way of control” kicks in

  4. Jenns says:

    I’m sorry for her and any woman who has to go through this. I feel women’s reproductive issues are so often dismissed and that as women, we feel we just need to deal whatever we’re going through–even if we are in physical pain.

    I also think that Lena is a major a-hole who is using this story to garner sympathy for herself.

    • Millenial says:

      They are often dismissed. I’m close with a woman who has had vulvodynia for 20 years and there’s basically nothing doctor’s can/will do. Almost no advancements have been made and it’s not taken seriously at all. Most other treatments are considered elective and you have to pay out of pocket for them so it’s out of reach anyways.

    • RedOnTheHead says:

      Jenns, well said. I said yesterday I wouldn’t shade her for having this hysterectomy at such a young age because she has good reasons. And it’s her body and decision.

      But I’m going to start shading her now. A personal essay about it in Vogue? Really? Give me a damn break. This is the most poor pitiful little me chick around right now. She needs to take a seat now and STFU for a while. I think everyone has been exposed to enough of her woe and angst for a while.

      • Numi says:

        NO she does not need to STFU are you kidding me? there is almost NO representation in the media and wider society about womens health issues – she needs to shout it from the damned rooftops – I don’t give a frig if you don’t like her, or her shtick.

      • Lana says:

        Why the hell should she STFU? She’s a public figure who got her entire uterus removed. I think that’s worth a story to share in Vogue.

      • helloelaine says:

        @RedOnTheHead

        Im with you. Women on here defending her are making me sick. We see you, white feminists, and we know allllllll what you are about.

      • Raina says:

        @REDO, enjoy the koolaid.
        What a ridiculous thing to say.
        You have no right to silence anyone and, if you don’t like her, or the article, don’t read.
        I, personally found it a poignant read and it is a subject that should have an open dialogue.
        This is the wrong article to criticize her and it takes away from its message. THAT right there is hubris.
        Sit down.
        And take Helloelaine with ya. She knows alllllllll so you’ll enjoy each other.

    • Anastasia says:

      I don’t care if she IS trying to garner sympathy–she’s also bringing attention to women’s pain, which is often brushed off or ignored. Hell, just look at the stories in THIS thread for confirmation of that!

  5. ellieohara says:

    Has she apologized for accusing a woman of lying about rape yet?

    No?

    Unless chronic narcissism is a documented side effect of endometriosis, I don’t care.

  6. BaBaDook says:

    I do have mixed feelings. It’s a horrible thing to go through: being ignored by doctors when you know something is wrong and then going through the surgery and breakup at the same time. There’s no doubt she had a rough time and I feel for her for that. That said, the cynic in me wonders about the timing of this being published. Is it to distract from her being cast as the villain in the break up, or to compensate for the Times Up story from last month or the Murray Miller thing? I want to believe the best, but I’m not built that way, ha!

  7. Kiki says:

    I am sick, tired, strand out and fed up with the sad, soppy, story of Lena Dunham and her female issues. I absolutely don’t like her and never did and I absolutely don’t like her Girls tv series. Oh and by the way, she is grovelling. She is begging for sympathy from everyone and I am not here for it. She can take her pity party somewhere else.

    Ugh, JUST GO AWAY. I don’t want to see you again.

  8. Nicole says:

    Kaiser you always articulate these conflicting feelings so well. I won’t even add to it…those last few sentences were spot on

  9. Patricia says:

    She has worn me down so much, I have mean thoughts still. Like, is she blaming her breakup on this health issue? Or did they break up because she’s a complete asshole? And talking about how her family had to put up with her bad demeanor when sick (which, don’t get me wrong, that’s what unconditional love is for, when you are too ill to even act decent and your family is still there to help), it makes me think that the family is probably used to her being horrible no matter what.
    So… I’m a bad person? I have compassion for her pain and heartache. But I also think she’s not in a place to share right now. After what she’s done to other women, after she’s worn the public out with her self obsessed, narcissistic personality… does she really have to share every detail and expect an outpouring? Why do I keep thinking this is her way to bypass the pain she caused another woman by disbelieving her assault?

    • Tea says:

      They broke up for “many many reasons that had nothing to do with (her) uterus”-I think she probably means they broke up for other seasons (LORDE) but this period of hardship didn’t help matters. Like maybe they could have survived a little longer? But she also knew at this point they would likely break up so she didn’t bother herself over worrying about their disconnect.

      • helloelaine says:

        Pretty sure it was more than Lorde….Lena is an insufferable narcissist. Though Jack was perfect for her since he seems a bit like that too! It actually seems like he was not into her for a while but didn’t have the balls to break it off.

        I struggle to imagine any man wanting to put up with her 2018 and beyond.

  10. Krill says:

    Why are so many female conditions still a “mystery” to science? I dont get why we still dont have definite answers about what causes COMMON womens disorders like endometriosis and fibroids much less a way to conclusively treat them. Meanwhile science figured out multiple ways to fix weak erections. Hell, we still dont even have a female equivalent of cialis

    • OriginalLala says:

      guys can walk into a clinic and get a prescription for viagra based on self-reporting that their dick doesn’t get hard – meanwhile to get a diagnoses for my PCOS I had to go see several doctors over the course of several months (all while experiences horrible symptoms at 19 years old) and undergo several invasive tests until they took me seriously and figured something was wrong.

    • Jenns says:

      I’m going to take a wild guess and say that if men were having these issues, these medical “mysteries” would be solved.

    • H says:

      It doesn’t matter if your doctor is a woman or man. My gynecologist was a woman and I moaned for 2 years about my fibroids while they grew from the size of an orange to the size of a grapefruit. 15 years ago I had a myomectomy to remove fibroids, but they grew back so there was prior history that I grow those things.

      Only after the fibroids grew so large and were damaging my kidney and uterer did the doctors elect to do a hysterectomy. They kept asking me: surely you might want to have a baby and they kept pushing the surgery off. I was like WTF, are you kidding me? I’m too old (48 at the time, Halle Berry I’m not), and if I wanted a kid I would have had one years ago. Yank that thing out!

      Generally it’s just doctors who don’t take women’s health seriously. So while I don’t like Lena, I feel for the struggle with her medical issues.

      • Asiyah says:

        “Generally it’s just doctors who don’t take women’s health seriously.”

        Yup. Female doctors aren’t any better. Many of them are just as dismissive of us as male doctors.

  11. Juliaoc says:

    A few years ago, my SIL had a hysterectomy to stop the pain of endometriosis, too. She was almost 40 and had had two children (no plans for more) and even *she* had to fight to have it done. There are so many doctors that just don’t take women seriously when we try to be proactive about our reproductive health.

    [And yeah, while I do feel bad that Lena went through this and I applaud her decision, I still think she's an a-hole.]

  12. Bridget says:

    I can’t be the only one that found it very poorly written, right?

    • ParlerBleu says:

      Agree! Horribly written, @Bridget. Many of her sentences don’t make sense, such as the part about adoption being a “thrilling truth”. What does that even mean?

      That being said, I empathize with her struggles with endometriosis and trying to convince the medical establishment to take her pain and her intuition about her own body seriously. From the comments over the last few days, the many articles I’ve read on the subject, and my own experience having to be my own health advocate, my cup floweth over with empathy and rage for all of the women who are still not believed.

      That being said, Lena is a truly vile, horrid, personality disordered mess of a human being who STILL hasn’t apologized to Aurora Perrineau for not believing HER, simply because it didn’t benefit her to do so.

  13. Valiantly Varnished says:

    Because I am an empathetic human being and a woman I can have empathy for what Lena has gone through. And I can have that empathy while still thinking she is a s*itty human being. Those two feelings are not mutually exclusive.

  14. Your Mom says:

    Chinatown Chanel? Could she not have just said fake street purse? This woman is an abomination.

    • Frida_K says:

      Thank you. I was scrolling down and hoping someone would comment on this. Though I am Latina, I practice traditional Chinese medicine and am hypersensitive to slights against Chinese people and culture. It feels like not just a slap in the face to my teachers, whom I love and respect, but also a slap in my face to read a term like “Chinatown Chanel” from this oblivious, narcissistic gringa.

      She needs to apologize for this latest piece of lazy, white-female-privileged casual racism but you know she won’t.

      • ParlerBleu says:

        @Frida_K Agreed. She can’t help but exoticize and ‘other’ everyone who isn’t white in everything she writes. It is one of the most annoying things about her writing style, aside from the run-on sentences that often lack clear subjects and verbs, and poor diction.

        Her insensitivity to Chinese people and culture is especially upsetting in this context, given that many women who have suffered from endometriosis have found relief through Chinese medicine after the American medical establishment denied or minimized their pain for years.

    • Elaine says:

      Lol, Maybe Lena freelances for the NYC tourist board ;-) I mean how else are you going to know where to go to get a good knock-off purse?

  15. Harryg says:

    But of course.
    Magazine editors please hire some new people to write essays for you.

  16. Udi says:

    I am absolutely disgusted by some of the commenters over here. Really people??? This woman has gone through so much shit and is bringing awareness to reproductive issues millions of women face. And you have to choose this exact moment to villify her because it all to you seems like a ploy to garner sympathy. She needs to scream it because these are issues that need to be talked about. She is a shitty human being but now she needs empathy.

    • marly90 says:

      where was the empathy when she called a rape victim a liar?

      we see you, Udi. you’re just as bad as her.

  17. DesertReal says:

    Meh.
    I’m sorry she’s been through so much physical pain through the years.
    But the timing of the essay seems to suspiciously coincide with her popularity/public approval being at an all time low… so I’m skeptical. Narcissists generally relish whenever something is going on in their lives that brings the spotlight back to them and…I’m just so over her and her ways.
    Granted it’s a discussion that needs to happen – I’m not denying that. I’m just irritated that it’s her being a “voice” of a certain topic.
    Yet again.

  18. Neens says:

    She even manages to remain insufferable when writing about painful topics. I don’t know who told her she has the face of a19-year-old but they were lying.

  19. marly90 says:

    still not a single apology to aurora, just a statement released after calling her a liar only saying ‘whoops, shouldn’t have talked!’

    now she’s on a sympathy tour.

    people who stan her should be ashamed of themselves.

  20. Jayna says:

    That was really sad reading her account of all she went through.

  21. Caty Page says:

    If the woman who married my assailant experienced this, I would still feel empathetic about her experiences. Society judges women harshly enough without my aid. Silencing women when they have valuable experience to share doesn’t make sense.

    Has she said and done some problematic things? Sure. But she’s also one of very few voices openly discussing an important issue. The nuance here isn’t difficult to parse.

    • helloelaine says:

      LOL @ you minimizing her previous action as just a ‘problematic thing’

      The woman who married your assailant? Well of course….she isn’t responsible for his actions. So why would you NOT have empathy for her?

      This is a human being who has yet to apologize to ANOTHER WOMAN for calling her a liar about her rape, but you think it’s unfair to raise an eyebrow at her for this? Nobody is raising an eyebrow at this horrific experience. What we ARE eyerolling is the hypocrisy.

      ‘The nuance here isn’t difficult to parse’ – are you kidding me?

      You talk about how we should feel for her because she’s speaking out about an issue that affects many women. Guess what other issue she spoke out about, that was completely AGAINST another relevant, important women’s issue. One that she claims to champion. “women lie about what they had for lunch, not being raped” – we are absolutely Sick of her defenders, even one’s with comments like yours. WoC look at women like you and we know EXACTLY why she will still stay famous and successful. You take stuff like this, and the reaction minimizes the hurt she’s caused with regards to JUST AS IMPORTANT OTHER ISSUE. You see the hypocrisy?

      The nuance is lost on you, my dear. You can’t applaud her for this but then ignore the blatant slap in the face of women who suffer from sexual assault as just another ‘problematic’ thing she has done. Demeaning, disgusting – and you have the gall to think it’s somehow a ‘nuance’ lost on those who struggle to see her as a sympathetic figure. Wow, I have to step away from the laptop, because women like you (and a few others on here…) make me remember why she will Always get a pass. Thanks for that, Caty. What a waste.

  22. minxx says:

    I had everything, including the ovaries, taken out due to stage IV endo. I’ve been struggling with it for years, constantly in pain and despite all the horrible symptoms post surgery (I had instant menopause), I’m glad I had it done. I’m finally pain-free and I know I’m not getting more scar tissue inside my abdomen, bladder and intestines. I WISH someone did more research on endo since it’s such a common illness, so crippling for many, often young women, and yet nobody knows what causes it and how to prevent it.

  23. Debutante says:

    Something about her annoys the shit out of me.
    I feel she’s a chronic liar.

  24. Caty Page says:

    HelloElaine, you should consider the way you approach discussions. I’m open to differing opinions, but belittling me is an unlikely way to change my mind. I didn’t think I was being condescending, but I apologize if it came across that way.

    The situations are incredibly comparable- marrying my assailant means to either deny my experience or accept it as okay.

    Also, I’m a WoC. I’ve posted on here before discussing it. Turns out that, just like white people, we’re allowed to have a variety of opinions rather than be viewed as a monolith.

    Either way, I won’t be responding to your future postings. Wishing you the best with your rather intense emotions surrounding the issue. I don’t mean that sarcastically, this sounds like it hit a nerve for you and women need to respect each other’s emotional reactions to polarizing issues.

  25. Caty Page says:

    For the record, someone can be right on one issue and very wrong on others. Acknowledging that isn’t ‘giving someone a pass,’ it’s recognizing that these issues are complex andwe have equally complex reactions.

  26. FF says:

    It may be sad but why not donate to the cause to highlight the issue. Knowing her track record it does look like a sympathy trawl.

    Disgusting when she can’t apologise to to Aurora Perrineau – which I’m sure is shorter than that essay – and adds casual racism to said essay.

    People can sympathize but expect and demand far better from her: she is a tiresome narcissist. And I could bet if it was Trump talking about passing a kidney stone no one would give a crap for the very same reasons plenty of commentors here are stating about Dunham. Stop giving her nonsense a pass, she’s not doing it to highlight an issue that isn’t herself.

    Her pain is sad but tbh there are plenty of women without her means (or terrible attitude and racism) with the same issues – and worse – that I’d rather empathise with first over “forever learning not to be offensive” Dunham.