“He is best thing that’s ever happened to me, he's the light in my life, and he’s meant to be here. Yet it's one of the hardest things that I've ever done, and I don't know how to get through each day.”
Actress Amanda Fuller, known for her roles on Orange Is The New Black and Last Man Standing, shares her incredible journey to motherhood with RAISE. From her struggle with endometriosis to her cancer scare and surprise pregnancy, she offers encouragement to others who are facing chronic illness, infertility, and the exhaustion of new motherhood.
On Infertility and Endometriosis
I have endometriosis and suspected adenomyosis, but it went undiagnosed most of my life. Endo runs on a spectrum, and in my case, I would be bed ridden and unable be able to move my body for days at a time. It was debilitating. I couldn’t eat, I would get insanely bloated. I had chronic bowel issues and gained 50 pounds in one year without changing my diet or exercise. My mom always suspected I had it, but growing up, it wasn’t on the forefront of discussions like it is now. Thank God it’s finally gaining attention in the public eye.
You can’t be diagnosed with endo unless you have surgery, but you can have a vaginal ultrasound, and if doctors see enough evidence, they can make a pretty accurate prediction of whether or not you have it. I saw a specialist in New York who did an ultrasound and said, “I’m 99.9% sure you have a severe case of endometriosis.” He also found cysts in my ovaries and fibroids in my uterus — the gamut.
My husband and I asked, “What does that mean for fertility? Does that mean we can’t have babies?” He said, “It’s possible someday, if you clear out the endo enough, that you’ll be able to have a child. But as of now, that is not a possibility.” Even prior to the diagnosis, I had been told that my hormone levels were at such a point that there would be no way I could get pregnant. My body was basically premenopausal even though I was only 32.
It was oddly exciting to finally have a diagnosis and something to pursue treating, but at the time I was working on Orange Is The New Black, so it wasn’t a good time for me to have the surgery.
A year later, I was back in LA working on Last Man, and things were getting worse. In my head, I was wondering, “Is this is getting worse because now I know what it could be?” I’m a tough girl, and I’ve never taken off of work because of my health issues. I’m a workaholic, I love it, and I will work through anything, so it didn’t make sense that I was like being a wimp about it. I saw a specialist in LA who did another ultrasound, and she agreed that I had endo, as well as adenomyosis. She told me I should have surgery as soon as possible.
So that was the plan – when the season ended, I was going to have surgery. But simultaneously, I started to get new symptoms.
On Her Cancer Scare And Surprise Pregnancy
I was extremely nauseous. I couldn’t eat anything. They did more hormone tests, and the results pointed to potential ovarian cancer. So I went to NY and had an MRI to look for cancer, and that’s when we discovered my son. At first, they didn’t know if it was a viable pregnancy. More tests were needed to see if there was a heartbeat, so we spent a good day or two trying not to embrace it as truth. But we knew that regardless of how it turned out, it was a miracle. Now we knew we could get pregnant. We tried to hold on to that to get us through. It turned out our son was seven weeks along and had a strong heartbeat.
On Embracing Her True Feelings Toward Pregnancy & Motherhood
I always knew that I wanted to be a mother. I didn’t know when that was going to be or what it was going to look like, but I knew we weren’t ready yet. We were going to get my body healthy and do the surgery and then decide when to get pregnant. I was hard for me to be where I was at with the news. To not feel more excited about it. My whole pregnancy was kind of a struggle over that. I was over the moon to have this little miracle baby, and he was hitting all the marks and growing perfectly and had such a strong heartbeat, but at the same time it was like, “We are having a child and we are not ready for that.” And I felt guilty because I knew how many women are struggling to have a baby and can’t.
I think it’s an important message to say, “It’s okay to not feel good about it all.” He is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, he’s the light of my life, and he’s meant to be here. Yet it’s one of the hardest things that I’ve ever done, and I don’t know how to get through each day. Motherhood is not a perfect bubble or the facade that we’ve put out into the world. Your experience can only be as layered as you allow it to be. If you’re in denial of all of the things that you’re feeling, you’re not going to have a truly authentic experience, so I think embracing all of those layers is really important.
On Moms Supporting Moms
The community of motherhood has become so accessible now with social media, and that’s beautiful, but it can be hard because there are so many people to compare yourself to. If you are a person in the public eye or a person with a platform, It’s important to remember to speak without an agenda. Share your experience from a compassionate, heartfelt place. Be understanding and open. Don’t be driven by an agenda.
On Learning To Love Her Body After Chronic Illness
I hated my body for years before this happened. The weight gain was not the hardest part. It was loving my body when I felt like I was at war with it. It’s something that happens but isn’t talked about very often.
My pregnancy was the healthiest I’ve been in over a decade. My body was finally doing what it was supposed to, and it put a pause on everything else that was happening. I actually felt healthy, and for first time, I was able to be in awe of my body and kind of fall in love with it. It was a vessel, creating and growing a body inside of it.
Don’t let doctors make you feel like you can’t have a baby. Our bodies are incredible, and I believe wholeheartedly that if it’s meant to be, if you’re meant to carry a child, you will. And if it’s not your path, then it’s not. Trust your body, and trust in God or the universe or whoever it is you believe in, even if it’s just yourself, to know that it’s going to work out the way it’s meant to work out.
Jessica Butler is the co-founder of Raise, stepmother of two, and adoptive mother of one. Prior to Raise, she was a writer on USA’s "In Plain Sight" and TNT’s "The Last Ship." She and her husband, writer/producer Warren Bell, co-created the Nick at Nite series "Instant Mom," based on her life as a stepmother. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and six-year-old son, Levon.