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How Hosting an Airbnb Lifted the Darkness of My Endometriosis

When I left the hospital in 2012 after having four surgeries, blood transfusions, stints to my ureters, major bladder damage, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from all of the trauma, and a complete hysterectomy (leaving me unable to have children) — all caused by severe stage 5 endometriosis, I was what I thought at the time completely destroyed for life.

I have had endometriosis for nearly my entire life since I was a pre-teen, and went undiagnosed for over a decade. I experienced two previous surgeries before I entered Lenox Hill on April 6, 2012, through the ER for scheduled surgeries. The expectation of that day was that I would only spend perhaps seven days in the hospital, and walk out ready to live a new life.

When I was rushed into the ER that morning by ambulance, everything was complete mayhem. I was in debilitating pain with my mother and my husband by my side. My surgeons were totally thrown off because I was scheduled for surgery, but here I was being rushed into the ER in indescribable pain.

I remember being in the ER, and being whisked into the surgery prep room, with what felt like people twirling around me in blue scrubs with masks and gloves, all preparing to rush me off to surgery. I vaguely recall my head surgeon standing over me with a clipboard and some paperwork that I would need to sign. The paperwork was some sort of waiver stating the possibility that while they were inside me performing surgery, if need be, there was the possibility that they would have to give me a complete hysterectomy. Our goal was to to excise the endometriosis for what we hoped would be the final time.

I remember looking over at my husband, Ariel, completely drugged on Dilaudid through an IV, and him holding my hand while the surgeon explained that he would do everything he could to save my ovaries, which were already destroyed by the endometriosis, as well as my uterus. I remember Ariel staring into my eyes sadly, and I signed it. They pushed me off into surgery, and my mother and Ariel were saying not to worry, that they would be there when it was over.

When I awoke from surgery, I was feeling completely happy. I remember thinking to myself, “This is it. This will be the final time. Goodbye endometriosis, hello new life.”

Little did I know at that time what life had planned for me. I looked around for Ariel and my mom, and they were not there. That is when I instantly had a horrible feeling, and that happiness I was feeling quickly escaped me, and dread poured over my entire body.

The next three months, in fact the next four years, would feel like a never-ending nightmare. I did, in fact, have a hysterectomy, and severe complications. And as I mentioned earlier, I left the hospital almost three months later, with continued major complications, and having had four surgeries.

The final surgery, they cut me wide open from my chest all the way down to right above my private parts, to repair all the damage that had been done. I had to be stapled shut.

My whole life I had worked as a professional actress, touring in Broadway shows. It was my passion, and what I lived for. Deep down inside however, I always wanted to be a mom. Everyone who met me would always say, “Stephanie, you are going to make an amazing mom someday,” and I knew that I would. But somewhere inside my spirit, it was like I knew it would never happen. I didn’t know why, it was just my intuition I guess. Even though that voice lingered inside me, when I met my husband, I was so excited to finally walk away from performing, to have my chance at motherhood.

Ari and I tried to get pregnant naturally, but I had such severe endometriosis. The two previous surgeries I had to remove it had left so much scar tissues damage, that we just were not having any luck. That is when we decided to try in vitro fertilization. What a mistake that was. At the time we had no knowledge of the fact that all of the drugs would fuel my endometriosis even more, causing it to erupt into a flaming wildfire throughout my body.

We were totally unsuccessful, but not completely without hope.

Thinking back, I believe that Ari and I had both hoped that the scheduled surgery on April 6, 2012 would have had a much different outcome. I believe we both hoped that I would leave the hospital free of endometriosis, and be one of the lucky ones to end up pregnant.

The last four years since have proven themselves to be beyond difficult: From the surgical menopause, and the drugs that I have tried to cope on many levels, from physically with hormone replacement therapy, to mentally with anti-depressants, and my massive amount of marijuana and cannabidiol consumption to help with the pain and to assist me in the detox of many years of taking pain killers such as Vicodin, Oxycontin, hydrocodone, morphine, and Dialudid for the extreme endometriosis pain.

It’s been a roller coaster ride to say the least. The depression that set in from waking up from surgery, and my entire life being completely different from what it was before…  It’s really not until now that I have been able to admit how much I struggled.

Here I was finally endometriosis-free, free of the physical pain that had burdened me for decades, but yet, a new pain set in. The PTSD I experienced was like living a nightmare with my eyes open. The sadness and despair I felt that I could no longer perform on stage, dance, and sing, and the deep dark depression that set in over the reality that I would never know what it was like to experience having a tiny soul of my own that I could nurture and raise. And honestly, I am still working my way through it all.

You can imagine the amount of medical debt we accrued. My health insurance payment alone had been close to $1,000 a month for the last four years, along with Ari’s insurance and the stacks of bills piling up. I was no longer able to perform and make the income that use to sustain my life. Ari had to get a job working at a car lot for us to try to get by.

We couldn’t figure out a way out of the mess. Then we created our business, “Amazing Fairytale Parties.” It, ironically, is a children’s entertainment company that would deem us as the “fairy godparents” to thousands of children across the Pacific Northwest. Amazing Fairytale Parties became wildly successful, but the income was not enough to cover all of the bills. That is when Ari and I decided to try our hand at Airbnb.

Airbnb is when you open your home to guests from around the world so others can have an experience that is more of a local travel experience, compared to staying in a hotel. I lived in hotels for most of my adult life, while traveling as a performer when touring with shows. At first I was really nervous about Airbnb. Ari was very excited, and so not to crush his enthusiasm, I just “played along,” while thinking all of the worst thoughts that could possibly cross your mind.

Strangers in our home? It just didn’t feel good, but we needed a way out of what felt like a deep dark cave of financial stress.

We started by opening up an unused room in our home. I was very insistent about putting up some sort of “wall” that our guests could not cross over so that we could keep a portion of our home as a private space that was just for us, and the guests could have a totally private space for themselves.

Our first guest arrived while we were still installing the sliding doors that would be our privacy wall – and my form of a “security blanket.” I was a nervous wreck, when our guest arrived, while Ari was still running around town with our contractor getting everything prepared. It felt very awkward standing there with our male guest alone. I just didn’t know what to do. Do I ask him to sit down? Do I offer him a drink? A joint? (It is Portland, after all.)

I didn’t want him walking through my home. I just wanted him to head upstairs and go to the room that was so lovingly prepared for him. I had ordered all new sheets, bedding, and towels. I had spent weeks decorating the room to feel like it was a five star hotel, in preparation for the possible guests we would host, never knowing at the time just how many guests that would come to be. We even put a mini fridge, microwave, coffee maker, and hot water kettle, along with a little table and chairs for our guests, into the space.

At that moment with our first guest, all I wanted was for those “security blanket doors” to be up, for Ari to be home, and to lock myself in our guest room, which would be our new space for the next six months.

Our first guest from Airbnb stayed with us for a week. We really didn’t see him after his arrival night. I tipped toed around the house whenever I knew he was upstairs, not so that I wouldn’t disturb him, but so that there would be no chance for conversation.

Remember, I had been holed up for years, deep in the depression of the aftermath of surgery. I had been focusing all of my energy on running our business to make it as successful as we possibly could, given our circumstances, and socializing was not something I had done in a long time. When he departed I felt a sense of relief, but at the same time a sense of anticipation.

Spring had arrived in Portland, and our guest room was booking up quickly. The excitement started to roll in when we realized the financial relief that we were quickly going to achieve.

That is when the shift happened.

Suddenly I found myself waking up and looking forward to every new guest. Suddenly I found myself waking up and looking forward to every new day. I was running to the store to buy donuts, snacks, and water. I was throwing on my gloves after every guest to strip the beds and clean the bathroom and wash the blankets, sheets and towels and all of a sudden, I was feeling alive… More alive then I had felt for the last four years.

I looked forward to every message notification of a new booking, and at the opportunity to send my “welcome message.” I found myself in this state of nurturing. It was like all the love I ever wanted to put into raising a child, I was delivering that love to each of my guests, through every action I took to ensure them the most comfortable stay while traveling, that they had ever had.

The pain started to slowly strip away, the darkness began to lift, and even as it rained in Portland, the sun began to shine again.

Airbnb was giving me the opportunity to love, to nurture, to care for each of my guests in the way that I would have wanted to do for my own children, had I had the opportunity to have them. That love reflected in the notes they wrote us on their departure. That love reflected in the reviews they left for other potential guests to read. That love began to make me feel whole again. That love helped me to begin to truly heal.

The moment I realized that all of this was a reality, was while I was folding a freshly dried blanket for a father and his two little girls arriving to our now Airbnb guest apartment in the basement of our home. It just hit me. I was thinking to myself, I wonder what their story is. Where is their mom? Are they divorced? Did their mom pass away? Is this their first Christmas with just dad? Is this their first Christmas without mom?

And as I placed a jar of cookies, with fresh fruit, water, snacks, and even a bowl of dog food for their traveling puppy, while the Christmas music played to greet them, I knew that I was finally healed.

This blog was originally published on The St. James Experience.

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