Ashley Martin-Longstaff was a senior in high school when she started seeing the guy she would later seriously regret dating. Their relationship was a constant roller coaster, and shortly after she turned 18, she found out that he'd had an "indiscretion"— what really happened is still up for debate.
They broke up, but she gave him another chance soon after. Two months went by and everything seemed fine. She got a pap smear, which came back normal.
But then one afternoon at home, a swift, sudden ache exploded in her pelvis.
"Within 10 minutes, it had grown to very severe pain," recalls Ashley, who lives in Calgary. "I was so nauseous I ran to the bathroom and called the doctor."
A nurse told her to go to the hospital immediately, but Ashley was in too much pain to move. She lay on the bathroom floor until her mom got home from work and drove her to the ER, screaming. She passed out from the pain as soon as they arrived. A morphine IV drip "barely helped" numb the agony.
The attending physician did an ultrasound and took X-rays and concluded she just had a bad kidney infection. He sent her home with antibiotics and told her to return in the morning. But she doubted the diagnosis from the start.
"I had had a kidney infection and this was way worse than that," she says. "Worse than anything I'd felt in my life."
She still couldn't walk, so her mom and her sister helped her in a wheelchair get back into the car and go home. She eventually fell asleep, despite the pain.
When she returned to the hospital the next morning, a new doctor was waiting to examine her. He did a physical examination and told her he didn't think it was a kidney infection after all.
Instead, he started to question her about her sexual history: Did she have multiple sexual partners?
"No," she said. "Just one boyfriend."
"You have pelvic inflammatory disease," the doctor told her. "Which is nearly impossible to get without having a current or untreated STD."
Pelvic Inflammatory Disease, or PID, is a serious infection of a woman's reproductive organs. It can be caused by using an IUD or douching, but is most often a complication of contracting an STD like chlamydia or gonorrhea.
There's no clinical test for the disease; rather, it's diagnosed on the basis of clinical signs, medical history, and a physical. Besides pain, a sufferer may come down with a fever, unusual discharge or a bad vaginal odor, bleeding, and a burning sensation when peeing.
In Ashley's case, her symptoms were so severe that the doctor who properly diagnosed her told her she "was lucky she didn't die from it."
Ashley was dumbstruck — her boyfriend had told her he'd kissed another girl, not slept with her. But now it seemed obvious to her that he'd not only cheated but lied. Especially since guys can be carriers of STDs and not show any symptoms.
She believes she initially contracted an STD, but that antibiotics she was given when she was diagnosed with a kidney infection earlier had cleared it up and left only the resulting PID.
"There's no way I could have gotten it without him having done that," Ashley says. "He almost killed me by not telling me the truth."
PID is treatable with antibiotics if diagnosed early, but the treatment "won't undo the damage that has already happened to your reproductive system," according to the CDC.
In Ashley's case, the damage was irreversible: scarring in her fallopian tubes, cramping and irregular periods, and long-term abdominal pain. Most devastatingly, she was also told she'd never be able to get pregnant.
The year after her diagnosis, Ashley met the man who would become her husband. Their relationship progressed and they got engaged.
"But it became increasingly hard to deal with fact we could never have kids because I was infertile because of this other guy," she admits.
Nevertheless they got married, and — shockingly — when she was 21, she found out she was pregnant. They were overjoyed, only to have Ashley miscarry at six weeks along, a complication of her scarring.
The disappointment was tremendous. And to top it off, she and her husband ended up contracting salmonella soon afterwards. For three to four months, they were sick to their stomachs, and then Ashley noticed something strange: her husband was getting better, but she was not. She was still nauseous all the time.
When she went to the doctor, she found out she was pregnant — again. Eight weeks along. Thrilled and nervous, she was afraid to hope it would work out. The odds were stacked against her: She had a 13 percent chance of carrying the baby to term.
The pregnancy proceeded with a great deal of pain. "Every time I grew a little bit bigger, the scars would rip away from my skin," she remembers. At only 4-foot-11 and 105 pounds, her body didn't have much room to stretch.
Because of her condition, her ob-gyn did not want her to go into labor, so they planned a C-section, but her water broke four days in advance. The C-section was stressful, but successful, and baby girl aiden was born healthy.
Today, Ashley's little girl is 2.5 years old, "incredibly energetic, super smart, and kind."
Ashley hopes other women will take away two insights from her story: that they should always wear condoms to prevent STDs, and that they not give up even if they don't think they can achieve their goals.
"I completely gave up hope of having a kid, but with the right person it happened," she says. "Sometimes it works out even better."