Even though today is the last day of March, it is still Endometriosis Awareness Month worldwide until the clock strikes midnight. And though today may be the end of a month dedicated to spreading awareness of this under-publicised condition, it is never the end for the 6-10% of the female population – 1 in 10 women – who endure a monthly (and some a daily) battle to lessen the symptoms and pain. Women endure this condition because seeking treatment proves difficult. And the reason we know this is because of the many stories we hear from our sisters, our friends and even public figures about how they have had to endure, rather than treat, the symptoms. And then there are the studies that affirm this.
Research last year revealed that a significant proportion of women prioritise family and work over visiting a doctor. Is it because we don’t take women’s pain seriously enough? Well, in short, yes. And far from being a broad statement, we have figures to back it up. Thirty-six percent of women reported that they didn’t feel “heard” when discussing a problem with a doctor. Maybe you’ve even heard your condition condescendingly referred to as “women’s problems.”
Another study, this time a 51-page report on women’s health by MPs in the UK, indicates thousands of women suffering from endometriosis or fibroids feel the same way – dismissed, ignored and unable to access information and specialised treatment.
Endometriosis sees cells like the ones in the uterus growing elsewhere in the body, causing inflammation, pain and scar tissue. Symptoms include heavy and painful periods, painful sex, exhaustion and stomach and back pain. The condition can lead to associated mental health problems, such as depression, and fertility issues.
If you think that’s bad, the numbers just keep getting worse: 40% of women said they had seen a doctor ten times before being referred to a gynaecologist and 67% said they obtained most of their information on the subject from the internet. What’s more, the findings from the All Party Parliamentary Group on Women’s Health revealed a lack of awareness around what is considered ‘normal’ menstruation and what indicates a more serious issue. Of the 2,600 women interviewed, many reported similar experiences when it came to having their symptoms taken seriously – 42% said they did not feel they had been treated with “dignity and respect” by doctors.
Why is it that we still feel this embarrassment about bleeding vaginas?
It’s this clear tendency from some in the medical community to brush aside serious medical and health issues with that dismissive catch-all of “women’s problems” that causes women to suffer in silence or refrain from ever visiting a gynaecologist. Because these “problems” mean some women are going around, trying to cope with day-to-day life – rearing families, working, generally being wonder women – in serious pain. Not just a “normal” period paid. Chronic, debilitating, life-altering pain.
We understand Endometriosis, yet it remains severely undiagnosed, with some dealing with the condition for years silently until their bodies force them to get help. And it’s these bodies and vaginas and bleeding that is a topic of embarrassment, of shame for many women and men. It’s spoken about in hushed tones, or with a shrug: “It’s just the way your body is supposed to be.” This is what I was told after almost 18 months with chronic pain that had me bed-ridden and depressed for far longer than I care to remember. But I doubt anyone’s body is “supposed” to make you feel such pain you can think of nothing else.
MUST READ: A New Reality: Living With Endometriosis
Writing in Quartz, journalist Olivia Goldhill described her harrowing ordeal with period pain and indeed, endometriosis, and said that to be taken seriously, we need to talk about it more. The fact that we’re in pain. The fact that it doesn’t feel anywhere near “normal.” She’s right. We need to talk our friends, partners, colleagues as well as our doctors.
Women might always have to deal with periods, but we should never have to “deal with” pain. If one doctor doesn’t help, try another. Keep trying until you have the help you deserve. Period pain isn’t – and shouldn’t be – a fact of life. So find the professional who really sits up and pays attention when you say that your daily life has forever changed because of it.
The Endometriosis Association of Ireland offers support and information to women in Ireland who are affected by endometriosis. Learn more about them here.