“It’s just period pain. Go home.” Why don’t we take women’s issues seriously?
One in ten women—that’s how many will be affected by the insidious disease that is endometriosis. So, with an issue so common, why don’t we hear about it?
Jessica Tomkins is twenty years old, and she’s been in constant pain since 2012. Since the birth of her two children—a three-year-old son and a six-month-old daughter—she’s seen eight different doctors; six of whom completely dismissed her pain, despite the fact that it was increasing at an alarming rate.
“Every single time, it was worse and worse and worse and worse.”
“The pain is so intense. I can’t quite put into words how severe it is.”
Ms Tomkins said her first six doctors responded with:
“Oh, take some Panadol and [get] a hot water bottle. It’s just period pain. Go home.”
It wasn’t until her 7th doctor—who also happened to be a woman—that endometriosis was suggested.
Endometriosis is an insidious condition where tissue that normally lines the uterus is found in other parts of the body, most commonly areas such as the pelvis, ovaries, fallopian tubes, cervix, vulva, vagina and bladder. Symptoms of endometriosis include severe pain during ovulation, sexual intercourse and going to the toilet, as well as bowel disturbances and infertility.
While 95% of women will experience period pain in their life, 50% will have pain which is not easily controlled by physical or medical measures—such as a shower, bath, hot water bottle, exercise or medication. The medical director of Endometriosis Australia Jason Abbott said women who are experiencing any of the above should seek a medical opinion.
“Many women put up with severe pain for too long,” he wrote in an article on Endometriosis Australia’s blog.
Seventy-five per cent of women who experience severe pain and 40% of women with fertility issues will have endometriosis. Furthermore, 80% of cases will see the disease progress. And worst of all: there is no cure.
Of course, there are ways to manage endometriosis, including varying forms of pain relief, hormonal therapy—such as the oral contraceptive pill—as well as various surgeries to reduce the symptoms of endometriosis, repair damage, or remove offending areas.
Ms Tomkins has tried various forms of pain relief and hormonal therapy to no anvil, and has often reacted badly to medications. She’s currently on 3 different types of pain medication, though she desperately longs for surgical intervention—in particular, a hysterectomy. While this has no guarantee of improving her pain levels, Ms Tomkins is willing to try anything.
“When it gets extreme, I have two choices: I can be in complete agony, or I can take the pain medication which puts me in mild agony, and sends me to sleep,” she said.
Despite having spoken to four different doctors about her desires, she’s never gotten very far.
“Every time I take it to a doctor, it’s just sort of laughed out the window,” she said.
“It kind of feels like it doesn’t matter so much that you’re a human being or a person. It’s all about your potential for creating more offspring.”
Ms Tomkins said she definitely does not want any more biological children—particularly with the stress pregnancy puts on her body. She said she already can’t reliably meet the needs of her existing children because she can’t predict when the pain will strike.
“Medical professionals are treating me as though my quality of life doesn’t matter, just my ability to create more life,” she said.
Dr Alison Lavender is sympathetic to Ms Tomkins’s plight.
“Most gynaecologists are men, so how could they have any idea what period pain is like?” she said.
“I think the issue is that the gynaecologist is thinking he will be caught out down the track when the woman regrets her decision.”
Dr Lavender has experienced a similar scenario in the past, when a patient of hers in the UK had a hysterectomy for endometriosis in her late 20s. According to Dr Lavender, the woman involved did not regret her decision, and actually lived a far more active and fulfilling life afterwards.
Ms Tomkins said she has not changed her mind at all in the four years she’s been suffering from endometriosis. She will continue to seek out a doctor who will help—someone who places her ability to live a pain-free (or at least less pain than before) where she can ably care for her current children over her ability to potentially reproduce.
Her final words? Speak out, and spread the word. Get a second opinion. Ask questions, and be adamant. Your period is not supposed to be debilitating painful.