The birth of my second baby came in with a lot of mixed emotions. Happy as I was to be a mummy second time around, the challenges of handling two little people who both needed my undivided attention, dealing with the healing process and a back that was hurting like it was being paid to ache seemed to overshadow the joyous moments I was expected to be celebrating. When I went in for my first post natal visit (6 weeks after the birth), my blood pressure was at an all-time high. I remember the nurse calling in the doctor to the triage after her efforts to try bring down the reading became futile. The doctor, who is very humorous, tried to engage me in a story that they both thought would calm my nerves – in vain. As far as I was concerned though, I was fine; I was relaxed, in fact, for me the clinic visit was a break from the norm. However the BP machine was revealing something totally different. I had serious high blood pressure. As usual the doctor interrogated me on what was going on in my life – which I assumed was under control, and reassured me that some women get what they call Postpartum Preeclampsia – a rare condition where women suffer high blood pressure after birth. He prescribed some medication to bring it to normalcy and asked that I try taking things easy. After a few weeks, the pressure had gone down considerably and eventually was stabilized.
What is the point of sharing my experience? It would have been very easy for the doctor to classify me as a person with hypertension and condemn me into a lifetime of medication and serious lifestyle change implications. Just because I suffered postpartum high blood pressure did not mean that I was now to live with hypertension. Am sure if not checked, it could have led to more serious consequences, but my point is that this was just a symptom of a condition that affected a few women after birth. And just as this symptom does not necessarily put you in the category of long time hypertension patients, so does painful periods not put you in the category of women with endometriosis and vice versa.
We have learnt over time that endometriosis can be categorised into 4 stages, with the 4th being the worst as far as the extent and complication of the disease is concerned. And yet there are women who are in stage 4 and experience no pain whatsoever. They even are clueless that they suffer from the condition. Whereas painful periods might be one of the symptoms of endometriosis, it is important to note that not all women with endometriosis experience painful menses. Some (me included) have or have had irregular monthly periods and the pain is not in any way related to ovulation or the flow of the menses. In fact, because the pain does not coincide with the menses, these women are tempted to believe that the root cause of their pain could be brought about by something totally different.
Painful periods could be a symptom of many other ailments such as pelvic inflammatory disease or dysmenorrhea or adenomyosis (or any other condition – am not a doctor) – some of which could be treated with antibiotics, hormonal therapy and a bit of lifestyle changes.
However with endometriosis the treatment and management story is a bit longer. Although there are a few cases of women who have received healing or manageable pain relief for a while, endometriosis seems to pause a tougher challenge to the sufferers and the medical fraternity. Are we invalidating women who suffer excruciating pain with their periods and do not have endometriosis? Not at all. However, it is very important to establish the cause behind the pain – and sometimes the good news is that it is not endometriosis. Are we therefore condemning women with endometriosis to eternal damnation? Again, I want to say a resounding NO! Whereas the condition has remained a mystery as far as its cause and treatment are concerned, there is a lot of hope in bringing the pain and other symptoms to manageable scales through diet, positive living and lifestyle changes. Every woman with or without endometriosis should endeavour to understand her body in order enjoy all the seasons of her life.
In our efforts to create awareness on this invisible condition affecting millions of women, let us be careful not to confuse and condemn women with painful periods (and without endometriosis) into the statistics of endo-warriors. In sisterhood (endo-warriors), let us continue to support each other through this gruesome journey and embrace those who fall prey to this debilitating condition. Remember that just because someone is having a prolonged cough doesn’t mean that they have tuberculosis or just because someone has had a stressful period in their time and their heart has been palpitating abnormally that they have a chronic heart condition. Let us all be sensitive in packaging our message in such a way that it is clear what endometriosis is and what it is not.
To all the endo-warriors, I salute you all. To the families and friends that play the supportive role, we are grateful. To those who are suspecting the condition based on their symptoms, we implore you to get a diagnosis early.
To your Health!