Women’s health: let’s talk more about our monthly period and endometriosis! – part 1

Women’s health: let’s talk more about our monthly period and endometriosis! – part 1

Women’s health matters are often topical due to vested interests all vying for women’s attention, yet rarely if ever is there honest, holistic examination of subjects where equal weight and consideration is given to all aspects of a person’s life. One area that stands out in particular is the contentious relationship many women have with their reproductive system and especially in regard to the menstrual cycle. Women’s periods have many connotations attached to them depending on where a person lives, how they have been raised and their experience of physical symptoms each time their period arrives.

In the Western world, our monthly period is often seen at best as an ‘inconvenience’ and at worst as a ‘curse’, especially if the woman experiences period problems. Periods are commonly viewed as something that women have to endure until they get to menopause. Sometimes there is even resentment that women in their childbearing years have to ‘put up with’ them, whereas men don’t have the equivalent experience and can seemingly sail on with their lives untouched by such ‘afflictions’.

Women’s relationship with the menstrual cycle has been even more strained due to the high prevalence of persistent pelvic pain (PPP) impacting on 15 – 26% of women.[1] Under the PPP umbrella is a condition called ‘endometriosis’ which is estimated to affect 176 million women worldwide.[2] It’s a condition that is poorly understood with the causes unclear and treatment outcomes variable.[3]

Endometriosis is caused when ‘cells similar to those that line a woman’s uterus grow in other parts of her body, usually around the pelvis, and less commonly in tissues and organs outside the pelvic cavity’.[3] Each time the woman has a monthly period, ‘… the tissue swells, sheds and bleeds. However, since it has no pathway out of the body, it creates inflammation that can also lead to scarring. If ignored, the pain can become constant’. Signs of endometriosis can vary considerably but commonly include:

  • ‘Painful cramps or localized pain in the pelvis
  • Heavy bleeding
  • Difficulty going to the bathroom (pain with bowel movements, blood in urine or stools during menstrual cycle)
  • Low back pain
  • Pain during sex'[4]

The impact on a woman’s quality of life due to endometriosis is undeniable and it would not be an exaggeration to say every area of the woman’s life is affected. The state of the woman’s social, emotional, psychological, physical and financial health and wellbeing are all caught up in a co-dependency with the timing of the menstrual cycle. Adding to the pain (pun intended) is the reality that one in three women with endometriosis have also been found to experience infertility.[5]

While women’s health matters are generally more openly talked about these days, period problems and PPP are nonetheless still considered to be individual problems; the woman’s particular ‘lot’ in life. Stigma, religious and cultural taboos remain with regards to talking freely and honestly about periods and gynaecological health even amongst women themselves, let alone with men. Many generations of women have grown up with very limited information about reproductive health and the menstrual cycle. Even today, the often unspoken message is that it’s an uncomfortable subject and that, beyond the basics, each woman has to work it out for themselves as best they can as they go along.

Similar to many women, I developed a distant relationship with my body and viewed my periods as a nuisance. While not having endometriosis as such, my periods were nonetheless often painful for the first few days. I would feel annoyed with the situation while continuing to push on through each day in a cold, hard, functional way that totally overrode the consideration that anything more loving and supportive could be possible. I had ‘things to do’ and as far as I was concerned my body was letting me down. I had little understanding as I went through my childbearing years of the female reproductive system, nor did I see a need to know more and I only showed interest when I wished to conceive and during pregnancy, childbirth and when breastfeeding. What I’ve now come to realise through speaking with other women is that these types of attitudes and behaviours are commonplace.

Apart from personal and societal beliefs and stigmatisation, lack of professional understanding is also a considerable barrier for many women seeking and obtaining help. Endometriosis, for example, is poorly recognised and understood even within the medical profession itself with the average timing between onset to diagnosis being seven to twelve years.[3] Research and medical interventions are providing some treatment options, but the cost of healthcare, absenteeism and lost social and economic participation in Australia alone due to endometriosis is estimated at over 7.7 billion dollars per year.[3] Clearly the tentacles of endometriosis and other reproductive health concerns are far reaching and it’s important to hear not only each woman’s unique story, but to also combine that story with the voices of other women worldwide so that the true state of women’s health is revealed.

In recent years I have learnt more about the female body and am in growing awe of all that is going on inside of us. In a functional sense, the woman’s ovaries, uterus, and vagina all form part of the pelvic area and each part interconnects with the other. Upset one part and the whole doesn’t work as harmoniously as it was designed to and pain can result. But have we ever stopped and wondered about what else is reflected here?

Over time, I’ve come to realise that if we go back to the basics as women and look at our relationship with our bodies and understandings of our monthly period, we are likely to discover valuable clues along the way as to where there is a crossover with the experience of endometriosis and other PPP conditions.

Our reproductive systems are actually very finely attuned to how we are living our lives, but women’s awareness of this fundamental fact is low and rarely acknowledged. Einstein long ago taught us that everything is energy, and following on from this, philosopher Serge Benhayon presents us with the fact that everything is because of energy and therefore has an energetic quality within it. Which type of energy we choose is up to us to decide, but if we are rushing and driving ourselves and not taking time for even basic self-care, it’s little wonder that the body protests at our choices!

Making honouring our precious bodies a natural priority and subsequently sharing our stories is a real game changer as we all benefit in one form or another from a deeper understanding of the holistic and interlinking nature of women’s bodies, their lifestyles and the quality of their health. Taking the time to tune into our bodies and treating them with gentle respect and kindness is not a waste of time. In fact, it’s the opposite as it offers us a way to get to know ourselves inside and out and more easily exposes any overlap between how we undertake daily life and the occurrence of any dis-ease we may experience, including premenstrual symptoms, irregular or heavy bleeding and pain with our monthly periods, endometriosis and/or other PPP conditions.

I have realised that even simple changes count, such as making sure I put a coat on if I start feeling cold or stopping and having a drink of water if I’m thirsty instead of pushing on with my tasks and overriding my bodily needs in favour of whatever schedule I have put myself under. I’ve noticed within myself and through speaking with other women that working on our levels of self-care leads to all sorts of discovery regarding the powerful impact our choices have on our bodies and our state of health and wellbeing.

It’s not a magic fix to all of women’s health woes, but I can say that redefining our relationship with ourselves through our bodies and being open to the endless opportunities presented along the way offers pure gold at every level!

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References:

  • [1]

    Bowler, T., et al., Mater Mother's Hospital: Acute Management of Persistent Pelvic Pain. O&G Magazine, 2019. 21(2).

  • [2]

    Endometriosis Australia. General Information. Endometriosis Research 2018, [cited 2019 07/06/2019]; Available from: https://www.endometriosisaustralia.org/research.

  • [3]

    Department of Health, National Action Plan for Endometriosis, D.o. Health, Editor. 2018, Commonwealth of Australia,: Canberra.

  • [4]

    The Center for Innovative GYN Care. Endometriosis: So Much More Than Period Pain. 2019 [cited 2019 07/06/2019]; Available from: https://wtop.com/center-for-innovative-gyn-care/2019/02/endometriosis-so-much-more-than-period-pain/.

  • [5]

    National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. Infertility FAQs. Reproductive Health 2019 [cited 2019 07/06/2019]; Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/infertility/index.htm.

Filed under

Menstrual cycleMenstrual painEssenceWomen’s healthEndometriosis

  • By Helen Giles, Accredited Mental Health Social Worker, MMH (Family Therapy), Post Grad Cert Family Therapy & Counselling, M. EPA.

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