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Endometriosis Awareness Month is coming - what will you do?

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Thoughts & musings on midwifery related topics for the February Education Newsletter. 

Ruth King, Midwifery Advisor, Education Unit


A womans menstrual cycle really should be a thing of beauty and celebration, a time of nurturing and being nurtured and celebrating that the body has made the step towards being able to grow a new human.  But far too often it is portrayed as an inconvenience, something that can (and should) be hidden away, and conversation is not encouraged.  A comedian on television the other day hit the nail on the head when she said that women are so discouraged from the topic of periods, that even asking a fellow period experiencer for a pad (when you have forgotten yours and you get your period unexpectedly) is an act of shame and embarrassment (to admit that you have your period...).

Then there are the 1 in 10 women who experience Endometriosis. 

I really didn't know much about Endometriosis until recently, when my younger sister started to openly talk about her experiences of painful, gut wrenching, bed requiring periods (that for her were not regular and most certainly not something to be celebrated).  I now understand that they get all of the emotional and social issues of every other women, but they also get a bucket load of other issues thrown into their period experience.  Essentially the symptoms are (some or all of the following):

  • Fatigue.
  • Pain that stops you on or around  your period.
  • Pain on or around ovulation.
  • Pain during or after sex.
  • Pain with bowel movements.
  • Pain when you urinate.
  • Pain in your pelvic region, lower back or legs.
  • Having trouble holding on when you have a full bladder, or having to go frequently.
  • Heavy bleeding or irregular bleeding

(Endometriosis Australia, 2017)

As well as a high chance that they will attend oodles of doctors appointments, only to be told ''there is nothing wrong with you'', ''it is just your period'', ''there is nothing the doctor can do...''

I understand that the pain is intense, and I have to say I dont wish it upon any woman, but the outcome from endometriosis that got me thinking recently, in relation to our work as midwives, is the potential for infertility.  Having experienced secondary infertility myself I am aware of the stress associated with ''trying'' to get pregnant and that is without the added complications of endometriosis (that some women have been living with since their periods commenced...).  It got me thinking about what the pregnancy experience for a women who has endometriosis might be like. 

Would they be more anxious throughout their pregnancy and so have a higher chance of having postnatal depression?  What type of care might they need that would be different to the woman who fell pregnant as soon as she started trying?  Would they have had to use IVF or some other form of assisted reproduction to get pregnant?  and what about all of those women out there that try, and try and try and never achieve a pregnancy...?  As midwives we work side by side with these women.  If we dont know much about endometriosis then can we really understand their journey and provide them the support that they need?

Thankfully the issue of ''endo'' and the effects on our society has recently been recognised by the Federal Government.  In December 2017 they announced an Endometriosis Action Plan with the aim of "... seeking to improve the treatment, understanding and awareness of endometriosis, which affects around one in ten Australian women...".  Along with the tireless work of Endometriosis associations, "Endo-warriors" (women who have endo who blog about it, talk about it, educated others) and researchers, the time is coming where this once overlooked, swept under the carpet issue will be out there for all to see, hear and learn about.

So with Endometriosis Awareness month coming I thought I would ask you...

What do you know?  and What do you plan on doing?  not just for the month but for yourself and your understanding and for the betterment of all women.  Just think with stats of 1 in 10 it could be you, your sister, your colleague, the women that you care for during pregnancy, or even her newborn baby girl who may one day identify as endometriosis affected...

As usual there are the reflective cycle activities you can do such as identifying your knowledge gap, going out and researching the issue (doing a course, watching a webinar, reading articles, talking with a woman with endometriosis), identifying what changes you might want or be able to make to your practice and then reflecting on what you have learnt...

But there are also a few other things you could do in March that will show your support for these women and the research that is being undertaken.  You could:

  • Wear Yellow for the Month and share your images on social media with #MarchIntoYellow and then Start a conversation about why you chose to wear yellow...
  • Attend a high tea (they are being hosted all around Australia)
  • Read a blog by a woman with endometriosis.  Im giving you the link here to my sisters as this is who got me thinking...Finding Fortitude, by Genevieve Byrt.  If you want a different one, just so a search (and then share)
  • Read and share articles about endometriosis with your family, colleagues or by social media.  
  • Consider sending us your story for us to share in the month of March via our social media channels in the month of March.  We would need your words and an image sent to education@midwives.org.au

 

Remember everything that you do, that has an element of learning, is about your continuing professional development so can be tracked in your professional portfolio.  I hope that you too will discover that there is more to learn, and that what you uncover will guide your practice for the betterment of women.  Happy enquiring!