Excerpt from The Doctor Will See You Now: Recognizing and Treating Endometriosis
One of my patients, Beth, was eleven years old when she had her first period, and it was an extremely painful one. “I was at school when it happened, and I came home crying because I had never experienced pain like that in my life,” she said. “Every month from then on I experienced excruciating pain for three or four days. I grew up on a military base, so I went to the hospital there and they said, ‘You’re a female; this is normal.’ It continued to be really bad for about the next five years. When I turned sixteen and would have my periods, I would curl up in a ball and sometimes pass out. They started me on birth control, but that didn’t do anything. Neither did ibuprofen. When I went to college, I just assumed that I would have to shut down during my period. I would have to plan my life around those three to five days every month.”
Her first sexual experience was with her college boyfriend when she was nineteen. “It was horrible,” she said. “I just thought maybe I didn’t like it because it hurt. It was not as painful as my menstrual cramps, but it was very uncomfortable. It didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel normal. I also started to notice that my checkups with my OB/GYN were incredibly painful. The doctor would just say, ‘What’s wrong? Relax. This shouldn’t hurt.’ It made me very scared to go to the doctor each year.”
Beth, now thirty-two, is married. She and her husband dated for six years before they were engaged, so they’d been together for a while before I diagnosed her with endometriosis and did surgery on her in 2012. The endometriosis impacted their sex life during the years before surgery. Her husband knew intercourse caused her pain. She said sometimes they would go for a couple of months without being intimate. “It wasn’t easy, that’s for sure,” Beth said. But their deep emotional love for one another helped them both get through their struggles.
“I loved him so much that I wanted to be close to him physically. I wanted that for us more than I cared about my own comfort,” Beth said. “At the same time, he was very respectful and careful with me. He knew it was a physical issue, and he was very understanding. If sex had been the most important thing to him, then our relationship wouldn’t have made it. That intimacy is important in a relationship, so it was frustrating when it couldn’t happen as often as we wanted, but we are so interested in each other mentally. It’s not easy, but you can definitely overcome it when the love is there.”