SINCE Emma Watkins opened up about living with endometriosis on Australian Story in 2018, more Australian women have shared about their painful existence with the disease. Last month, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report showing one in nine women in Australia is diagnosed with endometriosis by the time they turn 40. Sally Hood, a mother of one and member of the Plenary Council Executive Council, shares what it’s like as a Catholic woman living with endometriosis, and that there is hope.
Warning: This story contains graphic images
FOR 12 years my body ran the cruellest marathon of crippling pain and inflammation every month.
At my worst, I wasn’t able to walk and consistently missed days of school or work.
At my best, I’d consume most of a packet of pain relief to just take the edge off.
“It’s just a bit of normal period pain,” I was told.
I’m sure for many women this sounds all too familiar.
Twelve years after my first period I was diagnosed with stage four endometriosis, the most severe stage.
As the disease had started to intrude on various organs within my pelvis, I was told that surgery was required immediately.
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis is a common disease in which tissue that is similar to the lining of the womb grows outside it in other parts of the body.
It affects 10 per cent of Australian women and receives a pitiful amount of government funding for research and medical support.
Growing up, my parents tried everything to help address my crippling, chronic pain.
I saw my GP multiple times and when I was offered no other alternative than hormonal birth control, I tried a number of complementary therapies.
My mum and sister both suffered from severe period pain and there came a point when the amount of menstrual pain we were experiencing had just become normalised.
This perpetuated thought pattern is an incredibly damaging and dangerous element surrounding gynaecological diseases like “endo”.
The thought that, “It’s just period pain, it’s normal, deal with it” holds so many women back from seeking answers to their pain sooner.
The average time for diagnosis in Australia is now seven years, but this needs to decrease.
Finding hope for the pain
Fast forward 12 years – as a Catholic young adult I was chatting with a friend who was a trained practitioner in the Creighton Model FertilityCare System – a type of cervical mucus-based natural family planning and fertility-based awareness method.
I was on day three of a very painful period and mentioned this to her as I casually threw back two Naprogesic and two Nurofen, like that was the most normal thing to be doing.
She looked on in horror and then lovingly mentioned that periods should not be that painful – that it was not normal.
I was mind-blown.
How was this not normal?
Being totally debilitated on a regular basis had become my new normal.
How can natural family planning help?
I started charting my cervical mucus observations through the Creighton FertilityCare Method and my charts soon started to speak for themselves.
There were some clear biomarkers that were indicating that something was not right in my body.
I was referred to a GP who had trained as a NaPro Medical Consultant.
According to its website, “NaProTECHNOLOGY (Natural Procreative Technology) is a new women’s health science that monitors and maintains a woman’s reproductive and gynaecological health. It provides medical and surgical treatments that cooperate completely with the reproductive system”
NaPro Technology was developed by Dr Thomas Hilgers, the founder of the Pope Paul VI Institute in Nebraska.
The Pope Paul VI Institute supports, promotes and teaches the Church’s beautiful teachings around natural family planning.
Their approach to fertility is one of restorative practice, as opposed to that of artificial reproductive technologies such as IVF, which often solely seek a pregnancy-based outcome rather than investigating and treating the woman’s underlying health conditions that are affecting her fertility.
Under the guidance of my new GP and NaPro Medical Consultant, Dr Alison Bignell, I was referred to a local leading endometriosis excision specialist Dr Michael Wynn-Williams.
While unfortunately he was not trained in NaPro Technology, his assisting fellow on my surgery, Dr Luke McLindon, was.
Light at the end of the tunnel
Endometriosis Australia are a fantastic resource for education around best-practice.
Through their online educational resources, I was able to understand the importance of obtaining the gold standard of endometriosis surgery – laparoscopic excision surgery.
I was incredibly blessed to have been operated on by one of Australia’s leading surgeons in this field.
This did come at a very high price, but to date it is still the best investment I have made in my physical health.
However, we were disenchanted with the lack of coverage our top-level private health insurance provided.
The Australian Government needs to do more in this area – they are taking steps in the right direction through additional funding, but endometriosis still remains one of the lowest funded chronic health conditions that impact a considerable number of Australians.
Restored to better health
My experience with Creighton FertilityCare and NaPro Technology has been life changing.
God has worked so powerfully through the minds and hands of those who have developed these incredible medical systems and has used them for powerful healing.
My follow-up care with Dr Bignell further promoted the restorative focus of NaPro Technology.
While surgery resulted in an incredible reduction in my symptoms there were still a plethora of painful chronic symptoms I was living with.
Through her guidance and encouragement to try a number of natural alternative therapies to support my body’s recovery, I finally had my first pain-free cycle 12 months post-operatively. We were blessed to have been able to easily conceive our first child 18 months post-operatively.
I will always live with endometriosis and its resulting symptoms such as fatigue, anxiety, chronic inflammation and digestive unease.
Yet these pale in insignificance next to the pain I used to experience.
I pray that more women will be able to explore their health in a restorative manner through NaPro Technology and the Creighton FertilityCare system.
Sally Hood lives with her husband David and their young son, Ananias. She holds a Master of Theology and is a presenter for Real Talk Australia.