Labeling endometriosis as an invisible disease has always made me uncomfortable. I agree that a patient’s suffering may not be evident to the naked eye, but it’s very real. To me, invisibility mostly means that endometriosis is systematically ignored. It’s under-researched and plagued by unfounded theories thrown around way too freely. It’s bad enough when a friend or relative quips, “Hey, I heard it’s caused by …,” or, “Have you tried X, Y, and Z?” It becomes truly frustrating when actual health professionals pose some of these dubious theories to a patient.
Dionne McFarlane’s doctors in Edinburgh told her not only that her endometriosis was all in her head, but they also added that if she got pregnant, “a baby would take the pain away.”
The idea that pregnancy is a cure for endometriosis is completely false.
Yet, it feels like no matter how many times we say this, the myth doesn’t go away. Pregnancy merely puts symptoms on hold.
This is how it works: During pregnancy, there is no menstruation. This certainly backs the claim that pregnancy would reduce discomfort. Yet, in the same way, pregnancy could worsen pain due to the extra pressure put on pelvic nerves as well as other physical changes. Regardless, once a woman’s periods resume, the likelihood is that symptoms will return. Furthermore, there is no evidence that the endometrial lesions and adhesions she had before her pregnancy will have disappeared. Once you get pregnant, you don’t get periods, and for some women, periods don’t come back until they stop breastfeeding.
Then there’s the small detail that endometriosis is a chronic disease. You may live symptom-free, but it is still happening in your body and could cause issues. By stating that a baby can cure endometriosis, some doctors choose to perpetuate a dangerous myth.
Babies are not a form of medication.
A baby is a human being, flesh and blood, with their own personality and needs. Producing a child is a huge, life-changing event, and for the most part, a lot of work. When symptoms return, there will be a baby, plus endometriosis. Living with a disease that gives you chronic pain, extreme fatigue, severe bleeding, and a world of unpleasant symptoms while raising a child is no one’s choice of fun.
Additionally, endometriosis affects teenagers. McFarlane is 21, but I wonder whether her doctors would be equally comfortable telling a 15-year-old to “go get pregnant.”
The final kick in the ovaries? Telling endometriosis patients that they should have a baby pressures them to do what maybe impossible.
Unsurprisingly, I was once told by a doctor that I should just get pregnant. I am still surprised by how calm I appeared, when on the inside, I was furious. Politely, I argued each of my points and explained how the disease worked. He swiftly gave up and changed the subject.
This illness is traumatizing enough on its own. Having to argue with doctors about myths they perpetuate is soul-destroying. Any doctor promoting pregnancy as a cure should question their choice of career. It really isn’t that hard to educate oneself on a disease that affects one in ten of us. That’s millions of women worldwide.
Perpetuating this myth is irresponsible, terribly unprofessional, and dangerous.
It’s no wonder endometriosis patients and their allies are forced to do their own research and become the sort of patients that doctors hate: argumentative and perhaps overly informed. We really shouldn’t spend so much energy arguing with the professionals we are supposed to trust.