What actually is endometriosis?

CN: cis-sexism (see comment at the end of the post), uncomfortable truths about the value we place on women’s bodies, lots of swearing

I was explaining this to a friend on a train on Friday. He looked slightly horrified, and said that he’s never heard of it before. I get this from everyone I talk to, man and woman. For a condition that affects approximately 10% of the female population (and costs the country the same as diabetes), it is a surprisingly under-researched and misunderstood condition. Having said that, I don’t find it surprising at all. Diabetes may affect similar numbers of people, but it also affects men. Endometriosis is a woman’s condition, and as such, no one gives a fuck about it. If you look on the NHS website for endo, the first treatment option they recommend is paracetamol. Fucking paracetamol, for a condition that can severe enough to prevent women working, that can render them bed bound and in constant agony. Fucking paracetamol.

What is endometriosis? I’m only dating a future-doctor, not one myself, so I’ll use non-medical language that will make my med student friends cringe. A woman’s womb is lined with uteral tissue. Every month, according to her menstrual cycle, this tissue grows and sheds. That shedding is your period. After the period, the lining grows again (assuming no baby has been conceived), and the whole process starts again.

My body works like that, but unlike most women, I have “womb tissue” outside of my womb. To be precise, I have excess tissue on my ovarian ligaments, behind my left ovarian fossa, and on my Pouch of Douglas. Other women with endo will have it in other places, and although it can be found anywhere in the body, it’s most common in the abdomen. The problem is that this tissue behaves the same as the tissue in your womb. When it’s in your womb, the growing and shedding has somewhere to go, so to speak: namely, the vagina, when your period starts. For women with endo, our excess tissue has no where to go. It grows and sheds, and then, it’s stuck there. This causes pain and scar tissue build-up, and can – if left to its own devices – cause a woman’s internal organs to fuse together.

This causes pain, as you might expect, but also a whole raft of other issues. It can cause excess menstrual bleeding. It can cause extreme bloating (a future post for you all to look forward to, complete with pictures of my distended endo stomach: nothing if not committed to this blog.) It can cause infertility, as the ovaries and womb fuse. It can cause ectopic pregnancies, as the egg implants in rogue tissue rather than in the womb. It can cause excruciating sexual pain, as a result of the penetration tugging on scar tissue. It can cause fatigue. It carries a higher incidence of cysts, which, if they burst, can be agonising. It can, depending on where the endo grows, cause bladder and bowel problems. It can cause low moods and depression, I think for obvious reasons.

This, of course, varies between women. Some women have very mild symptoms (I count myself among those women.) Some have more extreme pain. One woman I spoke to recently told me how the endo was coating the inside and the outside of her bladder. As a result, she was unable to empty her bladder, and constantly felt like she needed the bathroom. Try and imagine feeling like that, with no relief. Another woman told me about bleeding through her clothes on to her partner’s parents sofa. Another told me of not being able to date: “what man wants a woman he can’t have sex with?”

My symptoms aren’t as bad as some women’s. I have awful bloating, so bad I have been offered a seat on the tube due to looking pregnant. I have frequent and completely random stabbing pains by my left hip, a leftover relic (I believe, although as with most of my endo, no doctor has been able to confirm to me) of my surgery last year and the scar tissue that will have added to my insides. I experience painful sex, of course. I hope that I’m not infertile.

I hope that this has helped to shed some light on this condition. It takes an average of 8 years in the UK to be diagnosed. Some of this is due to doctors not taking women seriously. Some of it is a healthcare system that is buckling, and that has no time for women like me whose symptoms aren’t life threatening. Some of it is down to women themselves not recognising their symptoms, and not knowing that they can get help.

More info on what endometriosis is (from someone who probably does know the scientific words): https://www.endometriosis-uk.org/understanding-endometriosis

Note: I realise that this blog post speaks a lot about women and wombs. I of course recognise that not all women have wombs, and that not all of those with wombs are women. I could have written “people with wombs”, as I often see done on feminist websites, but I have chosen not to in this case. This is because I feel that endometriosis, and the affect it has, has been minimised in our culture precisely because it is mainly a condition that affects women. Having said that, I also recognise that this condition would be horrendous for anyone with a womb, man or woman. 


Living with endometriosis: part one

CN: medical stuff, endometriosis, mention of abuse, mention of surgery

I’ve always found writing very cathartic. I first put pen to paper to write for myself (and it really was pen to paper in those days, I carried a small notebook everywhere I went) when I was 11. I wrote a series of diaries in my teenage years. They are a study of teenage angst, longing for boys who never gave me the time of day, and some truly appalling poetry. As I got older, my hand turned to fiction. I wrote endlessly, hundreds of thousands of words, burying myself in imaginary worlds with dragons and demons, strip clubs and sex, romance and relationships. Some of my work is pretty good; some of it is abysmal. I have it all saved though, and backed up. It’s a reminder of 14 year old Sarah, bullied and scared and depressed, and still finding the strength to go home and be strong and brave and bake and write and laugh and be myself. It reminds me of who I am.

Since my diagnosis with endometriosis in November, I’ve found it hard to cope emotionally. I sat down the other day to write about it, from the very beginning, and I failed miserably. My story has a plot, it has a trajectory. It has tragedy, and humour, and it’s so very real. I think that’s the problem. How do I know what my story is, when I’m still holding out for a happy ending? When there’s no happy ending in sight? It’s too real, it’s too raw. I’m too emotionally invested in the now, the right now, to take myself back to that cold GP office where a kind doctor told me nothing was wrong with me. Was that even the beginning? I could go further back, to the first time my partner and I had sex and it hurt. I could go further back, to my first period, aged 13, blissfully unaware of what it would one day mean. I could go even further, watching a female family member shudder in terror at the thought of what might one day afflict her and thinking – with all the tact of an eight year old – at least that’s not me.

This particular blog series isn’t going to be following my plot, my trajectory, my chronology. It’s going to be what it feels like to live with this condition, thematically, as and when I feel like it’s too much for my body and my mind and myself. As and when I feel the need, as I did all those years ago, to spill my thoughts onto paper and finally, blissfully, force them out of my head.

It’s the most painfully isolating condition you can imagine. Outside of my immediate family, I don’t know anyone who suffers with this. There are happy endings, in my family: the very fact myself and my sister exist is proof of that. There is also pain, infertility, years of “I guess it’s not going to happen for us”, mental health problems and early menopause and even disability, waking in the middle of the night to hear screaming from the next room and knowing that there’s nothing you can do. It’s so isolating because there is such stigma around women’s bodies still. Especially women’s bodies that aren’t lithe, sexy, fuckable. Bodies that are sore, and tired, and swollen, and bleeding.

People find women’s bodies like that awkward, and uncomfortable, and gross. People don’t know what to do with women’s bodies like that. Even friends of mine who have filthy senses of humour look distinctly uncomfortable when I crack a joke about my defective vagina, their eyes sliding to the side, not meeting mine, polite laughter stuttering in the air. It’s distasteful, I should keep it to myself. And so I do, and I can feel myself imploding daily with the effort and sitting there and being in pain and bleeding, and I can’t say a word because nice girls don’t talk about things like that.

I can honestly say I have never felt more alone. One in ten women are estimated to suffer with this, so I know I’m not. It’s just me though, that I know of. Just me. There’s an online support group that I’ve joined. It’s not the same, of course. But it’s close enough. It uplifts me sometimes, seeing these brave and strong women, battling on and pushing for treatment year after agonising year. It enrages me, the way that the medical profession treats us, not believed, turned away, “it’s only period pain.” It scares me sometimes, tales of being unable to work, being unable to leave the house, a slave to the pain that has no cure. Sometimes, it makes me sad, women who are afraid and alone, women being abused by their partners for not having sex, women having hysterectomies in their 20s, women who see no future. It comforts me, which I suppose is why I keep going back. I am not alone, these women are going through the same thing, we’re all together.

It’s a weird one to talk about. People don’t know how to react. Some people ignore it, or ask if I can cure it, or laugh (and I get it, I do, but worrying about being offered a seat on the tube because I have endo belly and look several months pregnant is not a joke to me.) Some people are great. I had lunch with a friend today, and she laughed at the funny bits and didn’t make me feel strange for wanting to talk about it. I need more of that in my life right now.

I’m going to be first support group tomorrow night in central London, which I’m actually rather excited about. I want to meet some of these other amazing women in person. And hopefully I’ll feel less alone.


CN: descriptions of surgery, endometriosis, medical stuff

I lie awake most of the night before. I am irrationally nervous. A few hours earlier, my boyfriend and I had gone through the documents that the hospital had given me. Risk of bleeding. Risk of damage to internal organs. Risk of loss of hearing. Risk of death. They are tiny percentages. They apply to the whole population, and course you are at more risk if you are very young, very old, overweight, unfit, if you smoke. I am, as my boyfriend constantly reassures me, a very low risk case. I will be fine. I still lie awake most of the night, listening to his deep, regular breathing beside me.

Sleep must come, because I am jolted awake by the alarm, 6am. I stumble out of bed and up the stairs. They said to have a shower, so I strip naked and turn on the water. They said to keep warm, but I can’t stop shivering even as the bathroom around me swirls with steam. Loose clothes they said, so I slip into a pair of trackies and a tee-shirt, one of Jack’s baggy jumpers. My stomach rumbles, but they said no food or water so I ignore it. My flatmate hugs me, my boyfriend holds me close, and then I get into the car with my mum and we drive to the hospital. It’s a warm waiting room, and I get out my book, expecting to be there for hours. I’m not; we’re there barely half an hour when a staff member calls me through. I speak to a nurse, run through my date of birth and my address and who’s going to look after me for the next few days. I speak to one of the doctors, as she explains exactly what they’re going to do and asks for my consent. I speak to a kind anaesthetist, who asks me if I have any allergies and makes me laugh as I sign the forms.

Then I am alone, in my thin hospital gown and my ridiculous compression stockings. I have left my book and my mobile phone, stupidly, with my mother in the waiting room. It feels too late now, so I sit in silence and stare at the garish curtains around my bed. I don’t know how much time passes. The friendly anaesthetist is back. She guides me to lie back on the bed, and then she wheels me a few hundred yards into the operating theatre. My glasses are back on the ward, and the room is blurry and indistinct. People in surgical gowns bustle around me, and I have a moment of panic. This is stupid, I don’t need this operation, what am I doing here. I have a moment when I want to scream, tell them I’ve changed my mind, tell them I want it called off. And then the friendly anaesthetist is back, her hands reassuringly on my shoulders as she attaches a heart monitor. She keeps her hands on me, an anchor, as another staff member put the drip into my hand and then, nothing.

When I come to, the room is blurry. No glasses, I realise. But it’s not just that, I can’t seem to make my eyes focus on one spot for more than a second before my vision drifts again. I feel horribly sick, and I am dimly aware of a nurse holding a bucket by my left shoulder. Someone is talking to me. It could be a man or a woman, I have no idea. I can’t seem to make any words come out, I can’t seem to speak at all. They hold something to my face, a photo, and I turn away and retch. I think I hear them say “you have endometriosis” but I can’t be sure. I think I hear them say “I’ll talk to you later.” And then again, nothing.

I awake again, to a nurse holding a glass of water and some biscuits. I drink the water gratefully, my throat feels raw and tender. She brings me more water, and more. I need to rehydrate, she says. I need to drink as much as possible, and then I can go home. I eat the biscuits, but they taste like sawdust in my mouth, dry and claggy. I ask for a cup of tea, which she brings me. It has that horribly plastic taste that cheap tea does, but I drink it down. I pass out again. I wake up, I drink more. I pass out again, I wake up, drink more. At around 1pm, I ask if they’ve told my mum I’m awake. They haven’t, but I hear a nurse call her. Pass out again. Every now and then, I’m helped to the bathroom by the nurse. Once you’ve been to the loo, you can go home, she says. But I can’t seem to, everything feels numb, and as the hours pass I feel more and more frustrated. She tells me that I’ve had four litres of water. Four! She does an ultrasound on my belly, pressing painfully into my new cuts, and tells me I haven’t drunk enough. I want to cry. Twenty minutes later, and miracle of miracles, I come back from the bathroom and smile at her.

You can go home now, she says. But I haven’t seen the doctor, I say. Yes you have, she says. You spoke to him earlier. I stare at her. When I was dizzy and retching and couldn’t speak. That was the only contact I was to have with the man who had cut my belly open, the only man who could tell me exactly what had been causing the last two years of pain? I would like to say that I was assertive, and strong, and told her exactly what I wanted. I didn’t do that. I cried. I cried, and I couldn’t stop crying. I was vulnerable, and scared, and still dressed only in a thin paper gown, and this woman was telling me I could talk to the doctor in three months. Three months.

While all of this had been going on, my mother had sat faithfully in the waiting room. They had called her, as I had heard, at 1pm to tell her I was awake and would be coming out in an hour. I had been in and out of consciousness ever since. I had assumed they would have kept her up to date. She was less than a fifty metres from my room. They had her phone number. They didn’t call her again. By this point, it was nearing 5pm. She had sat, in that room, for four more hours. My boyfriend had been calling her for news, as had my dad. She had nothing to tell them. Eventually, my dad told her to walk into the ward and find me. When she did I was sat there with the nurse, crying and trying to tell her that I didn’t even remember the doctor. I couldn’t even fully remember if I had endometriosis or not.

My mum is a nurse. She took over, and calmly explained why I was upset. That I needed to speak to a doctor. The head nurse came over, quietly patronising. Ooh, I can see you’re upset. Not to worry. You can talk to the doctor in three months. I asked where they had found the lesions. This is crucial to knowing whether its endometriosis or something else that means that my partner and I can’t have sex. She said it wasn’t in my file. The doctor would tell me in three months. I’m an articulate and well educated woman. And this woman reduced me to frustrated tears as I tried to make her see how important it was that I knew. My mother asked for a copy of my file, and they handed it over. My file did say where the lesions are. I have them in various spots, but predominantly on my ovarian ligaments, which run behind the cervix and close to my womb. I googled it when I got home – lesions here almost always cause pain during sex. At last, after two years, I was closer to answers.

There were photos too, of the inside of my stomach. I found them fascinating. Perhaps that’s morbid. But there was something about seeing the curve of my fallopian tubes, the jumbled mass of tissue and fat and muscle that is so uniquely me, that I found strangely intimate. When the nurse wasn’t looking, I took a photo of the medial report, and the photos of my insides. The nurse tried to explain it to me, but it was obvious she didn’t know what the medical words meant. Luckily, I have a medical student for a boyfriend, and a small web of medical student friends. I will find out what it all means. Before we left, I got them to email the doctor who operated on me and ask him to call me in the morning. I would not be waiting three months.

He called this morning. I have endometriosis, but its mild. They burned the lesions, but they will probably come back. Hopefully my symptoms will improve, but they might not. It’s a mysterious condition, and not much is known.

1 in 10 women are estimated to suffer from endometriosis. In the UK, it takes an average of 8 years for a woman to be diagnosed. I have done it in two. But I have had so much privilege to get this diagnosis. I am eloquent and well spoken, I have done my research. Perhaps because I am dating a medical student, I don’t see doctors as infallible. I have been quite happy to argue with them, to tell them that they’re wrong, that something is wrong with me and that they need to listen. I have been backed up by a family history, of my grandma and my mum, and my 21 year old sister. I have known exactly what endometriosis is, and I have begged, and bullied, and cajoled doctors into getting me the tests I have needed to get to this point. Most women are turned away, afraid and alone, feeling more and more that there is nothing wrong with them after all. I, at least, have avoided that.

Now, I am sore. My belly hurts when I move. I have three neat little cuts that they tell me will scar, evidence of what I have gone through. My shoulders hurt, a remnant of the gas they pumped into me. My appetite is low, and I could barely sleep last night.

I am also angry. Endometriosis is a lifelong condition. There is no cure. And I was told I had this when I couldn’t speak, see or move, when I was at my most vulnerable. I was told that they didn’t know where the lesions were, when it was written plainly in my medical record. I was told that a doctor would talk to me in three months. They sent me away without any information about my condition. For some women, endometriosis is a debilitating illness, akin to a disability. I have been diagnosed young. I will live with this for the rest of my life. At the moment, I can’t have sex. It might get worse. I might be incapacitated during my period. I might become incapacitated at other points of the month. I might be infertile. Time will tell.


Men, shut up and listen

I can already hear the men clicking on this and getting outraged. “It’s not all men!” “That wasn’t even sexist, it was just banter!” “Why are you so upset?” “Telling men to shut up is sexist in itself!”

A week ago, I gave a speech to nearly a hundred people on my graduate scheme. The theme was public narrative, and we could choose to talk about anything we wished. I talked about street harassment. I talked about two weeks ago in Clapham, when a man gave me a red rose, the spines pricking against my hand, and then proceeded to follow me the not inconsiderable distance to the tube station. I told them about how, after boarding that train and travelling across London to my boyfriend’s nearest station, I was harassed by two men, their faces shadowed by hoodies as they crowded up against my body and asked where I was going that night. I got home, angry, afraid, shaking. Angry because I should be able to walk less than 30 minutes through my own city without being made to feel fundamentally unsafe. Afraid, because I didn’t know those men. They were all taller than me, more solid, probably stronger. Coming home should be a sanctuary. The room was full of my boyfriend and his (male) flatmates, men I have come to care for, who I see as friends. I told them, and then “women never hit on me in public!” in that tone of voice that says “what are you complaining about?”

My speech touched on that, the idea that men need to listen. I was afraid, that night in Clapham. I was afraid in Finsbury park. I have been afraid in Oxford, and Cambridge, and now in London. I have been angry at men who shout at me, furious that I can’t even go and buy milk in peace. I have been humiliated by wolf whistles and car horns honking, as people nearby turn their head and try and see what I’ve done to deserve it. I have been reduced to tears in public by a man who followed me in a car honking his horn until I turned around and told him to fuck off, at which point he released a torrent of horrific abuse before speeding off. As I cried, another man approached me, and I flinched away from him, before he kindly asked me if I was alright. I had expected more abuse. The most extreme example of this I wrote about here, when a man in a balaclava masturbated at me in a deserted public park. I have never been more afraid in my life than in that moment.

I wrote a while ago about #notallmen, but it clearly bears repeating. Not all men are rapists, are harassers, are abusers. But all men benefit from systemic sexism, and all women bear the damaging effects of it. There isn’t a tiny subset of men doling out this abuse, and if only we could root them out we could achieve equality. Sexism is pervasive, it invades every facet of our society, and we all need to examine our privileges and assumptions. Rapists and street harassers are not weird outliers, waiting to harass women at the slightest opportunity. They are someone’s son, brother, boyfriend, date.

Rewind to many years ago. I was 16 or 17, awkward, gangly, desperate for male attention and utterly unaware how to get it. I went to a friend’s party one night, where I was introduced to a friend of a friend. He was tall, dark haired, not especially handsome but not bad looking either. At the end of the night, he asked for my number. I was giddy. I went to a museum with this boy, and then lunch, and he kissed me at the bus stop and asked to see me again. The next time, I went to his house, and we played Mario kart and had pasta and then went to watch a movie. It was Hot Fuzz. I remember that to this day. After the movie, he rolled on top of me and started kissing me. I kissed back for a while, and then I started growing uneasy. His hands on me were painful. He was pressing against me in a way that I didn’t like. I couldn’t breathe, and I tried to push him away. To this day, I don’t know if he didn’t notice or just didn’t care. He kept going. And in that moment, for the first time in my life I think, I was terrified. No one else was home. He was taller than me, at least 6 foot if my memory serves correctly. I seem to remember he played sport, hockey or something of the sort. And I knew that if I screamed and said no, and he didn’t listen, I wouldn’t have been able to stop him. I kept struggling, trying to push him away, and eventually he stopped. I left, and I never heard from him again.

That boy grew up to study PPE at Oxford. We have friends in common on Facebook. He has a girlfriend. I don’t know if he meant to scare me like that. I don’t know if he realised that I was trying to push him away. I just know that that moment of fear is etched into my brain. I looked him up on Facebook before I wrote this, and even the sight of him again made me shiver. Just a little bit. He’s a normal bloke. He has a degree, and a girlfriend, and yet in that moment when I was 16, I was so so afraid of him. And I bet he doesn’t even know.

Men, you need to listen. These experiences are not outliers. They are not unusual. After I spoke to those people on my graduate scheme, I had a score of women come up to me afterwards, telling me about their experiences. As women, we need to share these stories. They help us to build a sense of collective identity. They help us consolidate our experiences, to stop men gaslighting us and telling us that our experiences aren’t valid. Most importantly, they tell us that we’re not alone.

Men, you need to listen. When I say something is sexist, when I talk about misogyny on the television or sexual harassment at work, or catcalling in the street, why do you dismiss my experiences? Is it your arrogance? Your privilege? Do you think we’re having a nice little debate about feminism? We’re not. You are actively and aggressively denying my lived experience as a woman. You are gaslighting me and telling me that my experiences aren’t real. You are part of the problem. You don’t believe you are sexist. In that moment, you are. I implore you. Shut up and listen. And I mean really listen. Don’t just sit there, waiting to come up with a “witty” comeback for me. Don’t laugh and make jokes. Just fucking listen. You might learn something.

And to end on a positive note, I said all of this last night to my boyfriend. We were huddled together under the covers, our faces in shadow, but I could feel his eyes on me as I talked. I was angry, and sad, I ranted and I raved and I spoke dejectedly, and he laid there in silence until I had finished. One of the things I love about my boyfriend is how quietly principled he is. He thinks about things, long and hard, until he’s reached a position. It’s a nice balance to my angry passion.

When we met three years ago, he didn’t know anything about feminism. I remember going with him to the fair, a few months after we started dating, and pointing out all of the pictures of half naked women on the side of the rides. He told me he’d never noticed before. I remember him asking me what kind of birth control he should go on, and me laughingly telling him that the pill only existed for me. I was touched that he cared. There have been so many nights like last night, when I have been angry and sad, and he has just listened. Sometimes he pitches in with his own experiences as an ethnic minority. He tells me about his experiences of having parents who were immigrants, what it feels like to be part of two cultures, but not fully part of one, and I try and stay silent and let him talk. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable for me, as a white person. That’s just tough though, it’s not his job to make me feel better about my privilege. Last night though, he just listened to me. And then, for the first time in the three years we’ve been dating, he told me that he would now call himself a feminist. I don’t think I’ve ever loved him more.



CN: sex, pain, mention of medical conditions

I’m curled on my side, my body hunched and small in the foetal position. I can feel him behind me, hovering an inch away from my back, but he knows better than to touch me. Every inch of me feels wrong, my skin feels too tight, and there’s a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach. I’m such an idiot. I thought this time would be different.

It never is.

I wrote a month ago about the pain I’ve been getting in my abdomen. That’s hard enough to talk about – how do you drop “oh yes, I missed work on Monday because I was in A&E with agonising stomach cramps that so far remain unexplained” into polite conversation? I’ve had some scans now; they’ve found nothing, which means that I’m clear of something like ovarian cysts, and I’ve taken a strong course of antibiotics, so if it was anything like PID, that would have been cleared up. The stomach pains are becoming more infrequent, and my period passed this month without pain out of the ordinary. The pains in my stomach are going, but I know that I’m not better. Not by a long shot.

The first time it happened, we were in my room at Cambridge. It was second year; my door didn’t have a lock; and my roommate could have come in at any moment. Classic student sex, rushed in between studying and essays and being caught. I remember the pain building and building, not wanting to say anything, and then crying uncontrollably after he was done, while my partner held me close and apologised over and over again.

We thought it was a fluke, a one off, a dodgy position. We wrote it off, and for a while, everything went back to normal. And then it happened again. And again. And again. Infrequent enough that I barely paid it any attention, thinking that maybe we were just rushing and needed to slow down. It got slowly worse. There would be nights when having sex would leave me in agony for hours afterwards, sitting in a hot bath to relieve the pain and brushing away my partner’s apologies. It stopped being “something that happens every now and again.” It started to happen more often. Soon, it was nearly every time we had sex. Then, it was unusual when it didn’t hurt. Now, I can’t remember when it last didn’t hurt.

As a culture, we’re obsessed with sex. We listen to songs with racy lyrics, we watch music videos with scantily clad women, porn is more watched than ever, TV shows like Love Island put sex in our living room, every night of the week. We love to talk about it, who did what with whom. Games of truth or dare and never have I ever, giggling as you reveal that one night stand you had in college. When we’re having it, it’s great. Sex is exciting, fun, something to laugh over with your friends in the pub while you hold your partner’s hand under the table and give them that look that means later.

On a more personal level, I love sex. I’m usually the loudest in the pub, making my friends blush and shush me. I spent my first year at Cambridge bringing home as many men as I could. I’ve reviewed sex toys for online blogs, and written erotica, and defended watching pornography at the Cambridge Union, and written academic essays promoting female masturbation. I love talking about sex.

It’s just so much harder to talk about when it’s going wrong.

So I put off saying anything to anyone. I hid it from my closest friends. I hid it from my partner. I would tuck my face into his neck, grit my teeth, and then smile at him afterwards, huddling in to his chest and trying to ignore the ache between my legs. I avoided going to see a doctor for so long. When I went, a middle aged woman with a quiet smile examined me, ran tests, told me that there was nothing wrong with me. She was kind, but I felt like a failure.

In Kingston, I met with my new GP. I ran through my prescriptions, that I would need to be set up with my contraceptive and my anti-depressants (thankfully, I’m no longer taking the latter) and then, at the end, I mustered all of my courage, and said in a small voice “when I have sex, it hurts. Like, it really hurts. It’s been happening for over a year.” And that GP smiled at me, and told me that it didn’t matter. I left, humiliated.

Six months later, the stomach pains bought it all back in to focus. Sitting in A&E, the doctor asked me if I had any other symptoms of endometriosis. I hesitated, and then I told her. Now, I’m being investigated at Kingston hospital for any physical issues that might be causing this, and going to see a specialist at St Mary’s in Paddington to see if its an emotional issue.

It’s hell, that’s what it is. I know that I should brush it aside. It doesn’t make me less attractive or less of a woman. Sex involves more than penetrative sex. My partner loves me, and he would never leave me over this.

But I do feel less attractive. I feel less comfortable in my own skin. Sex is more than penetrative, but I would like that to at least be an option. And as much as he loves me, why wouldn’t he walk away? There are plenty of women out there without this problem. He’s a great guy; he’d find someone else.

Every time it happens, I die a little more inside. We talk about it, agree that we just won’t do that, we’ll do everything else. And we do, and its great, and then I go and fucking ruin it by suggesting that we try it. Just once more. I’m ready. It will be fine. And then searing pain rips through me, and I find myself curled up crying, again. I’m such an idiot.

This is the hardest thing I’ve ever written, because I feel like a failure.

I sent the first draft of this to my partner to read. “You’re not a failure, and I’m not going to leave you, and I love you.” He’s right, of course. We’re a team. We’ll deal with this like we deal with everything. Together. Next tests are in September, so we’ll know more then.


It might not be. It might.

I stand in front of the mirror, my hands pressed lightly to my stomach. My hands are cold; the skin of my stomach is warm to the touch. I run my fingers lightly over the curve and swell, over the light hairs and the freckles and the indent of my belly button. My hands trail lower, to the sharp bone of my hip and there, just there. I inhale sharply as I press down. That shouldn’t be there. That shouldn’t hurt. And for the first time, I’m afraid.

Multiple trips to a&e. Doctors running their hands down my sides. Nurses with sympathetic eyes. Long waits in sterile rooms, my boyfriend clutching at my hand. They don’t know what it is. They said I need a scan. They say it could be nothing. Or it could be everything. I watch their eyes widen as I tell them it runs in the family. It might not be that. But it might be.

If it is, my insides will attack themselves. Tissue will grow where it should not. Every month, that tissue will shed with the lining of my womb. I will lie in agony as my body tears itself apart. It scars, every month. Those scars build up. Left to its own devices, my body will become a prison of pain and scars and infertility.

Do you know what I’m talking about? It affects around 1.5 million women and girls in the UK. 10% of women worldwide are estimated to have it, but the figures are likely to be much higher.

My mum has it. My sister has it. It runs in families.

I look down at my stomach again, stroke the skin. I close my eyes, and I hope. My body is my rock. It’s mine, my solace, my fortitude. It is not the most beautiful, not flawless or perfect. It is perfectly imperfect. It is scarred and ridged and mine. And it has been my fortress, my hide away from the world. Even in my darkest moments, the nights I have looked in to the mirror and seen nothing but fat and ugly, it has always been strong. And now it turns out that that strength might be an illusion.

I’ve never wanted children. It’s true that I don’t especially like children, but that’s not the reason why. When I imagine my life, when I fantasise about who I might be and where I might go, it is wild and varied. My career spans across reckless possibilities. My mind fills with the food I would like to taste, the baking I want to achieve. I picture the man I want to be holding my hand. Sometimes, there’s no man at all. I picture mundane things like the kitchen units in my dream home, friends growing older and getting married, my little sister having her first child. I imagine the places I want to visit, where the climates are hot and animals I have only seen in zoos roam freely. Never. Never in any of those dreams, have I ever seen children, my children, held in my arms. Not once. I don’t picture it. I don’t dream of it.

Infertility doesn’t scare me. What scares me is the thought of a body that is beyond my control, that hurts indiscriminately and cannot be cured, only slowed.

I’ve got a scan in two weeks. I hold the hospital letter in my fist, let my other hand drop again to my belly. It might be. It might not be. We’ll have to wait and see.


I can and I will

CN: Sexism, use of the c-word, workplace sexism

“You’re just not a leader.”

“I went to a better university than you.”

“Women just aren’t suited to that kind of thing.”

“Why is the Chief Executive meeting with you – isn’t that a massive waste of his time?”

“I think you’re a vicious cunt.”

Well, I think you mean nothing.

You want to tear me down? Fine. Try. You will fail. I don’t need your validation. I don’t want it. It means nothing to me.

You’re not special. The world is full of insecure men unable to keep up with the world as it changes around them. If you are a woman, you will spend your life fighting against their assumptions, their prejudices. You will spend a lifetime being called “darling” in the office. You will spend a lifetime being catcalled in the street, and groped in bars, and abused by men who are not worth the dirt under your shoes. Think about it. Think about all the men who have tried to tear you down, to tell you that you are worthless. Or, almost worse; that you’re not quite good enough, not quite what they were looking for. We all know what they mean.

We don’t talk about it, far too often. We carry these silent burdens. We shrug it off. What does it matter that someone senior to you at work slipped his arm around your waist at that Christmas function? It was just a joke when that man hit on you at the end of a meeting. You shouldn’t be offended when someone mistakes you for a waitress at a work event (bitch I’m running this thing.)

Fuck that. We have been silent for too long. Next time a man looks at you and finds you wanting, you laugh right in his face. It’s far too easy to let those assumptions slither in. They are poison, creeping through the veins of every woman. You are enough. You are smart. You are beautiful. Your hips are gorgeous. Your smile is contagious. You got that job because you earned it. You can lead. You can follow. You can do, and be, whatever the hell you want to be, because this is 2017 and we will not be held down.

There will always be people to tell you that you can’t do that, you can’t achieve everything you want them to. Sometimes, it’s hard to remember that they’re wrong. I’ll say it again: you are enough. Have that confidence in yourself. Whenever I come up against comments like the ones at the top of this post, I take a deep breath, and I list myself.

I am smart. I am ambitious. I am driven. I work hard. I am loved. I can do whatever I want to do.

And then I remember this, and I feel again the solidarity of thousands of women who have held themselves back because they didn’t believe in themselves. We are enough.