Due to the nature of the topic, anything related to menstruation is often brushed aside. The topic is considered too “behaya” to be discussed. However, by labeling the topic “behaya,” we allow certain conditions and menstrual disorders to be overlooked and ignored. However, we at MangoBaaz firmly believe that the first step to evoking empathy is by raising awareness.
Ramma Shahid Cheema has struggled with a menstrual disorder – endometriosis – to raise awareness around the same.
She started off by explaining what endometriosis is.
“Endometriosis is a debilitating disease, where layers of tissue start growing outside the uterus. It is a very painful disorder. As the endometrium grows out of its actual place, it makes the life of a woman with the disease very difficult.”
Here’s a more “medical” explanation about the disease
According to Mayo Clinic, Endometriosis is an often painful disorder in which tissue that normally lines the inside of your uterus — the endometrium — grows outside your uterus. Endometriosis most commonly involves your ovaries, fallopian tubes and the tissue lining your pelvis. Rarely, endometrial tissue may spread beyond pelvic organs.
Moreover, here are a few signs and symptoms that can help women identify endometriosis.
Talking about the menstrual disorder, Ramma went on to narrate her experience:
“I started experiencing very painful periods as I left my school in Murree. I was in the hostel, studying at Kinnaird College, and I started having these episodes. Not very frequently, but after every other month where I would faint with pain and had to be taken to the hospital. When I was 21-years-old, my parents became very concerned and took me to my now-friend and gynecologist Dr. Shaheena Asif. She sent me to a renowned doctor for a detailed abdominal scan which basically showed nothing. Any further tests or invasive procedures were halted till I could get married. But I knew then that there was something wrong with me.”
She went on to explain how things got worse after marriage.
“After my marriage at 23, the painful episodes worsened and I was frequenting the hospital every month for a painkiller. I had researched online and I knew I had endometriosis. No one believed me because it had not been confirmed by a doctor. People around me – friends and family – thought I was exaggerating and that everyone got painful periods. They said a bit of Panadol solves everything. That wasn’t my case, but I couldn’t convince anyone. Before my exploratory laparoscopy, no one believed me, including my doctor. They all asked me to stop Googling my condition.”
“I hated my body and what it was doing to me. I was young and infertile. I yearned for a child and often cried myself to sleep.”
A lesser-known fact about endometriosis is that it can lead to infertility. It can cause pelvic scarring or distortion of the pelvic anatomy. Any blockage of the tubes, or damage to the ovaries due to cysts that cause them to adhere to the uterus, bowel or pelvic side walls can lead to infertility.
Ramma further highlights how she underwent several invasive laparoscopies in the hopes of conceiving:
“My immediate in-laws and family were very understanding and supported me completely, but they never understood the extreme emotional and physical pain I went through. It felt like someone was ripping my insides with a knife. I would howl with pain, fainting in the bathroom and yelling for my husband who always came and took me to my doctor. I also developed Irritable Bowel Syndrome which made it worse. I had to take medication for that the entire month. I hated meeting people because I knew they would ask me about my infertility.”
However, there was a silver lining to it all:
“After 18 years of battling endometriosis, I became pregnant. I had given up all hope. I even hated being around schools and at big gatherings because I felt lonely and incomplete. But with the help of my family and an amazing team of doctors, I became pregnant in my early 30s. I was ecstatic and was blessed with a baby boy 9 months later. After my pregnancy, I have only had very painful periods four times in the last 3 years, which is a blessing for me. For each of those episodes, I had to take a day off from work and rest with strong painkiller consumption.”
She outlined how she personally couldn’t track down any support groups in Pakistan, and also shared some advice:
“I don’t know of any support groups for endometriosis in Pakistan. I tried finding them but to no avail. All you can do is get some help from a good therapist. I would also like to help anyone who needs any support. I feel sharing stories helps. It is a reminder to women that there is hope after all.”
Ramma also shares how women must speak up about such issues. She also highlights how she’s in a much better place.
“Right now, life is manageable as far as the pain is concerned. I still need to take a day off from life and work when I get my period. I have tried all kinds of treatments. I have taken the birth control pill, have had invasive surgeries, tried getting pregnant and taken strong hormonal injections. Thankfully, it is not as bad as before where I felt like my world was ending. Living with endometriosis sent me into a deep depressive state and I developed self-esteem. I felt like an incomplete woman. I am older and wiser now and have understood my body and its signs.”
Moreover, Ramma has vowed never to hide from her disorder. That’s definitely something every Pakistani woman can take away from her story as well.
“I know that in future I might have the same episodes but I have made a promise to myself. I will not hide. I will talk about it even if it’s a taboo. If it has affected me so much I am sure a lot of women are experiencing the same thing. There is help available and miracles do happen. My son, Suleiman, is a testament to that.”
Like Ramma, there are countless women suffering from endometriosis in Pakistan.
It is imperative that they speak out and seek help. Moreover, the rest of us must be more understanding towards our women, encouraging them to speak up instead of shunning them into a deeply painful silence.
Cover image via: Ramma Shahid Cheema