It’s often said that knowledge is power and when it comes to women’s health, having accurate information about the issues and options is essential for women to make informed decisions. Often, when we hear the words ‘informed choice’, the conversation is about family planning: issues like abortion, contraception and childbirth. Less talked about is another common condition, with a less common-sounding name: endometriosis.
So what exactly is it? Endometriosis is a chronic condition that affects approximately 1 in 10 women across Australia. It’s essentially a condition where cells similar to those that line the uterus (the endometrium) are found in other parts of the body. Symptoms can vary greatly between women but include pain, cramping, bloating, bladder and bowel problems, mood changes and fatigue. Currently endometriosis can take a long time to diagnose and has no cure.
The only way to get a definitive diagnosis of endometriosis is by having a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy – and while it is generally covered by Medicare, for those migrant women not so lucky to be covered by Medicare benefits, the procedure can run into the thousands.
Perhaps because symptoms vary so much between women, perhaps because of silence, taboo and dismissal of women’s pain related to their periods, and for many migrant and refugee women, a normalisation of period pain, there are many myths around endometriosis, such as the belief that it always causes infertility (it doesn’t); that either pregnancy or a hysterectomy will cure it (they won’t); or that it’s a sexually transmitted disease (it’s not).
Which is why education and access to information are so important. In partnership with Victorian Assisted Reproductive Treatment Authority (VARTA), MCWH have embarked on the Your Fertility program, to share information about fertility with women in Arabic, Assyrian, Chinese, Dari, Punjabi, and Vietnamese languages.
While raising awareness, the project also gives women the chance to talk about all aspects of their sexual and reproductive health. Educating women on their sexual and reproductive health is vital, but we also need to listen. Women are still the experts in their own health and the long battle so many women have fought to have their endometriosis diagnosed is a painfully clear sign that women’s health needs to listen to women’s experiences.
For more information on endometriosis or any your sexual and reproductive health, you can call 1800 MY OPTIONS, visit https://jeanhailes.org.au/endowise or call MCWH on 1800 656 421 to access multilingual resources and information.