Me, Myself and the Menopause / Nicola Pennicott-Hall

 Artwork: Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman, via Tate.

Artwork: Pablo Picasso’s Weeping Woman, via Tate.

When my then husband-to-be kindly went out to buy me sanitary towels for the first time, he was so desperate to get it right, he called me to ask “what kind of flow” I had. I could feel my uterus shrivelling with embarrassment. Despite my (former nurse) Mum’s best efforts to make this very normal part of life as uncomplicated as possible; school, my peers and, yes, boys, had a great impact on my desire to keep it secret. Speaking to female friends who, like me, are also rapidly hurtling towards the ominous black hole that is our thirties, this is hardly unusual. We hit ten years old and the girls were quietly shut away so the Period Lady could show us massive tampons that could plug a dam, whilst the boys got to play football. So when things aren’t quite right, is it any wonder that it gets crammed into the overflowing file in our brain marked, “Eh, it’s probably nothing”?

Shortly after I got married to my husband in 2012, I noticed that something wasn’t quite right. I’d been smart about my birth control and had had an IUS fitted. But my periods, that were never very pleasant anyway, suddenly went haywire. I was bleeding heavily, I was in agony and I had never-ending periods, so they removed the implant.

Still, they didn’t stop. I was exhausted, bloated, pale, constantly needed the toilet and my record was a forty day period — so I jumped at the chance to have a laparoscopy. When the surgeon woke me after the operation and informed me that they’d found endometriosis, I replied “oh good” and went back to sleep. 

Endometriosis affects one in ten women in the UK and yet not much is known about it. It occurs when the lining of the womb starts to grow outside of the uterus and can spread to places as far removed as the eye, as well as sticking internal organs together, in the most severe cases. That said, there are many theories of why it occurs but the only ‘cure’ is to forcibly cut it out.

After my first operation, I was blissfully free of pain and the annoying urge to urinate for about three months - then it returned and it was out for revenge! I was put on medication that was dangerous to get pregnant on, told it was very unlikely I could have children anyway and that I would have to put up with it. I was in a very dark place and I will forever remember sitting in church on Mothering Sunday, sobbing my heart out as a bemused child in a pretty white dress tried to give me daffodils because she thought I was a Mum. Thanks to my late Auntie Angela, I met my wonderful surgeon, Mr Pickersgill, who agreed to do a second operation. By the time I was awake, it had been discovered that I had Stage III endometriosis and it covered my uterus, back of my vagina, both ovaries, my bladder and bowel. This gave me a reprieve and I am now a Mum to the most wonderful two year old boy who is smart and funny and drives me completely crackers! He’s a little miracle, which is why he is named Aneurin, after the man who set up the NHS.

My endometriosis came back, as expected, so I made a decision: it’s time for a hysterectomy. As a friend put it, I’m "removing the nursery but leaving the playroom!”. At the age of 29, I have started monthly preparation injections and entered the menopause. It’s hard, really hard but I’m no longer in pain. I’m glad I have the support of an incredible family, who put up with my mood swings (the other day I cried because I didn’t want my cat to die like Binx in Hocus Pocus) and team of doctors who constantly listen to my concerns. I spend the majority of my time pretending it’s really sunny when I drop my son off at nursery and I’m not really drowning in my own sweat from a hot flush. Aneurin particularly likes my HRT patches which he calls “Mimi’s stickies” and likes to rip them off my leg to stick in his ‘Alphablocks’ book.

By the time I’m 30 in March, I will have had a subtotal hysterectomy and whilst, in all probability, I will be on HRT for the rest of my life, I honestly can’t wait. Bring on my new life. Bring on the endometriosis-free me.

Words by Nicola Pennicott-Hall

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