Women’s Health – Painful Menstrual Cramps, My Experience

This blog has never really been a personal blog, sure I have written posts that have been about family life, and I’ve published recipes or crafts that I’ve made at home and given my opinion for reviews but I’ve never really written anything about myself personally. Well, not this personally!

This morning after I had taken my son to school and had sat down with a cup of tea to catch up with emails and plan my day, a post on twitter caught my eye Let’s Talk About Women’s Health: Endometriosis and Me. It was written by Amanda on her blog ‘The Family Patch’ and after reading it I felt really emotional and compelled to write something about my own experiences. Now, as far as I am aware, I don’t suffer from Endometriosis, but I can associate with the emotions and feelings of helplessness experienced by Amanda.

I find this post so hard to write as I have always been made to feel like I have been making it up or more probably over-exaggerating what I am experiencing. When you keep being told “it can’t be that bad” or “it’s just your time of the month, we all get it” you don’t really want to sound like the drama queen that can’t cope with a bit of pain.

However I am taking the plunge and writing down my experiences in the hope that it could help someone else, even if it’s only so they do not feel alone and that someone else out there understands what they are going through.

Here goes…

Painful Menstrual Cramps My Experience

I have experienced extreme abdominal cramps related to my period and menstrual cycle since I first began menstruation.  This was aged 12.

Before that point I was always really happy, outgoing and had never really experienced any illnesses. Then my periods started, at first it wasn’t too bad, they took a while to become regular and any niggling cramps I would have were generally eased by taking some paracetamol or aspirin. As my periods became more regular so did the cramps.

These were so painful, and taking paracetamol made no difference, no one really understood the pain I was experiencing and after a visit to the doctor I was given the contraceptive pill which was meant to make my periods lighter and hopefully decrease the pain.

This didn’t really have any impact and still no one took me very seriously until one day I was in so much pain I was doubled over and could not move for hours. This was a couple of months before my 13th birthday. My father called for the doctor to come to our house and after examination the doctor arranged for me to be admitted to hospital with possible appendicitis. Whilst in the hospital I had a scan of my appendix which revealed nothing, but as I was still in so much pain they decided to operate and remove it just in case. Once it was removed they confirmed there was nothing wrong with it. The next day I was still in pain and low and behold my period started. I was so embarrassed.

This pain continued throughout my teens, I had numerous, if not excessive days off school each month, and undoubtedly my education suffered. Still every time I went to the doctor they would change my contraceptive pill or prescribe stronger pain killers.

The pain was there pretty much every month, sometimes it would be a dull ache lasting for days or even up to 2 weeks, other times it would be excruciating, intense spasms that would have me screaming out in pain. Occasionally a warm bath would help ease the symptoms, as would my trusty hot water bottle, but not always. I have spent entire nights getting in and out of the bath waiting for the pain killers to ‘kick in’. And sometimes the pain is so extreme that it makes me vomit, which in turn is extremely upsetting as if I can’t keep the pain killers down how will they work?

When I was 19 and had pretty much exhausted all the options my GP had to offer she basically said to me, ‘You’re just going to have to live with it’. I left that appointment in bits, I felt soul destroyed. This was it for the rest of my reproductive life.

As well as school and work being affected this also really affected my confidence, I found it hard to make social plans with friends and often had to cancel at the last minute.

My mother, after witnessing some dreadful episodes and worrying about me being sat in the bath all night (after taking lots of painkillers!) marched me back to the GP and demanded we be referred to a gynaecologist, my GP was very hesitant so my mum took me to a private clinic.

I had scans done which showed nothing and also a laparoscopy of which the outcome was ‘pelvic congestion syndrome’ a bit of a wishy washy diagnosis. I was given some kind of HRT, I can’t remember the name of the drug, but I could only take it for a year. I was told at this point that once I got to around 27 and my fertility started to decrease I shouldn’t get as much pain. I was also told I didn’t have Endometriosis and there were no obvious reasons to suggest I wouldn’t be able to get pregnant it the future. At 19, 27 is a long way off!

The year on the HRT was ok but once I could no longer take it the symptoms came back, I was prescribed Mefanamic Acid along with my painkillers which sometimes helped, and I just tried my best to get on with my life.

In my early 20’s my confidence started to grow and despite still struggling with the pain I took a job as a stewardess for which I had to move away from my home in the North West and down to Gatwick. I was sharing a house with 2 other girls, and after discussing with them how I was worried taking my contraceptive pill at different times (due to shift work) would make my pain even worse, one of them suggested I try the contraceptive injection. She’d been on it for a few years as she used to work as a swimming instructor and didn’t want her periods affecting her job.

I didn’t know much about it but after a chat with my doctor, I decided to give it a try. The contraceptive injection (Depo-provera) is a form of contraception which is injected into the buttock or thigh every 12 weeks and is meant to stop ovulation, and therefore periods.

Nhs website info about Depo-provera http://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/contraception-guide/Pages/contraceptive-injection.aspx

My periods stopped and I still had severe pain for the first couple of months but then that went away too. At 23, for the first time since I was 12, I felt like I could live a normal life. (Please note, I am NOT recommending this contraception, please speak to your doctor as with any medication there are side effects.)

Over the next couple of years my confidence really started to grow, I started going out more socially and after returning to the North West after leaving my job with the airline, I chose to continue my education and got offered a place at University. At 18 this would have been impossible, but a 24 I was committed and confident my body wasn’t going to get in the way! I did have a couple of cramping spells and experienced some bleeding whilst on the Depo but compared to what I’d been used to this wasn’t a problem.

I felt good in myself and started dating my now husband, I used to worry when I was younger about finding a man who would put up with me potentially being ill and in pain for 2 weeks out of every month. Having a boyfriend was never a priority as I couldn’t see how it would work.

When I was 27 my G.P. at the time suggested that I give my body a break from the Depo as long term use may be bad for my bones in the future.  I agreed to go back on the pill as I thought back to when I was told that at 27 my fertility would begin to decrease and the pain might not be so bad, and anyway when you come off the contraceptive injection it can take 12 months for your periods to come back.

Mine came back pretty much straight away, and fortunately pain free, for a while! Once again the pain started to increase but it was bearable and after being on the pill for about 12 months I had a strange very light and brown period (sorry if too much information) and went straight to the doctor. Happily there was nothing seriously wrong with me, I was pregnant! This was a huge surprise and still to this day I can’t explain it.

Despite all the problems with my periods my pregnancy was fine. In fact I felt better when I was pregnant as there were no periods to deal with! After my son was born, I secretly hoped that having a baby had fixed everything. That he’d worked some kind of magic and I would never experience that awful pain again. Pain which I could now put on a par with being in labour.

After having my son my periods eventually returned, this was a very nervous time as it was the first time since I was 12 that I hadn’t been on any form of contraception and I didn’t know what to expect. I think pregnancy had given my body a break as my first few normal cycles were ok, no major cramping. Then when my son was about 7/8 months old, it struck, intolerable pain. But this time I was at home on my own with an infant who was just starting to crawl. I phoned my husband to come home from work as I could hardly move, never mind look after my baby. After that period had ended I went straight back on the Depo.

Life was good again, straight away my periods stopped and this time round I had no pain. I did have concerns about what side effects this contraception may have on my body and future fertility but my priority was being in a fit state to look after my son. I didn’t see it as a long term solution as I had and still do hope to have more children in the future.

Last year I decided to come off the Depo in the hopes of trying for another baby after I got married. There was no way I was coming off it before I got married as I couldn’t bear the thought of my wedding day or honeymoon being ruined by my cramps.

Once again my periods returned and so did the cramps – this is pretty much where I am now. At 32 this problem is still affecting my life. On Monday of this week I was in so much pain for 6 hours, despite taking naproxen and co-codamol and sitting in the bath all day, that I started shivering and pretty much passed out. I was not able to pick my son up from school, fortunately I was able to get a message to my husband and he got to school in time.

After visiting a different GP yesterday (who finally took me seriously!) I am going to see another gynaecologist. I think at 32, and after having experienced childbirth, when I tell them I’m in pain they now believe me!

It was very emotional writing this piece, and as I said at the beginning it’s not a usual post for this blog. I’m still wondering what I’m doing even writing this, no one will be interested! I’m not looking for any sympathy, I just wanted to follow on from Amanda and talk about my own experiences. Maybe I’ll find out what the cause of my problem is, maybe I won’t. But if you or your daughters are experiencing anything like this don’t give up, keep going back to the doctor, demand a referral. Don’t suffer in silence, maybe if we talked about it more, more people would take us seriously.

Jill Boyes

Thank you for reading, I have to admit I am yet to come across anyone else who suffers to the extent that I do so if you would like to get in touch with me please do. Also if you have any suggestions of things myself and others can try to help us through the pain do let me know!

 

Helpful Links and Information

Endometriosis UK

I’ve just found out about another article ‘The pain of living with endometriosis’ by Helen Wilson-Beevers, Twitter @mummymode which is very similar to my experience so I thought I would share.

Join the forum discussion on this post

Comments

  1. Jill,

    I know how much courage it takes to put this out there! Well done for writing so honestly and openly. I am so glad you have a referral to see a gynaecologist and I do hope you have a sympathetic one!

    My advice would be to summarise all of this into bullet points and take that with you to your appointment. I was kicked out of a gyanecologist’s room at 19 in floods of tears as he told me there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with me. 2 years later and in absolute agony (akin to transitional labour, not that I knew this at the time) I went to my GP with 2 A4 sheets of paper – one with my history on (right from when my periods started, as like you the problems started right away) and one with more detailed information on the past 3 months, including diagrams of where the pain was most severe. This got me a new referral and whilst the gynaecologist still said she didn’t think there was anything wrong with me, she agreed to do a laparoscopy… That led to my diagnosis and I know if I hadn’t pushed I would never have received that (I was told I was extremely lucky to be diagnosed as young as 21, but as you know that is a long time to have suffered without knowing why!)

    I would be tempted to ask for another laparoscopy if you feel you can cope with it – a lot of things can change within just a few years, let alone the time since your last laparoscopy. It may even be that you had Endometriosis but it was so little it was hard to spot (I’m not saying you have got it, but it is worth checking again!) Equally, something else may show up. Or it may not… but at least you will have checked.

    Unfortunately, though, I know it is so hard to be taken seriously. Even after two laparoscopies showing extensive Endometriosis they still doubt me when I tell them I am having typical symptoms *for me*, because they aren’t the most commonly presented symptoms (pain is no longer as severe for me as I have a Mirena – the only contraceptive I don’t react badly to) and without proper periods the pain just seems less intense. But the thing is, there is so little understanding behind what causes a lot of gynaecological conditions and why they present differently in different women and so if you’re not “textbook” (which few people are) a lot of the time you are just “left to get on with it”. And that isn’t on… at all!

    We have to fight for ourselves and fight for each other. We shouldn’t have to, but we do. We need to advocate for ourselves and get the treatment and respect for our bodies that we deserve. And the best way to do this effectively is to have the support of a community around you, people who know what you are going through. And that is why your post is so important – it reaches out to others so that they can help you and be helped by it.

    I am here if you need anything – just send me an email xx

    • Hi Amanda, and thank you for your advice I will certainly also write everything I can think of down for him. I’m hoping that since it was such a long time ago since I saw someone that technology and attitudes have changes and hopefully I can get an answer to what is causing it. And also find out whether my first child was a bit of a miracle and if it might mean I could spend years in pain trying unsuccessfully for another.

      Thank you for your help and support. Jill