Endometriosis is a fairly common condition that affects up to two million women in the UK. It occurs when fragments of the uterus lining (medically knows as the endometrium) grow in places they shouldn't, most commonly on the fallopian tubes, ovaries, bladder, vagina, bowel or rectum, but occasionally in other parts of the body.
The most common symptom, and often the warning sign that something is wrong, is painful and/or heavy periods. In addition, you might experience bleeding between your periods, pain in your abdomen and lower back, and pain/discomfort when having sex or when going to the loo.
When did you first experience the symptoms of endometriosis?
The symptoms started when I changed my pill in 2010. I'd been on the same pill since the age of 16, but was getting headaches so my GP thought it was best to change it. Not long after I switched, I started experiencing severe pain in my lower abdomen and ovarian area. It was so bad I was taken to hospital with suspected appendicitis or ectopic pregnancy. I also had heavy periods, felt exhausted all the time, seemed to catch every cough and cold going and started finding sex painful.
When were you final diagnosed?
After a year or so of trial and error treatments and various invasive tests I was diagnosed in 2011; it wasn't until I'd had my first laparoscopy that it was confirmed. By April 2012 I'd had two laparoscopies and tried a number of different pills.
To relieve the pain I found myself taking a lot of mefenamic acid (a strong painkiller), and I also tried reflexology, which I believe improved things. Exercise made a difference too: as with period pains the last thing you want to do is move about but it really helps if you do.
What did your doctor say about your chances of conceiving?
I was told it might be difficult to conceive... but also that conceiving would be the best treatment. I was also told that I needed to try for a baby before I was 30 to have the best chance of conceiving.
How did you feel about that?
I've always known that I wanted to be a mother and Nick and I had discussed having children quite early into our relationship, as my endometriosis threw some rather difficult questions into the equation that needed to be talked about...
What did you decide?
In spite of what the doctors said, we decided to wait for a couple of years as I wanted us to get married first, and we were enjoying our time together as a couple.
And how did that plan work out?
It didn't! I was just about to start hormone treatment, which was going to trick my body into thinking it was pregnant by effectively 'switching off' my ovaries for six months to help ease the symptoms, and halt any growth of endometriosis. I went to my doctor to get my medication but the letter from my consultant hadn't arrived, so I couldn't get my prescription. It was a stroke of luck as it turned out. I was actually pregnant and didn't know it – if I had started the treatment then I probably would have lost the baby.
So how did you find out you'd conceived?
My period was late and I wasn't sleeping, but I didn't really think anything of it as my period had been late the month before. We were at work when I took the first test (Nick and I work in the same NHS department). I was shocked and convinced it was a false positive! I tried to get hold of Nick for about an hour but couldn't find him. Eventually he came down to my office and I showed him the first test I'd done.
I took two more tests that week and was still convinced I couldn't be pregnant, so waited for the doctor's appointment. The doctor refused to do another test: 'Three positives mean you're pregnant, Hannah!' she said. We told our parents that night – they were very excited for us.
Was your pregnancy affected by the endometriosis?
I ached when the scar tissue from my laparoscopies was stretched, but apart from that, just the usual pregnancy woes. I had terrible morning sickness and felt like I had a permanent hangover from about six weeks until 12 weeks.
My second trimester was much better and the most energetic part of the pregnancy. By the last couple of months I was exhausted though. But I didn't having any of my previous pains, which was one less thing to deal with.
Tell us about your Busby's arrival.
I was 41+1 when Busby arrived. I was induced, but had to be admitted to the ward due to reduced foetal movement. This was fairly stressful and not how I'd envisaged my birth going. After two pessaries, my waters broke at 3am and Busby was here a swift five hours and 54 minutes later.
Once she was in my arms everything fell into place: I've always felt like I haven't really fitted in, but being a mother just felt right. Before conceiving I was convinced I would never have children, but there she was, my little miracle.
Is your endometriosis likely to return?
Hopefully pregnancy will have 'reset' my body and the endometriosis won't come back. The consultant did say that pregnancy is the best 'treatment' for endometriosis as it gives your body the rest from the monthly cycle that it needs. I have felt a couple of twinges now and again since having Busby, but it's difficult to determine whether they have anything to do with endometriosis or whether they are just hormonal.
Right now I'm feeling great and I am so happy not to be in pain every day like I used to be. We can't wait to continue making our little family – although we are planning on doing it the 'right' way round with the second and waiting until we're married next year!
What one piece of advice would you give women with endometriosis?
Research your consultant – after a number of frustrating appointments with doctors who didn't have any experience with endometriosis, I discovered that one of the leading experts worked for my NHS Trust and I emailed him asking whether he'd see me. He did – and he was fantastic!