The Mirena coil is intended to control the adenomyosis, but mine wasn’t being completely controlled. I still had adenomyosis, my womb was still too big and I was still getting enough heavy bleeding to cause anaemia.
Unlike endometriosis, though, the tissue can’t be operated on and removed because it’s within the womb. So, my next step was to start taking hormonal therapies to shrink and repress the growth of the womb tissue that was resulting from my adenomyosis [with the aim of reverting my womb back to its normal size]. These therapies were in the form of injections that stopped my periods; the consultant explained that they would trigger a temporary “menopause”, and that I could get menopausal symptoms.
I didn’t really comprehend what “menopausal symptoms” meant. I wasn’t expecting the side effects to be that bad. I don’t know if it was because I was only 21 or because the menopause isn’t really talked about [among my generation]; but I just assumed that everyone who goes through the menopause seems to cope.
I never got hot flushes or night sweats; but I did get physical fatigue, and my bones hurt. I was generally achey and I experienced vaginal dryness, too. But the worst thing was the sleep. I didn’t put two and two together, because I was doing my university exams and so thought I just had exam stress; but then I did my exams, and it still wasn’t any better. I found it impossible to get to sleep before 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning — I was getting around four hours’ sleep a night.
The side effects of temporary menopause were insidious; they were all things that could have been lifestyle-related. I was tired, but everyone’s tired at university. I had a lower mood, I was grumpier; but a lot of people feel like that, especially during exams. I didn’t fully realise that the symptoms were menopausal because I put them down to other things — plus, we’re not brought up to take menopause seriously.
I think I took the injections for between 18 months and two years. I had to take them every six weeks, regardless of what I was doing or where I was. I had to find a healthcare professional to give me one in New Zealand. They were these enormous injections that went into my tummy, so they were painful, too.
In 2019, I went to see a new gynaecologist in London. At this point, my periods had stopped, virtually completely, and my womb had gone back to a normal size (which I know from subsequent scans). I stopped taking the injections and my womb has stayed that way ever since, with just the Mirena coil keeping things in check.
I was so relieved to press stop and get my body back when I came off the injections. Within one or two months, I was feeling better. Now, I just have scans every year to make sure my womb isn’t growing again.
A decade on from my initial super heavy periods, I think I’m a lot more informed and assertive; but I still find that you have to lobby hard with anything gynaecological. It’s just really difficult to get women’s health taken seriously.
I hope that when I next go through the menopause — the irreversible kind — the conversation will have moved to a more open and informative place.
*Name has been changed.