Bindi Irwin has been living with severe pain for 10 years. Staying quiet about her experience is no longer an option, the Australian conservationist shared in an emotional social media post.
Irwin, 24, opened up about her endometriosis diagnosis Wednesday, coinciding with International Women’s Day and endometriosis awareness month, because she felt a “responsibility” to help other women.
“Every part of my life was getting torn apart because of the pain,” Irwin’s post reads.
For years, the disorder caused Irwin “insurmountable fatigue, pain & nausea,” writes Irwin, daughter of the late television star and crocodile hunter Steve Irwin. She decided to have surgery, in which doctors discovered 37 lesions that were difficult to remove along with a cyst filled with dark fluid, known as a chocolate cyst, according to her post.
“Validation for years of pain is indescribable,” she writes.
Sharing my journey. 🙏🏼 pic.twitter.com/0oKiLlHyOb— Bindi Irwin (@BindiIrwin) March 7, 2023
What is endometriosis?
Endometriosis affects about 10% of women of reproductive age between roughly ages 15 and 44. The disorder manifests when tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside of it. The tissue can grow on reproductive organs like the fallopian tubes and the ovaries, which is why the condition can lead to infertility.
The World Health Organization describes the condition as bringing about “life-impacting pain” in some instances.
The pain associated with the disorder stems from the “inflammation, scarring, and painful cysts” that occur as a result of the tissue growth, according to Johns Hopkins Medicine.
Symptoms include painful menstrual cycles, pain during intercourse, fatigue, persistent pelvic pain, and irregular or heavy menstruation.
The persistent dismissal of women’s pain
Irwin shares how she tried to live with the pain and just put a smile on her face.
“Tring to remain a positive person & hide the pain has been a very long road,” she writes.
Despite the disorder’s commonality, women are largely left in the dark about their options and decide to stay silent. Many can feel shame in not being able to function as they usually would.
“It makes you feel like a weak person and you know you’re not,” Christy Reyes previously told Today. “It’s extremely frustrating and sad when you have girlfriends and everyone wants to go out and you’re like, ‘I’m sorry, guys. I really don’t feel well’ and everybody’s like, ‘Oh, it’s just your period. It’s not that big of a deal.’”
This experience can lead women to judge their pain and blame themselves for having psychological distress due to the dismissal. A Washington Post analysis last year found that gender bias in medicine has led to the minimization of women’s pain; many women who manage chronic pain become seen as “dramatic.” Medical gaslighting affects women, LGBTQ+ people, older individuals, and people of color at higher rates, leaving them at a loss for adequate treatment because they can fear speaking out.
“We speak in settings where we feel safe and where we feel valued,” Dr. Negin Hajizadeh, a pulmonary and critical care physician at the Donald and Barbara Zucker School of Medicine at Hofstra/Northwell, previously told Fortune. “Meaning, we won’t speak if we are fearful of judgment and negative consequences based on what we say… For some communities, we don’t know that we are expected to speak and that if we don’t, assumptions are made that will hurt us.”
That exact phenomenon happened to Irwin when she sought help for her endometriosis.
“A doctor told me it was simply something you deal with as a woman & I gave up entirely, trying to function through the pain,” she writes.
But women shouldn’t have to accept pain as a given. Irwin joins a growing number of celebrities—including Amy Schumer, Mandy Moore, and Padma Lakshmi—who have decided to share their endometriosis experiences to propel the conversation forward.
“The variable and broad symptoms of endometriosis mean that health care workers do not easily diagnose it and many individuals suffering from it have limited awareness of the condition,” according to the WHO. “This can cause a lengthy delay between onset of symptoms and diagnosis.”
While most treatments for endometriosis revolve around managing symptoms, surgery is an option in severe cases like Irwin’s to remove the adhesions and lesions caused by the tissue growth.
Irwin hopes women in her shoes know they are not alone, and that others know the devastation and isolation of living with pain that may have life-altering consequences.
“Things may look fine on the outside looking in through the window of someone’s life, however, that is not always the case,” Irwin shares. “Please be gentle & pause before asking me (or any woman) when we’ll be having more children.”
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