Navigating puberty and first periods are difficult for teen and preteen girls alike. They might not understand that what they're feeling isn't necessarily normal, which is why it's more important than ever to educate all of our girls about endometriosis and really listen to them when they voice concerns about their bodies.
Star Wars actress Daisy Ridley is absolutely a force to be reckoned with because she has been living with endometriosis since adolescence. "At 15 I was diagnosed," explains the English-born star, who still struggles with enough pain and acne issues to bring Darth Vader to his knees. "I can safely say feeling so self conscious has left my confidence in tatters," Ridley, 25, admits. "[If you] are suffering with anything, go to a doctor...keep on top of how your body is feeling and don't worry about sounding like a hypochondriac," stresses the star.
Her story is an important reminder that endometriosis, and its plethora of miserable symptons, is a reality for many girls. "The sad story is that a lot of these young women are misdiagnosed or even under-diagnosed," OB-GYN and endometriosis specialist Dr. James Kondrup explains to The Blossom. "Often pediatricians will call painful periods normal and a mother usually agrees. But endo's symptons are different in teens, they don't usually have back pain or experience painful sexual activity, so a regular doctor can miss it. But [it's important] to treat endo early on before it does damage to the pelvis."
He advises that parents check in with their young girls and focus on these key questions:
Is your daughter missing school every month because of her period?
Is she unable to go to school when she has her period, but when it's over, she's back to normal?
Is she unable to do sports?
If the answer is yes to any or all of these, he advises getting your preteen or teen checked out by an endometriosis specialist.
It's a conversation Alyssa Saratowski, of Manassas Park, VA wishes she would have had when her pelvic pain began at age 14. Within months of getting her first period, it had become heavy, often lasting two consecutive weeks, combined with cramps that radiated throughout her body and caused migraines and vomiting to the point that her mother took her to a gynecologist. "But [the doctor] chalked it up to bad periods for beginners and put me on birth control to regulate them, Saratowski, 26, confides to The Blossom. "It helped so much. Yet, eventually the intense pain came back. It felt like a knife being twisted in my ovaries. And at age 18, I was finally diagnosed with endometriosis."
At first, the diagnosis seemed daunting. "When I first heard the words, 'There's no cure, and we don't even know what causes it,' I was deflated and angry for a while," she shares. Especially because of how endo affected her school life. "I missed a lot of days. When the pain would hit, all I wanted to do was go home and sleep instead of homework. I was just so tired and my mind and body wanted to shut down."
That all changed when she finally found a doctor who took her pain seriously. "She confirmed that I wasn't being dramatic and that all of this was very real," adds Saratowski, who is hoping that her story will help inspire other young women to push for the right diagnosis.
"I felt very isolated for a while and felt like I had to fight to be taken seriously. I want teens to know that they need to pay attention to any pain or difference within their body and they deserve to be taken seriously." Kondrup echoes those sentiments. Young women, "shouldn't be afraid," he says, "to be their own adovates and do their own research."