“But you don’t look sick?” is a phrase heard over and over by women with endometriosis. The taboo that comes along with a woman’s period in our society today is the main contributor to how this disease affects over 176 million women worldwide. On average in the United States, endometriosis is left undiagnosed for twelve years. What does this mean? That women could live a much less painful, more vibrant life while having their period if they had just been diagnosed and treated sooner. This means that young girls who, as young as 10, are forced to miss school, while crying in bed alone spooning their heating pad. Young girls who are told it’s all in their heads and are left to wonder if they’ll ever be able to live a somewhat normal life. Young girls who are already forced to think about their ability to have children in the future. These women are truly suffering from a disease that destroys them, from the inside out (statistical information comes from Seckin, Tamer, The Doctor Will See You Now. Turner Publishing, 2016).
My name is Alaia Baldwin, and I was diagnosed with endometriosis three years ago. My life was never the same. As a twenty-six-year-old model, endometriosis has gotten in the way of my life and career more than I ever could have imagined. Having to put my career and education on hold multiple times due to extreme pain and surgery is not exactly how I envisioned my early twenties. I am known among my friends to cancel on plans last minute due to pain or illness that I caught from having a lowered immune system. I am chronically exhausted, and the energy I muster to be able to complete a day’s work at times feels like I am using every last ounce of energy left in my body.
Endometriosis is a disease where your period grows outside of your uterus. Instead of filtering out smoothly each month, the blood and tissue remains stuck within the pelvis and attaches to other surrounding organs, such as the fallopian tubes, bowels, the bladder or appendix. In turn, when hormones rise each month during a menstrual cycle, the lesions, or tissue, continue to grow, spread and bleed, causing more inflammation and excruciating pain. The pain experienced by women with endometriosis affects every aspect of their daily lives, physically and emotionally. It interferes with their quality of life, career aspirations, education, emotional well-being, family relationships, social life, and self-confidence.
Teenage girls are constantly told that period pain is “normal.” They are told to suck it up, to deal with it, to take some Advil and get over it. This is why millions of girls grow up to learn that they are unable to have children, unable to have a career, and unable to function like a normal human being. If more awareness was spread and all of the stigma surrounding a woman’s period was taken away, the possibilities would be endless. 1 in 10 women are diagnosed with endometriosis. 1 in 11 adults are diagnosed with diabetes. Federal research dollars amount to 7 million in funding for endometriosis annually. Meanwhile, 7 billion dollars are spent each year on diabetes research. The health disparities that coincide with this disease are astronomical.
Currently, I am on the junior board of the Endometriosis Foundation of America, which aims to increase disease recognition, provide advocacy, facilitate expert surgical training, and fund landmark endometriosis research. I recently received the first ever Horizon Award by EndoFound, a recognition that I was incredibly honored to accept. This was a great moment that inspired me to continue speaking out about endometriosis. Since the junior board at EndoFound aims to target a younger audience, Gurls Talk especially spoke to me when I came across it. I love everything that Gurls Talk represents. I am always moved by the videos and messages that speak out to young women who follow you. Gurls Talk is an incredible, cool, and comfortable space for young girls to speak about such an uncomfortable and debilitating topic. I personally have felt relief and comfort by the genuine and personal attitude portrayed by Gurls Talk. Thank you so much for starting such a beautiful movement, and I am grateful that something like this exists for young women around the world. Please know that you are making a difference.