'Pregnancy seemed out of reach': Mum tells of struggle with endometriosis
- Credit: Susie Childerhouse
A Norfolk woman has told of her battle to have a baby, including a life-threatening ectopic pregnancy and subsequent fight against an incurable, progressive condition.
Susie Childerhouse, from Wymondham, underwent emergency surgery when she was 32 to treat an ectopic pregnancy, knowing the treatment meant she may struggle to get pregnant again.
As if the removal of one of her fallopian tubes was not enough, six years later she was diagnosed with endometriosis – a progressive disease which can damage the reproductive and other vital organs.
Tissue grows over the ovaries and fallopian tubes as well as other organs, causing symptoms such as painful, heavy or irregular periods, pain during or after sex, painful bowel movements, fatigue and infertility.
The condition can take years to diagnose as its symptoms are so similar to other afflictions. One in 10 UK women have it, and of those, around half are affected by fertility issues.
Mrs Childerhouse said: "I had no idea that I had endometriosis until I finally got a diagnosis six years after my ectopic pregnancy. I just thought that I had heavy periods."
Four years after her ectopic pregnancy, she and husband Rob started trying to have a baby. Two years later, the couple grew frustrated over their struggle to conceive.
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She said: "Pregnancy seemed just out of reach and every month with no success felt awful. I suffer with PMT and often convinced myself the symptoms were the early signs of pregnancy.
"I would dream about it, ask myself ‘is this it?’ When my period came I would always be in a lot of pain for the first day or two and I would feel deflated."
It was eventually discovered that Mrs Childerhouse, who works for a museum, had "moderate" endometriosis, and that cells from the lining of her womb were growing outside of it – resulting in abdominal pain and bleeding.
A procedure to remove that growing tissue alleviated the pain, but more important to her was her chances of getting pregnant, which were hampered by the severity of the disease.
The couple was told they were entitled to NHS-funded IVF treatment, but Mrs Childerhouse "wasn't convinced" she wanted to go through with it.
"I didn’t have all the facts and people were filling my head with all kinds of information about it," she said.
"Rob eventually persuaded me to go along to a seminar at Bourn Hall Clinic and I instantly felt really at ease there so we decided to go ahead with IVF."
Against all the odds she still managed to become pregnant at the first attempt, and gave birth to daughter Callie in October 2013.
Now aged 47, Mrs Childerhouse is telling her story to mark Endometriosis Awareness Month this March, in the hope it will encourage other to watch out for signs of the disease.
She said: "I knew in my bones that I was destined to be a mother.
"We were so lucky to have the NHS funding for our IVF treatment at Bourn Hall. For us it meant the difference between having a baby and not having a baby. It is as black and white as that.
"Our lives would have still been full and happy and we would have come to terms with it, but I know that a little pocket of sadness would have existed in our hearts."
Not only has the birth of her daughter fulfilled her desire to be a mother, it has also relieved some of the physical pain she was living with.
"Funnily enough since Callie was born my endometriosis symptoms have really improved, which ironically isn’t uncommon once you have had a baby," Mrs Childerhouse added.
Dr Thanos Papathanasiou, Bourn Hall's medical director, said: "Endometriosis is a progressive condition so being aware of the options at an early stage can help to improve the chances of a successful pregnancy.
"Women with severe endometriosis symptoms may need complicated and delicate hospital surgery which can sometimes result in long-term damage to their tubes and ovaries.
"It is important that women are informed before such a procedure that they have the option to freeze their eggs which would preserve their fertility should they want children in the future."