This Book Explains The Structural Issues That Make Women's Pain So Hard To Diagnosis

March marks a time to honor women’s history, but the 31-day stretch also features another national celebration that shouldn’t be overlooked: Endometriosis Awareness Month. The annual event is meant to bring attention to a debilitating disease that afflicts millions around the world, most of whom are women. One in 10 women reportedly suffer from the disease, and it takes a serious toll on their well-being and quality of life. Nonetheless, little is known about the disease, and most people still don’t understand what it’s like to live with it.

Science writer Abby Norman shares her own experiences with endometriosis in her new book, Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctor’s Believe in Women’s Pain. The memoir chronicles Norman’s battle with the illness, including her fight to receive appropriate medical care and have her pain taken seriously. Throughout, she discusses the science and history of the disease to demonstrate how the medical field has long failed women and gender non-binary people.

Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctor's Believe in Women's Pain by Abby Norman, $18, Amazon

The author expresses particular frustration over the way people commonly describe endometriosis. Often, the disease is described as what happens when the uterine lining grows in other parts of the body. However, evidence shows the cells are not actually exactly the same as the ones that grow in the uterus. The distinction is important because you can have the disease whether or not you menstruate, Norman points out.

“That is an area of confusion that comes up again and again and again,” she tells Bustle.

Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctor's Believe in Women's Pain by Abby Norman, $18, Amazon

Although such misinformation persists, the public has been learning more about the disease in recent years. High-profile women like Padma Lakshmi, Lena Dunham, Julianne Hough, and others have opened up about their own experiences.

“One of the things that I’m really grateful for in terms of talking about and elevating these issues in a very broad sense is that those people who have really significant platforms are getting the word out there,” Norman says, “And they are talking about it and they are making space for the conversation at the level that they’re at.”

Continuing the discussion is particularly important in the case of endometriosis. With the disease still largely a mystery to even medical researchers, simply getting a diagnosis can be a struggle; it typically takes numerous doctor’s appointments over several years. Unfortunately, the reality is that this is because of both a lack of information and even empathy. In Ask Me About My Uterus, Norman argues that society has long discounted and invalidated women’s pain, and she backs up her claims using scientific and historical evidence. Norman describes the problem as a “whole larger socio-cultural issue that needs to be addressed,” not just a failing among medical professionals.

“A woman is not just up against one doctor, and she’s not just up against one health care system, either,” she tells Bustle. “You’re dealing with layers of science and historical precedent that are not just within the health care system but in the society around it.”

While the author tackles this context in her book, she particularly harnesses what she calls “memoir power” to get her point across. This means she details personal stories of sickness, frustration, loss, and even heartbreak. Her aim is to honestly portray her ongoing struggle, both for the sake of educating those who don’t understand and reaching those who suffer but feel alone or powerless.

Ultimately, Norman wants to create a space for discussion and “leave people with something that could keep these conversations going,” as well as empower readers and foster understanding. She hopes that will open the door for a more nuanced conversation, one that includes people of different races and gender identities as well.

“For me, it wasn’t even so much about telling my own story as pointing out that we need to open up space for people to tell their story,” she says. “We all need to be having this conversation. We all need to be part of it.”