Lena Dunham has always talked about her struggle with endometriosis, and now, it seems like she may have finally been able to put it to an end. As she revealed in an essay she wrote for Vogue's March 2018 issue, Dunham had a hysterectomy at age 31 to ease her pain, and after hearing how difficult it was for her to be heard, it's more obvious than ever that women need to take control of their own health.
According to what Dunham wrote, the operation took place a few months ago, after she'd finally reached a breaking point with her endometriosis pain last August. She wrote that she had tried several different types of therapy and even acupuncture and yoga, but when none of it worked, she ended up in the hospital a few months later, begging doctors to either treat her pain or take her uterus.
This is nothing new for Dunham. For almost as long as she's been in the spotlight, she's regularly shared her battle with the disease online, including several Instagram posts from the hospital. It's no secret how long she has suffered, but even so, she had a lot of hoops to jump through before she could get the treatment she asked for.
It's understandable that doctors would want and need to be cautious before performing a full hysterectomy on a woman who is still of childbearing age, but what's harder to swallow is the way it seemed Dunham wasn't quite believed when she said she was sure that she wanted to have her uterus removed. At that point, it wasn't about the ability to have children or not — Dunham also said in her essay that she's always wanted to be a mother and always wanted to be pregnant — it was about sparing herself from a painful condition, and her account makes it seem that the hysterectomy was a medically necessary procedure.
In the 12 days Dunham spent in the hospital after checking herself in and demanding help, she had to write a letter explaining her reasons for the hysterectomy, as well as undergo multiple therapy sessions, both with her own therapist and one the doctor recommended. In the letter, she wrote:
“I know that a hysterectomy isn’t the right choice for everyone. . . that it’s not a guarantee that this pain will disappear, and that you are performing it due to your deeply held, essential and — to my mind — feminist belief that women should be able to make a choice about how they want to spend their childbearing years.”
But despite all her efforts, it wasn't until after the surgery was done that doctors and even Dunham's family began to believe that she was right about the decision to remove her uterus.
After surgery, Dunham said, she woke up to find everyone telling her that she was right, and that her uterus "was worse than anyone could have imagined." She said:
In addition to endometrial disease, an odd humplike protrusion, and a septum running down the middle, I have had retrograde bleeding, a.k.a. my period running in reverse, so that my stomach is full of blood. My ovary has settled in on the muscles around the sacral nerves in my back that allow us to walk. Let’s please not even talk about my uterine lining. The only beautiful detail is that the organ—which is meant to be shaped like a lightbulb—was shaped like a heart. Back in my room I hurt in surprising places: my shoulder, my hip, my ankle bone.
While there are many doctors who do have their patients' best interest at heart, Dunham's story is something far too many women experience. In fact, according to the National Pain Report, 90 percent of women don't feel doctors take their chronic pain seriously. In 2015, the New York Times published an article with statements from women who felt, as teenagers, their endometriosis was ignored, and the Endometriosis Association says for some women, it takes as long as 10 years to be properly diagnosed. With statistics like that, it's no wonder Dunham's battle went on so long — or that she had to fight so hard to be heard.
Stories like Dunham's are proof that women need to advocate for their own health, as well as work hard to find a doctor they trust who will also advocate for them. It's not fair that this is an issue that affects so many women, but until that changes, we need to learn to make sure doctors do take us seriously. It shouldn't have to be this way, but taking control of her own health is something every woman needs to make a priority in her life.