Real Life

Forced to be a teen Mum?

Young Joanna James’ body is forcing her to become a teen mum – even though she doesn’t want to have a baby.

The 18-year-old suffers excruciatingly painful periods and the  only way to cure the condition is to get pregnant and give birth. After surgery to discover the source  of her monthly agony, the Auckland teenager’s gynaecologist diagnosed  severe dysmenorrhea, which means “excessively painful periods” and causes severe cramps, fainting  and vomiting.

The best cure for the condition is simple, but it’s one that is shocking to Joanna – to fall pregnant and have a baby. And there’s another cruel twist to  her difficult situation – the condition can cause the fertility-threatening problem endometriosis, meaning Joanna may never be a mum if she leaves it too late.She’s been told by doctors that she could have just six to eight months before endometriosis develops.

It’s a heartbreaking situation for Joanna, who is can barely get out of bed when the painful spasms strike. “I’m just a kid. I don’t want to be a mother at 18,” she says.

Joanna also wants to get off the strong painkillers that she has to take. Even those pills aren’t enough sometimes and she has to go to hospital for morphine injections.

Sadly, the disorder is also badly affecting her career prospects. She’s only been in her current job as a shop assistant for two months and has already used up all her sick leave and annual leave.

When Joanna first got her period at the age of 13, she couldn’t believe how painful it was. Friends and family told her it was normal, until Joanna’s mother, Nicole oearns, recalled her daughter’s high pain tolerance – she once broke her leg  in 11 places doing motocross and never complained about the pain.

Joanna also couldn’t predict when the dreaded pain would strike. She could bleed on and off for weeks, then go for six months without a period. When she first sought medical help at the age of 14, doctors prescribed the contraceptive pill, which failed to help. At 15, Joanna was then given the contraceptive injection  but that failed to ease her agony too.

“I had three injections over six weeks and bled through the whole lot,” Joanna explains. “Nothing stopped the pain or the bleeding.”

Her problem also meant giving up  her passion of motocross. “I’ve even had my hobby taken away from me,” she says.

At first, Joanna’s surgeon suspected Joanna had already developed endometriosis. “He told me my cervix looked like that of a woman who was going through menopause – which was not something I wanted to hear when I was just 17 years old,” she says.

It wasn’t until Joanna had surgical exploration for a proper diagnosis that  her surgeon discovered the real cause of Joanna’s problems was quite the opposite – she was super-fertile and her period pain was linked to her body being desperate for her to conceive.

“He said the only way to fix it was to fall pregnant and until then I would have cysts in my fallopian tubes. He said that 90%  of people with my condition are fine after the first pregnancy, but he did say I didn’t have to do it,” she says.

“He said I had the most fertile and healthy uterus he’d ever seen and my left ovary was so large and full of eggs.”

But he also warned that unless Joanna conceives within the next six to eight months her condition is likely to lead to endometriosis, which could cause infertility.

“I went from being told at 17 that it’s very unlikely I’ll fall pregnant to being told at 18 that I need to get pregnant to stop having  to be on morphine for the pain.

“I’m quite seriously considering it – even though I would never have considered becoming a mother at this age otherwise.  I’m still so young,” says Joanna.

She started going out with someone  two months ago and he’s not ready for parenthood either. “I want to be over 20 before having a baby but the pain is getting worse and worse,”  she says. “I also want to be able to care for  the baby and be a good mum. The last thing  I want is to just have a baby just to stop the pain. I don’t want to be an 18-year-old with  a baby just so it could fix me.”

But with the clock ticking and the pain worsening, Joanna knows that might be  her only choice.

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