Sunday, May 27, 2018

"Ask Me About My Uterus" by Abby Norman

I don't have endometriosis. At least, I don't THINK I do. Put it this way, I've never been diagnosed with it (yet). But I'm willing to bet there are very few of us -- particularly here in the ALI community -- who haven't been plagued with some sort of gynecological issues or mysteries -- even just occasionally painful &/or heavy menstrual periods. (Or even just plain old medical mysteries, period.)

"Ask Me About My Uterus: A Quest to Make Doctors Believe in Women's Pain" describes Abby Norman's quest to make sense of her own experiences with endometriosis -- as well as other mysterious maladies.  It intertwines her personal story with the research she has done on endometriosis and other women's health issues -- including psychology, menstruation, infertility and childlessness (by choice, and not). You probably won't be surprised to learn that she found information and support from other women through the Internet.

Norman had a heartbreaking childhood -- her mother battled an eating disorder all her life and was barely present in her life, her father was mostly absent, her brother was autistic, her grandmother was abusive, and she legally emancipated herself when she was just 16.  Nevertheless, with the support of a handful of caring adults, she earned herself a scholarship to Sarah Lawrence College in New York, where she flourished. 

Then one day, early in her sophomore year, she was stricken with pain -- which became so debilitating and so persistent that she was eventually forced to drop out. Her illness also had an adverse effect on her passion for dancing, her relationships, her sex life, her ability to work and her finances (this being America, she quickly amassed a crippling load of debt related to her huge medical bills).

Many of the doctors Norman consulted suggested her medical issues were mostly psychological -- i.e., all in her head -- something she learned has been an all-too common experience for women throughout history. (She notes they started to pay more attention when she brought her boyfriend along to appointments:  " suffering alone wasn't enough to inspire action. Becoming a disappointment to a man, though, seemed to do the trick.")  And so Norman set out to educate herself -- and confounded her doctors by successfully diagnosing herself not just once but twice.

"I had two choices," she writes:
I could either stay bitter and disappointed about what I didn't have, what I would never have, or I could see the loss of control as an opportunity to change direction again. The hurdle was, I didn't want to go in any direction other than the one I'd been going in when I got sick. But that road was a dead end.  
...I finally decided that I could either try to live my life the way I'd wanted to, where I would continuously fail because I was asking too much of my body, or I could design an entirely new life. (p. 223-224)
The book ends somewhat unsatisfyingly (SPOILER ALERT), with Norman still battling mysterious health issues. But yet, isn't that true to real life sometimes? We don't always get satisfactory or lasting solutions presented to us on a silver platter, all neatly tied up with a big, pretty bow. 

The book has its flaws -- it rambles a bit, and might have benefited from more editing -- but Norman deserves kudos, not only for surviving, but also for shedding light on an important and neglected topic, and for doing it so eloquently. It deserves to be read widely, and it especially should be read by doctors of all kinds. I gave this four stars on Goodreads.

This was book #10 that I've read so far in 2018, bringing me to 42% of my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal of 24 books.  I am (for the monent, anyway...!) one book AHEAD of schedule to meet my goal!  :)  


  1. I am impressed you're ahead of schedule. My schedule has caught up with me and raced ahead! lol

    An interesting book, by the sound of it. It's so frustrating that there are more women than men on this planet, yet Drs still don't focus on the reality of our biology. Argh!

  2. There's a great piece in the Atlantic about a woman's medical pain that is often not believed by most physicians and the medical system. (

    Too often it is assumed that women are just imaging things. Too often the physicians are wrong, usually with terrible consequences. It's so frustrating that so many live in pain that could be treated if only the medical system emphasized care over making money.