What Emma Watkins wants you to know about endometriosis

When former yellow Wiggle Emma Watkins discovered she had endometriosis she had no idea what it was. Now she’s helping shape the conversation around the disease.

As the yellow-skivvy wearing Wiggle, Emma Watkins was a vibrant and energetic singer and dancer adored by millions of children around the world.

But off stage, she was dealing with the debilitating impact of endometriosis – a condition that affects around one in nine people born female.

Emma had become so accustomed to living with the pain caused by the disease that she assumed everyone experienced similar discomfort around their period.

“I had pain so much through high school and throughout working on tour,” Emma says.

“I just thought that that was normal, which is terrible.”

It wasn’t until 2017, aged 27 at the time, that she decided to investigate her pain.

“I was on tour, and I just happened to be bleeding every day for quite a long time,” she says.

“(Eventually) I thought ‘hmmm that’s not quite right’ and I essentially discovered it (endometriosis).”

Her diagnosis temporarily took her away from touring, and made national headlines, giving her a platform to kick-start a conversation about endometriosis.

What is endometriosis?

“Endometriosis is when the lining of the uterus that is normally shed every month as a period, is growing elsewhere in the pelvis,” Jean Hailes for Women’s Health gynaecologist Dr Pav Nanayakkara says.

“That could be on the outside of the uterus, between the uterus and bladder, the intestines, or even as far up as the diaphragm.”

Symptoms of endometriosis include period pain, back pain and/or pain passing a bowel motion at the time of a period, pain during sex, pelvic pain at other times of the menstrual cycle, bloating, fatigue or low energy, and difficulty becoming pregnant.

Approximately 30 per cent of women with endometriosis experience some difficulty getting pregnant, but most are able to conceive naturally.

Dr Nanayakkara encourages all women with symptoms to seek professional advice, because endometriosis could be worse than it feels.

“The severity of the disease does not (always) correlate with the symptoms,” she says.

The actual cause of endometriosis is not known, but factors such as family history, metaplasia (when normal pelvic tissues turns into endometriosis), and retrograde menstruation can increase risk of it developing.

How is endometriosis treated?

Dr Nanayakkara says there are a number of management and treatment options for endometriosis, including a holistic lifestyle and wellbeing approach, pain-relief medications and hormone therapy, and different surgery options.

Because Emma touring with The Wiggles when she was diagnosed, efficient treatment of her condition was the priority.

“I needed to have surgery in order to go back to work quickly,” she says.

“I probably would’ve loved to have managed it without the surgery, but at the time I didn’t really have that option.”

Why is endometriosis hard to diagnose?

Emma felt she had an overall positive experience with the healthcare system through her endometriosis diagnosis and management, but sadly that isn’t the case for many others.

Many women face a longer, more challenging journey as the average time between the onset of symptoms and diagnosis is seven years.

Dr Nanayakkara says dismissed symptoms and normalisation of women enduring period pain is part of the barrier to treatment.

“Part of the issue is awareness, which also extends to some GP’s not knowing the appropriate referral pathways,” she says.

She encourages women with symptoms to inquire with their GP to see a gynaecologist who specialises in endometriosis.

How the conversation around endometriosis is changing

Emma says awareness around endometriosis has improved significantly in recent years.

“The conversation has changed so much in the last five years, it’s outrageous in the best way,” Emma says.

“The fact that people actually know what endometriosis is about now or that more people care about endo is fantastic, because when I was diagnosed I’d never even heard of the word.”

Emma is delighted to see increased funding being directed to research and early detection.

“It’s still one of these diseases that is so hard to know you have before you even get to a point of needing to treat it,” she says.

“I think it’s important for girls and women to be able to talk to each other and their family in the first instance if they can, because then it just opens up the comfortability for that discussion.

“It doesn’t make endo so taboo or hidden…I think it is just breaking down that barrier and the awkwardness of the conversation.”

Emma encourages everybody who is feeling not quite right about their period or reproductive health to go and get checked.

“If your instinct is saying something isn’t quite right, then absolutely trust that.”

Written by Caitlin Cefai.