Terrible cramps and bloated stomach in her teens

SINGAPORE - Relatives, and even doctors, would ask Ms Jessie Toh if she was pregnant. Problem was, she was only 15 then.

Ms Toh, now a 30-year-old software testing engineer, had a bloated stomach every time her period came around.

Not only that, the menstrual cramping would be so awful that she would have to take two days off school and spend the time rolling around in bed in pain instead.

She was diagnosed with endometriosis around that time, when her general practitioner found her abdomen to be abnormally hard and sent her to a hospital for tests.

Endometriosis occurs when the tissue that lines the womb grows outside of it or on other organs or structures in the body. It causes pain and inflammation when it bleeds during the menstrual cycle.

But her problems were far from over. Ms Toh also had two cysts, one in each of her ovaries.

Before she had even sat her O-level examination at the age of 16, Ms Toh had surgery to remove the abnormal tissue and was put on hormonal therapy to keep the disease from returning.

When she got married at the age of 22 and wanted to start a family, her doctor, Dr Loh Seong Feei, medical director of Thomson Fertility Centre who was then the head of KK Women's and Children's Hospital's department of reproductive medicine, took her off the drugs so she could get pregnant.

Ms Toh did not conceive. Instead, the endometriosis came raging back.

She went back on the operating table and tried again for a baby after her second procedure.

Happily, this time she got pregnant and gave birth to a son, who is now almost three.

Ms Toh, who is married to a 37-year-old civil servant, wants more children, but tests are showing that her supply of eggs, or ovarian reserve, is very low.

Studies are now showing that women who have endometriotic cysts and surgery to remove them end up with poor egg reserves.

Dr Loh said she may need donor eggs to conceive again.

In any case, Ms Toh is grateful to be a mother and hopes that other girls and women take their menstrual pain seriously and seek help early.

She said: "I was diagnosed late because my family and I thought my pain tolerance was low."

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