Endometriosis Awareness Month: Nat Van Dartel from The Happy Uterus | HerCanberra

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Endometriosis Awareness Month: Nat Van Dartel from The Happy Uterus

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March is Endometriosis Awareness Month and across the next few weeks, we’ll be sharing personal experiences to highlight the challenges surrounding this complex condition. Wondering what Endometriosis is? Click here.

HerCanberra first profiled Nat Van Dartel, founder of Canberra start-up The Happy Uterus and advocate for people with endometriosis, in early 2022 and I remember thinking that her handmade wearable heat packs were genius. But it was when I was diagnosed with endo a few months later that I began to find her Instagram a wealth of comfort and solidarity.

Not only do Nat’s heat packs give much-needed comfort to people with uteruses (because you don’t need to have endo to have absolutely rubbish period pain) but her page raises awareness of the realities of living with endo. 

Tell us about your journey to diagnosis and what you experience with endometriosis

While I always had painful periods, I had a very sudden change in pain when I was 24 in mid-2019. It was really sharp, acute and isolated pains that would leave bloating in my pelvic area.

I followed up with my GP, got an ultrasound and monitored for a few months. It was getting worse where I my suspected endometrioma would rupture 1-2 times a month. This meant I would have pain one week before my period, the week of my period and the week after my period. If you do the maths, I was in debilitating pain 3 out of 4 weeks a month.

After a few hiccups and being mistreated for UTIs, being dismissed at the ED for having the flu and body aches, I had excision surgery in February 2020 and had two endometriomas removed from my right ovary and some tissue removed from my uterosacral ligament.

What inspired you to create The Happy Uterus?

I had no friends with endometriosis when I was first diagnosed, and I came across some Instagram accounts that had way more information than what I had been given by medical professionals and what was on the internet. I found comfort in reading other people’s experiences. So actually, The Happy Uterus was first an online account I had to meet and chat to other people.

It was later a platform where I could share my heat packs I had designed and made for myself during my recovery, with other people with endo and chronic pelvic pain.

The Happy Uterus is now a mix of educational resources, personal experiences and of course a platform for my fabulous heat packs! The name is deliberately out there because I want people to ask why I called it that and the story behind it.

Aside from more (sorely needed) medical research, what do you wish you could change about how our society approaches endometriosis?

Endometriosis is a chronic, inflammatory disease. It occurs when tissue similar (emphasis on the word ‘similar’) to the endometrium grows in other parts of the body. It has been found on the ovaries, bladder, bowel and even the diaphragm. In fact, endometriosis has been found in every major organ in the body.

In certain cases, diagnostic imaging may suggest endometriosis, but the only definitive way to receive a diagnosis is through a keyhole surgery via the abdomen followed by a tissue biopsy.

There is no cure for endometriosis.

My two wishes would be:

  1. More awareness to endometriosis and people’s openness to learning about it.
  2. Making excision surgery more accessible to more people. It’s all well and good that we finally find someone who takes the pain seriously, but the cost of surgery with private health insurance is a real barrier. Particularly for a cohort of people who are often unable to work full-time.

What do you wish people knew about the day-to-day reality of living with endo?

That things can change really suddenly. Often, I will be going about my day normally, and then my stomach bloats up and I have really sudden pains. Sometimes this lasts 10 mins, sometimes hours. And then it will leave me really fatigued. It is really unpredictable and can change your course of day really quickly.

What are some of your insider tips for dealing with endo?

I switch up what products I used based on what ‘type’ of pain I have. Heat works really well for dull and achy pains – I used heat packs (obviously), electric heating pads.

For sharp and acute pains, I use a TENS machine. Try all different types of symptom management techniques and take the pain relief when you need it! Don’t write off a product because it didn’t work the first time.

How can friends, partners and family of people with endo best support them?

Everyone likes to be supported in different ways—the easiest way to know is to simply ask! But a safe bet is to do your own research and learn the basics and support their true feelings and don’t pressure them to feel positive.

You can follow Nat and her creations at @instagram.com/thehappyuterusau

Photography: Taylah Cunningham

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