Annie was on a career break when she made a decision that ultimately ended a long battle with a debilitating health issue.
The Sydney mother-of-five was 42 when her private and professional life finally aligned, giving her more free time to focus on herself. Then, without warning, her monthly cycle drastically changed. It affected her physically and mentally for a decade.
"I never had any issues previously and I think they're actually light compared to, you know, girls who say there were four or five days. I'm like, wow, mine were three," Annie, now 55, tells 9Honey.?
"I've had five children, including two sets of twins. So my body has been through a lot. I had four kids in two years. It sounds crazy, but you can hardly go to the bathroom by yourself for 10 years there."
Annie says when her cycle changed she experienced painful cramps early on and then a mix of light and heavy days. Then the flows became noticeable heavier, to the point where she'd joke that it felt as though she was hemorrhaging.?
"It went for a few years, and then I'm thinking, 'Oh well, this must be normal as you get older', and then it just kept getting worse and worse and worse," she says.
"I'd go out for like a two-hour morning walk with some girlfriends. I'd put in a fresh tampon at the beginning and then by the end of it, I'm, like, overflowing into my clothing."?
These incidents were becoming more common, with the fear of a repeat weighing heavily on Annie's mind. It was after experiencing an uncomfortable moment while out trail running that she finally sought medical advice.
'I'd been a CEO for 12 years by then and I actually finished a role ... talk about being too busy for your own health'
"I went to the GP and he's going 'Oh, just put two tampons in next time you go running' and I'm like, 'Oh, wow. I've never heard anyone do that.' And it's kind of like 'That's what the doctor said'," she says.
Annie far from alone. In Australia, one-in-four women aged 35 to 52 years will experience HMB, or heavy menstrual bleeding. Yet, only a quarter will undertake treatment.
For the next five years Annie went along with the doctor's advice. Yet, during that period she suffered with sleep-less nights and unwavering moments of fatigue.
"I then put myself on iron. I went down to Priceline and bought iron tablets because I thought I must be anemic. Once again, not medicallyˇ I self prescribed," she recalls.
It was only after a significant change in Annie's working life that things changed.
"I'd been a CEO for 12 years by then and I actually finished a role. Like, how crazy is this? Talk about being too busy for your own health," she says.
"So I'd finished a role and then I was then on like a month (off) before I started what I was doing next and then I went, 'Well, me-time'.
"This was age 52 and in the next month I'm seriously going to just make a list of all the things that I probably shouldn't have held on to. One of them was go to the doctor."
She went back to the same doctor she'd visited years earlier and asked for a referral to a women's health clinic. She wanted an "overhaul on just everything".
"I thought, 'Surely my body, now at 50, after having five children, there could be things going south'," she says.
"I went to have a bit of an overhaul here and I want blood tests and everything. So I went from nothing to 'let's prioritise my health here'."
"We need to be each other's village, break the silence, talk about our period health, and raise community awareness."
Like many women, particularly female caregivers, she fell into the classic thought pattern of "I'm busy". Putting the needs of others, particularly children, before their own.?
"I look back now, and this is why I'm openly having this conversation going 'seriously, we need to talk about what's normal more'. The thought that I could have gone years before is just crazy now. So I'm happy to have the conversation," she says.?
"I'm not trying to bag that doctor, but if they'd gone that's not normal, you need a women's health check or something like that, that could have been at least five years earlier."?
Jana Pittman, two-time athletics World Champion, four-time Commonwealth Champion, and now a women's health doctor, said HMB is a significant and often overlooked health concern affecting Australian women.
"It shouldn't be this bloody difficult. We need to be each other's village, break the silence, talk about our period health, and raise community awareness on behalf of all Australian women and girls who are living with HMB," Pittman, 40, says.
The mother-of-six? is championing the cause to raise awareness on the issue with the outcome of a national survey on the topic behind her.
The new research commissioned by Hologic - a medical technology company with a focus on women's health - found one in two Australian women who experience HMB have never spoken to a medical professional about their heavy periods.
"We should be having conversations that make it OK, in society, that we can talk about any aspect of health and wellness."
Meanwhile, only one-in-three of those who do visit a medical professional for help are satisfied with their discussion.
"I've watched my patients and friends struggle immensely with heavy periods. They often unnecessarily suffer in silence and miss out on life. It's not okay to miss out on life due to your period," Pittman says.
"If you, a family member, or a friend are experiencing symptoms of HMB, get help. See your GP or a gynaecologist without delay."?
Annie remembers the reaction of her new doctor during the discussion of her heavy periods.
"She's like, 'Oh my gosh, Annie, you've been a soldier, you don't need to be going through all this'," Annie says.
"I'm like 'I knew it. I knew deep down, like, 'I know this isn't normal' but seriously wouldn't someone say that? Because I'd also talked with my daughter and they were going 'oh man, that must be all part of perimenopause?' And you hear a bit of news going 'oh yeah, so they get heavier' and I'm like heavier, these women are underestimating it. This is crazy."
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Annie's new doctor sent her for tests and it was revealed that she had severe endometriosis. She now wishes there was more open discussion around women's health concerns, particularly around periods and menopause.
"It's crazy. Once you give permission for people to share they all go 'oh, my gosh how bad is it?' and I'm like 'ladies, we need to be having these conversations because if we'd had these years before, I wouldn't have been such a mess with my endometriosis, I wouldn't have been having all this heavy bleeding and I could have had treatment. There were options," she says.
"We should be having conversations that make it okay, in society, that we can talk about any aspect of health and wellness and we should be encouraging each other to get support as early as possible so that we don't unnecessarily suffer in ways that could be protected. Particularly this area that is preventable.
"It's not like we've got cancer or something, we could actually go in there and get some treatment."
As for treatments, she says, it will vary based on the individual.
"It's not a one stop shop of 'if you've got heavy bleeding this is the cause'. It could be a variety of causes," she says.
"And that's why i think it's really important to see a medically trained doctor. So for me, it actually was related to endometriosis but I wasn't aware of that."