The impact of endometriosis on a woman’s career

Monday, March 07, 2016

Rosemarie is both a volunteer support group leader and advocate with Endometriosis UK. She balances her voluntary work with a busy legal career, and discusses how this has been affected by endometriosis.

“I am a criminal defence legal aid barrister. Please put aside any stereotypes that may come to mind when you hear those words. Barristers are not all fat cat lawyers from privileged backgrounds! I am certainly not. I relied on bank loans, overdrafts and credit cards to get me through the studying and early years to achieve my childhood ambition – to be a barrister. An advocate, representing people in court.

I no longer go to court. As I approached surgery number three, I realised that I had to change my lifestyle in an attempt to manage my condition. For me, my lifestyle for years had been my work, but spending each day in court on my feet, both figuratively and literally, was something I could no longer maintain. Put briefly, it was just too exhausting. When the pain was bad it was too painful. Not to mention the need for what is referred to in court as “comfort breaks” as my endo recurs around my bladder. Making the decision to give up advocacy - the work that I loved and that had been my aim for so long, that still is my passion, was one of the hardest decisions I have had to make. 

The temptation after surgery was to go back to court work but I had to think long term so that I could give myself every chance of staying as well as possible for as long as possible. This meant changing to a role based in the office, preparing cases so that others can then go to court and do the advocacy instead of me. Watching others doing the work that I used to do has been painful at times but I have got used to it. I was also very conscious of the fact that as my health had deteriorated and I headed to surgery 3 I had to hand over some of my cases as I was just not well enough to do them. This cost my firm money. They never complained about this and I wanted to ensure that I could be a useful, productive, employee for them as they had been supportive. For my part I had always been honest with them and they knew about my endo when I joined the firm.  

I hoped that changing my role so that I could simply go to the office, work, then go home, would enable me to continue to work in the same role even if my endometriosis got worse again. It worked. I am six months after my 4th surgery and I worked until the day beforehand. Yes, I was in pain. Yes, I was utterly exhausted. But I took the view that I was going to be in pain whatever I did so I may as well keep going to work. The change I had made in my working role meant this was possible. 

I also had acupuncture as I wanted to try and deal with my pain without taking more medication. It made a real difference to my pain levels and it is also great relaxation. It has taken me several attempts, some very frank conversations with a male boss (that he may have wished were less detailed - sorry, not an option with endo!) and a very difficult decision, but I have finally got the balance right. I can manage my career and endo. 

It is a different career to the one I had envisaged but it is a career nonetheless. I know that there are women with endometriosis who are unable to work so I am fortunate and remembering that keeps me positive.”