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Marilyn and her Battle with Endometriosis

To save some confusion, when I refer to Marilyn pre-1946 I will call her Norma Jeane but post 1946 I will call her Marilyn Monroe! TW: Sex, pregnancy loss

NORMA JEANE AND HER PAIN

Norma Jeane and Aunt Ana

When Norma Jeane reached puberty she began experiencing extremely painful periods. Most girls suffer a certain amount of period pain but Norma Jeane’s pain was beyond a regular menstrual belly ache.

Could this have been diagnosed or treated?

Yes, it could.

Was it?

No…

Why wasn’t it?

It was but not until Norma Jeane had grown into an adult.

Later diagnosed as endometriosis (endo-me-tri-o-sis), the now-adult Marilyn Monroe, like many women, suffered from the excruciating effects of the disease. The symptoms of endometriosis include painful periods, endo-belly (bloating), pain during and after sex, sickness, diarrhoea, heavy bleeding, increased fatigue and more. The pain is caused by tissue, similar to the lining of the womb, growing elsewhere such as the ovaries and fallopian tubes.

But why was it only later in her life was it discovered? Well, endometriosis was first recorded in the 1920s so there was definitely a knowledge of the disease. However, when Marilyn was growing up in the home of her dear Aunt Ana, medical treatment for illnesses and the like were not an option.

Aunt Ana Lower fostered Norma Jeane between her time in the orphan’s home in 1937 and her marriage to James Dougherty in 1942. Ana held a dear place in Marilyn’s heart her whole life. However, Ana’s beliefs in Christian Science meant she didn’t believe in medicine or medical treatments. Sadly, this meant Norma Jeane had to endure this awful pain on a monthly basis, sometimes more. Norma Jeane even practised the religion herself throughout her first marriage leaving her to suffer from the condition until her twenties.

First husband James Dougherty said, “Norma Jeane had so much trouble during her menstrual periods, the pain would just about knock her out.” 

THE IMPACT ON MARILYN’S MIND, BODY AND SPIRIT

Marilyn photographed by Ed Feingersh, 1955

MIND

Although I am of the personal opinion that tardiness is not particularly polite, Marilyn’s behaviour on set and lateness for appointments can partially be explained by the suffering she experienced with endometriosis. With Christian Science behind her, she was able to freely have surgeries in order to treat the condition. Marilyn had three surgeries (1954, 1959 and 1962). Sadly, nothing could be done to entirely wipe out the condition and it still can’t, even with today’s technology.

Not only did the pain lead to discomfort, sleepless nights, fatigue and agony, but the overall impact can also have a great effect on one’s mood. A lot of women who have endometriosis also suffer from depression. And I am of the belief that a HUGE impact on Marilyn’s life. The strain it had on her physically and mentally must have affected her day to day activities, especially during her periods and when trying to conceive. When your body is physically unwell, it can cause the same fragility on the mind.

BODY

Her desire to start a family was evident when she wrote a note to her Doctor. on 28th April 1952 when she had her appendix removed, she stuck a note to her body stating:

Dear Dr. Rabwin,

cut as little as possible I know it seems vain but that doesn’t really enter in to it. The fact I’m a woman is important and means much to me. 

Save please (I can’t ask enough) what you can – I’m in your hands. You have children and you must know what it means – please Dr Rabwin – I know somehow you will!

thank you – thank you – thank you – For God’s sakes Dear Doctor no ovaries removed – please again do whatever you can to prevent large scars. 

Thanking you with all my heart.

Marilyn Monroe

Marilyn Monroe after her appendix removal, 1952

Clearly having a baby was a big deal for Marilyn and she was adamant that she would have a family one day. It was recommended that she should have a hysterectomy but Marilyn refused. Sadly, the build-up of scar tissue and complications with the illness caused Marilyn to suffer at least two pregnancy losses.

Marilyn Monroe, pregnant, in 1957.

In August 1957 Marilyn had an ectopic pregnancy (where the fertilised egg implants itself on the outside of the womb) causing her to lose the baby. She was in the hospital for about 10 days before she left, still glowing but with a heartbreaking smile on her face. Confidently Marilyn stated she would try again. Which she and Arthur succeeded in doing in 1958 until she had a miscarriage. In 1959, after surgery, she was told she would never be able to have children.

Marilyn and Arthur leaving the hospital after her ectopic pregnancy.

On top of stomach pain, back and pelvic pain, period cramps, depression and aching, Marilyn’s body was working against her, stopping her from having the one and only thing she truly desired.

It should be quickly noted that this is why so many members of the Marilyn Monroe fan community feel frustrated by claims that she was plus-sized when she was in the early stages of pregnancy and claim pregnancy when she was in fact suffering from endo-belly. Nothing should ever be assumed when it comes to the physical appearance of someone as you don’t know their physical or mental struggles.

A photo where Marilyn has been mistaken as pregnant, 1960.
Marilyn Monroe and Arthur Miller leaving the hospital in 1959

SPIRIT

Marilyn pregnant on the set of Some Like It Hot, 1958

Marilyn Monroe, the sex goddess, was unable to carry a child full term. This must’ve been a terrible burden to bear for one of the most desirable women in showbiz. Sex isn’t just about pleasure, especially when you’re trying to conceive. And during her marriage to Arthur, it was likely they spent some time trying to start a family of their own.

This sex symbol status must have hurt her personally at times, at least on some level. Marilyn so desperately wanted a child. Being physically desirable but physically unable to have a full-term healthy pregnancy cannot be an easy part of any couple’s relationship. Considering Arthur later had children in his third marriage to Inge Morath, it must have taken a toll on Marilyn’s confidence as a woman who wanted to become a mother.

In addition, despite the fact that not all women with endometriosis endure painful sexual experiences, it’s possible and quite likely Marilyn did.

This could’ve made her intimate relationships throughout her life difficult. Seeing herself portrayed as a sex symbol must’ve been a bittersweet reality one that she never shook off. Marilyn was very open about her sexuality and spoke to friends about her enjoyment of having sex, but again this may have been a part of the sex goddess picture she had painted for herself. To endure the idea of being a sexual being without carrying her babies full term or being able to have pleasure in sex can dampen one’s vision of themselves to a large degree. Marilyn adored children and always spoke about her desire to become a mother.

Again, this is another reason why so many Marilyn Monroe fans despite the accusations that she had an abortion (in some cases, there are rumours to have been twelve). This is not true. This is possibly the last thing Marilyn would’ve ever done.

ENDOMETRIOSIS TODAY

Marilyn Monroe leaving the hospital in 1954.

Sadly, there is still no cure for endometriosis and it can still be difficult to treat even by today’s standards. Treatment aims to ease symptoms as opposed to stop the condition.

Treatment is given to:

  • help relieve pain 
  • slow the growth of endometriosis tissue 
  • improve fertility
  • stop the condition returning

These include:

  • your age 
  • what your main symptoms are
  • whether you want to become pregnant as some treatments may stop you getting pregnant 
  • how you feel about surgery 
  • whether you have tried any of the treatments before 

Treatment isn’t always required especially if there are no fertility problems. Endometriosis can also get better on its own but it can get worse if it’s not treated, which is what happened with Marilyn.

There are several self-help groups such as Endometriosis UK which can be good if you’re learning how to manage the condition.

Sources: NHS, Everlasting Star

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