When Norma Jeane reached puberty, she began experiencing extremely painful periods. While most girls suffer from some level of period pain, Norma Jeane’s pain was far beyond a regular menstrual belly ache. In this article, we delve into the story of Norma Jeane, who later became known as Marilyn Monroe, and her battle with (apparent*) endometriosis, a condition that caused her excruciating pain and affected her personal life in various ways.

*I put “apparent” as, despite the symptoms and surgeries demonstrating she had endometriosis, there is no official documentation that officially diagnoses the condition.

The Source of Pain

Despite endometriosis being known since the 1920s, Aunt Ana, who followed Christian Science beliefs, medical treatment was not an option. Norma Jeane had to endure the agonising pain of endometriosis on a monthly basis.

The symptoms of endometriosis can vary. Some women are badly affected, while others might not have any noticeable symptoms. Some of these are:

  • pain in your lower tummy or back (pelvic pain) – usually worse during your period
  • period pain that stops you doing your normal activities
  • pain during or after sex
  • pain when peeing or pooing during your period
  • feeling sick, constipation, diarrhoea, or blood in your pee or poo during your period
  • difficulty getting pregnant

You may also have heavy periods. You might use lots of pads or tampons, or you may bleed through to your clothes. For some women, endometriosis can have a big impact on their life and may sometimes lead to depression.

The Impact on Marilyn’s Life

Marilyn’s behaviour on set and her regular lateness for appointments can be partially (but not entirely) attributed to the suffering she experienced due to endometriosis. Despite undergoing multiple surgeries to treat the condition, the disease could not be entirely eradicated.

There are two types of endometriosis surgery. One cuts away patches of endometriosis tissue. The other surgery removes part or all of the organs affected by endometriosis, such as surgery to remove part of your colon, your appendix or womb.

In 1952, Marilyn had her appendix removed and stuck a note to her stomach which said, For God’s sakes Dear Doctor no ovaries removed.” This note implies there may have been endometriosis surgery taking place too. Marilyn also had surgery for the condition in November 1954  and was seen numerous times whilst in England in 1956 for gynaecological reasons and finally in 1959. 

The pain, discomfort, sleepless nights and fatigue took a toll on Marilyn’s physical and mental well-being. Endometriosis also impacted her desire to start a family and affected her intimate as well as professional relationships.

During her period Marilyn would have to book time off work, especially for certain scenes such as the bikini scene for The Misfits.

The physical and emotional challenges posed by endometriosis, coupled with Marilyn’s status as a sex symbol, created a complex dynamic. Despite enjoying her sexuality, Marilyn’s inability to have a full-term healthy pregnancy and potentially painful sexual experiences may have affected her self-perception.

A Desire for Motherhood

Marilyn Monroe’s strong desire to have a child was evident throughout her life. She expressed her longing for motherhood through the above note she wrote to her doctor when she had her appendix removed as well as several times in interviews. Unfortunately, due to the complications caused by endometriosis, Marilyn experienced at least two pregnancy losses (1957 and 1958) and was ultimately told that she would never be able to have children. This inability to carry a child full term was a burden for Marilyn, who was considered one of the most desirable women in showbiz. She was consistently being asked by the press if she was pregnant when it is possible she was bloated from her hormones or endometriosis. These incessant questions must have put a lot of pressure on a woman with fertility issues.

Today, there is still no cure for endometriosis, and treatment can be challenging even with modern science. The main goal of treatment is to alleviate symptoms rather than completely eradicate the condition. Of course, the type of treatment depends on various factors, including age, symptoms, fertility aspirations, willingness to undergo surgery, and previous treatment attempts. Additionally, self-help groups like Endometriosis UK can provide valuable support and guidance for managing the condition.

Marilyn’s life was marked by her struggle with endometriosis, an incredibly painful condition that impacted her physical and emotional well-being. Her story sheds light on the challenges faced by countless women dealing with this disease. Despite advancements in medical science, there is still much to be done to fully understand and effectively treat endometriosis. By raising awareness and supporting ongoing research, we can strive to improve the lives of individuals living with this debilitating condition.