A young Derry woman whose periods were so painful they caused her to suffer brain seizures has shared her joy at becoming a mum against all the odds. At 21, Jenny Dunlop was told she would never have children. Just two years later she was hospitalised her excruciating levels of pain caused her to suffer from seizures and lose the power of speech. Now aged 26, Jenny is mum to six-month old baby Lile (pronounced Lily) after she defied doctor’s predictions by falling pregnant naturally. She has also used her chronic illness journey as the inspiration for her blog, Instagram and Twitter accounts which have given her a combined total of 10,000 online followers “It started as something to put my focus on and a way of speaking to other people with chronic illnesses, but then I began to realise that I could make a difference to people and they might read something that could help them,” Jenny explained. Jenny first went to her GP about her painful periods at just 16, but it took years before the full extent of her gynaecological problems came to light. Meanwhile, she was battling with near constant pain that escalated as the years went on. “My GP told me it was normal and I was ‘a teenage girl who gets painful periods’ and to ‘get over myself’,” she recalled. “When I was 18 I started passing out with pain, but because I was away at University in London, I just carried on with it. “When I came back for a long holiday, my mum noticed the symptoms and she took me to the GP a few times before one would take me seriously.” Jenny was eventually referred to a gynaecologist and at 19 had a laparoscopy, where a fibre-optic instrument is inserted through the abdominal wall to view the organs. During the operation doctors were able to remove an ovarian cyst, and they also discovered she had endrometriosis, a painful condition which causes tissue from the uterus to grow in other parts of your pelvis. Just two years later a second laporoscopy showed she had adenomyosis where the tissue that lines the uterus grows into the organ’s muscular wall. She was also diagnosed with Congested Pelvic Veins, which causes varicose veins in the lower abdomen. The three conditions meant Jenny was in daily pain, which peaked around the time of her period. At times the pain was so bad Jenny’s body would mimic labour and she would feel the urge to push. On one occasion she was taken to A&E suffering from severe contractions and was told her cervix was six centimetres dilated. Over the years Jenny tried a huge variety of medical treatments in an effort to get some relief. “I had six different contraceptive pills, combined and non-combined,” she said. “I had the implant for three years, the Evra patch for six months. “I’ve been placed into medical menopause three times, six months each time, using Provera and Prostap.” She also tried a host of health supplements and alternative therapies such as Chinese medicine and Mayan massage.
In 2015 doctors decided that because of her age Jenny had to take a break from the medically induced menopause. Her symptoms escalated almost immediately and in March events took a further twist and she was taken to A&E after suffering a suspected stroke. Jenny had lost feeling and movement on her left side, her face had dropped and her speech was slurred. A CT scan revealed an inoperable cyst on her brain and she started suffering from brain seizures. “I was completely disabled by it,” said Jenny. “I was in my bed and my brain was shutting down, the left side of my body was paralyzed.” When her condition was at its worst Jenny lost the power of speech and had to be carried to the bathroom. As a result of her condition she also developed fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue and migraines. However, she eventually she was diagnosed with
Functional Neurological Disorder
after it emerged the seizures were her body’s reaction to the level of pain she was in and not related to the cyst at all. By this point Jenny’s health and mobility had deteriorated so badly she was hospitalised. She was suffering daily seizures and her pain levels were so bad that even morphine gave her very little relief. Jenny says her partner Stephen and mum Theresa Dunlop were by her side through her through her darkest days. “I was so lucky that I had so much support,” she said. “My mammy was my carer and she was working full time. “She was my rock, without her I wouldn’t have survived it. “She was always fighting for me. She got out of work and come to hospital to spend the night with me. “If the nurses needed to talk to me she was my voice.” But despite such strong support Jenny admits she was terrified about what the future held for her. “Nobody could tell me what was going to happen,” she said. “I didn’t know if I was going to get better or worse.” Jenny had heard about other people with the same condition who were wheelchair bound or incontinent. “No one could say this is what you have and this is how you get better,” she explained. Unable to get out of bed she spent hours on social media and she passed her time watching YouTube make-up tutorials. “I started thinking maybe I could do something like that. It got me through the worst days.” When medical staff asked her to set her challenges to improve her hand eye co-ordination Jenny knew immediately what she wanted to do. “I would say ‘I’m going to do a smoky eye with a cut crease’,” she laughed. She was already familiar with the online world after starting her blog ‘Beauty behind illness’ in 2015. “I started blogging was because you’re going to A&E and people are thinking ‘there’s another drug addict looking for a morphine fix’. “Doctors have to be careful but to be in so much agony and not be believed is awful.” Jenny also wanted to shed light on the fact people who look fit and healthy can actually be in terrible pain. “I wanted to talk about how you feel you can’t put a dress on or put on make-up or people will say ‘she’s not ill, sure there’s nothing wrong with her. If she can put on make-up or fake tan there’s nothing wrong’. “Sometimes a bit of make-up or fake tan makes you feel good when you are having a really bad day.” Jenny is also honest with her Instragram followers about her chronic pain and is keen to point out that her glamorous pictures don’t always tell the full story. “With social media people think they know you and they know everything going on in your life. “But I pick and choose what I show and when I show it on my Instagram or blog. “I might take three photos in one day and that could be a week’s content. “People will say ‘she’s out and about’ but it’s not always real life. “I try to be as honest as possible and I chat in my Instagram stories about how I feel that day to get a balance.” Last March doctors carried out a further laparoscopy to try and offer her some relief. ”Afterwards they said they’d done as much as they could do to help with the pain but that they couldn’t save my fertility because my womb was so badly damaged and that the next step would be to have my womb out.”
However, in May Jenny and her partner Coleraine Football Club defender, Stephen O’Donnell were overjoyed to discover they were expecting a baby. The following month she returned to hospital for a check-up with her consultant and shared her good news. “He said to me ‘I’ve seen your insides, are you sure you are pregnant?’” The doctor thought Jenny may have got a ‘false positive’ pregnancy test due to raised hormone levels following her operations. She was devastated at the thought she was not pregnant after all, but a scan a few minutes later revealed she had been right all along. “He called the midwives in to show them,” said Jenny. “It was a miracle. It just goes to show that you just never know. “I’d been told at 21 I couldn’t have children but in the back of my mind I was always thinking that there was still a chance’ “I never gave up hope. “But I did have myself built up that it might never happen and I would never have changed a nappy or helped put on a baby grow.” Because she didn’t have periods when she was pregnant Jenny had relief from her most severe symptoms. Breastfeeding Lile meant her periods only returned recently and thankfully they have not been as debilitating as before. “It’s still early days but thankfully things haven’t been as bad,” said Jenny. “I think having that break from periods has given me more strength to fight and now I have something to fight for as well with Lile. Motherhood has been rewarding yet incredibly challenging for Jenny who continues to struggle with daily pain. “It’s hard because I still have a chronic illness, but I do have a lot of support around me so I am very lucky in that sense. “I’m still in pain. I think my body has built up a tolerance to a certain level of pain and you just have to deal with it. “I have good days and bad days. If I do a normal mammy thing like go to baby sensory I will pay for it for two days afterwards so I have to plan my week. “It’s hard in that sense. It will never be a normal life where I can go shopping all day with my daughter. But I have something to live for and something to fight for.”
You can follow Jenny’s blog on
https://beautybehindillness.wordpress.com/ and her Instagram on https://www.instagram.com/jennysinead/