I am Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer and it is an honor to represent the great state of Iowa and the first congressional district. We've been getting a lot of great things done here in the House working across the aisle moving a lot of bipartisan bills forward since I got sworn in over a year ago. It's been an honor to get to represent my district and have its back every day and in the middle of all of this I have also happened to have gotten engaged a couple of months ago to my very kind and supportive fiancé who is sitting up there in the gallery right now. He has been there through so much of it and I am grateful every day. You see, we are very much looking forward to one day starting our life together and talking about raising a family and doing it in Iowa and how much that means to us. So, it would surprise most folks to know that just about four weeks ago on a Friday afternoon after votes I was back where I stay in DC sitting on my bed doubled over in pain googling hysterectomies. It was a pain familiar to me, stabbing in my lower left abdomen and a tight pain like two fists clenched together in a vice grip in my lower back. See, I know this pain well because I've been experiencing it intermittently for over the past decade because I have a condition called endometriosis. I've had this most of my adult life and I was luckily diagnosed at a young age at the early age of eighteen. See, a lot of women don't get accurate diagnosis until much later in life.
Endometriosis is a very painful condition where the tissue that normally lines the uterus grows outside and can even attach to organs or nerves. Endometriosis is also the number one cause of hysterectomies for women ages 30 to 35 and I've already had two surgeries — laparoscopes where they went in and cut off or burnt off the tissue. I've white-knuckled my way through more fights, flights, events and days knocking on doors than I can count. There are so many women out there who have been told that this stabbing pain in your lower left abdomen is normal or that you're and that low back that you're doubled over with in your bed is normal but none of that's normal. And on this particular day four weeks ago I felt like I had enough, so I sat there frustrated at the prospect of more delays in an airport in severe pain. I was looking at some of the most extreme options that are out there that would mean I couldn't even have children. And to be honest with you, I just got frustrated because it shouldn't be this hard. It should be more well-known and there should be more options for treatment. And as I was looking up hysterectomies, I came across a place called the Endometriosis Foundation of America and their website was full of information, some that I didn't even know as somebody who's been living with this for over ten years. Like the fact that endometriosis affects 1 in 10 women worldwide, an estimated 7 to 10 million in the United States alone. Or that it's a leading cause of infertility but there is no known cure. You see, when I was looking up hysterectomies the reason there's not more options or the options are slow to come by is because it's also one of the least funded diseases and conditions in Congress by the National Institute of Health. So, once I decided to start talking about this the amount of people whether it's their staff who has it or their sister who has it or possibly you know somebody they work with every day or people they've met on the campaign, I mean it just goes on and on, the amount of people that this touch and the women who have it and the men and women who love them who have it.
I'm also reminded, as I decided to look into this, how lucky I am. You see, I'm lucky that I had a mom who believed me, who believed my pain and good health insurance from my dad's Union where we could go to doctor after doctor after doctor until finally somebody said, “Hey, she might have this, we better take a look at it”. And that's when again, I was able to be diagnosed. I am lucky to have great support from my staff and others but there are so many, so many women across the United States who don't have that support. Including when I decided to talk about this, just a few weeks ago, I was actually getting my hair trim med and my hairdresser heard me say the words endometriosis and she looked at me and she said, “Do you have it?” And I said, “Yeah, I have it.” And she goes, “Well right now I'm feeling like I am being stabbed in my lower left abdomen.” And I said, “Yeah, I know that pain.” And she's working three jobs and she's dealing with it every day and it's something where she doesn't have the luxury to not show up. Many women don't, you just push through it and you get through that pain day in and day out and I know there are so many women hearing this today who may be hearing their pain described for the very first time and that's why I want to make sure that I give a voice to them today and say that it's okay to talk about this.
So, that's why I decided to do what I am doing today. See, I'm in a position with a platform as a member of Congress and I can talk about this important issue that touches so many women across the U.S. And I, to be honest with you, didn't say anything for years because I was afraid that people would think I was weak, that I couldn't do my job but that's not true. I show up every day, I've done it for the last decade. I've represented my state and my district well and it is not weak to talk about it. In fact, the women who are living with it every day, they are strong as heck. And it's time that people across the country know about what this is. Every day women are pushing through their pain and living their lives. They are not weak they are strong and I am not standing here alone because once I started talking about this with my colleagues, I found out how many other members of Congress are touched by this or know people who have this. Again, sisters, we found out about comms directors they work with and in fact, even just this morning after I started talking about it there was another congressman who came up to me and said his wife has it. As I talked about it more in my personal life, I've also met more women who struggle with endometriosis. So, I am standing there today with them and in support of them and their pain and today at the beginning of this Endometriosis Awareness Month we are launching the very first Endometriosis Caucus through this caucus — this bipartisan caucus — we're going to raise awareness with the public and in Congress to get more funding and the kind of support that this disease deserves. We need to end the stigma around endometriosis and bring more attention to this condition affecting millions of women and their families and their friends. So, today I asked my colleagues in Congress and everyone watching, to join me in this movement, join this caucus and we have to up endo funding, up endo research and up endo awareness. It is too important and there are too many women across the United States and worldwide who deal with this every day to be ignored for far too long. Thank you for the opportunity to speak here today about this important issue and with that Mr. Speaker I yield back.
Neither the Catt Center nor Iowa State University is affiliated with any individual in the Archives or any political party. Inclusion in the Archives is not an endorsement by the center or the university.