Life With Endometriosis: Interview with Margaret Kalms

Enjoy this interview with Margaret Kalms, author of Life With Endometriosis

 

Margaret Kalms created her art and a book of her art to raise awareness of the daily impact of endometriosis through her imagery and conversations with women with endometriosis.

Tune in to hear the story of the creation of her Margaret’s new book, Life With Endometriosis.

Interview Transcript:

Jessica Drummond:

All right, hi there, everyone. It’s Jessica Drummond here from the Integrative Women’s Health Institute. And I am here with Margaret Kalms, the author of Life With Endometriosis. And this is a visual art book. So welcome Margaret. Tell me, what was your inspiration for creating this book, and for creating it so visually? I think it’s important to kind of show people that this is an artist’s rendition of what it’s like to live with endometriosis, both with images and with poetry, short stories. So tell me your inspiration.

Margaret Kalms:

My inspiration comes from growing up with a male chauvinist father. Well, being a woman was an insult, pretty much. When he described what women were like, it was always like they’re over-emotional, and they’re this and they’re that. And when he described what men were like, they were heroic and wonderful. So anyway, I grew up with that, and did the usual, get married, have kids and all that.

Margaret Kalms:

And then later, it was actually after the kids became grown up, I started to do my art, and started to get my own space and time. And at that point, my art kept on coming up with these menstrual imageries, because I think there was very deep, I wanted to assert the womanhood. I wanted to assert what it meant to be a woman at a really visceral level. So I created all these images of womanhood, and you might see a couple there.

Jessica Drummond:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Margaret Kalms:

There’s a moon, the arc of the moon on the background here. And oh well, so I’ve got a few boxes up there but yeah. I did a whole series of menstrual imagery, which surprised a lot of people, especially people at church, just couldn’t seem to understand. Well, my answer to that was, “Weil, why are you embarrassed about the way God created us?” I just threw that back at them.

Jessica Drummond:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Margaret Kalms:

And at the opening of my solo exhibition, some people came up to me and said something about endometriosis, and I go, “What the heck? What on Earth are you talking about?” And a friend of mine burst into tears seeing my pictures. This friend then gave me a whole pile of scientific reports to take away on my holidays and read, and then I burst into tears. And I go, “My goodness, I’m in the later part of my life, I’ve been university trained, and I’ve never heard of this jolly thing. You’ve got to be joking.” Why is it all these women are suffering? It’s just bizarre.

Margaret Kalms:

And so the several ducks in a row was that I was already doing womanhood imagery that was touching deep parts of womanhood, so that fit it. I wasn’t afraid to worry about menstruation, bleeding and all of that, that can be visually shown too, so that fit it. And then a couple of years or around that time I also got fibroids, and I was bleeding heavily, became anemic, lost all my energy. And it was an irony in doing menstrual imagery that the time I did my art was after I’d had an ablation and didn’t have any menstruation, because I was just too run-down before that.

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah.

Margaret Kalms:

So I had to have surgery to have that fixed up. And what I went through, broadly, is you had these symptoms and then took a while to get diagnosed, in the meantime I’m getting anemic and run down. The surgery did help it and when I heard about the story from endometriosis women and the suffering they have within the health system, and I can only speak for the women that have spoken to me, 27 women have told me aspects of their story. And some of the way they’ve been treated is absolutely appalling. And I just thought, well, what can I do? I’ve got to be able to help here. This is making me cry. So I thought, I know, I’ll make art, I’ll raise awareness. And so that’s what I did.

 

Do you want to learn nutrition and lifestyle medicine skills to support women with endometriosis? Click here to learn more.

 

Jessica Drummond:

Excellent. And so while you-

Margaret Kalms:

It’s taken me five years to put this book together.

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah.

Margaret Kalms:

And to meet the women, to get to know them, to do an interview, to transcribe that and think about how they’re describing their imagery. And then do photo sessions to put them into the picture. And meanwhile, I’m learning Photoshop to do the art side of it as well. So yeah.

Jessica Drummond:

That’s great. So you-

Margaret Kalms:

That’s what we’ve come up with.

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah. So you didn’t personally have endometriosis, but you were already on this path of menstrual health, art and then meeting women and really hearing their first hand experiences, endometriosis related symptoms and the visualizations they ascribed to them. Were you surprised at how different their experiences were or did you find some common themes among them?

Margaret Kalms:

I didn’t even think of it like that. I simply took what the women said face value. I didn’t have a set of questions. I simply generally had an hour with them and saw what they wanted to talk about, and visualize what they wanted to talk about. So if you look at the imageries, each woman has highlighted a different aspect.

Jessica Drummond:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Margaret Kalms:

So whether any particular aspect is common to many women with endometriosis, I don’t know. I’m not medical and I can’t answer that.

Jessica Drummond:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). And it is interesting though is that from my perspective as someone who works with women with endometriosis, that there is a uniqueness to the kinds of things that people highlight. Some highlight the pain, some highlight the fertility challenges. And there are definitely commonalities across many of these, but I do think it’s very real how you display that there are a lot of themes when it comes to how much endometriosis impacts people’s lives very directly.

Margaret Kalms:

Absolutely, yes. And that was a challenge photographically as well. At no point was I ever stuck in a slot getting bored, visually.

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah. Yeah.

Margaret Kalms:

So the other thing, because I do not have endometriosis and never have, the closest I got was fibroids, which has similar symptoms but not as severe. But because I don’t have it, I’m very grounded on referring to what the women have said to me. And I say that in all my promotion material and on the each of the pages you have the quote that inspired the picture.

Jessica Drummond:

Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Margaret Kalms:

I keep referring back to what the women said themselves.

Jessica Drummond:

Right. So keeping them very much at the center of the project. So what is your ultimate goal for this project? What would you hope might come out of this?

Margaret Kalms:

I would hope to raise awareness, and especially for the younger women. So that if the women can be diagnosed earlier, then hopefully there is less damage done to their bodies.

Jessica Drummond:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), right. So this is an opportunity potentially for if someone is… Go ahead.

Margaret Kalms:

And towards that, that last year, a school chaplain I knew liked my book and has taken some of them into high schools around Canberra.

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah.

Margaret Kalms:

And now high schools around Canberra are closed, so that’s interesting. But…

Jessica Drummond:

But having them in schools might be a really good start.

Margaret Kalms:

… That was the goal. Yeah it was to talk to the high schools. Sorry?

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah. So having them in schools could be a place to start where a girl or a teenager who’s experiencing these symptoms can potentially begin to see herself in these images and know that, you know, to really push to seek good care.

Margaret Kalms:

Yes. So what I see for the book is not so much being a teaching book per se, but to open the dialogue. To make it clear that you are not alone if you have any of these symptoms. And together the symptoms can be a pretty serious illness and take it seriously. Take it to the doctor, take it to get proper professional treatment. And yeah, I mean, the one that absolutely got me crying, which one? Was this one.

Jessica Drummond:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), mm-hmm (affirmative).

Margaret Kalms:

I don’t know if you can see it very well. This woman was in her twenties and she needed to carry a poo bag. How do you go out meeting blokes? How do you have any social life? Nevermind the whole get married, have kids and do what normal people do. You know, normal, sorry. I mean, it’s terrible to be that damaged at 20, in your twenties. I was just completely horrified.

Jessica Drummond:

Did you find-

Margaret Kalms:

It made me cry too.

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah. And did you find that she felt that sharing that story with you was really helpful for her?

Margaret Kalms:

It was. And for a lot of the women, they felt validated, they felt heard. Some of the women had been dismissed by their doctors, well, by their mothers at first, by their doctors. By their employers, made fun of by colleagues or schoolmates. And oh you’re just lazy, you just want to get out of doing the work. I mean, you had that last month, can’t you get over it? Crazy sort of talk. And the first thing I did with them was sit with them for an hour and listen to what they had to say. That opened up dialogue. I listened to 27 women and not all of them in the end either needed to do the photography to act it out or wanted to. I’ve photographed 17. So the book has actually 17 different women. So the fact that I was doing this and meeting different women also gave them the validation they weren’t alone, that other people have similar symptoms and this is a real thing.

 

Do you want to learn nutrition and lifestyle medicine skills to support women with endometriosis? Click here to learn more.

 

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah. Yeah. So is there anything else you would like to accomplish with this work? Is this a series that you’ll continue or is it feel complete for you at this point? Anything else you want to share with us?

Margaret Kalms:

I do like to raise awareness and I publish the pictures I make in online magazines, on online exhibitions. I also, well magazines can be printed as well. I also exhibit in exhibitions and the people who come along to this are for want of a better word, mainstream audience, ordinary people. And it can open a dialogue to people who would run away in a very rapid rate if you had medical imagery. But here they are looking at this stuff and going, “Oh, what’s all that about?”

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah, yeah.

Margaret Kalms:

Are mentally going.

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah.

Margaret Kalms:

So it raises the awareness to the ordinary part of the community and certainly a lot of people around me have learned more about this illness in the last few years than they would have otherwise.

Jessica Drummond:

Absolutely. Well, thank you so much for putting together this work. And I think it’s so valuable that you are, just reaching into the general community because that’s how we affect change, right? or people to understand that on a basic community level, one in 10 women who live amongst them, who they go to school with, who they are at work with are struggling like this. On a day-to-day basis. And I think that level of awareness is so enlightening for the general public very often.

Margaret Kalms:

Yes. So yeah. And it is helpful to the women actually to see the imagery. For the women who participated, they found that for want of a better word, acting it out, acting. I’d pick out a section of say what they said or several. I usually did several. We then spoke about them and I gave a bit of an idea how I would visualize it and they said, “Oh no, no, not that one. This one was better and that one we’ll have a go at.” So we’d usually try a couple. Sometimes attempting it, it just all looked corny when you acted it out. Other times things just fell into place. But the women who did that, they said that it was empowering because they were able to see the effect.

Margaret Kalms:

One of the problems with endometriosis is that it’s such a hidden disease. And a lot of the image, if you Google imagery endometriosis, you will end up with medical imagery largely. There isn’t this, like for Covid-19 that’s running around, there’s little pictures of these spiky little balls all over the place. And that’s something that people can relate to as just sort of floating about, lying everywhere. And it’s not personal, it’s not offensive. Well it is in some ways, but you know, because it sticks to you like a bear or something. But the imagery appeared and became well known very quickly. This hasn’t happened for endometriosis. So people are struggling with, how do we even think about it?

Margaret Kalms:

So I’ve used dots, lightning bolts, peeling bark with sort of flaking bits and pieces coming off it, different colors. And in other imagery, not in this book, I’ve had actual drops of blood flowing over the woman or something and just all sorts of different ways of thinking about it. And the imagery and the dialogue I had with the women helped to unpack some of that. And then the demon you can see is easier to face.

Jessica Drummond:

Mm-hmm (affirmative), sure. So it gave them something to, you know, really they were able to articulate what the demon in their mind looked like and thus give, it’s in a sense therapeutic to be able to converse with the demon, minimize the demon, change the demon, have some power over the demon that they’ve created, the imagery that they’ve created.

Margaret Kalms:

Yes, yes.

Jessica Drummond:

Yeah, that’s great.

Margaret Kalms:

Exactly. Each woman was involved in creating that image and creating the story around it. So it wasn’t a doctor telling them what they ought to be feeling or anything like that.

Jessica Drummond:

Right. And in a sense the imagery was individual to each woman too.

Margaret Kalms:

Mm-hmm (affirmative). Yeah. Yes.

Jessica Drummond:

Well thank you so much for putting this together Margaret. It’s an excellent project. We’ll be happy to use it to spread awareness and share it amongst our community and see if people find it helpful for kind of explaining and putting some imagery to images that often women keep in their minds and don’t have any place to share. And hopefully that will help further and wider. And I appreciate all the work you’re doing in Australia and your own hometown.

Margaret Kalms:

Thank you. Can I have a little advertisement spot?

Jessica Drummond:

Absolutely. Sure. Please share with us anything you would like to share. Yes.

Margaret Kalms:

The book is available on Amazon and you can email me on that email.

Jessica Drummond:

Great. Lifewithendo@artofwoman. 

Margaret Kalms:

And the books are available as an eBook on Amazon, so yes. Thank you very much.

Jessica Drummond:

Thank you so much for being here and we’ll definitely share how people can connect with you and best wishes on all of your projects. Thank you.

Margaret Kalms:

Great to see you. I’ve watched your video in Melbourne too. You’re an amazing speaker.

Jessica Drummond:

Thank you so much.

Margaret Kalms:

So I send you with love and hugs, virtual hugs…

Jessica Drummond:

Yes, virtual.

Margaret Kalms:

… To go forward in your journey in healing women.

Jessica Drummond:

Thank you so much. Have a wonderful day. Take care.

 

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