Hysterical Women of The Fortnight: 14 September

What’s been happening in women’s health since the start of September?

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Two weeks into September already, and it’s always quite a busy month for women’s health news – not least because it’s gynaecological cancer awareness month. Our friends at The Eve Appeal are marking the month by encouraging everyone to Go Red, for all the right reasons, to help stop women dying of embarrassment. You can find out more and sign up to get involved here.

In other women’s health news so far this month: the suicide rate among women and girls has risen to its highest ever level; one in four women feel too intimidated to go to the gym; a survey found that new mums’ mental health problems are going undetected by GPs; and menopause experts are warning that the impact of ongoing HRT shortages could be devastating. It’s not all doom and gloom though. The NHS this week opened eight new “highly specialised” clinics supporting survivors of female genital mutilation (FGM). And research from the US could hail the arrival of vaginal fluid transplants as a treatment for bacterial vaginosis.

Beyond the headlines, here are my Hysterical Women highlights from the last couple of weeks:


Why don’t doctors trust women? Because they don’t know much about us

The Guardian Australia published this piece by Gabrielle Jackson, author of Pain and Prejudice, which I’m really looking forward to reading when it’s published in the UK this November. Like Abby Norman, the book stems from Gabrielle’s endometriosis diagnosis, and explores why scientists are still so short on answers when it comes to women’s health. She writes:

The astonishing lack of curiosity about female illness is hidden by the great strides that have been taken in breast cancer and obstetrics. These areas of medicine are not without their problems but there is no doubt advancements in these fields have saved millions of lives.

But women are more than reproductive machines.

And, while women who live in chronic pain aren’t dying horrible deaths in the prime of their lives – like those who died in such large numbers in childbirth or from breast cancer – evidence shows that chronic pain does lead to anxiety, depression and suicide. For many others, it keeps them at home and out of the workforce, unable to fully take part in life.

I wrote this book because too many women are in pain, and that pain is not taken seriously. It is at once expected and denied. This deprives us of our full humanity. We deserve better.


Women who experience sexism ‘three times more likely to report depression’

A survey by researchers at University College London (UCL) this week confirmed what many women could have told you anyway: ‘Sexism may serve as a barrier to healthy lifestyles that promote mental wellbeing.’ As The Independent reports:

Dr Sarah Jackson, from the Institute of Epidemiology and Health Care at UCL and senior author of the study, said that the study’s findings are “particularly concerning”, as they suggest an “enduring impact of experiences of sex discrimination on mental health and wellbeing”.

“They underscore the importance of tackling sexism not only as a moral problem but one that may have a lasting legacy on mental health,” Dr Jackson stated.


This routine gyno procedure could mean you never orgasm again

Cosmopolitan US this week reported on the sexual side effects experienced by thousands of women – like previous guest blogger Kate Orson – who underwent the LEEP (or LLETZ) procedure to remove cervical cell abnormalities. As journalist Hannah Smothers writes:

There are other ways to get rid of suspicious cervical cells, including freezing them off with cryotherapy and using a scalpel to cut them out. But doctors love LEEP because it’s so easy to perform. It’s also considered safe, with seemingly straightforward side effects like bleeding and discharge and an increased risk of pregnancy complications.

Except that Sasha—and hundreds of others—insist that it carries a devastating risk their doctors never mentioned. In a Facebook group called Healing From LEEP/LLETZ (LLETZ is the term used overseas), women share how LEEPs radically altered their sex lives, how penetrative sex is now painful, how they’ve lost sensation in their vaginas, how they could now go the rest of their lives without sex. “I haven’t reached orgasm since the operation,” wrote one woman. “I miss my old self, who burned with lust during sex.”


Vagina! Why Was I Hauled Into Nursery When My Daughter Used That Word?

As part of gynaecological cancer awareness month, The Eve Appeal is encouraging parents to stop using euphemisms and call vaginas and vulvas by their proper names. Huffington Post published a pretty shocking piece on this subject, about a mother who had been hauled into an emergency ‘safeguarding’ meeting after her daughter used the word ‘vagina’ at nursery.

Then there’s the time I got called in to my daughter’s nursery for a sudden “safeguarding” meeting with management, over her use of “inappropriate language”, aged two.

The language? You guessed it: she referred to her vagina, as a…. vagina.
My husband and I sat there, open-mouthed, as the (admittedly caring and wonderful) nursery staff blushed their way through telling us what she’d said.

“We’ve never heard children this young using this kind of language before,” they admitted. We pointed out then, as I’ll point out now, that it was nothing but basic common sense that dictated our decision to tell our daughter the correct anatomical names for parts of her body.


Doctors said Herefordshire woman’s bowel cancer was piles

The BBC reported this week on the experience of Beth Hewitt – a classic misdiagnosis case where the GP repeatedly told Beth she was “too young for cancer”, to the point where she says: “I’d think ‘they’re going to think I’m mad because I’m worrying about nothing’.”

After securing a private referral Mrs Hewitt had a colonoscopy and scans to confirm the diagnosis, something she described as “a relief”.

About 18cm (7in) of her bowel was removed during surgery and further investigations revealed no further treatment was required, she said.

A temporary stoma bag, which is due to be removed on Friday, has not stopped her returning to the gym every day for “burpees and box jumps”.

“I would urge anybody if they’re having any kind of symptoms to be going to your GP and not accepting no,” said Mrs Hewitt.


And finally…

Another book that I can’t wait to get my hands on is Dr Jennifer Gunter’s The Vagina Bible. The Guardian published an interview with “the world’s most famous – and outspoken – gynaecologist” about her “mission to empower women with medical facts, taking on wellness gurus, old wives’ tales, the patriarchy and jade eggs along the way.” It’s well worth a read.

Pouring a glass of water, Gunter argues that the wellness industry and the anti-abortion industry are, if not exactly dancing together, certainly at the same disco. The former manipulates that confusion to take women’s money, the latter to take their power. “I even started to notice overlap between the language,” she says with a shudder. “The anti-science views of wellness and the anti-science of the religious right. Themes like ‘purity’ and ‘cleanliness’ with their similar rituals. It’s predatory. It’s the patriarchy by another name. And it keeps women back by telling them lies about their body. They might be different lies, but the effect is the same.” It is her responsibility, she says, with something like a sigh, to “step up”.


Submit a Hysterical Women guest post

I’d love to hear from more women whose health concerns have been dismissed or disbelieved by healthcare professionals. If that applies to you and you’re keen to share your story, check out our submission guidelines and email hysterical@sarah-graham.co.uk

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