Kicking off Hysterical Women’s #NotNeurotic series, in partnership with BetterYou

Today I’m thrilled to be launching #NotNeurotic, Hysterical Women’s exploration of how mothers, trans and non-binary parents are treated in healthcare. It’s a series I’ve wanted to run for a long time and March 2021, in the run up to Mothers’ Day, feels like an especially significant and important time to do so.

We’re now 12 months into a pandemic that has been tough on all of us, but has taken a particular toll on mothers and those with caring responsibilities. We’ve seen partners excluded from pregnancy scans and other appointments, people left to miscarry alone, and even endure early labour alone. We’ve seen new parents isolated, unable to access all the usual support of family and friends that many parents of newborns rely on during those challenging early days. We’ve also seen the burden of home schooling fall disproportionately on mothers, and we’ve seen self-employed people penalised, when accessing income support, for having taken maternity leave within the last three years.

Over the last two and a half years of running Hysterical Women, too, I’ve seen countless examples of women’s pregnancy concerns being fobbed off, and their pain being dismissed during labour. I’ve published posts by mums whose own postpartum health issues have been minimised and overlooked, because “at least you’ve got a healthy baby.” And I’ve heard from teenage girls who, when seeking healthcare for troubling symptoms, have seen GPs dismiss their mothers as ‘neurotic’, or even accuse them of planting ideas in their daughters’ heads.

The most extreme examples of this bias can be seen in recent maternity scandals at Shrewsbury and Telford Hospital Trust, East Kent Hospitals University Trust and the University Hospitals of Morecambe Bay, as well as the racial inequalities in maternal mortality highlighted by the MMBRACE report. In December 2020, the Ockenden Report into the failings at Shrewbury and Telford found that women were not listened to and blamed for the death of their babies. Then there are the examples from later on in women’s motherhood journeys, like Clare who was accused of fabricating her teenage daughter Merryn’s severe M.E., and Emily whose mother Caron was dismissed as overly anxious and interfering.

When it comes to women’s everyday lives, parenting remains one of the most obvious bastions of gender inequality. This isn’t exclusive to health, but seeps into virtually every aspect of professional, personal and domestic life. Like those who’ve picked up the brunt of home schooling – often while working full-time themselves – during the pandemic, mothers are still more often than not the ones who carry the largest burden of childcare and parental admin.

Mothers are expected to do everything, know everything, and be everything to everyone. They’re held up as paragons of selfless, self-sacrificing unconditional love. But they’re also belittled and, when it really counts,  seen as ‘just a mum’; neurotic, overprotective, making a fuss. Their maternal instinct, intuition, and intimate knowledge of their own children become meaningless in the face of those who see themselves as the real experts.

It’s also important to highlight that non-binary parents and trans men who become ‘seahorse parents’ almost invariably find themselves excluded from conversations around perinatal care, childbirth, and even the broader aspects of parenting that society still expects to fall to ‘the mother’. The recent furore over Brighton and Sussex University Hospital’s guidelines on inclusive language highlights just how far we still have to go when it comes to including all relevant people and experiences in discussions about gender and bias in healthcare.

I don’t think I can put it any better myself than BSUH does in their policy document, and I’ve tried to be guided by this approach in running Hysterical Women and in the commissioning of this series: “For us, a gender-additive approach means using gender neutral language alongside the language of womanhood, in order to ensure that everyone is represented and included… If we only use gender neutral language, we risk marginalising or erasing the experience of some of the women and people who use our services… We believe in human rights-based care and we can add inclusive language to our current language without subtracting anyone.”

I’m very grateful to pill-free supplement brand BetterYou for making this series possible. As a runner I’ve been using BetterYou’s transdermal magnesium flakes, oils and lotions for years to help with muscle recovery, so it’s great to be able to team up with them for this.

BetterYou is sponsoring five paid guest posts by mothers and parents from under-represented backgrounds, to celebrate the launch of their new range of family health supplements.

Developed in partnership with nutritional therapist, author and mother Madeleine Shaw, the range includes a Conception Daily Oral Spray; Pregnancy Daily Oral Spray; Hair, Skin & Nails Daily Oral Spray and a Children’s Health Daily Oral Spray, designed to support mothers and parents at every stage of their own and their family’s journey.

BetterYou is also offering Hysterical Women readers 15% off their entire range, using discount code HYSTERICALWOMEN. This is valid for one use per customer until 30 April on all products except test kits and bundles.

Thanks also to everyone who pitched for this series. I’ve now commissioned the five paid guest posts and will be publishing these every couple of days until Mothers’ Day on Sunday 14 March, before concluding #NotNeurotic with a BetterYou giveaway.