Recent writing: fertility myths, and women’s cancers

September was Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, and I wrote for Patient about how to spot the warning signs of the five different gynae cancers: ovarian, cervical, womb, vaginal and vulval cancer. Also in September I wrote for Grazia, debunking some of the most common myths around fertility.

For Breast Cancer Awareness Month, in October, I worked with both Breast Cancer Care and Breast Cancer Now on two features – for Patient and BBC Three – about two women’s experiences of living with secondary breast cancer. Special thanks to Emily and Beth for speaking so candidly about such a difficult subject.

How to spot the warning signs of gynaecological cancer – for Patient:

More than 21,000 women are diagnosed with a gynaecological cancer each year in the UK, but how many of the types and symptoms could you actually name?

This September, for Gynaecological Cancer Awareness Month, charity The Eve Appeal is calling for cancer education to become part of the Relationships, Sex and Health Education curriculum in schools. Knowledge of gynaecological anatomy, and awareness of gynaecological cancer symptoms, are crucial to early detection and treatment. If you’re feeling clueless, here’s the charity’s Ask Eve nurse Tracie Miles with your need-to-know guide.

9 Common Fertility Myths Unpicked – for Grazia:

Fertility. Of all the ‘F words’ out there, it’s by far the most frustrating – not to mention baffling. You spend more than a decade of your fertile life trying desperately not to get pregnant and then, as your 35th birthday edges ever closer, it all gets very complicated. When should I start trying? How long should it take? How can I improve my chances?

The simple answer is that there are no simple answers. Everyone’s different, and there’s no exact science when it comes to fertility.

But there are some pretty unhelpful myths out there that don’t make matters any clearer. And some of them are so widespread you might even have heard them from your GP – never mind what you’ve been told by your impatient mother-in-law, your best friend, and all those frantic Google searches.

Continue reading at Grazia…

How to cope with metastatic breast cancer – for Patient:

As part of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, 13 October is Secondary Breast Cancer Awareness Day – which this year is all the more poignant as it falls just six weeks after 40-year-old You, Me and The Big C podcaster Rachael Bland died from the condition.

Metastatic, or secondary, breast cancer is a devastating diagnosis that can turn women’s lives upside down and leave them and their families facing an uncertain future. We spoke to blogger Emma and charity Breast Cancer Care about how to cope when you find out your breast cancer has spread.

‘I was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer when I was 22…’ – for BBC Three:

By Beth Brown, as told to Sarah Graham

My daughter Amelia was 18 months old when I first noticed something wasn’t right. It wasn’t a lump or one of the classic signs you think of, more like a hardening on the skin at the top of my breast. But with a toddler to care for and our wedding coming up, I had other things on my mind. Everything else seemed fine, so I pushed it away, got on with life and didn’t go to the doctor until after my wedding – a few months later.

Even when I went to hospital for scans and tests, I didn’t think it was going to come back as cancer. The thought didn’t even enter my mind. I expected it to be a cyst or something easy to treat – that they’d remove whatever it was and we’d go back to our normal family life.

But the longer I was at the hospital, the more I started to think something wasn’t right. I kept seeing other women coming in, having their tests done and going again within an hour or so – while I was there for about eight hours, having test after test.

When they finally sat me down and told me it was cancer, I was really shocked. I gripped my husband’s hand in panic, my mind racing. Weeks earlier we’d been so happy, celebrating our wedding, planning for the future. And now this. As soon as you hear the C-word, you immediately start thinking the worst. More than anything I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘but what about Amelia?’. I was terrified, and it just felt so unfair.


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: Feeling off your game? On perimenopause

Women who are otherwise bossing life are having their careers, fitness goals and sex lives scuppered by the perimenopause. Never heard of it? Exactly.

For October’s Women’s Health magazine, I reported on the hormonal headwind that no one sees coming:

Forty. The big 4-0. When life really begins. It’s a decade that’s been rebranded as effectively as the British monarchy; and if you’re not there yet, you’re probably pretty chill about entering a life stage where you no longer have to fake it, you know your own mind (no more pretending you know who Wiz Khalifa is) and you’re smashing more goals than Harry Kane when England’s World Cup hopes were still alive. It’s how Women’s Health Editor-In-Chief Claire Sanderson felt in the months before her Big Birthday. That is, until something began to feel a little… off.

‘At first, my symptoms were physical. My periods – which had always come like clockwork – started to become irregular, my breasts were really painful and I was starting to carry more weight around my waist. Things felt so off that, even though my husband has had a vasectomy, I began to think I must be pregnant.’ After months of struggling to fall asleep, PMT that was off the scale and ridiculous arguments with her husband, Claire began to open up to other women – and once she did, their stories kept coming.

Daily tasks making you feel as if someone’s upped the incline on a treadmill; a body that feels straight up weird; about as much interest in sex as you have in the finer points of tax law. Happy, successful women, inexplicably off their game. It wasn’t until Claire confided in a friend who’s a practising doctor that she heard the term perimenopause – the term used to describe the process of transition from menstruation to menopause – a diagnosis later confirmed by her own doctor.

Download the PDF here to read the article in full.


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent work: Cervical screening for survivors of sexual violence

Jo's Cervical Cancer Trust

During the summer I had the privilege of working with charity Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust. I was commissioned by Jo’s Trust to write two new resources for their website, looking at cervical screening support for survivors of sexual violence. While smear tests offer the best possible protection against cervical cancer, they’re also understandably traumatic for women with a history of violence and abuse.

The first of these new resources was therefore aimed at survivors themselves, offering practical tips and advice on how to cope with the screening appointment if you choose to attend. The second, longer resource looked at how healthcare professionals can better support these patients both practically and emotionally, with sympathy and understanding of the issues at stake.

These resources launched online at the end of August, to coincide with the publication of a survey on survivors’ experiences and attitudes towards cervical screening. I wrote about the survey results for both Patient and Refinery29, looking at survivors’ experiences, practical tips on preparing for a smear test, and signposting to the Jo’s Trust resources.

The Trauma Of Going For Your Smear Test As A Survivor Of Sexual Violence – for Refinery29:

The Trauma Of Going For Your Smear Test As A Survivor Of Sexual ViolenceWhen Julia was 12 years old, her mother, who was in her early 30s, died of ovarian cancer. The following year, Julia was raped.

Now 35, she is terrified of developing gynaecological cancer like her mum. But as a survivor of sexual violence, she’s also terrified that going for a smear test – the best protection against cervical cancer – will force her to relive the trauma of rape.

She’s not the only one. Research published today by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust, in partnership with Rape Crisis and My Body Back Project, found that nearly half of survivors don’t attend cervical screening tests as a direct result of their experience. Another quarter of the 131 survivors they surveyed said they’ve put off going for their test for the same reason, while only 15% regularly attend when they’re invited.

The potential ramifications are huge. One in five women aged 16-59 has experienced some form of sexual violence in her lifetime. If almost three-quarters of those women delay or avoid their smear test, it’s fair to assume they’re at an increased risk of developing cervical cancer. And many of them are painfully aware of this.

“I’m a radiographer working in a busy oncology hospital, and I’ve seen what happens when people don’t go to screening tests or ignore their symptoms,” says 40-year-old Kate, who was raped in 2013, just after having her smear test.

When her next screening invitation came, three years later, Kate says: “I felt sick. I genuinely believe cervical screening saves lives, and I wasn’t prepared to let [my attacker] jeopardise my health; that felt like another way for him to win. It was too important to not go, but I knew I would find it difficult in a way I never had before.”

Continue reading at Refinery29…

Preparing for your smear test as a survivor of sexual violence – for Patient:

“I remember a viral tweet a few years ago that said: ‘If you don’t go for your smear test, you’re stupid. It takes minutes and it can save your life’,” recalls 41-year-old Sam*. “Everyone was retweeting it but it was so overly reductive that, as a survivor of sexual violence, it was difficult to read. I mean, sure, it does take minutes, and it’s usually fine, but I knew it wasn’t ever that simple.”

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), cervical cancer is one of the deadliest but most preventable types of cancer for women. The NHS cervical screening programme – which can detect abnormal, pre-cancerous cells – saves around 5,000 lives every year. But knowing all this doesn’t make the experience of going for your smear test any less traumatic or distressing for women like Sam.

In the UK, one in five women aged 16-59 have experienced some form of sexual violence – and many of these women avoid going for their smear test as a result. A report published by Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust reveals that almost half of the survivors they surveyed had chosen not to attend cervical screening because of their history. Another quarter had put off their smear for the same reason – and that reason goes far beyond embarrassment or stupidity.

If you’re a survivor of sexual violence, the cervical screening procedure is understandably reminiscent of your past trauma: the position and penetration; the exposure and vulnerability; the lack of control; and often even the language used, like “open your legs”, or “it’ll be quicker if you relax”. But, despite the difficulties, remember that you are just as worthy of good, preventative healthcare as anybody else.

While going for a smear will probably never be a pleasant experience, there are things that both you and your healthcare professionals can do to make the screening process as painless and stress-free as humanly possible.

Continue reading at Patient…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: HPV, abnormal vaginal bleeding, and childbirth

My work on sexual and reproductive health in August covered everything from heavy vaginal bleeding to painful (and even traumatic) vaginal childbirth, as well as looking at the lesser known (and surprisingly common) sexually transmitted virus HPV. 2018 marks the ten year anniversary of free HPV vaccines for girls over the age of 12 on the NHS. In July it was announced that these vaccines will be extended to boys of the same age from next year. But, despite growing awareness, do many of us really know what HPV actually is? I wrote a need-to-know guide for Patient, exploring how HPV is transmitted, who it affects, and what it does.

Also for Patient, I spoke to The Eve Appeal’s gynae nurse Tracie Miles about possible causes of heavy periods and abnormal vaginal bleeding – from benign fibroids to gynaecological cancer. And I wrote for Grazia Daily about two recent reports on women’s treatment options during childbirth.

‘It Was A Shadow Hanging Over My Whole Pregnancy’: We Need To Talk About The C-Section Postcode Lottery – for Grazia:

Giving birth by caesarean section has long been seen as the “too posh to push” option for expectant mums. Either dismissed as “the easy way out” (which it isn’t; it’s major surgery!), or criticised for not being the “natural” or “maternal” way of bringing your child into the world, the C-section generally gets a pretty bad rap.

But for some women and their babies it is the best option – either in the form of an emergency caesarean following labour complications, or as a birth plan in its own right. Sadly, women pursuing the latter continue to face stigma and obstacles at what’s already a challenging and emotionally charged time.

Research published on Tuesday by maternal human rights charity Birthrights found that: “the majority of NHS Trusts in the UK make the process of requesting a caesarean lengthy, difficult or inconsistent, adding anxiety and distress to women at a vulnerable time.”

According to the charity’s director, Rebecca Schiller, maternal request caesareans are the number one reason women contact the Birthrights advice service. Their reasons for wanting a C-section are varied, but most couldn’t be further removed from the “too posh to push” stereotype.

Continue reading at Grazia…

What causes heavy periods and abnormal vaginal bleeding? – for Patient:

Whether you’re 13 or 53, abnormal or unexpected gynaecological bleeding can be a massive source of stress, worry and confusion. But, while it could be an early sign of uterine or cervical cancer, it may also be a sign of something far more benign. The difficulty is knowing how to tell the difference!

We speak to specialist gynae nurse Tracie Miles, from charity The Eve Appeal, to find out what your bleeding might be a symptom of, and when you should be concerned.

Firstly, Miles says, it’s important to understand what ‘abnormal bleeding’ might look like.

“Bleeding is not just necessarily that Snow White moment of fresh red blood on a white panty liner,” she says. “It could be a sort of sludgy brown staining, like the kind you might get towards the end of your period, or it can be a mucus with a bit of a pink tinge. Be aware of any kind of abnormal discharge or bleeding, and any changes to your ‘normal’ monthly cycle.”

As for the potential causes, this varies depending on your life stage – whether you’re menstrual(ie still having regular periods), perimenopausal, or postmenopausal.

Continue reading at Patient…

What Do Different Pain Relief Options In Childbirth Actually Feel Like? – for Grazia:

Pain relief during childbirth is an emotive topic – from whether you have it at all to the type of pain relief you go for. And now a recent study has challenged the routine use of pethidine – a drug that’s been widely used to relieve labour pains since the 1950s.

With so many different debates raging on the subject, how the hell are you meant to know which choice is best for you – especially when you’re trying to get an entire person out of a space far smaller than the average head? We’ve got the (non judgmental) lowdown on the most common options available.

Continue reading at Grazia…

What you need to know about HPV – for Patient:

In 2008 the NHS introduced free vaccines against the human papillomavirus (HPV) for girls over the age of 12 years. Ten years on, it was announced in July that this vaccination programme will be extended to cover boys. But what exactly is HPV, who is it most likely to affect, and why is it a threat to public health?

HPV is a common virus that affects the skin and moist membranes around your body. In fact, it’s so common that 80% of people will contract HPV at some point in their lives.

“There are about 200 different types of HPV and, for the majority of them, they won’t do you any harm at all. There are no symptoms, and the body’s immune system will usually clear the virus without the need for any treatment,” explains Kate Sanger from Jo’s Cervical Cancer Trust.

So far, so good… The problem arises, however, with certain strains of HPV that are considered ‘high risk’. These forms of HPV can cause genital warts and are responsible for around 5% of cancers worldwide, including virtually all cases of cervical cancer. Until recently therefore, vaccinating girls to prevent cervical cancer has been a clinical priority. But HPV can also lead to other forms of cancer – including anal cancer, penile cancervulval and vaginal cancer, and cancers of the head and neck, like throat and mouth cancer.

Continue reading at Patient…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you need help or advice with, please check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: women’s pain – from endometriosis to vaginal mesh

Women’s pain is not taken seriously. It’s something I see over and over again in my work on sexual and reproductive health – and, equally, when I’m writing about mental health as well.

I had three pieces on sexual health published in June and July, and two of these focused on the issue of women being disbelieved, dismissed, and left suffering in agony by healthcare professionals. Which isn’t necessarily to criticise the hardworking and under-resourced healthcare professionals working on the frontline of NHS services, but it’s clear that there is still far too little knowledge, understanding, and research when it comes to so-called “women’s issues”.

There is now an increasing amount of awareness about the issue, which is great. In the weeks since these pieces were published, the controversial vaginal mesh surgery was suspended in England, and NICE published their first standards guidance on the diagnosis and management of endometriosis. But there’s still a lot of work to be done before women’s gynaecological pain is taken as seriously as (for example) male sexual dysfunction.

Should vaginal mesh surgery be banned? – for Patient:

When Kath Sansom first went to her GP, worried about incontinence, she was a fit and active mother of two teenage daughters who, like many women of a certain age, had started to experience embarrassing leaks during exercise.

“I was referred to a consultant, and the vaginal mesh operation was very much sold to me as a quick and simple fix. I was told I’d be a day case, out in 20 minutes, home in time for tea, and back at my desk in a week,” she explains. In reality though, Sansom says she came out in so much pain she could hardly walk – and she’s not the only one.

In January this year, 58-year-old Lucinda Methuen-Campbell from Wales killed herself, having suffered in “agony” following a pelvic mesh operation two years earlier. Before her death, Methuen-Campbell told her former partner that: “There didn’t seem to be any way out of the pain.”

Complications linked to the mesh implants have become a global scandal in recent years, with hundreds of British women taking legal action against both the NHS and mesh manufacturers after being left in constant pain and discomfort. Tens of thousands more in the USA have sued manufacturers, with payouts totalling billions of dollars.

Continue reading at Patient…

“Doctors told me my period pains were nothing. Then I collapsed.” – for Stylist:

For 10 years, Robyn battled extreme pain, but was continuously dismissed by doctors when she went to them for help. She was finally diagnosed with endometriosis – but five surgeries later, it was clear the damage had already been done. Here, she asks why women’s health issues aren’t being taken seriously enough.

This week the American Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Orilissa, the first new pill developed in 10 years to treat endometriosis. It’s a small step in the right direction for the 200 million women worldwide who suffer from the debilitating condition, but progress still feels glacially slow, as 29-year-old historian Robyn tells Sarah Graham.

A decade is a very long time when you’re living with endometriosis. Doctors treated me like an attention-seeking hypochondriac for 10 years before I was finally diagnosed, and I’ve had to fight for specialist treatment. The fact that Orilissa is the first drug to be approved in the past 10 years just proves how under prioritised the condition is. But could the move indicate that we are finally near the end of womankind’s long wait to be taken seriously when it comes to our health?

What happens to your body when you come off the pill? – for Patient:

The contraceptive pill has long been hailed as a feminist revolution in sexual health. First licensed during the 1960s, ‘the pill’ has been giving women control over their reproductive systems for nearly six decades. But, in recent years, there’s been a growing movement of women turning their backs on this method of birth control. So, with many of us having been on the pill since our teens, what actually happens to your body if you do decide to come off?

Recently, after almost a decade, I stopped taking the pill. Not because I plan on getting pregnant (sorry, mum!) but because I, like a growing number of fellow millennials, had started wondering what life would be like without my daily dose of synthetic hormones.

After investigating the pros and cons of both hormonal and ‘natural’ contraception, I decided to take the plunge and give contraceptive app Natural Cycles a whirl, in (extremely cautious) combination with condoms. I took my final pill, got all my details set up in the app, began dutifully taking and recording my temperature each morning, and waited for the app’s algorithm to start alerting me to my ‘green’ (non-fertile) days.

Having been on the pill for almost my entire adult life though, I quickly realised I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. Would I instantly revert back to a hormonal teenager? Or would I instead be transformed into some kind of empowered earth mother, in tune with my natural cycle? And how long would it actually take for my periods – and my fertility – to go back to ‘normal’?

IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. Check out my resources page for details of organisations who might be able to help.

If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing on women’s health – and an award!

MHP Award Ceremony

Over the last few weeks I’ve covered pretty much all my specialist health topics: the brain, the mind, the uterus, the vagina, and the cervix, with articles on women’s experiences of trauma, planning a pregnancy when you have epilepsy, cervical cancer screening in the LGBT community, and – simultaneously fascinating and horrifying – vaginal ageing.

I was also thrilled and honoured to win an award, in the brand new Health Writer category, at the MHP 30 to Watch young journalist award ceremony.

With health award judge Jo Willey, at the MHP 30 to Watch award ceremonyIt was completely surreal to see an example of my work hung on the wall like an artwork in a gallery, and for my writing to be recognised alongside so many incredibly talented journalists – many of them far more visibly ‘successful’ than I see myself!

Anyway, here I am looking chuffed with Health category judge Jo Willey, former Health Editor of The Daily Express.

Thank you to Jo and MHP, and congratulations to the other 29 award winners.

Recent writing

We need to talk about how PTSD affects women too – for The Femedic:

“I lived in constant fear, but could never articulate what I was afraid of. My memories, the pain attached to the past, my current loneliness and fears for the future were so tightly entwined it seemed impossible to unravel. I didn’t trust anyone, and I pushed everyone around me away.”

Andrea* is one of an estimated 310% of people who will be affected by Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) at some point in their lifetime. The condition involves recurrent distressing memories, flashbacks and nightmares of a traumatic experience, and was first diagnosed in soldiers returning from war.

During World War One it was known as ‘shell shock’ and, although psychiatrists’ understanding of the condition has come a long way since then, the association with the armed forces means that many people continue to think of PTSD as a largely male condition, inflicted on servicemen by the horrors of war.

But Andrea has never fought in armed conflict, and the only war zone she’s survived was inside her own home. Indeed, the prevalence of PTSD is estimated to be roughly equal across genders, while women aged 16-25 are the highest risk group, with a prevalence of 12.6 per cent.

Continue reading at The Femedic…

Is it safe to take epilepsy medication during pregnancy? – for Patient:

Hannah* was first prescribed sodium valproate to control her epilepsy when she was 13 years old. “At the time, I wasn’t told about any of the risks and then I fell pregnant at 16,” she says. “The pregnancy miscarried at four months, due to severe abnormalities with the baby, which were caused by my medication.”

More than 20 years later, UK drug regulator the MHRA last month announced a ban on prescribing sodium valproate to women and girls of childbearing age, unless they sign a form to say they understand the risks.

How life events and ageing can change your vagina – for Patient:

When it comes to ageing, few body parts go through quite so much over the course of an average lifetime as the humble vagina. Changes to collagen production and hormone levels bring about natural changes from puberty through to the menopause, which can, of course, be exacerbated by sex, pregnancy, childbirth, and even certain cancer treatments.

So what kind of changes can you expect, and what can you do to keep your vagina healthy throughout your life?

Do lesbian and bisexual women still need smear tests? – for Patient:

Cervical cancer is the most common cancer in women aged 35 and under, with around 3,000 women diagnosed each year in the UK. Despite this, just 72 per cent of eligible women in England attend cervical screening (or smear) tests, which can help to detect abnormal cells early, and prevent around 75 per centof cervical cancers from developing.

In the LGBT+ community however, the figures are much lower still. According to Lawrie Roberts, Macmillan LGBT and Cancer Programme Co-ordinator at the LGBT Foundation, around half (51 per cent) of eligible women who have sex with women have never attended a smear test.

Continue reading at Patient…


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: Womb trouble, breastfeeding, sexual assault, and bereavement by suicide

It’s been a while since my last work update – I’ve spent a lot of the last few months with my head down, immersed in a slightly all-consuming project that I’m excited to be able to share with you soon.

In the meantime though, I’ve also been quietly cracking on with work on my usual subjects of women’s health, mental health, and sexual/reproductive health. I’ve written on several tough but vital subjects for online health magazine Patient, spoken on an International Women’s Day panel about period poverty, and been featured in the Daily Mail‘s You magazine as part of their goal-getters guide to acing it.

Articles

How Endometriosis Symptoms Affect The Lives Of Those Who Suffer With The Condition Every Day – for The Debrief:

Endometriosis is a gynaecological disease that affects one in ten women of reproductive age. That’s 1.5 million in the UK, and a staggering 176 million worldwide – yet relatively little is known about it. What we know from those women is that endometriosis pain affects them every single day. On average, women wait seven and a half years from first experiencing the symptoms of endometriosis to actually, finally getting an endometriosis diagnosis.

Continue reading at The Debrief…

Are fertility apps a reliable form of contraception? – for Patient:

Hormonal contraception has had a bad press in recent years, with studies linking it to breast cancer and mental health side effects such as depression and anxiety. All that, combined with the rise of so-called ‘fem tech’, and the burgeoning trend for all things natural – from organic beauty products to ‘clean’ and plant-based diets – has led to an increased interest in more natural family planning options. But do any of them really work?

Continue reading at Patient…

How to support someone bereaved by suicide – for Patient:

Amy* was just 21 years old when her close childhood friend Lydia* took her own life two years ago. “I went through so many different feelings and emotions – complete grief and sadness, mixed with anger and guilt,” she explains.

“Obviously you feel that grief, loss and sadness when you lose anybody, but it was worse as she was so young, with her whole life ahead of her. I was constantly asking myself ‘what if …?’ and I was angry that she’d made this choice, and left her family and friends in this situation,” she adds.

“It felt wrong to be angry, but it was an overwhelming feeling, and it was reassuring to know others felt like this too. Rightly or wrongly though, I also felt angry towards her family and her university friends because they all knew what was going on and how vulnerable she was, yet she was left by herself. I wish I had known and could have done something,” Amy says.

Continue reading at Patient…

What to do after rape or sexual assault – for Patient:

Nearly half a million adults are sexually assaulted every year in England and Wales, and roughly 11 an hour are raped – the majority of them women.

Recent activism, like #MeToo and the Time’s Up campaign, has shone a light on the prevalence of sexual violence globally. But, if you’ve suffered this kind of attack, dealing with the aftermath can still be an incredibly lonely and frightening time.

Continue reading at Patient…

How to overcome breastfeeding stigma – for Patient:

Breastfeeding can be an emotionally fraught subject. Many new mums feel unable to feed in public because of embarrassment, according to surveys. While others, pressured by ‘breast is best’ advice, feel shame if they cannot provide nourishment for their child in this way.

“The first time I took my newborn son out to a café, he cried to be fed, and I walked home to feed him,” says mum-of-two, Eleanor. “I was so scared of latching this tiny baby on in public. I hadn’t really seen anyone do it before, and it’s hard with a newborn as they need a bit of help,” she adds. “Right after birth, your boobs are huge, so it’s hard to do discreetly!”

Eleanor is far from alone in her experience. A recent survey by The Baby Show found that nearly 9 out of 10 new mums feel unable to breastfeed in public because of embarrassment and stigma.

Continue reading at Patient…

My words elsewhere

The goal-getter’s guide to aceing it – You magazine

For Daily Mail’s You magazine, I spoke to journalist Helen Booth about how having an accountability buddy helps me set and achieve goals for my freelance business.

However, you don’t necessarily need to have a pre-assigned mentor or a paid-for coach to discover your own sense of accountability. Enlisting an ‘accountability partner’ could be the answer – which could be as simple as teaming up with a friend. Sarah Graham, a freelance writer, found success by pairing up with a friend who was at a similar stage in her career. ‘It started off as an informal arrangement where we’d have a weekly Skype call to talk about our goals,’ says Sarah. ‘But now we also have an “accountability day” each week. We’ll check in around 9am and agree, for example, to complete a certain task by 11am. Then we’ll check back at the deadline and update each other, and set a new goal for the next couple of hours. It’s my most productive day of the week.’

Read more.

Events

I’ve also attended some fascinating and inspiring events since my last update – including The Femedic’s panel discussion on how austerity affects women’s health; a talk by Helen Pankhurst on her new book Deeds Not Words: The Story of Women’s Rights, Then and Now; a private view of the Museum of London’s Votes for Women exhibition, which is on all year; and a press reception on women’s health, hosted by the Women’s Health Clinic.

In March I was also very privileged to speak on a panel about period poverty, as part of Doughty St. Chambers’ International Women’s Day celebrations.

These kind of events always remind me why I’m a writer, not a speaker, but it was a real honour to speak about my work alongside such eloquent and impressive speakers – Stella Creasy MP, PeriodPositive activist Chella Quint, and barristers Angela Patrick and Katie O’Byrne.


IF YOU NEED SUPPORT

Please note that I am NOT a psychologist or healthcare professional. If you are struggling with mental health problems, contact Mind on 0300 123 3393 or Rethink Mental Health on 0300 5000 927. In a crisis, call the free, 24/7 Samaritans helpline on 116 123.

However, if you would like to get in touch about your own experiences, or a story that you’re keen to tell, please feel free to drop me an email.

Recent writing: Fertility, how to be friends with a boy, and is a ‘relationship gap year’ ever ok?

Relationships were a pretty big theme of my work in October – from looking at the minefield of boy-girl friendships when you’re a teenager, to picking apart the complexities of dating, monogamy, and family planning in the modern world.

“What I wish I knew about fertility in my twenties” – for Cosmopolitan UK (online)

Nothing makes you feel old quite like reaching that point in your late 20s when, all around you, friends start to have babies. Gorgeous, gurgling, smiling babies, with soft skin and big, curious eyes you could drown in. But as much as I go gooey over the tiny outfits and the baby powder scent, the fact that my friends – people my age – are producing children also fills me with panic and dread.

It’s not that I don’t like the idea of being a mum – one day – but right now I’m still so focussed on everything else in my life: building my career, travelling, getting a bit more life experience behind me. I’ve been happily married for more than three years, which for some people is enough to make me “ready”, but it just doesn’t feel like the right time.

Continue reading at Cosmo online…

Do You Need A Relationship Gap Year? – for Grazia Daily

Most of us know someone who’s had a dramatically transformative breakup experience: left their partner, quit their job, travelled the world, started their own business, taken up an outrageous hobby, got a tattoo, found religion, or some other life-changing new pursuit. There’s something about coming out of a long-term relationship – once you’ve passed the moping with ice cream phase – that really seems to ignite a spark and fuel people’s passions.

But what if you could find that energy for self-discovery without a breakup? What if we took inspiration from the student backpackers and career sabbatical takers, and just had a ‘relationship gap year’ every now and then? That’s just one of the questions posed by comedian and author Rosie Wilby in her new book Is Monogamy Dead?: Rethinking Relationships in the 21st Century. We sat down with Rosie to talk about love, sex, fidelity, and how to fix our troubled modern relationship with monogamy.

Rosie’s book is the end result of her trilogy of comedy shows exploring just how complicated dating and relationships have become. ‘I think monogamy is harder these days,’ she says. ‘Dating, monogamy, marriage, even the labels people give themselves in terms of gender or sexual orientation – it’s all so complex now. There are so many different ideas about who we are, and I think ultimately we’re in quite complex times for settling down.’

Continue reading at Grazia Daily…

How to actually be just good friends with a boy – for Betty Collective

Let’s talk about boys. Honestly, sometimes it can feel like they’re on a totally different planet but, the older I get, the more I appreciate the loyal, funny, caring (and occasionally totally stupid) guys in my life.

My first ever best friends were both boys, so I guess I had a bit of a head start. As soon as you start school though, the gender stereotypes kick in hard. You’re told “girls do this”, “boys do that”, and so neat little same-sex friendship circles form around netball vs. football, dance vs. cricket (what a load of BS, we know).

By the time you’re a teenager, those separate groups are pretty well established – and then being just good friends with a boy gets reeeeally complicated by silly gossip, hormones, and unfortunate crushes.

But the thing about boys is they’re not actually as different from us as they might sometimes seem. Forget pretty much all rom-coms, and the rubbish you’ve been told about how boys and girls can never really be “just good friends”. They totally can, and why the hell shouldn’t they?

Continue reading at Betty…

Recent writing: Egg freezing, and periods on the pill

A couple more sexual/reproductive health pieces from last month. My latest for Grazia Daily looked at everything you need to know about egg freezing – from the cost and success rates, to the risks involved. September also saw my first three commissions for online teen girls’ mag Betty Collective, including an article on everything you need to know about how going on the pill affects your periods.

What Is Egg Freezing? – for Grazia Daily:

Egg freezing, or cryopreservation, is a fertility treatment used to collect, preserve and store a woman’s eggs, so they can be used to make a baby later on in her life. It was originally developed for women with certain medical conditions, or who are undergoing particular treatments (such as chemotherapy), which can damage your natural fertility. By freezing their eggs before treatment, patients have the opportunity to try for a family once they’ve fully recovered from their condition.

These days, ‘elective’ or ‘social’ egg freezing is also increasingly used for lifestyle reasons, if a woman isn’t ready to have children straight away but wants to keep her fertility options open for the future. Fertility naturally begins to decline around the age of 35, so having your eggs frozen while you’re young means they’re better quality and could help prolong your fertility if you plan on starting your family at a slightly older age.

6 things you need to know about periods on the pill – for Betty Collective:

Gone on the pill because your skin is playing up, or your periods are reaaaaally heavy? It can be a bit of a lifesaver, tbh. But if you’ve still got a load of questions about how it affects your body, or what happens to your monthly flow when you’re taking it, look no further. Here’s everything you NTK…

The pill stops you ovulating

The most common way the pill works is by stopping your ovaries from releasing an egg (ovulation). You’ll probably remember from biology that periods happen each month if an egg is released but not fertilised, so when the pill stops your ovaries from releasing an egg each month, it technically means you don’t get periods at all.

There’s usually still a bleed though (sorry!)

Even though you don’t get a real period, you’ll still experience monthly bleeding that’s similar to having your period.

Continue reading at Betty…