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.
“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.
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.