WHAT WE ALL NEED TO KNOW ABOUT WOMEN'S HEALTH
As I learn more and more about what it takes to keep my female body and mind well, I’m finding that it doesn’t always have to be as complicated and confusing as it often seems. My personal health journey has taught me that when empowered with sufficient information, informed about all the options and supported by the right caregivers, our health and wellbeing can actually feel attainable and sustainable. But without these things, we simply are not well equipped enough to navigate the inevitable challenges that come with puberty, menstrual cycles, childbirth, menopause, aging, or mental and physical illnesses unique to our female bodies.
Anyone that says womanhood is a walk in the park is probably lying, but it shouldn’t feel like climbing Everest in a superstorm either. Although there are a lot of women out there like me who have been confronted with the many shortcomings in women’s healthcare practices through years of frustration, I think a lot of other women are silently struggling and don’t even realize it is partially because they’re getting the short end of the healthcare stick. So let’s play a little game of twenty-something questions.
Think back to when you started getting your period. Did anyone explain what normal vs. abnormal menstrual cycles and associated symptoms were? Did your OBGYN explain that puberty was the first of SEVEN phases in your life where you would experience shifts in your hormones that would result in physical AND mental changes? If you were lucky enough to receive that information, did your doctors ever help you understand what was normal and abnormal during those seven hormonal phases? Did your PCP or OBGYN ever help you understand how diet and lifestyle choices play into your hormonal equation and therefore overall wellness?
So maybe you didn’t have a great OBGYN. Were you given sufficient information and support around (what should be) the basic stuff? Have you ever had a doctor discuss simple lifestyle changes that help lower your risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes - 3 of the 10 leading causes of death in women? Or what about managing important risk factors that affect multiple women’s health issues, like stress management? What about depression and anxiety - 2 disorders that are TWICE as common in women than in men? Have any of your caregivers had in-depth conversations around genetic, hormonal and lifestyle factors that could be influencing your struggle with these things? Did they ever talk about your options for care or did they just write you a prescription and send you on your way?
Chances are, you answered “NO” to many of the above questions and now you’re a little pissed off. Good. You should be. Get pissed and then do something about it. Take charge of your health, advocate for yourself, and please support the women around you by sharing what you learn along the way. Because until the day comes when we have an army of more progressive, diverse caregivers in women’s health, we’re all we’ve got.
5 MFW FUNDAMENTALS OF WOMEN'S HEALTH
- The sooner you challenge the “slap a bandaid on it and move on” norm, the sooner you’ll be more in control of your health and wellbeing. The most important thing I’ve learned in the past 5 years? In order to achieve and maintain mental and physical health, we need to be more concerned with discovering the root cause of symptoms, instead of just treating or ignoring them.
- You have to be an advocate for yourself. When it comes to your own health, you can’t expect anyone else to serve or prioritize your interests with as much determination as you will. I know that is disappointing because we want to feel like the trained professionals always have our backs, but the reality is that no one else knows your body, mind and needs the way that you do. Provide as much background information as possible and be an active participant in the process in order to get the most out of any appointment or caregiver relationship. Ask questions, do your research, understand your options, speak up when you’re confused and be honest about your diet and lifestyle choices. Oh & try not to waste time being your own worst enemy. At some point you’ll need that energy to be your best and biggest advocate.
- Listen to your gut and make your doctor listen to it too. You may not have a PHD or MD, but you have intuition and that sh&t is REAL. We often question it, and/or allow others to minimize our gut feelings, but if your intuition is telling you something isn’t right, pursue it and don’t let it go.
- There are ALWAYS options. Your caregiver should be prepared and happy to discuss diagnostic and treatment choices with you for anything from acne breakouts to cervical cancer. Never be afraid to ask him or her to walk you through the benefits and risks surrounding your options. These conversations will allow you to build a more beneficial relationship with your caregiver, a greater understanding of your body and a deeper knowledge of different healthcare modalities. All of these things will serve you well as you age and inevitably deal with more health hiccups. P.S. It doesn’t matter if you’re dealing with horrendous PMS, hard to pin down allergic reactions, or an autoimmune disorder, if he or she isn’t prepared to educate and support you in this way, remember you have options around caregivers too.
- Always get a second opinion. Doctors are humans too. Their opinions, expertise and capabilities are not only specific to their training and philosophies, but also affected by their personal and professional stories and experiences. It can be astounding how differently two physicians will diagnose and treat any condition and the compare and contrast exercise is always valuable and educational.