I’m concerned. I tend to become concerned whenever there is imposed silence around a critical issue.
When I speak, my intention is never to be censorious. I don’t speak about women’s health issues because I don’t want all people to exist. I talk about women’s health issues because I exist in a female body and I’d like to keep existing.
Too often women go their OB/GYN only to find that they have a female-related disease that few people have even heard of.
In my days as a young adult, I lost an aunt on my father’s side. I can’t say that we were close but I mourned the loss of everything I knew about her. How she read books on her commute on DC metro to and from work each day. Often starting and finishing one book per day.
Even though we were not especially close, my aunt left her nieces and nephews some money. I only met her once but I always heard tell of her kindness. Even as I write this I’m still smiling thinking about how that money helped me as a young single mom of a toddler. As we say, “It was right on time.” I love how God sends blessings your way just in a nick of time.
When my father came to tell me the news he had a difficult time answering my questions about what she died from. His discomfort about talking about women’s health issues wasn’t surprising, uncommon nor unfamiliar.
Women’s health issues have been taboo generations before both of us. Nothing new. All I got from him that day was that she died of “female stuff” and didn’t like going to the doctor about it because ……”you know”.
Yeah, I knew.
We never spoke about it nor her again. The conversation was too tortured.
SILENCE IS ALWAYS DEADLY
No matter what the topic, silence is deadly. Commonly, when we talk with senior women about women’s health issues they get embarrassed. It’s difficult even for close family members to speak with their grandmothers about seeing an OB/GYN. I recall the time I was speaking with a young man about his grandmother who passed away.
The family knew that Grandma was experiencing pain in her lower pelvis region. The “female area”. But because Grandma considered this region her “female area” it was off-limits for discussion with men and younger women.
She might discuss this with her fellow female church members who were in her age group. Maybe. But, none of her family members could even ask these friends if Grandma was seeing a doctor for pain in her “female area”.
What the family did know is that Grandma was suffering waves of extreme pain until the day she died. The gentleman I was speaking with, who adored his Grandma still didn’t know what she passed away from. Only some of the other women in the family knew. But, just the older ones who were married.
Could he have found out in public records? Yes, but out of respect for the family and most definitely, his beloved Grandma, the young man was going to try to never know the truth.
In that heavy moment of sadness, I thought about how this would impact future generations. He will never be able to warn, especially his girl children, about conditions that run in the family. Filling out forms at the OB/GYN about female-related conditions. I don’t know about you, but for me, a lot of those sections are blank.
In my family, in my culture, in society, we don’t talk openly about female-related health conditions. It’s “wrong”. It’s “private”. And so, we continue not to know.
The fact is, there are some conditions, diseases, and disorders that only impact people born with female bodies.
Rape and Sexual Violence
I know people are tired of talking about anything “me too” related. That’s a shame because we still haven’t scratched the surface on the implications of rape and sexual violence.
What people don’t discuss about rape, incest, molestation, sex trafficking, are the sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Both boys and girls are exposed to sexually transmitted infections and diseases. Some can have serious long-term consequences if left untreated including blindness, sterility, and cancer.
We must normalize speaking about the entire human anatomy without shame, hushed tones, disgust etc. We must.
Boys, girls, women, and men are at risk of being infected with an STI/STD in the course of a sexual assault. Unfortunately, std’s impact women differently than men. In fact, many of the common symptoms that arise from abuse and violence impact women differently than men. Sometimes not more, not less, just differently.
Survivors and victims must be aware of how these symptoms can manifest in their bodies and impact their health.
We’re not finished talking about sexual violence. We have so much more to discuss. For healing and prevention’s sake, these discussions are going to require that we all be grownups and deal with our mess.
Speaking about human bodies and common differences between males and females is a critical part of arming children with the knowledge they need to protect their little bodies from being violated. There is no getting around it. Adult discomfort be damned.
Children who are more knowledgable about their bodies are less like to fall into some of the tricks and traps of grooming.
They may be less likely to want to play the “I’ll show you mine, you show me yours” game because it’s old news to them. Or, they know that they aren’t supposed to see someone else’s body part and what it can do.
That was a grooming trap that was used on me when I was in my earliest years of elementary school. I wasn’t asking questions about the male anatomy. It wasn’t even on my mind. I had a little brother.
Whatever he had I wasn’t interested in. This was the same guy who played with army men and GI Joe. It couldn’t be possibly be all that interesting.
But child grooming isn’t really about the victim’s needs, wants, curiosities at all. None of this matters. Crime can happen to anyone at any time.
Still, the unknown is the trap that I was lured into. I didn’t know anything about male anatomy. I didn’t know how to respond. What do I say? What do I do? Even now, I recall the feeling of being paralyzed with fear. My normally sassy mouth was completely silent.
“Did Mom say this is bad or good?”
“Will I get in trouble?”
I couldn’t remember. I knew that we weren’t supposed to touch other body parts.
Mom said, “If someone touches you, tell me.”
But showing me wasn’t touching. I had no idea what to do. I had only been on this earth for a little while.
I support, teach, and advocate for the teaching of body safety.
I support, teach, and advocate for the teaching of basic differences between male and female body parts.
I support, teach, and advocate for adding more information about human anatomy as children grow older.
It’s as important a lesson on safety as; ‘look both ways’, ‘don’t touch hot things’, ‘don’t stick things in electrical outlets’…….
Lessons around body safety and anatomy are critical for children!
BEING A WOMAN IN PAIN
Being a woman is going to the OB/GYN and learning you have a new disease that no one has ever heard of. Even more, you’ve had it for many years!
Not too many years ago I was diagnosed with not only endometriosis but adenomyosis. I had heard of endometriosis. Because of God awful pain and heavy bleeding that kept getting increasingly worse, I had my suspicions.
I went to a number of different gynecologists because by the grace of God I had great insurance. Getting affordable treatment wasn’t an obstacle. Getting a doctor to listen and help me was. Nearly all of the friends, family, and yellow phone book recommended doctors advised me to start taking the latest faddy birth control method.
“It’s great.” “My patients love it.”
I just wasn’t interested. My intuition was telling me that taking a drug wasn’t going to help. Something weird was going on.
“What is going on?” “Why is this happening?” “Why can’t you tell me?” “What is the diagnosis?”
Whatever it was, hopefully, we could find it before it killed me.
Because I am a Survivor of child sexual abuse, I’ve been going to gynecologists since the age of 13. (Within the same week that I disclosed what happened my mother took me to a gynecologist)
I was picking up on each doctor’s vagueness and uncertainty. Ultrasounds, blood tests, diet evaluation, nothing was coming up. The only thing that the doctor’s had was my reports of escalating problems. Heavy bleeding, headache, fatigue, exhaustion, pain, pain, and more pain and a sense of heaviness I hadn’t felt since I was pregnant. But nothing was concrete was coming up on tests.
Until it did. An alert radiologist advised my doctor to order have me come in for an MRI to take imaging of my lower pelvis. Ultrasounds had become a normal part of my yearly pap smear exam. I’d go to the gynecologists for a yearly pap smear, then schedule another appointment to go in for an ultrasound.
A painless procedure yes, but not when you have to completely fill your bladder like a water balloon then hold your urine for 24 hours. But, most procedures that women endure are extremely uncomfortable. Oh well, right. “Women are tough.” “Women can’t endure more pain.”
When the MRI showed a far more detailed view of what was going on in my “female area” it was a mess. I had a progressively worsening case of endometriosis and adenomyosis that shocked the surgeon who ultimately performed a hysterectomy.
Oh, I welcomed a hysterectomy. Whatever was causing all this agony needed to be extracted right away. I had gotten to the point that I couldn’t walk for long distances nor climb stairs. I couldn’t even drive for long distances because it hurt to sit up and it hurt to press the gas and brake peddles. It felt like I was carrying a bowling ball below my belly button. My hips, legs, and back all ached.
What’s more, making appointments to see a surgeon was a challenge because even some of the nursing staff had never heard of adenomyosis. Some medical professionals get irritated when patients mention a medical condition that they never heard of.
Truly, it’s almost like: “Are you trying to sass me, girl”.
I lie to you not.
So finally, I went with one of the top surgeons in the area because I was fed up and through playing games. When my gynecologist’s staff called I had to be talked out of sharing a piece of my mind with the good doctor who had been ignoring my pain. Family advised me to focus on getting my mind right the upcoming surgery and the healing to come. (Faith)
The surgery was a success but unfortunately maybe the surgery, maybe the years of carrying those diseases, maybe the child sexual abuse….. has led to me suffering from fibromyalgia. So, I got to do all of that dance with doctors all over again. Life is great.
All other movements for human rights are free to take lessons from the women’s movement.
There are no human rights without humans. Human bodies are beautiful. They are nothing to be ashamed of. Speaking openly about the human body has to continue to become common.
As long as every person coming to the table in good faith is/feels heard, I am all for having conversations around changing the way that we have these conversations. But, we must have these conversations. It’s a matter of life and death.
Right, now. Today. Everywhere that we turn there is a crisis around the health, safety, and existence of the human body. We must have open, loving, and knowledgable dialogue about what it is to exist in these bodies. We must ask questions. We must demand better from the medical community. We must demand better from ourselves.
Silence, around any issue, is potentially deadly.
Silence, around what rape and abuse does to the human body, is potentially deadly.
Silence, around the human body is potentially deadly.