Did you know it’s National Women’s Health week? Well, it is.
“Why do we need a National Women’s Health Week?” – you might ask -“Shouldn’t every week be a week that women think about their health and take care of their health?”
You might also ask, “Why do we need to highlight women’s health? Can’t we just highlight everybody’s health? Why do women feel the need to be so special and weird about this stuff?”
Well, there are three reasons that instantly come to mind.
- Historically speaking, women tend to be caregivers. I know this is not true of every woman, and you don’t have to be a caregiver type if you don’t want to be, but statistically speaking in the history of the world and humans being in it, women are caregivers. In fact, in just about every mammalian species, the females care for the young, take care of the old, and act as caregivers. Especially if we look to other primates, we see this to be true. This means that a lot of women – again, statistically speaking – may tend to put others’ needs before their own. This translates in some cases to women neglecting their health because they are busy taking care of everyone else’s.
- The medical world – for most of medical history – has been geared towards research about and the care of men. Although this has been changing in the past decade or so, many medical studies involve male participants for research, and there has been a lot of scrutiny about differences in attention and funding for men versus women. Whether or not you agree with the charge of sex bias in these areas, I can tell you from personal experience that a lot of women’s symptoms are often dismissed by doctors – both male and female – as psychosomatic, due to stress, or an issue of oversensitivity. I have had this happen to me and I know I’m not the only woman this has happened to.
- Although men and women share virtually identical bodies, the parts of our bodies and brains that make us different from men do need special attention and deserve special attention. Our breasts, our ovaries, the hormones of our body that regulate puberty and menstruation and sexual desire are all very important and need tending to throughout our lives. All of these things are extremely important as we make decisions about whether or not to become mothers as well as how we choose to give birth, nurture our babies by breast-feeding for example, and transition from being mothers to women entering the stage of life where we can no longer make more babies.
Throughout human history, save for the past 200 years or so, women have cared for other women before there were hospitals and before there were medical schools. This week, consider one of the following things to honor and be a part of national women’s health week.
What have you been putting off going to a doctor about? Is there something going on with you medically that you’ve been pushing aside? Maybe a lump or a bump somewhere that doesn’t feel right but that you’re scared to examine? Maybe it’s PMS that renders you unable to function while it’s going on. Maybe it’s mood swings that you are trying to manage on your own but feel like you need support for. Maybe it’s unhealthy thoughts or fears about food or your body image. Maybe it’s a feeling of tension in your chest that makes you wonder sometimes if you’re having a heart attack. Don’t hesitate or push it aside anymore. Make an appointment to see a doctor and get help.
Do you have a friend or loved one who is experiencing any of these things and also pushing them aside? Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you know someone who’s putting off a medical consultation, encourage them to get it checked out. I recently met a 25-year-old woman who told me that she had never been to a gynecologist. She came from a very conservative religious home and she was never encouraged to get her body checked out because of fears of having to interact with a male doctor and the medical system on the whole. I gently suggested she do what I and thousands of women do: call a local nurse practitioner midwife and ask for a well visit checkup. Most nurse practitioner midwives see women of all ages and stages of life whether or not they plan to become pregnant soon, or ever. Nurse practitioner midwives are licensed to do checkups and – if they don’t have a license to do so themselves – typically work with physicians who can make referrals and prescribe medication. Their offices tend to be more intimate, appointments are allowed to last much longer than in a regular office, and the environment is much more casual, facilitating the ability to ask questions you might feel intimidated to ask in another setting. Here is a link to the National Association of Certified Professional Midwives (of the United States).
Even if this week you simply make a commitment to being more aware of your body, and more aware of your own questions about about your body, that would be a great way to be a part of National Women’s Health Week.
To all of my female friends out there: take care of yourselves and those you love, this week and every week.