A little while ago, my good friend had a fairly large ovarian cyst removed. She had it done privately. It was her decision as her doctor said it “wasn’t doing any serious harm.”

The thing is, though – it was doing serious harm. My friend was in a lot of pain and discomfort.

Since she has gotten it removed, she feels a peace she hasn’t experienced in a long time. The cyst may have been benign, but the effect chronic pain was having on her life was debilitating.

I recently saw someone post about having bleeding fibroids. This woman was in constant pain and was passing huge blood clots.

Her doctor didn’t listen to her and, after years of trying to explain the pain she was in, this woman found another doctor – who thankfully diagnosed the fibroids just in time for surgery, as they found she was at a serious risk of sepsis.

Be your own advocate?

We are often told we need to be our own advocate when it comes to our health. Always trust your gut, find a second opinion if you feel it’s necessary and if you have problematic symptoms do not stop until you get a conclusive answer. But this is exhausting – especially when you’re not taken seriously the first few times around.

These were some of the things going through my mind as I watched the recent conversation happen around the National Maternity Hospital.

The talks for upgrades to the hospital were ongoing for nearly 10 years. It took the Government a long time to get to where we are now – but where are we, exactly?

Initial concerns around ownership and affiliations with the Catholic church are still the main concerns we see today. The debacle is much like women’s health itself.

How many times have women been told by health care practitioners: “That’s just the way it is”?

women and lower income patients were more likely than men to wait at least 10 months between their first GP visit and a diagnosis

I have given birth three times. In those three times, only once did I feel empowered in the situation and only once was I asked for my preferences.

For my second baby, I had a young, energetic midwife who made me feel like I was in charge and every decision I made was the right one.

As a result, the birth of my second child was – by far – my easiest and most enjoyable (if that’s even a thing).

Blanket diagnoses

I’ve been lucky so far (touch wood) that babies have been my only major experiences in a healthcare setting.

However, I still get the same old responses when I go into my GP complaining about pain, gastrointestinal issues or nervous system symptoms.

“You just need to lose some weight.” “That’s a women’s problem.” “That’s just anxiety.”

No doubt in a few years it will be “That’s just the menopause.”

Have you ever wondered: if men experienced all of the physiological and hormonal changes women go through throughout their lifetime, would things be different?

It is an actual scientific, data-driven fact that women are not taken as seriously as men within healthcare settings and we have historically been underrepresented in drug trials and medical research.

Women and men experience most health problems differently – why are we assumed to have the same clinical symptoms as men?

Pain disparity

Conditions like endometriosis or poly-cystic ovarian syndrome are often not looked into until at a very late stage because of what is known as the “pain disparity”.

Women are often told their pain is actually a psychological thing; a result of stress or anxiety. Even though a study from Stanford University has found that women experience pain more acutely than men.

Aside from sex-specific health research pertaining to things like breast cancer, women have been largely left out of research pertaining to heart disease, neurological diseases and most types of cancer.

A 2016 report from the British Brain Tumour Charity found that women and lower income patients were more likely than men to wait at least 10 months between their first GP visit and a diagnosis.

This kind of thing happens all the time all over the world. It happens in secular and religious countries, in poor and wealthy countries and to women of all shapes, colours and sizes.

It is thought that our biological makeup and our hormones make us experience things like pain more acutely than men – but research also indicates that men, not women, are more likely to be prescribed painkillers by their doctors, while women are more likely to be prescribed sedatives.

Respect and due process

When the updated National Maternity Hospital is opened, I hope women’s needs will be met – whatever they may be – without any kind of interference (religious or otherwise).

More importantly, I hope women’s voices start to be heard more clearly within all healthcare settings.

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