Shouting Above the Silence: Why I’m No Longer Waiting To Be Heard
With women making up just under 52% of the UK population why aren’t we talking about the widespread impact that reproductive health problems have on women’s well-being? More importantly why aren’t decision makers doing anything about it?
I am young
I am a woman
I may never conceive
I’m a young, black woman with lifelong reproductive health problems. I’ve looked and I’ve listened but nobody is speaking about me, nobody is talking about the fact that although there are parts of my story that are unique I’m certainly not alone.
At 19 I underwent life saving emergency surgery to drain 5 litres of fluid from a cyst on my right ovary which resulted in the loss of that ovary and fallopian tube, I spent a week in hospital gradually getting worse until I was finally sent home to recover with nothing more than my discharge papers and enough co-codamol to start a pharmacy. Prior to this I’d spent months in crippling pain after having a Mirena coil fitted which caused Pelvic Inflammatory Disease. I’d spent countless hours in A & E, at walk in centres, in my GP office waiting for someone to legitimise my pain, hoping that someone would acknowledge this alien body that I no longer recognised as my own and here I was again pumped full of opiates and drowning in silence.
I left hospital with no idea of the life changing impact my surgery would have, with no preparation for the hot flashes, cold sweats, insomnia, chronic pelvic inflammation, anxiety, mood swings, water retention, cloudy memory, dry vagina, fatigue, painful periods and abdominal bloating that would plague me for the foreseeable future. I had no knowledge of the stage 2, then stage 4 endometriosis that was headed my way, no concept of the fused bladder bowels and uterus that awaited, the embarrassing and uncontrollable incontinence that I’d develop, the uterine fibroids, uterine polyps and suspected adenomyosis I’d be diagnosed with as a consequence of 1 small act of sexual safety.
I wasn’t prepared for the emotional and mental breakdown that followed, the loss of identity I experienced, the years of struggling to maintain and build relationships, or a career, the mixture of joy, bitterness, love & grief that I would feel when I watched my childhood friends start families. I wasn’t aware i’d be losing any semblance of a 20-something year old’s life along with my ovary and fallopian tube.
I didn’t expect to discover that the National Institute of Clinical Excellence estimates that nearly EVERY woman/ menstruator in the UK will present with a reproductive health problem at some point during their lifetime, or that in the UK endometriosis is almost as common as diabetes, or even that women are 3 times more likely to attempt suicide during their reproductive years than men. But as the age old saying goes, when life throws you a curveball, throw on a Solange album and go change the world. So that’s what I did. I created The Womb Room with the aim of raising awareness about the widespread impact of reproductive health problems like endometriosis, pcos, fibroids, adenomyosis, etc. and then in September 2017 I launched an event series. I created a space where women wouldn’t be silenced, where we can learn, a space that in its first 3 months encouraged over 119 people to have some #REALTALK. Who knew you could truly be vulnerable in a room full of strangers?
The thing about awareness is that it’s great but only when it’s coupled with an army of people committed to implementing change. It’s a strong foundation for those with a deep seated desire for an eradication of health inequalities, for an overhaul of a system which continues to prioritise the bodies of heterosexual white cis-men even in the most intimate parts of our lives. Awareness is a staple in our mission but it’s action that is the rallying cry which announces our existence and it’s an unapologetic positioning of ourselves, our stories, our voices in spaces where we have traditionally been silenced that is building a movement. From the GP surgery to the board room, from Parliament to the pub we’re having uncomfortable conversations in unorthodox spaces.
Our bodies are not a source of shame and I’m committed to reminding women of that. We’re not stopping at awareness. In fact we’re simply not going to stop. I want nothing short of world domination, only a comprehensive commitment to equipping all women, girls and menstruators with the personal, political, educational and clinical support we require to be able to take full ownership over our bodies will suffice and I’m not waiting around hoping that if we shout loud enough someone will come and save us. I’m shouting, building, embracing, and changing the world for women and I’m not going alone. We’ve got researchers, doctors, counsellors, activists, and the badass women at Verve who’ve made it clear they’re definitely coming with me.
It’s time we took our Pain and manifested Power.