By Shirelle Edghill, Creighton Model FertilityCare Practitioner
If you are a woman who has ever been to a gynecologist for just about any reproductive health related problem, I am willing to bet that the first, and probably the only treatment option you were offered for your problem was the birth control pill. Or maybe the doctor got really creative and offered you an IUD instead. Period cramps? The pill. Bleeding too much? The pill. Acne? The pill. Irregular cycles? The pill. I worked with a woman who was given the pill for infertility! The doctor told her she should take the pill for six months to “regulate her cycles” and then she should be able to conceive. Guess what happened? She took the pill for six months, got off and still couldn’t get pregnant. And now she was 6 months older and still didn’t know why she couldn’t have babies.
In an age where we see daily technological advances in science, medicine, and technology, have you ever stopped to wonder what the heck is happening in women’s healthcare? We’re getting close to a cure for Alzheimer’s, can help AIDS patients live long, full lives, we’ve seen huge advances in treatments and cures for certain kinds of cancer, but for women with any gynecological issue, we’ve got just one treatment: the pill. I would like to argue that in no other field of medicine have we seen this kind of trend toward ONE treatment for EVERY problem. One disturbing thing that I’ve heard from some women is that they now don’t even want to go to the gynecologist when they have any kind of problem because “I already know he/she will only offer me the pill.” That’s scary, folks.
If you are a woman who hasn’t been to a gynecologist in a long time, or if you’re a man and don’t know what this is like for the women in your life, I’ll give you a little case study.
Two months ago I was contacted by a woman who told me that she was an otherwise healthy woman in her mid-30’s who had always had normal periods and regular cycles. A few weeks before, she had begun to bleed heavily every day. She described it as, “I’ve been on my period for a month.”
“First it was the bleeding, but yesterday, something really scared me. I’m having really sharp abdominal pain that takes my breath way. I was at work and I nearly passed out. This just really isn’t normal for me.”
She told me of her attempts to receive treatment. She called her OB/Gyn’s office and got a nurse on the phone.
The nurse said, “Excessive bleeding? Oh, ok, we’ll call you in a script for the pill.”
She replied, “I really don’t want to be on the pill. I’m concerned about being put on hormones. My cycles have always been normal. Can’t the doctor see me and find out what’s wrong?”
To which the nurse informed her, “Well she would probably just start you on the pill anyway, no matter what was wrong. At your age, it’s normal to have weird stuff like this (except it’s not).”
The woman responded, “But my grandma died of a blood clot, and my mom has cardiac problems, too. I take blood pressure medicine every day. I think I read that the pill isn’t good for people like me. Shouldn’t I really be seen by the doctor?”
(Major back pedaling) “High blood pressure? Oh, ok, yes, well, maybe we should see you. The doctor’s next available appointment is in 6 weeks. Would you like this appointment time?”
This is typical women’s healthcare. One solution for every problem. Being brushed off. Problems that are seen as “female problems” are often not taken as seriously as other types of problems.
In The Atlantic article “How Doctors Take Women’s Pain Less Seriously,” author Joe Fassler tells the agonizing story of his wife’s brush with death due to a dangerous condition known as ovarian torsion. In the ER she was brushed off, misdiagnosed, and left to writhe in pain for hours with no answers. He states, “Nationwide, men wait an average of 49 minutes before receiving an analgesic for acute abdominal pain. Women wait an average of 65 minutes for the same thing.”
So why does it seem like all doctors take this one-size-fits-all approach to treating women’s health issues? Well, the birth control pill is a pretty good bandaid. Essentially, it turns OFF a woman’s naturally functioning cycle. Cycles can be a pesky “woman’s problem,” so if something isn’t working correctly, we just turn it off for a while. I think the woman’s reproductive cycle is very much viewed as something optional….perhaps even something undesirable. Like an appendix. It’s a switch we turn on when we want to use it and a switch we turn off when we don’t want to use it. It’s a part of the body that is seen as unimportant to the overall health of the body. The pill has become a crutch. It’s easier than actually finding the problem and trying to correct it. Sometimes it’s viewed as a less invasive way to stop the symptoms, and honestly, I think sometimes it’s a way to make women just be quiet and go away.
Over my next few posts, I want to tell you about the treatments that another group of doctors use to treat common gynecological conditions. NaPro Technology trained physicians practice a different kind of gynecological healthcare. First, women are taught to chart their fertility cycle in a standardized way using the Creighton Model FertilityCare charting system. The woman’s chart is the primary diagnostic tool that the NaPro Technology trained doctor uses to guide them in their treatment plan. To be clear, these doctors are not alternative medicine doctors. They are board certified OB/Gyns, surgeons, or family practice physicians, who want to practice better women’s healthcare. Many of the treatments that they use have actually been around for a long time, but have been modernized and updated to reflect the latest research. Many of the treatments are newer treatments that may incorporate aspects like beneficial dietary changes and hormone therapy that is targeted to the woman’s individual cycle. The focus and the goal is for the woman’s fertility health to be restored, and the evidence of this is in seeing a healthy fertility chart. That is the NaPro Technology doctor’s goal.
If you are interested in hearing about other treatments for things like unusual bleeding, PMS, PCOS, endometriosis, and excessively heavy and painful periods, I invite you to come back and read my next few posts! If you would like to contact me directly to talk about your own gynecological health concern, I can be reached at ShirelleEdghill@gmail.com . Thanks for reading!