This week I’m having laparoscopic surgery to determine whether or not I have endometriosis. If you don’t know what endometriosis is, it’s a condition which means tissue similar to the lining of the womb grows in other places, such as around the ovaries or fallopian tubes. The main symptom is extreme period pain, although it can cause other issues including digestive problems, fatigue and infertility.
Laparoscopic surgery is the only way to diagnose it. I’m needle-phobic, I’ve never had surgery before, and I’m prone to anxiety. So as you can imagine, it’ll be a bundle of laughs and I can hardly contain my excitement about it (read: I’ll be asking my anaesthetist for Valium beforehand).
But that’s not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is this feeling that we shouldn’t talk openly about women’s health because it makes people uncomfortable. I’ve experienced it myself, talking to my brothers and male colleagues. I couldn’t tell you if they actually feel uncomfortable, but I expect them to, because I’m taking about a ‘female issue.’ And thinking that I’ve made them feel uncomfortable makes me feel uncomfortable. Which is pretty silly when you think about it. It’s safe to say that men are fully aware that women have periods. It’s not some big secret kept among women that’s going to blow their minds if we explain why we’re cradling a hot water bottle and knocking back peppermint tea.
I wouldn’t think twice about talking about my symptoms if I had a pain in my arm. Nor would I think twice about discussing my surgery if I was having my arm pinned back together. Wouldn’t it be great if we felt we could do that, whatever the issue?
Health is a personal thing. So perhaps some people aren’t keen to talk openly about it because they’d rather keep it private. And that’s fine, no judgement from me. But if we’re keeping quiet for fear of making people (and men in particular) uncomfortable, doesn’t this feed the issue?
Not talking about things creates a kind of stigma. It’s like mental health. For years this was considered a taboo subject, something that wasn’t spoken about. And the stigma only served to perpetuate the issue. It’s much better now than it once was, but I’m not sure we can say the same for reproductive and gynaecological health just yet.
I’ll be off work for a little while after my surgery, so I emailed everyone in my office to let them know what’s happening (mostly so that they weren’t wondering where the heck I was). My lovely manager was quick to let me know that I didn’t have to say why I was having surgery. But I did, because I think it’s important we talk about these things.
And I’m glad I did! Loads of people emailed me to wish me luck, let me know they’ll be thinking of me, and offer their support, both emotionally and practically. I even came across someone who had been through the same thing as me, and who was able to give me some really helpful advice about the surgery, and what to expect during recovery.
Being open with people about my experiences has meant I’ve been introduced to other people who have had laparoscopic surgery. I can’t tell you how reassuring it is for me to be able to speak to people who have been through the same thing, and if I’d just kept it to myself, I’d be feeling much more anxious and unsure of what to expect.
Instead, I feel empowered. I feel empowered by the women who have my back. So let’s talk more, okay?