Today's story comes from Sarah Davies. Sarah lives in New York and is a writer, wife and mother of two.
A woman’s life is painful. Bras hurt, heels hurt, too tight jeans that we feel compelled to wear hurt. Cramps, childbirth, post-partum recovery, menopause all hurt. Sexism hurts. Sexual harassment, misogyny, microaggressions hurt. Judgement for being a stay at home mom, a working mom, childless by choice are all part of the daily hurts as a woman. We get so used to hurting that we diminish the pain. It’s the only way to survive the day to day as a female in our culture.
We grow so accustomed to a painful experience that we start overlooking pain – physical, emotional and mental. I got so used to it that when I first started feeling sick I blew it off. It’s just a cold, maybe allergies, certainly nothing to run to a doctor about. I’ll see someone when there’s time. My husband’s busy at work, there’s no one to watch the kids, it’s just no big deal. When things slow down, I’ll go. Things, of course, never slow down and I start to forget how I felt and sounded before I got stuffed up. I have forgotten what things smell like. It’s just become something else in my background of pain.
A year and a half after I first started feeling sick, my symptoms were getting worse. It was finally bad enough for a doctor’s appointment. I was dizzy, forgetful, and my headaches were increasing. One of the general intake questions at the clinic I go to is how is your overall health. “Fine, good” I answered. I don’t want to sound like a hypochondriac after all. The doctor diagnosed me with depression, gave me some Zoloft, and sent me on my way with a psych consult. I was, understandably upset – “he didn’t listen to me” I complained to my husband. This is true and the medical profession has a horrific track record on taking women seriously when it comes to their health concerns. It wasn’t until I got a third opinion, from a female doctor, that I was referred to an ENT. That was six months later and my symptoms had only worsened.
While it is hurtful to be overlooked and trivialized by doctors, and the medical profession does need to do better, I keep thinking of my part in this. If I didn’t assume that my life should be painful would whatever I have have been caught earlier? Would my prognosis be easier? Being female shouldn’t be a sentence to a life of pain. It shouldn’t be so expected that it’s overlooked.
As women we need to demand more from doctors. We also need to demand more from ourselves in taking responsibility for our bodies. I have a friend who put off gallbladder surgery because ‘who would watch the kids.’ Another has avoided a hysterectomy for the same reason. I’ve seen people ask on Facebook if cuts that are almost to the bone need stitches because they didn’t want to pack the children up and wait with them in the doctor’s office. Our health needs to be important; it has value. Doctors need to do more (childcare in doctor’s offices would be a great place to start), but so do we as women. I wouldn’t dream of my kids missing a physical. I owe that to myself as well.