A few weeks ago, I got the pleasure to attend a conference on the USD campus about Challenges to Midwives here in SD. It really focused a lot on the challenges that women's health care in general faces here. Some of the info, I had an idea about, but some of it was truly mind boggling. As USD slowly starts to develop a women's studies program, it is really important for us to understand the challenges and barriers we face here. Change happens through education, but truly positive change occurs through action as well.
With our country and state cutting funding to important areas such as health care, women need to know what is going on quite literally, in their own back yard. Before I go into the presentation I went to, I want to explain my own background in the area of women's health care. I will be delving into each presenters part of the conference in individual posts, because the amount of info I got was not only boggling in it's thoroughness but also in the amount of info I got. It was enlightening, disheartening, and challenging, to say the least.
Years ago, before I was a mother or even a strong feminist, I competed for Miss South Dakota with a platform of 'Women's Preventative Health Care'. I felt that women in South Dakota had the possibility for a higher quality of life and health care but were not only NOT asking for it but not even aware that problems existed. I was frustrated by the lack of information available to women about their bodies and every aspect of their health. I was also frustrated by the extreme lack of health care that focused on pre and post natal care, education on STD's and other challenges a woman can face, and I was angry at the lack of funding for this area.
It's a cause that I am still fervent about. Women must know their bodies, their options, and must be willing to demand better care for themselves and their loved ones. I think it's ignorant to assume that knowing the minimum and accepting minimal care are the norm for so many women, and I also get frustrated by the fact that there is little we can do to change this. I want to see women treated as equals and that also equates into health. Women are afraid to ask hard questions and often get short changed in the answers that they receive.
Two cases to point this out. I will not name these two women but their stories represent countless that I have heard. A very good friend of mine wanted to have a VBAC (vaginal birth after cesaerean) and was denied this countless times DESPITE the fact that her doctor pronounced her safe to have one after her first child. She desperately wanted to have a VBAC and was denied by nearly every doctor she met. Finally, near the middle of her pregnancy, she met a doctor who was willing to do a VBAC IF she consented to having a surgeon on stand by for a C-section. The day she naturally went into labor, the doctor only worked with her for an hour before deciding that they were uncomfortable doing a VBAC after all and ordered a C-section. The baby was in the right position, the cervix was competent and labor was proceeding well.
The only explanation was simply that the doctor felt uncomfortable. This represents a HUGE bill that was later assessed to my good friend (thank goodness her insurance is good) and her resolute distrust that her wishes would not be honored if she was to get pregnant again. We are of very few states that does this. Many other states will allow you to find a doctor who will honor your birth plan unless the health of your or your baby is jeopardized.
My other example is of a friend who had irregular pap smear results consistently for years. She asked and begged for follow ups- another pap smear, the tissue samples analyzed, etc., and was flat out refused. What happened next is horrible. When she went to her pap smear THIS YEAR, they discovered she had uterine cancer that could have been treated or prevented, had the tissues been examined more thoroughly much earlier. My friend can never have children now, had to have a hysterectomy, and is being treated with radiation and chemotherapy. What could have been prevented was very simply ignored.
I admit, I'm probably a bit of a terror to my own doctor. When I was having irregular, heavy bleeding after two extremely difficult pregnancies, I demanded that I be referred to see a surgeon and have ultrasounds done. They found lesions that were invasive (which I had suspected) and I had a hysterectomy. A few months ago, I started having stabbing, severe pelvic pain and again demanded that I be tested and have ultrasounds. The found lesions and severe cysts on my ovaries and I am yet again being treated.
But, what, may I ask, could have happened had I not stood up for myself? The doctors I saw were more than willing to ignore my symptoms and write me permanent prescriptions for pain medicines that are heavily addictive. This goes against every bone in my body, frankly. Yes, we tout natural parenting here at Elegant Mommy, but we also believe strongly that an educated woman who can make smart decisions about hers and her families health is one that should receive praise.
Currently, in South Dakota, we are fighting a battle that not many people know about. We want women to be educated about their bodies, their babies, and we want them to be able to make their own, safe and informed decisions about both. Thus, I will be writing about the challenge that women's health care faces here in South Dakota, and four different women's perspectives on it. We hope you enjoy the series, we hope you chime in, and we hope that you too take the time to educate yourself on the issues your body and your health face here.