In Parliament this week, I spoke about my experience of women’s health. Last year, during a round of crucial Brexit votes, I collapsed in the opposition whips office and was taken to A&E over the road. I ended up staying in St Thomas’ for almost a week, hooked up to an IV and pumped with antibiotics and painkillers. I was eventually told that a cyst on one of my ovaries had ruptured and caused an infection.
Last week, once again in the middle of a round of Brexit votes, I was back in A&E with exactly the same problem and in excruciating pain. I was sent away with painkillers and told that “cysts rupture in women all the time”.
There is no cure and no treatment for the symptoms. It very much seems that women’s health issues get less attention precisely because they only affect women. These are huge numbers of women who are left untreated and many more who will be undiagnosed.
In Emma Barnett’s brilliant book ‘Period’, she makes the point that part of the reason for our failures on women’s health is because we simply don’t talk about it. We don’t talk about our periods because they’re somehow shameful, unhygienic, unclean, that they should be kept secret and private. These are tropes that have been used to subjugate and silence women for centuries.
Barnett is absolutely right. Societal norms that don’t allow discussion of periods and their wider consequences for women’s health mean that women suffer in silence. Women’s don’t seek treatment for their pain or, when they do, they are shrugged off and told that they simply have to put up with it, take an ibuprofen or two, and carry around a hot water bottle.
I’ve never liked talking about periods. I have bought into the social norms that have meant I don’t even like saying the word, using euphemisms for a perfectly natural, biological act that is actually a sign of good health in women and not somehow abnormal or disgusting. Whilst our society and our workplaces are making women feel ashamed about their bodies and their health women will always be held back and we can never hope for equality.
On leaving hospital last week I cried all the way home, in part because of the pain, but mostly because I was furious that I had been so instantly dismissed and told that I simply had to live with this syndrome which could cause so much pain and risk on a monthly basis.
I realised on that night that because of my platform I have a duty to speak openly about my experience and to talk about the importance of normalising discussion around periods and women’s health.
We have a responsibility to educate and to invest in women’s health much more than we do currently. We need more research, better treatment, more discussion and much more support on these issues.
The situation we currently have dismisses women and our health problems, it tells us that our pain is less important, that our fertility is irrelevant.
I hope that together we can seriously move this agenda forward and demonstrate to millions of women across the country that their voices are heard and that we no longer will allow them to suffer in silence.