The election results in America this week have sparked much discussion over what's going to happen for women's reproductive rights, and rightfully so. The fact that our next president has said he wants to overturn Roe vs. Wade and repeal Obamacare, which gave 47 million women access to preventative healthcare, is truly terrifying.
Sadly, this is a symptom of the disease of misogyny, and our diagnosis is worse than most of us previously thought.
In many ways symptoms are a blessing. They show us how bad things have gotten before we drop dead. They show us which parts of us are not well so we can get to work healing. But symptoms still hurt, they still suck. They are the pain we feel before the medicine kicks in.
I've worked for years educating women about their reproductive health, and unfortunately I've found most women are drowning in confusion and misinformation about about what's going in their own bodies. For many, this results in overwhelm and defeat when it comes to understanding their hormones, cycle, and flow.
It should be an inherent right that women's reproductive health is protected, and I will fight for that to be a reality for future generations, but it simply has not happened yet. And until it is, we've all got to get a bit more acquainted with our reproductive systems.
I'd love it if having a uterus were as simple as owning my Toyota Camry. I get to drive it around, put gas in it occasionally, and take it into a mechanic every 3 months or so for an oil change. I don't know the first thing about what the hell is happening under the hood, but it runs just fine regardless, and no one is threatening to take away my access to oil changes or gas stations.
I WISH that were the case with my reproductive system, but it simply isn't, not yet.
The fact is, the more we know about ourselves, our bodies, and our cycles, the easier it will be to advocate for our reproductive rights. The more of our power we will be able to take back. The more control we'll have over what happens in our own goddamn bodies.
Get to know yourself
Get to know your body, your hormones, and - if you menstruate - your cycle and flow. The better you understand yourself the better you can care for yourself, advocate for yourself, and educate others about your needs, instead of fighting against your own biology.
I find that a lot of women who don't yet/ever want children are fearful of getting pregnant, and therefore fearful of their fertility. Many of them what to take a pill to turn off their fertility, to not give it a second thought, but then years down the line expect everything to work well once they start trying to conceive.
The thing is, a healthy body is a fertile body, and most of us become fertile at a very early age. Rather than ignoring that fact, we must understand how our fertility works, when we are most fertile, and - depending on the goal - how to best avoid or achieve pregnancy.
For those who menstruate, start paying attention to when you get your period. Start a calendar or journal to keep track. Start noting how long your cycles are (the length between periods) and what your flow is like. It also helps to start noting physical and emotional symptoms you feel throughout your whole cycle.
When we start comparing how we're feeling cycle to cycle it can provide a wealth of information, not just about our fertility, but about our moods, energy levels, extro/introversion tendencies, productivity, and libido. Wouldn't you love to know which days of the month you're more likely to get shit done and which you'd rather be left alone?
Code Red by Lisa Lister is a great book for those just starting to get better acquainted with their cycle. Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Toni Weschler is more of a textbook if you want to get very well acquainted with the details of your reproductive system.
Get to know your healthcare options
Recommended check ups, test results, alternative healthcare options, medications, and most definitely birth control, should all be things we as ladies geek out about.
Do your research, get well informed.
Especially when it comes to the contraceptive(s) you choose, and especially if you want to have children later in life, learn about their side effects and effectiveness. You are the only one who can truly decide which form of birth control is best for you.
Hormonal birth controls may be dangerous for those who smoke or have a family history of certain types of cancer. But what I see even more often is how hormonal birth control can negatively effect women's fertility later in life.
Especially when it causes your period to stop entirely, something most gynecologists call "normal," that's a sign that it's seriously reprogramming the cascade of hormones that flow from your brain to your uterus and ovaries. Something that may be difficult to restart later on.
Even in cases where hormonal medication doesn't stop your flow, prolonged use may still make it difficult for your body to regulate it's own hormones once you stop taking it.
Luckily acupuncture and herbs work well to get your hormones flowing normally again, but Western gynecology has a harder time getting our systems back online without, once again, hormonal medications.
As revered as IUDs are because of their high efficacy, long-lasting effect, low maintenance, and hormone-free options, I find it incredibly important that women are still informed of the side effects they still carry.
For example, the Paragard (the copper one) can cause heavy and prolonged bleeding, sometimes for as long as several weeks. This makes it less than ideal for women who are already experiencing heavy flows or suffer from anemia.
Although quite rare, IUDs are also capable of very serious side effects as well. For example, perforating or becoming imbedded in the uterus, as well as contributing to serious pelvic infections, both of which may cause infertility or total loss of fertility.
None of this is said to prevent contraceptives from being used, but women should be well informed about the healthcare options they choose for themselves.
Especially when asking for empathy and care to be shown to the women of this country, the love absolutely has to start with us.
Practice self-care, even when it feels selfish. Women are often socialized to be caregivers and people pleasers, to think of themselves last, but that won't get us far. You have to put your oxygen mask on before helping other's get theirs on.
We have to prize feeling well, supported, connected, and cared for. We have to be the ones to make sure that happens.
Keep in mind our body can feel every thought we think, every emotion that courses through our veins. If your mind-body-spirit is getting a steady diet of shame, guilt, self criticism, self sacrifice, or not-enoughness, you're going to feel it and so will everyone else.
You don't have to fake it. You don't have to puff up. You don't have to try be someone you're not.
You do have to show yourself the kind of love you'd like every women to be shown. You have to get super clear about the kind of love and respect you need in order to be able to ask, demand, and expect the same for all women.
This is a big task, I know. It is a practice. Don't try to get it perfect right off the bat. Just start today, show yourself kindness, you'll get better at it with time.
Talk about it
Much of what women deal with - menstruating, giving birth, eating disorders, infertility, PMS, sexual assault, postpartum depression - gets deemed weird or gross or uncomfortable or taboo.
Make it all less weird, talk about it, especially to men and kids!
What our bodies do is natural, nay awesome and powerful and absolutely amazing! We should discuss menstrual cramps as openly as we talk about heartburn. We should talk about IVF at the dinner table. We should make women in pain feel less isolated by showing empathy and care for them and discussing what they are going through openly and honestly.