Gather around, everyone. Aunt Stephanie wants to tell you a story.
I'm telling this story second-hand, with permission.
M is like a sister to me. We met in high school and have been friends since then. She's 41, has had bi-polar 2 all of her life, and is in the middle of perimenopause.
Without getting into too many details, this is important. Perimenopause is the time when a woman's hormones get all outta whack and her uterus does really stupid things. Some (good and forward thinking, in my opinion) doctors will agree to perform a uterine ablation or a hysterectomy for women who undergo way too much monthly uterine stupidity. After all, a woman who is 41 and child-free by choice has nothing to lose by having one of these permanent procedures done.
In an attempt to alleviate the symptoms of hormonal wackiness and stupid uterine tricks, a few months ago M's doctor instead recommended a newer IUD that uses an an extremely low dose of hormones to regulate these types of shenanigans. Medically, this is pretty good advice, so M took it.
Unfortunately, M's own hormones contribute greatly to her depressive episodes. Several rounds of birth control pills (additional hormones) have triggered depressive episodes. This is in M's medical records. The doctor who gave her the IUD knew about the hormone-related depression, but thought that, since there is such a low dose of hormones with this particular device, it wouldn't affect M's mental health.
You can imagine how angry I was at the doctor when M told me last week that she was battling another depressive episode and actively suicidal.
The good news in all of this is that M's doctor very quickly removed the IUD, her psychiatrist adjusted her medications, and her therapist put her on sick leave with strict instructions for M to check in with the therapist every single day this week. She is battling the depression like the warrior she is.
The bad news is that she is battling a severe depressive episode again because her doctor thought a low dose of hormones would be better for her than a hysterectomy, even though M's medical files say that hormones send her into depressive episodes.
And here's what I hear in this whole thing: the medical community would rather try to kill my sister instead of taking away her ability to have a child.
Oh, I know. That's simplistic and melodramatic.
But if you're a woman, you know it really isn't. Women are insulted and berated all the time for choosing to be child-free. Women who want easy access to birth control for themselves and other women are called sluts, even though they'll be called sluts if they get pregnant. (Slut if you don't want a kid, slut if you have a kid. Makes sense.) Women who have heavy periods are generally told to deal with it because the only truly permanent ways to reduce heavy bleeding will render them sterile. Yes, a woman can use hormonal birth control methods to reduce heavy bleeding, but the use of hormonal birth control contributes to depression in women and it's so common that depression is listed as a side effect of most hormonal birth control methods.
I understand that no doctor is going to recommend ablation or hysterectomy for a teenager. But if a woman is child-free or done having babies and she wants a permanent solution to the monthly uterine hijinks, why is she not able to choose that for herself? Why is a woman's ability to have a child sometime in the future more important than her current mental health?
If you're a woman, you've probably had a doctor say or do something that reveals how much patriarchy affects women's health issues.
I have another friend who is a few years older than me, has two kids, and is done having children. She has such heavy bleeding that it gives her migraines and usually keeps her home one day a month. A uterine ablation isn't a medical possibility for her and her (male) doctor won't agree to a hysterectomy "because she only has a few years of this left."
I had a tubal ligation five years after our only child was born. The (male) doctor asked me two questions before he agreed to perform the procedure: what did my husband think about me having a tubal ligation and what would I do if our child died sometime after I had it done? He apparently wasn't convinced by my own desire to not get pregnant ever again.
Personally, as a pro-life mother, I'm exhausted by the stupidity of a system that thinks of me as nothing more than a hormonal incubator and won't allow me or other women the health care we need for our mental and physical well-being, simply because it might hurt our ability to reproduce.
Women are not just incubators for the next generation.