Shedding Established Taboos of GYN Conditions in the Workplace
The preponderance of women who suffer from GYN conditions that affect their day-to-day lives is staggering. Approximately 80 percent of all women have fibroids. Endometriosis affects an estimated 176 million women around the world. Despite this, women still hide pain related to their menstrual cycle.
Sandwiched between a generation that considers most human biological events taboo, and a new generation that is not shy about sharing every aspect of their lives on social media, is a generation that has to navigate them both flawlessly. Men and women from this in-between generation, currently in their 30s to 50s, and often in the prime of their careers, are learning from the mistakes of their predecessors. Interruptions in the workplace caused by illnesses could be better managed if there was less shame and more transparency. They then have a responsibility to make that information available to the next generation, while still protecting their public and professional image. For many, there is the belief that illness makes one look weak, and can put careers at risk.
Specifically for women, the previous generation age 60+, rarely if ever spoke of their menstrual cycles, or of abnormalities that happened as women got older. It wasn’t considered proper, and was often used as an excuse to keep women out of the workplace. Hysterectomy was not a procedure openly discussed, as many felt their identity as a woman was tied directly to retaining their reproductive organs. As a result, the subsequent generation of women experienced painful, potentially life-threatening conditions due to lack of information and understanding.
There is spillover stigma experienced by many women in their 40s and 50s, who squirm at the idea of sharing too much themselves, and cringe when others are more comfortable doing so. However, this uncomfortable shift to transparency of complications with gynecological conditions can pave the way to honest discussions. These discussions are essential to advance treatments through research, ensure societal accommodations including those in schools and the workplace, and normalize part of the human process that brings every single man and woman into this world.
OLD WIVES’ TALES CAN DELAY TREATING COMPLEX GYN CONDITIONS
Heavy or painful periods are not normal, despite countless sources reinforcing this myth. There may be some discomfort with cramping, and one cycle may be heavier than the last, but if a woman’s monthly cycle is consistently keeping her in bed for a day (or longer), or soaking through tampons and pads in under an hour, it’s time to talk to a specialist.
Combined, stigma and misinformation often forces women to cope with these complications in a professional environment under secrecy, adding an unnecessary layer of stress. Women who experience intense menstrual pain often hide it with high dose pain killers, heating pads, and yet believe that this is something that has to be tolerated because it’s “a normal part of a woman’s period.” Similarly, women who notice that their menstrual cycles become increasingly heavier over time are told that it’s just part of getting older and that menstrual cycles change closer to menopause. This erroneous information is particularly upsetting and stigmatizing when a woman hasn’t yet reached 40. This mindset ignores that these are symptoms of more complex conditions. While many women have conditions like fibroids and endometriosis that are benign (meaning they are non-cancerous), there are conditions that have similar symptoms that can become life-threatening, like gynecologic cancers. Diagnosing GYN conditions early is essential.
ADVANCED TECHNIQUES FOR TREATING FIBROIDS AND ENDOMETRIOSIS: BEING INFORMED IMPROVES WOMEN’S OPTIONS
Treating GYN conditions with advanced techniques reduces the amount of time a woman needs to recover and be absent from work. For many women, concerns about having to take extended time off to recover from surgery prevents them from pursuing necessary procedures. There is a lot of information available about fibroids and endometriosis and the treatments available. Sifting through the facts and misinformation is a collaborative effort.
The relationship between a patient and her doctor works best when both are informed and honest with each other. It is the patient’s responsibility to do research ahead of a consultation, and document symptoms for the doctor. The balance is the responsibility of the doctor to listen completely and be up to date on all available treatment options. It is important for the patient to understand that their physician may only be trained in one type of surgical technique. This is why it’s important for women to always seek a second opinion.
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