Gender bias in medical care is real— it’s disempowering and entirely unnecessary.
Our current medical paradigm is failing women by seeing the female body as problematic, defective, out of control and needing constant supervision, regulation and rescuing.
This is clear in the domain of reproductive health. Puberty, birth control choices, conception, pregnancy, birth and menopause, are too often over-medicalized. It’s rarely questioned when a doctor says that this pill/procedure/device/intervention is the best option.
We live in wonderful, yet challenging times. No matter how new age or free-thinking we are, the fact of the matter is we’re influenced by our culture – and our current culture is still stuck in old paradigm thinking.
The Old Paradigm: Paternalistic, Sanitised, One-Dimensional
If you picked up a current women’s health textbook, you would likely see these statements:
- The menstrual cycle is 28 days long.
- You ovulate on day 14.
- There is no need to be ovulating if you’re not planning on having a baby.
- It’s entirely safe to shut ovulation down for long periods.
- The most effective and responsible way to approach birth control is that a woman takes a pill or uses the device to shut down her fertility.
The pill is often the first line of treatment for many women’s health concerns outside of birth control.
The pill is often prescribed to women experiencing endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, acne, painful periods or irregular periods. The reason usually given is “this a medication that will balance your hormones”. Which is untrue. It takes your hormones offline.
Relics of Misogyny Cling Tight to Our Healthcare Paradigm
Mainstream health care still has a hangover from the 20th century that many of us are trying to shake off.
Language is powerful. Words hold the values of a society. It crystallizes and amplifies. Modern-day gynecology and obstetrics still use these terms:
- Incompetent cervix
- Inhospitable mucus
- Hostile uterus
- Geriatric pregnancy (for somebody who is over 35-years-old!)
- Blighted ovum (blighted meaning deformed or defective).
- And then in birth, failure to progress or lazy uterus.
I often joke with some of my colleagues that it’s interesting that premature ejaculation or low-virility aren’t referred to as “lazy penis” or “inadequate phallus”.
In gynecology, there needs to be an update on this language. Period.
The Modern-Day “Epidemic” of Infertility
The current medical model uses a specific algorithm for handling fertility struggles.
If a couple does not fall pregnant in the first year of unprotected intercourse, IVF is a referral that is the next step in the process. This is regardless of whether they have got their timing right with their window of fertility. There is no in-between.
Primary care physicians aren’t trained to teach couples how to optimize their fertility with the simple knowledge of knowing how to get their timing right. The statistics tell a concerning story:
2.1% of couples presenting to their GP after 6 months of trying to conceive (TTC) could identify their fertile window, but 33% thought that they had their timing right. Or in other words, there is a massive gap in what people think they know and actually having correct knowledge (apps have a lot to answer for this).
The stats for the IVF cohort was higher as you would expect. This is when people have done more self-education due to having the challenge longer. 12.7% of couples in IVF could identify their fertile window. Meaning that 87% of people going through high-level intervention has never had their knowledge of their timing checked.
94% of women wished they received better education about their fertility before TTC (Hampton et al., 2015).
Linear & Circular Thinking within the Old Paradigm
Linear thinking is mechanical and reductionist. It looks at understanding the molecule and being able to control and change the body on a chemical receptor level. It sees disease “as the enemy”, and if you can understand the disease in enough detail, you can counterbalance it with the right drugs and surgery. Treat the symptoms. Within this paradigm, you need an expert who can understand those details and elicit a treatment.
Many natural health modalities operate under the philosophy of the circle. The circle symbolises health as a clear, clean and balanced body: “A body purged of all toxins. Modern-day living accumulates toxins in the body which cause disease. You need to put your body through regular cycles of cleansing to keep good health”.
The practitioner in this model is the saviour. They’re the one that holds the flame, that tells you how to clean up your life, how to clean up your diet, how to keep that dirty temple of a body as clean and clear as possible. There is a deeper pathology to this thinking of “I’ve been bad. I need someone to save me. I need to stay away from dirty ways of being. I need to embrace clean if I’m ever to get to have health.”
Thinking in Spirals
The New Paradigm: Multidimensional, Holistic, Spirited
But a new model is emerging. One that is multidimensional and honours both the scientific and the spiritual. It seeks to understand how hormones influence a woman’s psyche, emotions and biology. In the new paradigm, we see:
- Menstrual cycles vary from person to person.
- Every woman’s fertile window is different (the time in which you can get pregnant), and this is only one to six days each cycle. Again this varies.
- The process of ovulation is essential for producing hormones that are integral to a woman’s health beyond reproduction, including cardiovascular protection and bone health.
- Your period is like a report card. If you’re experiencing difficulty, pain or irregularity in with period, it’s a sign that other areas of your health need your attention. It reflects everything else in the body and is a barometer of health. Deeper imbalances show up in the menstrual cycle as irregularities.
- Herbal medicines are a wonderful way of addressing these root causes, as they increase vitality, peace, wellness and healing in the body.
- Practising the fertility awareness method is an effective and safe form of birth control as well as knowing when to have sex when you wish to conceive. This method requires the participation of both partners. It’s a method that relies on you understanding how to interpret and chart two of your main fertile signs, cervical mucus and basal body temperature. Using these signs, you can know day by day, whether you can get pregnant or not.
- When you step into the deeper layers of the menstrual cycle, you can begin to use it as a map and a process of practising your power.
Thinking in Spirals
This new paradigm is too multidimensional to accept linear and circular thinking.
Instead, it thinks in spirals.
The spiral understands disease as an invitation to change and grow. It looks at the intelligence of the body and observes where it’s stuck. It will then use that to seek wholeness. The wound reveals the cure.
The multidimensional paradigm uses food, herbs and nourishing principles to elicit healing. It doesn’t believe that the body is dirty or clean. It believes in nourishing the cells, so the cells from healthy tissues. Which are essential for healthy organs. And when your organs are healthy and working in harmony with one another, that is when you have health.
The multidimensional paradigm recognizes that we’re far more than a collection of bones, organs, muscles and skin. We’re beings with spiritual lives and hearts. We integrate and understand all these elements of the human experience.
The practitioner in this model is support. A fellow traveller on the journey who walks with you for a leg of it because they have familiarised themselves with the terrain of the body and transformation. They invite you into a safe so that you can go into your depths, reclaim the lost parts of yourself so that you can come back whole.
Spirals never repeat themselves. They do not seek to stay the same. They contain thresholds that are forever expanding into uncharted territory. The spiral contains calls to courage and opportunities to grow. Sometimes these opportunities present themselves like sunlight: glittery, glowing, exciting. Other times they’re illuminated by the moonlight; darker, scarier, shadowy.
This is the essence of cyclical wisdom.
This is the wise woman way.
This is what being a cycle conscious human is all about.
How to become reproductively sovereign
1. First of all, know that you are not defective.
Our cycles are a barometer of our health on many spheres, physically, psychologically and spiritually. They change and shift with us. Just because they’re not perfect does not mean that there’s anything wrong with you. It’s about learning what that pattern is for you.
2. Learn your cycle as a complete system that is scientifically grounded.
I always suggest, start with the science first and make sure you have the full picture. Make sure that there are no missing pieces. If you’ve got a robust biological foundation, then everything that you build upon that will be stable. Layers of richness will reveal themselves as your awareness grows. If you’re thinking, “Oh gosh, biology, that’s scary”, let me assure you it’s fascinating!!
3. Learn how to observe, record and interpret your 2 main fertile signs.
I suggest learning two of them: cervical mucus and basal body temperature. There is an optional third: cervix position, but this is not necessary. Once you’ve got your head around those, it doesn’t take that long to master it. Three menstrual cycles are what most need.
4. Attune yourself to these other emotional, psychological, spiritual layers of your cycle.
When you start attuning yourself to your physical changes, that awareness starts overflowing into other areas of your life. Knowledge of your fertility = reproductive sovereignty. Understanding those different shifts and changes = more personal agency. Your menstrual cycle can be an incredible container for growth and managing your energy.
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References & Resources
Bland, J. (2015). Functional Medicine: An Operating System for Integrative Medicine. Integrative Medicine: A Clinician’s Journal, 14(5), 18–20.
Hampton, K. D., Mazza, D., & Newton, J. M. (2013). Fertility-awareness knowledge, attitudes, and practices of women seeking fertility assistance. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 69(5), 1076–1084. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.2012.06095.x
Hampton, K., & Mazza, D. (2015). Fertility-awareness knowledge, attitudes and practices of women attending general practice. Australian Family Physician, 44(11), 840–845.
Romm, A. (2009). Botanical Medicine for Women’s Health, 1e (1 edition). Churchill Livingstone.
Trickey, R. (2004). Women, Hormones & the Menstrual Cycle: Herbal & Medical Solutions from Adolescence to Menopause (Fully revised and updated edition). Allen & Unwin.
Weed, S. S. (2003). Healing Wise. Ash Tree Publishing.
Weed, S. S. (2011). Down There: Sexual and Reproductive Health (1 edition). Ash Tree Publishing.
Weschler, T. (2015). Taking Charge of Your Fertility, 20th Anniversary Edition: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health (Revised, Updated edition). William Morrow Paperbacks.
Wurlitzer, S. H., & Pope, A. (2017). Wild Power: Discover the Magic of Your Menstrual Cycle and Awaken the Feminine Path to Power (1 edition). Hay House UK.