A Women’s Health Tech Innovator Shares Her Personal Story & What Drives Her to Improve Conversations about Women’s Sexual Health
I get asked many times why I chose to work in women's intimate and sexual health, I guess it is still considered outside of the norm. I get it, it is not the most frequently chosen item in the menu! As Cofounder of B-wom, many people were eager to find out what was that one specific traumatic event that inspired me to get into the field. The truth is that it was a series of disappointing health-related experiences that made it very clear to me that: (1) Our approach to health needs to change drastically, and (2) Women's health, particularly sexual health, has been neglected for far too long.
Between the ages of 18 and 21, I had several episodes of severe hemorrhaging during my periods, which one day specifically included waking up at 3 a.m. in a bed covered in blood. I was so weak I could barely make it to the ER - fun stuff. When I went in to see the doctor, the first thing I got was a skeptical look. They practically tried to convince me that I was exaggerating... Until the chair I was sitting on was covered in blood in a matter of minutes and I proceeded to enter into an argument to be taken seriously, thus making my mom blush (sorry, mom!). Then all I ever got was a shot in my butt to stop the blood loss, and a pat on the back accompanied by a "take the pill, it might help regulate this".
I also had extremely painful periods for the main part of my late teens to late 20s. Bad episodes would take place every 2-3 months, and they would include me losing consciousness and waking up on the bathroom floor, cramps so strong i couldn’t walk, and nausea. It usually lasted for 2 to 3 hours, until the meds kicked in, the pain became bearable and I could start functioning again.
I never had a full examination in any of the instances that I sought medical help, or at least not an examination that would produce an explanation or a roadmap as to how to address it. I was never offered education on why this was happening, and the only solution seemed to be for me to go on the pill - which I personally chose not to do, as it was a means of numbing the symptoms, but it wouldn’t help uncover the cause of this pain and bleeding. I don’t think there even was a standard set of tests to run to eliminate options.
These experiences created a great deal of insecurity for me. Women’s health issues like the ones I just described don’t just impact your overall health, but they affect many aspects of your life. For example, if you can’t make it to the office until 2:00 pm one day because you can barely walk straight, let alone take the metro, you’ll need to explain your absence to your employer. If there’s a chance you might start bleeding uncontrollably, you might want to mention it to your partner before he has the scare of his life. When you suddenly drop dead on your way to the movies, you need to tell you friend -- once you are conscious, that is-- that it’s not the first time and that there’s no need for an ambulance. And yes, that was a true story.
I think about it now and I still can't believe I never got an in-depth examination, or was asked questions about my lifestyle. Not even whether I was under stress… nothing. As an 18 or 19 year old, you are usually not very well equipped to advocate for yourself, and sharing your intimate life with someone who barely has 20 minutes to spend with you isn’t pleasant. Luckily, by the time I was in my 20s I spoke to a couple of girlfriends about it and learned that I wasn’t the only one that had similar experiences. However, it still didn’t solve the question for any of us. By now I’ve come to terms with the fact that I might never know, but I don’t want any girl in the coming generations to feel as confused as I was.
I really can't emphasize enough the importance of sexual, reproductive and intimate health education from an early age onward, and during the subsequent stages of a woman’s life. We need to talk to girls about health AND choices. We experience many transitions during a lifetime: puberty, cycle changes, pregnancy, postpartum, menopause… Half of the world’s population has experienced concerns related to one or more of these transitions, and yet we still don’t feel free to openly talk about it, we still lower our voices and whisper in a friend’s ear. Opening the doors to clear communication and removing the guilt and the shame around intimate health is paramount. Because, ultimately, that's what it is: Health.
I couldn't be happier to be part of a conversation that will create a more welcoming environment for young girls and women to voice their concerns and find support, and to know that there are solutions out there and they have the right to get them.