Your Pain is Not Normal

Heading out to a baby shower today, it was lovely to catch up with old friends. As the party started to wind down we began talking of our recent lives, and turned to the ailments that seemed to plague us. The conversation focused on persistent medical problems, some of which had been ongoing, tedious, painful, and in some cases undiagnosed for years. Chronic pain and fatigue were a common factor. From spinal injuries, to fibromyalgia, to persistent hip bursitis, to my own fertility issues, I looked round the room at the faces of my friends and suddenly burst out “Ladies, might I remind everyone that we are only 33. We should be having this shit conversation in our 50’s!”

As we told these stories, one very clear similarity emerged: we were all misdiagnosed by our doctors. Doctors who told us we were being too dramatic. That we were overreacting. That it was just in our heads. To stop worrying. That “It’s just part of being a woman and you should just put up with it”.

Before we go on, I don’t want you to think I’m hateful towards doctors. I’m not, my doctors are wonderful, and I know a lot of other people who have found great doctors and are really happy with them. They are important people in our society who help and heal us. They are NOT just a pawn of “Big Pharma”, ready to just treat us like a commodity, as many internet conspiracy theories would have you believe.

But after reading about the recent class action against Johnson and Johnson in the vaginal mesh controversy, I do begin to wonder how trustworthy our health practitioners can be sometimes.

There are quite a number of articles which describe the horrific details of this disgusting, and thankfully (mostly) banned piece of technology. Class actions have been launched in the US, the UK and here in Australia. Just google “vaginal mesh class action” and perhaps read a few of the first articles, and you’ll get the picture.

Basically vaginal mesh is a medical implant designed to assist with bladder weakness and incontinence. The mesh in implanted in woman who mainly experience pelvic organ prolapse due to age or giving birth. Women who are overweight, or haven’t practised any type of pelvic floor exercises, or women who have had particularly difficult and complicated births tend to be at higher risk to pelvic prolapse problems. So when the mesh was made available as a viable treatment to these problems back in 2007, I can understand why women would jump at the chance of using it.

However problems started arising soon after the implants began circulating with many women complaining of pain so severe they couldn’t work, walk or have sex anymore. Further investigation into the mesh returned claims that the mesh was eroding inside the women’s bodies, poking itself through organs, and perforating the uterus and vaginal wall. Can I just stop here for a moment and just say, holy shit! I read numerous articles and opinion pieces, detailing how doctors usually gave women little or no explanation about what the device was, or what it does. There was never any talk of complications. One particular representative of Johnson and Johnson during the class action in the UK quite happily told the court “That out of all the surgeries performed it was likely only 10 percent of women suffer consequences from the device”

….TEN PERCENT!!! Are you shitting me! Forgive me if I’m wrong, but if you were say, a mortician, and you told me that your ability to tell the difference between an alive person and a dead person was wrong only TEN PERCENT of the time, I’d frankly be more than a little worried!

Ok look, let’s move on. Surely once we knew about how terrible this device was it was removed from the market immediately. Nope! Wrong again. In Australia the device was still being used up to 2013. That is only four years ago. There are women walking around today with a potential time-bomb in their pelvis, because in quite a number of cases it takes a few years before the problems start to arise. In England, where this travesty of justice first started, the NHS has decided it’s ok to keep the bloody thing on the market because they’re not convinced there’s a problem yet. Ok, putting all that aside, we know this stuff is dangerous and is causing terrible detriment to women’s health. Surely that means that when women are going to their doctors to complain about the issue their complaints are being taken seriously and handled with dignity and care. WRONG AGAIN. In this lovely little article, some women in Australia were told by their doctors if sex hurt so much they should just try anal sex instead. Nope. Nope, I’m done.

First things first. Let’s all agree to stop purchasing anything made by Johnson and Johnson. Why?

1.       Because they are horrible to women, as the above attests to.

2.       They test on animals

3.       Their products give you cancer

4.       I don’t need a four, the above three are pretty much enough.

So where do we go from here? Let’s just put a few things into perspective.

Number 1. Never ever decide to accept a less than fulfilling sex life. You deserve to have a good, comfortable and enjoyable sex life. “Oh well, this is just how it is now” if your libido is gone or if intercourse is painful should never be an acceptable way of thinking for any women ever. And I mean that whether you’ve given birth or not. If something physically has happened to change your ability to enjoy sex you should never feel there is nothing you can do about it. Let’s say it together: Every woman deserves a wonderful sex life. Don’t settle for anything less.

Number 2. Your vagina is perfect the way it is. I’ve read a few stories recently about the rise of vaginal reconstruction surgery because women feel self-conscious, they think it’s the wrong shape, or ugly, or just doesn’t look “normal”. Hey guess what? There is no “normal”. You know what’s normal? Your vagina. Women are getting their vaginas bleached or are requesting surgery because their partners have said it looks strange or ugly or weird. If your partner is telling you they hate your vagina because it makes them feel uncomfortable, you have my permission to slap them and move on because you don’t need that kind of negativity in your life. However if you feel that there is something physically wrong, or you’re legitimately having issues whilst having sex then of course there is nothing wrong with talking to your doctor and getting an opinion on what’s going on. Sometimes surgery can be necessary depending on the issue (like if your cervix has prolapsed).

Number 3. Speaking of your vagina, guess what I learned about today? It’s called The Husband Stitch. After giving birth vaginally you can sometimes tear down towards the perineum. Historically doctors would put in an extra stitch to make the vagina tighter, basically so sex is nicer for the husband. Because aren’t 18 century doctors so caring?! This is so great finding this out 3 years after I myself had to be stitched up (though I will say, everything works better than before down there, so I guess no harm done to me at least).

Number 4. Talk to your doctor. I know how hard that can be and I know how embarrassing it can feel. But nothing is more important than actually talking about it. And when you’ve spoken to them, get a second opinion. And then a third. Keep pushing until you get answers. Don’t just walk off quietly into the night.

Number 5. I would encourage any women reading this who knows they have vaginal mesh to get themselves to a doctor immediately and get yourself checked out. The last thing I would want anyone to become is another statistic in this horrible saga.