HER Health Collective hosts four roundtables each year in an effort to bring together our experts and dive deep into the topics that matter to moms most. We have found that these roundtables are often our most well liked episodes, both to record and for our listeners.
Each of the experts represented in our roundtables have different professional backgrounds and specialties areas of interest. When they come together and discuss women’s health, you can expect to get different perspectives based on their area of focus. This is also a time for the experts to collaborate with professionals from other industries in order to create a more holistic model of care.
Our goal is to expand not only the experts referral network, but to emphasize the importance of collaborative healthcare which is very important to us at HER Health Collective.
After combing through several sources such as the World Health Organization and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development WebMD US Food and Drug Administration CDC, just to name a few, we have compiled a list of the top health concerns affecting women. And today we’re going to hear our expert panelists discuss those top women’s health issues based on the perspective of their profession.
Today, we are honored to be joined by several of our 2020 to her expert panelists, we will take a few moments to let each of our experts introduce themselves and share their area of expertise, mostly so that our listeners can hear each experts voice and have a better idea of who is speaking during the upcoming conversation.
So just going in the order of how each expert is on my screen. Dr. Charryse, can you please introduce yourself?
I am Dr. Charryse Johnson, a licensed clinical mental health counselor and the founder of Jade Integrative Counseling and Wellness in Charlotte, North Carolina, where myself and the other clinicians support individuals, families and couples from ages 13 and up some of our specialties center around eating disorders, crisis and trauma and marriage and family and I’m excited to be here.
We’re so happy to have you. Thank you, Dr. Charryse. Nicole, will you introduce yourself?
Hi, I’m Nicole Wallace. I’m also a licensed clinical mental health counselor. I own a group practice in North Raleigh, North Carolina. The name of our practice is Transformation Counseling & Consulting. And we actually specialize in helping women who are struggling with anxiety and depression but we do generalize and see others as well.
Thank you Nicole. Kerry?
Hi, my name is Kerry Lett. I am a registered dietitian and certified lactation consultant and the founder of Milestones Pediatric and Maternal Nutrition.
Thanks Kerry! Maris?
Hi, I’m Maris. I am the co owner of Carolina Birth and Wellness, which is a full spectrum Resource Center supporting families at every step of their reproductive health journey. From bodywork to educational classes to doula support. We are happy to serve families across the triangle area of North Carolina.
Thanks, Maris. We’re happy to have you here. And last but certainly not least, Christy.
Hi, I’m Christy Maloney, registered dietitian and certified eating disorder specialist. My practice is Enhanced Nutrition and we are located in Charlotte, we actually share space with Dr. Charryse and her team. Our focus is of course on eating disorders and weight neutral approaches to medical nutrition therapy. There’s myself and four other dieticians kind of scattered around in different places. But yeah, we all work together that way.
Thank you, Christy and everyone! It always makes me so excited when I see everybody here together on the screen in front of me and I just get thrilled to listen to the information that you’re going to give us as well as our community. So thank you for being here.
We’re going to dive into our first question. The increasing number of Internet users and the over abundance of information accessible to those users makes what we’re doing right now the discussion altogether with collaborative women’s health care providers so important. We are striving to fill the gaps in public knowledge of these issues and provide accurate information.
So let’s start talking about the top women’s health related concerns. What are they? Our compiled list after looking at numerous resources, as Crissy just said include cancer, heart disease, maternal health, reproductive health, which includes STDs STIs, HIV UTIs as well as mental health which includes depression, suicide, anxiety, etc.
So let’s begin by discussing cancer and heart disease, we’re going to tackle them together in this first question. According to the CDC, heart disease is the leading cause of death for African American and white women in the United States. Among American Indian and Alaska, native women, heart disease and cancer cause roughly the same number of deaths each year for Hispanic and Asian or Pacific Islander women, heart disease is second only to cancer as a cause of death.
When we say heart disease, we’re referring to several types of heart conditions, including coronary artery disease and heart attack. The most common cancers affecting women are breast, cervical, and some skin cancers.
How do you see cancer and heart disease affecting the women you work with? And based on your specialty? What do you do to support these women?
Well, I can speak as a licensed clinical mental health counselor, oftentimes, I’ll see people after they’ve been diagnosed. And so they’re dealing with the emotions that come with a diagnosis or dealing with changes in their family or their abilities, and things like that. And so we try to provide support around coping skills, about dealing with life transitions, about expectations, family dynamics.
So I can speak to this a little bit too. As a dietitian, I didn’t mention that I specifically see women during fertility, pregnancy, postpartum, and kids. So this isn’t really a topic that honestly comes up that often in my practice, I’m sure that Christy can attest to this, that there’s a lot of dietitians that specialize in this area who can help those women. And typically, the things that would be kind of talked about would be prevention from a healthy diet and lifestyle.
In my practice, we do breastfeeding, which has been shown in research to help kind of reduce the risk of breast cancer. So really supporting mom’s goal to breastfeed and know all women can’t breastfeed. But that is her goal, and that is what she’s working on trying to support her so that we can hopefully get her that benefit of decreasing her cancer risk later on.
Yeah, Kerry, I agree. Like with the different specialties, it’s not something that I see all the time, either, but I will say, when we do you see cancer or heart disease, that kind of thing. A lot of times we will see women blame themselves, you know, “I didn’t do it, right.” “This is my fault somehow,” that kind of thing. And then, you know, what we also see is a lot of anxiety, of course, right?
Like with any of those diagnoses, and you know, as a dietitian, especially, we see a lot of like, “oh, I have to make a 180 lifestyle change, and absolutely everything I do and right now,” and it becomes really overwhelming. So, you know, for us, we really try to support from the perspective of, how can we help make changes that are going to be beneficial to the treatment of your heart disease, your cancer, whatever you have going on, but not feel unsustainable and manageable and even more overwhelming when that’s coupled with the diagnosis.
Dr. Durney, I’m actually going to put you on the spot.
Dr. Holly Durney
Well, that’s good, because I was about to unmute.
I was actually going to ask you from your perspective, because being a physical therapist, your specialty is in pelvic floor rehabilitation. But I can only assume that you perhaps have worked with some women who have undergone surgeries in terms of cervical, uterine, ovarian, etc. Do you have anything that you can talk about?
Dr. Holly Durney
Probably the most common is just post mastectomy. There’s a lot of discomfort and pain, post surgery there. And then if women decide to get the augmentation afterwards, in order to have that they actually put the implant underneath the PEC muscle, and that can cause the shoulder to freeze and some issues there.
And so probably most commonly, with this population, I see post breast cancer and surgery their pelvic floor wise, there may be I know that there’s some pain and discomfort afterwards either, especially if there’s some radiation involved, there can be some muscle guarding and pelvic pain associated with that.
Imagine if there’s some hormone changes from a uterine cancer, that there’s some tissue changes there in the vaginal tissue. And so women’s health in PT can certainly help with that in terms of understanding the body changes and then just being able to help the tissues change because the body is different now post surgery but most commonly personally I see post mastectomy, but I do know as a field, physical therapy can help and all in all of these veins for any secondary issues that may arise from the treatment from the mainly from the surgeries like you said.
Do you also focus on people that have had heart disease or may be recuperating from any type of heart conditions?
Dr. Holly Durney
Personally, no. Post COVID, we actually did a continuing ed course about how COVID has affected condition, overall condition and deconditioning. And you actually follow up with very similar protocol with heart disease in terms of being able to condition a patient, if there was actually a heart surgery, same thing, like you have scar tissue over the heart.
But in terms of actual heart disease, there’s a branch of physical therapy that does that actually, in the hospital like cardiovascular physical therapy, I wouldn’t say it’s in the vein of women’s health, necessarily, but there is there are things that I can do to advise in order to just help understand the changes in the body and then just to build up general conditioning for the patient.
Sure. And then going over to Maris, you work as a doula specializing in all these different areas. Have you run into women who have gotten pregnant perhaps after going through a cancer diagnosis and going through chemotherapy and radiation? Or have you worked with anyone that has had any type of heart condition?
We have had clients who have experienced history of cancer or who work with or are pregnant with heart conditions, for example. And it definitely can impact both their experience of pregnancy and their relationship to their autonomy with their body as well, in pregnancy, which is something that we work really hard with families make sure that they feel they’ve got body literacy and that autonomy and that empowerment over their body and making choices, which I think especially for clients with difficult health histories, especially anything like cancer or heart disease, that might be more difficult, or that’s where wonderful therapists work definitely comes into play in terms of feeling the capacity to reclaim that.
I also want to call in that I think related to women’s health overall, we see this a lot with patients whose experiences have been with more, you know, difficult health histories, is this idea that there is I want to second, that idea of ownership over it as if like, well, if I had examined myself more like we put this onus on women to like prevent their own health sometimes or like to invent difficult health histories and see it a lot with fertility. We see a lot with managing pregnancy, which I know when we talk about maternal health later on comes in, like how much we put this individual onus on women to, you know, prevent negative health outcomes. When it really is systemic, it comes down to education and body literacy, and their doctors and providers.
Letting them know what for example, a heart attack feels like when you’re a woman versus a man and the fact that we we have this default, like older white men as our health map. And that doesn’t apply to so many women experiencing other health outcomes. And so I think we do a lot of unlearning of that, in addition to having clients with these difficult health histories.
And knowing you know what pain feels like in the body and hardwiring the brain around that when it comes to labor and delivery, which are very different kinds of pain.
Can I also add just in having worked with individuals who have been managing cancer, and heart disease, even different elements, the support they need looks different at different stages.
So the level of emotions and overwhelm that they’re going to experience in the beginning when they’re in shock, you know, is crisis intervention on one hand, and then at each stage, as we talk about as their body changes, or as they look at, Okay, I was a young person and had cancer and now that I’ve gotten past this, is it okay for me to reproduce? If I have a child, then there’s an escalated concern around what am I genetically passing to that child? Is that right? Is that wrong?
What kind of potential barriers and then the element that I often see show up at least in terms of the therapy space is, there are a lot of women who feel inconvenienced by a diagnosis of cancer and heart disease in that essence of I don’t have time for this. What will my family do without me? One of the biggest aspects of support can even be a matter of helping them give themselves permission to focus on their health, because they’re very wired and geared towards I am here on Earth and my soul in this role in life is to take care of everyone else. So there’s a lot of guilt, not only about what did I do wrong, but everyone else is now going to have to do things that they’re used to me doing. And I feel bad.
Even though it’s life threatening, there’s a very real aspect of them not feeling well. And so there’s a lot of emotions, and then that really creates identity dynamics that they also have to work through. And sometimes the family has to work through because the whole family system may need to renegotiate, in order to give mom adequate room space, to take that autonomy, and unlearn her role in the family so that she can take care of herself.
Such wonderful points from all of you. Thank you so much. Actually, our two nutritionists, Kerry and Christy, both alluded to this earlier. And so we’re just going to dive into that a little bit deeper.
Right now, you talked about prevention of heart disease and cancer using nutrition. And most often, when you research heart disease and cancers, the following lifestyle risk factors have been cited as potentially increasing the chance of developing these illnesses, which include alcohol use, smoking, high weight or obesity, limited exercise, poor diet.
Practitioners often turn to these behaviors as a primary concern of ailments and focus change for an afflicted individual is to redirect them back to changing any of those particular areas.
How is this an accurate directive by healthcare professionals? And in what ways is it leading women astray?
I can go first on that just from a nutrition perspective. Charryse is like, “Yeah.” So of that we know that excessive alcohol use causes cancer. We know that smoking causes cancer. We know that getting a variety of foods in your diet and movement are very health promoting behaviors.
The place where I kind of get frustrated with the medical field is that it you know, so often, when we go to the doctor, we’re dismissed with losing weight. Eat better, move some, lose some weight, and it doesn’t fully address the complaints that we come in for. It doesn’t get women adequate testing they need for complaints that they’re presenting with, which causes a lot of misdiagnosis or diagnoses way too late in the game when it could have been caught at an earlier time or, or helped, you know, earlier before it had gotten worse.
I think that, again, just kind of the weight stigma of going to the doctor, and always being told lose weight, lose weight, lose weight, lose sight of complaints, and it’s fairly dismissive.
If we actually want to affect change, it’s getting clients to a dietitian. It’s getting clients to a PT that can help with mobility. It’s referring them to a substance abuse facility or smoking cessation program. You know, those are the things that I see. And that’s definitely one of my passion projects is to kind of help people understand that, from my perspective.
I think that’s a great point. And I just want to jump on as a dietitian, because I feel like we share the same thought. I agree. I think prevention is important. I mean, I think the statistic is something like 42% of cancers are preventable. But we need to make sure that the recommendations that we’re giving about prevention are not solely weight focused, like Christy mentioned, because there is Health at Every Size, but also that are culturally appropriate, because there are some things that when we think like, Oh, poor diet.
White rice is the first thing that comes to my mind, that’s a very cultural thing. That people they’re like, Oh, well, that’s bad, you should be having brown rice. That’s just one simple example. But we need to make sure that the recommendations we’re giving are truly appropriate and culturally sensitive as well.
And also, just to touch back on the guilt that you guys talked about previously. Yes, 42% is preventable. But that means 58% isn’t. So we need to also make sure that we’re taking that into account and really supporting the mental health of these women as well.
Dr. Holly Durney
And for me, in my profession, I have the weight conversation, but I tend to assume that there’s maybe something else that’s causing the weight issue, right?
So you don’t just say well, you need to exercise more. Well, maybe their back hurts and their knees hurting they can you know, so I have found that to be very beneficial, at least in my profession to really just try to meet the patient where they are and just say, “Hey, I I know you want to move and I know your knees hurt so we’re gonna get your pain better so that you can move,” you know, because just sitting with a doctor and saying, Well, your knees hurt because if you lost weight, they would hurt less. And so if I can’t walk, what am I supposed to do? And making that assumption that they’re just not trying.
There may be a reason as to why and then trying to help attack that reason with them as like their helper and their advocate instead of just assuming that they’re not doing it or that they haven’t tried something. So that’s what’s been helpful to me to acknowledge that, yes, you know, losing weight would be helpful to you. But let’s talk about how, at least from the physical point of view, how can I help you achieve that.
And then likewise, you’re going to have situations where even though we’re talking about the concept of highlight obesity, limited exercise, you know, what about the individuals who hear those same diagnoses where weight is not an issue, right, who are also in a situation of going, I have had the opportunity to eat well, and I move. And so I don’t understand how I got here.
But then kind of going back to where we started, we do live in a society and in a country, just within the US and globally, as well, where diet is a privilege. So we don’t often take into account the access that an individual may have.
So someone may go to the doctor and go, you’re, you know morbidly obese here, and this is happening in this dynamic, here’s what you need to do, and that appointment is over. And there’s often not any additional resources around a dietitian, a PT, a therapist, or anyone to say, and here are some individuals that you can reach out to, that can work with you and help look at your life. Look at the concept of your integrative health, because environmental factors influence stress, stress is influencing appetite. Appetite is influencing sleep, then we’ve got epigenetics, history of trauma, and all of those dynamics, interconnect and kind of load their, you know, genome and gut microbiome, which can increase the likelihood that they have all of these dynamics. And that’s not common knowledge. So someone is then left with that major piece. And that’s where it becomes harmful.
Because you have an individual who now feels like, if I were thin, this wouldn’t be happening. So it can be costly, because we’re putting too much onus on the visual aspect of what is being seen without taking time to treat the whole person. And really look at is this also an individual who has a history of child loss, and has had a significant number of changes in terms of body composition, based on those complications? And how is that impacting their mental health and the way they show up with food, so it just reduces it down to a very minute dynamic that doesn’t look at the whole picture, it can leave a person feeling helpless.
Thank you so much, everybody, we are going to shift gears a little bit into a topic that is incredibly important to us, maternal health. Maternal health is an issue we’ve talked about a great deal at HER Health Collective and on the Mama Needs a Moment podcast.
According to Mom Congress, the US has the highest rate of maternal deaths in the developed world. And that number has doubled in the last 25 years. The US is the only industrialized nation to see maternal mortality rates rising. We are actually going backwards. Other stats shared include 50,000 women a year, nearly dying from pregnancy related complications in the US. And more than 700 women do actually die from pregnancy related complications in the US. Black women are three to four times more likely to die in these situations than white women. And 60% of those deaths are completely preventable.
I would love to know, in your opinion, why is the US going backwards on this issue?
There are a myriad of reasons, of course, but just off the top of my head, we have a complete lack of comprehensive prenatal care in the US in many communities.
I believe it was Dr. Charryse, you pointed out, we have these individuals who arrive at their health care appointment, maybe even to just confirm a pregnancy. We don’t have great sexual health education or comprehensive sex or sexual health education in the country either, but so many women might, you know, show up in their community and they’re like, “Okay, you’re pregnant, come back in three months.” We don’t have comprehensive nutritional care.
We don’t have comprehensive education or like, you know, it has to be community organizers are folks in the communities helping moms understand what’s healthy or what’s safe, or again, like letting them rest, right if we have this reliance on women in family dynamics or in communities to just keep going.
Additionally, we have an over reliance on interventions and particularly surgical births that are not necessary. I believe the statistics are that 10 to 15% of cesarean deliveries are medically necessary, and the US is rated around 33%. With that being higher in some hospitals than others.
We also see a lack of postpartum follow through. I know particularly with black maternal mortality rates, medical racism prevents or actively invalidates pain. Black women are experiencing it while pregnant, while in labor and delivery, while immediately postpartum and this affects women in all communities. This almost killed Beyonce. This almost killed Serena Williams. This is medical racism across US labor and delivery systems and maternal health outcomes. And so those are just a handful of reasons off the top of my head.
Something that is very uniquely affecting the US, in particular, between this lack of comprehensive universal health care for women, and the way in which medical racism is ingrained in our reproductive health care system.
Talking about the ingrained racism in the medical system, there’s new research showing that discrimination or even the threat of discrimination can start to impact your health. And with our climate in the US, the last couple of years, especially with the hate crimes and the hate speech, if you are a non white, non Christian and non English speaking woman, you are likely not feeling as accepted. And if you are experiencing that, during pregnancy, at a time where your body is already going through a lot to create this new life form, you likely are having increased stress not only from your pregnancy, but also just the world around you not supporting you in the way that it should.
And we know that stress increases our cortisol levels, and cortisol levels when they’re elevated, and cause a host of symptoms from having high blood pressure to increasing your risk of hormonal imbalances to increasing the risk of having low birth weight babies to making it that you have to deliver early.
And so really, it’s just kind of setting up the cycle of, okay, now, our women aren’t being as supported in the medical environment, but they’re also having all of these extra things that they have to worry about, and manage and stress and juggle. And now these babies are potentially born premature and low birth rate.
I know there’s statistics that black women are two times more likely to have a child die in the first year before its first birthday than white women. And so again, and I think it’s something as a society, we need to address it because it really is unfortunate.
I’m wondering if anybody has any examples of seeing this play out in your practice, or you know, where you’ve seen this with a client or a patient, this systemic issue, the systemic nature of this issue, if you’ve seen that firsthand in any way within your practice?
In my practice, as a licensed counselor, we often see women who come in and talk about not being heard during appointments, their pain is, I think it was Kerry talked about not being recognized or dismissed. It definitely is something that does happen. And it’s very stressful, as several people were pointing out, to have to deal with not only are you going through this life change, but now you’re having to have anxiety about are you going to be cared for and supported by the people that you’re trusting to take care of you. And that’s a hard one to process even to give someone coping strategies for.
Because we’re talking about Okay, so now how do you do a safety plan around your own doctor visits, right? And how do you advocate for yourself in a space where you’re actually supposed to be enjoying and maybe even feeling comfortable coming to but you’re having to be bringing maybe questions or bringing your support person and things like that, and that can be very stressful.
Then add the dynamic as well, of most of these different pieces, like we talked about the need for prenatal care, and then, you know, potential dietitian support or physical support, even if a person is caring and they need help around that area. These needs are not centralized.
So there’s also the barrier to the time, the energy, the cost of how much time are they given, there’s nothing in any benefits plan I’ve ever been aware of whether that’s with my own clients or not, and I have a client who’s experiencing this now, where her primary barrier is, she doesn’t have enough time to take off to attend the various appointments because of location, and the amount of time that she would need and the needing to go during the day while her other kids are there. So all of those pieces really add up.
And there are very few comprehensive places where a woman can go and say, I can meet here with you know, a midwife, or find out about a doula or have that primary appointment and connect with a dietitian and believe it or not actually see someone for a few minutes on mental health support, we don’t often put those pieces together.
So then we leave individuals who are already stressed by existing in the system with now having to find the information, gear up the courage to be there and take care of everything else that is still happening in their life. And so even just, it can be re-traumatizing for an individual who is like, I am already carrying all of this and feeling my body and I don’t feel like something’s right. And then it is minimizing and dehumanizing to then go and speak with a professional who questions or moves it to the side.
There’s a young woman who just had a surgery that she had to fight for. Young black woman. After four miscarriages, she’s 20, something years old, was constantly dismissed, fought, ask questions, cried, got upset, felt betrayed by her body doesn’t understand what’s happening, finally got to something but to the point of the surgery had to push and push and push for someone to listen, just to give herself a chance to not be terrified. Every time that she got pregnant, it would end up in a loss and to experience that, again, as a young 20 something year old, black American, and she has a level of access, and education.
So let’s also acknowledge there’s a lot of women of all ages and stages and nationalities who don’t even know where to begin with how to find the right information. And if you don’t know where to start, you, you just don’t, and you just hope for the best. And leave it up to chance and the system is not designed for equity.
You made so many good points, especially in our field where we see, you know, the aftermath of maybe having been to medical appointments or having had some of those experiences.
So one of the things I’ve started to do was to visit primary care, doctors and OBGYN doctors in my local like within the 20 mile radius of my practice, and finding out that they didn’t have a lot of places to refer or they were just jumping on the insurance directory and picking one during an appointment.
And so by trying to build those relationships, if they didn’t have a mental health care person within their practice has been really important. Because as Dr. Charryse was saying, not having access, or moms who have multiple children. And if you don’t have a partner, or your partner is the primary breadwinner in the home. And so they’re maybe not maybe they can’t take off to watch the kids. So maybe you have to bring the toddler with you when you’re going to the appointment for the next baby. And all of the above if you’ve been in an OBGYN appointments now really fun to have a little person sitting at the end of the table, right?
So those things can be really challenging for moms. And I think a lot of facilities don’t often recognize that and see more facilities try to bring in or become more comprehensive, but I don’t think it’s moving fast enough.
Nicole just kind of started to touch on this with this, increasing the referral networks. But I want to paint for us an ideal world in which we have access to unlimited resources, a receptive community and leadership.
Let’s all just pause for a moment and set that in. What would improvement in this area and maternal health look like?
For me it would be where the connection between providers was a little easier. And the referrals were more personable, and even if you could get them in one, maybe not even with one facility but even in one low whole area. So it would be a little faster. For some moms to be able to make those connections.
Telehealth has helped. I have to say it’s not ideal for all mothers, especially again, if you have multiple children or maybe your space is not set up for that kind of confidentiality or privacy, but it has improved and insurance companies continuing to allow for telehealth is going to be really exciting to see that happen, especially in our field in the mental health world.
I want to secondly lift up all they said. I think as one of the non medical personnel or like non licensed personnel on this panel, as a doula we often say that I had a client once who called me a professional friend. And what we at Carolina Birth and Wellness really do is, whether we’re providing services directly or like as a conduit, we send moms emails over the course of their pregnancies with pediatrician recommendations with dietitian recommendations with lactation consultant, and therapy and pelvic floor therapist recommendations, because it is such a complicated woven web of trying to find all of these resources that women need to just exist.
I also think there would be, my dream world, more education, accessible education around, I don’t know if that’s actually what I think Dr. Charryse said seems to be like this, built in suffering to being a mother to being pregnant or to being postpartum. While you’re just supposed to be kind of like, anxious and in pain. And I know in fertility testing, a lot of providers will say, come back in six months, or a year, you have to have been trying for six months to a year before we’ll run any tests. And to like, advocate for yourself, and to really have to fight against these systems when they are just struggling for this long, or this many times or for this hard or the least amount of pain. And that’s just like the threshold before we will listen.
In my ideal world that doesn’t exist. It is in my ideal world, like we take your pain seriously. Even you know, growing a whole little human and bringing them into the world and being part of is so hardcore on the body. But there is a line between what is difficult and what is just not okay. And I think having that be commonly known and accessible information in my ideal world would be how we are able to prevent a lot of negative maternal health outcomes of like, what does healthy, bleeding postpartum look like? What does pain on the body look like? What does fertility education look like so that we don’t put women through this or that they have to turn to resources, like doulas who are often considered right, extraneous or are not accessible, or not underwritten within like, reimbursed by a lot of insurances, right? Because we’re not that necessary, but according to how we pay for the services to which even within actual medical care is often inaccessible for so many women.
So in my ideal world, we have the funding for all of this, and we have this connectivity, and we have this like taking seriously from like day one and not month six, or after so many bosses are after so much pain,
I think in an ideal world, for me, it would be teaching young females to honor and attune to their body. Because we are still in a generational society that only views the female body as something to reproduce.
So we teach a young lady, oh, this is what it’s like to have your period. We did our due diligence, and no one else talks about anything. And they have no clue about anything, until something happens and that something that happens is so intense that they’re scared. So I think just even helping young women understand the beauty of their body, and how it was designed and the value of listening to when it’s tired, listening to when it stress, knowing that if you’re feeling anxious, it’s trying to tell you something. And it doesn’t make you a powerful woman to ignore that. But it empowers you to listen so that it’s something that they’re more likely to be proactive about versus reactive later.
And then as they mature, building in understanding different dynamics around, you know, hormones or if they choose to be a mother, potential dynamics. Because I think there can be this aspect of, we don’t want to talk about what could go wrong in a pregnancy, because we don’t enjoy talking about things that aren’t happy and positive. But as a result of hiding it, then we have this secret society of women who are struggling and hurting and bleeding and now creating community, when it would have been really helpful for them to have that information going in. So that they would know that there are options before they were kind of at that final breath.
So I think we need to really just reinvent what it means to be female and what we’re talking about who we are and what our bodies are capable of doing, and how to love it at Every Size and every shape. And every season. And through everyday difficulty. That would be my way of solving world peace.
Mic drop! I just kind of had the thought of how much everybody’s like, yeah, don’t tell anyone you’re pregnant until 12 weeks, because what if you lose the baby? And it’s like, you go through this loss, all alone? How often do we hear that? Don’t tell anybody. What if you lose it? And it’s like, well, if you lose the baby, if you do have a miscarriage, you actually need people to know. You need support as hard as it is to talk about.
My ideal medical world would be if every OB’s office there’s like a social worker, you come in, you get a positive pregnancy tests. You see the social worker, they tell you what your insurance benefits are, they provide you resources, they tell you what, medical appointments and what kind of things that you can expect. They just go through it with you because I know even when we were trying for a baby, having a baby even if you know a lot, it’s still completely overwhelming. So to have somebody there that’s dedicated to walk you through that maybe even meet with once a trimester would be amazing.
Such good suggestions. I love it. Now we’ve got to make it happen.
One of the events that HER Health Collective puts on every single month is called our Conversation Circle. It’s one of my favorite events that we do. Really quickly defined, Conversation Circle is like a book club. It gives moms the intellectual conversation without the stress of having to read a whole book by a certain date.
So for this previous month for the conversation circle, we read an article that was written by Halle Tecco and Julia Cheek of Everly Health. The article discusses how WOMEN’S HEALTH IS MORE THAN FEMALE ANATOMY AND OUR REPRODUCTIVE SYSTEM—IT’S ABOUT UNRAVELING CENTURIES OF INEQUITIES DUE TO LIVING IN A PATRIARCHAL HEALTHCARE SYSTEM.
The article states “for too long women’s health has been solely focused on gynecological and reproductive health. This is because most females experienced reproductive health events that males do not for example, menstruation, pregnancy, menopause. The article goes on to state women also face the challenge of existing within a system that was designed by and for men, the cost of simply being a woman in our society, and certainly in our healthcare system is high.”
And Maris actually had said something earlier about this. So my question to all of you, do you agree or disagree with the statement about women’s health being mainly focused on gynecological and reproductive health and that being a woman in our healthcare system is costly?
Dr. Holly Durney
One thing I want to just say is that I learned this in school in a sociology class, but I always thought this was so interesting. And I think it highlights that point.
When you think of the word hysterectomy, the route to hysterectomy is hyster, which is part of hysteria, right? So when we think about a hysterectomy, it literally means like removing the crazy, and we haven’t changed that, over the course of time.
And then take like BMI, which was based off of a group of white males. And how many years later, are we still being normed as women, you know, against a group of white male athletes at that, even though dynamics to that don’t consider millions of things that we know.
And probably 94% of the medical profession is still male, today. So you also have individuals that you are coming in contact with, especially if you’re talking about specialists or as your primary care individuals that have no understanding of even what it means to live or to exist in your body.
And the kind of questions that they’re going to ask or overlook or dismiss, are really going to be based on their lens of experience. And while they would like to believe that, no, we just focus on X, Y, and Z, that’s part of the challenge. So people become data, and numbers and symptoms, instead of humans, and looking at their experience, and how that all plays in.
And that’s how our system has been set up. Oh, no, don’t do that. So you go there. And that person is going to tell you this, and then they’re going to send you there. And who’s there to pull it all together?
Yeah. Isn’t it ironic that the parenting book that everyone went to for years, Dr. Spock, was written by a man and all those years we were, we were the ones in the trenches.
So even parenting is, you know, defined by male research. And so really excited to see a change as we move forward that women as we find our voice, can add to these practices, especially as a counselor, where the majority of our theories come from white male, European aspect of life, and trying to now is more, we see more women of color, coming to therapy, really trying to bring that essence into the room of what we appreciate and what’s good for us. Whereas just reflecting may not always be enough, but also diving into history of families and call and response type situations where we’re talking and affirming and repeating things together.
So really excited to see maybe a change as we move forward. It’s a slow change, but hopefully we’ll we’ll speed it up.
Slow change for sure.
The biggest thing that I’m currently seeing come into the space as a therapist right now is women who ignored the trauma of birth loss, number one, most prevalent over the last year have been women who said, I realize I lost this child or this number of children and glossed over it. And it still impacts me.
…and sexual trauma. Women who have ignored sexual trauma, even as a child because they were told that that’s just how girls were treated. Or as a girl, you don’t get to talk about it. So having that conversation, especially where we talked about sexual health. I think Dr. Cherie she mentioned talking about valuing yourself by having your body is really important as we move forward. I see
Dr. Holly Durney
That’s my profession too. Just that, “oh you pee your pants. It’s fine. You had kids, you know and or you’re not happy with your body. Well, you had two babies,” you know, and just not thinking that there’s something to be done that it’s just kind of dismissed. So thinking about the mental health component, but also the physical health, and it’s not just well, you can breastfeed fine and your baby’s healthy and the C section healed well, like there’s a lot more to it than just the medical aspects. There’s the person underneath.
Yeah, and the number of women who basically live their lives believing that their body is broken and not trusting their body because they haven’t been to someone that understands female anatomy.
Dr. Holly Durney
Or no saying anything, because they’re like, I think everyone’s like this, but no one talks about it or, you know, just knowing that the conversations are at least the first place to start.
Well, as we look at our reproductive health, how can women from every socio economic level maintain this particular piece of health with their body reproductive health? Is there any important information that you share with the women you serve?
I think I’m gonna lift up what we mentioned earlier too about, listening to your body, and I think with resources and us as resources within communities, spreading the word on what body literacy looks like, on what might be common, but that is not healthier. Okay? Like what Holly said, like, kind of stigma busting. No, you shouldn’t be like being in your hands every time you sneeze. Because like that might be really common. Like, there’s also memes about it. You know, actually, like, here’s what that means. And like, Here’s also again, like, right, making that connection to resources, that could be helpful.
And I think it’s also, I think, honest, to be able to have a range of resources at every level of access available, but I think lifting up just affirming women, it’s like listening to your body, what is normal? What is your baseline? What is like hurting? And what do you love? I think we hear a lot too sometimes, like, well, how does it impact your quality of life? And it’s like, okay, but what should your quality of life even be? What is the baseline? Right? What is healthy? And okay, and what does that look like? And celebrating what that looks like, positively? And then, you know, stigma busting and when it comes to not as healthy, and how can we, you know, affirm that experience, and then connect to access and resources, right of.
Pelvic floor therapist exists, that therapy is for everyone that rest is for everyone, and affirming what is a right, and not just a privilege
I also think there’s something to be said about expanding the concept of reproductive health beyond just being able to carry and bring a child to life, but also knowing that their system is a part of what’s happening, right?
So knowing how you are supporting your body before you even get to that point, knowing that if you want to have a child, and you want to start doing that in your late 20s, well, what you do in your early 20s also matters. And it’s not a matter of, Oh, I’m gonna stop doing all of that stuff, you know, today, and then next week, I’m gonna switch gears and prepare myself. So helping us recognize that our body and keeping balance and homeostasis is a cumulative process.
And even if we’re not aware of the physical signs that are happening, or what they mean, and how they’re connected, those dots absolutely connect later. And it’s also about once that child is in your womb, and as you go forth, taking care of yourself is going to be so crucial. So, you know, to the prior point, if we want women to listen to their body, then we also have to teach women about pace, and balancing their pace and their productivity, because that requires me to take the time to pause and to check in.
And so if women are over extended, you know, based on an ideal of what it means to be a woman, they’re less likely to then be also taking the time to go, I want to say no, here, I want to say yes, here, I need rest. So there’s a lot of little small daily habits that are overlooked in terms of how they impact our body.
For example, the last piece I’ll say here is that environment impact health and habits. So even recognizing how the stress that an individual may experience in their home, outside of their home in their job, primary, biggest global factor against women’s health is intimate partner violence, violence. So also knowing if they are not in a position or place where they can bring their system down to a place of balance. cortisol goes up, right? Inflammation goes up. Inflammation is a huge marker in terms of predisposing you to later health issues.
So there’s just a disconnect around what it means to tune all into all of that, so that you can help your body do the things that you desire to build your family.
I definitely think it’s important to listen to your body, but also kind of know your limits. If you have that health care provider that’s not being supportive, then know, you can fire them. I feel like that’s a little taboo. It’s like, oh, I can’t fire my provider, they know all. But really, they’re there to support you. And if they’re not giving the support that you deserve, fire them, especially in where we live in Raleigh Durham, at least where I live. I know some of you in Charlotte. But even in Charlotte, we’ve got lots of options. And we’re blessed in that.
And so if that person is not working for you or someone else, and if you are going through something like an infertility struggle, again, just being mindful of your mental well being too, you can delete the social media accounts and you can unfollow XYZ, if it’s causing you unhappiness or sadness, to see all of those baby pictures, flood or get all of those baby invitations, it’s okay to say no. So I think just knowing your limits is important too with them.
This truly has been wonderful. All that you have said has just been fantastic. I’m excited to get this out to women to help them fill any gaps in understanding and any misinformation that they might have.
One area that we didn’t have a chance to discuss, unfortunately, is mental health, which is another top health concern for women. We do have a previous episode or a previous roundtable that was centered on this particular topic. And we’ll link that in the show notes. If anyone in these last remaining couple minutes. If you have anything you’d like to talk about in terms of mental health, you feel free to jump in now.
Well, one of the resources that’s out there for black woman, but I think it applies to all women therapyforblackgirls.com. That’s been a great resource. It’s a Dr. Joy Hardin. She’s doing like episodes about mental health on a podcast, and then she shares resources. And a lot of my clients, I refer them there as well. So that’s a good space.
healthywomen.org is another great place that I find resources as well to refer women to it has both mental health and physical health stuff. And then talking to other women. Like HER Health Collective. I think that’s where we get a great source of information from a source that we trust, know and like is when we when we’re with our friends, or when we’re working with other women in another capacity where we can actually get a real response for somebody and hear their real experience.
Thank you so much, Nicole. Kerry, did you have something you want to add?
Yeah, I was just gonna share two extra resources. I think those are great ones. And I know Dr. Charryse said one of these in the chat. So just to highlight her is to the national maternal mental health hotline is a great resource for women that just want again, someone to talk to if they don’t feel like they can talk to someone in their community are in their family or friends. That’s a great resource as well. It’s 1-833-9 Help for moms. Also, the Postpartum Support International has a lot of great resources on their website. And they also have support groups that are free.
Thank you so much. And Charryse also said women’s mental health matters, which is wmnhealth.org. Maris, were you about to pop on?
Yes, I was gonna say I know, at least here in the triangle area. Anchor mental health is a wonderful resource for wherever you might be at in your reproductive health journey, as a local resource available with really comprehensive care available in person.
Something we tell all of our clients is put on your oxygen mask first, this relationship between mental health and physical health and reproductive health and the idea that we need to value and care for moms just as much as we do their babies. And that to be the best parent you can be. You have to take care of yourself first. And we have to support women in their journey to do that, that that meets across all of their needs, that all these are intersecting rather than separate. And so making sure that mental health and reproductive health and that it all paints this larger photo or picture about how we can make sure that women are able to parent the way that they deserve and want to
Oh my gosh, we’re giving an enormous round of applause to our expert panelists. This has been amazing. It is also our fourth roundtable of 2022, which means as our last of 2022. And so we want to make sure that we express our immense gratitude to our panelists who participated throughout the year in the different roundtables, every discussion has, has been so full of a ton of information that’s going to benefit our families and community that we support. So thank you from the bottom of our hearts.
Thank you all so much.
Mental Health Resources:
National Maternal Mental Health Hotline 1-833-943-5746 (1-833-9-HELP4MOMS)
Each year, HER Health Collective puts together an Expert Panel with 12-15 vetted women’s health professionals. HER Health Collective hosts four roundtables each year, in an effort to bring together our experts and dive deep into the topics that matter to moms the most.
Each of the experts represented in our Roundtables have different professional backgrounds and specialties. When they come together and discuss women’s health, you can expect to get different perspectives based on their area of focus. This is also a time for the experts to collaborate with professionals from other industries in order to create a more holistic model of care for women. Our goal is to expand, not only the expert’s referral network but to emphasize the importance of collaborative healthcare.
Medical Disclaimer: All content found on the HER Health Collective Website was created for informational purposes only and are the opinions of the HER Health Collective experts and professional contributors. The Content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this Website. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor, go to the emergency department, or call 911 immediately.