When it comes to women’s health, there’s so much that goes unsaid. From stigma about puberty, periods and sex to misinformation and a disturbing lack of research about our bodies, it takes a village worth of women sharing what they know to help make any of us feel semi-comfortable with our health.
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In honor of Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day — and in the spirit of women serving as one another’s advocates, resources and braintrusts when systems consistently fail us (this goes double for our sisters of color and our trans sisters) — we wanted to talk to women in our community about the health advice they really wish they’d received sooner — and why it matters so much that we spread the wealth of information about our experiences. Knowledge is power, after all. And sharing our stories and our experiences allow us all to bridge the gaps and look out for one another with more compassion and empathy.
So read on about the women’s health wisdom these real women wish they’d gotten sooner — and do your part to encourage the women in your life to seek and share evidence-based information about their bodies and wellness.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: I wish I had more women who listened to my pregnancy fears/thoughts rather than trying to tell me all the things I “should” be doing and to keep the negative stuff about becoming a parent (birthing, etc.) to themselves. My daughter is getting married this year and she is looking forward to starting a family sooner than later. I hope she will be surrounded by like-minded girlfriends who give just enough advice (when asked) to make my daughter feel good.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: I wish I’d known when I was younger that being a woman means your health concerns will constantly be swept under the rug. We are brought up to trust our doctors over our bodies, to believe that they’re experts and we don’t know what we’re talking about. How many times have we reported strange symptoms surrounding our periods, lady parts, or intense side effects from birth control and just been sloughed off? Constantly hurting or feeling unwell doesn’t fall into the “normal range of being a woman.” We have to push and demand to be heard when our bodies are telling us something is wrong and not accept that feeling awful is the default setting to womanhood.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: To embrace pleasure. Pleasure drives most of our decisions, from sex to food to work. It’s not the cherry on top or even the tip of Maslow’s pyramid—it’s vital for a fulfilling life. Funny enough, even as we blame and shame pleasure, we also recognize how powerful of a driving force it is. When we embrace pleasure rather than demonize it, we can both harness its power and heal our shame around the things that bring us pleasure. This opens us up to more freedom and confidence in all aspects of our lives, from sex to work to relationships.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: I wish I would have been taught more about reproductive health. I wish instead of the focus being on “how to not get pregnant” the education should have been on how to take care of the female reproductive system. To learn about periods as a sacred monthly ritual as opposed to a “curse” or a “rag.” I’ve had to learn so much about my body now as a grown woman and I feel that we could provide a healthier wellness system if we focused more on learning our miraculous bodies as opposed to “shaming” them.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: Keep a detailed record of your health. Whether you track your health, exercise, and interventions in an app or a journal, keeping that record can help you discover what’s wrong and what might heal you. And a bonus for people who track their health in a journal, even a bullet journal: writing heals! Yup, the research is solid: People who write to make sense of difficulty or write to vision a better future or even write to track their health are better able to achieve their goals, sleep better and feel healthier.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: How to handle menopause! My mother was surprised at how much I suffered as she had her period one day and then didn’t. Easy peasy. I have been offered hormones without any exams or testing; denied hormones once tests showed I was menopausal. I have received shrugs from doctors when asking for advice.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: I wish someone had told me the truth about childbirth and aftercare. Every woman talks about how magical it was after all the pain and I didn’t really get any indication of what it was actually like, before, during or after. It is like no one wanted to really talk about the horrific birth experience but just to enjoy the result at the end.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: I wish I had known that I didn’t have to start Pitocin right away just because my water broke. In the end, my baby didn’t tolerate the sped-up labor, his heart rate dropped three times and I ended up with a c-section. Maybe I would have anyway, but it all felt too rushed and I always wonder if I had waited on the Pitocin and increased doses throughout the day, if he would have had a better birth. It was scary and the recovery was tough to not be able to carry the baby.
My second birth, my water didn’t break nor did we use Pitocin and I had a VBAC. What I wish I knew the second time was not to let them try to get the epidural 3 times. It never worked anyway and the spinal headache was awful and ended up having an even worse recovery! You have one shot for an epidural. I wouldn’t try multiple times if I could do it over again.
The women’s health wisdom I wish I’d gotten and why: I’m 40 and I just went for my first mammogram, not because I found a lump, but because that was the age that I’d read that you should start having mammograms annually. I shared that I was going with friends and they asked if I was ok, they seemed surprised that I’d just choose to go!
The mammogram wasn’t something the Dr. told me to do, I had to ask for it and I had no idea what to expect, my Dr. hadn’t even told me not to wear deodorant. Why are we not pushing and asking to have them before 40? Why are we not talking about this between friends? I really wish we would, and I want to open those doors for candid communication. Which started with me posting on social media while at the clinic about the experience, what to expect, how it feels and raise awareness that it’s something we should all be doing. All information I wish I’d had before.
A version of this story was published March 2020. Before you go, check out our favorite mental health apps that are affordable and helpful: