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Are women really stronger than men? | Angela Saini

When it comes to longevity, surviving illness and coping with trauma, one gender comes out on top. Angela Saini meets the scientists working out why

Four years ago, completely spent, blood transfused into me in a frantic effort to allow me to walk, I lay on a hospital bed having given birth the day before. To the joy of my family, I had brought them a son. Blue balloons foretold a man in the making. Not just the apple of my eye, but the one who would one day open jam jars for me. The hero who would do the DIY and put out the rubbish. He who was born to be strong because he is male.

But then, physical strength can be defined in different ways. What I was yet to learn was that, beneath our skin, women bubble with a source of power that even science has yet to fully understand. We are better survivors than men. Whats more, we are born this way.

Pretty much at every age, women seem to survive better than men, says Steven Austad, an international expert on ageing, and chair of the biology department at the University of Alabama. For almost two decades, he has been studying one of the best-known yet under-researched facts of human biology: that women live longer than men. His longevity database shows that all over the world and as far back as records have been kept, women outlive men by around five or six years. He describes them as being more robust.

Robustness, toughness or pure power whatever its called this survival ability cracks apart the stereotype. The physically strong woman is almost a myth. We gaze upon great female athletes as though theyre other-worldly creatures. Greek legend could only imagine the Amazons, female warriors as powerful as men. They break the laws of nature. No, we everyday women, we have just half the upper body strength of men. We are six inches shorter, depending on where we live. We wield power, but its emotional and intellectual, we tell ourselves. Its not in our bodies.

Not so, says Austad. He is among a small cadre of researchers who believe that women may hold the key to prolonging life. In extremely old age, the gap between the sexes becomes a glaring one.

According to a tally maintained by the global Gerontology Research Group, today, 43 people around the world are known to be living past the age of 110. Of these supercentenarians, 42 are women. Interviews with the worlds current oldest person, 117-year-old Violet Brown, who lives in Jamaica, reveal she enjoys eating fish and mutton. She once worked as a plantation worker. Her lifestyle betrays few clues as to how she has lived so long. But one factor we know has helped is being a woman.

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Grey power: 42 of the 43 people over the age of 110 are women. Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer

Yet there is bizarrely little research to explain the biology behind this. What scientists do know is that this edge doesnt emerge in later life. It is there from the moment a girl is born. When we were there on the neonatal unit and a boy came out, you were taught that, statistically, the boy is more likely to die, says Joy Lawn, director of the Centre for Maternal, Adolescent, Reproductive, and Child Health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. She explains that, globally, a million babies die on the day of their birth every year.

But if they receive exactly the same level of care, males are statistically at a 10% greater risk than females. What makes baby girls so robust remains mostly a mystery. Research published in 2014 by scientists at the University of Adelaide suggests that a mothers placenta may behave differently depending on the sex of the baby, doing more to maintain the pregnancy and increase immunity against infections. For reasons unknown, girls may be getting an extra dose of survivability in the womb.

Wherever it comes from, women seem to be shielded against sickness later on. Cardiovascular disease occurs much earlier in men than women. The age of onset of hypertension [high blood pressure] also occurs much earlier in men than women. And theres a sex difference in the rate of progression of disease, says Kathryn Sandberg, director of the Centre for the Study of Sex Differences in Health, Ageing and Disease at Georgetown University.

Austad found that in the United States in 2010, women died at lower rates than men from 12 of the 15 most common causes of death, including cancer and heart disease, when adjusted for age. Of the three exceptions, their likelihood of dying from Parkinsons or stroke was about the same. And they were more likely than men to die of Alzheimers disease. Once I started investigating, I found that women had resistance to almost all the major causes of death, he says.

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Age of reason: Violet Brown, centre, the worlds oldest person, was born in Jamaica in 1900. Photograph: Raymond Simpson/AP

Even when it comes to everyday coughs and colds, women have the advantage. If you look across all the different types of infections, women have a more robust immune response, adds Sandberg. If theres a really bad infection, they survive better. If its about the duration of the infection, women will respond faster. One explanation for this is hormones. Higher levels of oestrogen and progesterone could be protecting women in some way, not only by making our immune systems stronger, but also more flexible. This may help maintain a healthy pregnancy. A womans immune system is more active in the second half of her menstrual cycle, when shes able to conceive.

On the downside, a powerful immune response also makes women more susceptible to autoimmune diseases, such as rheumatoid arthritis and multiple sclerosis. The body is so good at fighting off infection that it attacks its own cells. And this may explain why women tend to report more pain and sickness than men. This is one of the penalties of being a better survivor. You survive, but maybe not quite as intact as you were before, says Austad. Another factor is simply that men are dying more. Part of the reason there are more women than men around in ill health is to do with the fact that women have survived events that would kill men, so the equivalent men are no longer with us, he adds.

When it comes to biological sex difference, though, everything isnt always as it seems. At least some of the gaps in health and survival may be social, reflecting gender behaviour. Women may be more likely to seek medical help, for instance. Men may have less healthy diets or do more dangerous work. Nonetheless, Austad and Sandberg are convinced that nature accounts for a good deal of what we see.

If they are right, this raises a deeper scientific conundrum. Our bodies adapted over millennia to our environments. So what could it have been in our evolutionary past that gave the female body a little more of this magical robustness? How and why would one sex have developed a survival edge over the other?

Studies of hunter-gatherer societies, who live the way we all may have done before fixed settlements and agriculture, provide a few clues. Many anthropologists studying tribal communities in Africa, South America, Asia and Australia believe early humans lived fairly equal lives, sharing responsibility for food, shelter and raising children. The Flintstones model, with wife at home and husband bringing back the bacon, just doesnt stand up. Instead, the evidence shows that women would have done at least the same physical work as men, but with the added burden of bearing children.

Theres a general consensus now that hunting-gathering societies, while not perfectly egalitarian, were less unequal, particularly with regard to gender equality, says Melvin Konner, professor of anthropology at Emory University in Atlanta, who has spent years doing fieldwork with hunter-gatherers in Africa. Because of the scale of the group dynamics, it would be impossible for men to exclude women.

The more research that is done, the more this is reinforced. Even hunting that prototypical male activity is being recast as a female one, too. Anthropologist Rebecca Bliege Bird, a professor at Pennsylvania State University, offers me the example of the Martu, an aboriginal tribe in Western Australia. When Martu women hunt, one of their favourite prey are feral cats. Its not a very productive activity, but its a chance for women to show off their skill acquisition.

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Keep on running: Paula Radcliffe continued to train through her two pregnancies. Photograph: Getty Images

Indeed, women are known to be particularly good at endurance running, notes Marlene Zuk, who runs a lab focusing on evolutionary biology at the University of Minnesota. In her 2013 book Paleofantasy, she writes that womens running abilities decline extremely slowly into old age. Theyve been known to go long distances even while pregnant. In 2011, for example, Amber Miller ran the Chicago marathon before giving birth seven hours later. World record holder Paula Radcliffe has trained through two pregnancies.

Why, then, are we not all Amazons? Why do we imagine femininity to mean small, waif-like bodies? The lives of most ordinary women, outside the pages of magazines, destroy this notion. Visiting Indias cities, I see female construction workers lining the streets, hauling piles of bricks on their heads to building sites. In Kenya, I meet female security guards everywhere, patrolling offices and hotels. Out in rural areas, there are women doing hard physical labour, often hauling their children in slings. Our ancestors would have done the same.

In evolutionary terms, these were the circumstances under which our bodies were forged. For an enormous chunk of early human history, as we migrated through Africa to the rest of the world, women would also have travelled hundreds or thousands of miles, sometimes under extreme environmental conditions. Just reproducing and surviving in these conditions, talk about natural selection! Im told by Adrienne Zihlman, an anthropologist at the University of California, Santa Cruz, when I visit her at her home in San Francisco.

Zihlman has dedicated her career to understanding human anatomy, and in particular the evolution of womens bodies. Women have to reproduce. That means being pregnant for nine months. Theyve got to lactate. Theyve got to carry these kids. Theres something about being a human female that was shaped by evolution. Theres a lot of mortality along the way that really can account for it.

When I gave birth to my son, I did the most physically demanding thing a human can do. Yet I am considered the weaker sex. Zihlman reminds me that my body was made strong by the struggles of countless generations of women who went before. There is something about the female form, the female psyche, just the whole package, that was honed over thousands and thousands, even millions, of years to survive, she smiles. I happen to remember, in that moment, that at home I do all the DIY.

Myths and misses: five more things you didnt know about women and men

Separate symptoms Women and men present different symptoms for the same medical conditions. Women are more likely to have insomnia and fatigue in the weeks before they have a heart attack, rather than the chest pain commonly experienced by men.

Changes of life Women in India, Japan and China experience far fewer menopause symptoms than western women who commonly report hot flushes, night sweats, depression and insomnia. Scientists at Kings College London argue this could be due to women lumping together their experience of growing older with the menopause.

Casual sex Women are choosier but not more chaste than men. A study by two German researchers, Andreas Baranowski and Heiko Hecht, found that women want casual sex just as much as men and were as likely as males to have sex with a stranger, as long as it was in a safe environment.

Boys toys A 2010 study by Professor Melissa Hines at the University of Cambridge found that girls on average were genetically predisposed to prefer dolls while boys liked to play with mechanical toys such as trains.

Risky business Testosterone is associated with higher levels of optimism, rather than aggression. Saliva samples taken from traders on the London Stock Exchange confirmed they had higher than average testosterone levels. Scientists from Britain, the USA and Spain concluded this increase made the traders more optimistic so more likely to take big financial risks.

Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research Thats Rewriting the Story by Angela Saini is published by Fourth Estate

Main photograph: Acrobats JD and Nikki; Stylist Hope Lawrie; special effects make-up Julia Bowden

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/jun/11/the-weaker-sex-science-that-shows-women-are-stronger-than-men

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A study about how endometriosis affects men’s sex lives? That’s enraging | Imogen Dunlevie

Endometriosis affects 176 million women but there is no cure, no known cause and treatment is limited. There is no case for a study about its impact on men

Endometriosis is a disease that affects one in 10 women of reproductive age. It affects approximately 600,000 women in Australia and 176 million women worldwide. Yet endometriosis receives very little funding and attention from the medical world. In fact, many people have never even heard of it despite it being so common.

I was diagnosed with endometriosis when I was 15 years old. This only happened after I spent two years trying to convince doctors it wasnt normal that I had pain so bad during my period that I couldnt walk. (And my diagnosis was relatively quick the average time taken for diagnosis is eight to 10 years.) Since then, my life has been filled with surgery, doctors, medication, invasive procedures and constant pain that impacts everything I do. It took me longer to finish school because of endometriosis. I deferred university last year because I needed surgery. I cant do jobs that require me to stand for long periods of time. I often have to cancel plans because Im in so much pain.

A big part of the struggle with endometriosis is how little is understood about it. I see good doctors who care and want to help, but there is only so much that can be done when the funding and focus is not there. Researchers still do not know what causes the disease and there is no cure. Treatments are variable in their effectiveness.

On Tuesday, I was alerted to the fact that the University of Sydney has recently approved research into how mens sex lives are impacted by being in a relationship with someone who has endometriosis. This study is being conducted by masters student who wishes to explore the impact of endometriosis on mens sexual wellbeing.

Considering the tiny amount of attention and funding endometriosis gets, its enraging to see someone conducting a study into how this disease impacts men. Womens sex lives are far more impacted by endometriosis than mens are, and if any study on this area is being conducted it should look at how women and their sex lives are impacted. Endometriosis does not hurt a mans sexual wellbeing. It does however impact every aspect of your life when you suffer from it. It can mean that sex is often painful and unpleasant, penetration can cause bleeding and pain remains for days afterwards.

Studies like this one make it look like the only way endometriosis will get attention is if we highlight how it hurts men. Its not enough for women to share their countless stories of pain and suffering. How it limits their ability to finish study, work full time or even have sex. Its not enough to describe the surgeries, and the medications, the invasive procedures that provide little to no relief. The only way we can get people to care is to tell them that men are impacted too.

There are so many other things that should be looked at regarding endometriosis before we look at how it impacts sex for men: a less invasive way to diagnose, understanding the ways it impacts the everyday life of people who have it, proper pain management, raising awareness so women arent accused of lying, a cure.

Women have to fight to be believed that there is even something wrong. Then when they are finally diagnosed they have to fight for better treatment and pain medication just so they can live with some normality in their life. Doctors treat you like youre making it up or youre exaggerating.

Some doctors dont even know what endometriosis is. I once spent a night in the emergency room in so much pain I could not walk, and the doctor informed me that he had to google endometriosis because he wasnt totally sure what it is.

These are the things women have to put up with when they have endometriosis. These are the ways that women suffer because of endometriosis. So much of having this disease is trying to get some attention on it, and trying to get people to research it. In the past year, there has been more coverage of it in the news, but to see a study about how it impacts men, particularly their sex life, feels like one step forwards and two steps back.

This is not about attacking the researcher I contacted her to try to understand her reasons but she had not responded at the time of publication. Endometriosis affects about the same number of women as diabetes and costs about the same but receives 5% of the funding of diabetes. Theres no cure, no known cause and not even a reliable treatment. This is about frustration of how endometriosis is treated at the moment. This study fits into a wider context where womens pain is not always acknowledged.

It is damaging to set a potential precedent of male-centric studies into the impacts of endometriosis. There is no logical way that any discussion about endometriosis should focus on how it impacts men, or the partners of people who actually have it. We can barely get a conversation about endometriosis going in the first place. We should not start a conversation about endometriosis to see how men feel about it, particularly not to see how it impacts their sex life.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/31/a-study-about-how-endometriosis-affects-mens-sex-lives-thats-enraging

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Stretch Marks, Weight Gain And Other Shit No One Likes To Talk About

Growing up I was skiiiiiinny. Like super skinny, I didn’t even realize how skinny I was until I look at pictures now and my jaw drops. I didn’t eat like it though, I always grabbed heaps of mac and cheese and as much pizza as possible. My diet consisted of chocolate chip Pop-Tarts for breakfast and a bowl of ice cream before bed, every day. So you can only imagine what it was like in the middle of all that junk food.

I remember everyone always saying to me I remember thinking back

Little did I know that it caught up to me sooner than I wanted to believe. I just kept going up a size because I liked things “big” (or because the other sizes were just becoming too small). I didn’t acknowledge that though because it’s hard to recognize change in yourself sometimes because you’re constantly looking at yourself in the mirror. You never get the “woah, that person gained a lot of weight since last time I saw them,” because that person is you and you’re constantly with yourself, looking at yourself.

I was with my friends from high school the other night, drinking on a Tuesday. We have drinks randomly whenever we’re bored, we mostly blame it on the fact that there’s nothing to do in this small town. But Tuesday was an exception because we had a paint & sip night at a local restaurant/bar. And of course, weight gets brought up somehow (probably because we know we shouldn’t drink as much, as that’s a logical reason to why we’ve all gained so much weight). We talk about how three out of the four of us have gained 30 pounds plus since high school and the fourth one is still skinny eating lava cake and never goes to the gym. DAMN GENETICS.

In high school I was worried about my weight, I found a note I wrote that said I needed to lose 20 pounds and I was still skinny then! I definitely didn’t lose those 20 pounds, but surely I gained them.

Weight has become a center point of our culture, at least in my eyes. It’s always on our mind. There are times I refuse to post a picture I really, really like because I’m afraid the angle of my body was makes me look huge. I never know what to do with my arms because I don’t want them to look bigger than they actually are. I put coconut oil on my stretch marks every day because more than anything I want them to disappear.

Is being fat that bad, though? We treat it like it’s the worst thing that you can be. We act like Instagram models are ~FLAWLESS~ when they could be totally shitty people with a nice body. We judge so hard on looks, especially with dating apps like Tinder and Bumble now. Those are completely judgmental, and yet we still participate in a one second decision if we find someone attractive at first glance or not.

There are days when I’m feeling totally confident, but most of the time that’s not how I feel. I live in sweatshirts because it makes me feel the most comfortable. I hardly ever, if ever, take pictures in a bikini because it makes me SUPER self-conscious. I cry when I get a new stretch mark because it makes me feel awful about myself.

Self-love is hard, man. It’s really hard. I don’t know if there’s even an end point to self-love or if it will always be a constant battle for the rest of our lives. But I’m not going to stop trying, that’s for sure.

I’m going to keep going to the gym a few times a week, I’m going to keep trying to make healthier decisions when it comes to food, I’m going to keep trying to drink more water and do nice things for my body.

My body loves me it takes me miles, it allows me touch and feel, it gives me the chance to seeandtaste, and the ability to hold my loved ones in my arms the least I can do is love it back for that.

Our bodies aren’t perfect, they’re flawed, just like us. But we are still loved despite our flaws and mistakes, and there’s no reason we shouldn’t try to love our bodies the same way.

Gaining weight, getting a new stretch mark, not having a thigh gap or a bikini bridge doesn’t mean the world is ending. They make you who you are. Those few pounds you can never seem to lose? Yeah, those pounds are your dinner dates with friends, your drinks on a Friday afterwork, that extra piece of pizza you’re craving those extra pounds are you. They make you who you are and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Stretch marks, weight gain and other shit no one likes to talk about is all just part of growing and in order to grow you need to change. It’s all just part of life and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Read more: http://thoughtcatalog.com/becca-martin/2017/02/stretch-marks-weight-gain-and-other-stuff-no-one-likes-to-talk-about/

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35 Frantic Texts Ive Sent My Mom Friends Since I Got Pregnant

1. Is it me, or is sobriety boring?

2. “NOTHING FITS ME AND I’M ONLY 6 WEEKS PREGNANT!!!”

3. Craving Hostess products like they’re the answer toEVERYTHING. Unsure how long I can hold out

4. What does my fetus want with a Ho Ho anyway???

5.Holy shit BOOBS. Is this normal? Sending pic…”

6.“If onlymy gigantic breasts didn’t hurt so much to the touch, maybeI could actually enjoy them. Thanks again, Mo’ Nature!

7.“Holy crapI havent known a zit like this since 1995!

8. How do I make my facestop breaking out???

9. And my butt! My butt!!!

10. Just realized I wont even be able to see my pubic hair a couple months from now, let alone muster the energy to groom it.

11. Not getting my period for 9 straight months…awesome. The steady stream of other stuff coming of my vagina…not so awesome.

12. Is it weird if I start an Instagram account for my unborn child?

13.“Kinda want a boy, just so I can say ‘I’ve got ballsliterally’!”

14. Am I reallygonna grow hair in weird places? I keep looking for it…

15. My eyeballs hurt. WHY?

16. There are tinybumps on both my elbows! Theyitch! HELP!

17. Wondering how people with naturally large breasts deal with the constant jiggling sensation

18. Isn’t it confoundinghow relatively useless men are to the continuation of the human race???

19.“Seriously, what women go through is truly ridiculous. Meanwhile, men just walk around with their penises dangling between their legs…”

20.“I have SO MANYbody image issuesright now.”

21. Ihaven’t felt this unsexy since puberty…or that time in the eighthgrade when I realized I wasprobably the last person in the entire middle schoolto get tosecond base.

22. “When people ask me how I feel, I just want to say ‘fat’ and be done with it.”

24. Didn’trealize how vain I really am until this parasite started growing inside me.

25. Where the fuck is my magical second trimester boost in energy???? WHERE?!!!

26.QQ: Did pregnant sex sting for youat all? Thank the good lordfor coconut oil,right?”

27. “The gym seems like a really dumb idea to me rn.”

28.“What’s the appropriate thing to do when a strangertouches your belly (other than punch them in the throat)?”

29.What if my baby’s ugly? Seriously? I DON’T WANT AN UGLY BABY!!”

30. I miss drugs.

31. How much weight did gain? Need to know stat. Woke up feeling particularlylarge. NOT HAPPY about it. Grrrrrrr.

32. Exactly how long will it take to get mybody back? Be precise, please.

33. What if my boobs get all saggy after they shrink back down to their normal size? Is my baby going to EAT my boobs???

34. Please remind me that the final product isworthwhile…

35. I would give ANYTHINGto sleep on my stomachagain.

Read more: http://thoughtcatalog.com/melanie-berliet/2017/02/35-frantic-texts-ive-sent-my-mom-friends-since-i-got-pregnant/

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I cant forget the horror of my sons birth | Leah McLaren

Despite medical advancements, childbirth is a major cause of post-traumatic stress disorder and yet nobody talks about it. Leah McLaren tells the harrowing story of the arrival of her second child and her fight for treatment and support

The seconds that stretch between the act of giving birth and waiting to hear a baby cry are the most harrowing moments in an otherwise privileged life. My second son, Frank, didnt cry.

Late last summer in a London hospital, he was born semi-conscious. His pulse was faint and he was floppy as a rag doll, a pale bluish grey in colour. There were angry red indents on his nose and skull that would later turn into deep purple bruises. According to his hospital notes his Apgar score at birth (on which 10 is hale and zero is non-responsive) was two. Just before emerging, Frank turned to the left and got stuck in the birth canal no amount of pushing could make him budge. He was wrenched out of me, first ineffectively with a vacuum and then later, definitively, with a pair of giant metal salad tongs called forceps. The midwife briefly placed his limp little body on my chest and then scooped him up again and over to the opposite side of the room where the doctors began their work.

At first, still dazed from the birth, I didnt fully understand what was going on. I remember thinking how strange it was that for hours on end all the focus had been on my body, and the monumental effort to make it do what it was supposed to, and now everything had shifted. It was like Id been split in two and what was left of me the remaining husk seemed almost incidental to the scene.

I heard an alarm wailing in the corridor outside our room and I thought, vaguely, that there must be an emergency on this floor. Residents and interns in scrubs began streaming through the door, craning to see the patient our motionless, minutes-old son. Before long there was a standing- room only crowd around the baby. My husband squeezed my hand as I processed the silent revelation that the emergency was us.

Leah
The sound of his cry induced black thoughts, a darkening of my already dull mood: Leah with Frank just after his birth. Photograph: Rob Yates

We watched the doctors placing a toy-sized oxygen mask on our sons face and heard them fall silent as their movements became quicker. We scanned their faces for panic or relief and saw nothing, only blankness. We waited for the babys cry, but it never came.

Hours later, to our immense relief, we were told Frank was fine. The resident paediatrician made it clear he wasnt concerned or even particularly interested in Franks case. He could offer no real explanation for why our son was born flatline (his term) apart from the obvious deduction that hed been knocked out by the grip of the forceps on his head. It happens, the doctor said. We dont know why. He had a touch of jaundice, but there had been no evidence of oxygen deprivation.

By contrast, I was worse for wear. In addition to the forceps, Id had internal and external tearing as well as an episiotomy cut open and stitched back together. As one doctor later put it: Its like a truck drove through your pelvic floor. I was given transfusions for blood loss and paracetamol for the pain, which didnt help much.

When I was finally taken up to the neonatal unit in a wheelchair and able to hold him, my son was so bashed up he looked like hed been in a bar fight. You should see the other guy, the nurse joked. You already have, I said. The other guy is me.

This is not the story of a personal tragedy. Im conscious while writing this of the many mothers who have experienced far worse. Pregnancy and childbirth, when it goes wrong, can result in all manner of horrors, including the loss of a child an experience I cannot pretend to understand.

Instead, this is a story about whats been written out of Britains official birth narrative. Franks birth, as described, would be classified in our maternity system as a success. For a system that prides itself on being female-centred, the NHS maternity care system is failing post-natal women. Not only has the physical and mental health of new mothers become secondary, it sometimes seems inconsequential. This is the untold story of the suffering our maternity care system ignores.

Its difficult to admit this now, eight months after Franks birth, but in those first weeks I did not feel the exhilaration that comes with a baby. I cared for my son dutifully, feeding, bathing, burping, swaddling, soothing him through the night, but much of the time I felt weirdly detached, like a zombie shuffling through the motions.

The sound of his cry induced black thoughts, a darkening of my already dull mood. I remember looking at him and registering the fact he was beautiful, but being unable separate his body from the horror of his birth. I obsessed over the idea that something was wrong with him, that hed been deprived of oxygen and the doctors had hidden it from me. I took him to see the community midwife twice because I was convinced his eyes were crossed. When I demanded to know if the midwife thought he looked like he had brain damage she looked at me oddly.

In those first few weeks I had flashbacks every day. Id be standing in the queue at Sainsburys and suddenly Id be back in the madness of the delivery room, blood pooling on the floor beneath my bed wondering if my baby was dead. I ruminated over the details of what happened for weeks, unable to think about little else. Some days I told the story to anyone who would listen; others I could barely speak at all. Finally I went to see a psychiatrist who diagnosed me with trauma. Not post-partum depression she was very clear on this point but post-traumatic stress, as a result of the physical and emotional ordeal of Franks birth.

Physically I was also struggling. As Frank grew bigger and bonnier, lighting up the world with his first gummy grins, I wasnt bouncing back. Every time I found myself alone in the room with a doctor, health visitor or community midwife Id demand they examine me to determine whether or not I was healing properly. Again and again I was told everything looked fine the stitches had healed and I was given the all clear for exercise, for sex, for life. But something was amiss.

Like many new mothers I was suffering from stress incontinence (urinating when I coughed or sneezed) and a weakened pelvic floor, but there was something else. A strange dragging sensation, a heaviness that wouldnt abate. I described these symptoms over and over and was ignored by health professionals until one day, over a cup of tea, a girlfriend suggested I might be suffering from a pelvic organ prolapse. The next day I booked an appointment with my GP who referred me to a gynaecologist who confirmed that, indeed, I had a moderate-to-severe case of a condition called cystocele, otherwise known as a prolapse of the bladder. What this means is that my vaginal wall was so badly damaged giving birth that my bladder was spilling out into my vagina. The best course of treatment, he told me, was corrective surgery. Its something I cant have until Im three months clear of breastfeeding, which is some months away yet. In the meantime Ive been prescribed a course of post-natal physiotherapy, which involves performing pelvic floor exercises under the supervision of a doctor and having vibrating wands shoved up my nether regions in order to reverse tissue damage.

This is not as fun as it sounds.

In spite of all this, Im one of the lucky ones. Most women who experience birth injury and trauma never get properly diagnosed or treated. Its hard even to get any one to recognise there might be a problem. My husband, astonished there was no routine follow up for me after such a traumatic birth, tracked down the obstetrician whod delivered Frank to seek guidance from her. She did not respond. We found out later this sort of contact is not encouraged; no comment or advice could be offered. A hospital collectively delivers.

The Birth Trauma Association, a peer-to-peer support group, estimates that 10,000 women in Britain are treated for post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of birth each year. Thats the largest single cohort of PTSD sufferers in the country. They estimate as many as 200,000 more women may feel traumatised by childbirth and develop untreated symptoms of PTSD.

On the physical injury side, the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology in 2015 found that 24% of women still experience pain during sex 18 months after giving birth. The same year researchers from the University of Michigan gave 68 women MRIs seven weeks after having babies. Of the admittedly small sample, they found 29% had fractures in their pubic bones, which all of them were unaware of, and 41% had tearing and severe damage to their pelvic floor muscles that had remained undiagnosed. Another recent US study, published in the journal PLOS One, found 77% of mothers still suffered from back pain and 49% experienced urinary incontinence a year after having their babies.

Its obvious that childbirth is deeply traumatic for many womens minds and bodies. Just over a century ago almost 7% of pregnant women in England and Wales died from it. But birth is much safer now so why are so many women still suffering its after-effects undiagnosed and untreated?

Part of the reason is that the conversation around birth trauma and injury is steeped in shame and institutional sexism. Im not just talking about the general prudishness surrounding womens reproductive health issues. There is a prevailing attitude I encountered among many health professionals which is that new mothers should basically learn to suck it up. As one GP said to me in semi-exasperation: Youve had two children. Your bodys changed. You cant expect to feel the same as you did before.

Rebecca Schiller, chair of BirthRights, an organisation that seeks to promote human rights in childbirth, told me that institutional denial of womens experience is a huge problem, especially when it comes to post-natal care. There is a general attitude of Your experience doesnt matter, all that matters is a healthy baby. When, of course, the two are inextricably related.

Part of the problem, I have come to believe, is that pregnant women are not properly informed of the risks of birth trauma and injury in advance.

With my first pregnancy I was determined to have an all-natural, drug-free, at-home water birth. I rented a birth pool at the urging of my NHS homebirth midwife and when labour began I went around the house lighting scented candles. But seven hours in, when my baby turned out to be an undetected breech, I was rushed to hospital in a wailing ambulance. Once it was determined my son would be born via emergency caesarean, a doctor talked me through all the risks in advance and asked me to sign a surgical waiver. And yet, with my second son, when I waived my right to an elective C-section and opted instead for a normal birth, I was assured by several midwives that opting for a VBAC (vaginal birth after caesarean) was the safer, better option and would result in an easier recovery than a surgical birth.

As I found out later, women in my age group (40), especially those who have had a previous C-section, have much higher rates of assisted births and assisted births often lead to injury and trauma. The NHS and the NCT have very little to say on birth trauma. There are no birth trauma or injury counselling services and after care, as I found out, is difficult to come by. There are private options (like my psychiatrist), but there are private options for everything if you can afford it.

Eight-month-old
Your experience doesnt matter; all that matters is a healthy baby: a bonny Frank. Photograph: Phil Fisk for the Observer

To get state-funded care, you have to fight for it, which many birth-injured and traumatised new mothers are in no state to do. Complicating matters further is the issue of post-partum depression. Just look at the postnatal chat groups online and you will find women frustrated at being told they simply have a hormonally induced case of baby blues when what theyre actually feeling is a normal reaction to a profoundly distressing experience. Diagnosing a birth-injured or traumatised mother with post-partum depression is the healthcare equivalent of asking a justifiably irate woman if maybe, just maybe, shes about to get her period? And yet it happens all the time.

There is a reasonable explanation for this apparent state of institutional denial. Birth trauma and injury conflict with the NHSs dominant maternity care ethos, that natural births are safer and more empowering for women. This despite the fact that the UK has one of the highest infant morality rates in western Europe and, according to the NHS litigation authority, pays out hundreds of millions in maternity negligence claims each year.

As the NHS continues to pay scant attention to the issue, rates of birth injury and trauma continue to rise, due to a confluence of factors including ageing mothers, obesity and larger newborns. But why isnt more attention paid to the routine psychological and physical harm endured by so many post-natal woman?

This is a question Maureen Treadwell, chair of the Birth Trauma Association, has been asking for nearly two decades. She founded her organisation in response to the number of women she knew whod been refused pain relief during labour and ended up traumatised by the experience. If a man underwent dental surgery having begged for anaesthetic and not received any, wed recommend therapy yet if the same thing happens to a woman we tell her shes a good girl, well done. Its madness, she said.

According to Treadwell, birth trauma is exacerbated by a culture that celebrates only one kind of birth. The system, as well as the dominant culture, fills women with false expectations. It deludes women into thinking that birth ought to be this wonderful, empowering experience and when it isnt women feel terribly ashamed.

Last year when Jamie and Jools Oliver had their fifth child, Oliver tweeted about his wifes unbelievably composed natural birth. It sounds ridiculous, but I cried reading that tweet. New mothers are deeply susceptible to guilt and it often begins with not having performed birth in the circumscribed way.

Eight months on, Frank and I are muddling along in an exhausted state of contentment. The trauma of his birth is fading, superseded each passing day with the marvellous reality of him. My body is now the body of a mother battle-worn, cosy and intimidating in its accomplishments. I am grateful for my boys and for the fact that I got help for a condition many mothers experience but for which few ever seek acknowledgement, let alone treatment.

Like I said, Im one of the lucky ones.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2017/may/07/i-cant-forget-the-horror-of-my-sons-birth-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-childbirth

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Here are all the dudes who want to cut maternity care from your health insurance

Republicans like to insist the war on women is nothing more than hysterical liberal outrage.

Sure, the left uses the phrase to occasionally score political points, but sometimes Republicans make it so easy. Like when they appear to be casting aside women’s needs without a second thought or even purposely targeting rights and policies that many women consider fundamental to their well-being and freedom.

Case in point: When Vice President Mike Pence tweeted a photo on Thursday from a meeting with a group of very conservative Congressional Republicans who want to eliminate maternity care from a set of required health insurance benefits, people couldn’t help but notice a glaring omission: women.

Men sat at the table. They sat in chairs against the wall. They stood near the doorway. They just weren’t joined by any women. Not even the administration’s token woman Ivanka Trump made a cameo for the meeting (she was skiing in Aspen), though adviser Kellyanne Conway does appear in one photo with President Trump.

The scene looked awfully like when Trump, again surrounded almost exclusively by men, signed an executive order reinstating the global gag rule, which directly affects the reproductive health of women around the world.

The House Freedom Caucus, the group using its voting leverage to pressure the White House on repealing Obamacare, doesn’t currently seem to have any female members at all, though retired Wyoming Rep. Cynthia Lummis once belonged, according to Pew Research Center.

That a few dozen men chose to use their enormous power over millions of Americans to negotiate the elimination of maternity care, along with nine other essential benefits currently required to sell health insurance, ignited outrage across the internet. So did the prospect of losing additional required benefits, which include mental health treatment, lab tests, pediatric services and prescription drugs. Coverage for preventive care, which includes FDA-approved birth control, is yet another benefit Americans stand to lose.

Those in favor of dumping the essential benefits argue that consumers should be able to choose plans tailored to their needs rather than paying higher premiums so everyone can access a universal set of covered services. In the past, that approach has made it possible for insurers to sell skimpy health plans with consumers paying a much steeper price for preventive care or life-saving treatment.

The average vaginal birth in the U.S., for example, costs $8,775 in the U.S. not exactly pocket change if your insurance isn’t required to cover it.

The debate over essential benefits has brought out the worst in some folks. When Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) was asked about scrapping the required coverage, he told a TPM reporter, “I sure don’t want my mammogram benefits taken away.”

When the mocking response ricocheted across the internet, Roberts issued an apology, but not before liberal and independent voters had one more data point to prove the war on women theory.

Republicans have at least one more shot at changing the optics, if not the focus, of their proposed legislation. By Thursday afternoon, GOP leadership couldn’t come to an agreement on the bill and postponed the vote. Maybe next time they’ll think twice about attempting to gut maternity care coverage in a room full of men.

UPDATE: March 24, 2017, 2:56 a.m. PDT This story was updated to clarify that the preventive services benefit includes birth control.

WATCH: Paranoid like ‘Snowden’? Here’s where to put cellphones

Read more: http://mashable.com/2017/03/23/photo-house-republicans-who-want-to-cut-maternity-care/

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Stanford Doctor on Latest Advances in Cervical Cancer Screening and Treatment

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Nearly all cervical cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV). When exposed to HPV, a woman's immune system normally attacks the virus and prevents it from doing harm. Cervical cancer is most prevalent in women in their 40s.
Speaker: Shannon MacLaughlan David, MD

HPV: Preventing Cervical Cancer

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– This 3D medical animation explains how to prevent cervical cancer. The disease begins with the human papillomavirus which can be prevented using the vaccine Gardasil (Silgard).

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