Written by Megann McKay, junior litigation executive within our medical negligence department.
A recent BBC article told the story of Alex Flower’s struggles with her physical and mental health after feeling like she wasn’t in control during her daughter’s birth. The article saddened, but did not shock me.
Alex Flowers opened up about the suicidal thoughts that were part of her post-natal depression, which she developed as a result of the traumatic birth of her daughter. She speaks of how she felt ignored by the midwife, and delays in believing her insistence that something was wrong with her baby led to her needing an episiotomy without anaesthetic. She was discharged the following day, despite some of her placenta having been left inside her, and her episiotomy having been repaired incorrectly. It seems no one had any concern for the devastating lasting implications such an experience might have on her.
All too often, women’s health is not taken seriously. Research shows that women will wait longer for emergency assessment than men, even when presenting with the same symptoms. It’s the subconscious bias that is ingrained in society that makes people believe that women are being dramatic, or that – especially in the case of female reproductive health – a little pain is to be expected. The word hysterical, (“affected by or deriving from wildly uncontrolled emotion”) comes from the Greek word for uterus – hysterika. The diagnosis of female hysteria – which, throughout the years, saw countless women imprisoned in asylums and operated on by force – was only dropped by the American Psychiatric Association in 1952.
The Huffington Post featured an article last year looking at whether or not women’s health is taken as seriously as men’s. The article focused on a writer who only received a diagnosis after five years of debilitating symptoms and, as a result of the attitudes of doctors she dealt with, considered herself to be a ‘problem patient’ and not ‘a patient with a problem’.
It is a difficult problem to ignore when faced with the testimonies of women just like Alex Flowers, whose story is doomed to be repeated until society’s attitudes to female health concerns goes through a radical overhaul.