Warning to those with a sensitive disposition: I will be talking about women’s bits in this blog post, and in a non-exciting way, so if you don’t want that kind of information, move along now.
I just want to clarify from the start that I do love the NHS, and even though I will be doing a fair amount of slamming of it in this blog post, on the whole I think it’s a fantastic system.
But it does let us down. Particularly us women.
I have already blogged about this from a mother’s perspective, so I won’t go into that again. Instead I’d like to look at it from a woman’s point of view, post childbirth.
Now, let’s face it, giving birth (vaginally, not a C-section) is going to hammer your lady bits far more than anything else in the rest of your life (I’m guessing/hoping). Most of us will end up with some kind of tearing, at the best, and full on vagina complications at the worst.
I have a handful of girlfriends in the UK who have experienced difficult births, been left with issues down below, but have had no one check that all is well other than a midwife visit in the early days post-partum.
It could be that the baby was big, the mum was too tired to push after a lengthy labour, that the baby came out with its hand by its face, or all manner of other birth complications. But what it leads to is a problem for that woman moving forwards.
After having your first baby it’s hard to know what’s normal and what’s not, down south. You may be psychologically traumatised, you may be physically battered. It’s unlikely anyone will ask you, and even more unlikely that friends will share how it was for them post-partum.
So there’s this fear. This unknown. Am I damaged? Is this normal?
If you’re lucky you’ll have friends or a mum you can talk to about this. You could talk to your partner, but unless they have a vagina they may struggle to empathise.
And this is where I find the NHS to be lacking.
In France you see a gynaecologist regularly (if you’re sexually active). To get pretty much any contraceptive you need to see a gynaecologist. They are the ones who prescribe the pill and will only give you 6 months at a time, meaning you go back, get weighed and get checked out every 6 months. Then once a year you’ll be given a smear test.
This means there is a culture of being checked over gynaecologically in France. It’s not something French women talk about or like in general, but it’s just one of those things that happens.
When you’re pregnant you tend to see the same doctor – most gynaecologists are also obstetricians too – and you will be checked over every month, including “un toucher vaginal” or as us Brits say, an internal.
Once your baby is born you will be examined in hospital (usually by your own gynaecologist) before being allowed to leave. 6 weeks later you’ll have your post-partum check-up – with your gynaecologist again – where contraceptives will be discussed. Then you’ll be back onto your 6 monthly check-ups, however you can make additional appointments at any stage if you have any concerns (just don’t try and get an emergency one as these tend to be 2 weeks later!).
Sadly the NHS doesn’t offer anything like this.
I was examined by a midwife when C was a couple of days old, she was happy my stitches were healing nicely, and
no one no medical professional has been back there since.
C is nearly 20 months old now.
In that time in France I would have been checked over 4 times by my gynaecologist.
Fortunately I haven’t had any issues since having C.
Unfortunately for that handful of my girlfriends they have.
But there seems to be a general feeling of having nowhere to turn. There is no culture of dropping your knickers for a medical professional in the UK. (Totally normal in France.) British women are embarrassed. They don’t know who to turn to. They ignore the problem and hope it will go away. They feel that everyone else is “normal” and that they are somehow “abnormal”. It affects their sex life and often their relationship.
Imagine how they could be put out of their misery if the NHS was more like the French system on this subject.
I know there are financial issues at stake, but surely there should be some kind of check-up option in place for women who have had babies?
So what advice can I give women in the UK who feel this way after having a baby?
- You are not alone. Don’t feel embarrassed. Don’t feel ashamed. Don’t feel “abnormal”.
- Go to your GP and explain that you need a referral to see a gynaecologist. Explain clearly the problem/issue and don’t be embarrassed. They will have heard and seen far worse. (I speak from experience as between Hubs’s family and mine there are 3 doctors and 2 nurses.)
- When you have your referral go to your gynaecologist and explain everything that is wrong, physically and psychologically. Wherever possible share when it dates from (first birth, second birth, first time having sex post partum etc).
- Don’t give up until you are happy everything is ok, even if this means changing doctors. This is your body and you need to feel comfortable with it.
Remember you are not alone and you have no reason to feel embarrassed about this in the slightest.