Is the NHS letting us women down?

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.

Gynaecology fear Is the NHS letting us women down?

Gynaecology fear is rife amongst women in the UK

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.

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12 Responses

  1. Amanda says:

    Great post! Unfortunately, I don’t think it just comes down to a fear of talking about those areas, but also the fact that once you do you can end up being treated like you’re just making a fuss!!

    I have Endometriosis. I first started seeing my GP at 15, having already suffered for over 2 years with indescribable pain and periods that came every 2-3 weeks. Between 15 and 19 My GP tried various contraceptives, all of which had side effects deemed problematic by both myself and the GP. So I was referred to a gynaecologist. My mum went with me to the appointment and expressed her concerns, having had a hysterectomy herself at 36 due to severe Endometriosis (my Grandma also had one at 40). The gynaecologist told my mum that “too many women have unnecessary hysterectomies” (which angered my mum as she had to go private for hers because the NHS wouldn’t take her seriously) and that as I was 19, sexually inactive and otherwise healthy there couldn’t possibly be anything wrong with me, to stop taking any contraceptives and just take a cocktail of painkillers when in pain. I cried and he practically threw me out of his room with the nurse to go home with some leaflets to read… I was mortified to suddenly find myself in the waiting room in floods of tears – I was humiliated beyond belief!!

    It took me 2 more years to drum up the courage to ask to see a gynaecologist again (my GP pretty much did nothing when I said I wasn’t happy with the way the gynaecologist had treated me!) At 21 I went in armed with 2 A4 sheets of printed descriptions of all my symptoms, what I had tried, where the pain was etc and they couldn’t possibly ignore me. They agreed to do a laparoscopy to investigate but told me they didn’t expect to find anything. Turns out I had Endometriosis and due to a complication in surgery I ended up with unexpected bleeding and developed IBS shortly afterwards (possibly from the trauma). My GP explained how my fallopian tube had been twisted and that I could be at a higher risk of an ectopic pregnancy in future. My ovary had also been enlarged. I was given a Mirena and left to it.

    A few years later, despite not having periods, I was getting typical Endo pains again. I had to pay to go to see a private consultant to get the NHS to take me seriously again. Then in 18 months I went through 2 chemically induced menopauses and more surgery which again found stage 3 Endo, this time with my uterus stuck to my bowel. I experienced discrimination at work and had to resign. And all the while the NHS just told me “there’s nothing else we can do”.

    I had an awful pregnancy with various complications (though thankfully no ectopic pregnancy – that concern was ignored!) and following my pregnancy, and 3rd degree tear from giving birth to a big baby with his hand by his head, I asked to see a gynaecologist again as I was getting early symptoms. One gynaecologist I saw was amazing and told me “we know you have Endo, we know you have it aggressively, we know you’ve exhausted most options, it’s just a case of getting you through until you feel your family is complete”. A few weeks later I saw her colleague who told me, “you’re not in huge amounts of pain, why are you so determined not to have another baby, that would give you 9 months free of Endo!” Um… hello! I had an awful pregnancy that traumatised me and my whole family and getting 9 months free of Endo is NOT a good reason to have a baby!!

    That was 2 years ago. I am due to see a gynaecologist again on Monday. I am terrified. I do not mind being poked and prodded and I will quite openly talk about symptoms with them (even the “gosh it hurts to have sex” type of conversations). But what I find totally soul destroying is the fact that even when you do talk about these things and open yourself up emotionally you are not only ignored sometimes but downright ridiculed for even bringing them up.

    Sorry for the super long comment, but as you can probably tell, this is a real sore point for me. I do agree that the NHS lets women down big time, but it is no wonder we woman fear seeking help when the treatment we get when we do work up the courage (or see them out of desperation) is so appalling!
    Amanda recently posted…All Change (and a brief BritMums Live post)My Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I am so sorry that you have had such hard experiences. I was lucky that when I was 17 and had been having excruciating periods for 4 years I was taken seriously, and seen by a gynaecologist at a top London hospital, but now I see it’s not the way for everyone. I really hope you get taken seriously this time round. Thanks for commenting and sharing your story x

  2. Pauline says:

    I completely agree with you. The first time I went for a smear in England was so terrible that it took me another 5 years to gather the courage to go back. This is despite the fact that I’d been having smears in France regularly without problems for a couple of years before I moved.The lack of proper feminine care (and prevention) in the UK is appalling.
    Pauline recently posted…What I’m Into – June 2014 EditionMy Profile

  3. Mel says:

    First of all, I have to say I have rarely been disappointed by the NHS, and have the best GP you could dream of. However, if I had any problems ‘down south’ as you so nicely put it, I would without the shadow of a doubt book a Eurostar ticket to see my gynaecologist in France. I also think we should get what the French do: perineal exercise classes at the physiotherapist’s. Honestly, who does those perineal exercises? Mel #BrillBlogPosts

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I agree with you, we’ve had great experiences with our GP and in general on the NHS, but when it comes to gynae problems I did like seeing a specialist in France. The pelvic floor muscle exercise classes in France were a real shock to me, but I can totally see the point behind them.

  4. And what happens to us? We end up resorting to google for our gynaecological advice and we all know that’s fatal! Very interesting red. I wonder if this British culture of being embarrassed when talking about our ‘lady bits’ will ever change?!
    suzanne3childrenandit recently posted…A Younger Me – The School ReportMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      And we all know that Google has the answer to all our health problems 😉

  5. Honest Mum says:

    So interesting to read this and the differences between UK and French doctors. I was let down with my first birth but not at all with my second and generally bless the NHS for the incredible care my whole family have mostly received. Yes there have been major mess up’s particularly via incompetent GP’s in the past and now I try to be my family’s own GP in a sense, going with my gut and heading to an emergency DR or A and E if I’m concerned especially when it comes to my kids. Thanks for linking up to #brilliantblogposts
    Honest Mum recently posted…Recipe for Greek Cypriot Dessert ShamishiMy Profile

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      For the most part I can’t fault the NHS but I do think that sometimes as women our needs are ignored.

  6. Laura G says:

    I’m sad to hear that people have had a bad experiences of the NHS. I’m four weeks post-partum with my fist child and had a difficult birth – it ended in a forceps birth in theatre with an episiotomy extending to a third degree tear and subsequently a very nasty infection, I have received excellent care. I had lots of visits by and to my midwife and GP and checks by the obstetricians at the post-natal ward where my daughter was born. I’ve already been referred to both the physiotherapist and the gynaecologist for help with regaining control of bladder and bowel movements and these issues were also discussed at every doctor / midwife appointment.

    I was discharged by the midwife this week with strict instructions to be checked out (‘down south’ as you so beautifully put it :-)) by the GP again in a couple of weeks and to get in touch immediately should anything change at all. I was given advice on resuming intercourse on several occasions and also, in the long run, told to go back to the GP immediately if it was at all painful or uncomfortable. I have also been assured that should I become pregnant again I will be placed under the care of a consultant at the hospital for my all my ante-natal care.

    Of course, this being the UK, I can only speak for the county in which I live (Worcestershire) but there are some good things going on. I think it may be down to the age old postcode lottery that so often characterises things such as education and health care here (to name but a few). I guess the difference in France is that things tend to be more centralised (which has its pros and cons).

    The most difficult thing I find is that it doesn’t seem to be socially acceptable for me to explain to anyone else (other than my Mum and best friend) what happened to me; I don’t know whether this would be the same in France or not. I think if we were able to talk more openly about issues such as these there would be a greater awareness and women would feel more empowered to get the health care they require and deserve.

    Having only lived there a couple of years my experience of the French health care system is fairly limited but I never found it to be any better or worse than my experience at home. I was however always slightly flummoxed when my French friends and colleagues insist that I go to the doctor with a bad cold, thus fuelling a niggling suspicion I have always had regarding the French and a certain tendency towards hypochondria 😉

    • Franglaise Mummy says:

      I think you are right when you say it depends on where you live, there really are no guarantees, I know of people who’ve had awful treatment on the NHS, whilst others have been treated fantastically. I am so glad you had such a good experience. As for talking about our births I have found that my mummy friends in the UK talk about it as much as my French friends, but I suppose it depends on how open people are about talking about such intimate things. I have experienced a certain tendency towards hypochondria too….not everyone, but just a bit more than in the UK (in my experience).

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