New research shows that 62% of people agree women’s health and intimate experiences are not spoken about openly. These women are here to inspire you to talk unashamedly about your #wombstories.
Hiding your period pad under your sleeve at work, being shamed for how many people you’ve had sex with and your menstrual pain not being understood by medical experts are just a few regular occurrences for women all around the world. However, we are seeing a slow awakening birthed from the internet, with women reclaiming their bodies and rebelling against gender norms bias we are so accustomed to when it comes to women’s health.
Candice Brathwaite, an influencer and author of the best-seller I Am Not Your Baby Mother and Lauren Mahon, podcast host and founder of GIRLvsCANCER, are encouraging women to talk unashamedly about their #wombstories. According to a study by Bodyform, 62% of people agree women’s health and intimate experiences are not spoken about openly, with 54% wishing they could talk about issues such as miscarriage, endometriosis and menopause.
Mahon brings these figures to life as she tells Stylist about her own experiences. Mainstream media doesn’t portray a severe medically induced menopause as something young people deal with, so it was a shocking and challenging discovery for Mahon who was in her early 30s when she was diagnosed. “I had just beaten cancer — I’ve done it! I smashed it, I’m free, and then the menopause kicked in. My life was a living hell.”
“It’s hard being the only person in the pub not having a glass of wine because you’ll be flushing and get bright red,” she says. “Someone has asked me ‘Are you dating’ and I’m like, I don’t really fancy dating because I haven’t had libido for about two years because I’m in menopause. And getting wet is a myth for me because vaginal dryness is very real.”
Mahon says as a result of the stigma attached to menopause, young women are often scared when it is brought up; they think it is something to fear. “And that’s why I found it cathartic to have my Instagram channel and work on my charities to raise awareness”.
It took five years of going to the doctors back and forth to be diagnosed with endometriosis in her mid-20s, a condition that affects one in 10 women in the UK. “That’s several years of excruciating pain. I was made to feel like I was just weak. That basically, I couldn’t handle my period. I couldn’t have sex with my boyfriend. He then cheated on me with someone who could have sex with him,” she says. “I nearly lost my job because of the number of sick days I was taking because I couldn’t come up with an explanation.”
She found this experience mentally and physically agonising, especially coupled with her health anxiety. This is an experience Mahon is confident many women will, unfortunately, empathise with. Brathwaite certainly does. She tells Stylist about visiting the doctor countless times expressing unimaginable pain she felt outside of her menstrual cycle until she was eventually diagnosed with fibroids. Brathwaite feels women are in pain a lot of the time but “we just continue to get on with it”, she explains. “Oh gosh, I’m in pain today!” she frankly points out.
The mother of two says being in pain is something that is not taken seriously by medical experts, and it has a more prominent impact for Black women. “So even being part of the campaign with Bodyform and talking about womb stories, it’s also important for me to highlight my race. Sometimes our womb stories are going to have a gap,” she says.
According to the UK Confidential Enquiry into Maternal Deaths, Black women are five times more likely and Asian women twice as likely to die compared to white women during childbirth. Brathwaite had an emergency C-section with her first child and then contracted an infection. She made clear to the midwives that she didn’t feel well but her cry for help was ignored. Days later it was discovered that she had a life-threatening condition called sepsis which was seeping into her bloodstream. Black celebrities such as Serena Williams and Beyoncé have come forward with similar experiences while recently Jodie Turner-Smith had a home birth due to systemic racism in hospitals.
Bodyform’s research shows that at a third of women feel society wants them to keep silent about their experiences. When Brathwaite was writing her book, some members of her family told her not to write about her abortion or her struggles with fibroids. “They were like ‘Some people are going to see abortion as unclean and unholy’… ‘Why would you talk about suffering from fibroids’”. She feels this taboo intersects with race, for her women’s intimate health is seen as ‘inside business’ in the Black community.
She continues: “As a Black woman, discussing any part of myself that should be deemed as private can be viewed as problematic, especially from the older generations of a Black community.” However, she is hopeful as she sees a small change with the next generation and points to sex relationship blogger, Oloni who is leading it.
For Mahon, she feels empowered to talk about women’s health because “If I don’t, I am conforming in that shame. So it’s almost like I refuse to feel shame around anything I’m going through and this is my way of rebelling against it.” While Brathwaite echos this, she says: “It’s powerful to know when I’m sharing my personal stories of fibroids, abortions or even stories on my motherhood blog, it frees another woman”.
Image: Holly McGlynn and Candice Brathwaite