Everything Below the Waist: Why Health Care Needs A Feminist Reform by Jennifer Block
Published July 16th, 2019 by St. Martin’s Press
Genres Nonfiction, Health
American women visit more doctors, have more surgery, and fill more prescriptions than men. In Everything Below the Waist, Jennifer Block asks: Why is the life expectancy of women today declining relative to women in other high-income countries, and even relative to the generation before them? Block examines several staples of modern women’s health care, from fertility technology to contraception to pelvic surgery to miscarriage treatment, and finds that while over diagnosis and over treatment persist in medicine writ large, they are particularly acute for women. One third of mothers give birth by major surgery; roughly half of women lose their uterus to hysterectomy.
Feminism turned the world upside down, yet to a large extent the doctors’ office has remained stuck in time. Block returns to the 1970s women’s health movement to understand how in today’s supposed age of empowerment, women’s bodies are still so vulnerable to medical control–particularly their sex organs, and as result, their sex lives.
In this urgent book, Block tells the stories of patients, clinicians, and reformers, uncovering history and science that could revolutionize the standard of care, and change the way women think about their health. Everything Below the Waist challenges all people to take back control of their bodies.
When I read the synopsis of this book, I knew I wanted to read it immediately. As someone who has both chronic physical and mental illnesses, I have experienced the way our medical community often treats women. Everything Below the Waist contains not only a great deal of information on the state of women’s healthcare, but also includes a lot of real life stories from women. I very much agree with the statement in the synopsis, that women are often over-diagnosed and over-treated. And I have witnessed first hand how male doctors often brush off female patients, as the author will talk about in the book. I am going to try not to make this a long review, but it is a topic I am fairly passionate about and I am so glad an author finally brought it to attention.
The author talks about a variety of women’s health topics in the book and in one chapter, she talks about how women are frequently over-diagnosed and over-treated. I am going to tell a quick personal story about why I was so happy to see this finally addressed in a book. I have always have gynecological issues, ranging from reoccurring cervical cancer to ovarian cysts to a great deal of pain. Several years ago, my OB transferred me to another doctor within in the practice who dealt more with these issues. He has a great bedside manner and I really liked him. After looking over all my test results and asking me a great deal of questions, he did a pelvic exam. When he got to my right ovary and he could see I was in obvious pain, he made his diagnosis. He told me that I had endometriosis and that he could feel that my right ovary was adhered to my pelvic wall. I was surprised to hear this but grateful for a diagnosis until he sat there explaining to me that there was a good chance he would have to remove that ovary. I went home crying to my then boyfriend, now husband, and was incredibly anxious for 3 weeks until I had surgery. I had to write out all these medical instructions for the doctor depending on what he found, where he would have to come talk about anything with my mom & boyfriend before removing any organs. I remember walking into the hospital crying and shaking because I was scared of loosing my ovary. Fast forward to me waking up from surgery, groggy and disoriented. The surgeon comes into speak with us and says, “Well, I didn’t find much, there is a small spot of endometriosis on one of the right ligaments that is too deep to remove and pelvic congestion syndrome, otherwise we flushed the tubes and uterus and everything looks good. I literally said, “What the f*ck?” to my mother & boyfriends horror because this surgeon had drilled into my head his “diagnosis” when really, he couldn’t make a diagnosis until I had surgery.
Around this time, I started bringing my now fiance to all of my doctor’s appointments, as I found my doctors seemed to listen to me and take me seriously with a man present. I continue to bring him to almost all of my appointments today. I imagine I am not alone in this and it is a tragedy that in our society, women can’t always trust their doctors. I could write 100 personal stories that relate to everything the author talks about in this book, but I will spare you.
I have read quite a bit about the labor & delivery culture in America, which is far behind every other country in anything related to pregnancy, birth & infants. However, the personal stories in the section about this topic were horrifying to me. Doctors doing procedures even when a patient says no; doctor’s calling CPS when a woman won’t sign a consent form; unnecessary c-sections and stories of nurses holding patients down to do things against their will. I am currently pregnant, so some of these things I have read about but others were a total shock to read. That fact that this occurs in our country is more than the disturbing and I am so glad that the author has addresses all of these issues in her book.
There was a chapter on abortion, which I tried to read, but because of my personal beliefs, I ended up having to skim that chapter. I understand that it is part of the medical system that effects women, it was just too difficult for me to read.
Beyond that, this book was fantastic and I highly recommend that every woman read this book. I can’t tell you how many times I stopped to tell my husband about what I had just read because it directed related to experiences I had with previous doctors. It was also nice to know that this happens to a lot of women and not just me. I could go on and on about how great this book was and I definitely recommend adding it to your TBR for July. It covers SO many important topics and I have to imagine that most women can easily relate to it.
Thank you to the publisher, St. Martin’s Press, for sending me an ARC of this book.