I don’t read too much non-fiction these days. Right now I’m speed reading Gone Girl . It’s kinda sorta okay but makes me feel like my brain is melting. I don’t really like Gone Girl, but I can’t stop reading it. It’s kind of like my sugar addiction.
To my credit, the last time I went to the library, I checked out Far From the Tree, Buddhism for Mothers and In the House of the Interpreter. But I haven’t read them yet. This summer I read everything Jamaica Kincaid ever wrote (except this one) . She is so perfect. But I also read The Happiness Project. Please don’t let me read Jodi Picoult. If I read Jodi Picoult, it’s all over.
Anyhoo, back when I was a full-time smarty pants, I spent countless hours reading nonfiction, I read about health. Particularly women’s health. There is so much out there, and I feel lucky to have been introduced to it. So in case you’re looking for something to read that’s not a white lady novel, here we go.
Ten great books about women’s health:
1. Killing the Black Body: Race, Reproduction and the Meaning of Liberty. Dorothy Roberts is a great writer. This book will help you understand the racist undertones of much of American political discourse about reproductive health and entitlement programs.
2. How the Pro-Choice Movement Saved America: Freedom, Politics and the War on Sex. Cristina Page. Best title ever
3. Cunt. Speaking of titles… okay, it’s a little crass and the language is tiny bit outdated, but Inga Muscio’s take menstruation, reproductive health and sexual freedom is still empowering
4. A Darker Ribbon. One of the most well-researched critiques of the breast cancer movement that is not preach or overly academic.
5. Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control. This should be required reading for anyone working for — or wanting to work for — an international development organization.
6. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down : A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors and a Collision of Two Cultures. A can’t-put-it-down kind of read written by a journalist.
7. Testing Women, Testing the Fetus: The Social Impact of Amniocentesis on America. An ethnography of genetic counseling. A little bit on the jargony side, but still a good read.
8. Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor.Paul Farmer will make you want to try and save the world.
9. Safe Food: The Politics of Food Safety. You are what you eat. Marion Nestle.
10. How to Have Theory in an Epidemic: Cultural Chronicles of AIDS. Would get the award for best title if I hadn’t already given it to Cristina Page. Paula Treichler is one of my favorite smarty-pants writers.
And one bonus book…
11. Birth as an American Rite of Passage. Robbie Davis-Floyd. A classic. Read it.
What about you? What are your favorite women’s health books? What did I forget? And hey, what are you reading? I’ll forgive you if it’s Jodi Picoult.
So often, public health interventions are boring — recommend more education, evaluate an existing program, come up with a list of resources….yawn.
But although they don’t always make headlines, there are lots of fantastically innovative people working to improve women’s health. I’m always excited to see these types of projects which have the potential to do so much good.
Here are five truly different approaches to improving women’s health:
- Naturopathic Oncology. Seems like a contradiction, right? Wrong. I’ve been intrigued by efforts to initiate more natural approaches to cancer treatment ever since I researched breast cancer activism in graduate school and met the woman who started this great project. But apparently, naturopathic oncology has started to take hold in the more mainstream medical field, and the Seattle Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center actually has naturopaths on staff.
- Cultivating and caring for “mad gifts”. The Icarus Project has a completely unique approach to mental health. Rather than calling it “mental illness” they “envision a new culture and language that resonates with our actual experiences of ‘mental illness’ rather than trying to fit our lives into a conventional framework.” So important, and so rare.
- Midwifery and fertility services for the rest of us. Not surprisingly, most prenatal care is very straight-oriented. But Maia Midwifery takes a different approach, prioritizing the needs of queer families. I love that the approach is so radically different from some of the overly granola earth-mama stuff that is part and parcel of most midwifery practices. Also in California is ReCLAIM Midwifery, which focuses on transgender health. This is true innovation, but it will probably be a very long time before this approach is incorporated into mainstream prenatal services.
- Real sex education. Rather than the lip service paid to sex education that happens in schools, Scarleteen is a resource for teenagers that provides a wide range of resources. Created in response to 1998 abstinence only policies, the site uses message boards, tweets, Tumblr feed, SMS (and Facebook and even Pinterest) to connect with its audience, and has zillions of real life questions and answers. I hope it’s still around when my four year old is a teenager.
- Telling and talking. Speaking of four year-olds, after a completely useless preschool lesson on Martin Luther King Jr. (my son learned that King “changed our world” but had absolutely no idea why or how) he told the teacher that he would like to learn about where babies come from. Awkward. We took a trip to the library afterwards, and I satisfied his curiosity with a picture book called It’s so Amazing. But this isn’t the end of these types of questions, so I’m excited about this series of books developed specifically for families with children conceived with donor assistance.
What about you? Have you heard of exciting, cutting edge programs or innovations in women’s health?
Yep, it’s inevitable. Another week has come to an end. In health news this week:
- Saturday is World Prematurity Day, which is very close to my heart since my son was born 12 weeks too soon. The US isn’t doing a great job in preventing prematurity, we’re currently 113th in the world in numbers of preterm births (?!). According to the World Health Organization, 15 million babies are born too soon every year. That’s more than one in 10 births — and more than one million of these babies die shortly after they are born. The WHO and the March of Dimes estimate that three-quarters of preterm babies who die could survive without expensive care if a few proven and inexpensive treatments and preventions were available worldwide.
- Turns out that doctors with less than ten years experience spent an average of 13% more than more experienced physicians. I like this study because it looks at how physicians — instead of patients — are responsible for escalating healthcare costs. This isn’t something that you hear very often. =
- Drug makers called “compounders” are to blame for the recent meningitis outbreak caused by fungal contamination in a steroid prescribed to people with back pain. These companies (like Ameridose, the company responsible for the tainted steroid in question) are essentially unregulated by the FDA. They have been supported by many in congress because their products are often an affordable alternative to huge drug manufacturers. One argument about regulation was that states should be left to do it themselves. This confirms my theory that whenever a government official makes a states’ rights argument, it is cause for concern.
- A study of pregnant Medicaid recipients in 14 southern states found that African-American women were more likely than to have longer hospital stays and pregnancy complications. The study estimated that eliminating disparities in adverse pregnancy events could save between $114 and $214 million annually in Medicaid costs in the 14 states studied.
- Access to contraception is a human right. Even the United Nations says so.
Have a great weekend! Meet you back here next week, when I’ll be posting about healthcare in-sourcing, premature birth, and sharing an interview with a wonderful doula and author!
Yesterday was Veterans Day, and President Obama marked the event by laying a wreath at Arlington Cemetery.
The rituals of Veterans Day are all very scripted, solemn and patriotic. There are always serious faces, the requisite honoring of old men, the sporting of uniforms, remarks about freedom and sacrifice and America being great.
All in all, it’s a very male event.
But the military is changing. Since 9/11,over 200,000 women have served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This means that there are a whole host of health issues that are now part of the military that weren’t before, and the VA medical system is struggling to keep up. According to the Service Women’s Action Network (SWAN):
Only 15% of women veterans use VA facilities. VA culture is still rife with male-bias, leading many women veterans to feel that the VA cannot properly attend to their gender-specific health needs […] Furthermore, VA healthcare is characterized by its “fragmentation,” meaning that women are not able to access comprehensive health services from their primary providers but rather must be referred elsewhere or travel enormous distances for routine services such as gynecological exams. Additionally, VA hospitals often foster uncomfortable, unwelcoming or hostile environments for women.
The VA is doing some work to address this, and for that they should be commended. The VA has initiated “Culture Change Campaign” complete with PSAs:
Still, the biggest health challenge faced by female veterans, however, is not figuring out where to get a Pap test, it’s dealing with the aftermath of sexual assault, often perpetrated by their own colleagues. As many as one out of three (!!) women leaving military service have reported being the victim of some kind of sexual assault. Rape and sexual assault continues to be a huge problem for women in all branches of the US military.
Part of this is because of the nature of military culture. To a significant extent, constructs of masculinity, of what it means to be a man, are built on domination of women. And the military is nothing if not a masculine institution. In her book Earth Follies, Joni Seager points out the “surprisingly transparent phallic imagery” that pervades military language: “soft laydowns, deep penetration, hard missiles.”
Is an army without rape even possible?
Even more disturbing is the fact that this epidemic of sexual assault is unequally distributed across the population, given that the US Army consists of an all-volunteer force. According to the Population Reference Bureau, while the most powerful predictors of who will serve in the military are survey responses indicating that people want to serve, or expect to serve, in the military, enlistment is also highly contingent on social class.
Children of college educated parents are less likely to serve. Those with higher high school grades are less likely to serve. African Americans and Hispanics are more likely to serve than whites. That means that an African American woman whose parents do not have a college education is more likely to enlist and be at risk for sexual assault than a white woman from an affluent family whose parents have a college education. Once again, health disparities are contingent on income and social class.
It’ssomething to think about amidst all the parades and noble speeches about the greatest generation.
What are your thoughts? Have you been in the military? Known someone who is? What do you think are the most pervasive issues female soldiers and veterans face?
Reproduction used be so straightforward. People did it the um, old-fashioned way, and mostly they didn’t plan. Today, almost forty percent pregnancies in the US are unplanned, but for many women, planning to get pregnant is a very involved undertaking.
The data shows that in this country, 15 percent of women with their first child are elderly primigravidas, that is, they are older than 34.
An entire industry that has now been built up around this fact. Your eggs are old! You waited too long! How will you reproduce?
Capitalism and innovation is here to help. Go to any CVS or Rite Aid in the country, and you’ll be offered a wide selection of ovulation prediction kits ($35 for 2), a host of products aimed at boosting your fertility, and even home fertility tests .
An ongoing study at UNC Chapel Hill found that these tests are quite inaccurate.
One-quarter of the women would have been deemed infertile based on their FSH levels, but in fact they did not have more difficulty getting pregnant than other women in the study, the researchers reported.
The study is still recruiting, and will be until 2015. It’s refreshing to read about scientific research that is actually trying to help women achieve their fertility goals instead of coming up with more findings about how fertility declines, and a host of possible factors that might be associated with infertility.
And just a side note, here’s the principal investigator of the study:
It’s been another great week!
I started a new series, profiling women in health. If you would like to be profiled or have an idea of someone you think I should talk to, please let me know.
I’ve been pitching lots of stories about women’s health to a variety of news outlets and blogs, and will hopefully have some good news to share soon.
And a confession – I didn’t watch the veep debate. I listened to part of it on the radio, but missed the visual antics. Oh well, I’ll be watching on Tuesday as the presidential candidates face off for the last time.
Here’s what caught my eye in health news this week:
- Injections in the spine never seems like a great idea, but even worse when the medication is full of fungus. Some things definitely need lots of regulatory oversight!
- In a valiant effort to take the mind-body connection seriously, two studies look at the role stress when it comes to breast cancer and maternal well being.
- Floridians are voting on whether ban state funding for abortion, in addition to the existing ban on federal funding for abortion, put in place by the Hyde Amendment. Will they also be voting on whether to increasing state funding for birth control?
- Scientists have come to a consensus that formaldehyde causes cancer. So why are lobbyists trying to keep this information under wraps?
- No one wants to go on a job interview when they’re pregnant, and lots of women are nervous to tell their employers that they are pregnant even when they already have the job. Been there.
- The UK takes a big step, and makes treatment available for HIV positive patients who need them, regardless of immigration status. Public health in action.
- 3D mammograms: twice the radiation, three times the fun?
Thanks for reading! Have a great fall weekend, and see you on Monday.