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Thursday, November 4, 2010

Self-Help Clinic

Copyright 1971

Visit Our History, Self Help Clinic, Staying Well, Our Anatomy, Our Periods, Reclaiming Abortion, Our Birth Control, and Library web pages for further detailed information.

A group of women not long ago banded together to seriously consider some mutual questions concerning the care of their reproductive and sexual organs. It all came about because each of us seemed to be getting the same kind of no help from our physicians. So we decided to just rap, share experiences, and maybe as a group seek out some answers on our own. Our results were so mind blowing that we want to share them with our sisters in hopes of encouraging others to do the same. Some of the problems we first attacked were: how can I recognize vaginal infections early, before they become so advanced that I have to visit a physician and probably wind up on antibiotics$$$. Can I see early infections, especially yeast (Monilia) effectively and inexpensively? How do I recognize yeast? What does syphillis look like, and can I recognize gonorrhea -- in spite of what the physicians say? Are there marked changes on the cervix of my uterus during my 28-30 day menstrual cycle? If so, does the cervix also show change due to pregnancy, and if so how soon can I see the change? We realized early in our rap sessions that being able to recognize very early pregnancy would be a great asset if we were to decide to terminate the pregnancy. Each of us at one time or another had been told by a physician that chemical test for pregnancy wasn't foolproof. We would really have to wait for at least the 4th and 5th week after the missed period to know for sure. Too long, we all decided!

Another point in which we were all up-tight about was the present methods of health care for women. For instance: I've got an itch. So I've gotta call the doctor. When I call, the receptionist asks, "What's wrong?" and proceeds to make an appointment from one to two weeks hence. So I wait. Take sitz baths, douches, and so sex. Sometimes the waiting alone helps, usually not. Often the bladder becomes infected while waiting for the appointment interval to pass. Finally I get to see the physician and his comment on examining me, draped in a sheet so that I couldn't even if I wanted to, -- "Usual female infection, take the antibiotic prescription and come back in two weeks."$$$ When I ask him if I can see what the infection looks like, the physician is appalled at the idea. "You shouldn't worry your little head about this kind of thing. After all, isn't that what I'm here for?" So I return in 2 weeks$$$, and maybe it's cleared and maybe it isn't. Another kind of antibiotic is prescribed and another appointment is made$$$. I again ask for specific information about the infection and by now the answer usually comes in Greek (which I am obviously not very fluent in.)

With pregnancy it's pretty much the same thing. See him, wait, and come back. $$$ I know that the longer I wait the more difficult it will be on my body to terminate the pregnancy. In addition, different states' laws offer time limiting restrictions.

So the women got together. We rapped about our common medical encounters. Then we made a discovery on that very first meeting. In order to better understand what we were talking about we had to look. So we encountered our first, last and only hangup in the entire rap/self-help clinic. And we did it with the help of 5% courage and 95% curiosity. Up on the table each of us went. Some of us were a little shy going up, all of us thoroughly with it by the time we got down. All of us were learning about our sexual organs and realizing that we were not only sharing our answers but were learning things about the cervix that was a gold mine of information. No wonder physicians have been reluctant to share the information$$$. We realized that there was a great deal that we could do for ourselves in personal health care, long before it becomes to see a physician, and all because we learned a very simple self-examination procedure. We were able to purchase plastic speculums (one for each woman). The speculum opens the vaginal cavity to allow examination of the vaginal walls and the cervix.

With the use of a lamp and mirror, it became quite simple to examine ourselves for irritations, infections, discharges, changes on the cervix. Since the cervix has essentially no pain nerve endings, we realized that it was quite easy to have an infection developing without giving any signs. Not until a heavy discharge has reached the vulva (outer lips) or burning and itching is taking place, do we realize what's going on. But by then it is too late to do anything but go through the ritual of visiting a physician at this convenience$$$. We also recognized that there are differences in the cervix, depending on the size of the woman, numbers of children, etc. We were able to easily recognize problems early so as to seek medical help quickly, before the problem becomes a major disease. Results of our self-help clinic were so obvious that some of us are now taking methods and going into neighboring communities to form new self-help clinics. Everywhere we go we are finding the same responses: "Wow! No wonder the physicians haven't wanted us to know our bodies." $$$ "Now I understand how the diaphragm works!" "It's like looking into your own mouth!"

We feel another important aspect of this clinic is to talk about the political implications of women being able to control their own bodies; Giving abortion referrals, becoming fully aware of the great need for abolishing all laws that restrict and control women. We believe that getting to know yourself can save your life. Women are killing themselves with panic abortive methods, because our laws refuse them proper care. In spite of our restrictive laws, getting to know our own bodies and what we can do for them has opened up far better choices of personal care. We are continuing to live under outrageous laws and barbaric medical practices. We believe that in learning to accept the care and knowledge of our own physical selves, we will be well on the road to self determination.

Some of the finding that came of our original self-help clinic and on which we were then able to take positive action were: 1) A woman who is exposed to the risk of pregnancy, by examining herself once a week, and becoming thoroughly familiar with her own cervix, can within one week after missing her period, recognize that she is pregnant. She need not depend on chemical tests. 2) Gonorrhea is still difficult but when uterine discharges occur, we catch them early and can take positive early action. 3) Yeast infections can be recognized easily, and treated inexpensively and in many cases with positive results within 24 hours without prescription. You need not be a highly skilled clinician to learn to recognize by name the most common vaginal infections. By being able to recognize early infections we have taken control of our right to choices of treatment. Including the choice of ultimate self determination which is also called "doing the job myself."

In starting a self-help clinic we can make some suggestions. We have no leader, no formal structure. We use some of the consciousness-raising techniques during our discussions. Although physical experience is essential, rapping about sex, reproduction and physiology especially when you don't know what you are talking about can lead to some fancy bullshitting. That has to be dealt with right on with good factual material. In addition to standard texts, we strongly recommend the Birth Control Handbook put out by Montreal Women's Liberation. (P.O. Box 1000, Station G, Montreal 130, P.Q., Canada.) There are films available through most public and school libraries. They are informative and can be valuable for comparative purposes. After viewing a film on the present, medically approved hospital abortion method (commonly called D and C), we checked into and found a better, more humane, and safer method being developed and used. This method is not to be confused with the aspiration method used today in many hospitals and used in conjuction with D and C's. We have found a more highly refined aspiration technique that is both simple and safe.

Our rap sessions have no rules governing participation. We believe that the modesty hangups for each of us fall in their own time. And they do fall as our consciousness is being raised. Age makes little difference once we get our goals in mind. Our group has an R.N. -- which was totally unplanned. She has been able to steer us into competent references. We also have a sympathetic physician with whom we confer. But no one lectures.

About 10 people seem to be the ideal number to participate. When our group has grown to as many as 15 we spinoff into the neighboring communities.

We feel that by far the most important aspect of our self-help clinic is in its political implications that women already have the right to control their own bodies. There is nothing to fear but ignorance. Get rid of that ignorance and you are doing it!

-The West Coast Sisters

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