Over thirty-five years of listening and helping, but still not an expert

There’s one thing I have to confess at the start: I am not an expert on women. I do not inhabit a female body, nor, apart from what is in the sample cupboard, do I have special access to estrogen and its secrets. Although I’ve delivered thousands of babies, I cannot honestly say that I know what it would be like to lie there in pain and fear, trapped by process, and yet be coddled with advice from well-meaning onlookers.

I cannot possibly know what menstrual pain or the inevitability of heavy bleeding month after month would be like. Or the tragedy of miscarriage, the worry of an abnormal ultrasound early in pregnancy, the failure to conceive after waiting, perhaps too long, for the right partner… Menopause, breast cancer -I do not know if I could cope with these.

I wish I had the ability to paint pictures with words like Lauren Eiseley, or the gift of a Carl Sagan to make even the everyday events seem extraordinary; I have only the years spent listening, sometimes advising, to recommend my thoughts.

I originally thought the blog might be devoted to teaching what only the years could divulge but the more I reflect on my time in medicine, the more I realize the wisdom of what Lewis Thomas (Lives of a Cell, etc.) once said: he’d rather go to a well-rounded person who’d read Shakespeare and Spinoza and who happened to be a doctor. Maybe they’d have something in common with him. Maybe they’d be better doctors. Maybe they’d know what it was to live in a real world where medicine wasn’t the topic at dinner.

We tend to medicalize a lot of things -pregnancy and menopause to name just two- that we might well look at under a different lens. I’ve always thought of myself as a guide through an unfamiliar woods, helping people choose a better, safer path to the other side. None of us possess omniscience -no one that I know at any rate. There is no correct way; we all come to the forest from different directions, different cultures, different expectations. There are different ways through.

In each of the blogs that follow, I will try to pick a theme -or you can suggest one- and discuss it. Don’t look for answers. I am in possession of no arcane knowledge -or none that will win me a Nobel prize, at any rate. I will approach it as one who has walked down different routes and arrived, often breathless and wide-eyed on the other side… Still smiling.

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