Last year, during a round of crucial Brexit votes, I collapsed in the Opposition Whips Office and was taken to A&E over the road. I ended up staying in St Thomas’s for almost a week, hooked up to an IV and pumped full of antibiotics and painkillers, before I was eventually diagnosed: a cyst on one of my ovaries had ruptured and caused an infection. Last week, during a similar round of crucial Brexit votes—it felt very much like groundhog day—I was back in A&E with the same problem, in excruciating pain.
I have not told many people about those instances, but I wanted to speak in this debate because I have realised that, unfortunately, my experience of women’s health is far too common. Last week, I was sent away with painkillers and told, “Cysts rupture in women all the time.” It seems very much that things are allowed to go without treatment and without any knowledge of the cause because they happen only to women.
In her brilliant book “Period”, Emma Barnett makes the point that part of the reason for our failure on women’s health is that we simply do not talk about it. We do not talk about our periods because they are seen as shameful, unhygienic and unclean, and as something that should be kept secret and private—tropes that have been used to subjugate and silence women for centuries. Barnett is absolutely right: societal norms that do not allow discussion of periods and their wider consequences for women’s health mean that women do not seek treatment for their pain—as, for too long, I did not—or that, when they do, they are shrugged off, as I was last week.
On leaving hospital last week, I cried all the way home, in part because of the pain but mostly because I was furious that I had been so instantly dismissed and told I simply would have to live with a syndrome that would cause so much pain and risk on a monthly basis. I knew that countless other women would have been dismissed just as I was and gone home feeling exactly the same, because it is really hard for someone to advocate for themselves when they are in pain and feeling ill. I realised that we have to start normalising discussion about something as totally normal as periods. The current lack of education, awareness and medical research dismisses women and our health problems. It tells us that our pain is less important, and that our fertility is irrelevant.
I really welcome this debate and thank everybody for being here. I commend Alec Shelbrooke for securing it. I am so grateful to women such as Emma Barnett for using their platform to highlight the consequences for women of our failure to address their health, and for risking all the opprobrium they receive for speaking out. I hope that together we can seriously move this agenda forward, and demonstrate to millions of women that their voices are heard and that we will no longer allow them to suffer in silence.