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“I done been through a whole lot
Trial, tribulation but I know God”
-Kendrick Lamar
I’ve been repeating these lyrics over and over again this week. They remind me that I am strong. That we all are strong. We, as women and as a nation, have confronted quite a few hard issues, and we have seen just how far the #MeToo movement has come. And how far it still has to go.
Many aspects of the Supreme Court confirmation hearing on September 27th were remarkable.

I will comment on only one. A quote that Judge Kavanaugh recounted during his testimony – one that his daughter uttered one evening in reference to Dr. Ford: “We should pray for the woman.”
The intention behind Kavanaugh’s invocation of that simple phrase may very well be complex and fraught. But there was something bigger I felt as those words settled into my chest. Say it again: “We should pray for the woman.” But this time, say it for all of us, because we’re all that woman. Those of us who live in contraception deserts or have limited access to health services, those of us with stories no one wants to hear – traumas we bury deep until the call to action is too loud to avoid. Don’t leave us out of your prayers. We are all She.

But, remarkably, in a quiet conference room in Bethesda, MD, in the week leading up to the Supreme Court hearing, something else happened in our nation’s capital. Scientists, physicians, surgeons, public health professionals, NGOs, and small businesses met for two days to discuss a single topic: Menstruation, Science and Society. The NICHD (the department of our National Institutes of Health that focuses on women’s health) dedicated time and resources to bring attention to a field of research that has historically been overlooked and underfunded. We were honored to speak amongst so many people who commit their lives to advancing the health of women the world over.
The topics ranged from evolutionary theories for why women have periods to the anemic crisis of women with undiagnosed uterine fibroids and the origin of diseases like endometriosis. No one flinched at the mention of heavy flow or painful sex. One female clinician showed an iconic image from the movie The Shining to describe how women can feel during their periods.
In a revealing moment, another female researcher asked the crowd how many menstruators in the room had made an outfit decision based on their menstrual cycle. Every woman in the room raised her hand, and there was an audible gasp from the men in the room. I could not help but furiously scribble a note to Stephen, “Sweet baby Jesus. Superficial but illuminating. Exactly why we need more women designing for women ASAP. If they don’t know us, they can’t create experiences designed around our lives.”
Perhaps the most powerful synthesis of the meeting is this: menstruation should be a vital sign. What does that mean? Clinicians, nurses, and physician’s assistants can learn a great deal by checking your pulse, blood pressure and temperature. Those are classic vital signs and are used to tell physicians when something might be wrong with your body. If you’re not well, it will likely show up in one of those indicators.
But the menstrual cycle is a critical vital sign for those who bleed every month, and it is largely overlooked and undervalued as a symptom of your health. What is bleeding “excessively”? How much pain is worrisome? How many days should you bleed a month? Should you bleed during sex? What is a normal menstrual cycle given your age, ethnic background, geography, diet and lifestyle? How can we know we are “normal” when there is no definition of what that means? This is not an epistemological inquiry, but a scientific one. Who has taken the time to create a sketch of normal so you and I can refer to it to better understand our health?
This is the biggest worry for many of us who want to advance research in the menstrualome. It is difficult to understand pathological states (being sick) if we do not have a well-articulated normal reference standard (being well). It is extremely expensive, laborious and time consuming to establish something like this. But once established, this data is rich, rewarding and worth its weight in gold.
Jane Fam, here is our call to action this month. We want NICHD to know how grateful we are to them for organizing this meeting. But we also think you should let them know how much women want them to help sponsor the Normal Baseline of the Menstrualome. Channel your rage and activated energy to push women’s health research forward. At times it can feel like our collective voice is not heard in Congress or on the highest Bench in the land, but by God, we’ll keep trying in the venerable halls of our government-funded research institutions. We have crafted a tweet below which you can post:
Hey @NICHD Thank YOU 🙏 for hosting the Menstruation Meeting and bringing attention to this research area. We LOVE you for it. Now let’s PUT up the $$$ needed for a “NORMAL” Baseline #Menstrualome #DefineTheNorm #MensesScience @NextGenJane
I will pray for “the woman”, all women, myself included, but I will also keep fighting, voting, tweeting, working, and researching.
In Solidarity,

Copyright © 2020 NextGen Jane, All rights reserved.

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