3-15-20 MRKH syndrome: 'The day I discovered I was born without a vagina'
A routine question from her doctor about menstruation set Kenyan Julian Peter, now 29, down a path that led her to discover she was born without a womb, cervix or a vagina. Twelve years on she shared her story with the BBC's Anne Ngugi. I was born with a condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser syndrome (MRKH), where you have no womb or vagina, and you can also find yourself with just one kidney. A woman who has MRKH can never get periods. I don't have a uterus, so I've never had periods. This is the normal that I know, I don't feel bad about it. People have different feelings about who I am. Someone told me that I should go somewhere to be prayed for. (Webmaster's comment: And that will do absolutely nothing!) Another person said that because I come from Ukambani [a region that is stereotypically linked to witchcraft] then my grandmother had something to do with this. (Webmaster's comment: More nonsense!) They can say whatever they want to but what really matters is how I take it. If I were to listen to them it would start affecting me, and I would start thinking that what they were saying was true. I discovered I had the syndrome when I was a 17-year-old school student. I went to hospital as I had problem with my legs, which were swollen. The first thing the doctor asked me was when I last had my period. I had never had one. They did a scan. The first image indicated that my reproductive tract was closed from the outside. I went through an operation to open it, which was not successful. I had another scan that showed I had no uterus or vagina, and that was when I was diagnosed with MRKH. I cried on the first day and the second day and the third, but then I moved on. I was only 17 and quite small, so my priority was to get back to school. I was in hospital with my mother, my only parent, and the diagnosis shocked her. I think as a parent there were questions she was bound to ask herself, Essentially she was wondering if she had done something wrong. As I had studied biology, I understood what the doctor was saying that first time. I told her that I didn't want to go through with an operation at that point as I wanted to go back to school to complete my education. Ten years later, I went back to hospital and had a successful operation. The type of MRKH that I had meant that I had no vagina, no womb and I only have one kidney. My vaginal canal was not there and it had to be created. My life is normal as MRKH does not interfere with how I want to live. But for some it is emotionally disturbing and people might need to go to a psychologist to accept the condition. When you realise the implications of the condition that you have, you have to forget about giving birth to children.
3-4-20 Venezuela's Maduro urges women to have six children
Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has urged women to have six children "for the good of the country". Appearing at a televised event promoting a national women's healthcare plan, Mr Maduro instructed women to "give birth, give birth". The country is facing an economic crisis which has resulted in severe food and medicine shortages. Between 2013 and 2018, 13% of Venezuelan children were malnourished, says UN children's agency Unicef. A bitter power struggle between the government and the opposition has exacerbated the country's trials. Opposition leader Juan Guaidó is considered the legitimate leader of Venezuela by more than 50 countries. But President Maduro, the country's left-wing leader who enjoys the support of the Venezuelan military, has remained in power. "May God bless you for having given life to six little girls and boys", Mr Maduro told a woman who attended the healthcare event. "Every woman should have six children for the good of the country", he said, adding that it was "women's week", a reference to International Women's Day on 8 March. Supporters of Mr Guaidó responded angrily on Twitter. Manuela Bolivar, a member of the opposition-controlled National Assembly said in a tweet: "Hospitals are not functioning, vaccines are scarce, women cannot breastfeed because they are malnourished or buy baby formula because it is unaffordable, and the country faces forced migration due to the humanitarian emergency. "Maduro and all of his regime who say this have psychological dissociation." One in three Venezuelans is struggling to put enough food on the table to meet minimum nutrition requirements, according to a study by the UN World Food Programme. Amid the economic crisis, one charity said in 2018 that it had seen the number of babies abandoned in the streets or left at the entrances of public buildings increase by 70%. The Venezuelan government has not released any official figures in recent years.
2-28-20 Falsified sexual orientation
An Iowa lawmaker wants to require people to declare their sexual orientation when applying for a marriage license. Republican State Sen. Dennis Guth says his bill was inspired by the collapse of a friend’s marriage after her husband revealed he was gay, and that it would help a spouse sue for damages if someone “falsified his sexual orientation.”
2-28-20 Promiscuity and cancer
People who have had more sexual partners appear to have a higher risk of developing cancer—especially women. Some sexually transmitted infections are linked to cancer, so researchers had expected to find an association between the disease and an individual’s number of partners. But they were surprised by the starkness of the gender divide, reports USNews.com. The study involved 5,722 men and women, with an average age of 64. The women who had had 10 or more lovers were 91 percent more likely to have had cancer than those who said they had either one or zero. Among men, the risk among those with the most partners was 64 percent higher than those with the least. Women with higher numbers of past partners did tend to drink alcohol and smoke cigarettes more frequently—habits that elevate cancer risk. Still, study coauthor Lee Smith says the gender divide is “interesting” and suggests it may be because “the link between certain STIs and cancer is stronger in women, such as HPV and cervical cancer, compared to HPV and penile cancer.”
2-27-20 Forced sterilisation in South Africa: They removed my uterus
A woman in South Africa has told the BBC how she was sterilised without her consent after she gave birth at the age of 17, and only learned about it 11 years later when she tried to have another child. Bongekile Msibi was among 48 women sterilised without consent at state hospitals, the Commission for Gender Equality found. Despite being a statutory body, the commission said its inquiry was hampered by the "disappearance" of patients' files, and its investigators had received a "hostile reception" from hospital staff. The commission said its investigators visited 15 hospitals after civil rights groups brought the cases, some dating back to 2001, to its attention. South Africa's health department has not yet given a detailed response to the report, but said its minister, Zweli Mkhize, had requested a meeting with the commission to discuss it. Ms Msibi recalled her ordeal to the BBC's Clare Spencer: I woke up after giving birth, looked down and asked: "Why do I have a huge bandage on my stomach?" I did not mind. I had just given birth to my baby daughter. She was a big baby and I had been anaesthetised and gone through a Caesarean section. I left hospital five days after giving birth, with a healthy baby daughter and a huge scar across my stomach. I did not find out what had really happened for another 11 years. Things unravelled when I was trying to conceive again. I had been taking the contraceptive pill for that whole time since I had given birth and so it was not strange that I had not had my period. But I got engaged and wanted to have another baby so went to the doctor. He examined me, sat me down, gave me a glass of water and told me I had no uterus. I was devastated and confused. It did not make sense because I was already a mother. I worked out my uterus must have been removed and the only time it could have happened was after I had given birth.
2-16-20 'Period-shaming' Indian college forces students to strip to underwear
India's uncomfortable relationship with periods is back in the headlines. College students living in a hostel in the western Indian state of Gujarat have complained that they were made to strip and show their underwear to female teachers to prove that they were not menstruating. The 68 young women were pulled out of classrooms and taken to the toilet, where they were asked to individually remove their knickers for inspection. The incident took place in the city of Bhuj on Tuesday. The young women are undergraduate students at Shree Sahajanand Girls Institute (SSGI), which is run by Swaminarayan sect, a wealthy and conservative Hindu religious group. They said a hostel official had complained to the college principal on Monday that some of the students were breaking rules menstruating women are supposed to follow. According to these rules, women are barred from entering the temple and the kitchen and are not allowed to touch other students during their periods. At meal times, they have to sit away from others, they have to clean their own dishes, and in the classroom, they are expected to sit on the last bench. One of the students told BBC Gujarati's Prashant Gupta that the hostel maintains a register where they are expected to enter their names when they get their periods, which helps the authorities to identify them. But for the past two months, not one student had entered her name in the register - perhaps not surprising considering the restrictions they have to put up with if they do. So on Monday, the hostel official complained to the principal that menstruating students were entering the kitchen, going near the temple, and mingling with other hostellers. The students allege that, the next day, they were abused by the hostel official and the principal before they were forced to strip. They described what happened to them as a "very painful experience" that had left them "traumatised" and amounted to "mental torture".
1-29-20 Sex Education: 'I wish I knew sex could be fun growing up'
You might remember a condom on a banana, or just a general sense that if you have sex, you'll either get A) pregnant or B) a disease. We're talking about sex education at school. The messy corners of growing-up were tiptoed around by teachers who couldn't even bring themselves to say "penis". So when the TV show Sex Education - which centres around two students who set up a sex clinic in their school - first debuted on Netflix last year, it was a breath of fresh air. The first series boldly tackled topics including slut-shaming, abortion, virginity and masturbation - which Aimee Lou Wood, who plays Aimee Gibbs, told Radio 1 Newsbeat she "thought was only a boy thing". Growing up, Aimee thought she was a "weirdo" for wanting to masturbate. And when filming the series the 24-year-old found that other people felt the same. "When I filmed a masturbation scene, extras were asking me, 'What do you mean you had a scene like that? That's only for boys'." Chatting to some of the show's cast at the season two premiere it became obvious that lots of them feel they didn't learn enough about the realities of sex growing up. "Food, jobs, sex... it's a very key part of life and we don't know enough about it," Aimee said. "I wish I knew it was normal to want sex for pleasure, and not just to make babies." The character Aimee plays has one of the most talked about storylines of the series. She is sexually assaulted and the series sees her coming to terms with what happened. The storyline received huge reaction online. Aimee says her storyline had a "huge impact" on her. "I had to go back to when I was that age and how trusting I was. A lot of girls will relate to it." Emma Mackey, who plays the show's female lead Maeve, agrees that the programme is important in challenging taboos. "The show makes you feel less lonely; I wish it existed when I was at school to make me feel more normal," she told us. When asked what they'd learnt during filming, the word "vaginismus" was quick to leave almost all cast members' mouths. The NHS says: "Vaginismus is when the vagina suddenly tightens up just as you try to insert something into it." Tanya Reynolds, whose character Lily has vaginismus, said: "I didn't even know it had a name. So many women will watch this and realised there's not something wrong with them."
1-29-20 AI is being used to select embryos for women undergoing IVF
Artificial intelligence is being used in IVF to select embryos with the highest chance of resulting in a successful pregnancy. The AI algorithm, called Ivy, analyses time-lapse videos of embryos as they are incubated after being fertilised, and identifies which ones have the highest likelihood of successful development. It was developed by Harrison.ai, a tech firm in Sydney, and has been used for several thousand women undergoing IVF in Australia. Women who undergo IVF using Ivy are informed about the algorithm and consent to its use. Ivy was trained on more than 10,000 videos of embryos growing inside an incubator for five days, in combination with data about which embryos resulted in pregnancy. The model is more accurate than trained specialists at predicting the likelihood that an embryo will go on to develop a fetal heartbeat at or beyond seven weeks’ gestation. In a study of its predictive ability, Ivy scored 0.93 on a measure known as AUC, where a score of 1 indicates a model with predictions that are 100 per cent correct. In comparison, trained human embryologists have previously scored an AUC of around 0.74. “The results look very promising,” says Iman Hajirasouliha at Cornell University in New York. He and colleagues have developed a similar AI, Stork, based on videos of 12,000 embryos on day five post-fertilisation. What these AIs are identifying in the videos as a marker of success isn’t entirely clear. “Ultimately it’s still a bit of a black box,” says Aengus Tran, CEO of Harrison.ai. “We could speculate that it must have learned very similar features to what embryologists are looking at,” says Tran. These might include the shape of cells, how symmetrically they divide, and how long it takes to go from two to eight cells.
1-24-20 Taking Viagra in early labour reduces the need for emergency caesarean
Taking Viagra during the very first stages of labour halves the need for an emergency caesarean, a clinical trial has found. During labour, contractions reduce blood flow to the placenta, meaning some babies don’t get enough oxygen. About one in four emergency caesarean operations are performed for this reason. “Most babies are able to tolerate this reduction in blood flow, but they may not be able to if, for example, the placenta isn’t functioning properly or the contractions are just too frequent,” says Sailesh Kumar at the University of Queensland, Australia. Kumar and his colleagues wondered if the drug sildenafil, sold under the brand name Viagra, could help to increase blood flow to a fetus in the same way that it boosts blood flow to the penis in men with erectile dysfunction. The drug works by widening the blood vessels. The researchers gave sildenafil to 150 pregnant women who were going into labour at Mater Mothers’ Hospital in Brisbane. To provide a comparison, another 150 women who were also in early labour were given placebo pills. In the sildenafil group, 51 per cent fewer emergency caesareans were needed and there were 43 per cent fewer cases of irregular heart rate patterns – a sign that a fetus is in distress. No major side effects were observed. The researchers are now planning a bigger trial involving more than 3000 women at 16 hospitals across Australia. They hope to confirm that sildenafil reduces fetal distress and emergency caesareans, and to demonstrate that this results in better health outcomes for babies. If this is shown to be the case, sildenafil may be routinely prescribed when labour begins, since it is hard to predict who will have problems with fetal distress and need an emergency caesarean, says Kumar.
1-22-20 Blood test can predict when women will have their last period
For some women, reaching the menopause can be one of life’s milestones, but when it will happen is a big unknown. Now a blood test can help predict when a woman’s last menstrual period is likely to be. The test, called MenoCheck, can’t give a firm date, but it can tell women who are over 47 if they are likely to stop having periods within the next year. It would be most useful for those considering being sterilised or having surgery for painful or heavy periods, says Nanette Santoro at the University of Colorado Medical School in Aurora. “They may be wondering how much longer they have to put up with this.” The average age at which menopause occurs is 51, but in most cases, it can happen any time from a person’s forties to early sixties. Periods usually become more infrequent before stopping for good. They stop because the ovaries run out of functioning eggs, which leads to lower levels of anti-Mullerian hormone – a chemical made by eggs – in blood. Previous tests haven’t been able to measure the very low levels of anti-Mullerian hormone present in the year or two before menopause. But MenoCheck, which has been on sale for about a year, is more sensitive. To see how well it does, Santoro’s team used it on blood samples taken at yearly intervals from about 1500 women taking part in a different menopause study. Santoro is a consultant for MenoCheck’s manufacturer Ansh Labs. The team found that those over 47 whose anti-Mullerian hormone level was below a certain cut-off had a 67 per cent chance of having their last period within the next year, and an 82 per cent chance of having it within two. Most women wouldn’t need to take the test to know that they are nearing the menopause, says Esther Eisenberg at the US’s National Institutes of Health.
1-17-20 How to raise money
A Los Angeles model raised more than $500,000 for Australian wildfire victims by offering nude selfies in exchange for proof of a $10 donation. Kaylen Ward, 20, made her self-pledge on Instagram on Jan. 3 under the name “The Naked Philanthropist” and was soon deluged with 50,000 charitable receipts made to accredited charities. But her amazing success also had unintended consequences when her family and boyfriend saw her online pledge. “My family disowned me, and the guy I like won’t talk to me,” she said. “But f--- it, save the koalas.”
1-15-20 Miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy may trigger PTSD and depression
One in six women who experience an early miscarriage or ectopic pregnancy have symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder nine months later. As people can experience the symptoms of PTSD for months, it is important that women are able to access psychological support should they need it, say the researchers behind the work. It is estimated that women have more miscarriages than live births over their lifetime. But the psychological effects are often “brushed under the carpet”, says Jessica Farren, an obstetrician and gynaecologist at St Marys Hospital in London. Women often don’t tell their friends, family and colleagues that they are pregnant until they have had their 12-week scan. If that scan reveals a miscarriage, they may feel unable to tell people, so miss out on support, says Farren. She and her colleagues asked 737 women who experienced a miscarriage during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy or an ectopic pregnancy – in which the embryo attaches outside of the uterus, causing pregnancy loss – to fill out mental health questionnaires designed to diagnose anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The questionnaires were sent to the women one month after their pregnancy losses, and then again three and nine months after the losses. Nine months after experiencing a pregnancy loss, 18 per cent of women met the criteria for a PTSD diagnosis, 17 per cent of women reported anxiety and 6 per cent of women had symptoms of moderate to severe depression. The figures are “terrifyingly high”, says Farren. “We have a problem on our hands that we haven’t up until now properly acknowledged or looked to treat.” That was the experience of Samantha* who had an early miscarriage last year. “Initially it was like a bereavement,” she says. “[My husband and I] both felt very connected to that baby and still do. I felt loss, emptiness, scared that I might not be able to have another child (but in some ways relieved that we’d been able to get pregnant)….We both had and still have moments where it hurts.”
1-14-20 'Miracle baby' born after womb transplant
Jennifer Gobrecht’s uterus transplant allowed her to have a baby, meaning Benjamin became only the second child in the US to be born through the procedure. The medical care to the Philadelphia family was provided by a transplant trial at Penn Medicine.
1-12-20 The U.S. immigration system is full of hurdles for pregnant women and new mothers
ICE data show that detentions of pregnant women increased by more than 50 percent from 2016 to 2018 A 19-year-old Honduran woman was nearly separated from her newborn soon after giving birth while in U.S. Customs and Border Protection custody this month, shortly after crossing the U.S. southern border. The teen had turned herself into CBP agents at the border while in labor, seeking medical services she could not get in Tijuana, Mexico, where she had been previously. "She asked the agent when she was going to be able to see her child, and they told her that she wasn't going to be able to see the baby and that she would be taken back to Border Patrol custody and returned to Mexico," said Erika Pinheiro, litigation and policy director of Al Otro Lado, a social justice legal organization representing the mother. Pinheiro told The World there have been numerous documented cases in which CPB or Immigration and Customs Enforcement have separated newborns from their mothers after births in U.S. custody. "There's actually probably dozens of cases like this every month along the U.S. border," she said. "And we're not entirely sure of the exact scope of the problem because most of it's done in secret." Following widespread media attention and public outrage, CBP officials announced that the young mother would be allowed to stay in the U.S. with her child as her asylum claim is adjudicated. Her case is just one example of the hurdles faced by pregnant migrant women and new mothers navigating the Trump administration's tightening immigration policies. ICE did not return The World's request for information regarding separations of newly born babies from their mothers. The Honduran teen could have been sent back to Mexico under the Migrant Protection Protocols — a Trump administration policy under which asylum-seekers crossing at the U.S. southern border are returned to Mexico to await their U.S. immigration proceedings. And while MPP does have exceptions for vulnerable migrants — such as those with health issues — the decision to send someone to Mexico often comes down to the discretion of individual border officers. "Inconsistent review of those exceptions to the 'Remain in Mexico' policy are leading to human rights violations," said immigration attorney Ruby Powers. "The whole concept is a violation of human rights law and policy because of the lack of access to medical and legal care, as well as being left in squalor and makeshift tents along the border — children, pregnant women, people with medical conditions are at the whim of whoever comes along."
1-10-20 Cost of birth
Women who have health insurance pay an average out-of-pocket cost of $4,500 for the delivery of a baby, according to a study of 657,000 women by University of Michigan researchers. Those costs are largely the result of higher deductibles, as employers shift the soaring expense of health care onto employees.
1-10-20 Hungary to provide free fertility treatment to boost population
Hungary will provide free in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment to couples at state-run clinics, Prime Minister Viktor Orban has announced. He said fertility was of "strategic importance". Last month his government took over Hungary's fertility clinics. Mr Orban, a right-wing nationalist, has long advocated a "procreation over immigration" approach to deal with demographic decline. The country's population has been falling steadily for four decades. Mr Orban described details of his fertility policy on Thursday, after bringing six fertility clinics under state control in December. Free IVF treatment will be offered from 1 February, but it is not clear who exactly will be entitled to it. Mr Orban also said the government was considering an income tax exemption for women who have three children or more. Starting this month, those with at least four children have been exempt. "If we want Hungarian children instead of immigrants, and if the Hungarian economy can generate the necessary funding, then the only solution is to spend as much of the funds as possible on supporting families and raising children," the prime minister said. Mr Orban - who has been prime minister since 2010 - has based his campaigns on opposition to immigration. In September last year, he told an international summit on demography that while other European leaders believed immigration was the solution to falling population numbers, he rejected this. The prime minister then echoed the far-right "great replacement" theory, which claims that white European populations are being gradually replaced by people of non-European descent. "If Europe is not going to be populated by Europeans in the future, and we take this as given, then we are speaking about an exchange of populations, to replace the population of Europeans with others," Mr Orban told the conference at the time. "There are political forces in Europe who want a replacement of population for ideological or other reasons." (Webmaster's comment: Why would any woman want to have children in a right-wing nationalist country? Those countries are lethal to their civil rights!)
1-8-20 UK’s Vagina Museum busts myths with surgery tales and glitter tampons
The crowd-funded activists behind London's Vagina Museum have ambitious plans to get us much better informed about the reality of vaginas, vulvas and virginity. A GIANT, red, glittery tampon is the first thing you see as you walk into the Vagina Museum, a small gallery that recently opened in London and claims to be the first of its kind. The point of this exhibition, Muff Busters: Vagina myths and how to fight them, is to educate visitors about human anatomy, as well as tackling taboos and giving people confidence to talk to doctors about their bodies. When I first heard about the project, it sounded pretty old hat. Do we really still need this kind of consciousness-raising in the UK in 2020, where, until last year, the prime minister was a woman? But when I visited the museum, it made me think again. A display of images celebrating the normal diversity of gynaecological anatomy may seem like a cliché, until you recall that, in recent years, there has been a fivefold rise in the number of labial reduction surgeries by the National Health Service in the UK. According to a recent report by gynaecologists, this is partially due to unrealistic representations in pornography. The problem seems to be that people don’t know what typical genitals look like. Other exhibits aim to bust myths. Contrary to popular belief, the hymen isn’t a reliable indicator that a person has had sex. As a small area of mucosal skin around the edges of the vagina, the hymen may bleed a little when someone first has penetrative sex, but it usually doesn’t. It is so naturally variable that one individual may have regular sex and still retain some visible hymen tissue, while another may never have had sex and yet have no hymen at all. Nevertheless, this scrap of flesh has long been used to control the lives of girls and women the world over – and still is in some families. In November, US rapper TI said he took his daughter on yearly trips to a doctor to have her virginity “checked”, something that is medically impossible and that critics called abusive.
1-4-20 Is artificial-womb technology a tool for women's liberation?
Artificial wombs promise to relieve women of the physical oppression, but don't necessarily address the problem on the conceptual level. While some women experience pregnancy and childbirth as joyful, natural, and fulfilling, others find themselves recoiling in horror at the physical demands of carrying and sustaining a child in their womb, and even more so at the potential brutality of giving birth. Some might view the blood, sweat, and tears as a necessary and unavoidable part of life. Others, such as the radical feminist Shulamith Firestone, writing in her book The Dialectic of Sex (1970), assume a less forgiving view of the process as "barbaric" or akin to "sh*tting a pumpkin." Most, like myself, oscillate between the two positions, or else sit somewhere in between. Whatever one's position on the matter of the "naturalness" of pregnancy, it can't be denied that the development of artificial-womb technology (known as ectogenesis) would radically change the debate. First, there are the therapeutic benefits it promises: women prone to risky pregnancies could transfer the fetus to an artificial womb, thereby allowing fetal development to continue at little cost to their own physical health; likewise, fetuses at risk of premature birth could be transferred to artificial wombs to complete their development as required. The blood, sweat, and tears, it seems, might not be so intrinsic to the process after all. Second, the technology could have important social benefits for women. For Firestone, artificial wombs would eliminate a crucial condition that currently ensures women's oppression by neutralizing the heavily gendered process of reproduction. Though there exist indisputable biological differences between the sexes, she argued that this difference becomes oppressive in the unfair division of reproductive labor and its naturalization through the ideal of the nuclear family. But if fetuses were to develop in artificial wombs, women would finally be free to pursue their interests and desires outside of their reproductive duties.
1-1-20 Taking on Germany’s tampon tax: 'Periods are not a luxury'
In 2018, activists Nanna-Josephine Roloff and Yasemin Kotra decided to challenge Germany's luxury tax on all sanitary products. Their online petition gained more than 180,000 signatures in less than two years and led to a change in the law.