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The history of women and healthcare (and why it matters for birthing women today)

It is important to acknowledge the history of medicine and healthcare to understand how the system we now rely on has conditioned bias towards those who identify as cis-gendered men, and how that impacts women today, specifically in the realm of pregnancy and birth.

So many are faced with inequalities each day, whether it's sex and gender, race, sexuality, class, or education... there are always disparities in the life experience of humans. How women are treated during pregnancy, birth and postpartum is being spoken about more and more. However, I thought the origins of women in healthcare might shine a light on how deep-rooted beliefs about women still play a huge role in their experience of healthcare (and therefore living) today.

It's no wonder that it's so hard for so many women to advocate for themselves when they are on the journey through pregnancy, birth and postpartum

It's no wonder menstrual shame is such a strong cultural practice

It's no wonder why conditions like endometriosis are not given more funding and attention, yet the male viagra pill is

We, as women, have been undermined from way before our current medical model was in effect.

Some history

'The wandering womb' - first century Greece, Aretaeus of Cappadocia concluded that it was women's wandering wombs that caused the multitudes of pathologies they experience

Soranus of Ephesus added to this opinion saying that whilst the womb wanders, it could internally suffocate a woman, causing madness or as it became known, 'hysteria'.

This led to societies believing that a woman who suffered mental distress was hysterical, and this distress was directly related to the actions of her wandering womb.

Between then to now, the concept of hysteria has remained potent not only in cultural attitudes but medical treatment.

Witch hunts -

women who were found to practice witchcraft were discredited as mad, and

women suffering from mental illness were accused of being witches. These unjust hunts and punishment continued into the 18th and 19th centuries.

These are the building blocks on which medicine has been practised through the ages, and still to this day. Now, women have a higher likelihood of being dismissed as hypochondriacs when seeking medical help or support. They are not only regularly dismissed, but also discouraged or drugged.

A quick note on the basis of which drug doses are decided:

Historically studies were exclusively on the male body and experience until recent decades, with women still only having less than 30% of representation in trials. Women were considered to always potentially be pregnant, therefore leaving them out of research avoided potential harm to unborn babies. The female body and physiology were also seen to be ‘too complex’(Merone et al). It was suggested that the female body was just a ‘small male’ and what was researched on young, white males could be transferred to different ages, races, and genders.

Our current dominant healthcare model is biomedicine. It is:

  • Male-dominated (founded when women were not allowed to study or pursue careers such as medical health professionals)

  • Practised based on guidelines and studies where almost all subjects are young and white male bodies

  • Where the majority of public healthcare funding and subsidies are provided, leaving women severely unsupported in terms of accessibility, affordability and representation

Medicine holds strong social power.

Having a dominant medical model that has a huge disparity in gender equality leaves women disadvantaged. Not only for medical support, treatment and medication but also in the deep-rooted cultural beliefs about women and their health.

This crosses over into birth, a domain that is solely women.

As more and more women become professionals in the biomedical sphere, allied health becomes more prominent and women become more comfortable speaking of their lived experiences... we can build on the changes that have already started in the past 30 years.

To men

In this culture and society, in the male-dominated professions that dictate everyone's access to necessities like healthcare, you play a powerful role in making change and bringing forward equality. For your wife, your daughters, your sisters, your mother, your female friends and colleagues.


This is of course the briefest of overviews. I would recommend reading into the history of healthcare as you will learn more about the inequality to access, representation and treatment for women.

This background information is helpful in understanding the cultural attitudes so many women face when they are experiencing pregnancy, birth and postpartum. It can create an unsafe space to ask questions, advocate for oneself and take ownership of one's journey. Once we understand this foundation, we can go into the experience (or support those who are) with a conscious intention to be the driver of the experience.


With a special interest in natural fertility, conscious conception and conscious relating through starting a family, I offer Birth Doula and related services to encourage more depth and awareness in your journey. I educate on the menstrual cycle and encourage women to reawaken their confidence and trust in their bodies, and show an understanding of how all of these experiences are interrelated and must be considered on your journey to starting a family. My psychology studies are incorporated into my work as a doula, bringing forward awareness and understanding of many facets of life.

To get in touch, email me at: or visit my social pages:


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