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How I discovered my local Women’s Health Centre

Posted on: November 8, 2012

NOTE: Some people may classify this post as ‘over sharing’. The content touches a little on contraception and an appointment I recently had with a nurse to remove a contraceptive device. No gory details included. You may be wondering why I would choose to write about such personal things, even though they are a bit embarrassing, and yeah, pretty dull? My answer is because I think this stuff is important. It’s real, and it’s messy and it’s… whatever the opposite of glamorous is. And that is what I am most interested in writing and reading about. If you don’t agree, that’s cool – skip this post.

As I have mentioned before, here, I am experiencing some unpleasant symptoms that I hope are due to the Mirena contraceptive device I’ve been using for the last two years. These symptoms include fluctuating moods, bouts of depression (or what feels like depression but probably isn’t really clinical depression), acne, and (slight) weight gain. I felt the same way using the oral contraceptive pill many years ago, and I have now reached the point where I just want to be rid of the thing. I’m saying ‘NO’ to extra hormones!

Despite coming to this conclusion a few months ago, it has been extremely tricky and vexing to pull it off. Not many GPs are trained in inserting and removing the device. My normal GP doesn’t do it, so I made an appointment with the same doctor who put it in for me two years ago. This appointment had to be booked weeks in advance because the doctor only works certain days and is busy. To further complicate matters, I had to arrange for my Mum to come and babysit for me, (because these are not the sorts of appointments to take kids to: I’m sure you can imagine the kinds of questions that would be asked afterwards!) My Mum lives two and a half hours away and does shift work, so this was no mean feat to coordinate. Much to my annoyance, the appointment was then cancelled by the doctor with only a days’ notice, because her mother was ill and she was only seeing her regular patients so she could leave early that day. I mean, fair enough… but did it have to be my appointment that got ditched, after I’d worked so hard to get it?

I tried another GP a few weeks later, during the school holidays when the kids were in care but I wasn’t teaching. These days are rare, people! During this appointment I discovered that this GP also didn’t deal in Mirenas, even though the receptionist had assured me she did when I made the appointment. Gah!

It was then that my Mum suggested trying the local Women’s Health Centre. The idea had never crossed my mind. I’m not sure I even realised that such a place existed. But, I looked up the number and gave them a call. I was happy to learn that the centre is Medicare funded, so basic services such as GP and nurse practitioner appointments are bulk billed, and other services come with only a relatively small fee. The receptionist helped me to make an appointment with the nurse practitioner, who was qualified to remove the Mirena for me and advise me on alternative contraception methods. However, as she is only there two days a week, I had to wait two weeks to get in. I also had to ask Mum to come and hold the fort at home for me, again, as I had no other childcare available to me on the day of the appointment.

The day of the appointment came and I was feeling very nervous. I’m not really a prude, but the idea of stripping off in front of others, even for medical reasons, does tend to freak me out. At the same time, I was looking forward to finally feeling a bit better once the device was removed. Fingers crossed, anyway.

I have to say, when I entered the clinic I immediately felt more comfortable and calm. It had a homely feel to it, with soft couches, lots of cushions, bookcases full of books and information brochures, and lots of other nice touches like artworks on the walls. It felt safe and welcoming. Some people may not notice these things, or not feel they are important, but I always do. If I am about to go into a room with a stranger, tell her all about my sex life and ask her to get up close and personal with my privates, then I need a few creature comforts to help me relax!

The appointment went well. I won’t bore you with the details, and I’ll spare myself some dignity. But I found the nurse very approachable, considerate, empathetic and professional. During the appointment I was handed a brochure to tell me about the centre’s other services. The first paragraph of the brochure states that the centre is a feminist service, which is fairly obvious, being a women’s centre, but I think it’s really important that they actually identify themselves as such. The brochure then goes on to explain the other services they offer women, which include naturopathy, massage, legal services, counselling, special services for migrant women, counselling and support for women who have experienced child sexual assault, and child care!!! ($2 per child per session, and by appointment only). And that was the moment I fell in love with Penrith Women’s Health Centre.

Because it is totally great to have all of these services available to women, but, for many, the child care is the absolute clincher. That is the thing I have struggled with the most over the last few months, the feeling of really, really needing to do something important for my health and wellbeing, but of having to constantly put everyone else’s needs first because it is too expensive to book extra childcare days, and because asking family members to cover for me is not always practical. And this is me, who is lucky enough to have a good support network and a husband who also takes his share of time out from work to look after the kids, and me, when necessary. If I found it so difficult, I can only imagine how hard it must be for women who do not have the same privileges I do.

So, a few days after the Mirena’s removal, I can’t say whether there is any improvement yet. Actually, I’ve been feeling pretty grumpy the last few days, but I hope this is part of ‘coming down’ off the hormones, if such a thing exists. But I am relieved that it’s all over for now. I’m also happy to have discovered such a great service that is so close to home, that ‘gets’ women and what they need. I will definitely think of them first, rather than as a last resort, in future.

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