T.L.C. for the Tender Gender

I attended a fascinating presentation last week on the history of
the women’s water cure movement in the United States. The presenter, Susan
Cayleff, Ph.D., a highly articulate medical historian specializing in women,
really opened my eyes to what it was like to seek health care as a woman in the
1800’s. Women were stuffed into corsets with twelve-inch waists, causing them
to faint frequently, and necessitating the use of smelling salts. In fact, many
women had their bottom two ribs surgically removed so they could better fit
into their tiny dresses. The average dress, Susan told us, weighed 45 pounds
below the waist. She referred to these garments as “unnatural incendiary
devices”, which often proved fatal to those women who stood too close to a fire
or stove. It was such an accident that led to death of Edgar Allen Poe’s wife.
Liberal women of the day found their niche in the water cure movement, the
counterpart at that time of naturopathic medicine. Susan describes in detail
the nature cure centers as “invigorating natural experiences”. Such healing
centers, popular in the mid nineteenth century, were havens where progressive
women of the day, as well as those who were seriously ill, sought out female
physicians, physical education, kindred spirits (bonding closely in sisterhood
with like-minded women), dress reform, an atmosphere of culture and refinement,
and, perhaps most importantly, a rest from conception. Popular nature cure
treatments included sitz baths, fomentations (packs), douches, a variety of
therapeutic baths, a primarily vegan diet, and frequent walks in nature. Such
ladies as Harriet Beecher Stowe escaped to the nature cure centers as often as
possible, spending up to nine or eighteen months in these natural paradises
before returning to their status of nearly perpetual pregnancy. (Harriet had
eleven pregnancies). Susan shared with us that in the early 1900’s, Theodore
Roosevelt vehemently advised all Caucasian women to bear at least six
children so that minorities, immigrating in large numbers, would not dominate
this country. His advice was probably designed also to keep women “out of
trouble”.

Prior to the twentieth century, women had very few choices in their
health care. Times have changed and we have come a long way since then! The
women’s self-help health movement in the 1960’s paved the way by teaching women
about the anatomy adn physiology of their reproductive systems and empowered
them to do their own speculum exams. There are now many more women physicians
and alternative practitioners. Women are becoming more aware of what they want
for their health care and seeking out practitioners and treatments they really
believe in and that will support who they are. Patriarchal medicine is no
longer acceptable to a large number of women. Cervical caps are again
available. Self-breast exams are done by most women. We are beginning to take
charge of our own healing processes. Now, amidst the myriad of options, we as
women have many choices to make. I’d like to share with you some
recommendations which will hopefully make those choices a bit easier.

l. A gentle, safe healing atmosphere. By “the tender
gender”, I am referring to the beautiful feminine qualities of sensitivity,
compassion, and sincere caring. When a woman places her trust in a healer, she
deserves be treated with the utmost of sensitivity to her body, her feelings,
her beliefs, and her issues. Healing is truly a sacred relationship between
healer and healee. Each woman needs to find a practitioner, whether female or
male, who will listen to and carefully consider her needs and experiences in an
environment of safety and trust. She should be treated with kindness and
compassion. Any procedures should be performed with gentleness and care.
Information should be shared openly and freely so that the women fully
understands the diagnosis, the treatment, and her choices. Absolutely no sexual
abuse in any form, even subtle innuendos, are part of a sacred healing process.
Pelvic exams, even if performed gently, place women in an extremely vulnerable
position, especially women who have had traumatic sexual or gynecologic
experiences. Such exams should be done as gently as possible, informing the
woman of each step and educating her as much as possible about her body.

2. A non-judgmental attitude. It is important that your
practitioner appreciate you as a unique and creative being. It is merely
circumstantial that you are the patient and he or she is the healer. It could
just as easily be the other way around. You need to feel that your practi-
tioner really cares about you, respects you as an individual, and is free of
judgment about how you have chosen to live your life. Find someone who will
support your healing process and encourage you to be all that you can,
according to your own choices about your life. Many healers can be a wonderful
inspiration to their patients or clients. Do you feel better about yourself
after seeing your healer than you did before? Did you feel free to share openly
anything that was on your mind?

3. Empowerment. Make sure your doctor or practitioner helps you to
help yourself. It is no medicine or individual who will do your healing for
you. It is your own vital force. Now there are certain therapies or approaches
which will stimulate or activate your vital force more than others, but be
clear that it is you that is responsible for and deserves credit for
your healing. Learn everything you can about your healing process. Ask your
practitioner as many questions as you need to in order for you to feel in
charge of your healing. The more you learn, the more you can teach others about
your experience and the more likely that you will learn all that you need to
from your situation so that you won’t have to repeat it again later.

4. Alignment. Choose a practitioner with whom you are really
aligned. If you believe that a vegetarian diet is the key to your healing, find
a practitioner who supports your choice. If a strong spiritual connection
with your practitioner is important, look for someone who is as deeply
committed to their spiritual path as you are. A number of my patients have
commented that they feel at home in our clinic or that they felt guided from
within to come see me. That is usually a good sign. Use your innerknowing to
lead you to the right person for you. And if you have significant doubts about
whether your healer is a good match, look further.

6. Integrity. Make sure you fully trust the person you have hired
as your healing consul-tant. Does the practitioner love what they do? Are they
highly principled? Do they practice what they preach? Are they dependable and
there when you need them? Do you feel good about their judgment and
recommendations? About their sincere intention to help you heal?

5. Experience. Find out how much experience your practitioner has
in working with people like you. If you have an unusual or serious problem,
it’s probably best to find someone who’s been at it for a number of years. On
the other hand, newly trained healers bring with them a wonderful freshness and
enthusiasm as well as lots of very current ideas. Make sure your practitioner
has the appropriate training, credentials or degrees, licensure or
certification, and supervision. Seek out a healer who is continually sharpening
his or her skills.

Practitioners who are always learning are more likely to be able to help you.

6. Be patient. I generally recommend continuing with one
particular practitioner or therapist for at least three to six months before
giving up on it, unless you really feel you’re in the wrong place or have made
the wrong choice. . Some people say you should allow one month of healing for
each year you’ve suffered from a particular illness or condition. Healing may
happen overnight or it may be a gradual process. There are many, many factors
involved in the lealing process, some not so obvious. However, if you do have
doubts about a practitioner or therapist acting in your best interest, do seek
out a second opinion.

We women are very special. Our needs are very special. We are,
fortunately, living in a time where we can voice those needs openly. It is very
important that our intentions and feelings are honored and that our healing is
considered a sacred trust. It is only through such a trust that the greatest
healing can occur.

Drs. Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman and Robert Ullman are naturopathic and
homeopathic physicians and cofounders of the Northwest Center for Homeopathic
Medicine in Edmonds, WA. They are coauthors of
The Patient’s Guide to
Homeopathic Medicine and Beyond Ritalin: Homeopathic Treatment of ADD
and Other Behavioral and Learning Problems. They can be reached at (206)
774-5599.

Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman ND MSW Written by Judyth Reichenberg-Ullman ND MSW

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