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What is Women’s Reproductive Health and How Can It Affect Our Sense of Well-being?

Reproductive health encompasses three out of the five top main health concerns for women. Reproductive health affects one’s physical, mental, and social well-being. Reproductive health affects women of all races, socioeconomic statuses, and ages, through which a woman’s body experiences many changes throughout life. Such transitions may include:

  • Menstruation

  • Fertility

  • Menopause

  • Pregnancy, planned and unplanned

Other categories that may elicit physical, mental, and emotional symptoms are the topics of:

  • Contraception

  • STDs and STIs

  • Sexual dysfunction disorders

  • Annual screenings

  • Chronic health such as endometriosis

Women develop anxiety and mood disorders at higher rates than their male counterparts. Psychiatric illnesses are most common in women during reproductive years, specifically overlapping in reproductive transitions.

These varying reproductive topics can cause a myriad of physical and psychological symptoms. Some of the symptoms may include:

  • Poor eating habits

  • Insomnia

  • Physical pain

  • Memory loss

  • Exhaustion/fatigue

  • Confusion and substance use

Varying psychological symptoms such as anxiety disorders and depression can develop. These symptoms can impact interpersonal relationships, leading to:

  • Isolation

  • Anger

  • Outbursts

  • Second-guessing oneself

Four different types of anxiety disorders could emerge:

  1. Generalized Anxiety: This can cause persistent worry for an extended period of time.

  2. Panic Disorders: Sudden episodes of fear that can be debilitating, manifesting with a racing heartbeat, sweating, trembling, and potentially fainting.

  3. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: This can occur when physical harm or perceived harm occurs. Flashbacks of the event or nightmares can cause individuals to stress, worry, fear, or sadness around certain people or environments.

  4. Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder: Uncontrollable urges to perform activities. If one has become pregnant after losing a child, there could be hypervigilance to protect the child, checking things many times, excessively cleaning, or eating only certain foods. OCD can cause intrusive thoughts such as losing the baby, mental images around the baby, or a sense of horror/fear of being left alone.

With depression, there are several types, all of which share similar symptoms. The most common reproductive struggles are major or moderate depression and grief. Depression can cause individuals to:

  • Retreat and isolate

  • Lose interest in activities

  • Produce feelings of hopelessness

  • Lower self-esteem

  • Struggle with mood swings and irritability

Remember, grief is not linear. We can grieve before, during, and/or after a loss. Right after a loss, it is common to feel shock or disbelief. Profound sadness can lead to feeling numb and disassociated. The majority of individuals feel guilty and believe they could've done something differently to prevent the outcome.

The psychological and physical symptoms are not always spoken about; some practitioners may focus more on the facts and generalize how one is feeling. It is good to remember we are all unique and not one size fits all. Often when speaking about women’s reproductive health, we do not think about the relationship between patients and practitioners. To have autonomy, it is imperative that there are healthy and respectful relationships with patients and practitioners.

Every person has their own definition of healthy and respectful. How we feel about our bodies and the comfort in speaking about them shows how we determine our worth and take up space. A relationship where you don’t feel seen or heard doesn’t allow you to foster autonomy, advocacy, or empowerment; leading us to feel small, and judged, and often results in not speaking up about concerns. A good question to ask yourself is how empowerment and advocacy correlate to your reproductive health. Having the correct team to support, care and listen to you is important for all phases of the ever-changing female life and body.

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