International Women’s Day is observed annually on March 8. One day in the year can never be enough to celebrate the struggles and victories of women across the globe. Nonetheless, the day is used to show appreciation for women and to encourage women to continue striving for what they believe. This year’s theme is “The Gender Agenda: Gaining Momentum.”
The St. Maarten Medical Center (SMMC) uses this opportunity to remind women that they are important, respected and appreciated. Our medical institution is privileged to provide health care to our women of St. Maarten and our neighboring islands. We encourage women to prioritize their health needs. In providing good health care to women we are empowering them to take control of their bodies and in turn their lives.
Empowering Girls to be Young Women: Learning to Care for Myself
Womanhood begins when physical, emotional, functional and mental changes started during puberty and adolescence has been completed. As a girl matures into a young woman, many changes are expected to occur in her body. Chemicals in the female body, called estrogen are responsible for these changes.
Signs of physical development in girls include: rapid gains in height and weight, breast development, growth of pubic hair, growth of underarm hair and menarche (first menstrual period). Hormones are also responsible for emotional changes. As a girl develops into a woman, she may feel confused, or may feel sad, have emotional outbursts, experience strong emotions or moods that change quickly. Common behavioral concerns include risk taking behavior; rebelliousness, time wasting mood swings, drug experimentation, psychometric complaints and sexual activity.
As a girl develops into a woman her values, attitudes and behavior are shaped. She is responsible to shape her identity, and this can be a challenge, as well as finding access to education and employment to provide her with a level of independence. Other challenges may include access to health care including that of mental, sexual and reproductive health care.
In providing health care at SMMC to our community’s young women, all of the above factors are realized by our gynecologists. Young women are empowered by being made to understand that despite these changes and challenges they have control of their body. In our culture girls are taught to take care of their chores. Later, to take care of their households: spouse and children. Girls are not taught how to take care of themselves.
Realizing how important this responsibility is as a growing woman is essential. “This is my body. I own it. No one can disrespect it or abuse it or do anything to it, unless I approve.” In believing this, our young women are empowered.
Empowering Women during Pregnancy and Labor
Being pregnant is a very basic and most natural thing in life. At this stage in a woman’s life, she is beginning to care for others. While taking care of her self is of utmost importance, so is taking care of her unborn child.
Even before pregnancy, women are empowered. The OBGYN department helps women make decisions of when to get pregnant. Knowing that they have that choice and thus control of their life is important for women. With a normal pregnancy, meaning no medical complications or concerns, women visit the midwives for routine checkups. In other cases, they visit the gynecologist.
The midwives give expecting mothers the best of basis to build their knowledge and thus decisions upon. Close to the due date of the expecting mother, she is invited for an information session where the midwives provide information of labor, delivery and after delivery care for both mother and baby. We stress the importance of after delivery care for the mother, to prevent later illness in life; such as loss of urine and defecation and also back pain.
Our midwives encourage expecting mothers to have a natural labor and delivery. This is a way in which women can be empowered, though using an epidural does not mean that a woman is weak. Having a natural delivery is an encouragement for women to know that apart from being mentally strong, they are physically empowered to take on life challenges. A natural delivery shows a woman her innermost strength.
Our midwives know that a baby can make only one start into the world and thus it is important that this is done in the best way. The baby needs to be received in a good manner and the midwives strive to create the best atmosphere for the parents and soon to be born baby. Follow up home visits are also an important aspect of the midwives services, to ensure that a safe environment is provided for the baby.
Empowering Women during Menopause
Menopause is a natural process where the female body due to advanced age changes from childbearing phase to a mature stage. Many people believe that it is normal to have complaints when going through menopause. This is quite the contrary. In a well balanced hormonal system, the transition into menopause is with relative little complaints. The female sexual organs do not produce as much hormones as they did before, but they do not stop functioning.
We cannot look at menopause as a separate phase without considering our whole female hormonal system. Women with hormonal imbalance experience many complaints, long even before menopause. Many women suffer from estrogen excess and may thus experience a wide range of complaints such as menstrual disorders, mood swings, fibroids and even cancer of the womb.
In menopause, the amount of female hormone produced by our ovaries drops drastically. It is especially women with female hormone excess who experience many complaints when going through menopause because of the relative larger drop of hormones. These complaints can vary from heart palpitations and excess sweating to complaints of drying up. These women also suffer from extreme mood swings like emotional outburst to depression.
Women can be empowered to manage their bodies in this stage by realizing that the female body is very sensitive to hormonal changes. Thus, women should be aware of the influence that diet has on their health. It is proven that a healthy diet can help build a strong immune system and hormonal system. Many people are not aware that excess weight increases the risk for not only diabetes and high blood pressure, but also estrogen excess. We can reduce these risks by shedding some pounds and balancing our diet; not with diet pills.
Our message to women going through menopause is “Beauty comes from within.”
Empowering through preventative care
For many women, the majority of their life is spent taking care of others. This caretaking role usually begins at motherhood; even before the baby is born as the mother must first care for the unborn child. In the Caribbean society especially, caretaking often continues with the care of aging parents and also grandchildren. In their faithful duties of being caretakers, many women neglect taking care of themselves.
At SMMC, we stress how important it is for women, especially those who say they do not have time, to prioritize their health. Finding time for health care is more important than finding time for work or household responsibilities. Women are to be responsible for their health.
Preventative care is one of the best ways for women to keep healthy. These services, which typically include yearly checkups, screenings and immunizations, can help women stay healthy and avoid or delay health problems. Cancer takes some time (years) to develop and become more aggressive. When diagnosis is made at the pre-cancer or early stage, treatment is easier and the rate of success is higher.
The Obstetric and Gynecology department of SMMC encourages women to make good choices concerning their health care. This empowers women; knowing that they have the responsibility and are intelligible to make good decisions for their body, by negotiating with their medical caregivers what is best for them.
Meet our Gynecologists
In medical school, Dr. Callo’s interest in specialties was always changing with every new and exciting course. With obstetric and gynecology, the opportunity to practice internal medicine and surgery was attractive for him. Dr Callo considers the connection between the mother and obstetrician as a most important feature in his field. He is always pleased to see babies, children and youths whom he has helped to bring into the world.
Dr. Courtar is a gynecologist serving her community ‘close to home’; she is Statian born and is a woman. She grew interested in women health as it helped her to understand her own body. She is also very much interested in research on preventative care. She enjoys what she is doing at SMMC and tries not to be what she terms a ‘bureaucratic doctor’, by giving her patients her full intention and not getting lost in paper work.
Meet our Midwives
Laetitia is enjoying being a midwife with 15 years of experience. She is also a social worker and a pregnancy yoga teacher. She hopes to combine social work with midwifery, as she often sees the need for pregnant women to receive social care.
Nicoline has 33 years of experience in first and second echelon midwifery. She considers it a great privilege to be around women in the stage of pregnancy. She reaffirms, with her colleagues, that being a midwife is an inspiring and rewarding career.
Marleen started her career as a pediatric nurse but later changed to midwifery. She has years of expertise in primary care midwifery and is a certified echoscopist in pregnancy.
She is proud of her job and looks forward to meeting and assisting the expecting mother in her community.
SMMC wish all women “Happy Women’s Day!”