HomeSpun - A Women's Networking Newsletter


The following was written on May 24, 1991, the day after Title X restrictions were upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court. These restrictions bar clinics from providing women with basic medical information about abortion. I believe these restrictions are no longer in effect, but as always, a woman's right to an abortion is still under attack.

I do not know who wrote this article, but she describes self-help and groups very well.

Introduction to Self-Help

Self-help is not new. For centuries, women had knowledge and control of their own bodies. It was only with the "modernization" of our medical system that our bodies become the "property" of doctors. In 1971, Carol Downer traveled the country showing women their cervixes, and Lorraine Rothman developed the Del-Em, the device used to preform menstrual extractions.

Self-help groups can consist of women of diverse sexual orientation, race, class, and age, who come together to explore sexuality and reproductive health. Each group is unique, choosing a focus which best suits its needs. It is very easy to begin a self-help group --we can start by discussing our gynecological problems with friends. No problem is too trivial or 'untouchable' to be discussed openly. Discovering our common experiences with lovers, doctors and the health care system, and with our own bodies, is exciting. A group usually consists of five to ten women who meet regularly to examine their own and each other's bodies. We discuss changes we've noticed and learn to identify what is normal and what could signify a problem. Beginning self-help groups examine their genital areas and look at their cervixes, (the lower part of the uterus that extends into the vagina) using a speculum, a flashlight and a mirror. Women can also learn to do pelvic exams and breast self-examination. We learn our techniques from books such as How to Stay Out of the Gynecologist's Office, and from other members or other groups who are more skilled than we are. We learn to identify and treat simple infections such as yeast and trichomonas, and to spot the early warning signs of more serious conditions that may require medical attention. To help with larger problems, groups often establish contact with health care providers who are familiar with and support the philosophy of self-help.

Self-help focuses on the prevention of health complications, as well as treatment. We often research and use herbal, holistic and dietary methods to keep ourselves healthy. We discuss safer sex issues and explore ways to eroticize safer sex, as well as how to over come our personal difficulties in practice. Within our groups, we use latex gloves to keep sanitary when touching the vaginal area, when doing pelvic exams, and whenever we come in contact with any vaginal fluids.

Groups who have been together a while may choose to learn menstrual extraction -- a technique by which a woman and her group remove the contents of her uterus using a simple suction device (the Del-Em). Although menstrual extraction is a very simple and safe procedure, it requires good training and a lot of practice. By the time a self-help group reaches this stage, they may have come in contact with women who can help them move on to this advanced technique through the self-help network of the Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers, or people they know; they should also be well-acquainted with each other's bodies, cycles, and sexual histories.

A self-help group is based on trust and confidentiality. With the government's continuing assault on women's lives, taking control of our own reproductive health has never been more crucial. Because of the recent attacks on abortion rights, menstrual extraction is especially controversial. As menstrual extraction becomes more necessary, women will need to become more covert in sharing information on the use of this technique. Although taking control of our own bodies is a large responsibility, it is our right and it is a necessity. We must share what we learn with other women and educate ourselves.

--Author Unknown.

Read more about the history of the self-help movement and 25 years of history

If you are interested in forming or participating in a women's self-help group ~ as described above, learning how to use a speculum, playing a more active role in your reproductive health care, and learning how to do menstrual extractions, then please follow this link for more information and resources.

When You are in Need.......

If you want to find someone who knows how to do menstrual extractions, you're going to have to ask around, check with midwives, feminist health centers, fertility counselors, and local feminists, check your phone book. The device was invented in the 70's, and was publicized by Carol Downer and Lorraine Rothman who toured the country holding seminars and workshops. Ask women in the appropriate age group who may have been feminist activists during that time. Unfortunately finding someone to help you when you are in need is very difficult. I tried to find someone while I was traveling in Florida, and out of all the people I spoke with only one had ever heard of a menstrual extraction. It was very discouraging.

Finding an active women's self-help group who will preform a menstrual extraction is very difficult. The procedure itself is barely legal, falling into grey areas, which pushes it underground. Women who offer menstrual extractions usually do so via word of mouth, you have to know someone who does them, or someone who has had one. Unfortunately I don't know of any individuals or groups who offer menstrual extractions at this time.

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