From 2009 – 2011, Our Bodies Ourselves honored the work of women’s health advocates worldwide by asking readers to nominate their favorite women’s health hero. View all nominees by year: 2009, 2010, 2011
Entrant: Augusta Rawlins-Rader
Nominee: Nanette Therese Rawlins, My Mother
It might seem odd to many of you that I choose to nominate my mother, Nanette Therese Rawlins, for a Women’s Health Heroes Award, but that is exactly what she is to me. While most parents dodge the issue of sex in relation to their children, especially in regards to young girls, and rely on school health teachers to teach their girls about their bodies, my mom never took that approach. Always honest, frank, and trusting, my mother has been a guide for my personal health for all of my life, making her a true Women’s Health Hero.
When I was just a little girl, I asked the question all little girls and boys ask their parents: “ Where do babies come from?” Some parents may, in response to this, launch into stories about storks and cabbage patches, and some may whip out the tried and true “I’ll tell you when you’re older!” However, my mother had faith in me and my mental capacity.
In a simplified version suited for a six year old, she explained the real way babies come into this world, no flying birds or vegetation attached. As I grew older, she gradually adjusted her explanations of this process as my maturity level and knowledge base increased. Having learned on the school bus about sex, my mother was forthcoming and sincere in her information to me; she did not want me to be her in her youth, running up the driveway to her home after school with tears in her eyes, asking her mother if the explanation of sex were “true”.
When I started menstruating at the early age of twelve, I was not surprised or frightened about the process, since my mother had warned me in advance about what to expect as I entered puberty. She calmly bought me pads and gradually taught me about the wonders of tampons (a fact that my stick-free vagina thanks her for immensely). It is because of my mother that, when we were given the “talk” in the fifth grade about sex and puberty, I was not in stitches of laughter about the male anatomy, and I carried the given green bag of pads and deodorant without shame. I was unafraid and unashamed of my body, all because of what my mother taught me.
Any question I posed to my mother she answered with full honesty. She was the one that reassured me that vaginal discharge was a normal phenomenon, and did not mean I was dying. She taught me about the types of cancers and diseases women were vulnerable to and the best way to prevent them, the ways to stave off yeast infections, and, in the eighth grade, when I was home from school one day due to hideous pain in my abdomen, she was the one that informed me that no, I did not have appendicitis or cancer, I was just ovulating.
She taught me how to do a self-mammogram, how to properly fit your own bra when at the store, why I was suddenly starting to sweat like a marathon runner, and about the pap smears I would someday receive in my future. No part of my female body was a mystery to me, and any questions I asked, she answered with no embarrassment or wariness.
When I started my sophomore year of high school, my menstrual cramps grew so violent and severe that I would nearly pass out from the pain, and would occasionally have to go to the nurse’s office during school hours and lie down to prevent myself from falling unconscious. After a quick trip to the gynecologist, my first ever visit, It was discovered that I had endometriosis; a condition where, when you menstruate, fluid rushes back up your fallopian tubes, causing intense pain, scarring, and, if the condition goes untreated, an inability to conceive.
My mother also suffered from the disease in her youth, and had to have several surgeries to remove her scarring in order to have me, so she knew that it was important to treat the condition immediately. When it was revealed that the only treatment option was birth control, she did not flinch at the prospect that it could allow me to have sex “without consequences”. Through the patch and now the pill, she has never objected to me being on birth control, and I am a happier and healthier girl due to it.
In fact, one of the main ways my mother is a Women’s Health Hero is due to her honesty and frankness about sex, especially in relation to me, her daughter. When I reached sexual maturity, she informed me not only of the risks of sexual intercourse (the STDs, the unwanted pregnancies), but also of the ways you can protect yourself when you have sex (condoms, birth control pills, limiting your sexual partners) and the options available for unexpected pregnancies (abortions, morning-after pills, Plan B).
She was never shy of the fact that she thought it was a good idea that I did not have sex at a young age, and that causal sex has risk factors no matter what precautions one takes, but she also knew that I was a teenager with a sexual body, and so prepared me to have safe sex if I ever desired to do so. Just recently, though I have never had sex in my short life, I told my mom that I had an interest in the Gardasil vaccine, and she had no qualms about me receiving the set of shots, which I just finished up in January. I may be a virgin today, but when I eventually do have sex, because of my mom, I will not rush in blindly and without a safety net, and will have a better chance of coming out with my sanity and health intact.
My mother is a Women’s Health Hero through and through. She may not be a doctor, nurse, or health teacher, but no one from any of those professions has taught me anything I know about my female body that she has not taught me first. She is the reason I am a happy, healthy, self-confident college girl, and will continue to be so as I reach adulthood.
Her ability to touch other girls with her vast array of information may be limited, but for this woman’s health, she is a savior in the flesh. Therefore, I ask you, the judges of this contest, to please consider my mother a Women’s Health Hero, because she deserves the honor in full. Thank you very much.