In her 23 years practicing medicine, Sherif has received a lot of thank-you notes from women she’s treated—and “they don’t say ‘Thank you for saving my life’ or ‘Thank you for that great diagnosis,’” she says. “They say, ‘Thank you for listening to me.’ Or ‘I know we couldn’t get to the bottom of it, but thank you for being there.’” So Sherif sees a common theme in the recent flurry of high-profile expressions of disappointment in women’s reproductive health care, feminist protests against President Donald Trump, and the #MeToo movement: All three, she says, result from women feeling that their complaints, concerns, and objections aren’t being listened to.
“Perhaps it parallels what’s changing in our society,” Sherif says. “When we shine a light in those dirty, dark corners, I think it may give us courage to shed light on other things.”
Ottey, meanwhile, believes women’s increasing candor about their health- and health care-related frustrations can be traced back to the advent of social media. Ottey describes her own struggle to finally get a diagnosis and a treatment plan for PCOS in 2008 as one that made her feel “absolutely alone,” but in the years since, she says, she’s seen women with similar conditions and complaints find and support each other on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. “Women see other women, and other girls, speaking up,” she says.
Ottey’s social-media strength-in-numbers theory is borne out in The Bleeding Edge, too: Women whose health deteriorated after getting the Essure birth-control device implanted eventually created an advocacy campaign after finding each other through a Facebook group launched in 2011. Thirty-five thousand women had joined by the time The Bleeding Edge was filmed.
Angie Firmalino, the Facebook group’s founder, remembers being surprised at how many women quickly joined the group, despite it being a project she’d started just so she could warn her female friends about the device. “We became a support group for each other,” Firmalino says, as a montage of selfie videos women have posted to the group page play onscreen. “The day I was implanted, I left the hospital and I was in pain,” says one woman. “They told me to take some ibuprofen and it’ll get better,” says another.
When Firmalino researched the process by which Essure was approved for sale and implantation, she found the FDA hearings had been videotaped, but the video company that owned the tapes would only release them to her for several hundred dollars. So she posted on the Facebook group asking for donations to buy the video—clips of which are repurposed in the documentary and account for its most chilling moments. They raised $900 in 15 minutes.
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