Blog

30
Apr 2021

The Wandering Womb

  • By: Samantha Denäe

Have you ever heard of the phrase, “the wandering womb” or “uterine suffocation”? It is the belief that the uterus could become displaced and cause many of the womb issues in women. Originating in ancient Greece, this ideology suggested that the uterus could and does “wander” throughout the body. For philosophers Plato and Hippocrates, the belief that women’s uteruses can travel, explained why men and women differ. Physician Aretaeus of Cappadocia, who believed that the womb was “an animal within an animal” also believed that it could move up, down, left or right to bump into the liver or spleen. He argued that these movements manifested into several disorders in women. 

According to Aretaeus, if the womb traveled upwards, it would cause sluggishness, a decrease in strength, vertigo, and pains in the veins of both sides of the head. If the womb were to descend, there would be a sense of choking, loss of speech, awareness, and sudden death. This brought on the notion of “female hysteria”, the exhibition of symptoms that included anxiety, fainting, insomnia, loss of appetite, and more, basically what we define as PMS symptoms. The only difference is that during those times, women were often held insane asylums when experiencing these symptoms. The uterine contractions women were experiencing during their menstrual, led physicians and philosophers who studied the womb to believe that they were having seizures. 

So, how did they treat the womb when it would “wander”? Aretaeus believed wombs were attracted to delightful fragrances and that using these fragrances on the vagina would lure their wombs back to its proper place. The same theory was applied to awful scents. Additionally, the practice of succession was used to treat uterine suffocation and prolapses. Succession, the practice of tying a woman to a ladder, hanging her upside down, and shaking her up and down to move the uterus back in place, was commonly used as a treatment. Continuous pregnancy was also a way of treatment as they believed the uterus would stay in place if it were not bored, so barren women or women who did not conceive often were looked at as those who carried uterine disorders. Even in 2021, pregnancy is still being offered as a way to manage Endometriosis. 

A lot can be said of the philosophers who proposed this kind of thinking as fact, and is a clear example of how men, who do not go through what women do, always have a say-so on what our issues are and how they should be treated. Although medicine has come a long way to provide logical answers to womb diseases, this type of patriarchal thinking seems to still exist throughout our medical society. When are women going to be able to make important decisions on our womb health that is not rooted and controlled by masculine rational? 

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