During those often exhausting years, I began to put into action some of the ideas I'd been developing about women's health—while always being careful not to say much about those ideas at home, where I knew they would not be welcomed by my husband. Inspired by my own experiences as well as those of my patients, and buoyed by the conviction that my ideas could make a difference in people's lives, in 1985 I joined three other women in the venture of establishing a health care center we called Women to Women. The idea of a health center run by women for women was virtually unheard of at that time. Our central mission was to help women appreciate the unity of mind, body, and spirit, to enable them to see the connection between their emotional health and their physical well-being. I wanted to empower women, to give them a safe place in which to tell their personal stories so that they could discover new, more health-enhancing ways of living their lives.
I knew that sometimes this would involve challenging the status quo, because the inequities of the culture take a terrible toll on women's bodies as well as their spirits. But as I practiced this new, holistic form of medicine, which was quite revolutionary for its day, I realized that the fact that I had a normal, happy family life, as well as a husband with conventional medical ideas who practiced in the same community, provided a kind of cover for me. It made me appear "safe" at a time when my ideas were considered unproven at best, dangerous at worst.
My three partners in Women to Women and I bought an old Victorian house that we could convert into a center for our new practice. We all agreed that we wanted to keep our husbands out of our new venture, lest their participation undermine our enthusiastic but still tender confidence in ourselves as businesswomen.
Of course, in my case, at least, that didn't necessarily mean that I didn't want my husband's support. I clearly remember a day at the beginning of the building and site renovation. Two bulldozers sat on the lawn, workers were everywhere, and the existing building had been torn apart. At that moment the whole project suddenly became real for me, and I realized that my colleagues and I were now responsible for paying for all of this. This was an overwhelming thought. When I came home that evening, I uncharacteristically reached out to my husband for help in calming my fears. "I'm scared," I told him. "I'm not sure I can do this." He replied, "I hate it when you're disempowered like this." I quickly realized that I'd been foolish to expect anything from him.
His response to my uncharacteristic and risky moment of emotional vulnerability simply reinforced the coping style I'd developed in childhood, a stoicism that was a necessity in a household where emotional neediness was frowned upon and we were told to "keep a stiff upper lip." Another favorite saying in my family was "Don't ask for a lighter pack, ask for a stronger back." So, as usual, I pulled myself up by my own bootstraps, dug into my inner resources, and pretended that I wasn't afraid.
As it turned out, Women to Women became a great success. Our work struck a resonant chord with our patients, and the center grew steadily by word of mouth. As excited as I was about what I was doing, I could never interest my husband in any of the ideas about alternative medicine that were at the core of my new clinical practice. We did, however, have enough other areas of mutual interest that I didn't think his attitude toward my work mattered. In fact, I was rather proud of myself for being able to sustain a loving relationship with a card-carrying member of the American Medical Association.
Dr. Northrup's advice on how to feel better, sleep better, even have better sex!