Ten years ago, a Chicago gynecologist began to notice a pattern among her patients.
Many of the women who came to Dr. Lauren Streicher for a second opinion after another doctor recommended a hysterectomy, or removal of the uterus, didn't need the procedure, she says. And the ones who did often hadn't been offered minimally invasive laparoscopic surgery.
"They were all told they needed to have the big incision, and I thought, well, why is it that women are not informed of these choices?" Streicher says.
Streicher, who was already doing some freelance writing, responded with a 430-page book, "The Essential Guide to Hysterectomy" (M. Evans & Co.), which remains one of the top hysterectomy selections at Amazon.com. A second edition is scheduled for publication next year, and Streicher, who teaches at Northwestern University's Feinberg School of Medicine and appears as an expert on "The Dr. Oz Show," is working on another book on women's midlife health, this one focusing on sexual problems and solutions.
"Midlife sexuality is important because right now the average age of menopause is 51," Streicher says. "Life expectancy is well into the 80s. Women are living almost half of their lives after the menopause transition, and female sexuality has not been addressed. This has an enormous impact, not only on women but on couples and relationships. In addition, we have a 50 percent divorce rate, where we have women who are newly single and starting new relationships at midlife."
Repeatedly named one of the top doctors in the city by Chicago magazine, Streicher grew up in Lincolnwood, the daughter of a doctor and a social worker, and lives in Lincoln Park with her husband, the producer and screenwriter Jason Brett. She has two daughters, a college student and a magazine editor, from her previous marriage.
When she talks about her disparate projects — she spent July volunteering at a health clinic in Kenya and did abortion counseling in college — she acknowledges that she covers a lot of ground, but she says there's a common theme.
"It's all about putting great importance on women's sexuality and health, whether that's reproductive rights or sexual issues or choices for hysterectomy. It's all the same theme: that women are not given good information. They're not given choices, and there are too many obstacles."
The following is an edited transcript:
Q: When did you start talking to your midlife patients about sexual health?
A: It was a gradual transition. When I started in practice as a young woman out of residency, I didn't talk about it that much. I was doing a lot of obstetrics. I was seeing women in their 20s who came in for their birth control pills. My practice, over the years, has changed. Once I eliminated obstetrics, I started seeing more midlife women. And I wear these two hats: I do a lot of talking to consumers, but I also have my academic hat. I give a lot of academic lectures to physicians around the country about menopause, about sexuality, and as I started talking more about it to physicians and really following the medical literature, (I realized) that this is an important issue and we need to really address this.
Q: When did you get the idea for the midlife sexuality book?
A: It was probably seven to eight months ago. I write very fast, and this book is 17 chapters.
Q: Did you say seven months?
A: Yes. I get up very early, and I write early: 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. is kind of my prime writing time. Now I have a treadmill desk, so I'm writing and walking at the same time.
Q: How many books do you have ready to go at this point?
A: When I say ready to go, I mean I've basically written 75 percent of them and sketched out the whole thing. I probably have five or six books that I think are ready. I wrote a book six or seven years ago called "The Stork and the Single Woman," and it was a guidebook for professional women who were contemplating having a baby on their own. I was going to co-write it with a woman who did it. I wrote this book, and I thought it was great, and it didn't sell. They said, "You need a celebrity."
Q: Do you still have a full patient load?
A: I've lightened up on that a little bit. Right now I'm in the office three days a week, I'm operating one day and I'm trying to leave one day free to really devote myself to these other projects. I can't keep doing this at this pace and have a full practice.
Q: How do you recharge?
A: My passion on a personal level is ballet. You're sitting right in front of my favorite dance photography. I like looking at this when I'm not looking at the lake. I still take a class every week. I go to the Joffrey, and I have a ballet barre at home. And my daughter who's a writer, she's an editor at Dance Magazine, and I just came back from New York (where she lives), and we saw Alvin Ailey (American Dance Theater), we saw ABT (American Ballet Theatre). So I love the dance world. It's important to me.
Q: Did you take ballet as a kid?
A: I started when I was 3, and I've literally never stopped, all through medical school, all through residency, my pregnancies. Wherever I am, I try to find a ballet class. It's kind of my (thing) because I don't like yoga. And for me, it's … about the music, it's about being in the moment. No one in that class knows what I do, no one talks, really. Nobody knows anybody else. Once someone said, "I saw you on 'Windy City LIVE,'" (but that's unusual). You don't want to be outed. It's a place where I go with no makeup and my hair pulled back in a bun, and nobody knows who I am. I go there, and it's different. You're not Dr. Streicher; you're Lauren who's taking ballet class.