It was a few months after the birth of my second son when I noticed my state of mind was steadily deteriorating. Things that would normally not concern me became problems, sometimes huge problems. I was losing sleep, becoming upset over nothing, and having trouble controlling my anxiety.
I made an appointment with my doctor after having some recurrent, pervasive thoughts about my son drowning or being hit by a car. Sort of normal fears I guess, except I was worried I would drown him by accident, or that I wouldn't put him in the car seat and that I'd run him over. Less 'normal' fears, by my estimate. It was a difficult conversation to have, like 'hey I can't control my own brain, what can we do about it?'.
My doctor was thoughtful and empathetic, and we decided that medication and more frequent exercise would be a good course of action. A place to start. Months later I'm fortunate enough to say that I've overcome my postpartum anxiety and have been weaned off medication. I'm happy to be past that time, but man I'm glad I got help when I needed it.
Since experiencing my own postpartum issues I've spoken to various other women about their post-baby struggles, and I began to notice an overall theme.
No one is talking about it. Openly at least. Sure behind closed doors or with family, but publicly? Hell no. And it isn't just postpartum anxiety and depression that we aren't talking about, there is an entire slough of women's health issues that just aren't discussed. Miscarriage, infertility, menstrual issues. We can't even sit through a goddamn tampon commercial without squirming uncomfortably, so what does that say about our societal concern for the health of women?
It says a lot. And overall it says we're doing a pretty shitty job of supporting women with problems that tend to go unspoken.
I know this might come as a shock to some, but our vaginas don't just show up when someone wants to have sex with them or when we're having a baby. They are part of our physical being and they require care and consideration like any other aspect of our health. The fact that talking about a period still makes most people squeamish is worth noting. It speaks volumes. A grown ass woman feels the need to carry a purse to the bathroom to hide the fact that's she's menstruating, but no one cares when guys talk about their penises because it's funny and acceptable and normal. Start talking about vaginas however and everyone is grossed the fuck out. Funny how no one is grossed out when they're in bed together.
When I got the news that my second pregnancy had ended in a missed miscarriage, do you know what the doctor told me? Go home and make an appointment with your family doctor.
She looked at me with the 'oh you poor thing' pity face on and sent me home to figure it out on my own. There wasn't a resource for information or a pamphlet on what to expect. So I went home and talked to my friends that had also experienced miscarriage and prepared myself for the physical aftermath (because let me tell you it's an AFTERMATH) all by my damn self. And the terrible part is I didn't even KNOW half of my friends that had miscarried until I miscarried, because they weren't talking about it either.
Since we'd announced our pregnancy publicly already I had a lot of feedback in terms of 'oh that must have been hard since everyone knew'.
What? It was hard because people knew? No. It was hard because I lost a fucking baby. And in fact people knowing about it and my ability to be open through the process is probably what saved me from rocking slowly in my closet with a bottle of Grey Goose (I grieve expensively, apparently).
We don't talk about pregnancy before twelve weeks because something 'might' happen. We don't talk about miscarriage and pregnancy loss because there's a tiny part of us that's ashamed, and society is doing a fucking terrible job of alleviating that shame by telling us we shouldn't talk about what we're going through. Saying we need to keep quiet is validating that we SHOULD be ashamed; that postpartum issues and pregnancy loss needs to be swept under the carpet and whispered about because it isn't 'appropriate' to discuss.
Well fuck your appropriate. As women we deal with an incredible array of health issues due to the fact that we literally create other people. Our bodies are designed to manufacture human life (and sometimes they can't, which is another issue worthy of discussion) and that comes with a whole host of complications, and it's our job culturally to support women if they're dealing with those complications. And yeah, they're scary and uncomfortable and graphic and emotional but the ONLY THING worse than going though them yourself is going through them alone.
Women's health issues aren't shameful or disgusting or 'best kept in private'. This shroud of secrecy can be isolating and debilitating for new mothers and non mothers alike. No one should have to suffer serious mental illness or loss on their own; it isn't about 'handling' it. It's about providing support to one of our most important resources, and that's our mothers and our daughters. We are so often caregivers and supporters ourselves, I think it's time that our community returned the favour.