Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Things We Don't Talk About...or Things I'll Tell My Daughter

This was previously posted on BlogHer.

      There are so many things that we, as women, have been brought up to believe are "taboo" subjects, or at least that you don't need to share with anyone.  After going through a series of intense situations on my own, I realized one day that so many of my fellow women--my mother, my friends, my relatives, my acquaintances--had experienced the exact same thing, and had thought, as I had, that they were the only one.  Instead of "burdening" others with our problems, we had suffered in silence, in loneliness, in defeat.  
     I have decided that, when my daughter can understand (and she's pretty smart, so we've discussed some of these already), I will have these conversations with her.  I will have them before they happen, so that she won't feel silly, or alone, or a burden when she wants to talk about them.  Maybe by talking about them now, some of them won't happen to her at all.
     I've compiled a list of the 5 biggest things we don't talk about (these 5 are the ones that have made the greatest impact on my life, but feel free to share your burdens below--I bet someone else has experienced it too) in the hopes that if we share these things, we as women will begin to understand that WE ARE NOT ALONE.

1.  Miscarriages happen
I have miscarried several times.  The first time I was not only devastated from the miscarriage, but from a careless nurse practitioner who chimed, after we failed to see a heartbeat on the ultrasound, "Oh, So I guess you're having a bad day!"  (Just FYI, she was not allowed to see me in my subsequent pregnancy, and eventually was fired.)  With a miscarriage, you either aren't telling anyone it happened because it was too soon, or you're having to explain every time someone asks "so how are you feeling?" that although you feel like crap, it's not the crap that comes from pregnancy.  I have also suffered from a complete molar pregnancy.  I think it was even harder to wrap my head around the fact  that what I had been told was a baby was actually just a mound of cancerous tissue.  When asked how the pregnancy was going, I hesitated, then haltingly explained my circumstance to a friend...who burst into tears because she had suffered the same exact thing two years before, but had never told anyone.     Here's a fact I didn't know then:  miscarriages are very, very common.  They are NOT YOUR FAULT.  There was nothing you could have done, because in all likelihood the genetic tissue simply wasn't viable.  It's no less heart-breaking, it's no less devastating, BUT IT'S NOT YOUR FAULT.

2.  Depression can strike anyone, at any time
Nobody wants to tell their friends they are crazy.  In my case, I had such a severe case of depression that I honestly believed my mother was trying to steal my baby from the town fair.  I had stopped to get Coffeeguy some fried dough, and my mother said she was going to take the baby down to the exit to wait.  I either didn't hear her, or more likely, forgot she had said it in the mix of hormones that was rattling my brain.  I had paranoia, anger, racing thoughts, the whole shebang.  I can laugh about it now, but the horrified panic that occurred actually caused me to think: "They always tell you kidnappers are the people closest to you."  Crazy, I know.  I had lost my father the year before, and then miscarried, and then instead of waiting I got pregnant again right away, treating my body to a hormone cocktail that was sure to throw my brain out of whack.  To add insult to injury, shortly after I had Punkgirl I had to have my gall bladder removed, and then, the most devastating of all, my 31 year old brother died suddenly of meningitis.  
      We're trained that we can do everything, and that to be unable to do everything is a weakness, so needless to say I faked my way through my postpartum exam like a champ.  I held myself up at my brother's wake, as if crying would be an insult to his memory.  I was strong, I was woman, you could hear me roar.  Six months later, after a night of picturing myself stabbing a pair of scissors through my wrists, I was scared to death and left a tearful message for my physician, and then told her I was just fine when she actually called me back.  If it weren't for her call to Coffeeguy (which violated doctor-patient privilege, I think, but which also saved my life) I shudder to think what might have happened.  I remember as clear as day (even though it was nighttime) trying to convince Coffeeguy that I was fine and that we had to take Punkgirl (who was all of 6 months old) trick-or-treating, and him telling me he could drive me or call an ambulance.  My hormone-soaked brain cells were certain he only wanted to have a reason to take the baby away from me.  
     Thankfully, I was then able to talk to someone, who explained not only that I had post-partum depression, but that all of those events combined together were enough to make anybody crack temporarily.  That it would be abnormal if I DIDN'T.  My advice for you, which was the best advice given to me, is if you are feeling this way, TAKE THE HELP.  It's OK to crack, because LIFE. IS.  HARD.

3.  Marriage is worth a little work
I will be married for 15 years next month.  I am the happiest I have ever been in my marriage, and I have a very healthy sexual relationship with my husband.  Yet there was a time when I wondered if we would make it. I was floundering in the belief that he didn't want ME, and he was drowning in the surety that I couldn't want HIM.  We weren't communicating, we were living mostly in our own heads, and we were ready to call it quits.  There was no one to talk to--not even each other.  I'm pretty sure neither one of us even believed a marriage counselor would help, but we were at the end of our rope.  I'm going to share with you the benefits of my marriage counseling, to save you several hundred bucks.  LISTEN to each other, and ASK the questions that are festering around in your head.  You may think you know the answers, and maybe you do...but maybe, just maybe, s/he will surprise you, and you will be glad you asked.  Make time for each other--just like you schedule time for the dentist or work, you have to schedule time together.  Make lists.  Lists...freaking...rock.  The first one should be the top three things you absolutely need out of your marriage.  I won't tell you all of mine, but the very first was honesty--brutal, if need be.  Don't spare my feelings by keeping something to yourself--because someday, I will find out and be hurt ten times more.  Make a list of things you want to change.  It helps you figure out how, just by writing it down.  Plan dates!  Just that bit of attention to one another is going to pay off, trust me.  And if you aren't sure, go ahead and seek counseling.  You would be surprised how something you've said to one another a million times translates differently when spoken from the mouth of a neutral party.

4.  Money Money Money (Or Lack Thereof)
I had a friend come home from where he's living in another country, and I was so thrilled at the prospect of seeing him that I was willing to go out with people I hadn't seen since high school just to have a chance to spend some time with him.  Unfortunately, they were meeting at a restaurant with $50 meals and pricey bottles of wine.  I couldn't afford to go, especially not when there would be two of us going.  Neither Coffeeguy nor I wanted to come right out and say we couldn't afford it, but I also worried that if we didn't give some indication he would think we didn't want to see him.  We invited him over for dinner, and even that blew my food budget for the month.  For the next two weeks, we were trying to find creative ways to feed the kids (not easy with Punkgirl's and my required gluten-free diet!)  I truly at one point contemplated contacting a food shelter, but we just (barely) managed without it.  
The following week my girlfriends, who I don't get to see often enough at all, wanted a girls' night out.  They talked about where to meet, and my heart sank, realizing they probably meant a restaurant.  I debated whether or not to tell them I was just plain broke, because it was embarrassing.  Then it dawned on me.  It SHOULD NOT BE EMBARRASSING to say you just can't afford it.  I gave up a $35,000 a year job (which may not go far in Massachusetts, but is a lot to give up) to be there for my children, who desperately needed me.  I have a new baby, we have one income, and I work fucking hard, I just don't get paid for it.  I shot off an email, biting my nails as I heard the whoosh of it being sent...and my dear, lovely friends made me feel "normal" again, by stating that they too were broke this month (dental bills etc) and that a pot luck dinner in-house was better for everyone.  (Side note: I love those damn girls.)  My advice here:  be honest.  You work hard, whether you get paid or not, and if they're friends worth having, they WILL understand.  They may even be in the same boat as you, but nobody wants to say it.  

5.  Sex, Baby
      I know what you're thinking:  this is a new millennium, not the 50s, and women talk about sex all the time (just turn on the radio.)  But there's a difference between talking about sex in the general terms and talking TO someone about sex.  Specifically, talking to your significant other about it.  There was a time (and not that long ago) where I would still blush horribly if Coffeeguy talked about sex anywhere outside our bedroom.  But over the years, I have realized that it is well worth it to tell him what I like (and if you just can't tell them, show them!) and what I don't like.  There is nothing wrong with feeling good about sex! (As long as you're old enough, it's consensual, and it's not with someone else's spouse.)
If this were an actual conversation with Punkgirl, she would be a little older, and I would just have to add, as sort of a series of side notes about sex...your vagina is a magnificent creation, and anyone who doesn't appreciate that is not worthy of you ...nothing should hurt (unless you're into that, which, as your mother, I hope you're not--but I'm not judging)..if you don't finish first at least a third of the time you need to be more selfish...it's ok to ask questions, and if your partner doesn't understand that then they're being selfish, and are again not worthy of you...and last, but certainly not least, when you are feeling alone, like a freak, like the only person this has happened to, call your Mommy or your Nana or your best friend (because I trust that you've picked a good one.)  You are not alone.


  1. That is a good list! I hate having unwritten lists of things I'm not supposed to talk about. When I was a kid I was forever blurting out things we were not supposed to talk about, and then getting the cold shoulder from everyone around me, like,"We'll just pretend we didn't hear you." Your kids are fortunate to have a mom who is willing even to start those conversations herself and help your kids understand the more difficult parts of life!

    1. I think, often, it's not a case of not wanting to talk about it, but more that no one does. I think conversations are always important--because I have a Mom who I could tell anything, if I only would have. I didn't tell her how bad my post-partum was until years later--because I was so embarrassed. I want to make sure that, even though my daughter knows we can talk about anything, we have the conversations first, so that if they come up it's not embarrassing or something we haven't brought up before!