The Social Taboo of a Number Two
I can vividly remember a family dinner during the last few weeks of my Grandpa’s life. A shell of himself and wheelchair bound he was in many ways, gone already. The cheeky sparkle was missing from his topaz eyes. The spindly arms that always reached out from his slender frame to encompass me in a cuddle, hung limply at his side. As we ate our meal, my little Grandpa Paddy punctured the heavy silence saying, “I need a poo.” My Nana hearing only her husband and life – long best friend, wheeled him in to the toilet and tended to him, as she had their children. Yet the rest of the family froze, fork in mid – air, an awkward silence pulling up a chair and whispering into each of our ears “well what do you make of that. Poo at the dinner table”
20 years later and a mother of two young children poo is part of my daily discourse. Did she poo? When did he poo? Was it lumpy? “Do you need a poo, honey”? My husband and I are experts in faeces. 5 months ago, we bought a puppy. Now these stool memoirs include canine excrement. Did, THE PUPPY poo”, was THE PUPPY’S poo lumpy, and so on. My husband claims I am obsessed with the topic. I am mainly the enquirer, him the reluctant informant. However, it fascinates me that something that everybody does carries with it such a taboo. Why is it ok to say, “I’m going for a pee”. Why does this bodily function receive the accolade of social acceptance? I feel sorry for Mr Poo, languishing in the corners of society. The ironic thing is that he is a very powerful man. He holds the secrets to what is going on inside your body. He is the barcode of your gut. The hallmark of your general health, he is an ignored personal GP.
In recent years, there have been many national campaigns to raise awareness of illnesses such as bowel cancer, which I think is a wonderful thing. Come on down to the centre of the stage Mr Bowel and let us put you under the spotlight. If I were directing, my next star of the show would be Mr Gut. He is responsible for building our immune system and protecting us against infection. Scientists are now discovering he is our second brain and can even affect our mental health. If he were allowed a place in society, he would tell us all about Crohn’s disease a debilitating inflammatory bowel disease.
Last to the stage the duo of Mr Colon and Miss Rectum. Without this intricately designed chute we would either, explode, or float up into the air, afraid to mention the socially unacceptable, whilst puzzling over our newfound buoyancy. A close friend of mine and her husband live with the reality of Ulcerative Colitis. Another IBD it too is a long-term condition. As cloaked a subject as all of the above it affects 146,000 people in the UK. That is a lot of people to ignore. Not simply needing to go to the toilet more often, all the symptoms are too long to list. To name only a few would include, anaemia, weight loss, arthritis, and mouth ulcers.
These illnesses also have a huge psychological impact on sufferers. It can affect capacity to work, personal relationships, and cause a fear of leaving the house. I can only imagine isolation would also be a big factor. With IBD’s symptoms are typically intermittent with “flare – ups” and periods of no symptoms in between. The unpredictability and incurable course of these diseases surely impair an individual’s belief of their own self – control. It is also now recognised that this causes a feeling of helplessness, and predisposes a sufferer to depression.
These debilitating diseases can often result in surgery. A recent trend on Facebook has seen sufferers post photos of themselves and their colostomy bags. A post I welcome much more than someone’s selfie with a Gucci bag. As a mother of two young children, I want them to live in a world where differences are celebrated, not scorned or hidden. It is why I will continue my obsession with poo, and why I will continue to encourage my children to discuss it.
I applaud Mr Poo.
The question is: will you?
The subject of miscarriage struggles to find a place in society. Cloaked in mystery and privacy it is a topic we seem reluctant to acknowledge. The commonest complication of pregnancy. The estimated UK miscarriage rate is 250,000 each year. Doctors believe that roughly, 50% of all conceptions never make it to a pregnancy test, and once there is a positive test 15-20% of those miscarry before 12 weeks.
Why then does this topic carry such a taboo? Miscarriage is a medical term for the loss of a foetus before 23 weeks. A minority are able to see this as a “blip” and move on. For others the effects can be life changing, with feeling of loss, guilt and blame, they can have far-reaching implications on a person’s wellbeing.
Miscarriage is a medical term for the loss of a foetus before 23 weeks. A minority are able to see this as a “blip” and move on. For others the effects can be life changing…
Faced with a painful and emotional situation woman must also comprehend the medical terminology that goes along with this experience which can be terrifying and deeply damaging. Product of Conception (POC) was used to detail my first miscarriage to me.
As humans, we are designed to look for cause and effect. The desire to find a reason, an explanation. In the case of miscarriage there is often no reason found. Perhaps the greatest struggle that woman face is finding themselves in this vacuum. With medicine drawing a blank, maybe we then look to ourselves as morally culpable to balance this disparity.
I would like to share the five pieces of advice below that I have learned during my experience of miscarriage. I hope that someone, somewhere, relates to them and that they help you, even a little.
The physicality of miscarriage is something as silenced as the topic itself. Miscarrying is a physically painful experience, which can last over a period of weeks, causing abdominal cramps, heavy bleeding and in many cases hospital admissions. It is important to let your body heal and rest. Letting your body physically adjust and recover from the trauma it has been through.
A pregnancy loss at any stage is still that: a loss. Allow yourself and your partner time to acknowledge and grieve this loss. Feelings of undeserved mourning are only negative and untrue. Give in to the grief to be able to heal.
Miscarriage is known as the loneliest grief. Speak to your partner, extended family, and friends. Females may own the physical side of miscarriage, but your partner is experiencing the same loss and disappointment that you are. Friends may feel unsure of what to say and what terminology to use “pregnancy” vs “baby”, but push past this and rest your head on any available shoulder.
Let the little comments go
People may say things, unthinking, and not designed to hurt. Try to let these comments wash over you. I carried one midwife’s clumsy sentence “I’m sorry it isn’t the news you were hoping for” with me for a long time. Festering and a burden, do not allow any anger to consume you; let it go.
It is important to gain a sense of closure as you recover. Moving forward without this can be as damaging as the experience itself.
Miscarriage fundamentally changed who I am. My physical, emotional and mental health were all deeply affected. I am now choosing to let my experiences empower me to help others. To let you know that you will be OK.
I think of “them “every day and yes, sometimes I cry. Yet I have achieved what I hope you do too.
Gemma Chatzipanagiotis, wife to Teo and mum to Valentino and Morena (and three angels), has always been a passionate writer and has recently started a blog: https://mummymrs.me/. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter.
5TH OCTOBER 2018|IN MIND
Published in Fearless Femme Magazine
By Gemma Chatzipanagiotis
Image credit, Zoltan Tasi, via Unsplash
Content Warning: mentions of medication withdrawals and pregnancy loss
We have been close friends for 18 months now, you and I. A relentless labourer, picking up my pieces and sticking them back together again. We did not hit it off immediately: we both know that. Not love at first sight, but more thrust together by necessity.
At first you made me shudder, you made my jaw dance; my eyes stare open into the night, and massaged electricity into the back of my head. You made me so hot and shaky that I sublet the shower for several weeks. You picked up the little appetite I had and calmly packed it away.
Weeks passed and we grew to work well together, Cit. Dragging my serotonin levels up off their knees, I began to have brighter days. The terror that I felt on a daily basis began to ebb, the silhouettes of my loved ones waiting on the shore, easier to see. We spent time together on these bright days. Skyping my children and feeling worthy to speak with them, hours of crosswords, and a million cups of tea. My mind began to feel calmer with your residency. My Google searches of terminal illness symptoms soon ceased.
Some days my “Other” would prove stronger than you and I. Dark days of indescribable terror. My Other has a long-standing relationship with me you see. An anxious whisper in childhood, he had long since graduated to a confident tenor. Motherhood provided him the perfect platform. He prospered here. He insisted something would go wrong. He led me by the hand each morning to the nursery assuring me I deserved all that I got. He sat with me in the bathroom and did his best “TOLD YOU SO” face, every time I lost a pregnancy. He draped himself across my back, my black knapsack, assuring me that yes; your daughter’s diagnosis is your fault.
He was with me when I had my first panic attack on the subway. He invited friends too. A frenzy of little worries. Each day when I dropped my son off at nursery, he encouraged me to have a glance back and whisper, “if this is the last time you see him alive, does he seem happy?” The multitude of little worries scurrying behind him.
On the day my Other won I was amazed to learn that it has distinct hallmarks, making him easy to identify. The GP confirmed. Yes, he places a golf ball in your throat so you cannot eat. Yes, he is a sleep thief. Yes, he barricades the door and keeps you inside. Yes, he is a medical mastermind who can help you diagnose yourself. The answer?
A prescription of Citalopram 20mg.
This is how we came to be. That first night I crawled into bed and waited for you to work your magic. The side effects you gave me were almost as bad as the Other. I relocated to my mother’s, and my jaw became your typewriter. I spent that first night staring at the picture of my long dead Grandpa on the dresser. Pleading with him repeatedly to take this feeling away, the dark silence punctuated every so often with your typing.
A few weeks later and we had settled into our companionable existence. Us against the world. Us against the Other.
Thank you, Cit.
For the last week, I have begun to visit you less. We are on day six and already my body misses you. I am naked around the house most days to compensate for the sauna inside me. My mind won’t rest as easy at night without your ritual lullaby and I have to concentrate hard to stay focused. The typewriter jaw has returned, and that is why I have chosen to write this. My jaw and keyboard chattering in unison.
This is our crescendo.
I truly hope that you and the Other are now historical in my story.
Let me go. Leave me be. Let me live.
Gemma is a mother of 2 young children. She is fanatical about reading and harbours a desire to write. After a series of traumatic events, she suffered a nervous breakdown almost 2 years ago. A large part of her self-prescribed therapy has been her writing. She has a blog called Mummy.Mrs.ME and has had a few articles published. She is passionate about raising societies awareness of mental health and wellbeing.