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.