Monday, August 17, 2009

The Things We Do Not Say

As if Ethan and Eli heading off to school were not enough, I also had my first day of school. (If you don't already know, I'm attempting my hand at nursing and am trying to complete the pre-requisites so I can apply to the nursing program at Kennesaw State.) I started classes last spring, but my class was online so today, my first class in an actual classroom on campus, felt like my real first.

As I dropped Ethan off at school this morning and then fought traffic, I worried that I would be the only adult learner (such a lovely PC term) in my class. When I arrived, I was thrilled to see that not only was I not the only adult in the class, but I wasn't even the oldest adult, probably by a decade! Yay for the two forty-somethings in my class! They will never know how much good they have done for my bruised ego!

During class, I recognized one of the girls that I'd met during our nursing program orientation. I went up to her after our chemistry instructor had dismissed us and started chatting, reintroducing myself, telling her I remembered she'd had a new baby just before we'd met. At first she didn't remember me, but then I could see her eyes brighten with recognition and our chat turned into the kind of conversation that typically only happens between long-time friends. Or at least between people like me who have no sense of privacy (My mother often tells me she will never understand how I am so free with the most intimate details of my life - but lucky for me and my blog there are people who are curious about them!)

As we talked before our next class she told me how'd she'd had a terrible summer. She'd taken a full load of classes but had also decided to take herself off of the medications she was taking to help her with her Post Partum Depression. I know that some people hear PPD and recoil. I am not one of those people. Very shortly after I'd given birth to Ethan, I got hit with a fast (and furious) case of PPD. And I kept it to myself. For all of the reasons that you would expect for someone to keep it to themselves...shame, an unwillingness to burden other people with my issues, a fear that people would think I was ungrateful for my beautiful and healthy son.

I tried to treat the PPD with anti-depressants but the physical side effects of the medications were unbearable for me (shakiness, sleeplessness, anxiety) and I was forced to battle through on my own. Slowly, the fog lifted and it was only then, when I began to feel better, that I realized just how badly I'd felt. I never tried to hurt myself, but I surely fantasized about it. The only thing that got me through those scary days was the deep and consuming love I felt for Ethan. He made the despair and sadness dissipate enough to at least let me function normally each day. When the fog lifted, I mentioned Post Partum Depression to anyone who would care (or not) to listen, at any opportunity that presented itself (or that I created). And what I found both comforted me and infuriated me. Many of the women I spoke to responded with "Oh, I had that! It was awful." WHAT!? They did!? Why, oh WHY, didn't they say something to me!? I was terrified and alone and ashamed for months. And I didn't have to be. What a waste.

So today, I was so proud of my new chemistry friend. I was so proud of her for speaking up and telling it like it was. In fact, I was so touched and impressed by her honesty, that I shared the story of how I miscarried a baby in between my pregnancy with Ethan and my pregnancy with Eli and how I battled with infertility for a year and how heartbreaking it is trying to get pregnant on the heels of a miscarriage. Immediately, her face softened and she shared the story of her three-year-battle with infertility and her heartbreak over a miscarriage. Now, it may seem a little odd, two perfect strangers sharing their fertility and pregnancy loss sob stories. But I was comforted and uplifted by our discussion. I know, that because of our honest and emotional conversation, we became fast friends. We cut through the B.S. that takes years to muddle through sometimes and found out what was at the core of each other. And only because she had the courage to open up. I like to think that maybe there was something about me that she knew she could trust, but really, I think she's just the kind of gal who speaks about what's on her mind.

But I had to wonder...why don't women do this more often? Why do we keep all of our pain to ourselves and only share it when it becomes unbearable? Why do we feel dramatic or embarrassed or ashamed when we fully experience our emotions? Why have I never told anyone (other than my husband) that I still feel hot tears in my eyes when I'm filling out paperwork at a doctor's office and I write "3 pregnancies, 2 live births"? Why do I feel like I can't say that out loud and that I need to push that sadness away?

I'm not sure what the answers to my own questions are, but I do know that while the subject matter was a bit depressing, I loved the authenticity of our exchange today.


Guest said...

Congrats on going back to school Jen. It is pretty sad that at 32 we consider ourselves adult learners. I just started back and instead of continuing in Criminal Justice I changed to English Literature!

I am glad to hear that after some trouble in between having your two lovely boys all is well for you again!


GoonSquadSarah said...

I find that talking about any unpleasantness that is a shared experience helps everybody. I wish we were all more open too.

Dad said...

I think you need to be a writer! They are all wonderful!

Andrea @ GoodGirlGoneRedneck said...

We aren't open and honest because we fear being judged. We think every other mother has things all under control and perfect, and yet, we'd all feel SO much better if we shared more!

I just read your profile info and we sound like we are twins [minus the nursing part!] ;) I look forward to following you and reading more/learning more about you!

Jen said...

Funny that you said that about being twins! When I peeked at your blog the other night, I was thinking the same thing!

Jen said...

Me too!

Cassie said...

It really is sad that women these days still have to be so hush hush about PPD. I, too, had to come to grips with it, and it's a scary lonesome place. I'm a nurse, and my coworkers were not shocked or disappointed with me when they heard about my issues with it. In fact, a lot of them sympathized with me having gone through the same thing.

Congrats on going to nursing school. It is a rewarding career and not for the faint of heart. I'm sure you'll do it justice!

Lauren Hale said...

Heya Jen. Thanks for this post. I've included it over at my blog with this week's round-up of great PPD posts by moms. I love this post because not only is it open and honest but it also includes how if we just lose the fear and stigma and open up with women around us, we'll all understand each other better instead of judging and worrying what everyone else will think. I really appreciate your honesty, directness, and willingness to share!

Lauren Hale