“Regardless of the cost even now, their eyes see, their ears hear, their tongues speak, and they are kind.”Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves, pg 193
Menstrual stories, pregnancy stories, birth stories, and post-partum stories are not in the narratives of our nation. They are not the foundations of history; they are not voiced in the constitution or at inaugural addresses. Pregnancy, birth, post-partum and everything in between stories are the silenced stories of humankind. These stories have existed since the beginning of time but are shoved into the hospital rooms, bedrooms, bathrooms, and women’s corners where screams, grunts, breathing, and blood are the silenced stories of life. Each womb story is as diverse as the humans who originate from them and we don’t tell them.
But, sometimes, if you are lucky enough to witness and kind enough to listen, these stories are told in small rooms or parks or in support groups, grief groups, and therapy rooms. Sometimes, when a woman is being crushed by depression, sometimes when the horrors of her birth or loss or abortion are too much, sometimes when she has a friend or sister or mother who knows, sometimes when she feels safe, sometimes she tells her story.
I realize that we have done humanity, particularly women, a disservice by hiding these stories in safe rooms and not sharing them on loudspeakers for everyone to hear. I am realizing that some men and politicians don’t know that bleeding and making life (inside our wombs and outside) is long and miraculous and arduous. And that women do it without being asked or considered. Having a womb has absolutely nothing to do with politics – with the words and ideas that politicians create – women’s bodies do what they do without permission, without treatise, and without politics.
I didn’t know that my first birth was traumatic. It has been fifteen years and my pelvic floor physical therapist just told me that after the trauma of childbirth, after the ripping and bruising and damage of birthing my son, my brain disconnected from my pelvic floor muscles, leaving me with nerve damage in my pelvic floor muscles. And I had no idea.
Without womb stories, people can minimize pregnancy, through rhetoric, through the neglect of telling women’s stories, saying women’s words, and using women’s language for body parts and experiences, people can take wombs for granted. Politicians lessen the incredible, damaging sacrifice that childbirth is by reaching back in time and citing treatises written by men from a time when women were property and by failing to become educated about women now. Perhaps, by telling our stories, Americans can better appreciate the other side of the magical, incredible aspects of bringing life into the world. I have come to see that women’s stories make a difference.
So: I pee my pants constantly. I wear pads every day. I am a fit, 125-pound, 35-year-old runner (and mother of four) and I sit in my running partner’s car with urine-soaked pants. I always wear black leggings because sanitary pads are not enough to hold the urine that leaks from my post-partum damage. And I never say a thing.
I never tell my friends that I need to run home to change my pants, I don’t tell my kids that the smell is me, and I don’t let my husband see me cry on the toilet. Fortunately, my husband is able to forget that I have been peeing my pants for fifteen years due to nerve damage in my pelvic floor and prolapse of my urethra. I’m a woman so I don’t complain about my scars from childbirth. And my silence, compounded with billions of other women, matters.
When I was 20 years old, I went to a urologist, the best urologist in Utah with a car seat on my arm and a massive sanitary pad in my pants. I was horrified and humiliated but desperate. The urologist told me that he couldn’t do anything for me. Not feeling myself pee my pants was a “normal side-effect” of vaginal deliveries. He told me that urology was mostly for men anyway. I have been peeing my pants ever since.
For a long time, I thought that my body didn’t matter. That the destruction of my body through childbirth is normal. That I shouldn’t talk about my blood, my urine-soaked pants, my scars from being a woman. I allowed a national narrative to lessen my experience and weaponize other women’s experiences against me.
But I trust women. I trust women to learn that our bodies matter. I trust women to care for the unborn inside them that suck their blood and stretch their skin and shove aside their organs. I trust women to terminate their pregnancies with grief, tenderness, hope, and love. I trust women to educate younger women in the powers, sacrifices, stories, and pains of womanhood. I trust women.
Trusting women doesn’t ensure we will never make mistakes. It doesn’t ensure that we won’t crack and break, murder and steal. It doesn’t ensure that we won’t pee our pants, or choose to have abortions, or have more kids than we can handle. It doesn’t guarantee that there is one “right” way to woman, in fact, it guarantees the opposite: there is no “right” way to woman.
Trusting women gives us a chance to learn. Gives us a chance to be individuals with our own experiences that teach us about ourselves, and our concepts of life. It gives us a chance to be free as women (which looks different than being free as a man). It gives us a chance to create a world built with and by overwhelmed, underprivileged, overworked, queer, conservative, feminist, married, thriving, single, gay, straight, white, brown, working, successful, young, or old women.
I want to beg politicians to trust women. Please. Trust us enough to be human. To be good. Trust women to make difficult, bloody, real decisions. I used to think that women didn’t understand, but we do; we’re bleeding and learning to understand ourselves and our bodies without permission.
Trust women to learn and grow and change on our own. Trust women to think of the unborn. Trust women to terminate their pregnancies. Trust women to bleed and scar and suffer for the unborn. Because we do. Trust women to nurse and cherish and love the newly born. Because we do. Trust women not to when we can’t. Trust women’s experiences. Trust women to tell our own stories and make our own choices. Trust women.
“Yet if we live as we breathe, take in and let go, we cannot go wrong.”Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves, pg. 173
Great article. And yes, so true. I have SO many stories!
But, as a side issue, I encourage you to look for another doctor. I have had AMAZING results with the surgery I had several years ago.
Thank you for the compliment, commiseration, and consideration, Fairy! I am SO glad surgery has been successful. I cannot even imagine. Surgery is next on the list after physical therapy. I am finally taking care of myself.
Amen and amen! I completely agree. It was so disgusting to me when, after Roe was overturned, that the First Presidency reiterated their stance on abortion (NO!), and said that members “may appropriately become involved to PROtect LIFE (emphasis mine) and support religious freedom.” Say what? No mention at all of the women’s whose lives might be affected. Perhaps, “Sisters who may find themselves in difficult situations should feel comfortable turning to YW leaders, RS leaders, family, and medical professionals. This church will help to protect and support you.” No response at all for our female “leaders.” Just ridiculous that women are still seen as property to be directed for the best use of men.
Thank you, Beth! I feel this too. It is ridiculous. Utah law makers are leaving abortion laws as is for now, which is a relief after hearing the horror stories from other states.
Beautiful. Well said. Important message, especially now.
Thank you, Kay.
Outstanding post. I think you’re completely spot on that we men (and anyone who buys into patriarchy) are so prone to minimize the many complexities involved in pregnancy and childbirth and their aftermath. I’m so sorry for the aftermath experiences you’re having to deal with.
Thank you, Ziff.
Love it. I remember when the “End of the Childbearing Years” series was first published on The LDS Women Project. I realized that every woman who lives long enough will have such a story. It’s a universal experience for women. And yet I hadn’t realized it, and I had never heard those kind of stories before.
Thank you for sharing your story. For normalizing sharing such experiences.
Wow! Thank you, Kaylee! I just spent my time reading through these disparate stories of women. Thanks for sharing.
My heart breaks for you. I wear pads now, but I am in my 80s. Several years ago, my urologist (a woman) put me on myrbetriq (sp?) It has made an amazing difference–so much so that she told me that I no longer need to check in with her; she was sending me back to my geriatrician for any further needs.. The pads are now more of a backup. Check it out!
I agree with Meri about the Myrbetriq. It’s a total game changer. I work as a nurse and I’ve seen it change the lives of lots of patients. Sounds like you are doing the work that needs doing, but yes, get yourself a new urologist and get the surgery if it’s a good fit for your needs. Thank you for sharing your experience and normalizing this for women!
I will! Thank you, meri! I wish more doctors knew about stuff like this for younger women.
“Urology is for men” is such a bad response from the doctor and from the medical field. I’m sorry for all you have been through with this. And I’m sad that your experience is so common.
Thank you, Katie.
I came here to write exactly what Katie said. I found that doctor’s response horrifying. Experiences like this are compounded by church training that teaches us to be silent and not question male authority. A few years ago I read Bringing Up Bebe about an American woman’s experience living in Paris and giving birth there. Apparently post-natal pelvic floor physical therapy is a routine part of caring for the woman who gave birth as opposed to just forgetting her after she popped out a baby. It was the first time I had heard of this type of physical therapy. About a year ago I found a device called Perifit that helps women with pelvic floor physical therapy and wasn’t surprised to learn it is a French company.
I read Bringing Up Bebe and was mystified by the French’s focus on women’s pelvic floor healing as well?! My goal is to give this to all of the women I know: your body matters. Your stories are vital in telling the story of the world.
Your words hit deep for me. Thank you for this important piece.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this cultural taboo we have around women’s health issues. I’m on about week 4 of severe, abnormal vaginal bleeding. I’m getting treatment. My doctors are taking this seriously. We’ve done tons of tests, ruled out cancer, and are exploring options as we get the bleeding under control. However I’m currently severely anemic, and am exhausted. (Ive already had one blood transfusion.) I have shortness of breath and muscle pain with daily tasks. But telling folks what’s going on with me feels like over-sharing. Like TMI. All because the blood is exiting my vagina. If it were coming from literally any other place, I could be open about it. It sucks. My amazing CNM was saying how we really only started studying the female body in earnest in 2000. 2000! I don’t even quite understand how that’s possible. But here we all are. I hope you get the help you need to be whole. I’ll be holding space for you!
Thank you so much, Mina! And thank you for sharing (and writing the word vagina!) in this online space. You are brave. Your health and story matters. And thank you for holding space for me.❤️
Lavender, thank you for sharing this. Women are far too used to keeping quiet about the “indecent” parts of womanhood (indecent only because men fear and despise that which makes us different). I am so glad you are addressing these issues now and that there are options available to you.
I have a history of chronic UTIs. I had enough doctors minimize or disbelieve me that I stopped seeking medical treatment for them and suffered through them at home. I finally went to a urologist after 7 years (none of my OBs thought to refer me before then) and had a CT scan and cystourethrogram done, which both came back normal, so the urologist said I was fine and dismissed me. (Something miraculous happened after the birth of my last baby and I only get around one UTI a year now, and I am so grateful.)
Believe women. Trust women.
Oh, Elle. I got choked up reading your comment. Women deserve to be trusted, studied, and believed. Ugh. I keep asking myself why I have waited so long to get help, but then I remember all of the times I asked doctors for help, advice, and healing. If they believed me they didn’t know what to do but most of the time I was dismissed. I didn’t know where else to go… I am SO glad your UTIs have diminished. ❤️