Things We Don’t Talk About

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Warning: Not my usual kind of writing. Read at your own risk.

I woke this afternoon from my nap feeling gross. My body is going through a period of change. In the erratic swinging of hormones, I find myself raging relentlessly. Sometimes I rage physically, my voice reaching octaves higher than normal. Some days, I sit in the corner of my bathroom raising the middle finger to the world. I am angry all the time. Most days though, I am exhausted, physically and mentally trying to figure this change that seems like no one has a handle on.

I talk to my Amma. I talk to other friends who have either gone through perimenopause or menopause. They sound wise and practical. The only thing in common they all have is that it is unpredictable, uncomfortable and unpleasant. The other thing is that it lasts years.

I think about all the changes a girl’s body goes through beginning with puberty. I don’t remember anyone telling anything other than there will be blood. No one told me about the pain that preceded it or the exhaustion that had me sleepy and weepy all day. I dealt with the pain because I was told it is how it was. I assumed everybody shared my experience because it was one of those things we do not talk about.

In the run-up to marriage and by extension sex, all I was equipped with was whatever I had gleaned from books. There was no sex education at school or at home. There were plenty of lewd jokes, raucous laughter and plenty of innuendos. Nobody talked about pleasure or pain. It was not until years later that chance, sporadic conversation with my women friends detailed the breadth of experiences. Not one person who shared talked about pleasure, they had a lot to say about what was painful, what was uncomfortable and what was unwanted. We never hear about this because it is something we do not talk about.

The babymaking process strips away fear and shame. It makes you comfortable with your legs in stirrups, strange men and women inserting ice-cold metal speculum inside you. You deal with it. You figure everyone you know went through it. You figure this is how it is done. You also figure once the baby is out of you, all of this is in the past.

No one talks about episiotomy or cerclages. There is not a whisper about preeclampsia or gestational diabetes. No one talks about how after a C-Section you lose sensation in the lower half of your abdomen. There is not a word of all the things that could go wrong. No one tells you about hemorrhoids or the incontinence that follows first-time motherhood. There is nary a word about mastitis or the excruciating pain that goes with it. The postpartum mood swings, the deep funk you cannot name, the fear, the irrational, paranoid fear for the child you just birthed. The absence of the all-consuming love you were promised. There is so much we don’t know when we make that joyous pregnancy announcement. We don’t talk about these things. We don’t.

Just when you think the hardest part is over, your body betrays you again. Your cycles are erratic. You carry pads and tampons with you at all times. You figure at least menopause means the end of the blood and gore, but no sirree, not in a hurry. You have years of palpitations, hot flashes, spectacular raging, irregular periods, heavy bleeding, light bleeding, unexplained discharges and the specter of cancer that will linger for years before the actual relief from the menstrual cycle only to be greeted with thinning and brittle bones, increased risk for cardiovascular events as they call it. We don’t talk about it.

We don’t talk about anything that matters.

15 comments

  1. It’s spot on Lakshmi. No talk about this or what precede this stage. Moms when they do say something it’s almost nonchalantly said as if it’s an afterthought. I went thru this and am still going thru. Cant share with anyone else because it’s too early for most of my circle of friends. Husbands sometime understand and then forget the very next minute.

  2. Had no clue all through. Never had pain through periods till now. Now, it is as though it is with vengeance. Never spoke to anyone , had no one. Through every stage. Reading about child birth helped me. Went through that alone. Same now. Dealing with it. Wishing it to all end. Completely.

  3. How right you are! And why don’t we? Today, you have friends to talk to as attested by above comments. When I was that age, in the US of A, not even friends talked about such things. It was taboo. Chi chi. You could gossip till the end of time. But personal issues were “ how can you say/ talk about such a thing”. I cannot describe the loneliness of it. However, I had my doctor prescribe medication to stop the erratic periods altogether. I just couldn’t get up in front of a group of trainees with that pressure as well.

    Good luck. I can only assure that at some point it WILL STOP. And your life will have a new normal.

    Kantu

  4. It’s a shame but… I think it depends on your friends and maybe cultural norms. My friends and I were talking about this only last week! One friend (and I) were very open… both outspoken Brits… my other friend (from South America) was a tiny bit horrified! So maybe it’s a cultural thing? Brits absolutely LOVE to talk about childbirth and the gory details, I’ve found! And certain Brits are quite comfortable talking about “women’s stuff” like periods…

    1. I definitely think it is cultural. For a nation with the second biggest population we rarely talk about the female body, menstruation, sex, pregnancy, infertility or menopause except in whispers.

  5. Thank you for writing this. I have learnt a few things. That makes it further easy to be supportive of the wife, especially when she is irritable, and the husband does not know why.

  6. You are so right – we do not even know what normal is, what abnormal is, when to go to the Doctor, should we go to the Doctor, does rest help, or the milk with saffron help? No one knows – the mothers care but do not know any better themselves. I would not mind if it came to rock our worlds annually, but this constancy is exhausting.
    Oh well….hope you feel better soon.

  7. It’s my first visit to your blog and I am definitelly staying for longer 🙂 Where are you from Laksh? Are you from India? My husband is from there (I am Polish) and I know so much more about Indin culture now and I can really understand what you are saying in your post.
    However, sometimes I think not knowing is actually a blessing. When I was pregnant with my first baby I just went with a flow. I wasn’t doing any research about the symptoms or complications, I treated my pregnancy as something super natural and had no worries. Now, unwelcome pieces of information find their way to me somehow, I even found out about a stillbirth (I had no idea!) and I fear it every day as I am pregnant again! It’s so irrational but I can’t help it. I was much happier not knowing…

    1. At 38 weeks pregnant, I look back at my first pregnancy fondly. I was much younger then, and I didn’t look at unwelcome pieces of information. Now older (and not sure if i’m wiser), I worry.
      Sometimes, i don’t know if I should even think about the things that can go bad, and sometimes when people tell me, I resent it. I guess, you want to know, but since you can’t change things, you don’t want to know!
      Sigh!

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