Nearly two weeks ago I had the pleasure of working with students at the university who put together a two-day leadership simulation contest. The Leadership Challenge Event takes 11 months to plan and this year brought in 28 teams of high school and college students from around the region.
The first speaker on the first day of this event was a man with a lot of experience in local and state politics. He talked with the group of more than 140 students about political leadership. It was a pretty interesting lecture. He used the words of great coaches and his own experience to explain what works and what doesn’t when running a political campaign, as the students would in the simulation.
He talked about how there is no room for whining. Then he said:
“Don’t show me the pain, show me the baby.”
Whoa. What? Wait a minute. Something in my mind that that moment totally fried. I said it to myself over and over. “Don’t show me the pain. Show me the baby.”
It was as though the two halves of my brain were battling at how to interpret this. Even now, 10 days after the fact, I can’t decided what I really feel. I just know that the phrase makes me feel a lot.
On the one hand I thought: Yeah. Right on. That’s what I did.
I didn’t complain because I was so thrilled to be holding my son. I was elated to BE A MOMMY after all of that anticipation. I was full of hormones. For several days my mind was consumed as my son battled jaundice. And I wanted the hurt of the diastasis symphysis pubis I sustained during natural labor to just disappear, so I tried not to talk about it out loud. As though I could will it away and wake up one day strong, healthy and pain free. But that day never came and instead my family and I suffered for seven months before I had surgery to put my pelvis back together. (Then came nine weeks in a wheel chair and several weeks of physical therapy.) My son was 11 months old when I graduated physical therapy — walking again with a normal stride and no walker or cane and on a road to full body wellness.
On the other hand I thought: NO. If you hurt to have to MAKE THEM UNDERSTAND. If that means you show the pain you show the pain. I tried to squash this because the man was talking about loosing gracefully, moving on. He wasn’t talking about a situation like mine. But there was something about hearing that phrase, specifically the words “pain” and “baby” together like that, that made it impossible to let go of for several days.
I put it out of my mind, but it keeps coming back. It is nagging at me because my reaction is a reminder of how I have started to blame myself for the situation I ended up in. And that, in turn, has made me very angry. (My counselor and I are working on this.)
If I had let myself cry in pain when I saw my midwife at six-weeks postpartum, rather than just telling her with words that I was still in a lot of pain, and responding with a laugh when she said my husband and I could start having sex before explaining there was no way that was possible because I hurt so much… (But then I write that and I think — no, that should have been enough.) Maybe if I had acted angry in those earlier days, rather than trying to stay positive, things would have been taken more seriously. Was it my fault? Was I unclear? What could I have done?
And this way of thinking brings up a lot of things for me. With the exception of the moment that I felt that ripping sensation on my pubic bone during labor and the pain that followed that was masked by the work of getting my son into the world, our labor experience was just what we hoped for. Until I realized I couldn’t walk. How could I possibly be angry with the women who made that possible? I trusted them when they said it would get better on its own. I believed them when they said there was no reason to get an x-ray and was comforted further when my primary care doctor said she agreed with their assessment.
I trusted them so I didn’t trust myself. I tried so hard to focus on the baby, rather than the pain.
I could have gone to an urgent care facility and asked for an x-ray. Now that it all is behind us I often get very angry with myself for not doing that. I know better. Then I think: Would it have made a difference? Would my care team have known that physical therapy could have brought my symphysis back together? I only learned that after my surgery, from research and meeting other moms online. (It wasn’t until August, when my surgery was scheduled that I had the stomach for much research. And as a former newspaper reporter, I’m a research person.)
“Don’t show me the pain. Show me the baby.”
I guess I think that is true for 99 percent of cases. But if having the baby — literal or figurative — was the cause of the pain, show them both. Please, learn from my experience. Don’t be strong because you think you are supposed to at the expense of your health and you and your family’s quality of life.