Writer’s block. I am learning that it can happen even to those of us who feel we have endless thoughts to share. Those thoughts run around my head like bumper cars on the ocean – swirling and churning and running into each other, and it all leaves me wondering sometimes, “What am I doing?”
Will Share MayFlowers become a game-changer of a campaign, breaking down barriers that keep people from accessing care and feeling like they deserve that care in the first place? Can it really be the pelvic and maternal health pink ribbon equivalent that I have always thought possible? Will it make a difference? These doubts and ponderings hit me hard over the last 48 hours, so I borrowed a bit of advice from ‘The Princess Bride”: “Go back to the beginning.”
I re-read my own essay about why I wanted to launch this whole crazy journey in the first place. And it helped. The beginning reminded me of why I’m in the middle now and of where I hope that we find ourselves.
Happy MayFlowers. I’m still all in.
May is a month of new beginnings and blooming flowers. A day and a week are already set aside in May to honor mothers and to promote women’s health, respectively. Good stuff, to be sure. But not enough. We want the whole month. Let’s elevate conversation and action with regard to female pelvic and perinatal health all month long!
I am a woman. And I love being a woman. I love girly things, like miniskirts and painted nails. I love the challenge that childbearing and breastfeeding brought to my body and spirit. I love my “women’s intuition,” well known as a phrase only because it actually does exist. I love being part of a deep sisterhood that is without words; that lets me look in the eyes of a woman in the Democratic Republic of Congo, hold hands with her, share a smile and know that we share a connection as women that doesn’t need me to speak Swahili or her to speak English (or ask for help from our male interpreter!).
Women are beautiful and complex and strong, and profoundly amazing. I am fortunate enough to be surrounded by many people who share that sentiment and strong enough not to be brought down by those who don’t. Women can be sensual, tough as nails, tender and resilient all at the same time. And yet woman, upon woman, upon woman embodies resiliency to a fault by putting the needs of others before her own—to the detriment of her own health. Despite pelvic pain that renders sex un-enjoyable for her she is “tough as nails” and continues for the sake of her partner “because it’s not fair to him to not have sex, so I just bite my lip, suck it up, and get through it.” Ponder what something like this, or ongoing urine leakage, does to a woman’s connectedness to her inherent sensuality. So what is Share MayFlowers? Hang with me…I promise I’ll bring it around.
I love women that are strong. One example is the recently departed and deeply missed Lyn Lusi, who together with her husband Jo Lusi, a Congolese orthopedic surgeon, founded Heal Africa in Goma, DR Congo. She committed her adult life to her family and the development of an amazing place that is more than just a hospital. It is hope and help and stability for people in DR Congo, where war and insecurity and violence have been a way of life for far too long. For women in particular, it meets unique and sometimes devastating needs for physical, social, emotional and spiritual healing.
In an entirely different way, strong is also Brittany Howard of the band Alabama Shakes, whose authentic and visceral stage presence positively killed it at the Paradise Rock Club in Boston last month. I don’t have many conventional hobbies, but good music—particularly good live music—is a part of what keeps me in balance (or some semblance of it!) with life as a mother, healthcare provider, wife, etc. Given my love affair with both women and music, seeing Brittany own her rock star status was monumental. Don’t just take my word for it. My 61-year-old mother went as my last minute date to the show and raved about how captivating and empowering it was to see a strong woman bringing everything she has and “rocking out” (Mom’s words!). I can’t sing OR play guitar, but when I grow up I still want to be Brittany—or Susan Tedeschi, another female inspiration, true to her passions of motherhood, marriage and downright BRINGING IT with her soulful vocals and guitar, all while in a fabulous dress!
So Share MayFlowers is for women who are strong and who are looking for strength, for women who are inspirational and looking for inspiration, women who can rock out and those who still want to be rock stars when they grow up! Because despite the advances in women’s health in our country (kudos to pink ribbons!) and TV and radio segments about painful sex on WBUR and pelvic organ prolapse on Dr. Oz (on which I have to completely agree with my colleague, Julie Wiebe, PT) too many people still squirm at the mention of female genitalia and too many women wait too many years before seeking care for pelvic health issues such as urinary incontinence and pelvic pain. There is no reason for us not to move toward open, engaging and meaningful discussions about female pelvic and perinatal health (perinatal = preconception, pregnancy, childbirth, postpartum). We may need to first collectively learn how to have these conversations—yes Virginia, you do have muscles down there. And it’s not un-ladylike to talk about them or want to know how they work! Share MayFlowers is here to help us all find our voices and to be a platform for advocacy, education, and connecting the general public, the media, and healthcare providers to each other and to the many organizations that have tirelessly been working in one meaningful way after another to promote issues related to female pelvic and perinatal health.
It takes a lot of self-assurance for a celebrity to admit to having urinary incontinence and be willing to be the face for protective garments. Why should it end there? Can we get a celebrity to talk about perineal trauma during childbirth? Or dealing with painful sex? Or how they had urinary incontinence and sought treatment to eliminate the leakage, not just a palliative measure to keep their clothes dry? Or instead, can we give all the credit and praise afforded to celebrities in our country to the “everyday” women who are pursuing this level of openness and striving for better care for themselves? These are the women who inspired me to add this new adventure to my already teeming aspirations and schedule. The women who come into our clinics wondering where this information was when they had their injury/symptoms/baby—wondering what can be done to change things for their friends, their daughters, for every other woman. Wondering why they spent months or years (decades) thinking it was their fault, that it was a normal consequence of aging or childbirth, or that there was nothing to help them.
Why do we feel so passionately that female pelvic and perinatal health—yes the “down there” kind of health—deserves at least a month of focused attention annually? Consider these statistics:
- Nearly 80% of women in the US have at least one pregnancy resulting in childbirth in their lifetime.
- Pregnancy/childbirth is the single greatest factor in lifetime risk of developing urinary incontinence, and developing urinary incontinence for the first time while pregnant is the single greatest predictor in ongoing postpartum urinary incontinence. (For the record, ANY amount of urine leakage counts with any activity—from a trickle to a few drops to a gush!)
- Urinary incontinence affects 13 million Americans, 85% of whom are women and it is estimated that 50% of women will have urinary incontinence at some point in their lifetime.
- Chronic pelvic pain disproportionately affects women 4:1 with research indicating that its prevalence is on par with that of chronic lower back pain and asthma.
I’m not just a hammer wearing my nail-goggles. These are real statistics. And real statistics come from real people—women just like you and the people you love. Please consider them as you take in my explanation of why this cause is so significant for all of us.
Lastly, consider why women are expected to travel through the natural, wondrous, but monumentally physical experience of pregnancy and childbirth without really getting guidance on how to get their bodies put back together and on the right track postpartum. And yet someone sprains an ankle and often without question heads straight for physical therapy. I’m just sayin’…