Women have a special relationship with their Obstetricians. The reason may be apparent to many, but once you can talk to someone about your vagina, not to mention, surrender to the medical necessity of invasive inspection, and expose your most vulnerable body parts to essential scrutiny, it often lends itself to, shall we say, an intimate relationship, of sorts.
Yes, you can touch my breasts. Yes, you can insert your cold metal contraption into my vagina, which seems to have a mind of its own as it not-so-gracefully defies penetration. I will submit to the obligatory examination on a regular basis whether you are a man or a woman, whether you make me comfortable or not, whether you like your job or not, whether you’ve had a bad day, or not, and I will cooperate under any condition because, well, because you are my doctor and I know this is just part of the deal.
But in return, I expect you to care about me. Not a lot, just enough to have my best interest at heart and have enough respect for my entire self to have a dialogue about how I am feeling. Not part of the medical paradigm? Oh dear doctor, that’s where you are wrong.
I say to all postpartum women, make your doctor listen to you. It IS part of best practice and comprehensive medical care. You have a right to insist that before you leave your doctor’s office, you feel that your doctor has adequately made note of what is most important to you.
If you have recently had a baby, and you are beyond the 2-3 week postpartum time frame that marks the end of the baby blues, and you do not like the way you are feeling, here is what I suggest you think about:
First, the obvious, but not easy: Tell your doctors how you are feeling. Really tell them. Tell them if you are scared. Tell them this isn’t the way you are used to feeling. Tell them you don’t feel like yourself. Tell them you need their help.
IF THEY… dismiss you, pooh-pooh you, patronize you, ridicule you, ignore you – find another doctor.
IF THEY… offer empty reassurance, sound condescending, make you feel silly for bringing it up – you need to decide if you want to make the time and effort to educate them.
IF THEY… do not screen you for PPD, or tell you THIS IS NOT POSTPARTUM DEPRESSION with doing a thorough assessment, if they tell you to go relax or take a walk or have a glass of wine – you need to help them understand that they might be operating with misinformation.
Second. Remember your doctor is there to help you. If you are silenced or intimidated or weakened by the combination of how your symptoms make you feel and how your doctor makes you feel, that is not okay. You need to respond to that by paying attention to these cues and stand up against the temptation to retreat, by letting your doctor know exactly what you need. And what is that? It will be different for every woman, but fundamentally, it is to be heard.
Your doctor may actually care very much but have the wrong information. Consider the truly wonderful doctor who tells the 4-month postpartum woman who expresses symptoms of sleeplessness, irritability, hopelessness, constant worry, and panic – that this is just what being a mother feels like.
YOU are the best advocate for yourself. Just like you can help your partner help you, you can help your doctor help you. If you wait for others to take the initiative, you may not get the help you need until your symptoms get worse. Sometimes, the people closest to you, including your wonderful doctors, are wrong. Sometimes, they make presumptions that are not always in sync with what your experience is. You are the one with the best information that can put you on the road to recovery. Your doctor can only know what you tell them. Your doctor will be better able to respond to your needs if you are clear and direct about what you need. If it feels like your doctors aren’t listening, it may be because they are too busy, they don’t care, they are having a bad day, they don’t understand, they are overwhelmed, overworked, depressed themselves, or they are misinformed. OR, it may be because you are not expressing yourself clearly enough.
Take a stand on behalf of your mental health and tell your doctor if you do not feel heard. Your doctor needs to know and wants to help. Everyone will benefit.
Often, when we feel unheard, or misunderstood, we withdraw. We sulk. We get angry or we give up. There are all kinds of unproductive responses when someone misinterprets what we say or what we need. Instead of recoiling, the best response to the frustration of not being heard is to talk back. Reclarify. Reinterpret. Right then, at the moment you sense that your words are not getting through. Pause briefly. Take a breath, then speak again. If you can’t do it then, and you don’t realize how bad you feel until you get home, then call you doctor. Ask them to call you when they have time to talk, after hours. If their support staff is screening their calls and wants to know what the call is about, tell them it’s personal, it’s important, and you would like to speak to your doctor when possible. It’s part of their job.
No matter how badly you feel, sit up tall, even if you are crying, speak right through your tears and directly to your point. Look your doctor in the eyes. If need be, ask him/her to stop what they are doing for a moment and just sit with you. If you do this right, it will only take 2 minutes of their time. Really.
Remember, you can be symptomatic and competent at the same time. Do not let your symptoms get in the way of you saying or doing what you need to say or do.
“I don’t think you understand.”
Or, “I don’t think you heard me.”
Or, “I need to you give me another couple of minutes to listen to what I have to say.”
Or, “I’m not sure you understand how bad I really feel.”
Do not leave until you feel heard. The blogs and social media are a phenomenal way to find support and strength through a community of like-minded women with compatible agendas. But until you take this platform to the doctors who are in position to help you, you will be preaching to the choir.
Find your voice. Find the words. Be true to yourself and your body. Spread the word. Help yourself and others by leading the way. Turn your frustration into a teaching moment. Rise above your disappointment and create an environment that is more conducive to your ultimate well-being.
YOU hold the power to help yourself heal.