*I have been given this course free of charge as part of a review through the Chronic Illness Bloggers network. Although the course was a gift, all opinions in this review remain my own and I was in no way influenced by the company.*
Fellow chronic illness blogger, Esther who runs the blog Life in Slow Motion offers three different courses for people with chronic pain.
Esther is a counsellor and writer. Her aim is to help people address the physical, spiritual, and emotional impact of chronic illness and pain.
I took up the offer of reviewing the 31 Days of Expressive Writing of Expressive Writing for People with Chronic Illness and Pain.
The course aims to help reduce emotional stress, improve physical health and to help patients “find themselves again”.
Reduce Emotional Stress
“Writing that includes a high level of emotional disclosure can improve mood, reduce intrusive thoughts and anxiety, and increase your overall sense of well-being.”
Improve Physical Health
Research shows that expressive writing can reduce stress hormones, increase immune function, lower heart rate, and decrease physical pain.
Find Yourself Again
Expressive writing will help you process feelings and memories, gain insight and meaning, process spiritual issues, and set future goals and plans.
So, what is expressive writing?
Expressive writing is personal and emotional writing without regard to usual writing conventions, like spelling, punctuation etc. You must turn off your inner dictionary and thesaurus. Expressive writing simply expresses what is on your mind and in your heart.
Expressive writing pays more attention to feelings rather than the actual story itself. But, like narrative writing, expressive writing can have a story. But often, expressive writing is difficult and unpredictable, and that is a perfectly normal. Expressive writing is not so much what happened as it is how you feel about what happened or is happening.
What does the Expressive Writing Course include?
The course is broken up into eight “chapters”.
-Introduction to Expressive Writing
-Your Grief and Emotions
-Your Strength, Joy and Hope
Each day you are given an exercise or “prompt”, the exercises range in time but take no longer than 30 minutes each.
The beauty of this course is that there is no deadline, you can do as much or as little of the course as you like in a day. This is ideal for people with chronic illnesses because, as we all know, there are days where we are simply not able to do anything but lie there and wait for our symptoms to ease. Of course then there is brain fog which makes us forget, like, everything!
Over the few days I did this course, I found myself to be in a far better head space than I have been in recent months. Just getting my feelings down on paper on a daily basis, was actually very liberating.
I learned a lot about myself during this course. There are a few particular exercises where you just write, not about anything in particular just wherever you mind takes you for those few minutes. When I read back what I wrote I realised just how much is on my mind, all the things I worry about sitting there on paper was a real eye opener. Interestingly, a lot of them were issues “normal” people would worry about like money, housework etc. Writing them down made them almost more manageable to conquer. That in retrospect, everything I worry about can be fixed, one way or another. Some may take more time and help than others but all in all, I have conquered much more difficult tasks.
Those types of exercises were my favourite and I will definitely continue to use this as a form of self therapy.
I also really enjoyed the more structured exercises such as writing about the experiences I had with the different stages of grief and looking back at all the milestones I achieved since diagnosis.
There are some exercises that are based on faith like reading through bible verses and analysing and applying it to your own experiences with chronic illness. I did skip these particular sections as they didn’t apply to me as someone who doesn’t practice religion.
I did go through the Faith section of the course and from what read, I think anyone who finds comfort in their faith would be fond of this particular aspect of the course. I think it would also be healing for somebody who is struggling with their faith.
There are some PDF attachments which you can download for particular exercises and I plan to use them for a chronic illness bullet journal I’m putting together.
The Expressive Writing Course is $39 which I think is a fairly reasonable price considering the course was put together by somebody who is a licensed Clinical Counsellor with a Master’s Degree in their field . It is really hard (at least here in Ireland) to find somebody who specialises in counselling for chronic illness. Waiting times for mental health services are also some of the worst in the world. I waited two years to get an appointment with a psychiatrist. I started this course just before my first appointment and I already felt much better in myself by the time I saw the doctor.
When you break it down to $1.20 a day for a researched based course, you are getting a a really good deal. Plus you can also redo the course if you so wish.
There are some parts of the course that you may not feel like doing (like me with the faith section) but it’s simply a case of taking what you want from the course and using it for your every day life.
While I haven’t seen an improvement in my physical health thus far, I feel that if I continue to practice the techniques I learned on this course that I will feel better equiped to deal with the daily battle that is chronic pain.
I would have liked if the work could have all been done on the one platform as an online journal rather switching back between word and the website. But that’s just personal preference.
I came to you as a scared, vulnerable teenager. I was in pain and tired all the damn time.
“You’re depressed”, you said.
I walked out with a script for antidepressants. I hoped this would fix everything.
No such luck. I am a zombie. I didn’t care about anything. My friends are scared for me.
Months later I return with the same complaint. My joints hurt. I’m still tired. A new symptom arose. Chest pain.
“You’re stressed”, you said.
“I don’t feel stressed”, I responded.
“Subconscious stress,” you said.
I walk out with another script for a different antidepressant and sleeping pills.
This goes on for years.
It’s all in my head, you said. That the “physical symptoms were a manifestation of something psychological”.
Those words made me genuinely depressed. I wasn’t being listened to. The weight piled on, intensifying my depression. I didn’t feel like this body was mine.
You didn’t listen.
I became pregnant and things escalated.
“It’s just the pregnancy”, you said.
I moved clinics to find a doctor who would really listen to me.
Once again, I explain the pain, the fatigue, the stomach issues, the dizziness, my heart racing and pounding in my chest.
I came to you as a scared, vulnerable mother. I was in pain and tired all the damn time.
“You’re depressed”, you said.
I walk out with yet another script for another antidepressant. The fifth medication of its type that I’ve tried.
I am in too much pain and too tired to function. I can’t muster the energy to get dressed. My friends and family don’t understand. Being judged for being in my pajamas all day. I am just lazy.
“If this is all in my head, and nothing is working, what is the point in living?”
There were days I looked at my pills and thought that if I took them all, that the pain would end, that I would be free and I would no longer be a burden on my family.
I fight the urge and win.
Three years later, while just about managing an internship, I interview a woman with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. Her story sticks with me. The doctors didn’t believe her either. Nor were they willing to help.
A year later I speak to this woman again. We get to talking about my issues.
She asks one thing that changed my life forever.
“Are you hypermobile?”, she asks.
“No”, I say.
“I’m stiff as a board!”, I exclaim.
Turns out I am. Very hypermobile. I score 8/9 on the Beighton scale.
The woman gives me the same of a doctor to see. I decided to see what you, my doctors thought.
“Could it be Ehlers Danlos Syndrome?”, I ask.
“Oh God, no! That’s as rare as hen’s teeth,” you say.
I leave, defeated.
One November day, I faint at home. That’s it. I need answers.
I go to see the recommended doctor. My stomach is in knots. That’s normal before I go and see doctors of any type now. I prepare myself to be told the same old thing. That I was depressed, I was anxious, that it was all in my head.
I am examined, I am spoken to with respect, I do not feel like a neurotic child.
“No wonder you have been depressed. Nobody was listening to you”, he says.
For the first time in my life, a doctor really listened, like no other doctors had done before.
Tears stream down my freckled cheeks with relief.
I walk out, cigarette in my hand, shaking with relief and with disbelief.
Finally! I was listened to. Finally, I have my answers.
A letter is sent to you, confirming my suspicions.
Nothing changes though, I suspect you don’t believe the diagnosis.
I never took another antidepressant after that day.
It was all over, or so I thought.
Then I soon realised, the diagnosis meant nothing without someone to help.
And here I am, six years later. I am bouncing from consultant to consultant. Medicated up to my eyeballs. No real investigations are done and some tests are simply not available in my own country.
To England, I go with family in tow. My two children now facing the same life of disbelief and pain.
But things are different here.
I meet you, dear doctor, for the first time.
You are small and sweet. You’re gentle and kind.
I feel safe with you. You are thorough.
I had no choice but to travel and spend money we did not have, but I am glad I did.
You really listened and didn’t brush me or my feelings aside.
So many from my country have been here before. Desperate for help.
A world expert’s diagnosis, that will shut the rest of them up.
And it did. No more questioning on whether this was the real diagnosis.
I had wondered myself if the diagnosis was correct because all the others, these “experts” made me feel that way.
I return home. The rain pours as we land. It matches my mood.
I am coming back to a country that does not care about my well-being or my children’s.
I jump to another doctor after another again. And again, questions the diagnosis. I am so sick of doctors at this point. But, this next one is different.
You really seem to care.
There is no rush, you have taken the time to listen.
You follow my lead, you let me take the reins on my treatment.
I almost jumped for joy leaving the doctor’s office. I could not believe my luck.
You seemed determined to help.
My pain worsens. I am a ball of tears every time I see you now because I am at the end of my tether. Other doctors want to try these expensive treatments that may not work. They haven’t worked before. I just want relief from the pain.
I just wanted you to tell me you’ll help.
Yet I walk out with a script for antidepressants-again.
The memories flood back, of not being believed. I am now a nervous wreck going to any doctor again.
I take the first pill. It begins again.
I can’t get out of bed, I am more tired than ever.
Sleeping for three days after taking one of those tiny pills so I don’t take anymore.
I return to you, scared because the pain is as bad as it’s ever been.
Feeling like the tin man, I just need some oil to move with ease.
“Anti-inflammatories will help”, you say.
I take the script, skeptical.
It’s still early days but I just know this isn’t going to work.
Something is very wrong with me.
I can’t keep fighting for help, doctor. I am already too tired.
Is it so much to ask to just want to be normal? To be like my friends.
There is only so much I can do on my own.
I am trying, really, I am to be normal.
Distracting myself with things that I can do.
I just want help with the things I can’t manage alone.
In Ireland, the debate around the Eighth Amendment is well underway. With a date for the Referendum to be confirmed, it is expected to take place May or June of 2018. This week we explore the issues around the Eighth Amendment and why people with a disability in Ireland need access to free, safe and legal abortion.
Tactics are getting dirty, with “pro-life” groups buying domains that appear to be websites about repealing the Eighth. In actual fact, the sites direct people to a pro-life site. News sources reveal that Ireland’s main anti-abortion group has hired a company that has worked with Donald Trump and the US pro-gun lobby to help implement its referendum strategy.
The Irish Times also revealed that an anti-abortion group has hired a political consultancy which has been linked to controversial aspects of the Brexit Leave campaign. The Pro-Life Campaign has, of course, refused to confirm if it has hired Kanto.
“Pro-Life has now hired uCampaign to set up its “Love Both” app. UCampaign was founded by Thomas Peters, a conservative Catholic US blogger. He has created apps to promote the president’s “America First” strategy as well as for the unsuccessful campaign against same-sex marriage in Australia, the UK Conservative Party, the Vote Leave Brexit campaign, the US National Rifle Association, for Ted Cruz and Rand Paul, the Republican politicians, and for American anti-abortion groups.”-The Sunday Times
We all know how nasty things got during those events last year so it is making me anxious about what is to come over the next four-five months.
People with disabilities should not be used for emotional blackmail
One argument that is being constantly used is that disabled people will be wiped out from existence should the Eighth be repealed and legislation brought in to decriminalise abortion.
Recently, I had the displeasure of arguing with a man who had this notion. His proof of this happening? A video of an American man with Down Syndrome. In this video, the man says that he lives an amazing life, given amazing opportunities and that those with Down Syndrome shouldn’t be looked down upon. The ironic thing is that this video was used to prove people with Down Syndrome are being wiped out. Yet, in America where abortion is legal, 6,000 babies with Down Syndrome are born each year (CDC statistic). Two babies are born with the condition each day in the UK. It is downright patronising and condescending to assume a person would have aborted their disabled child if they had access to abortion. Even in countries where abortion is liberally legal, the rates of abortion as a whole are very low. Most disabilities are not diagnosed until about 20 weeks into a pregnancy. Should the legislation follow the Citizen’s Assembly recommendations, no foetus with a non-life-threatening (known) disability will be aborted legally. The foetus would have to be diagnosed with a fatal abnormality to allow for later term abortions (after 12 weeks).
People often refer to Iceland being Down Syndrome free. Here’s what Hulda Hjartardóttir, chief of obstetrics at Iceland’s National University Hospital had to say on the matter:
“The truth is that one-third of mothers-to-be choose not to have more [pre-natal] tests done after the first indication of Down Syndrome. These women want to continue their pregnancies even with the increased chance of Down [Syndrome]. [Also], 80 to 85 percent of [pregnant] women choose to have the screening, so there are 15 to 20 percent who don’t. Those women don’t want the information. Of the women who have the screening and get results that point to increased risk [of Down Syndrome] about 75 to 80 percent get further tests done but 20 to 25 percent choose not to.”
Dr. Hjartardóttir also said that in cases of prenatal Down Syndrome diagnosis women and parents are offered the opportunity to meet with doctors and nurses who work with people with Down Syndrome. Parents are also offered the opportunity to meet the parents of those who have Down Syndrome.
I have really no idea why the pro-life debaters insist on using people with Down Syndrome to further their agenda. I don’t know why anyone would use people with any disability for this debate in this manner. Perhaps it’s because we are seen as needing to be protected. But, we don’t. We want to be treated like everyone else and we want equal rights. We are not pawns in anyone’s game.
Earlier this week, CEO of Down Syndrome Ireland, Gary Owens responded to the use of Down Syndrome in the pro-life literature. He respectfully asked that people with Down Syndrome not be used as political footballs in the run-up to the Referendum. He stated that it was disrespectful to those living and caring for those with Down Syndrome, or any disability for that matter.
And yet, just yesterday, this was posted on Twitter:
Most people with disabilities are normal people who live fairly normal lives. They have children, jobs, they’re married and yes, they even have….*whispers* sex! I know, right?!
The point is that people with disabilities need reproductive rights too. We need to be allowed have a say over what happens to our bodies in pregnancy and during birth. We need access to free, safe and legal abortion.
As someone who regularly leaves their country for access to medical treatment, I can empathise with the nine women who leave Ireland daily to access abortion. I too have to scramble to find thousands to fund the trip. I too often feel isolated and let down by my Government who deny me and my children basic health care.
Travelling abroad for an abortion
Travelling for tests is exhausting, causes a flare up of all my symptoms and leaves me in bed for days and days. Sometimes my condition progresses after travel and stress. I couldn’t imagine how bad off I’d be if I’d have to travel for a procedure, have to travel back the same day and recover from something like an abortion. I wouldn’t be out of bed for weeks. My children wouldn’t have their mother to play with, to feed from. With the risk of complications and even death in any surgery, I may have, having to leave before I had time to recover some bit for the flight home could leave my kids motherless. Like all the rest of my medical care, abortion needs to be accessible in my own country.
If a person with a disability has mobility issues they may need to put things in place to help them get to and from the airport, to the hotel and clinic. This takes away their privacy in order to access an abortion abroad (which is a constitutional right).
Financing an abortion
I haven’t been able to work outside of the home in six years. My income is no more than a couple of hundred Euro a week on Disability Allowance. My husband is on Carer’s Allowance. Between the two of us, gathering enough money to travel to the UK, book a hotel and the abortion would be impossible. Sure, we have friends and family who could help us out but, not everybody does. Not everyone has a partner to help through the process of abortion. Not everybody has a support system going through an abortion.
Pregnancy is a risk to health
I take precautions in preventing pregnancy but, nothing is 100% safe. Sometimes one of those suckers gets through and throws a spanner into the works. If I found out I was pregnant tomorrow, I would have to access abortion, no question.
During my second pregnancy back in 2014, I was wheelchair bound thanks to severe Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction caused by my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I was in constant pain with my dislocated pelvis. You’d think I’d have been used to the pain since my joints dislocate on a regular basis but ask any woman who has suffered from the condition and they’d tell you it’s like being kicked in the vagina with every step you take. By five weeks I was in the wheelchair and often forced myself to use my special crutches so my muscles wouldn’t waste away.
Then there was the horrific ordeal of hemorrhaging. I lost just under half of my blood volume., in and out of consciousness and when I was awake, I was vomiting. My baby could not be in my arms for the first couple of hours of her life as I was so out of it. People with EDS are at risk of this, I knew that at the time but my first pregnancy was so uneventful, I (naively) figured I’d be alright.
They were calling for blood but luckily, they stopped the bleeding just in time. We can not risk that happening again. I can not risk my life and leave the two children I have without a mother.
I worked very hard to get out of my wheelchair. Even though my determination was strong, I still have to use it if I will be out of the house for an extended period of time. If I were to get pregnant again (never mind the birth bit) I won’t get out of the chair again.
A pro-lifer once told me if I were to get pregnant that I could simply “get induced early”. The problem with that scenario is that pregnancy is what disables me. Remember; five weeks into my pregnancy I was in a wheelchair. I wouldn’t make it to 24 weeks.
It is down to each person to assess the risk of being pregnant. I knew the risks of pregnancy with EDS and decided to go ahead in my second pregnancy. But, if I knew then, what I know now, I don’t know if I would have gone ahead with either of my pregnancies. I love my children to death and they make life with disability worth living but I have been left more disabled and mentally scarred from my experiences during pregnancy and birth.
Continuity of care
There is none, simply. There is no contact between a patient’s medical team in Ireland and the team carrying out the abortion in the UK. Which means the gynaecologist/OBGYN may not have all the information they need to properly care for their patient. Since there are thousands of disabilities and even more symptoms and complications that can arise, it would be hard to know of what to be cautious of. Medical history is very important, especially when it comes to surgery. For example, people with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome metabolise drugs differently to the average person.
The issues go on and complications are not exclusive to Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. So, by the time a person has gathered the funds and have organised a trip out of the country to procure an abortion, they may have passed the point where they can have an abortion through the use of the pill, mifepristone. They will then instead have to undergo a surgical abortion.
Without a knowledge and background from a patient’s multidisciplinary team, things can get dangerous. However, should abortion be allowed in Ireland, teams could communicate (not that Irish doctors know a great deal about my condition) and put safeguards into place to prevent any risks to my health and life.
Sadly, there is also no continuity of care when a person travels for an abortion due to a Fatal Foetal Abnormality.
Sterilisation and celibacy
In the comment sections of online media outlets, you can be guaranteed to find at least one comment telling women to “just keep their legs closed” or to “get their tubes tied”. If it were only that easy! Women and trans men frequently ask to have their tubes tied or to have the whole lot removed. But, again, we can’t be trusted with our own bodies. It is incredibly difficult to get a tubal ligation in this country under a certain age or before you have a certain amount of children. Women with no children and who have no desire to be parents are often told “You just haven’t met the right man, yet” or “what if it doesn’t work out with your husband and you want to have children with someone else?” Do people honestly think we haven’t thought of all these scenarios before making such a big decision?
According to ongoing research conducted by Deirdre Duffy (Manchester Metropolitan University) and Mairéad Enright (Birmingham Law School), the main reason women are denied tubal ligation in Ireland is because of doctor’s own moral or religious beliefs.
Again, using myself as an example, my medical team will not allow me to have any unnecessary surgeries, only if it’s an emergency. This is because of my fragile connective tissue, one nick with a 10 blade (scalpel), in the wrong place and I could bleed out. The risk just isn’t worth it.
As for the whole “keep your legs closed” spiel, it’s such an unrealistic and ridiculous argument. You are against the idea of abortion and yet, your solution is to just have no pregnancies at all? No children to ever be born? Let’s face it, humans need sex. We are social creatures that need affection. We have needs and there is no shame in admitting we are sexual beings-even people with a disability!
I think the Catholic idea of people (and I mean women) who have sex just for fun is sinful is still very much apparent in Irish society. A woman could have a one night stand, take all the precautions in the world and end up pregnant. That’s not allowed though. She would be accused of using abortion as a form of contraception by those who are ignorant of how contraception actually works. Let’s face it, she would be branded a slut by many in society. Yet, over half of the people who travel for abortion are already parents. No name calling for them (well, except murderer by pro-lifers). From what I gather, the pro-life side doesn’t have an issue with exporting abortion to the UK. Otherwise, they’d be asking to repeal the 13th amendment that gives us the right to travel. Many don’t even have an issue with abortion in cases of rape incest or FFA. So, it seems people have an issue with how the foetus was conceived.
It’s not a very common story, but one that isn’t unheard of where two people meet, they fall in love and get pregnant. Ten or so months later, they welcome their very wanted child to the world only to discover the baby has Cystic Fibrosis. Yes, the disease is incredibly rare but Ireland has the highest rate of it in the world. Newborn bloodspot screening for Cystic Fibrosis commenced in Ireland on 1st July 2011. All newborn children in Ireland are now tested for CF as part of the existing newborn bloodspot programme. Newborn blood spot screening is usually known as the ‘heel-prick test’. The test only covers the most common forms of CF.
Which means anybody over the age of seven (who don’t know of a family history of CF) won’t know if they carry the CF gene. Before 2011 any couple who didn’t know they had the gene for CF found out tragically when their child was diagnosed with the condition. Many couples were petrified of getting pregnant again and the 25% chance subsequent children would inherit the condition.
Many people who have genetic conditions choose not to have children or go ahead with a pregnancy and some do. Whether someone takes the gamble like we did or decides to not go ahead with a pregnancy, they should be supported in whatever decision they do make. You don’t have to agree with someone to support them. You accept their choices as they do not affect your life. That is the true meaning of “love both”.
I have an almost three-year-old daughter. She inherited EDS from me. By age two she has suffered four dislocations. When puberty begins, her condition will worsen. Like me, she’ll be high risk if she was to ever get pregnant. At such a young age she is already showing signs that her condition will be worse than what I have experienced. I worry what a pregnancy would do to her. Whatever she decides, I will support but I want her to at least have a choice. I want her to be able to make a decision, I want her to be able to talk about her decision should she choose abortion. I don’t want her to feel ashamed and to feel as though she is doing something wrong. Nobody has an abortion on a whim or without thought. Nobody puts themselves through something like that for a laugh.
“You wouldn’t be here if it hadn’t been for the Eighth Amendment”
I am adopted. Thanks to good old Catholic Ireland, I was removed from my birth mother who was young and vulnerable. Yes, I was placed with a good family and had a pretty good childhood but, the adoption scarred me. I honestly don’t think I would have been aborted if my parents had been given the option. I was wanted but society wouldn’t allow it. If my parents had taken the boat to England? I wouldn’t be here and I would be none the wiser. Why? Because I would have been a foetus.
Are you a new mama with under-eye bags that could rival a Louis Vuitton? There are so many hats we wear as humans in this rollercoaster society. As adults, we have endless streams of responsibilities and stress. No doubt these factors can have an effect on your mental health at some point in your life.
As a mother, external stress factors affect you. In addition, you are also responsible for keeping a whole separate human.
It is not surprising that stress and anxiety levels become elevated after the birth of a child. What steps can we take to reassert authority over our overworked stress responders?
Check out these seven ideas for managing stress and cultivating stability. These tips can be useful for in your role as caregiver and primary support system. These tips apply to any parent who may be struggling with their mental health.
Don’t Go It Alone
Talk about what you are feeling. One study conducted by Dr. Michael O’Hara, Ph.D. investigated external influence and postpartum depression. It’s reported that women are more likely to suffer from Postpartum depression as a result of not feeling supported by their partner after delivery.
Whether it be a spouse, friend, or support group, reaching out and sharing your emotional journey will not only ease your mind and soul, it will also allow those closest to you to better understand your emotional situation. Many people find talking about mental issues uncomfortable, but remember; that mental health issues are not uncommon in mothers. You are not alone.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
There are great Facebook groups for mothers with Chronic Illnesses. Contact The Zebra Mom Facebook page for a list of helpful groups. Having an online ‘village’ can do wonders for a mom who can’t get to support group meetings. It is also comforting to know there are others out there who know exactly how you feel. It is far from unusual for mothers with physical illnesses to struggle with their mental health.
Yoga has earned a powerful reputation in the healthy living sphere, as a cure-all for both physical and mental health. There is a multitude of ways this practice could benefit you. While yoga alone will not serve as a blanket treatment, there is research that shows the benefits of a regular practice to be tangible. Preethi Kandhalu’s article on the physical and psychological effects of cortisol suggests that the levels of cortisol in people with Major Depressive Disorder declined after three months of practicing yoga, pointing to the conclusion that yoga can indeed encourage good mental health.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
Hypermobile Mama, please talk to your physiotherapist when considering Yoga and Pilates. These practices may cause hyperextension of the joints which can increase laxity and/or cause dislocations/subluxations.
Finally shedding a reputation of hippy-dippy voodoo, the neurological data behind meditation and positive physical changes to the brain speak for itself. The brain is a muscle, and like other muscles in the body can strengthen with tools and exercises. While many areas of the brain are active during meditation, data shows the significant difference in the hippocampus between meditators and non-meditators. The hippocampus affects stress and emotional responses. These sorts of physical changes can have a positive effect on stress levels. There are many ways to begin a meditation practice. Explore guided online tracks or meditation apps like Headspace. You could even practice an individual exploration of a particular mantra or affirmation.
Tip from The Zebra Mom:
Meditation is also useful as a way of pain management. This study shows there is some evidence for the existence of a non-opioid process in the brain to reduce pain through mindfulness meditation.
The vision of becoming a pincushion may be off-putting. Yet, the ancient practice of acupuncture has stood the test of time as a method of physical and mental release. A new study explores the science behind what exactly is happening in the body to relieve anxiety.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
Some study shows that acupuncture may be effective in relieving chronic pain. A trained, certified professional should always be sought but only after you’ve spoken to your doctor.
Get your Groove on
Music makes us feel. Whether it’s a favorite song in the car or soft background music, the link between the sound of music and the effect on our cognitive abilities and functions is a massive field of research. Instead of scrolling through your Instagram feed before you fall asleep, play some soothing tunes and let yourself drift.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
Play music that inspires or motivates you. My own personal mood-boosting songs are Sia’s ‘Elastic Heart’ and Rudimental’s ‘Not giving in’. Blast them and sing them loud! Further research should arise, but there is some correlation between music and pain relief.
Make Sleep a Priority
Without an adequate amount of shut-eye, many other efforts at wellness are going to seem unmanageable. Implementing a regular yoga and meditation practice often leads to an improvement in the quality of sleep. There are further steps to ensure our bodies are getting enough rest. Explore alternative remedies such as aromatherapy. Using lavender or peppermint essential oil before bed can relax the central nervous system. This results in ease of physical aches, anxieties, and tension.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
If you’re a new mom, you should consider co-sleeping with your baby. When practiced safe way, this practice allows mom to get more sleep. Studies show breastfeeding moms who also co-sleep get more sleep than those who don’t. I know, that in the early days of being a new mom, co-sleeping allowed me to get a full night sleep. Studies also show that children who sleep close to their parents tend to be more content and sleep better. See Infant Sleep Information Source for information about how to practice safe sleeping. Furthermore, you will also find information on normal infant sleep patterns. See Infant Sleep Information Source
Spend Time with Yourself
A little pampering goes a long way when it comes to affecting mood and sense of purpose. One study investigated the influence of self-esteem and optimism as measured factors before, during, and after pregnancy, with optimism associated with fewer symptoms of depression during pregnancy and up to six weeks postpartum, with self-esteem correlating with lower depression along with all points of the pregnancy. Cultivating self-love and existing as your best self can make it easier to radiate the same level of love outward. This love can be for your children and also complete strangers.
Tip from the Zebra Mom:
A pamper session doesn’t have to involve leaving the house. As moms with Chronic Illness, we know it can take a lot of energy going anywhere. Run a bath, light some candles or paint your nails. Even some online shopping can give you the pick-me-up you needed. Whatever makes you feel good; go for it.
About the Author
Guest post by Marcus Clarke BSc, MSc. from psysci.co. His blog focusses on psychology and science.
Marcus has Bachelors (Hons) in Psychology and a Masters in Health Psychology. Marcus has experience working in a Psychology department within the NHS. He is currently working in the health and social care sector. Marcus supports adults and children with learning disabilities.
You can contact Marcus via email firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter: @psysci_co_uk
If you would like to guest post on The Zebra Mom, email email@example.com
The Eighth Amendment affects people who have the ability to become pregnant In Ireland.
The Eighth Amendment states that the foetus has the same rights as the person who is pregnant. Ireland and Malta are the last two European countries where abortion hasn’t been made legal. The Eighth Amendment was added to the Irish Constitution in 1983. It means that abortion services are unavailable in Ireland. Even in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities or when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Approximately 12 Irish people per day are forced to travel to the UK to have an abortion.
Last week we discussed how the Eighth Amendment affected women during pregnancy and birth. This week we are going to explore how the Eighth affects people who are sick and have the ability to become pregnant.
Fellow blogger, Cripple, Baby! has kindly allowed me to share her story. Catherine like me, has Ehlers Danlos Syndrome.
How the Eighth Amendment could have affected Catherine with Cancer:
For me, the Eighth Amendment brings to mind of when I was diagnosed with cancer, back in 2013.
No I was not pregnant, no I was not planning to become pregnant, and no I was not planning on having an abortion. Yet the tone was set for many a discussion around such subjects, the very minute I was diagnosed.
One might assume this conversation would take the form of discussing options for egg preservation, in case of future fertility problems. Although this was never mentioned really, only glossed over. A simple “I’m sure you’ll be ok” was all that was given in this respect.
My period was a good sign
Something I realised was vastly different from the experiences of UK cancer patients, through discussions on support forums. I can only assume such options aren’t granted free by the HSE, and perhaps some doctors just see it all as a bit “icky”? I really have no idea. In fairness, I never pushed the issue. The only guidance I was given with that side of things was the nurse whispering to me during chemotherapy inquiring about my periods, stating that a regular flow was a good sign at least.
No, this was not the route of the pregnancy conversation. The one and only topic was around what would happen if I became pregnant during my treatment. [pullquote]Of course I was advised to use all the contraception possible, to not purposely become pregnant during this time obviously, that would be insane. But as we all know, even with all the contraption in the world shit happens.[/pullquote]
In this scenario the woman has two choices (in other countries) continue the pregnancy, reduce your treatment (or not, but it would be advised) or plan a termination, in order to give yourself the best chance of survival. Neither option is easy. Yet women make these choices for themselves, all around the world, every single day. And we trust they know what is best for them. Neither case in this regard deserves judgement, they are and should be, case-by-case decisions made by the women themselves and fully supported by both medical staff and loved ones.
The hypothetical foetus
So when I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 2013, I was quickly informed of what would happen if I became pregnant. They would reduce the treatment in order to give the foetus the best chance of survival. At first this seems like just good advice, a reassurance that if needs be they will do what they can to help me. I am a young woman of child-bearing age, so it’s all relevant. But this mantra was repeated again and again during my treatment, by various medical care professionals. Many a conversation about saving the life of my hypothetical foetus. To get the point across that in this scenario, in this country, I would have no choice.
It’s something I’ve looked back on often. Sometimes with amusement, but mostly with dismay. It just makes me feel very uneasy. My life is more important than a hypothetical, or real, foetus. The life of a fully grown adult is not equal to that of a zygote. Before we even bring choice into it, that’s simply the case.
As heartbreaking as that can seem in situations where a pregnancy is not viable, or comes with a hefty price. This statement excludes cases of late-term “abortions” due to fatal fetal abnormalities, as we all know that late-term “abortions” are simply not done for the craic (in any country) and any further explanation on that would frankly be stupid and I hope unnecessary. When a matured, wanted foetus is dying in its mother’s womb, it’s horrendous for the parents. It’s not something to be mocked, or mislabeled. And it certainly isn’t something Irish parents should have to deal with, alone, in a different country. A financial burden on top of saying goodbye to their child in peace.
Luckily I finished my treatments without any accidents. But shit does happen. It happens to Irish women each and every day. So I have to put myself in their shoes. What would I have done? Could I have been able to access medical support after coming home from England? Would I financially be able to even afford a termination? Is it possible that I would I be held by the state if I informed my doctors of my wishes? Would I even feel comfortable telling loved ones? Looking at such a broad issue, simply in my own terms, my own real experiences, just does not cut it. And it shouldn’t cut it for anyone.
To truly look at this Eighth amendment and the restrictions it poses on Irish women rationally, we must not only look at it from how our own lives have gone to date. We must ask ourselves, “what if…?”. This is only one, small scenario that I can place myself in, even though it did not happen to me. Even though (under normal circumstances) I really don’t think I would ever choose an abortion in my life time. There are so many scenarios; so many stories that are not our own.
Abortion isn’t always an easy option but many have no regrets and know it’s the right choice for them; for all sorts of reasons that are none of our business. Many also have no choice.
No one can 100%, truly say “I will never terminate a pregnancy”, even when it seems completely unthinkable in our current lives shit happens.
How the Eighth Amendment could affect Laura with Psoriasis:
I have psoriasis. I’ve had it since I was nine, I’m 30 now. It had peaks and troughs but since being an adult it has more or less stayed the same. It’s not just flaky skin that’s itchy. It’s unsightly red blotches all over. The Psoriasis is on my face, breasts and bottom. No where is safe.
It has affected my self-esteem greatly and at times my physical health when it cracks and bleeds. When I was 15 it was so bad on my arms that I couldn’t raise them further than my chest and my mother had to dress me. That was pretty humiliating.
I’ve been called several names because of it ‘scabby’ being the most popular and nothing makes me retreat to being a child who wants their mother, than an adult who stares.
I’ve had several treatments and have tried many diets and none have worked for an extended period of time. The most relief I had with these treatments was three months.
Hope for relief
So, this year I was informed I was a suitable candidate for a series of injections. These are relatively new. The injections work by changing how your immune system produces skin cells. Psoriasis is an overproduction of skin cells.
One of the main side effects is that my immune system will be lower than the average person. I will be more likely to get a cold/flu and it viruses and illnesses will be harder to shift.
The biggest warning I got was not to get pregnant. I probably wouldn’t carry full term and if I did, we both would have lasting damage. I’m a married woman and perform my ‘wifely duties’ as a certain religious organisation calls it. We use two types of protection but nothing is 100% safe.
This is why the Eighth Amendment needs to be repealed. If I were to get pregnant it could be very detrimental to my health and the foetus. I also know, from having relatives with these conditions, that I couldn’t care for a special needs baby, while ill myself. It would be a likely scenario if I were to have a baby.
My injections are life long, so I can’t get pregnant at all. My health is more important than a foetus. I have a husband and family and friends.
If I were to get pregnant, I would be devastated, particularly as I use two methods of contraception. I would have to arrange an abortion and that would be very upsetting. [pullquote]Nobody likes having to get an abortion but I firmly believe my health and well-being are more important.[/pullquote]
I also suffer with my mental health and to be honest, I’d be afraid that pregnancy would make it worse, due to the impact it would have on my life. My physical and mental health would be put on a back burner if I were to get pregnant under the Eighth Amendment.
I know I would be pressured to put the foetus’ health and needs before my own, even before it’s born. Sometimes I struggle to care for myself, never mind a helpless baby.
People have asked me if I can come off my medication to have children. The truth is, I don’t want to. It may be selfish but I want a quality of life for myself and not having children is a side effect of that. I did initially grieve before starting treatment but now I am fine with that decision. A door has closed but a new one has opened and so far, I haven’t looked back.
[bctt tweet=”No woman has an abortion for fun. —Elizabeth Joan Smith” username=”@thezebramom”]
How the Eighth Amendment could affect me:
During my last pregnancy, I was in a wheelchair from the first trimester until my daughter was three-month old. Having EDS, there are some risks involved in pregnancy. You are at risk of pre term labour, miscarriage and of hemorrhaging, to name but a few issues. I lost my son’s twin at about seven weeks into my first pregnancy.
Almost immediately into my second pregnancy my pelvis became an issue. Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD) is a pretty common condition during pregnancy; but not early on in pregnancy. Most women complain of the pain in their groin, back, legs and hips in their last trimester and usually manage with crutches.
The foetus growing inside me was just two inches when my body turned against me. The pain was unreal. I have put up with dislocated joints-even popping them back in myself but this was something else. I could not physically walk without crying. Some days I did try not to use it in order to stay mobile and avoid muscle wastage but even then I had to use special crutches. For days after I attempted walking I would be stuck in bed screaming in pain. Before pregnancy, I was on opiates and they barely took the edge of my chronic pain.
My waters broke weeks before I was due to give birth. I went into the maternity hospital and told them I felt a pop and a trickle. So they examined me and came to the conclusion that my waters hadn’t broken. I went for an appointment in the high risk clinic a couple of weeks later and mentioned baby had been a bit quiet. So they scanned me and lo and behold, half of my waters were gone. So I was induced that night.
I was put on IV antibiotics to prevent infection. We were both pretty lucky we hadn’t picked up an infection with my waters leaking.
Several hours later I gave birth but then I started to feel very unwell. I was vomiting and passing out. I was having a massive bleed and the midwives were calling for blood. Luckily, they stopped the bleeding on time and I lost half my blood volume. It took a year and high doses of iron for me to feel “normal” again. The whole experience traumatised me.
Three months and a lot of hard work and I got myself out of the wheelchair for the most part. I still have to use it if I am out of the house for an extended period of time. My pelvis is almost always dislocated and affects my back and legs as well.
Pregnancy could leave me permanently immobile
Progesterone plays a massive role with my condition as it causes my joints to become even more lax. If I were to get pregnant again, it is very, very likely that I will not be so lucky (not so much luck as I put in a tonne of work) to get out of the wheelchair. I have been warned not to get pregnant again. The contraception I am on at the moment but it will have to come out as it is affecting my health. I can not have any “unnecessary” surgery like a tube ligation or hysterectomy. A C Section can not be performed without it being an emergency because I am susceptible to infection, stitches don’t hold well and I would suffer with chronic regional pain on top of the wide-spread chronic pain I suffer with now.
I have two children. I have a husband who is my carer. He does almost all the cooking and the cleaning while looking after our two children and a budding business. There are days where he must help me get out of the shower and even dress me.
If I were to have another baby, I would never have a “good day”. I would be in even more pain than I am in now. An American doctor who used to be an Oncologist has stated that EDS would be one of the top three most painful conditions to live with.
Abortion would be the best decision for our family
[pullquote]I can not put myself in more pain. It is not possible to put my family through more than what they already experience. I have to be a mother to the children I have now[/pullquote]. Ehlers Danlos Syndrome is an inherited condition. My children have a 50/50 chance of having this condition. Both our son and daughter have EDS. Our two-year old daughter is more affected than my son-suffering three dislocations already. I can’t subject another child to this life of pain. I will not. Accidents happen and if I were to get pregnant accidentally, I would have to have an abortion no ifs or buts.
Travelling for any amount of time leaves me bed/couch bound for days. Stress causes my symptoms to flare. If I should need to have an abortion, I should be able to go to my local hospital, have the procedure and go home that night to my own bed, to be surrounded by my family. I should be able to be open about what had just happened and not hide it in shame. I would be making the right decision for my family. The family that is living and breathing.
Up until pretty recently, I was anti choice. It was when I had to travel to the UK for treatment not available in Ireland that my mind was truly changed. I empathised with all the Irish women who had to travel. I cried at the thought of these women being alone because their partners couldn’t get the day off work or because they were raped and didn’t want to tell anyone.
The Eighth Amendment needs to go.
I’m fighting for repeal of the Eighth Amendment not just for me, but for my daughter. EDS gets worse when a girl hits puberty and most of the time, during pregnancy. If she’s already this affected now, it does not bear thinking of how the condition will manifest later on in life. She needs to have bodily autonomy. This condition takes away so many freedoms over our bodies, we do not need anything else taken away from us.
I have started a Facebook page, Disabled People for Choice in Ireland to show the world that despite what the anti-choice might think, there are those with disabilities who believe in choice, no matter the situation.
[bctt tweet=”You cannot have maternal health without reproductive health. And reproductive health includes contraception and family planning and access to legal, safe abortion. —Hillary Clinton” username=”@thezebramom”]
Some facts from the Abortion Rights Campaign in Ireland:
The Eighth Amendment equates the life of a woman to that of an embryo.
The vast majority of women who want and need abortions are unable to access them in Ireland under interpretations of this law.
Women have already died in Ireland having been denied life-saving abortion procedures.
At least 150,000 women have travelled to other countries to procure abortions since 1980.
Thousands of women are unable to travel for abortion services due to family, legal status, financial situation, or health.
People who procure abortion within the country risk a 14 year jail term. Doctors can be jailed too.
The majority of people in Ireland support much wider access to abortion than is permitted under the 8th Amendment.
The life and health of a pregnant woman has a much greater value than our constitution places on it.
Thank You to Laura and Catherine for sharing their stories with me.
If you would like to tell your story, email firstname.lastname@example.org
*The Eighth Amendment affects people who have the ability to become pregnant In Ireland.
The Eighth Amendment states that the foetus has the same rights as the person who is pregnant. Ireland and Malta are the last two European countries where abortion hasn’t been made legal. The Eighth Amendment was added to the Irish Constitution in 1983. It means that abortion services are unavailable in Ireland. Even in the case of fatal foetal abnormalities or when a woman becomes pregnant as a result of rape. Approximately 12 Irish people per day are forced to travel to the UK to have an abortion.
It’s more than just abortion
But the Eighth Amendment also affects pregnant people who choose to stay pregnant. The big issue I personally have with the way the Eighth Amendment is being portrayed in the media and by the “pro life” side. It is that it’s made out to be solely about abortion. The Eighth Amendment is so much more than the issue of abortion. This week, as the first part of this series, we will look at the issue of consent during pregnancy and birth.
According to the Health Service Executive’s (HSE) National Consent Policy
“because of the Constitutional provisions on the right to life of the unborn [Article 40.3.3] there is significant legal uncertainty regarding a pregnant woman’s right to [consent]”.
This section of the HSE’s policy allows the HSE to apply for injunctions from the High Court. These injunctions compel pregnant women to receive treatment when they have not consented. Sometimes, what the HSE are seeking injunctions for is not seen as best practice by international standards.
In Ireland pregnant people are frequently induced early without any medical reason. They are cut without consent, medicated without consent and not properly informed of the procedures forced upon them. This issue of consent was highlighted in the 2014 Association of Improvement in Maternity Services (AIMS) Ireland survey of 2,836 women, where less than half of all respondents said they were given the opportunity to refuse consent to tests, procedures and treatments. Less.Than.Half.
Strike 4 Repeal protest Credit Siobhan Venables
My own story:
Looking back at my first birth, I was affected by the Eighth Amendment. Induction was to be scheduled just nine days after my “due date”. It was my wish to go the full fourteen days but my consultant said that was not hospital policy. I was afraid to argue because I had seen stories of women brought to the high court and even threatened with social services because they went against hospital policy. Frustratingly, the midwife who began my induction said by the way I was looking, I would have given birth on my own a couple of days later.
My second birth was quite similar. I wanted so badly to have a home birth but just seeing I had a pre existing condition made me an unsuitable candidate. The midwives knew I wanted to do this so badly. They hadn’t even heard of Ehlers Danlos Syndrome so why was it a straight up no without a consultation with the head of the Home Birth department? Now, having a hospital birth was the best option in the end but I was not given a choice from the get go.
No informed consent, no wishes respected
I specifically told the hospital I did not want an epidural. I was not to be offered an epidural. If I wanted, I would ask for it. Did that happen? Of course not.
[pullquote]The midwives wore me down, they kept insisting and being in pain and exhausted, I gave in. I had no choice in either of my labours. I was not informed that induction would be far more painful than a natural labour or that it would be far more lengthy.[/pullquote]
There was no indication that I would be going through my first birth alone because of the Swine Flu epidemic. I was given my orders and at 22, I just went along with it. I was not one to kick up a fuss (that’s changed now). After all, doctor knew best. Or so I thought.
For the following six months after my first birth, I had nightmares every night about being induced and being alone for the majority of my labour. My husband was only there for the very last bit of my labour and for the birth. He was with me for the entirety of my second, which made the experience far more positive.
I was told by a midwife recently that if I had been in the UK, that even with my EDS, my choices would have been respected after I had been informed about any risks.
I spoke with other Irish people with chronic illness/disability about how the Eighth Amendment has affected them. This blog has been a long time in the making because I wanted to do justice to their very important stories. Stories that show the Eighth Amendment needs to be repealed.
*Names have been changed to protect the identity of people affected by the Eighth Amendment:
The Eighth Amendment affected Jennifer with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome:
Initially I hadn’t wanted to give birth in a hospital. My ideal birth was a water birth in the comfort of my own home. I wanted to share a bed with my partner the night our child was born. I hated the idea of him being sent home on his own after helping me through everything.
Unfortunately, I was told what I wanted wasn’t possible. I was told my BMI was two points higher than they would like. Although I never had any complications associated with high BMI that was that. The water birth was not going to happen in the hospital. The head midwife told us the HSE had padlocked an entire wing with brand new birth pools and my obstetrician admitted it was partly because disinfecting the birth pools had been deemed too expensive. I settled on an active birth, low lighting where possible, two birth partners (which I fought for), quiet voices and positive language. There was to be as little intervention as possible.
Jennifer’s Birth Story
At 41 weeks I was brought in for an induction, we had started sweeps a couple of weeks before, but I had excess amniotic fluid so our baby was essentially bobbing and couldn’t engage for long enough to get labour going by himself.
It was a Thursday I was brought in, I was given the max dose of hormone gel on my cervix between then and Saturday. I had contractions and ironically was allowed to go and have a normal bath in my early stages of labour.
The birth I didn’t want
On Saturday I was told my waters needed to be broken. My mother and partner were there with me. I was brought into a procedure room; the ones that don’t have a full bed but instead something closer to a lounge chair. The air con was on and loud enough that we had to raise our voices to be heard. I was told it couldn’t be switched off. When they broke my waters there was meconium in them. The midwives were starting to panic. We were given an hour to get my labour moving or I would be put on a drip.
I asked if I could send one of my birth partners to get my birthing ball from the car and was told they would give me one instead. So I went to the bathroom that was through the maternity triage ward. When the birthing ball finally arrived it was too short for me and under inflated. It far from ideal as I had a badly misaligned pelvis that went untreated throughout my pregnancy and never fully healed.
I was put on continual monitoring, I tried to ask if there was another way as this would prevent me from moving much and I was told we would see. This was about 1pm and it didn’t come off the monitors until after I gave birth at 5 am.
Emotional and physical scarring
It took 5 people to get an IV line into me. Two midwives and two doctors attempted and failed. Eventually an anaesthetist was successful. All of them tried multiple places. They had no issue finding veins but my skin was too stretchy and tough for them to get the plastic part of the line under my skin. Three years later I still have multiple scars from their attempts.
We were left with a midwife to get my labour going once all of that was done. She was very matter of fact with me and somewhat lacking in bedside manner. She left the room for something and I cried.
I already knew even my most basic wishes weren’t going to be taken into consideration. It was rapidly turning into the labour I was hoping to avoid.
It was rapidly turning into the labour I was hoping to avoid.
My tolerance for pain is high. I’ve walked around on a subluxated hip and fractured tailbone for three weeks without pain medication. I cope quietly until I can’t. Because of that, my drip was turned up the max amount at every interval. The midwife who relieved the previous one was amazed I was already in the highest dose when she came in. I ended up having one breath between contractions. I was no longer coping well and kept saying I wanted to go home. They checked my dilation, 3cm. I knew I wouldn’t have the energy to get to 10 at this rate. Determined not to have a C-section, I gave in and asked for an epidural.
Before the epidural was administered and we were waiting for the anaesthetist I asked to go to the bathroom. I was told I wasn’t allowed because of the monitors and she would give me a catheter instead. It felt very unnecessary and it hurt.
Hurt, starved and threatened
I was cathetered three more times. The last two I wasn’t even asked, I didn’t need to go, she had to press hard on my stomach and force urine out of me.
When I did get the epidural it only worked on one side of my body, it took 4 hours to rectify. Apparently because I’m a larger lady (I’m a size 18).
Breakfast was served at 7am. My waters were broken before lunch. I was denied food for my whole labour in case they needed to do a C-section. I went about 23 hours without eating.
C-section and episiotomy were threatened against Jennifer.
I didn’t end up needing either and I didn’t have any tears from giving birth. I did get two minor tears either side of my urethra, where my clitoral hood meets my inner labia.
Medical trauma affected my sex life
I discovered about a year later I also had a tear under my clitoral hood where it connects to the clitoris.
[pullquote]The midwife who pushed either side of my vagina as my son was crowning caused this. It affected my ability to climax for about two years.[/pullquote]
These were caused by the midwife who pushed either side of my vagina as my son was crowning. It affected my ability to climax for about two years.
“I did not give consent”
I had wanted to do delayed cord clamping but due to the meconium that wasn’t an option and I’m ok with that. It was my wish to let my placenta to come away naturally. Once my son was delivered they took him to the other side of the room to clear his lungs and check him over. Meanwhile I was given an injection to hurry up my placenta without my permission, which caused a massive bleed, they thought I was haemorrhaging initially. I understand this may have been necessary but there was no discussion, explanation or warning about the injection. I did not give consent.
Thankfully I have a happy healthy child and physically I have more or less recovered. Emotionally and mentally less so. I will not be giving birth in a hospital again unless I have complications during my pregnancy or labour that put my future children or me at risk.
How The Eighth Amendment affected Sarah with Crohn’s Disease:
I have Crohn’s disease, and I had a very rocky end to my pregnancy.
In the third trimester I developed pneumonia, and began having a massive flare. I was given great treatment in the maternity ward and went home.
At home I was spending days on the couch or running to the toilet. I had little energy and each trip to the doctor I was told that once baby arrived they would see what they could do. The main thing was plenty of rest and not losing weight, which I did a good job of- I was huge!
My previous baby was quite small, 5lb 10. I’m pretty petite myself, so I really wasn’t worried when they said this baby was small. I went for weekly scans, and every week baby was there moving away happily growing quite slowly but no signs of anything amiss.
She had an almighty strong kick so I felt pretty confident. I know these things aren’t perfect but one day the consultant called me in. She started tossing around terms like “hospital won’t accept liability” [pullquote]’hospital won’t accept liability’ [/pullquote] and when I asked if there was something wrong, she said she couldn’t guarantee this until baby was here.
Something about the way she spoke made me feel like there was something wrong. Apart from my own illness, my vitals, baby’s heartbeats, scans and everything had been going well. I asked her when did she want to do the induction (I didn’t think I had a choice or was giving consent by the way, this sounded like a life or death matter) she said tomorrow.
Without much warning she told me to lie in the bed and said she was going to do a sweep. I was 36 weeks. The sweep was agony in my already inflamed pelvic area.
Sarah’s Birth Story
The next morning I was hooked up to the drip and ready to go. All was going well for the first while, I had strong contractions but I was up and moving about. After a while nothing still, so they turned up the drip and I had even more intense contractions.
Then my Crohn’s kicked in and I had a lot of tummy trouble, and a massive onset of fatigue. I’ll spare the details but I’m usually one to laugh about this and make toilet humour. Not this time. I began to have spasms, which I get when things are bad.
“Don’t be a Martyr”
That was making me push, except now was no time to push. The nurse decided that to spare my body, because in her words ‘baby doesn’t want to come out’ they would turn the drip up again to full.
After this I was told not to be a martyr and have an epidural. Admittedly I cried because none of this my choice.
[pullquote]Admittedly I cried because none of this my choice.[/pullquote]
I had a natural birth in the past and knew what my body was capable of. This however was my biggest nightmare to be so ill and scared and having things forced upon me.
I very narrowly escaped a forceps delivery by sheer will. The epidural helped some in the end and all the pushing was stage was over and I held my beautiful girl. She was perfect, as I knew she would be. She was content and happy and safe in there, and could have stayed a few weeks longer.
That’s not where it ended for me though, some time after I suffered faecal incontinence. It’s been an ongoing issue since. My specialist reckons I should not have had the procedure. [pullquote]A slow birth wouldn’t have put that strain on me, or a Caesarean if they genuinely felt there was a risk.[/pullquote]
My opinion was I could have been monitored in hospital and given fluids, medicines. I think they knew there was no risk. They were just too cautious- to the point I wasn’t allowed to make informed decisions. It was all decided for me, it wasn’t my body and when it was handed back they had damaged it with unnecessary medical interventions.
No bodily autonomy
Sadly, the stories featured today are not uncommon in Ireland. I have rarely come across a birth story where a mother’s wishes were completely respected. Never has a birth experience 100 per cent positive. In 2017, pregnant people do not have bodily autonomy. People with chronic illnesses and disabilities know exactly what their body is capable of. We are stronger than most people in a number of ways. People with long-term health issues face so many obstacles on a day-to-day basis. We already have so much taken away from us because of our disabilities. When it comes to birth and labour, we feel even more helpless. The control over our own bodies is taken away. The Eighth Amendment is directly responsible. Ireland’s Eighth Amendment will continue to take away our rights until it is repealed.
Change needs to happen now
[pullquote]C-Section birth rates in Ireland are three times the recommended figure[/pullquote]. Rates of episiotomy and induction are also alarmingly high in Ireland. These facts are old news, sure, but it just goes to show how controlling the maternity system is over pregnant and birthing people’s bodies. We have a dictatorship of a Health Service and something needs to change. There needs to be a massive overhaul of our maternity system and that starts with repealing the Eighth Amendment.
Some might say I am being dramatic here but Ireland in 2017 is like living in The Handmaid’s Tale.
Pregnant people are just vessels that need to be controlled and threatened when they disobey.[pullquote] In any other area of medicine, a patient’s consent must be sought. The hospital in question would have a lawsuit on their hands if they didn’t.[/pullquote] But then again, we know Gender Bias in medicine is a very real thing.
*It’s not just women who can find themselves pregnant. Nine-year-old girls can get pregnant. Transgender men can get pregnant. This is a human rights issue and not just a “women’s issue”.
Thank You to Jennifer and Sarah for sharing their stories with me. I know it can’t have been easy to write it all out and living through the memories again. You ladies are rock stars.
If you would like to tell your story, email email@example.com
On Thursday night I heard the news and broke down. A friend or a family member didn’t die. One of my saviours did.
Many moons ago, I was an angry teenager. I was angry at myself and at the world. As an adopted person, you ask so many questions. Why me? Why wasn’t I good enough to keep? In addition to the pain of abandonment, I always felt different. Something was never quite right. I couldn’t do things other people could. My frustrations came out as anger.
I felt alone and out of place, no matter who I was with.
At 16 I was on a path of self destruction, everyone was out to get me, or so I believed. The world was a crappy place and I was just surviving in it. I felt no one really cared and ignored the pain I was going through. Maybe they just didn’t see it. I don’t know.
I am not a creative person, I am not spectacular in anyway, I’m not talented at many things. I couldn’t throw myself into something to escape the pain.
I cut myself, I drank and I did things that were not good for me. Why wasn’t life as easy for me as it was for others, I thought to myself.
In 2000, I was just 13 years old. I was into all kinds of music. Nothing really spoke to me yet. That’s when I fell in love with rock and metal. Hybrid Theory was nothing I had ever heard. I began listening to Metallica, Smashing Pumpkins, Nirvana. I had been previously exposed to their music as a child but now, I appreciated it. Your music led me to some of those most amazing music that has ever graced the world.
But three years later when my pain was increasing (both physically and mentally), Linkin Park was the band I turned to. Hybrid Theory has been one of my all time favourite albums but it was Meteora that sang to me. In particular the songs ‘Somewhere I belong’ and ‘Numb’.
“I wanna feel what I’ve wanted all along, somewhere I belong.”
It’s as though you felt all the things I felt. For the first time in my life, someone was saying all the things I didn’t have the ability to put into words.
That song was on a loop, at full volume for months on end.
When I felt like dying, it was your music that calmed me. You were one of the reasons for pulling me out of that state. Seeing you play in the RDS while supporting Metallica was one of best days of my life. So not only did your music save me, you gave me great memories.
Now? Yeah, I still feel different, unspectacular and angry at the world but now I know that no matter what, music will always be there to pull me back as well the people who get me. I wouldn’t have known that if it was for your voice.
Even now, when my mental health is suffering, I know that even though you’re gone, you’ll still be there to sing what I’m feeling. Right now ‘Heavy’ is my go to song. I can’t help but cry when I listen to it, knowing how things ended.
So thank you Chester for giving us 17 years of your voice. Thank you for making us feel less alone. Thank you for putting into words the things I’ve always thought but couldn’t say. Thank you for creating music that speaks to millions of people who have felt the way I have felt. I have seen posts and talked to many people who were going through terrible times as teenagers. Even in the same school, none of us knew we were all going through stuff and all had the same thoughts and feelings. It just goes to show, you never know what goes on in people’s heads-even if you are in the same room.
I hope, wherever you are, you are at peace. Thank You again, for pulling me back. Your legacy will continue and I hope one day, my own children will find solace in your music when they’re feeling low, if they should feel unable to speak their minds aloud.
So for awhile now I’ve been thinking about writing this piece as I’ve heard a lot of anecdotes about sexism and gender bias in medicine. I know myself that I’ve experienced some sexism in my time as a regular visitor to the GP and hospital.
The definition of bias: inclination or prejudice for or against one person or group, especially in a way considered to be unfair.
“When we talk about gender bias in medicine we usually either mean an unintended, but systematic neglect of either women or men, stereotyped preconceptions about the health, behavior, experiences, needs, wishes and so on, of men and women, or neglect of gender issues relevant to the topic of interest.”-Gender Bias in Medicine; Katarina Hamberg
I think the experience of sexism and gender bias that stands out to me the most, personally, is the time I went to my GP explaining I had zero libido, that it was borderline painful to have sex and that it was affecting my relationships.
The GP (who by the way was a woman) told me to just do it, that the more sex I had, the more I would want it. Now I don’t know if I am off the mark here but I’m sure if a man went to his GP and told them that they had no libido or that it hurt to have sex that they wouldn’t be told to “just do it”.
Now, I’m not a doctor but I think I if I was, that I would at least do some blood work and if nothing showed up, refer the patient on to a Gynaecologist/Urologist for further investigation. Or you know, have a look down there to see if anything obvious stands out!
So, I wondered if there was solid, scientific evidence to suggest whether gender bias actually exists in the medical field. I have been told hundreds of stories over the years as a health journalist about women being fobbed off. Sadly, this treatment has cost women their lives.
I recently spoke at a conference in Manchester and while I was there I spoke to a GP who also suffers from hypermobile Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. When I brought the subject up of whether women’s pain is taken as seriously as men’s; she responded: “Absolutely. It’s a feminist issue, for sure.”
Of course, we can’t go on anecdotal evidence. To prove something actually happens we must look at it from a scientific point of view. I contacted the amazing Gill Roddie (follow her on Snapchat: gemeroodles) to ask her for solid articles about this issue. Gill teaches Biology in third level and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to science. Her science snaps are definitely worth the watch, so do check her out.
Does the research show that women’s pain isn’t taken as seriously as men’s? Yes, it does.
It’s a disturbing thought, but there is a plethora of mounting evidence to back up these anecdotes. Women’s pain is taken much less seriously by doctors than men’s, fact.
This gender bias has a number of serious implications; including that women in acute and chronic pain are left to suffer for longer in hospitals. Women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with mental health problems because women are “emotional” even when clinical results show their pain is very real.
Research has found that when women and men present in A&E with the same severity of abdominal pain, men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated, while the average wait for women is 65 minutes. Similarly, women are consistently prescribed less pain-relieving medication, even when controls for weight are applied.
One reason for this blatant display of sexism may be that doctors often perceive women are being more irrational or emotional than men, and therefore see their complaints about pain as being ‘all in their head’ rather than having a physical basis.
Clinical studies have also found that doctors are more likely to think women’s pain is caused by emotional issues rather than physical causes, even in the presence of clinical tests which show their pain is real. Researchers J.Crook and E.Tunks found in their study ‘Women With Pain’ that women with chronic pain conditions are more likely to be wrongly diagnosed with mental health conditions than men and often prescribed psychotropic drugs, as doctors regularly dismiss symptoms as being a part of a mental illness.
I myself can back this up, again with anecdotal evidence. When I first went to my GP about my symptoms of pain and fatigue, I was told that I was depressed. Another GP told me my chest pains were caused by stress. I told him I wasn’t stressed at all and he said “Oh, well it must be subconscious stress.” Again, no investigations, just a script for Lexapro. We now know that my pain and fatigue symptoms were a result of my Ehlers Danlos Syndrome and the chest pain is either a subluxated rib or costrochronditis.
But this assumption also does no favours for the male population either. Men are seen as more rational and when they say they are feeling acute pain, doctors take their symptoms seriously as having physical cause rather than assuming an emotional basis. But what if it is emotional?
A 1990 study by Karen Calderone from Rhode Island University indicated that women are more likely to be given sedatives for pain, while men are given pain medication.
This indicates that women are perceived as being more ‘anxious’ than truly in pain. This research suggests that doctors focus on returning women to a ‘calm and rational’ state rather than actually relieving their pain.
This means women are often left in severe pain for longer periods than men. Sedatives can make women appear calmer but all the while continuing to feel pain acutely. This means they stay in extreme discomfort for longer periods and this can lead to serious symptoms. Conditions may go unnoticed and undiagnosed through this type of medical treatment (or lack their of).
In Hamberg’s paper she noted that in a large variety of conditions, such as coronary artery disease, Parkinson’s disease, irritable bowel syndrome, neck pain, and knee joint arthrosis, men are investigated and treated more extensively than women with the same severity of symptoms.
Personally the most disturbing thing I’ve read during my research for this article is learning that the more attractive a health care professional found their patient, the less treatment they received. This confirms what most patients with invisible conditions say, that their pain isn’t taken as seriously because we appear healthy.
In the research paper ‘Beautiful Faces in Pain’ it was found that due to this “beautiful is healthy” stereotype, doctors assume people who look ‘better’ on the outside, are healthier and subsequently require less treatment. Since sexism and patriarchy is present when it comes to hierarchy in hospital settings, men are more than likely to have senior positions. They are responsible for decision making and since the majority of men are heterosexual, it seems quite possible that women’s pain is underestimated due to the perceived attractiveness by the males responsible for their treatment.
While I’m sure most health care professionals will say that they treat each patient with the same level of care, regardless of their gender, the facts and figures say differently.
You can not deny the solid, scientific facts that show that gender bias is very real in medicine.
Sexism is seen in A&E waiting rooms and hospital wards. Gender bias and sexism is present in almost every area of society, so why would medicine be any different?
Gender bias is literally physically hurting women as well as emotionally. Imagine if those chest pains I was suffering from was something more sinister? What if it was my heart giving me a warning sign? What if I ended up in cardiac arrest? I may be presenting you with hypothetical situations here but, for many women, this has happened and sadly, it has cost them their lives. Until gender bias and sexism is rectified in medicine, women will continue to face difficulty in accessing appropriate treatment.
Until next time,
One mother's experience of life with Ehlers Danlos Syndrome