Moms, Never Let How You See Yourself Determine When You See a Doctor

May Is National Women's Health Month

By Emily Cowan, Editor / Publisher of Macaroni KID Newburyport, MA May 14, 2022

My daughter Isabel was born in August 2008 but her birth story begins about eight months earlier, when I decided – with complete self-confidence – that I was NOT going to be THAT pregnant lady. You know the one: warily calculating the caffeine content of her half-caff, dreading hidden sources of unpasteurized cheese, holding her breath to avoid the momentary exhaust fumes of passing trucks. No, my friend, I was going to follow the path of well-informed, realistic moderation – no freaking out!

Well, that lasted until about my fourth month, when I was diagnosed with placenta previa – basically when the baby has settled into a nice cozy spot that’s just close enough to the cervix to cause potentially serious problems down the road. I had already lost one pregnancy and, as my mother super-unhelpfully pointed out, she herself had lost a pregnancy at seven months due to the same condition.

So yeah, freaking out. Over the next few months I found myself calling my midwife practice on an almost weekly basis, worrying about this or that development. Each time I called they’d reassure me, “no no … don’t worry unless THIS happens.” And then THAT thing would happen and I’d call back, only to be reassured that everything was fine and not to worry unless this OTHER thing happened. And so on.

After about a dozen calls like this, I started to feel just a little bit ridiculous. Why couldn’t I stop worrying and just relax? Was I turning into exactly the kind of pregnant lady I had promised I was not going to be? Were my constant questions and check-ins getting … annoying?

I’m telling you this because it helps explain what I did next. Or, more accurately, what I didn’t do. At 37 weeks I experienced yet another unsettling pregnancy development, and I did think about calling in. But it was 11 o’clock at night. I was tired. I was bloated and cranky. I went to bed.

The next morning it became clear that my water had broken, and that given the position of the baby I should have left for the hospital hours earlier. Now I felt ridiculous for a completely different reason. Why hadn’t I called my midwife?? The simple answer is, I was afraid of looking silly.

We women do this, don’t we? Get so focused on our self-perception and the perceptions of others that we forget to trust our own instincts when it comes to health issues. We’re supposed to be the family’s rock. We are the caretakers for our children, parents, and spouses, and we just don’t have time. We’re expected – or expect ourselves – to tamp it down, suck it up, wait it out. We don’t want to risk looking weak, or whiny.

So we put off that doctor’s appointment to treat a chronic condition. We downplay our pain levels. We wait, on average, about four hours longer than men do to seek medical attention for a heart attack or stroke.

There are many women for whom access to health care is a real concern – that’s a huge problem too. What I’m talking about here, though, are the times when we are our own biggest obstacle to adequate care and treatment.

Isabel and I got very lucky. It was a harrowing birth, but we made it. The next time something just doesn’t seem right, I’m going to pick up the phone and get it checked out. And I hope Isabel (now 13) is watching.

This article originally appeared in the Greater Newburyport Mothers and Families Club's March/April 2017 newsletter. It was reprinted with kind permission.