How Come It’s “We’re Pregnant” But It’s Not “We’re Disabled”?

I don’t know when it became fashionable to identify pregnancy as an adventure à deux.  It always seemed lopsided that pregnancy excluded men from throwing up, having swollen ankles and shrewish moods.  I’m not even talking about all those forever changes like stretch marks, a bigger butt, and wider hips.  With the possibility of gestational diabetes, postpartum depression, or miscarriage, the adventure becomes a challenge, albeit one that affects the relationship although it is physically experienced only by the woman.

Not to make it one-sided, men’s experiences are extraordinary, too, and may include being the target of a woman’s whacky moods or being the late-night junk food scrounger.  For guys, it hits that the two of you are now a family, with all the attendant expectations to be the one who forevermore protects and provides.

Without a doubt there are many, many women for whom pregnancy is a delightful experience. The glowing, the growing, and giving life is an experience like no other.  Pregnant women and moms belong to an exclusive club that has unbend-able  membership rules.  So even if it was the two of you being pregnant, only one of you, in the strictest sense, is a mom.

It’s the same when a woman is disabled or chronically ill.  Only one of you is impaired even while both of you — your relationship — can be impaired.   Having an invisible disability can be the worst of all.

Our society looks for proof; needs to name it; needs to touch it or otherwise experience its reality.  You can’t be “a little bit pregnant”; you either are or you’re not.  Pee on a stick and you prove it.  With invisible disabilities, there’s no pee test.  For some people, taking it on faith is harder than believing that what isn’t seen is true.  For example, not being able to prove the existence of god doesn’t mean god doesn’t exist.  Obviously, it’s the emotion surrounding belief that counts; to disbelieve or doubt a person’s physical or emotional perceptions is tantamount to discrediting someone’s very existence.  The truth of it is immaterial, while the emotion surrounding such thoughts is what counts.  The thoughts may even be rooted in jealousy of a sort – “What, so you get a break but I don’t?”  “Buck up, you’re just being lazy.”  “I worked all day but I still have to make dinner and do the laundry and get the kids to bed before I can sit down and catch my breath and where are you? in bed.”

Quantification when invisible disability is present requires a different yardstick but most of all it requires belief, support, and compassion.

Adding a stress load to any system that is already compromised results in a predictable, and usually disastrous, outcome (think of how a building with cracks in the foundation responds to an earthquake).  The same thing happens when an already dysfunctional body system is unable to respond well when stressors are piled on.  Such stressors may include walking through a mall or having relationship difficulties.

“We’re pregnant” or “we’re disabled” is an implicit bonding between partners.  Life-changing events happen from which there is no return.  Legal sanctions apply in both situations:  the 20% of women, nationwide, who are disabled are entitled to lifetime support; children until they reach the age of majority.  Society doesn’t seem to have recognized that the “we” of marriage with children and the “we” of disability in a relationship are the same thing.

To say “we’re disabled” says that both partners are in it together, that there is emotional and physical support of the partner who is less capacitated. Pregnancy usually involves the active participation of both partners while acquiring disability isn’t chosen by either partner.  Parenthood never ends, just as disability does not; a major difference is in the expected trajectory – that parenting gets more pleasurable once the nest is empty, while disability often does the opposite.  Disability is different in that there is no consent, no pre-planning, and certainly no enjoyment in acquiring the condition.

Kathe Skinner is a Relationship Coach in private practice.   Specializing in relationships, especially those with invisible disability in the mix, she offers both in-person and web-based programs for couples.  See http://www.BeingHeardNow.com to find the right program for you!

©Kathe Skinner, 2012

CAN I BORROW YOUR FINGER FOR A SEC?

 

Here’s a news flash:  stress can make you sick.

Maybe you haven’t gotten the message that stress can have a permanent effect on chronic illness.  Clouds your thinking, screws up your judgment.  Gives you the weepies and the angries.  Can take away your will to vacuum the house or cook a meal.  The effects of stress on the mood and memory components of your brain can get screwed up or even shut down.

Stress looks like lots of things:  a fight with your partner; anger or hurt at work; having to euthanize your pet (even making the decision); the temperature of your environment; hunger; lack of sleep, and more.

And our stress reactions aren’t just “in our heads”; they’re physical, too.  For example, my ability, literally, to stand or walk is impacted by the amount I exert myself in a hot environment.  Actually, I don’t even have to exert myself when I’m hot:  the very act of being is enough!

Worst of all are the cognitive impairments suffered from too much stress.  ”Chemo brain” is a good example.  While some doctors argue that chemotherapy cannot affect cognitive functioning, recent studies have shown that negative symptoms can begin as quickly as when a cancer diagnosis is received.   Seems the only thing that can do that is quite literally what we think when that diagnosis is received.  Cognitive behaviorists won’t argue that irrational thoughts are what need to be changed in order to change our feelings and ultimately our behavior.

Likewise, Adele Davidson talks about the relation of stress to “chemo brain”  (negative cognitive symptoms like loss of memory, confusion, slow or difficult processing, etc.)  in her book, Your Brain After Chemo.  I think many our of disabilities’ stress responses mimic chemo brain; certainly my multiple sclerosis does.

I’ve been talking about “distress”, or “bad stress”; however, we can’t go without “eustress”, or “good stress”.  Unless we stress our minds and bodies in appropriate ways (which differ for each of us) by doing things like walking around the block, carrying the wash down the stairs then folding and it putting way, reading, playing cards, debating an issue, problem solving, etc. we become mentally and physically flabby.  Ever see someone in a waiting room doing a crossword puzzle?  Same reason lots of adults work on jigsaw puzzles.

There’s a double benefit: not only is the mental exercise good for the brain, the pleasure and relaxation have a measurable chemical benefit as well.

It’s clear that sticking your finger in the dike doesn’t do much to hold back a significant quantity of stress.  In the flash flood of stress, we need to get to higher ground, take a deep breath and be glad we saved ourselves from drowning.

Kathe Skinner is a FABULOUS RELATIONSHIP coach who presents workshops, couples retreats, and teleseminars for couples who want to live happily ever after.   She is sometimes stressed by her husband, David, and their two hooligan cats, Petey and Lucy.