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Male Violence; it’s really not as bad as you make out…

“I’d love to take you out for a drink. Just one drink. Nothing else. I respect women.

I think I’m falling in love with you. I know it’s only been a week but I feel as though I’ve met my soul mate. Do you feel like as well? I hope you do. I couldn’t bear it if you didn’t. You do? That’s amazing! We were meant to be together.

Will you move in with me? I know it feels soon but it feels right. Doesn’t it? Doesn’t it feel right to you? I know that your family and friends might not like it but who cares? We know how we feel about each other. Right?

We don’t need anyone else do we? As long as we’ve got each other, that’s all that matters.

Oh tell them to mind their own business. They’ve clearly never been in love like we are. I feel sorry for them Don’t you? Don’t bother going round. You don’t have to see them anyway. If they don’t approve, well fuck em.

Where are you going? To meet your friends? Oh. No, it’s fine. It’s just. I was going to surprise you by taking you out tonight that’s all. But no, you should see your friends. Don’t worry about it. No. You mustn’t cancel them, you haven’t seen them for ages. Well, I didn’t tell you because it was a surprise. Really? Are you sure? Oh that’s great. No, I’m sure they won’t mind and if they do? Well, they don’t understand do they?

Where have you been? You’re late home. Right. No you didn’t tell me you were going for a drink after work. I’d have remembered. Well, you must have forgotten. I’ve been waiting for you that’s all. I worry when you’re not with me. It’s because I love you so much.

Oh don’t go to work. You don’t need to. I earn enough to keep both of us. It would be great to come home to you every night. You don’t enjoy it that much anyway do you? Maybe you could just take some time out, see what you want to do?

Can you make sure you tidy up abit tomorrow? You don’t have that much to do and I’d prefer a more tidy house to come back to. Just clean up abit better. There’s smears on the window.

I thought I asked you to clean up? What have you been doing all day? I go out to work, and pay for everything, The least you can do is make sure I’ve got a nice house to come back to.

What do you need money for? Don’t I give you enough? You don’t need a mobile, who would you ring? I’ve got one, I’m not paying for two and you’re not bringing any money in.

What do you want a job for? What would you do? I don’t want to be mean but you don’t really have many skills do you? Who would employ you? You’re better staying at home and let me go out to work. There’s plenty for you to do here.

Who’s been round? There’s two mugs on the side. Has someone been round? Oh her. What did she want? Don’t think you’re starting that. Going out with your mates who are all single and on the pull. No chance. You wouldn’t want to anyway would you? Why would you want to go out with them when you can stay in with me? You don’t need anyone else.

Oh god. Shut up. I’ve just walked in from work and you’re starting. I’m tired and I don’t need you going on about boring crap. Just give me my dinner and shut up. The last thing I need is you starting on about going out. You know I’m not happy about you going out with them. I’ve seen them. I know what they’re like. All over men, pissed up. I don’t want men looking at you, thinking you’re like them.

I SAID NO

It was just a slap, just a shove.
Don’t get upset. I didn’t mean it, I was angry, you wind me up. You know you wind me up so what do you expect?
Stop crying. Stop making a fuss. You always have to make it a drama.
It wasn’t that hard. And don’t go running to your friends about it. No ones interested in you. Why do you think they haven’t been in touch? You’re boring and you’ve got nothing to say. Your friends are glad to get rid of you.

For gods sake, shut the fuck up. Stop going on at me, Jesus you drive me to it. I’m entitled to do what the fuck I want. I said I wouldn’t be home early. I said I was going to the pub. If you don’t shut up then I’ll make you. You’ll be sorry then. Look at me when I’m talking to you. Stand still. Stop crying. You’re pathetic.

I warned you. I told you what would happen if you carried on but you didn’t listen. Now look what’s happened. You did this. You drove me to this. This is your fault. You made me lose my temper and now look. I’ve never done this with anyone else. It’s you. You push me to it.

Look, it won’t happen again. It’s not who I am. Why don’t we both try harder? I am sorry, you know I am. But you need to try harder not to wind me up.

Take that fucking crap off your face. Why are you dressed like a slag? Do you want men all over you? I’m not enough for you now? Fucking bitch, don’t answer me back. You’re a fucking whore, a slag who would sleep with anyone. You’ve got no respect for yourself. Look at you. I’ll show you what happens to women who’ve got no respect. Come here. Come fucking here…

Answer me when I fucking speak to you. Don’t just sit there. Ignorant cow. Don’t think you’ll get any better than me. I’m the only man who would put up with you. You used to be fun and now look at you. Boring, nothing to say for yourself.
What did you say? You think you can leave me? You think you can just pack a bag and leave? Oh I don’t think so..

Get up off the floor. GET UP… Stop messing about. This isn’t a joke. Get up. It wasn’t that fucking hard……”

Violence against women is a spectrum. It ranges from casual sexism, street harassment, to intimate partner abuse and domestic and sexual violence. Whatever has happened to you, whatever a man has done to you; it wasn’t your fault. Coercion and control are insidious. They don’t happen overnight and we often can’t see what’s happening until it’s too late.

If you need to talk then PLEASE, don’t stay silent. There are organisations out there that can help.

Rape Crisis England and Wales

Women’s Aid

Ending Victimisation and Blame

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Anxiety; it’s a bastard

Like a dead weight around my body, paralysing and pulling me down into a pit of self loathing and fear.
I smile and nod, attempt to mask the all encompassing fear of the world.
My head is filled with a thousand thoughts, all of them worries magnified beyond belief.
Logic and reason hover like a tiny, wafer thin thread holding me to the ground. The slightest rip and it will go, floating off in to the light and leaving me plunged into the darkness.

I have to get out of bed. I have to go to work. I have to blank my mind in order to function because the fear of telling people why I can’t is too great.
Where does it come from, this overwhelming sickness? I can trace it back and see the beginnings but I can’t see how to make it go away.
Go for a walk, get some fresh air, have a shower, get dressed. All these things will help, I’m told.
And they do. Sometimes. For a brief period. But it is too much and I can’t keep it at bay for long.
My head pounds with the effort of appearing sane. Of communicating, saying please and thank you, exchanging pleasantries with shop staff or colleagues.
Emails pile up, my mobile goes unanswered, the urgency escalating my heart rate so that I can barely breathe. My chest constricts with a tightness like a steel band, cutting off my airway and filling me with dread.
I force myself to interact, knowing that if I don’t I will have to explain.

Explaining means being honest and then there’s a judgement. Panic and anxiety attacks aren’t really an illness are they? It’s all abit self indulgent, just get on with things, some people have real problems.
So I stay silent, and it never goes away.

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#HeForShe and the pointless battle to be recognised

I am really torn with this HeForShe campaign. It’s great that a young woman such as Emma Watson has spoken up, identified herself as a feminist and, in doing so, will introduce a whole generation of other young women to the feminist movement. It’s also good news that sexism, misogyny and inequality is being discussed at UN level. There are many issues that blight women’s lives every single day and we are long overdue for a sea change in male attitudes. It’s exhausting battling this shit every day and our voices are hoarse from shouting about it.
My problem is that I don’t believe that the involvement of the United Nations will do anything to change societal attitudes towards women. The problems are far too entrenched for men to willingly surrender their power. When you have as much privilege as men do, the process of unpacking and examining that privilege is far too much like hard work. Retweeting Everyday Sexism is easy. Adding your name to a petition against domestic abuse takes about five minutes. Adding your voice to a campaign such as HeForShe takes approximately five seconds. Anyone can do that, and proudly pat themselves on the back for being a ‘good’ man.
The real work is in challenging sexism and misogyny. When your mates tell a rape joke, when your work colleagues tell a domestic violence joke, when you witness street harassment, when your women friends are sexually assaulted in pubs and clubs. That’s the real work; challenging other men.
And men don’t see what we see. They understand the, “get your tits out” sexism because it’s blatant and they can hear and see it. What they don’t see is the implicit sexism. The comments that can be dismissed as “just a joke”, the man who talks to your chest, the man who speaks over you, the man who runs the University Feminist society because he wants to ‘help’ women become empowered. They don’t notice when they switch on the radio and it’s predominantly male voices. They don’t notice that the majority of newspaper editors, managers, CEO’s and politicians are men. They don’t think anything when they watch Question Time and see a panel of white, male faces. They don’t understand why you get frustrated when the head of your STEM panel is male, or when you disengage from politics because the ‘greater good’ argument has yet again made women invisible and silenced.
For HeForShe to actually work, we need men to shut up and listen. We need them to WANT to change and I don’t see any evidence that they do.
The sexism in society is not just about the obvious objectification of reducing women to body parts. It’s implicit, it’s quiet, and it’s subtle.
When we have to beg men to imagine that the women experiencing abuse is their daughter, mother or sister then we have a problem. If men can’t support women because, y’know, we’re women then frankly, I don’t want your support.
Read below the line of any article written by a woman and you will see what we experience. You will see what men really think of us. You will see the hatred, the abuse and the dismissive sneering that accompanies any one of us that dares to speak. Go on Facebook and join a discussion about feminism and women’s rights, see the men falling over themselves to explain how we’re getting it wrong, we are campaigning on the wrong issue, there are more important things to worry about. Join Twitter and tweet about feminism. Sit back and wait for the replies.
Essentially, there are a lot of men who can just about manage feminism if it’s done ‘right.’ If the campaigning women are young, white, pretty and slim then you have a chance of men supporting your issue. If you’re old, a woman of colour and fat then forget it. You have pretty much zero chance of any man wanting to be involved in your campaign. The comments come thick and fast;
“who’d rape her?”
“why are feminists so fucking ugly?”
“she deserves a smack in the mouth, fat ugly bitch.”
And we get angry. We get really fucking angry and this means that we are irrational, emotional, and erratic.
“You need to calm down”
“Why are you so angry all the time? It doesn’t solve anything”
“You won’t get anyone to listen if you’re angry”

So we quieten down. We lower our voices, we ask nicely instead of demanding angrily. Does anything change? No.
So, forgive me if I’m not thrilling with excitement about yet another campaign. Forgive me if I sound negative and weary. It’s because I’ve been here so many times before and we are in a worse situation than we ever were.
All power to Emma Watson. Truly. But don’t be surprised when this campaign fades away into obscurity.

Men aren’t giving up their power any time soon.

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So, What Do We Do Now?

Earlier in May, I went to listen to Beatrix Campbell talk about her new book, ‘The End Of Equality.

I was struck by how many older women were in the audience. Women who battled through the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s, pushing and shouting for changes for us all. I felt a little in awe if I’m honest with you. I owe those women such a debt, it was quite overwhelming to be in the same room as them, knowing they had fought for me.

Listening to Bea, I became very aware that we, as feminists, had reached a stalemate situation. She talked about the current situation and the lack of any real changes. Initially, I was annoyed with her belief that my (our) generation hadn’t changed anything, and then I realised she was right.

Looking back over the second wave, it is apparent that the gains that were made were significant, and gave hope to many women that yes, things were changing.
Refuges, Rape Crisis centres, Equal Pay Act, Abortion, contraception. Women were able to get mortgages, loans, work full time.
These are only a snapshot of the gains made by our foremothers. They fought for a better future for women, and they lost so much as we stand here and survey our current landscape and the disputes between different strands of feminist thinking.
Liberal feminism is really neo-liberal feminism. The culture of choice and empowerment. It’s an illusion. There are no choices. Not really.
What gains have been made? Nothing of any significance. Oh sure, there are small concessions offered but these are simply to shut us up. If they made any real difference we wouldn’t get them.
Don’t believe me? Look at how many years women have been campaigning against male violence.
What’s changed? Nothing. The women’s sector has been decimated, cut and funding withdrawn. Male violence against women has increased and we are no closer to signing the Istanbul convention than we were in 2005.

There is a steady erosion of rights. Hard fought rights, such as abortion.
Women are vilified, assaulted, abused, raped, beaten, murdered, kidnapped, sold.
That’s our equality right there.

We are being played for fools.
The patriarchy has no intention of recognising women as equals. It’s never going to happen because no one, but NO ONE ever gives up their power.

So what do we do?
Many of us are disillusioned with the current political parties and horrified at the rise of the far right.
We have set up a Facebook page to discuss how we can co-ordinate our activism and campaigning, and a twitter account to signal boost women’s activism.
We also have a website to collate and connect groups around the UK.
We have twelve months to make a difference in the political landscape, and if we want to make sure that we halt the right wing tide, we need to unite.
Whatever your passion is, whatever your political leanings; come and join us. Connect with other women in your area and rise up.

 

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Birth Story

 

It’ll be Little Planet’s 11th birthday on Monday, and this afternoon, I was reminded about her birth. To be honest, I try not to think about it too much. ‘Serene’ ‘whale music’ ‘water birth’ or ‘natural birth’ all bring me out in hives when I think about it – they remind me of my (wonderful) midwife who used these words when suggesting I write a Birth Plan. I’m going to tell you the story – but I’ll start by saying if you’re pregnant, don’t read it. Please. If you’re squeamish, it’s probably not for you, either. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll know it had a happy ending, but I’m aware that many women who have a similar birth experience to me aren’t so fortunate. I send you my love.

 

I’ll start with how I actually got pregnant, (don’t worry, I’ll not be doing an impersonation of an embarrassed teacher!), seeing as I was adamant that I never wanted children of my own.

I met Caitlin’s dad in a pub when I was pissed, his friend was going out with my friend. He was funny, and we ended up dating. One weekend, he picked me up from work & had arranged a ‘romantic’ break to Torquay. (I know. The signs were all there!) He’d packed a bag, remembered my hair dryer and booked a B&B so off we went. We had a night out in Torquay, and who did we bump into?! Why yes, his FAMILY who were also there on holiday. Now, LP’s dad wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his brother couldn’t cut warm butter. I got progressively more drunk in order to drown out their family idiocy, and it actually turned into a pretty good evening. When we got back to the B&B, condoms were missing from his ‘expert packing’. Just once can’t hurt, can it? It actually wasn’t even quite once, so I was pretty sure I’d be safe. <hollow laugh>

 

A week later, I was thoroughly bored of the ‘funny’ man I was dating, so I decided he had to go. I didn’t see him for a few days, and so I just left it to ‘cool off’. A week or so later, my period was late…. I bought a pregnancy test & asked him to come over so I could do the test. He arrived, following the obligatory ‘4 pints with the lads’ and I’d already done the test, fuming in rage that he couldn’t be bothered to be present. (This turned out to be his MO, more on that another time).
I was pregnant. He, you may be surprised to know, was delighted. So delighted, that I didn’t hear from him for 2 weeks, as he was ‘celebrating’ impending fatherhood.
That’s enough about him now, needless to say, he’s not a huge feature in our lives.

 

Within a few days, I’d started to feel sick – really sick. I spent lots of time with my head over the loo, vomiting up anything and everything that I put into my body. Even water. Even ginger nut biscuits. Everything. When women have ‘morning’ sickness & tell you – don’t offer them solutions unless they ASK. They will have thought of everything, and probably tried it. Twice.

 

Four weeks later, I was hospitalised with hyperestemis, and spent a week on the gynae ward, on a drip. I was 10 weeks pregnant. ‘Not long now’, the people said. ‘It’ll settle down after 12 weeks’.
I vomited continually until I was 20 weeks pregnant – losing weight. I spent part of the 2nd trimester looking like I’d been dug up. Blooming, my arse.

 

At 21 weeks, I had a little bleed, so I went into hospital as instructed, where they declared my blood pressure to be ‘a little high’ and prescribed a week of bed rest. Lovely, I thought. I was off sick from work with the sickness anyway, being instructed to stay in bed was just what I needed.
Until I found it was a hospital bed. I wasn’t allowed out of bed unless I needed the toilet, or a shower.

 

January ended with me being allowed out of hospital, as they medicated me to control my blood pressure. As I came into February, I started to feel better – more energy, the sickness had settled to just the mornings & late evening, and I felt much better – including the development of a ‘bump’, which made me feel less of a malingerer! At last, I could wear my maternity jeans with pride! See – I’m not putting it on! I’m pregnant AND poorly!

 

I was put into consultant care, with appointments every fortnight – not much fun, and a wholly medicalised experience that I’d not planned for. Regardless, I attended my appointments, feeling utterly fed up at the way my pregnancy was progressing.

 

February brought good news and bad – I was made redundant, along with the rest of my team – 3 of whom were pregnant…. I knew I wanted a change of career & the redundancy payout gave me some financial freedom to decide which direction I might head in. I signed the forms & kissed my engineering career goodbye.

 

The middle of February brought another one of those consultant appointments. I was feeling better, less tired, but a bit breathless – all to be expected, I thought. As I was checked over by the midwife prior to seeing the doctor, she took my blood pressure.
‘Go & have a lie down, Joanne. Let’s see if we can get this BP down’.
The next reading was even higher, so they had another week of bed rest planned. This time, it was absolute bed rest. No wee breaks or trips to the shower for me! My goodness, bed rest is BORING.

 

March came – and I was allowed home! Yay! The deal was – I had a midwife visit the next morning. I would have agreed to anything, so fed up was I of Ward 14! My lovely community midwife visited the next morning, and took the dreaded blood pressure…. ‘Oh Joanne I’m really sorry. We can’t leave you at home with your BP so high’. I’d not even unpacked my bag, and I came to realise that this was the best way…

 

To save boring you with the minutiae, this happened a number of times – a few days in, a night at home, a midwife visit, a few days in, a night at home, a midwife visit. You get the picture. Until I got to 33 weeks – when I was IN UNTIL BABY ARRIVED. I had pre-eclampsia. My body was swollen, I had a face like the moon (and like thunder, much of the time!) and blood pressure so high that they thought it might kill me.

 

Bored, frustrated, hot (it was summer 2003 – bloody boiling!), bored, fed up, furious with the foetus, bored, raging with the consultant and far too knowledgeable about the midwifery off-shift antics!!

 

Finally the day arrived when my body could take no more. I was 37+3 – I was being induced as I had eclampsia. I saw the consultant, who breezed through the details of ‘induction’, telling me that my cervix would probably take a bit to ‘get going’.
I believe ‘get going’ is a euphemism for ‘need tearing open with metal probes, fingers, manky looking gel pessaries and brute force’. I called my birthing partner Kaz, and got settled in, ready to get birthing.

 

4pm on the Friday evening – we were off! A midwife tried to sweep my cervix, but it was ‘solid’. I knew this wasn’t good. In came the pessary, and I was sent for a walk. A long one. Round & round the hospital. And again. I had this conversation with a midwife on my way around the block:

 

M/W: how’s it going, Joanne?
Me: terrible. I’m not having any pains, or anything.
M/W: give it a chance!

 

Another turn around the block. Kaz bought me ice cream & we sat outside in the sunshine. Then the pains came. Big, long, hurty pains. We walked swiftly back to the ward, certain that this was It. I met the same midwife on the way back: ‘See Joanne?! You just needed to give it a chance!’

 

They lay me down to monitor the heartbeat, gave me two paracetamol and examined my cervix again. It was still impenetrable. They planned another pessary, then we’d be off to Delivery Suite. Easy peasy!

 

Ha. If only. 4 women arrived on the ward, all progressing much quicker than me – laying down to have the monitor on had slowed my contractions to a standstill. It was 8pm. The night shift came on, Delivery Suite was full, they decided to medicate me with a tamazepan to help me sleep, and they’d try again in the morning.

 

Saturday morning came, and I was determined I’d do it TODAY! I was thoroughly fed up & tearful, I just wanted it over and done with.

 

New pessary, new route around the hospital. I walked and walked and walked. And ate ice cream. It was still Hot.

 

Saturday evening, minor contractions, more paracetamol, more walking. My cervix was not considering thinning. On Saturday night, there were no beds on Delivery, so they followed the same routine. Sleep-inducing medication, try again tomorrow.

 

Sunday – this was the day I’d do It! Kaz was really bored by this time, but getting into her role as Birthing Partner. She called my mother to give her a progress update, only to find she was On Her Way. Now, my mother is a whole other story – I was getting this baby out as soon as I could, if she was arriving imminently!

 

The registrar decided they’d have ‘one more crack’ at opening my firmly closed cervix. I had another pessary and a bed on Delivery Suite. Oh – and my BP was 150/195. Time for action.

 

I was given another pessary, and some gel – and then I was put on a drip to ‘speed things up’. My slow progress & BP meant that I had to be constantly monitored, so I had to lay on my back. My contractions felt forced, painful, I was tired. My BP was fluctuating & the heartbeat monitor showed baby was a bit unhappy.

 

Sunday mid morning – here comes the consultant… On a sunny Sunday, I knew it was serious. ‘Break her waters’, he instructed. The midwife gave me the gas & air pipe. What do I need that for? I said, innocently. Breaking waters doesn’t hurt, does it? ‘Just use it if you need it, Joanne.

 

Legs akimbo, facing the door, the registrar crouched down between my thighs ‘I’ll try & be gentle Joanne, but use the gas if you need to’. The pain was agonising – I’m wincing now, as I type this. My cervix wasn’t dilated at all, so she forced open with some kind of implement that looked like a crochet hook, and tore at the amniotic sac. I screamed, sucked on the gas like my life depended on it, and the registrar, midwife & wall were covered in bloody mucus.

 

Kaz had been sitting quietly, in a very hot room, with me screaming & crying. She saw the blood, and made a dash for the door. She pulled it open, crashed into the wall, stood by the midwifery station trying to get out of the ward and fainted. Onto her face.

 

The door was wide open, as the team caring for me left and rushed to her side – she’d taken the weight of the fall on her cheek.

 

“Fucking hell you selfish bastard! Way to make everything about you!!” I screamed, as she was put onto a stretcher and taken to A&E.

 

The midwife patted my hand. ‘Don’t worry Joanne, we’ll soon have this baby out.’

 

Famous last words.

 

The shift changed again, and in came the Scary Midwife. I’m not going to name her, but my goodness I’m tempted. SM introduced herself as the senior midwife, and I didn’t like her one bit. My mother had arrived by this point, so I told her I wanted a new midwife. My mother loves nothing more than a ruckus, so off she went to ask.

 

“Joanne – you are High Risk. I haven’t got any suitably-qualified midwives available to look after you. You’ll have to manage with me” said SM, disapprovingly.

 

I burst into tears & said I was Going Home. She heard me, and came back to say there was another midwife available, who was recently qualified (see what she did there?!), and she’d supervise from a distance.

 

The new midwife was lovely, really put me at ease. She took my obs & decided I needed to see the doctor. In came the consultant, no doubt interrupted during Sunday lunch. Frowning, he looked at my file & said I had to have an epidural to bring my BP down. It was 185/215. I was in a bit of pain, but not much, and I really didn’t want to have to lay down constantly. But with my BP the way it was, they were worried I might have a stroke. The Anaesthetist arrived, the needle in my back did its job & off I went to sleep for an hour – with the sound of the snooker on in the background.

 

I was examined an hour or so later – still no movement in my blasted cervix, despite my waters being splashed all around the room. My contractions were stilted, baby was still a bit unhappy, but then perked up, so I was given some toast & told to ‘relax’.

 

Later in the evening, news came from A&E that Kaz had a fractured cheekbone, so it was just going to be me and my Mother.

 

Late evening came, and the registrar checked me over. Yet another check of the cervix, no change. Regular contractions, no pain due to epidural.
The registrar decided that she’d leave me overnight with no further interventions & they’d take me to theatre for a caesarean on the Monday morning at 8am. Because id had an epidural and was high risk, another lovelier midwife was to be my support overnight (I couldn’t be left alone as I’d had so many interventions & had an epidural in).

 

I was relieved and scared and fed up & exhausted – but I settled down with the snooker, had yet more toast & then settled for sleep. Lovelier midwife talked me down when I was stressed, and I settled to sleep.

 

I woke up with a start, when the BP machine attached to my arm wouldn’t stop inflating; the midwife checked me over and called for senior staff. It was 2am.

 

Lovelier midwife: I think we should get the Reg out to look again
Snr M/w: they’re leaving her, do you want to be responsible for getting her out of bed at 2am?!
LM: she needs to be seen. Heart rate is dropping & not recovering.
Sm: be it on your head… But it’s likely they’ll still leave her.
Me: I am HERE you know!

 

The registrar arrived at 2.45am – and by this time there was panic in the room. She examined me, and shouted ‘CRASH’. Now, I’d watched enough Casualty to know this wasn’t good. I’m shaking writing this – 11 years ago, and yet I have a dry mouth, racing heart, and a feeling of panic that takes me back into that room.

 

CRASH 2 CORD PROLAPSE the registrar shouted, as the room filled with people.

 

A nurse came towards me with a piece of paper – ‘sign this Joanne, you need an operation to save baby’s life’. I signed it, with nothing that resembled my actual signature!

 

A nurse came towards me, waving a razor. ‘DONT CUT ME OPEN WITH THAT!’, I yelled.. ‘I need to remove your pubic hair Joanne, keep still’

 

‘Drink this Joanne – it’ll stop you from being sick’. As my trolley was disconnected from all the equipment & pushed towards theatre, I vomited up the stuff that would ‘stop me being sick’. All over the only man in the Crash Team. Go me 😉

 

We arrived in theatre and it was bright – so bright.

 

‘Joanne – breathe in through this mask’

 

‘Is my baby going to die?’

 

‘We’re going to do our best to make sure you’re both ok’

 

‘This is iodine Joanne I’m going to paint it onto your tummy’

 

‘DON’T CUT ME I CAN FEEL WHAT YOU’RE DOING. DON’T CUT ME YET. DON’T CUT ME. IS MY BABY GOING TO DIE?’

 

‘We’re putting you to sleep Joanne, your arm will go cold, count backwards from 10′

 

’10, 9, 8…’

 

When I woke up, they told me I’d had a baby girl at 3.22am but she was ‘a bit cold’ so they had her in a hot cot. I had been sure I was having a boy (call it my mothering instinct!), so the poor little 5lb 15oz mite didn’t even have a name.

 

We had skin to skin, and I fed her, then we slept. For hours and hours.

 

I woke up and asked what had happened – I have to be factual here because it’s still so scary. This is an excerpt from my notes.

 

Emergency c-section.
GA administered – suspected inter-uterine death.
<drug info>
Apgar 1 @ 1 minute
H/r 40
O2 & compressions
Nil reflex
blue

 

Apgar 2 @ 3 mins
02
H/r 60

 

Apgar 5 @ 7 mins
02
H/r 80

 

Apgar 6 @ 10 mins
(Etc)

 

Apgar 7 @ 12 mins
(Etc)

 

Apgar 9 @ 15 mins
(Etc)

 

She recovered, and so did I – after a 2 year bout of PND. She was well, and although the paediatrics team warned me that she might develop differently to her peers, she met her milestones as expected and is as healthy as I could wish for.

 

I started writing this piece because she’s 11 on Monday, and I’m finally able to write about our shared trauma. Recovering from her birth took me a lot longer than I expected. Although I’m still shaking.

 

Phew. I think I’ll put the kettle on!

 

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The View From Twenty Three Years On…

This is a post for @lorriehearts and any other woman who is on the first leg of her journey to motherhood.

As you contemplate the potential changes your new baby will bring, as you excitedly monitor every kick, every movement, every stage. Take a moment to imagine the coming years with this new person…

Imagine having someone who climbs into your bed when you’re trying to sleep.
Someone who demands attention continually; “feed me!” “Change me!” “Hold me!”
Someone who waits until you are ready to go out and then vomits their breakfast down the front of their clean clothes. Or even worse, yours.
Someone who cries inexplicably; you’ve changed them, fed them, cuddled them, winded them and still they cry. As do you. In despair.

You long for the day when they learn speak. And then they do. And you wish they’d shut up. They ask unanswerable questions like, “why is the sky?” “What is grass made of?” “Why, why, why…”

A small person who develops strange attachments to objects; stones, sticks, socks (or in the Boy’s case, a large lump of blutack which he took everywhere for 10 years).
They will develop an unfathomable hatred of baked beans, or an obsessive love for carrots and refuse to eat anything else.
They will find a way to cover your previously adult and fairly tidy home in fingermarks, smears, dirt and vomit.
They will leave small pieces of sharp plastic in strategic places so you tread on them as you stagger half asleep to the bathroom.
They will decide that, at 5.30am, it is time for you to get up, and prise your eyes open with an unwieldy Duplo brick.
They will draw the entire cast of Mary Poppins on the landing wall in green crayon,and designate the toilet a wishing well whilst depositing the contents of your purse in there. Before flushing.
(The Boy, 1993)

They will (and this is guaranteed) announce at the moment you really don’t want them to, that they have “DONE A BIG POO.” This is only equalled by the random wee which generally occurs in a supermarket, on a bus or in the street.

They will suddenly refuse to wear blue clothes with green, or demand that they wear the white dress with daisies all day, everyday, thus ensuring you spend every evening washing and drying it.
You find yourself fighting a losing battle when, on the hottest day of the year, your offspring decides that the most appropriate outfit to go out in is a fleecy dressing gown, three sizes too small, teamed with a pair of wellies.

They will refuse to accept your reasonable suggestion at 9pm that they go to bed; the ensuing storm of tears and wailing is something that is only topped by a teenage episode.

Then they go off to school and you quickly realise that their new teacher is an all-knowing, intellectual guru.
The oft repeated phrase of, “but Mrs/Mr Jones says….” becomes one that results in you grinding your teeth in fury.
You will learn to say, “how lovely!” when presented with a wonky pot or an alleged portrait of you that closely resembles an indistinguishable blob with orange hair.
You will develop the art of listening without listening. Adding, “mmm” “really?” and “wow” at reasonable intervals.
They will develop obsessions with a variety of anthropomorphic Disney characters. You will find yourself singing the theme tune to Thomas The Tank Engine instead of Muse. You will be forced, under dictator-like conditions, to watch on repeat Fireman Sam, The Tweenies, Rosie & Jim (substitute with whatever is currently en vogue in toddler world).

Any day out, any trip to the shops or holiday is planned with military precision. Woe betide you if you forget Big Doggy (a big dog), Mickey (Mouse) or Jacob (Mouse)
(Whitby 1996, a terrible year).

Packing to go anywhere is remarkably exhausting. Remember when you just chucked some clothes in a suitcase and went? Ha. No more.
Packing for every possible permutation of weather in an attempt to forestall any cries of, “I’m too cold” “I’m too hot” “my jumper’s itchy.”

The holiday car journey is a fresh hell all by itself. You load the car up for a week in Cornwall, taking roughly the same amount of stuff necessary for a six month trip. No sooner have you set off when someone will cry out, “I haven’t got my blanky/zebra/random-piece-of shit-I-can’t-live-without and back you go.
Only to find said item under a bag in the car.
There will be loud complaints that someone is touching someone else’s leg/arm/bag, or that someone is not being fair. You pray for sleep.

The car journey is interspersed with demands for food and drink, followed by a sudden and urgent request for the toilet IMMEDIATELY as you stop/start down the M5 in a holiday traffic jam.
(The traffic jam is a particular joy. The “are we there yet?” refrain becomes particularly tedious as you sit for four hours trying to get across Bristol;
“Are we still in Bristol?”
“YES.”
Nottingham to Cornwall, 2000)

Holidays are never the same again.
Instead of a relaxing two week break in the sun, drinking San Miguel and sharing tapas, you find yourself on some grotty caravan park with a hundred other dead-eyed parents, playing rounders/swing ball/tennis.
You are grateful for a pool so you can get just a little bit of peace and quiet (don’t worry, they won’t drown).
You are constantly being exhorted to find entertainment. The sort of entertainment that previously you would have laughed at.
You end up in water parks, theme parks, campsite clubs.
You wearily play cards, board games, dominoes.
You referee fights and squabbles and accusations of cheating.

Remember when your wages went into your bank account and you spent them according to whether you wanted to get pissed or buy a new outfit for yourself? Forget it. This kid will drain every last financial resource you have.
Dinner money, pocket money, Comic Relief money, youth club money, Hobbies club money, random-shit-your-school-makes-up-money, everyone-else-has-one-why-can’t-I-money.
The tooth fairy’s rates for an average tooth go up monthly, and Christmas becomes an unforeseen trial as you try to explain to a weeping 5 year old why it’s not possible for Santa to deliver a fleet of Palomino horses to a two bed flat.

These children grow at the rate of weeds. They eat copious amounts of food and then complain there is nothing to eat. They break things, sit on things, lose things. Often things that belong to you.
You will find yourself rummaging through the school lost and found cupboard at the end of every term, desperately hoping that you can find one of the seven jumpers/shirts/shorts that your child has gaily abandoned. (Top Tip: Often they have disappeared into a school uniform black hole so just take whatever’s there.)
Don’t ever be late picking them up, they will remember it forever: (ten years later, “remember when you forgot to pick me up from school when I was four?”

It may be that, at some point, you might want to attempt some sort of romantic liaison with your partner. Forget it. Alone time is viewed with hostility and suspicion. If you decide to have an “early night” your child will sense an activity that doesn’t include them and immediately launch into a series of, “I can’t sleep/I don’t feel well/there are monsters under my bed.” This is often followed by copious vomiting and/or demands to sleep in your bed.

As they progress into adolescence you notice that suddenly, where once your word was law, you have become invisible. Your strictures are met with a derisory laugh, your attempts to enforce rules about going out/coming in/not wearing that are met with a sneer and/or an outburst of such epic proportions that you wish the UN would help you out.
Everything you say is ridiculous. You know nothing about anything and you’re probably not even their real mum. You’re certainly not like Josh’s/Ellie’s/Lucie’s mum who is, like, so cool and never nags or anything.
Your mild suggestion that they have their tea before heading out is greeted with full scale door slamming and cries of “it’s not fair.”
The possibility that, at 13, it may not be ok to head off on two buses to meet people from Facebook in an area you don’t know is viewed with contempt and accusations of mistrust, over reaction and just being, like, totally unfair and unreasonable.

You will learn to say nothing as they set off for Reading Festival wearing a mini skirt, stilettos and a short faux fur jacket (The Girl, 2009).
Your skills in maintaining a level of rage only a mother can perform are put to the test as you collect them from the Glastonbury Festival medical centre where they are slumped, hooked up to a drip having lost their phone, money, jumper and senses after seven pints of Brothers Cider.
(The Boy, 2009)

You will worry. Constantly. From the minute they are born.
You imagine untold horrors, dangers and scenarios that haunt your waking hours. You just KNOW that someone will steal your child, hurt your child or harm them in some unspecified manner.
You view everyone with suspicion. Previously good friends who offer to babysit suddenly become child abductors or murderers.
The park is fraught with dangers, the roads full of drunken maniacs.
You find yourself saying, “mind the roads” to a hefty 16 year old who looks at you with pity.

You lie awake waiting for them to come home, praying like you’ve never prayed before that they are alive, haven’t been stabbed/robbed/assaulted. They stagger drunkenly into the house at 5am, and you spend the remainder of the night repeating to yourself, “of course they won’t choke on their own vomit.”

I don’t want to alarm you too much so I will skip over the 23 hours in police custody (February 2006), the phone call from nightclub doormen to collect your paralytic, vomiting 14 year old (December 2006), the convoluted lies about who’s staying where when we all know you’re attempting to go clubbing (2005 – 2011), the broken legs, arms, wrist, toe, appendectomy, endless bouts of tonsillitis, colds, temperatures, sickness bugs, measles and chicken pox.
I will simply tell you this.

The Boy is now 23 and a kinder, more intelligent, gentle, loving and funny man you couldn’t wish to meet.

The Girl is now 21 and is a perfect combination of drive, ambition, passion and probably the coolest person on the planet.

The Kid is nearly 11 so, still a while to go although the signs are positive that she too will grow into a well formed, bright and fair minded adult.

Good luck, and remember….whatever you do will probably be wrong so just do whatever feels right!

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Metal Gear Solid

I’ll admit something here; I adore the Metal Gear Solid series. The first game, for the PlayStation One, is a masterpiece, and the rest that have followed are brilliant as well. However, after hearing about the latest one, Metal Gear Solid V: Ground Zeroes, from YouTuber NerdCubed (@DanNerdCubed) I feel a need to write about it and to never play one of my all-time favourite games ever.

Let me tell you something about myself first of all. I’m a gamer; I have been for years and years, since I was about seven or eight. As I’ve grown up I’ve come to the realisation that, in gaming, there is a lot of sexism. This sexism is aimed at women, be it female gamers or female characters in games. Even supposedly ‘strong’ female characters, like Lara Croft (Tomb Raider games), suffers from it. In the Tomb Raider gamers she is usually depicted with large breasts, which have steadily grown through the years before being downsized in the recent reboot of the series. There is also a lot of violence towards women in games. The point is that I am aware of the sexism in gaming and have been in numerous discussions about the subject. Some of the games I agree with and some I do not.

For a bit of background on what I’m talking about the Metal Gear Solid series is, usually, very camp and tongue in cheek. Even when dealing with serious things it has a laugh. For example, a running gag in the series is a guard called Jonny who is constantly suffering from toilet trouble. Another example are the Metal Gears themselves, giant robots with the ability to launch nuclear missiles, usually not something to laugh at but the series manages to make it funny because….it’s a giant robot.

However, the latest one, MGS V: Ground Zeroes, takes it in a whole other direction. This is not a direction for the better in my opinion. The direction is a lot darker and much worse. Now I’m not going to give you a whole host of reasons why this game is a complete and utter pisstake, I’m just going to tell you about the main reason NerdCubed, and myself, think it’s terrible and why we are now disgusted with the series and the games. It concerns a reward you can achieve. This is an extra, it contributes nothing to the story and it isn’t intended to make us dislike the main villain even more, simply because it’s an extra, players don’t have to unlock if they don’t want to.

This ‘reward’ is simply an audio tape. Normally nothing to be concerned about I hear you say, however the audio tape has one of the characters, Paz who is 25’s, having her clothes ripped off, you actually hear them being ripped off. This is then followed by both her and a 13 year old boy, Chico, being beaten and then having Chico forced upon her under threat of being ‘strung up next’ by the villain simply known as Skullface….she is forced to have sex with a 13 year old boy. A whole lot of other stuff then occurs during the audio tape, which is around ten minutes long, involve rape and gang rape, but it is the ending which is the most fucked up. At the end of the audio tape Paz and Chico voluntarily have sex….for fun!

Now there are two possible reasons for this, either Hideo Kojima, the writer, is an even worse writer then we ever dared dream, or it is genuinely meant as a reward. In a previous game featuring Paz, Metal Gear Solid Peace Walker, during a cut-scene you can actually zoom in on a picture of Paz and as you zoom in items of her clothing disappear. This leads me to the conclusion that Hideo Kojima actually does think this that the audio tape is a reward worth putting in the game.

Hearing about this last night disgusted me, as it disgusted NerdCubed, and the knowledge that this is in the game, in a series that I adore, has ruined everything for me. Let me just state this again; a reward in the game is an audio tape of a 25 year old woman being beaten and having a 13 year old boy forced to have sex with her, ending with those two having sex for fun. Yeah, I….the series is ruined for me.

When I first heard Nerdcubed talking about this my first reaction was shock. I found it unbelievable that this sort of thing would find its way into a series that is renowned for its humour and campness. As I listened to more of NerdCubed’s video this shock transformed into disgust, this sort of thing should not become common place in games. It is something that should be addressed and combatted; people need to be brought up on it.
How long can we, gamers, go on defending game companies for the sexism in games if more and more start to include things such as the audio tape? I’m not saying that we have to stop playing games; there are many games that have no such sexism, for example Mario, or the Metroid series. However, the Metal Gear Solid series seems to have gone over the edge and how long will it be till more follow?
The Grand Theft Auto series, for example, generally has no meaningful female characters and what female characters there are usually live up to the stereotypes that are portrayed in the media. How long until that series goes further over the edge? I hope that it doesn’t happen as I do enjoy the games but I can’t be certain, no one can. I get the sense that the gaming community has become too complacent in its acceptance of sexism and are purposefully creating more extreme scenes and scenarios where sexual violence and, in this case, child abuse are the accepted norm as entertainment. There seems to be no negative reviews picking up on this, instead the negative reviews are picking up on the shortness of the game and only one review, by Ria Jenkins of the Guardian, writes about the audio tape and sexual violence. I can’t help but wonder whether if there is a weary acceptance and resignation which leads to a lack of interest.
Have we become desensitised to the portrayal of women that we don’t challenge extreme misogyny and sexism when we see it on the screen?

 

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Women In Prison

This week has seen the most blatant display of women’s erasure that I’ve seen in a while.
Firstly, there was the Centre for Social Justice report on Girls and Gangs on 24th March.
Then there was the HMIC report in to the failing of the police to tackle domestic abuse.
And now it’s the book ban for prisoners which Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform wrote extremely passionately and eloquently about here.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m as appalled as the next woman that those who are incarcerated for rehabilitation purposes are being refused access to books. As a former youth justice social worker, I’ve spent more than my fair share of time in prisons, and I am fully aware of the importance for prisoners of being able to escape from the reality of prison life.
I don’t oppose the writers and poets who have spoken out so loudly and vehemently about Chris Grayling’s reforms. Frankly, I think it’s about time that some of our more esteemed authors stood up to be counted in these times of austerity.
No, my problem is that the outcry over these reforms has become all about books.
Let’s look at the other reforms.
1) Families are no longer permitted to send in small items to prisoners
2) Children are not allowed to send a homemade birthday card
3) Prisoners with a particular expertise or interests cannot receive magazines
4) Prisoners are no longer permitted to have underwear sent in
Of course these reforms affect male prisoners, but they hit female prisoners disproportionately. They affect women so, so much more than men.
Women in prison are often the main carer for their children. Being separated from them and not being allowed to even receive a homemade birthday card is an appalling punishment.
But I want to focus on the issue of underwear. I’m sure we can agree that it’s pretty important to most women to have access to clean underwear? For hygiene reasons alone.
Why is this more important for women? Because women bleed. Women have periods. And sometimes those periods are really heavy. Sometimes the bleeding is so bad that it stains our underwear. Every month.
Now imagine having to wear the same pair of knickers for the entire length of your sentence. Oh sure, you can wash them. But most women will know that blood doesn’t always come out when you are using cold water in a small cell basin and no washing powder.
A few years ago I attended a conference in London which looked at the experiences of women in the Criminal Justice System. One woman spoke about being remanded into custody and being kept in her cell with no access to washing facilities or sanitary products. She was on her period, which was really heavy and she cried as she told us of her humiliation and shame.
And her experience wasn’t unusual. This is common practice. After all, they’re in prison.
So, why aren’t people shouting about this? Why isn’t there a protest about it? Why aren’t prominent celebrities, writers, politicians, journalists campaigning and lobbying Chris Grayling about this?
Because it only affects women. Because who wants to talk about blood and mucus and stains and flooding?
No one, because it’s only women.

If you would like to read more about the changes to the criminal justice system and the eroding of Probation then check out @awomaninwinter on twitter
http://effieperine.wordpress.com/2014/01/02/resolution/

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International Women’s Day 2014

Originally published on A Room of Our Own

On 1st March I wrote a post for A Room of Our Own acknowledging the work done by women everywhere. The work that is often under funded, under paid and under valued.
It was a recognition and a reminder that we are all of us, in all sorts of ways, making history.

Today is International Women’s Day.
Women all over the world will be celebrating achievements, planning future campaigns, being together; just being women.
When women come together, to collectively say NO, it is immensely powerful.
Only this week, a campaign, run by Jean Hatchet, against Paddy Power succeeded in ensuring that Reeva Steenkamp’s death was not reduced to a sporting bet.
The reason Paddy Power thought it was ok to run a bet on the outcome of a murder trial is because women are so often reduced to insignificant, unimportant objects. Dismissed as hysterical, as over reacting, as worthless.

Today in London, those worthless, insignificant women will be taking part in the Million Women Rise March which raises awareness of male violence against women.
Women will be marching through Central London, wearing red, singing, playing instruments, laughing, talking, meeting old friends, meeting new friends, sharing, supporting, cheering.

This demonstration of women’s power is vital. We need to see how many care about other women. We need to know that we are not alone. We need to hear other women telling us we are believed and that we will stand together.

I want to pay tribute to some of the women I know, who are working tirelessly to raise awareness of violence against women and girls. You may not like them all but that’s not the point. Feminism is not about simply supporting those women you like or get on with.
It’s about supporting all women, everywhere, whether you like them or not, whether you agree with them or not.
These are just some of the women who work more hours than they are paid for.
Women who work for nothing. Women who care.

I want to thank you for what you do, for your determination and passion to keep going and for making a difference.

RISE UP WOMEN!

@DeniseMarshall0
@K_IngalaSmith
@LeStewpot
@writersofcolour

@pollyn1
@rewindreframe
@SianSteans
@ZaimalAzad
@MelJeffs
@Imkaan
@10womenaweek
@JeanHatchet
@EVB_Now
@SBSisters
@MaraiLarasi
@millionwomen
@EVAWhd
@ProfLizKelly
@SorayaChamali
@Bindelj
@BlackFems
@DrLangtry_Girl
@ChitraNagarajan
@CarleneFirmin
@NimkoAli
@DaughtersOfEve
@leylaHussein
@PhilippaWrites

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Three Simple Words

Originally published by Ending Victimisation and Blame (@EVB_Now)

A couple of years ago on Twitter, the hashtag #IBelieveHer sprang up. It was in response to the Ched Evans case and, since then, the hashtag has become part of a feminist Twitter response to cases of sexual abuse, sexual violence and domestic abuse.

Sometimes it is specific to a particular woman; most recently #IBelieveDylan.
Mostly, it is used to demonstrate solidarity with a survivor who has disclosed.
It doesn’t matter if they are anonymous, celebrities, famous or a woman on our twitter feed; the intention remains the same.

We use it so regularly and yet it’s the one hashtag that has never lost it’s impact or significance, and I think this is because so many survivors face disbelief as a matter of course. We face disbelief from family, friends, partners and organisations. @EVB_Now coined the term, ‘Institutional Disbelief’ to refer to women and children whose stories are doubted by professionals such as social workers, police officers, CPS, or the media.

Disbelief can be incredibly damaging to survivors, and having the strength to disclose your abuse takes a huge amount of courage. We know that when we disclose there is a 50-50 chance that we will be doubted. That the person we disclose to will ask questions that cast a question mark over your recollections and experiences.
Questions such as,
“are you sure?”
“Why didn’t you tell someone sooner?”
“Do you think they misunderstood?”

This is why, when someone – anyone – says, “I believe you” it can be the most powerful three words in the world. To know that someone takes your word, accepts your experience, accepts your reality, I wonder if there is anything more powerful?

So, no matter how many times you are tweeted at by those who seek to undermine #IBelieveYou, let’s keep saying it.

Thank you to all those who believe me. Your solidarity, support and acceptance has helped me to acknowledge my trauma and live a little easier.
To anyone reading this who has experienced any kind of abuse; I believe you.