Frames and Flow

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Like most writers, published and unpublished, I work for a living in a job that’s a compromise to the big dream. I’m a Communications Manager in a large voluntary sector organisation. I write every day, meet interesting people, deal with conflict and resolution. I engage and inspire and problem solve.

 

It’s been tough in our sector over the last few years. At work we keep saying, ‘this is the year of doing things differently’. That kind of statement makes me feel all excited, like I want the differently stuff to happen right now, yeah! Let’s do something so different and so worthwhile it makes me want to scream, “hallelujah!” Being different requires movement and big leaps of faith. Organisations can be heavy and unwieldy things, they have their own culture and sets of limitations. They CAN move, but they rarely do. In my organisation, there has been some movement, but the FRAMES around us are tightly bound, we’re yet to find FLOW in our practice of change.

Workflow is called ‘flow’ for a reason. It allows you to move freely within your workload, resource and initiative to efficiently produce an output. Sometimes at work I try to imagine workflow as a river. I imagine the miles of water I have flowing out behind and in front of me, stretching all the way to the sea, where all the workflows of the world become one. But what if the river hits a brick wall? Erosion is a slow process and changing shape is a team effort. The ‘thing’ the water aims to erode must be willing to give or the water backs up and that’s not good news for you or your workflow. If the ‘thing’ won’t give and you step out of the way, the river will act on its own and change course, moving on in a different direction, seeking to flow.

I had that epiphany, and now I am the river. The direction I have consciously taken is towards Dreamland. I am flowing my shizz, biz and whizz and all that good stuff towards the land of milk and honey. In that land, I am a writer of several books (fiction and non-fiction) and life is abundant in every way. I look forward to being there very much.

However, it must be noted that the way to Dreamland is not all flow; a lot of it is about frames. Let me use writing my novel as an example. When I finally clocked onto the main storyline for my novel (after ruminating for a year or so), I did something I’ve never done before when I’ve been excited by a piece of work – I stopped writing. Instead, I started to read and research.

My novel is about Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp and it’s set in 1983. I spent four months, four nights a week, scouring the internet, reading books, visiting archives and conducting interviews. All of this was to create a frame around my work. I wanted the place and time for my story to be completely authentic and for my characters to be growing, struggling and learning for real in those surroundings. There was flow – in research there always is, one thing leads to another. But I had a list of topics to research and a deadline and this became my frame – keeping me on track, making sure I didn’t get too distracted and obsessed with minor detail.

After four months of research I plotted out my novel. From the first chapter to the last, a few lines – sign posts for the characters and story. This method doesn’t work for every writer, you find your own way through trial and error, but for me (read CONTROL FREAK!) this was the right way for me to learn to let go. Within the security of multiple frames (the mass of research, the character arcs, the story line, the chapter synopsis) I finally let go and found myself in flow.

Writing in flow is quite a surreal experience and I can understand why some people have described it as something ‘other’ flowing through you. At these times I would sit at my desk for a couple of hours in the evening, bang out 2000 words and during that time I would cry, flinch, laugh and feel a deep pain and empathy for my characters. Things would happen to them that I hadn’t planned, that made their lives and the story so much richer. And this is the important bit; the frame and the flow are friends – they work together as a team and let you, the writer, go on a journey. And not just for these other-worldly, universal, ‘goddamit, I am the best writer EVER’ moments – it’s also, and most importantly, for the times when writing is tough. Over the 2 and a half years it took me to write, my novel caused me far more moments of pain than it did pleasure.

When my writing wasn’t flowing I would sit at my desk and swear, truly hating every moment of it. The frame gave me a point of reference to aim for. Wading through thick turmoil, I would pant, breathless, dig deep and ‘Just. Get. Her. To. Go. There. And. Do. That.’ The frame allowed me the space to work when I couldn’t find flow. It held me, reassured me, whispered in my ear, ‘It’s a blip, you’ve got this. What is editing for? Just get the crap out, peel the onion, cry the tears, keep going forward.’ Being held in your work is so important – whatever your work. You need to feel like someone or some ‘thing’ has your back.

I realise writing this that the very same process is required in seeking publication. I have, thanks to the tough criticism of a friend (kudos to Ronan), managed to write a good synopsis and cover letter – they are my frame. I have several versions of a synopsis; 300, 500, 800, and 1000 word versions. A couple of times a week I work through a list of UK agents and I read and research. When I find an agent, who makes me think, ‘yeah, this could be their thing’, I work to their frame and send in my submission. It’s not easy and right now it’s about patience and belief. Whilst I wait and work, I hold myself in imagination. I imagine I am a river, flowing towards Dreamland, a place where the sun is rising and setting, laughter and debate are abundant, opportunity is every street name and employment is the work of love.

Where you flowing to? What’s the dream? What’s the blockage? Share with me.

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Status Update

Dear Reader,

it’s been 4 years since my last posting. I wrote a novel.

I’m re-igniting this blog to chart my journey from being a writer with a novel to sell, to being a writer in paid employment as a writer, writing. How do you move from your dream to your desired reality? I’ve written the book (yeah, pleased about that!), now it’s time for the next step. To become that person that is my future self, I want to get right in there and start being that person, right now, bit by bit becoming whole.

To write, I must write. Right? This blog will be shared through my professional social media channels, because when one is a professional writer, one has a presence, right? I won’t always talk about myself, but when I do I will enjoy the feeling of my discomfort at the sound of my own voice, withering away with every post. If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to share your writing, right?

I will take risks with my writing. I will think big and believe. This will be a new thing for me. I’ve spent the last 40 years (nearly 41 – no, it’s not a mid-life crisis, how dare you!) living with ‘just enough’ in many areas of my life. In my personal life, I have an abundance (my husband and children, family and friends frikkin’ adore me…), and what with me being all grateful, modest and humble, that level of abundance has been just enough. But not anymore, now I want it everywhere. I want an abundance of words to bring me an abundance of money, an abundance of travel, an abundance of people, an abundance of inspiration, an abundance of opportunity.

I’ll definitely talk about my book. I’ll definitely talk about communication in all it’s many forms (I’m a professional communicator, no really…). I’ll definitely talk about ethereal musings and the real shit that happens in the world we live in. And I’ll talk about this challenge I’ve taken on to get fit enough to run up and down Snowdon this time next year. Hopefully I’ll be super clever and link it altogether occasionally. I’ll also want to hear from you, dear Reader. I’ll be asking you to ‘share’ (no eye-rolling, get on board or get off), so please do.

Write. Right. All for now.

Aissa

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Some stories from the sea

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Bernie

Whispering sea

roars wildness into you.

Turning your body in and out of itself,

you glide and dance like a happy sprite.

Skipping on the sand,

capturing moments in footprints,

joyfully rousing angels.

Up again, sand all down your back and in your hair,

rushing at the rolling waves with a playful defiance.

Arms aloft,

feet deep,

counting boats at the edge of the world.

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Bruce

First sight holds your body still,

Sky,

Sea,

Land

conceived.

Running, announcing yourself into the wind,

at the waters edge you fall,

and we laugh at the pantomime sneaking up behind you,

a comedy of innocence.

A stone!

Daddy, Daddy!

A gift – then on again into the wind.

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A response to Sugata Mitra’s Google education essay.

Reading Sugata Mitra’s article on the ‘romantic attachment’ to various facets of our outdated education system, I became quite unearthed.

Mitra, I believe is right in a lot of his opinion. Yes our education system is outdated, and yes it certainly does need revolutionising. But his romantic vision of a ‘Google’ enhanced education gave me cold shivers. I understand entirely that Mitra’s article was meant to focus on evolving pedagogy that that allows children to develop a wide range of skills with an individualistic approach. But there was a certain flippancy to the article that has prompted my response.

I am no fan of exams and I certainly do enjoy technology and its evolutionary impact on our lives. But Mitra misses the point when he incurs that basic skills such as handwriting and mathematical calculations are a mere nostalgic trifle. Human beings have been on an evolutionary journey through technologies, one that I believe we should mimic through our educational journeys. If we are to take a child from the womb and instead of their educational journey starting at pencil and paper it starts at tapping the keys of a computer, the child takes a dramatic leap over a material interaction with basic tools, crafted and evolved out of earthly materials, and into a totally abstract realm. For what is the internet? What is Google? How can a child hold it in her own hands and understand the connection between tree, pencil and paper? How is she to become dexterous in the use of these tools that allow her to make a mark of her own choosing upon this very real and material sheet of paper before her? If she is unable to work out a mathematical equation in her own head, working through the method for herself, how does this affect her intellect, her memory, her ability to function without technology?

There is a time when an introduction to modern technology is appropriate, I totally agree. But here is where I think Mitra’s discussion of his vision falls short, in much the same way that I believe our current industrialised pedagogy also fails. To me, one of the main evolutionary benefits of the internet is the unifying aspect it has on us earthly human beings. Suddenly our planet is much smaller. We can connect with people with whom we are physically distant. And yet, this has not brought humanity any closer to finding some form of unified peace with one another. We are struggling to evolve our empathy to a point where we understand ourselves as one race of peoples. Mitra’s vision included a group of children working together to solve out a problem. What are the benefits of this level of highly skilled social interaction? Can we Google it? If one were ask a group of children how they were affected by witnessing the suffering of starving children on TV, would it be an ability to ‘find things out quickly and accurately’ that would help them to describe their feelings? Would their capacity to pass a standardised test propel them into action to make the changes they will need to make to preserve their damaged environment?

‘Work is when you say things to us and we write them down’. Yes, Mitra is right, the ‘work’ of education must be more engaging and self-propelled than that. But what about Google? Well sorry, but it is full of junk, on the whole. A teacher I spoke with today told me how her class were appalled when she asked them to do some research without using Google. She asked them, “How many of you have ever looked at page two of your search results? Do you even question what you find? Or do you just accept what is given to you because it has the best S.E.O?” What value is there in learning everything you ever needed to know about the Vikings in five minutes? In order to truly evolve, an education must allow for the process of understanding to come through an experience of real and material interaction, in a reflection of our own material and experiential reality; for the isolated thoughts of one individual to be given time and value, in order that their interactions with the group be more meaningful. And what about ‘the good old days’? To assume that everything that is new is right is wrong. To disconnect from our human journey for the sake of producing a faster more Google literate workforce? Nah, bring me a good old fashioned book any time.

 

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On the eve of the eve of Thatcher’s funeral…

On the eve of the eve of Margaret Thatcher’s funeral, I’m going to stick my oar in, before my thoughts on Thatcher (or anyones thoughts for that matter) become swiftly irrelevant as the media tide turns to lap at another shore. If I genuinely thought that a change of subject would bring our attention to the storm that’s brewing out at sea, I’d think this change of course a good one. But alas, I fear we will still be allured by the lofty palms and silver sands of some far off fantasy beach, blissfully unaware that somewhere beyond the horizon, the ship is sinking; with every man still on board.

When I got wind of the Iron Lady’s demise (thank you Facebook), I was a little breathless and felt a flurry of excitement. I rang my partner straight away to ask him if he’d heard the news. She’s dead. As we oo’ed and arr’ed like a couple of old dears perusing the pages of ‘Take a Break’ whilst our rinses dried, I recalled another death that had caught me off guard in the same way, that of Princess Diana. Famous woman, now dead. As the initial thirst for gossip was quickly quenched with article after article, meme after meme, ding dong after ding dong; my own thoughts on Maggie’s death quieted to contemplation. Although I wasn’t in anyway saddened by her death, it was too predictable to me to provoke any form of sustained titillation. The woman has been on her way out for a long time, and then that time was now.

While I am socialist through and through, my frenzy at Thatcher’s passing was as short-lived as her last breath. What over took was a wide-eyed observation at the extremes of reactions I witnessed as my Facebook feed ticked over and over. Whereas statements of empathy to Maggie’s family filled me with nausea (yes she was someones mother, but please, she was SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT), I was perturbed by the number of Thatcher death parties being announced, and photographs of people in the streets near where I live all dressed up for the ball with feather boas and pompoms, as if taking part in some twisted cabaret. And then that song, ding fucking dong, downloaded so many times it’s number one. And then the feminist debate, the sexism, the anger. The hate, the platitudes, Millwall, football, blue ties, millionaires, tributes, funeral costs and on and on. All adds up to one almighty distraction from the truth; that when you celebrate hate with hate, you breed hate. When you download a silly song from iTunes you make some big fat corporate richer. When you and your mates throw a party to toast the death of some old tyrant with white lightning, you are disengaging from the reality that our country has the worst government in power since Thatcher, and that they are bringing our country to its knees. What a wonderful distraction, and such a fitting tribute; Thatcher’s last ‘hoorah’. I expect David Cameron is rubbing his hands.

I grew up in the Thatcher years. My experience of anti-Thatcherism was one of community. I remember going to anti- Apartheid rallies in London (and having to steal a yoghurt for my dinner from a service station on the way home because no one had any money to buy me food), they were so colourful and fun. I was lifted onto a tall man’s shoulders so that I could see the sea of people and banners and placards all swaying and cheering to ‘Free Nelson Mandela’. I remember me and my brother going door to door to collect jumble and spare pennies for the miners children, and reading over and over a book of poems by miners children about the strike, ‘More Valuable Than Gold’. I remember watching miners clash with police, I remember the picket lines. I remember Menwith Hill Peace camp, Fylingdales Peace Camp, Greenham Common Peace camp. I remember the singing, the sharing of food, the freedom to roam. I remember anti-clause 28 rallies, I remember the pink triangle. I remember being at a peaceful ‘sit down’ demonstration in Leeds city centre when my Uncle who was looking after us was violently bundled in to the back of a police van whilst screaming that he had children with him. Some of his friends looked after us over night. They let us eat sweets and watch TV. It was fun. I remember we laughed at Spitting Image. I remember Hillsborough. I remember watching the Poll Tax riots on TV, knowing that my little brother was there with my Dad. I watched the police men with their batons and they scared me. Yet I also remember my brother being so happy and laughing and smiling as he told us his adventures and how people had helped each other to escape and steer safely clear of the violence.

My memory of Thatcher’s reign is nostalgic, and yes, I was a child with no real understanding of the weight of the world around me. I had a little song with actions I used to sing to the grown-ups, it made them laugh:

“Margret Thatcher…”

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“Flip her up and catch her…”

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“Give her a little spanking…”

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“Whoops, I’ve squashed her!”

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At the time my own personal thoughts on Thatcher stretched only so far that her voice bored me. It made no difference to me that she was a woman at all. I was raised in such a way that it never even entered my mind that a woman couldn’t lead, be in charge, be the boss. So I never thought about her children, because my view of her was never one that included her private or personal life. I only ever saw how her politics affected people in bad ways, and how the adults I knew reacted to that. I guess they were angry. But what I experienced was action, community, togetherness, celebration, love. And aside from a little bit of chanting (“Barclays bank is a racist bank”, “Maggie, Maggie, Maggie – Out, out, out!”), I mostly remember the sound of the ‘peace songs’ as I used to call them.

So, I have no doubt that there will be violence at Thatcher’s funeral, no doubt at all. And while I could never condone it, it makes more sense to me than fancy dress and cheap cider. I hope that once the revelry at her passing dies down, that same energy will find its way into positive political engagement. But the realist in me fears it will dissipate into the wind.

For myself, Margaret Thatcher’s death has inspired me. It has brought to life my memory of why I am the way I am, why I have the beliefs that I do. I have been disengaged in a fairly passive way for some time, believing that because I see snippets of the news on Facebook that I am in some way politically aware. But Thatcher’s death tells me the story of the time I am in now, and I want to be part of making a positive change in the real world.

I had planned to end my rantings with some form of poetic reference to a mighty lighthouse, beaming light through the storm, guiding to safety for that sinking ship. But I’m aware that life isn’t really all that simple and there are many sinking ships. So instead I’m going to gather bricks and mark out a circle. Bring round your bricks! And your mortar! Any one got a bloody large light bulb? Let’s build…

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Genesis: 3:16

Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children… King James Bible (Cambridge edition).

These waves do not flow and retreat

with gentle rhythm,

like the waves on my ‘perfect’ beach.

These waves rise up, up, up

and up, then destroy and drown.

But these waves will not make news on the tv,

because these waves are only in me.

These waves break and fall without relent,

scream against the rocks and stones,

crash into one another,

gather in chaotic momentum

and tear a grinding drag at the shore.

And I, battered and torn by these waves,

bleak as the sky,

lonely and bitter as the wind,

erode into nothing.

When I spoke about my understanding of what makes me a woman, I linked my womanhood to my ability to tolerate pain. There is no way to exaggerate the powerful presence of the vilification of Eve in our unconscious understanding of ourselves as women;  and so as a woman to tolerate, endure and even on some level to enjoy the pain of childbirth could be seen as an almost revolutionary act. The voice of the natural birth community is actively occupied with educating women that childbirth doesn’t have to be painful, that as our bodies are made to birth, we are made to tolerate the ‘work’ of childbirth. Only when fear, conscious or unconscious, comes into play does the pain of childbirth become unbearable. To a certain extent I believe this to be true. My labour with my first son, prior to intervention (monitoring and syntocinon to start with…), I could not describe as painful. Seriously hard work, but not painful. In the early phase of my second son’s labour, each wave was a moment to rejoice, I so passionately wanted to experience birthing for myself.

Around the issue of childbirth and pain there is so much wrong to right, mis-education to be undone, sublimation to re-empower, all of this is true. But to deny the fact that for the vast majority of women, childbirth is acutely painful would be a naive injustice to common female experience.

My labour with my second son descended into an agony for which I have no words. Unfortunately (and it is a rare occurrence) my son was in a terrible position that impacted massively on my pain level. My pain was also fear driven, I was terrified.  Unconsciously I intuited that something was not going according to plan, terror was my message to myself to seek help.  I want to try to capture the pain and fear in words because it was, and always will be, such an intensely powerful and informative part of my life experience. But sitting here now I hardly know how to begin. I feel guilty for sharing my difficult experience, even though I know that for me it is right to. I will write it, but it’s taking me a very long time.

It’s true, one of the blessings of childbirth is that your body soon forgets the pain you have experienced in bringing life into the world. And (thankfully) my body has forgotten. My mind, through a visual and emotional synaesthesia, remembers it sharply. This pain fragmented my very existence. Even though I was in it, it was so wretched, that in order to conceive it, I could only exist outside of it. So in my memory I can see a picture of myself, inside myself, looking out of my own eyes. Simultaneously, the pain was so intense, it was literally my whole being. It was as if my body were a black hole, swallowing up the universe. The space, the air, and the beings around me were devoid; all that existed was me and pain and fear. I have never, ever, ever felt so alone. But here was where the emotion became so complex; the presence of others outside of this universe of pain, and the fact that they could not share or intuit the absoluteness, turned the loneliness into abandonment. I longed for a strong yet empathetic presense to protect me. I longed for touch that told me ‘you are safe’.

A wise woman recently said to me, “we are not humans reaching for a spiritual experience, we are spirits having a human experience”. Physical pain is undoubtedly a human experience, because it is a bodily experience. Coupled with emotional pain it has also served as an existential experience for me. It has evolved my empathy beyond anything I could ever have previously conceived.

I have scoured the internet for something to act as metaphor where my words fail me. A painting, a photograph, a poem. I know I have found something when I experience a sense of connection. I think to myself, yes, this person knows what I mean. Of course, art in any form only has the meaning we place upon it, the artist may have a totally different personal agenda to the one I find. But that doesn’t matter. What the artist does have is an ability to capture empathy. In exploring their own being, they are able to communicate an innate care, love and understanding of human experience. It is so precise and so magical.

Perhaps, at the time, the pain of childbirth felt and acted like punishment cast down upon me from an oppressive and angry god. I would not wish it on a living soul. But this was not ordinary childbirth. Children bring with them so many gifts; in hindsight my experience of the pain of my child’s birth has become inspirational.  I hope that in exploring it here, I can one day find words that will embrace the perfection and absoluteness of it, whilst remembering it honestly as a truly human experience. The memory motivates my creativity and also my mothering.

So once again, my womanhood brings me to this point; to my humanity. And all I have is gratitude.

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Ordinary Happiness

I had some moving responses to my recent blogs, some in comments, some as private messages and also some suggestions to further reading. Altogether I was prompted to think about (amongst a million other things!), the miracle of life and ‘ordinary happiness‘.

I think anyone who has really and acutely sensed life for the miracle that it is can tell you that the emotion of happiness this experience invokes, whilst overwhelmingly powerful and life affirming, is fleeting and unsustainable in the long term. Or in the everyday. Whilst an insight and connection with life’s miracle feeds an ‘ordinary happiness’, it sits outside and above it. To me, ‘ordinary happiness’, that which sustains you through the everyday, through the toils and troubles of life, through the mundane routine of the working week,  is epically beautiful by it’s simplicity. I wanted to write a little scene that might metaphorically explore what these thoughts stirred in me. I hope I’ve done them justice:

Having caught the 130 bus down to the parade, Vi and Betty began their slow walk home. In the old days they used to walk at a brisk pace every morning; visit the shops on their list, perhaps stopping by the ‘pop-in’ and, or, during the summer a weekly swim.  Then they marched home again, carrying their heavy bags, talking and laughing all the way. These days, the thrice weekly trip was taken at an altogether more “leisurely” pace Vi said.

As they reached the bench at the bottom of the Level both women wheezed violently. Taking their seats slowly and carefully, Vi wondered how much longer they’d be able to manage the walk back. Bags down, Vi undid her silk scarf as Betty removed her gloves and felt glad of the support the bench back offered her crooked frame.

The view from the bench was a treat. On a clear day like this, far off in the distance you could see Canary Wharf, glistening like a jewel. London was a landscape painted in pastels of grey and pink, gently misted and haloed by a veil of white just above the city skyline. Framing the scene was the clearest sky, deepening from pastel to azure as it grew towards them. Lush, leaf heavy trees sat on either side of the horizon, like stage wings, hinting at the theatre of life amongst them and beyond them.  A cool breeze stirred delicate fibrillations amongst the whispering leaves that played their shades of green through the spectrum as sunlight danced from bough to bough. The same breeze visited upon the seated women a caress of summer, softening the heat of the August morning to a comfortable glow. So silent laid the city before them; and the road that ran between them and the empty swing park was dormant for a time. As her wheeze slowed to a gentle sigh, Vi thought for moment that beyond the stillness and glint of the horizon, she saw the world turning.

“I picked a blackberry in the garden yesterday Vi. When I’d washed it at the sink, I popped it on the draining board and when I turned back to it a moment later, the sun had come in through the window. The way the light caught that blackberry, well, it was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen. There it was, in pure magnificence, a perfect little blackberry. And it brought a tear to my eye Vi, a genuine tear.”

Vi turned to her dear old friend, and saw the memory of that tear in her eyes.  For a moment she took in what she saw and she felt her heart swell with the joy of it.

“Do you know what I mean Vi?”

“I do Betty. I really do.” The friends smiled at one another.

The 130 bus groaned to a halt at the stop just in front of them. From the window Marge and George waved. Vi and Betty laughed and waved back.

“Shall we carry on Betty?” asked Vi

“Best do, lots to do”.

The women slowly rose from the bench. Vi re-tied her scarf and stooped carefully for her bags. She waited a moment for Betty to gather herself, and the two women began their walk home again.

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A question of gender.

One of the most pressing inquiries of my life has become, ‘what makes a woman a woman?’ Both of my children have been born by emergency caesarean section, and both of my children have had such problems with feeding that our breastfeeding relationships have lasted only a number of weeks. So am I a woman? A real woman?

Prior to having children, my assumption was that I would birth easily (or at least ‘normally’) and would breastfeed, for at least 6 months. This was because I am a woman. And I trusted my womanhood implicitly, I linked it very closely with my strength, both physical and emotional, and my ability to tolerate pain. And so entering into my childbearing years with these beliefs, my first son’s birth (induction, intervention train, caesarean) came as a complete shock to me. Then as my breasts cracked and bled and gave up their supply, as I screamed and violently recoiled from my child as he raged at my breast, searching for nourishment for up to 7 weeks before I ‘gave up’ and put him on the bottle, I felt as if a part of me had died (he was diagnosed with a tongue tie at 3 weeks, but when our appointment to see a surgical specialist arrived at 10 weeks, I was way past it, I couldn’t bare more pain for me or him).

So armed with knowledge and hindsight, I felt so much better prepared second time around. You already know how my youngest son’s birth went. In the first few days, I felt sure that at least this time, I would nourish my child from my breast. But as I had been in so much pain through my labour, I just didn’t feel the damage taking place at the breast. I knew it looked bad, but it felt ok, and breastfeeding always hurts at the start, right? But time unfolded and revealed that my second son had a severe posterior tongue tie and facial and tongue paralysis from his compression in labour. Cranial osteopathy made no difference. As I pumped and pumped trying to preserve my supply, I came to realise that I had no time for my baby or my older child. I felt like a failure in so many ways. Our best case scenario was presented as an operation on his tongue, that may or may not be successful, and may or may not need repeating. I would have to pump, A LOT. We would have to feed from a cup or the breast only (agony), and do tongue exercises (WHAT???) and it would probably take at least 6-10 weeks to establish feeding. NO. Not doing it. Who nourishes my children with affection while I do all this? Who nourishes me?

And so…

I am a woman. I have never felt stronger in that. But what makes a woman a woman, when her body or her actions baulk against long held physical definitions of womanhood? Is a woman who has not borne children by choice, or by circumstance, less of a woman than a mother? And the same for birthing and feeding? How about a woman who has lost her breasts or her womb? NO.

I can only open debate in my mind here. I will say that as a western woman, I feel I am able to consider myself as a woman away from my physicality. But that does not mean that the maternity wards of the West don’t house a legislated yet unspoken practice of control and sublimation over birthing women. That doesn’t mean that women aren’t objectified as sexual objects, from their girlhoods. That doesn’t mean that women in their crone age aren’t shelved, reviled in favour of their former more nubile selves. That doesn’t mean that western women are equal to their male counter-parts in the workplace or anywhere else.

Yet as a western woman I feel free to question that my womanhood is beyond all this, that it is something intangible. Now I understand that my womanhood is closely linked to my humanity. That as a human being my female experience offers a point of balance and harmony with a masculine experience. I understand my womanhood as a motivation to help other women and girls know themselves beyond the frames of their physical being and into something more meaningful and eternal.

Sounds wonderful doesn’t it? I’m reaching in that direction. But somewhere in the corner of my mind, a neon lights flickers and hums, disturbing the serenity of wisdom, marking out in the shadows my doubts and fears, my pecking inner voice, repeating over the words of women I have read on so many forums; that a woman’s body is made to birth, that to mother is to nourish your child from your breast. And more they say, and others say other things. And all their voices judge; judge themselves by their own definitions, judge each other by their actions, judge me. Or is that my voice, judging me? I don’t know. Good job I’m on that rocky road again.

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Birth Story

Below is the birth story of my second son. I wrote it in the first few weeks after he was born. I want to work my way back through the event, understand more clearly what happened and how to make peace with myself.

Labour began about 11.30pm on the 30th December 2011. Waves were fairly evenly spread 10 to 15 minutes apart. After a couple of hours they had steadied at 7 minutes apart and I went to wake my husband who was sleeping in the attic. He got me a hot water bottle and then we went back to bed together. Gradually through the night they became stronger so that I had to breathe through them, yet never strong enough for me to believe my baby would be born before my eldest son woke up. By morning they were 4 minutes apart and strong enough that I had to move and breathe steadily through them. When my eldest woke up they spread out to 10/ 15 minutes apart whilst we got him over to his Nan’s. Then we went for a walk on the ridge and slowly things picked up again. It was so amazing to be where I wanted to be and that labour had started spontaneously, so beautiful and right. By the time we got home, the waves were quite strong but still had not found a regular rhythm. My husband inflated the pool but did not start to fill it. We phoned our Doula who recommended I take a bath. As soon as I got in the water things hotted up. Very quickly waves were 4 minutes apart lasting a minute or more. My husband started to fill the pool and the doula was on her way. When she arrived 45 minutes later the waves were really strong and I was vocalising loudly through them. We were all getting quite excited. The pool was ready and getting in was exactly the heaven I had anticipated. I was so, so, so happy. The waves came stronger and closer and I was actually really enjoying the experience. It was everything I had dreamed and more. The midwife was on the way! I started to get the urge to push and asked my doula if she thought it was ok to do so. She advised me to follow my body so I did. It was almost like a dream. I don’t think I have ever felt higher. The realisation that I was going to birth my child vaginally hit me and it was the most intensely spiritual experience of my life. As the midwife arrived, we all thought baby was coming soon, the midwife started to get her birth stuff out and ready.

 

Then slowly the contractions began to space out. In the end I was getting 15 minute breaks. I began to become uneasy and a bit worried. I was advised that I needed to surrender to the birthing process and let it happen. I was confused, I thought I had done this. I became fearful. I was advised to let go of my fears of pushing. I thought I had, I WANTED to push, bring it on seriously, nothing could have brought me greater joy. I decided to get out of the pool and tried several different more upright positions, but although the contractions came closer, the urge to push was waning. My midwife advised me that I should not be pushing with any effort it should be spontaneous. Also the waves had begun to concentrate even more intensely into my back, it had been a back labour throughout but this was on a whole new level of intensity.

I began to play mind games with myself. My doula said to surrender. I went upstairs with my husband and suddenly poured out so much anger about my first son’s birth (induction, intervention train, caesarean). It was a needed release but at the same time I had a constant niggling that all of this was unnecessary, staged if you like. I tried to go the other way in my mind. I gee’d myself up like a boxer entering the ring, ‘I can do this, I can do this’. I sang some old Greenham Common songs my mother used to sing me. But nothing in my mind changed, fear kept growing, doubt came creeping in and the pain became more and more intense. I began to fear that my family would be worried, this had gone on for a long time (8/9pm in the evening), I missed my eldest son. Everything seemed wrong.

The waves became expulsive again and longer and faster and so much more powerful and very close together. The intensity of the pain was mind blowing. In their belief of the sacredness of birth, my doula and midwife talked in hushed whispers, but their silence left me feeling alone, confused. They seemed so sure the baby would come out if I let go. I was becoming sure that there was nothing I could do to get the baby out. IT WAS STUCK. I began to give up, fear drove me to desperation. I asked to go to hospital, but we all agreed that a clinical assessment at home was wiser. So my MW did my first VE (vaginal examination). I was only 7 cms dilated. How could this be? My urge to push was totally overwhelming, my body had totally taken over, I was just carried along on wave after wave of indescribable pain. Baby was totally back to back, no surprise there. We agreed the pushing waves were working to turn the baby into a good position and I rallied. If we could progress I could do this. I laid on my bed with my husband and doula taking turns to press their full weight and power into my back with each wave, it was never enough. Some time passed. Later we did another VE. 9.5cms with a lip. My MW suggested I try and ease off pushing. This was a horror to me and exactly the same scenario as my first son’s birth. And totally, totally impossible. I could not get enough air to vocalise through each wave. Midway through I had to breathe in to continue my vocalisations and this was always a pinnicle to my pain.

Later, many different positions, always begging for pressure on my back, sharp driving pain in my hips, 10cms, lip removed by my MW’s gentle fingers. Now I would get my baby right? The next couple of hours were the darkest of my life and need no detail. My waters did break, but my baby did not descend. I begged for it to end. Although my baby and my body were well, my spirit was broken. I felt that soon my body would follow me and then inevitably my baby. There are no words for such turmoil. And then I finally made my choice. The MW called for an ambulance and ½ hour later I was being carried with sirens wailing to the hospital. My labour you would think would slow, but mine sped up. More and more furious came the waves, so desperate was my body to get my baby out. As we arrived on delivery suite a crowd awaited us, they told me my baby was coming out. I screamed at them, ‘it’s not I’ve been doing this for hours please help me!’ A VE, so excruciating it transformed me into a wild animal, proved that I was right and the baby had not descended. I heard the mention of forceps. I refused adamantly and demanded a c-section. The registrar agreed the baby was too high. I was wheeled to surgery and given a spinal block.

As the pain subsided, I felt my will return. This was my birth, for my baby. My mind was so clear, so calm and so controlled. I barked my demands at the staff, my caesarean plan, etched into my mind after only having re-read it once. I felt so strong and empowered. So my child was delivered to me at 3.35am 1st January 2012. We were skin to skin immediately. There are again no words to describe this relief, besides to say that they would be the polar opposite of words I could not find earlier.

My youngest son, cried out as he was lifted from my womb. He was pink and hearty. He sucked at his fingers straight away, born hungry! As I lay with him in HDU after, my MW (who came with us) supported his progress to my breast and as he fed from me for the first time, I was in heaven.

My son had been back to back and bent rather like a banana in my pelvis. Every wave and push moulded his head further into my hip. He was actually stuck. All my intuition and instinct had told me so. My body had worked like a warrior to work him out, I could not be prouder of myself for that. I could not be prouder of the way I conducted myself through his delivery. And I could not be more grateful to his heart that pulsed a steady, safe rhythm throughout.

In the end I have learnt so much about myself as a woman and an individual. My doula says she has never seen a woman in so much pain. So as for straight forward birth, I could definitely do that. I have learnt that I am a creature of instinct, I know myself, I need only listen to myself. I have learnt that only I control my destiny, that the decisions I make are mine and no-one could or should ever be expected to take them for me. I have learnt that balance is more important than idealism. I have learnt that to be empowered in birth is possible no matter where or how you deliver. It’s to do with strong choices and decision making. I have learnt that I am a woman of my time and place and that western medicine given in the right way is a blessing and a sign that we as human beings are evolving/ progressing.  We just need to learn to have balance as we wield its power. I have learnt that a woman’s experience in birth is about more than her having a baby safe and well, it is about her journey just as much.

I have learnt that I am strong, I am invincible. I am woman.

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Beginning again.

It has been sometime since I wrote on this blog with any regularity. Not because I had nothing to say, more because I wasn’t sure who would want to hear it. But that’s a nonsense, folk are free to read, or not read, so I should just write. And it’s ALWAYS good for me to write, it’s how I heal.  So apologising only to myself, this blog might not be so bright, or wise, every time I write. But it will be a personal journey. I’m going to go for it here, spilling my guts, and with any luck, mop them up again nicely. Tune in or switch off, either way is best.

Very often over the last couple of years, I have had the thought that I should write about what I know, that being the best way to find my written ‘voice’. So what do I know? What I know most of all today is that I have so much heavy emotional baggage left unresolved from my son’s births, and most presently, the birth of my youngest son.

I had wanted to believe, that following the intervention led, difficult birth of my first son; that with planning, healing, good physical and emotional health, and trust, that the birth of my second son would be as it was ‘meant’ to be. That I would trust my body to do what it was made to do, and my son would be born at home into his father’s waiting arms. But it wasn’t like that. After a long, long labour at home, in the most abject agony, over many of the darkest hours of my life (and I have a fair few to compare it to), my son was born by emergency caesarean at our local hospital.

It would be simple to assume, that my regrets surrounding his birth were entangled with the method of his entry into the world, that I didn’t get the birth I wanted. But it’s not that simple. The caesarean experience was good. I felt safe, respected, my son was delivered to me in pure joy as he roared into life. Furthermore, I did trust my instinct, I did listen. But my body was telling me something was wrong, that my life was in danger, that my child would not be born. And this was not what fitted with the picture of ‘trusting your instincts’ that I and my support team had painted for birth. As they doubted my instinct, I began to also. The words I spoke to my doula and independent midwife in seeking their help and reassurance were cast off as ‘fearful transition talk’, for hour upon hour of terror and pain.

My regret is that my words fell on deaf ears, that my instinct was over-ridden in the quest for something more ‘perfect’. I regret that my husband had to see me go through what I did, isolated in his own way through it all. And truly, I have no regret as to how my son was born. But those lonely hours, I regret deeply, and feel the pain of them everyday.

So I guess, on this topic (no doubt there will be many others, some less intense I hope!), I’m mainly going to write about what I don’t know. I’m going to ask over all the questions I have and hopefully find answers. I want to feel what I felt in the heady days of elation, immediately following my son’s birth, and, as I knew it, my survival. In those days I felt like this experience was all meant to be, that my son’s birth was perfect in it’s own way. And yes, I still believe those things and whilst I have no doubt that the call I made to go for a caesarean was the right call, I am racked with doubt about all manner of others things.

How is it that when I was so physically and emotionally ready, when I was safe at home, with all the things I wanted, ready and eager to give birth, that my body didn’t birth my baby? Does that make me less of a woman? And after all the times my doula and midwife said I should ‘let go’ and ‘surrender’, is it my fault? Did I not do those things? And, after my son’s birth, my doula described my labour to me as a ‘horror’. This is what I am left to work with. How do I turn that around? How do I work through the anger at those words and remember my labour differently, find new words?And when one has experienced so much pain and terror, how does one seek to find the other side of life’s balance, the yang to the raging yin?

I struggle with the anger I am experiencing at this time, even though I know it will pass.I know that my words here are only one side of the story, how I have chosen to remember it at this time. I am a believer in taking responsibility for my own life, I make my own fate. Yet on this one, I find myself lost, mostly because I can’t understand why things happened the way they did. But maybe it doesn’t matter why, maybe I just have to accept, maybe I just have to let go and move on. But I think that there is a process to healing; it takes time to heal, and time to reach the beginning of any particular healing journey. Having spent time on other healing journeys, I find myself at a familiar crossroads. Once again, I find myself compelled to take the road that looks less easy going, more bumps and potholes, the surface is rough and undulating, I might get a little travel sick. But hopefully it will take me where I want to go. I see myself as a work in progress, quite an anxious work in progress (!), but I know that a better me lies up ahead, so I will travel.

First step is to share my story of my son’s birth, how I saw it in the rawness of his first few weeks of life, so it follows…

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