Archive for the 'Career' Category

Death and rebirth of a dream

NS May 10th, 2013

I stopped writing two years ago. Just like that, I stopped.

After six years of solid blogging across several websites, working hard to grow my audience and hone my skills, I gave up. My journalism degree was gathering dust while I was wiping snotty noses so I put it in a box and then up in the loft, its golden embossed letters a painfully-etched reminder that I’d never made it. My blog was popular in a small niche circle but I’d come to realise that a book deal wasn’t coming, a job at a newspaper or magazine wasn’t going to fall into my lap, and the possibility of being any kind of professional writer had faded into the sunset of my 20s.

I lifted my fingers from the keyboard, put the cap on the pen and deleted the feed readers, apps and Tweet Decks that had up to that point been daily sustenance, like air or water. I made a conscious decision to stop seeking out stories of injustice and oppression, the tales of sadness, tragedy and misery that were my bread and butter, creatively. Sure, I could also write about funny and heartwarming incidents but those were mainly to do with my own life and I was becoming increasingly averse to writing too much about my family lest I contribute to their therapy bills later in life.

So I stopped writing and concentrated on life’s simple pleasures, my doula business, my friends and my family. I felt an intense need to disentangle myself from the dark, overwhelming, distracting and all-consuming tentacles of The Internet and The News. No more did I want to read horrific and idiotic comments on news articles, or Tweet more with strangers than I communicated with my present-day, living and breathing friends. I started reading books again. I lost 15 pounds, went to a few new places, cultivated new friendships and tried to formulate new hobbies (though I never did get past learning two songs on the ukulele or three rows on my knitting needles). I chose to stroll amongst the roses and notice their sweet smell instead of their sharp thorns.

Yet at the same time I didn’t want to be a 30-something who never realised her dreams, morphing into a regretful woman or someone who was just happy enough. I had a supportive husband, two hilarious children who I loved with all my heart and a burgeoning business as a birth doula. I kept telling myself I should be happy with that and stop depressing myself with all the ‘might have beens’ and ‘could have dones’.

But I still wanted idealism and passion and the ability to do great and wondrous things, though perhaps at something more realistic than writing [It pained me to write that sentence, let alone think it. Something more realistic. Pfft. I am now a caricature of a TV sitcom dad who warns his artist son or dancer daughter that they have to choose a more pragmatic career and get their head out of the clouds]. I was also drawn to returning to work in a more regular, full-time capacity, in a career that would pay the bills if I needed to support myself. While Noble Husband and I have a very strong marriage and he’s always supported me being at home with the kids or doing part-time work, I know all too well that I’ve been disadvantaged economically and professionally because of the years I spent raising our children and writing for free or very little. As a feminist woman raised by a strong working mother, I’ve always felt a bit nervous about relying on someone else entirely for my livelihood. I’m already way behind where NH is in regards to pensions and I have to think about making some of that up so that I’m not destitute in my old age.

But what did I want to do? If I couldn’t move people and effect change with my words, I was going to have to do it with my hands and my heart. So I began asking myself: What makes you tick, Noble Savage? What do you care about more than anything in the world? What or to whom would you be willing to devote your life?

It took me awhile and I lay awake for many a night before finding the answer, which is: Women. Specifically, the appreciation, empowerment and advancement of women.I believe that women are so much mightier, beautiful, intelligent and capable than we ever give ourselves credit for. Women may not hold much of the power in law, government, religion or society but I have seen the inescapable, bone-shifting potency of raw female power in moments of life, death, birth, tragedy and joy. I see it in the wise eyes, strong hearts and clear minds of the women I’ve been blessed to know in my own life and those I’ve supported as a doula.

The epiphany settled upon me after one particular incident. I was in a hospital room, clasping a woman’s (my client’s) hands as the grey-pink light of a new day peeked through the frosted windows. She was looking directly into my eyes as she knelt on the bed and prepared to give the final pushes that would bring her baby into the world. She needed my presence to keep her grounded and so we were locked in this very tender embrace, our hands gripped tight and her head on my shoulder as she rested between contractions. Suddenly, her look changed from one of quiet determination to one of wild despair as she clenched my hands harder and whispered something I couldn’t hear. I asked her to repeat it. “I’m going to die, I’m dying” and said in a panicked voice, as if she had resigned herself to it and there was nothing more to discuss. I took her face in my hands and said kindly but firmly, “No, you’re not dying. You are so alive. You are giving life. And you are amazing.” She looked up at me, smiled, and on the next push her baby was born. Afterwards, she hugged me and told me that when I’d said those words and seemed 100% confident in her, that she suddenly knew that it would be okay and that she could do it. I left that room so high on endorphins, oxytocin and emotion that I still get a rush just thinking about it.

I guess you could say I had a spiritual awakening, but it had nothing to do with religion. What I realised is that my centre, my passion, my raison d’être is women, and that I had the capacity to help women in a way other than in my writing. Indeed, in a more physical, life-altering way.

The other thing I’d come to realise is that I love working WITH women too. I know many people bemoan all-female environments and I’m not saying it’s always easy, but I detest the idea that women are back-stabbing, catty, emotional vampires who will turn on a fellow female in an instant if she thinks someone is prettier, smarter, or getting more attention. I’ve never felt more inspired, empowered and safe as when I’m in a room full of like-minded birth workers. I was at a conference recently and the array of intelligent, kind, witty and determined women in my presence was almost overwhelming. I felt so lucky to be there amongst them, amongst people who, like me, want to help women and help make things better for us all. Sisterhood is powerful.

And so I decided, after this long, emotional process of reevaluating my dreams, that just because one dream may never come to fruition doesn’t mean it hasn’t served its purpose. Writing led me to politics which led me to feminism which led me to women. Women led me to motherhood and guided me through it, and so now I try to do the same by being there for them as a doula. And now I’m ready to take that one step further and become a midwife. I spent all of 2012 applying, interviewing, testing, waiting and hoping and just confirmed a couple months ago that I will begin training in September. Yep, I’m going back to university to get another degree, this time a BSc in Midwifery. Maybe I’ll even get the ol’ journalism degree back down from the loft when I qualify, so it’s not lonely up there on its own.

If you’d asked me 10, 5 or even 2 years ago if I wanted to be a midwife I would’ve looked at you like you were crazy. But now I know it’s what I was meant to do all along and that everything up to now was a stepping stone to this destination. After all, midwife literally means ‘with woman’. And with women is where I want to be.

Crossroads

NS August 27th, 2011

Gosh, this blog is gathering a rather thick layer of dust, isn’t it?

For the past few months, I have been mainly consumed with:

  • My volunteer work
  • My doula work
  • Planning our holiday in Spain (from which we recently returned)
  • Reading books
  • Wondering why I haven’t felt like blogging and if I will ever write my much-dreamed-of book
  • Contemplating the mass deletion of all my blogs but never bringing myself to do it
  • Feeling more drawn to fiction writing but being too lazy and scared to try it
  • Losing weight (15 pounds so far)
  • Getting back into running and going to the gym
  • Spending time with my family
  • Falling even more in love with my husband
  • Contemplating a third baby and then immediately ruling it out, and vice versa
  • Daydreaming of faraway places and feeling a strong desire to move
  • Looking into the possibility of becoming a midwife
  • Shitting myself at the thought of becoming a midwife
  • Mentally redecorating the children’s bedroom and my office, looking at catalogues and sketching out ideas
  • Knowing I need to weed the garden and do some DIY but not being arsed to do so
  • Moaning about the weather
  • Wondering when I will finally sort out the Spanish, guitar, photography or knitting lessons/courses I so desperately want to take

I feel both lethargic and energised with possibilities. I dream of so much but actually achieve so little. The bulk of the work I do is unpaid. More and more, I don’t mind.

Some days it feels like I am standing at a crossroads and I need to just choose a path and start down it. On others, it’s nice just to stand there and survey the different options available to me. Knowing I have the luxury of even contemplating these choices humbles, excites and even sometimes embarrasses me. So many others have not one iota of choice in their lives.

I often feel both stifled by my duties and empowered by the freedom from ‘the working world’ that they give me. Reconciling the part of me that used to feel worthless for not earning money or having a prestigious job with the ever-growing part of me that actually feels BETTER for it has been a lesson in self-actualisation and in assessing my own worth instead of depending on external sources to put a value on me and the contributions I make to my family, my community and my society.

Increasingly, I feel more and more grateful to Noble Husband for going out to work in the 9-5 rat race every day so that I don’t have to. Knowing that he understands how it depresses me, how it stifles my creative urges and humanitarian socialist tendencies, makes me love him even more.

I used to think I was the one doing him a favour, staying at home to raise our children and keep our household running efficiently. But now I see the favour he’s done for me, too. He has gifted me with possibilities; wonderful, endless possibilities.

After our children, it may be the most wonderful thing he’s ever given me and for that I am eternally grateful. I just hope I can fulfil at least some of my dreams and make him proud.

In time, the path will become clear to me, I know. I will make a choice, step off a cliff and make that leap of faith. Whether success or failure waits for me at the bottom, I don’t know. But at least I will have tried to be and do some or all of the things I’ve always wanted.

Image credit

My new project: Broken Birth

NS February 20th, 2011

You’ll have likely noticed that I’ve not been around very much lately. I’ve alluded to a new project in the works and promised that I would let you know what it is when it was finished. So, without further ado, my new website, Broken Birth.

This is the content of the About page, to give you a better idea of the site’s aim.

Serious flaws in maternity care are having widespread and detrimental effects on how women experience birth. It is breaking not only our bodies, but our spirits. Diagnoses of Postnatal Depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder as a result of traumatic births are more commonplace than ever.

Contrary to popular myth — that birth is only one day in a woman’s life and that a healthy baby is all that matters — how we give birth has a knock-on effect on nearly everything else as we begin our journeys into motherhood: recovery time, breastfeeding success rates, emotional state, confidence in our abilities, incidences of depression, our reproductive and sexual health, interpersonal relationships, (dis)trust in our care providers and the maternity services as a whole, and whether and how we give birth to future children.

The Royal College of MidwivesAIMSDoula UKNCT and various other organisations with a vested interest in pregnant women’s rights and well-being are increasingly concerned with the startling lack of continuity of care, lack of choices in where and how women give birth, lack of evidence-based and woman-centred care and failure to gain informed consent or refusal when it comes to interventions. Severe staff shortages, restrictive policies and procedures and a growing culture of defensive medicine tie the hands of those working within the birth profession, making it nearly impossible for them to provide the service they know women deserve.

In a perfect world, my job would be eradicated. Families wouldn’t need doulas to help guide them through and protect them from the maternity services as they give birth on the conveyor belt of care one often receives on the NHS. But the system is broken. And now many of us believe that birth itself is broken, that our bodies are incapable of carrying out a process for which they were designed.

We can’t just slap a coat of glossy paint over the maternity services and hope the shine distracts everyone from the deep flaws within. Instead, we must repair it completely by uncovering all the cracks and then working at filling them in. Midwives and mothers, doctors and doulas, politicians and fathers…all of us must contribute. And as with any DIY project, it will require time, patience, the right materials, a sense of purpose and, of course, funds.

I want to restore birth to what it should be. I want to fill in those cracks so that no more women fall through them. If you do too, come on in. You’re in the right place.

Here’s what I’ve written about so far:

The danger of getting caught up in ‘the numbers’

Who’s talking about maternity services

The midwife shortage

Birth trauma

If you are at all interested in advocating for change so that women have better, safer births, please subscribe and spread the word to any like-minded friends and family.  You can follow Broken Birth on Facebook and Twitter too. I’d really appreciate help getting the word out to mums and midwives, doulas and doctors, fathers and feminists, and anyone else concerned with the state of the maternity services in the UK and around the world.

If I get a nice little following I can return to writing this blog more regularly so if you’d like to see more Noble Savage, show some love over at Broken Birth too. Thank you!

The call

NS January 2nd, 2011

Soon after I became a doula, I considered shutting down this blog.

I’ve grumbled before about the possibility of having nothing left to say or being tempted to throw in the towel but I can never quite bring myself to do it. This blog has been a major part of my life and, dare I say it, my identity for the past (coming up to) 6 years.

So I’m not going to shut it down. I may post more infrequently, or in manic bursts between silences, but I’m not ready to let go of the part of myself that still believes I am/will be a writer.

That said, I think I have a new calling.

When I became a doula, I wanted to help women have better births. After writing about, reading about and now even witnessing firsthand the terror and trauma that so many women go through (often unnecessarily) to give birth, I am even more devoted to not only helping individual women receive better care and become empowered enough to make their own choices, but to actively fighting to change the appalling state of maternal health in the UK and around the world.

Here are a few facts to chew on†:

  • If you are a north-western European woman, your risk of dying in childbirth is 1 in 30,000; if you live in Afghanistan or Sierra Leone, your risk is 1 in 6
  • Every year over half a million women die from complications related to pregnancy or childbirth; 99 percent of them are from the poorest nations
  • Preventing unwanted pregnancies would reduce the maternal mortality rate by a quarter. At the moment, more than 68,000 women die from unsafe abortions every year
  • There are not enough midwives. One in four women in the world give birth without a skilled attendant present. Even in industrialised, wealthy nations, women are frequently left unattended or unsupported as they give birth, resulting in both physical and emotional trauma
  • Women in poor countries lack access to needed caesarean surgery; women in rich countries are subjected to too many. Both have dangerous implications for maternal health
  • The child of a woman who dies in childbirth is much more likely to die before the age of two

In the UK, David Cameron is revoking his campaign promise to provide at least 3,000 more midwives within the NHS, the minimum number needed to bring the service to a safe and acceptable level. Once again, as they do the world over, politicians’ lips do a lot of moving but their commitment to actually providing the funding and resources is non-existent.

Do we really matter so little?

NHS midwives are stretched so thin that at the Royal College of Midwives’ recent annual conference, RCM General Secretary Cathy Warwick painted a bleak picture of maternity services and warned that they are at the breaking point. In today’s Observer, on the front page, Warwick warns once again that if the maternity services don’t improve quickly, it is only a matter of time before it begins to break down completely, further endangering women’s lives and those of their babies.

If we can’t get maternal health right in even the most prosperous, wealthiest nations in the world, what hope do we have of bettering conditions in developing nations where conditions are much worse?

Even Dr. Tony Falconer, president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, today issued a warning that women who give birth at night are at greater risk for inadequate care due to staff shortages and inexperience because senior staff tend to work during ‘normal’ business hours. This, despite the fact that many women go into labour and arrive at hospital in the middle of the night or the early hours of the morning. I’ve personally heard countless stories of women in full-on labour being turned away because there just aren’t enough midwives to cope and being sent to another hospital, A&E or being forced to give birth unattended in a waiting room, corridor or car park. It does paint a rather worrying picture, doesn’t it?

That’s why I’m working on a new project, one that will hopefully combine my passions for birth advocacy, feminism and writing into one big ball of justice-seeking, anger-tinged-yet-hopeful blogginess. I’m hoping that all will be revealed in the next few weeks so watch this space. I do believe that 2011 is going to be a busy, busy year.

Bring it.

†All stats taken from ‘The Politics of Breastfeeding: When Breasts Are Bad For Business’ by Gabrielle Palmer

Photo credit

Noble Husband on fatherhood and work

NS November 5th, 2010

I read this article in the Guardian today about how fathers are supposedly happier if a) they have two children, b) their partners work and c) they share the household chores.

More cynical women than me might think it a load of hogwash, but, personally, I found it heartening and heartfelt. If 82 percent of working fathers would like to spend more time with their families, as this survey found, then that is a fantastic thing.

But.

How much of this professed desire to be more domestically involved is all talk and how willing are men to put some action into making it happen? I really want to know!

So, under strict instructions not to be afraid that I would use his answers against him in a personal capacity, I asked the Noble Husband what his thoughts are on this subject. Here’s the result of our ‘interview’, which took place over email and IM. Note: I tried not to refer to myself in the first person because I wanted him to think objectively, though I slipped up a couple times in the IM conversations.

1) Do you believe that childcare is primarily a mother’s responsibility or are both parents equally responsible?

It isn’t necessarily any one parent’s responsibility, but in a relationship where one partner earns the bulk of the family’s income it is likely that the other partner will predominantly take on this role, certainly during the weekdays. At the weekend, it should be much more of even split, perhaps even swinging more to the breadwinner.

2) If you believe that it is both parents’ responsibility, how is the childcare divided between you and your partner? Are you happy with the current arrangement?

I try to spend time with the children when I get home from work, even if it is just half an hour. They like to play before bed, cook, watch a bit of a movie or read stories with me. At the weekend I try to take the kids out of the house, usually on my own, to give my wife a little time to herself or with friends. Alternatively she may carry out a few tasks that are hard to do when looking after the children during the week.

I wouldn’t say I’m entirely happy with it as I tend to only spend a couple of hours with the children during the week but this is unavoidable when commuting to a job in London. At least I catch up with the kids at the weekend.

3) Current research suggests that men with two children whose partners works full-time and childcare is shared are happiest and least stressed. Why do you think this might be? Are you happier when your partner works?

Spending time with my children is a great way of winding down from a stressful day or week at work. When I’m with them, any thoughts about work instantly evaporate. Thats not to say the thoughts don’t return after they have gone to bed, but children put me in a better mood the moment I walk through door.

[After submitting this answer via email, I asked NH on IM if he could talk about how he feels about my work, which is part-time and done from home]

I’m happy that you make a contribution to the household income and that you’re “using your mind” a little too. I remember how just dealing with kids day in day out almost drove you mad.

Me: So you think I’m happier for working [at a paid job] a bit?

No doubt

4) In an ideal world, and if work/financial constraints were not an issue, how would you balance your professional, personal and family commitments? Would you like to spend more or less time at work and with family?

Ideally, I would work at home 2/3 days a week and be more active in taking/collecting them from school and spending more time with them afterwards e.g. playtime and homework. However, I would still feel part of “the team” at work though, by being there on other days.

5) We all know that women have had (and still have) numerous struggles within the workplace and balancing their careers with their families. Do you see men having the same struggles within the home, trying to spend time with their children and be accepted as adequate parents?

If I did work at home, I too would worry that colleagues without children would be favoured for career opportunities.

6) In your view, are fathers genuinely interested in having greater flexibility between work and home?

I’m not sure. I think most men would like the idea of being more active at home during the week but may shy away from it a little if it actually became a reality. I can imagine how hard it would be to carry out some of my work from home with the distraction of children – its the old joke that men can’t multi-task. Also, detaching oneself from office interaction and culture would be quickly missed by most men as well.

[I asked NH to expound upon this by IM]

Me: Do you think women are less inclined to find working at home difficult and miss office life, or just that they’ve had to get used to it?

They are better at juggling work and kids. A stereotype perhaps..or maybe they do learn to deal with it.

Me: Yes, that’s what I was going to ask, if you think ‘juggling’ work and children is something women do naturally or only do because they have to? Of course, I think it’s the latter but am fine if you disagree. Be honest!

I don’t really know. I suppose it depends on the person rather than the gender but on the whole, I’d imagine that women would be better. I’m certain that you would be better than me. I know I get easily distracted and would really struggle to work on a complex report if I had the “Daddy, Daddy” treatment from the kids.

At this point he had to get back to work, as did I, so our conversation ended. I would have liked to explore a couple points more in-depth, particularly how he imagines I get my work done while looking after the children if he believes it would be a struggle for him. I guess he doesn’t realise a) how much I shout and b) how much the TV is on when I’m working. Hey ho, another day, another interview. Until then…

Your intrepid gender relations investigator,

NS (with special thanks and love to NH)

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