Archive for the 'Career' Category

Yeah, I did get a medal for birth

NS October 1st, 2010

My son turned two a couple weeks ago. At various points in the day I thought of where I had been in labour and made sure to stop and mark the moment when he had been born, at 4.32pm. When I thought back to his birth, I smiled. I remembered it warmly and fondly and with more than a little joy.

His entrance into the world, in our home, went just as I had hoped. While it was obviously intense, I did not consider it horrendous, overly painful or traumatic. At many points and up until I was nearly ready to begin pushing him out, I was smiling and laughing, so excited to meet my little guy and in awe of my body’s intuitiveness and primal, biologically-designed power.

If I could recreate and live through that day again every year (without adding to my family each time!), I would. Every contraction, every push, every soul-shaking guttural groan, every everything. I want to feel it again because it made me feel so utterly alive, so connected to myself, so grounded and yet so light that I felt as if I could simultaneously meld into the earth with feet of stone and fly far away, up into the clouds.

But I didn’t write about it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t share those feelings of nostalgia and joy. I kept my mouth shut and my head down because that is what is expected of me.

Our modern cultural narrative of birth tells me that my experience, my story, does not exist. It’s either all in my head or a bunch of hippy claptrap designed to make other women feel inferior and guilty. Enjoying birth is a privilege I am not allowed to have because so many others have been denied it, through circumstance or luck or whatever forces are behind the story of how our children are born.

Last year, when Noble Boy turned one, I surveyed my view at the apex of the mountain. I know I’m lucky to have even climbed that mountain and that it wasn’t necessarily anything ‘special’ I did or was or knew to get there. I don’t presume to have special powers that other women do not possess or more knowledge than those who had disappointing, interventionist or traumatic births. My birth is in no way a condemnation of anyone else’s. It is simply and only what it actually is: mine.

As a doula, an advocate for mothers and vocal member of the online birth community, I fight tooth and fucking nail for women’s right to choose not to give birth at all, to choose caesareans, to choose hospital birth, to choose narcotic pain relief and as many bells and whistles as they want. I do this alongside my advocacy for those who don’t want drugs, don’t want interventions or don’t want to leave their homes to have their babies.

I am a birth advocate because I believe in women’s autonomy and in their personhood. I believe in mothers’ ability to make their own decisions, lead their own lives and have their own experiences, on their own terms. I respect them. I trust them. I want the best for them.

So when my own experience is sidelined, marginalised, silenced, criticised, dismissed and ridiculed, it hurts. It hurts a hell of a lot. I have to choose my words very carefully when relaying my son’s birth and be sure to throw in self-deprecating remarks and pay penance for not finding it horrible, lest I hurt anyone’s feelings or make them think I’m ‘smug’. The accusations of superiority and patronisation are sometimes implicit and, often times, outright explicit, said to my face with defiance and what appears to (sometimes) be glee.

I guess that’s because it’s socially acceptable to tell a woman she is crazy, ridiculous, smug, flaky, woo woo, arrogant or any other myriad of derogatory terms when she says childbirth was anything but a best forgotten ride to hell and back. Women who say they didn’t find it painful or even found it pleasant are told they are outright lying, the implication being that because the majority experience birth in one way, those who fall outside that ‘norm’ must be disbelieved, discredited or punished.

And no matter how this sounds to anyone, no matter how many accusations of insensitivity or insanity are thrown my way as a result, I think it’s completely ridiculous and more than a little sad that women having joyful, memorable, special (yes, sometimes even pain-free) births that changed them, moved them, empowered them — inexorably and unalterably for the better — are being silenced and shouted down lest anyone with a less-than-ideal birth get their feelings hurt.

How are we ever going to change that narrative and know of more women having positive stories if we don’t hear any or won’t allow them to be told?

I’ve spent months and years walking on eggshells, bending over backwards to make sure that I don’t offend or belittle or minimise other women’s experiences. I strive to face my own little creeping prejudices and biases and correct them before they turn into sweeping generalisations or proclamations of what is Best and True and Noble. I do my best to listen and learn and help when I can and only where I am wanted.

I have no interest in competing for gold in the Birth Olympics but I sure am sick and fucking tired of being told I’d better get off my high horse because there ain’t no medals in this here event, sweetie cakes.

Well you know what? I do have a medal. I have a medal of achievement around my neck and it hangs there, invisible, every day. When I want to feel good about myself or when I am doubting my capacity to cope with something life has thrown at me, I take it from where it hides beneath my heart and gather up all the strength from that place of calm and courage within me from which it came.

But no one else gave it to me, nor did I expect them to. I gave it to myself.

I mark my son’s birth as a victory not because I was competing against anyone else or because I needed to win, but because of how I felt about myself as I made that journey towards the finish line.

The thing is, birth doesn’t even have a finish line; it’s a starting point. So even if one woman’s didn’t go as she’d dreamed, even if that journey ended without the ‘medal’ she yearned for, she still finished the race and that, in itself, is pretty damn amazing. Us mothers are doing what billions of women have been doing for billions of years —  giving over their bodies and their lives so that another body and another life might grow and flourish.

Pretty fucking cool, right?

As Dr. Seuss says:

You have brains in your head

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose

I have no interest in marking out a path or prescribing a method or lifestyle of my choosing for others. Life’s not worth living if it’s under someone else’s thumb, in accordance with their wishes or in conjunction with their views. We’re all individuals and we’re all going to choose and experience things differently so it’s important that we extend respect to those whose life choices and experiences have taken them down paths divergent from our own.

I try my best to practice what I preach but damnit, I expect a little bit of that respect in return. Is that really too much to ask?

Digging my burrow of oblivion for self-survival

NS June 17th, 2010

It’s just hit me, sitting here in a coffee shop, why I might be feeling so fed up with blogging. It’s not because I have nothing left to say or don’t have the desire to write any more (because I obviously do –this post is proof!), or because the things I’ve become involved with lately are superior to blogging, or more fulfilling. It’s that I’ve always associated writing with changing the world, making it a better, fairer place with just a little less hate, violence, ignorance, prejudice and oppression. My writing has always gone hand-in-hand with my passion for social justice and one always influences the other.

The thing is, it’s only become clear to me lately that perhaps I will never be able to change anyone’s mind, that all of the hurt and anger and sadness I internalise when I read about all the horrific, ugly things in this world (and particularly our violent, patriarchal culture) is affecting my own happiness and well-being. It’s also been very difficult for me to admit that being part of the media may actually be contributing to many of these problems and that my idea that I would be different, I would get to write about the really important things, that I would convince my editor (in my mythical journalism job) to let me write authentically, honestly and without the influence of advertising, corporate interests and sales figures was the stuff of youthful naivety and arrogance.

And then what about my activism? If I couldn’t make it as a journalist I wanted to be the fiercest of advocates for those most deeply oppressed and wounded by man’s ills. I would march, stomp, kick, scream, campaign, shout and never, ever give up. But even then, I couldn’t find a way in. As a mother with two small children and limited income, I couldn’t get involved on anything other than a token level. Even jobs at non-profits and advocacy groups are fiercely competitive and hard to come by. Just because you have the passion doesn’t mean you have the right CV or connections or opportunities.

My once-ruthless appetite for news and politics has suddenly waned. I’d been a political bulimic – stuffing myself with as much information and indignation as possible until I felt I would explode and then regurgitated some piece or another, via a ranty blog post, to relieve the pressure. But then I slammed on the brakes, went from 60mph to 0 in no time flat. At first I thought it was election overload and that once that hopeless ‘coalition’ was in power I’d resignedly acquiesce and take up the mantle once again. I starved myself of news completely (now a political anorexic) and hoped that would do the trick.

Today, right now, I bought a newspaper for the first time in several weeks and sat down to read it. I actually felt apprehensive, nervous. I told myself I was being ridiculous and squared my shoulders as I nibbled my muffin and sipped my latte (a lefty if ever there was one) and examined the front page. I took a deep breath and started reading the cover story. First paragraph — ethic cleansing and systemic rape in Uzbekistan. The reporter didn’t just use those words though, oh no. He told us how a woman was questioned, bound, raped and then had all her fingers cut off before being killed alongside her small son. So far removed from the horrific reality of this atrocious act, the reporter was able to open with this, to draw us in for more-more-more.

Immediately tears sprang to my eyes and the familiar feeling of helplessness and anger bubbled up. But this time I couldn’t handle it, I couldn’t force myself to do anything more than put my plate over the offending words — the gratuitous, sensationalist words — and bow my head as the tears slipped down the tip of my nose and onto the photograph of fleeing women and children, their terrified faces blurred and smudged by the drops falling on the ink.

This emotional frailty and feeling of helplessness is a strange, foreign thing to me and in marked contrast to when I’m running at 6.30 in the morning, along a gravel path where horses graze and then around a sun-soaked playing field where the grass glistens with dew. There, I feel powerful and free. I have air in my lungs, no thoughts in my head and it is just me, my feet, music in my ears and the early-morning creatures. Today I ran past a family of hedgehogs making their way slowly back to the wooded area beyond the path.

When I get back I check my phone to see if my client, the one belly-heavy with new life, needs me yet. Knowing I am going to witness something beautiful and wondrous and thrilling soon humbles me. I feel content, like this is what I was meant to do all along. For the first time in a long time I’m making things happen, not waiting around.

So, in the interest of self-survival, I need to believe, at least for a little while, that life is precious and wonderful and equal and free. I need to believe that the baby getting ready to make her entrance is not going to grow up in  a world mired in oil, marred by violence and folding in on itself. I need to pretend that she won’t grow up being told to be pretty and ‘nice’ above all else, that caring for her partner and children are all that matters, that her ability to make intensely personal decisions about her body, health, family, career and happiness are at the mercy of the two behemoths of moral proselytising; Church and State.

For just one moment, in the golden, glorious dawn of summer, I need respite. I will put my faith only in what I have control over and submit, for a spell, to what I don’t. I will strive once more to see the beauty and innocence and humanity on this planet.

Because if I can’t, even after trying, I’ll know I truly have nothing left to say.

The pain of art, the joy of living

NS June 14th, 2010

You know how some artists (whatever their medium; painting, music, writing, what have you) depend on being miserable, sad, angry, depressed, lonely, frustrated, misunderstood, tired, undervalued or oppressed (or all of the above) to create their art? And how when they’re happy, busy, valued, surrounded by people, encouraged and clear-headed, with a joyful, fulfilling and healthy personal, professional and social life, they sort of lose their edge?

That feels like me right now. I’m flailing. I’m losing my ‘art’. I’m losing my blogging mojo. I’m losing interest in fighting the fights I’ve been fighting for so long. I feel less and less inclined to come up with topics to write about, things to get incensed about, news to devour and dissect. I haven’t read the papers but one time since the British elections on the 6th of May. I have read articles that would normally have me writing lengthy screeds in opposition or approval and felt nothing but the briefest glimmers of interest. I log in then I log out. I stay up late trying to figure out why I’m drawing such blanks and get less and less sleep. I become more irritable.

But then one day I just stopped for awhile. I had other things going on and didn’t have time. Normally I’m itching to get back to my ‘online life’ after a brief spell away; this time I had to force myself to log in. I felt bored. I felt restless.

As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve recently taken up running. I’m doing a 5k at the end of next month and have been going three times a week fairly faithfully. Yesterday my regimen notched itself up from 8 minutes at a time to 20. I looked at what the running app on my iPhone screen was commanding me to do  and gaped. Go from an 8-minute run to 20 with nothing in between? No gentle breaking-in, no gradual increase over a long period of time? Who the hell did this running app think it was, bloody Richard Simmons?! I gave it a wary eye and told myself that if I couldn’t make it, so be it. It was too much to ask, anyway! It would be a miracle if I didn’t need to stop due to bursting lungs or cramping calves or some other such affliction.

But it turns out, I did it. I did it and it wasn’t even that difficult. I could do that run all along but I was holding myself back. I didn’t think I could do it so I didn’t even try.

For the last few years, ever since I had my daughter, I’ve been waiting for my life to find its niche, its groove, its upward trajectory towards success and happiness. But it turns out that you can’t wait for this shit to happen; you have to make it happen. You have to pour your heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears into it and then wade head-first, eyes open, into the mix instead of standing on the sidelines feebly throwing cups of water at those racing past you.

Right now I am going through some intense transformations; from couch potato into runner, from a frustrated writer and stay-at-home mum to an independent businesswoman and running-three-websites mum, from distant, grumpy wife to more engaged partner and from a mother unhappy with her parenting practices and interactions with her children to one taking control and doing things to rectify those negative practices, ones that stem mainly from that discontent I spoke of earlier.

Needless to say, something has got to give.

So while I love my art and I love my little corner of cyberspace and the friends, opportunities, emotional and intellectual growth it has provided me, I am beginning to feel that I may be done with Noble Savage. I’ve been going for over five years and I’m not sure what else I can say, really. I’ve poured my heart out, written my fingers to the bone, researched, read, reported, raged, ranted, laughed, cried and gone a little bit loopy in the process.

Maybe I’m not going to get that book deal or journalism job or freelance gig after all. Maybe all I was ever destined to do was write this blog to meet the people and read the things that grew my mind and fed my soul enough to get me on my life’s true path, one that will make me happier, more fulfilled, more at ease and successful than my years-long dream of being a published author or  respected hack ever would have afforded me.

Maybe I just need a break, with no defined return. Maybe  a complete release from the pressure of a blank screen and a full RSS reader will do the trick and when things have settled down with the doula business and the running and getting my marriage back on track, I will have more to say, and better. Hell, maybe tomorrow I will wake up having completely changed my mind and be ready to tear the shit out of some article in the Times or wax lyrical about the highs and lows of parenthood.

But for now, the joy of living is overriding the gut-wrenching pain and time involved in creating my art. And this time, I’m going to let it.

On my shoulders

NS June 9th, 2010

I stood in Noble Boy’s room at 9.15pm last night, rocking him, singing to him softly and with tears running down my face. I was slightly annoyed that he wasn’t in bed yet, yes, but it was much more than that; it was the crushing weight of responsibility for his health and well-being.

Earlier in the day, he had had a scary episode upon waking from his nap, wherein he screamed and raged and kicked and writhed with such force and for so long (25 minutes) that for a moment I thought he was having a seizure or was choking.  He howled and turned red and bent his back in such contortions that I feared it would snap. The terror in his eyes mirrored my own. What was happening to my little boy? He arched away from me so violently that it felt like Rejection itself had inhabited his limbs. I sat on the floor and cried with him, both of us desperate for whatever it was to ease its grip.

Finally, it went. He choked out, “Mama!” and held his arms up to me, ready for a cuddle. He clung to me like a baby monkey and sighed great big hiccuping sobs into my neck. I rubbed and patted and sang and whispered and soothed. Fifteen minutes later he was running around after his sister, laughing and chomping on a snack. He was fine but I felt like a ghost for the rest of the day.

So that night, when he wouldn’t go to sleep and I heard him crying in his cot after NH’s third attempt at calming him had failed, I climbed the stairs once more and scooped him into my arms, even though I had a ton of work to do downstairs. He needed lots of cuddles and reassurance so I had a long time to stand there in the dark, thinking.

I was thinking about my first doula client interview, which is today, and the conversation I’d had with my mother-in-law when I’d had to ask her to come watch the children while I raced off to the dentist at 4pm and then straight onto a train at 5 to be with the client at 6. Noble Husband would leave work early and be home by 6 to relieve her, would that be okay? It was, but only just. She had other plans and would have to change or delay them accordingly. I felt bad. I felt guilty. I felt frustrated.

This work-life balance stuff, the childcare arranging and juggling, the endless ‘favours’ being called in — it’s all on my shoulders. I’m the woman, I’m the mother, I’m the one who has to try to carve out a career after her other commitments have been met. For my husband (and most other ‘breadwinners’) it’s the other way around; work comes first and family is squeezed around its looming pillar of worth. I can’t go anywhere or do anything on my own without my mental tally of who I can count on, what time x or y has to happen and how early I can get NH home. It’s exhausting.

Taking care of these little people all day, trying to make a career work and creating my own sense of self…it’s really difficult to feel confident and autonomous when you’re dependent on others for everything; their salary and cooperation (NH), their flexibility and willingness (mum-in-law) and your children to not to scoop the contents of your heart out, day by day.

Eventually, I realised that NB was not going to let go of me and settle in his own bed so I carried him through to mine. I laid down beside him and stroked the soft skin of his arms and face as he took comfort in the warm milk and closeness my body provides. He drifted off to sleep, finally. And even though my eyelids were heavy and I wanted to stay with him, to stay cuddled up with my baby, I knew a mound of paperwork and dishes awaited me downstairs. I disentangled myself from his embrace and crept away, stealing one last glance at his face in the moonlight.

Sometimes, the weight on my shoulders is lifted just long enough to set me afloat.

Ready, set…doula!

NS May 24th, 2010

I completed my training this weekend and after I write a ‘reflection paper’ and read one more book, I’ll be a doula. Once I’m on the UK-wide directory I should (hopefully) start getting clients. CLIENTS. Which means interviews, paperwork, contracts, research, meeting strangers in the hopes they like me and then, finally, attending births and helping mothers with their newborns. Holy shit, I’m going to be a DOULA!

I don’t think I had realised just how big a deal this was until I actually began the course. But this isn’t just an interest now, or something I write or talk about,  it’s my career. I have a new career and will be running my own business. I’m so excited I can hardly contain myself. Truly. I walked out of the course on the second day bursting with enthusiasm. I couldn’t go home, I was too full of energy. It took a few hours and a few glasses of wine to bring me back to earth.

I was worried for awhile that by becoming a doula I was somehow giving up on the writing, that it was an admission of defeat. But I’ve come to realise that a) that’s not true, I can still write and, once I’ve got the doula business ticking over quite nicely, still pursue a writing career or begin writing that book I’ve been mulling over; and b) becoming a doula will actually expand my involvement in maternity reform and feminist mothering, thereby giving me more contacts, hands-on experience and ideas for my book; and c) the money I earn from being a doula will take the financial pressure off of my writing, letting me relax about the whole thing a little. So it will be a win-win, I believe.

Now I just need three pregnant ladies in the South West London or Surrey areas to be my first clients. I’ll be dirt cheap while I’m a trainee so if you or anyone you know is pregnant, due this summer/early autumn and thinking about hiring a doula, keep me in mind!

And never fear, Noble Savage isn’t going anywhere. I may post slightly less than usual for a few weeks while I get my head around it all and get the business side organised but I’m keeping this site (and Fertile Feminism) going, definitely.

This feels good. It feels right. And I can’t wait to get started.

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