A Herstory of Mental Health (or how women’s pain doesn’t matter)

I haven’t posted in a long while and as my mental health isn’t getting better I have been looking back at my personal history of depression and mental health issues and I hope to be able to finish and publish that post and that it won’t be relegated to my pile of articles I have started but not finished because I don’t have the mental capacity, the time to finish or because i have assessed that it is not good enough.

I am going a little bit personal here, more personal than I have in the past and i think it is going to be a descriptive post about my experience of mental health professionals.

Apologies in advance, it will probably be long.

I have been unwell in the past during one major breakdown that happened after a serious case of sexual harassment at work where my boss used pornography to sexually harass me. My employment in that company lasted five years during which I was so vulnerable I was not able to leave my work and my abusive boss – what I can see clearly now as a typical case of Stockholm Syndrome. It was my first serious job, I was 20 years old.  I clearly remember making the conscious decision to dissociate as he was abusing me:  “This is impossible, he cannot be doing this things, i am not there, this is not happening, this has never happened”.

After a few years of that, I started to develop violent somatic responses to the abuse I was subjected to. And in my early to mid twenties I was suffering from chronic back pain that left me unable to stand for very long, unable to sit at my desk, and unable to lie down in most positions. After years of suffering this physical pain, my body started to let me know in a different way I was unwell and something needed to be done. I started to have panic attacks in all sorts of places and mainly in closed transport systems. I lived in Paris then and was unable to take the underground, I had to stop and wait on the platform every couple of stops, breathe deeply, sit or lie down on a bench before I felt strong enough to continue my journey. It was absolutely terrifying, painful and debilitating experience. I was then starting my work day facing more abuse in that horrendous workplace.

When I mentioned it to the (male) GP I had at the time, the same male GP who had followed me for my sciatica problem and was prescribing me pain killers and anti inflammatory injections with no positive results for months, the guy looked at me, laughed and said: “Oh yeah ahahah, it happens to nervous people”. That’s it, chapter closed. It made me feel like an absolute piece of shit, having one’s pain and fear not acknowledged and not validated and then of course not treated made it even worse and it was another few weeks of terror and agony before I took the courage to mention it to my (female and wonderful) physio who was the one to acknowledge my pain and suggested I went to see a mental health professional. I chose a woman psychiatrist. She prescribed me immediate drugs to stop the panic attack symptoms (I was against drugs but took them very temporarily and stopped as soon as the panic attack stopped). I spoke to her weekly for one year and a half before I could recount the sexual harassment that happened. It took another six month before I was able to leave the abuser.

I left the country then, wanting to put as much distance between me and the horror. I also left the area of work I was working in and had been trained for. I was a graphic designer and on top of the direct sexual harassment, the work itself was an active and creative way for my boss to oppress me: In a men only team, who should he ask to Photoshop women’s sexualised bodies but me, the only female in the office. I never was able to work in graphic design again professionally. And since then, I never thought I was good enough to apply for any other creative job.

The main other episode of mental health I had was during pregnancy and birth. I started to cry daily in the first trimester of my pregnancy. I was painfully aware of the difficult professional and financial situation I was in at the time, and although I had been in (what I would have called) a stable relationship for more than ten years, the power balance changed and it was particularly visible in pregnancy where I found myself more socially and professionally vulnerable than I had ever been in the past.

And DH used that to his advantage (more on that on another post but in short he became emotionally abusive and controlling, had a fling with a work colleague when I was 6 months pregnant, became violent to a work colleague and subsequently lost his job when I was 8 months pregnant). If I look at the situation honestly, I have to say I was living in fear, when my midwife heard of it, she was visibly angry at him. I naturally took his side, like any other trapped women in a situation of violence would have done, Stockholm Syndrome once again. Nevertheless, even though the midwives I saw regularly were aware of my history of mental health my condition was never really noticed, I was finding difficult to talk when my history of reporting mental health difficulty had been dismissed in the past, I was not feeling entitled to any help, I denied to myself the fact that I was not well, I put a mask on. When I finally decided to seek out for help, I went through it via my GP who referred me to a CBT counsellor. The absurd conversations we were having are worth recording here:

Her: “so what’s happening, how are you feeling?

Me: “I am crying all the time, I feel oppressed, I feel I have nowhere to go, now that I am pregnant, I feel patriarchy is closing in on me and all I see is closed doors and no opportunities, I am very worried about my future.” 

Her: “You mentioned in the past you had a problem working consistently on your self employment? I think we should work on procrastination.” 

I tell her I am oppressed by patriarchy; she said I have a procrastination issue. For the first time in my life I discontinued the treatment. I carried on having a painful pregnancy. I was manipulated and emotionally abused at home by my husband and encountered violent behaviour from men several times, behaviours that were motivated by my pregnancy.

And then birth happened. I wrote before I was never able to write about birth, in fact I never actually talked about it and for at least the first year all I could do if any of my friends was mentioning their birth experience was to run to the toilet and cry. I will write later about what I can only describe as a terrorising and traumatising experience, an experience of utter loneliness and complete lack of control and power, an experience of facing pain and fear of death entirely alone, an experience of lack of love, lack of care, lack of support.

I came home after a few days of institutionalised health abuse and neglect. After an emergency C-section and massive blood loss they wanted me back home within 48 hours. After I passed out and lost more blood while attempting to have a shower, I had to beg them to keep me another day as I was utterly weak and physically and mentally unable to cope. A perinatal mental health professional visited me and after a five minute chat assessed I was fine.

I was taken back home by a couple of my friends who I felt guilty to ask to stay any longer. I stayed by myself most of that day, waiting hours for my loving husband to come home.
The first few month of my baby’s life, DH who had recently lost his father, decided it was a good time to travel to his home country (thing he had not done once in our time together) and planned to set up a business there. I am not ashamed to say I begged him to reconsider his decision. I totally opposed it. I was traumatised, depressed, sleep deprived and stressed out, completely isolated not coping with a newborn.

I spoke to my GP about the situation in the sixth week check up we are supposed to have. I saw a male GP I didn’t know. When I told him how I felt he proceeded to guilt trip me for not coping: apparently I was letting myself go or something like that. Then he said I needed to be more supportive towards my husband, no matter about my experience, no matter about not copying, no matter about being let down while being in charge of a newborn baby on my own with no support network and in a state of what I was starting to see as PND. No, my husband’s well-being was to be my priority. Of course! He then advised me to get myself on Mumsnet to find some activities in the local area so that I could have something to do with my day. “Pick yourself up woman!” What an utterly pathetic little patronising shite he was, I will never forget.

Two weeks later was the eighth week check. I was seen by yet another male GP. Those GP practices are so impersonal, I hate not having someone I can see regularly that I actually know and actually knows me. Anyway, that fucker was going mechanically through his check list.

Him: “So how are you feeling generally?”

Me: “Not well, I am not coping, my husband is about to leave for a an unknowm period of time, he says he’s got plans abroad, I am not doing well, I am alone.”

Him proceeding to the next question like I have actually said nothing at all: “Do you take any contraception.”

Me is total disbelief: “I don’t see why I would need it, I am alone.”

Voila. End of.

DH left a few days later. He left me in utter shock and disbelief, he left me at my weakest darkest hour even though I begged him not to. He went away and I honestly don’t know how I survived those hours, those days of total despair and abandonment. Three years later, it is 6am and I am crying writing this. The mental shock was huge. I couldn’t and still can’t understand why or how anyone could do what he did to me and a newborn baby. Cruel, heartless, unthinkable.


My health visitor found me one morning in a state of total trauma when she did her home visit. I am so grateful she was there as she was the only one who saw how unwell I was and treated me like a human being. She spent a lot of time with me in these first few weeks and when the time the NHS gave me ran out, she referred me to the perinatal services at my local hospital.

I met a guy psychologist (against my best judgment – I was told he was fantastic, the best in the team and women loved him). I had one assessment with him. An hour in which I poured out my heart, I can’t see the point of going to mental health professionals to be guarded so I spoke about everything that came into my mind. You wouldn’t believe the stuff that came out of his mouth. He told me he would really benefit from having me as a patient because he had an interest in Feminism and would like to hear and learn from me. Yes, you read it right, no I am not kidding. How about you buy a fucking book and do some reading you fucking asshole! How unprofessional. I cannot understand why he thought it was an appropriate thing to think let alone to say to anyone he is supposed to care for. But that’s not all; when I mentioned to him about porn, how porn was used against me time and time again and how I had been groomed into watching it by male partners, his eyes light up and very keenly interested he asked “ooh, what kind of porn then?” And by very “keenly” I mean he was sexually aroused. He was a porn user and a predator.

In the utter state of confusion I was in, I still realised something was bloody wrong, I froze when i heard him speak. All alarm bells ringing in my mind. But i needed help so badly, it took me a week to make the decision to not be seen by him. A week! I hate to think how many women didn’t see him for what he is. I can’t imagine what would have happened if I hadn’t read all these feminist books about porn and would have fallen for him myself.

I then saw a woman. Very nice she was but also profoundly inadequate. I am struck by two things she said during the few weeks I saw her. I was recounting my history of sexual abuse and recalled a couple of cases that happened to me. Her response was: “This happened to you twice? Really? Oh, you have been so unlucky!”  Talk about false consciousness. Where do you live, woman? This is the daily life of every woman in the planet. How anyone can be counselling women without any basic knowledge of female oppression and male violence is completely absurd.

A few weeks later I managed to get myself aware and strong enough to make THE only decision that made any sense, I decided to get myself out of this relationship. I made the decision with help from feminist friends of mine without whom I don’t think I would be here today. I made that decision to save myself, my sanity in the face of the abuse and neglect I faced from the man who was supposed to be there and not only wasn’t but was abusive himself. I made the decision, wrote a plan of action and started to act. That women counsellor totally freaked out and told me to reconsider my decision:

“Its a big decision, are you sure?”

Apparently she thought I couldn’t handle it. She suggested staying in an abusive relationship was safer. I had to be very strong and opinionated  to stand up against her and for myself. I had to say “this decision is made, it took me a long time to get there and it was not up for debate”.

Needless to say, I never trusted her.

Several weeks later I moved out. I wish I was able to end that post here but unfortunately as I write more memories come to mind that have to be added to the story to give a full picture of the problem.

I had to register with a new GP and got assigned a new health visitor. To sum up, the health visitor dismissed my problems completely and although I was seeing her regularly it was always impossible for me to see her when I needed. On one particular occasion when I had been visibly distressed in public while i was suffering with incredible stress (thank you my local council for not paying my housing benefit for more than six months) and non-stop suicidal thoughts, I spoke to a wonderful woman at my local children’s centre. She said there was a special procedure they could put in place (I can’t recall the name of it now) to give my child some hours in the nursery so I could have time for myself to recover. The problem was, all the health professionals involved had to agree it would be necessary and helpful for me at that point. My health visitor replied negatively straight back without even consulting me at all. Fuck her, I decided I could do without her “help”.

And then my new GP, a very nice woman to whom I tried to explain the mental pain I was in, listened, believed me, acknowledge my pain… but the response once more was completely inappropriate. The only solution she offered me was to take medication. Long term medication. As stated before I have always been against medication, I was also breastfeeding and had no intention of stopping. I explained this, I explained there was nothing wrong with me, society was driving me insane and I didn’t see why I should take drugs strong enough to change the chemistry of my brain because I was oppressed. There were pages of side-effects to the drugs she was prescribing, for me and for my baby, and the oppression wouldn’t magically go away once I had popped the damn pill. She said there was “no way someone with your level of depression could get better without drugs”. She pushed the drugs onto me over and over again even tho I said “no” over and over again. She carried on for about a year. I stopped seeing her. I didn’t take the drugs.

After that, I saw a couple of women counsellors who were very good. The time I had there – especially the last one which I did alongside a self-run consciousness-raising group and a self-help program (The Artist’s Way – I recommend it) was particularly beneficial because it gave me time to think for myself and formulate issues and I had a lot of insights in those short few weeks. Then, the issue isn’t on the quality of care but on the quantity. Who can think 8 sessions is enough to get truly better? Who can think oh, 8 sessions didn’t work out so it wasn’t what she needed, let’s give her something else (CBT, drugs, group therapy, whatever). It is the continuity of care with healthcare professionals we trust that has to carry on if that relationship is successful. One cannot heal from a life time of patriarchal abuse in 8 weeks.


Last week, I realised very painfully that depression is not what I am suffering from. Or maybe it was not the only thing i am suffering from. After lots of reading, months of introspection and intense work on myself, after speaking to friends with knowledge and experience on the subject who have been able both to listen and advise, I realise I have symptoms of trauma. No one in all the mental health “experts” I have seen has mentioned this was a possibility once.
How in a system like this am I going to get the help and mental health support I need to get better?

In light of the physical and economical violence women face, in the light of the discrimination women face in motherhood, the increased violence from their male partner when they get pregnant, the deplorable conditions in which women give birth, how many more women have been misdiagnosed with PND or not diagnosed at all when they are in trauma from their birthing experience and / or male violence?

I don’t have a lot of brain capacity left for thoughts and analyses. I see the capacities of my brain declining, my memory is getting worse, I suffer from lack to focus, scatter-brain, regular panic attacks, blank brain that’s unable to process information or read for any period of time, overwhelming dark feelings and guilt and emptiness and uselessness, dissociation, recurring episodes where I am unable to do anything at all apart from keeping me and my child alive.
I see now all my mental health issues where caused directly by male violence.
I wonder if it the case for every other women who are suffering right now, my guess is yes.
In patriarchy, “all women face physical or psychic death daily” said one of my friends, she is right.
I see how the male institution which is the health system has consistently let me down, not listened to me, denied my pain, tried to numb me and silence me, consistently treated me like a symptom, ignoring the human behind the pain, I can see how the health system has directly caused trauma during childbirth.


Women are not human in Patriarchy, our sufferings are constantly undermined, our pain doesn’t matter, we do not matter.
Today as I am deciding to make the political act of sharing that part of my life, and as I am about to press the ‘publish’ button, all I feel is an infinite sadness and a blinding rage.

Girl, you’ll be a woman soon

By @jaynemandfredi and originally posted here

It is sometimes the little things that completely undo me. Today it was your pony tail; half a metre of ash blonde silk, not a kink to mar its smooth perfection.  And just like that, I can picture gathering soft, fine fuzz into a hair bobble, for the very first time. How this transformed you from generic toddler into a creature that was undeniably a girl. That stumpy, wispy pony tail said so, far more eloquently than the colour pink ever could.

I loved how your pulled back hair accentuated the adorable chub of your pink cheeks, and how I couldn’t stop myself from kissing you, over and over again. Do you know that I sometimes close my eyes when we embrace now, just so I can better recall the sweet, baby scent of you? Such salted caramel memories you invoke in me.  Sometimes it makes my chest ache.

Now you are more likely to smell of Impulse and peppermint gum.  The tickle of ‘Very Pink’ in our nostrils every morning heralds your arrival down the stairs.  Your cheeks have all but lost the roundness of childhood, and I see a new bone structure emerging, one I didn’t even know was there. You remind me of me, and sometimes, to my shame, this makes me sad.

Your body is changing, and this too dismays me. You are slowly growing taller; legs lengthening, feet almost the same size as my own. Where the softness of childhood is fleeing, and the angles of beauty are being carved out on your face, it is being redistributed in areas that I know you would rather not have it.  Now and then, I catch glimpses of the woman you will become, and I am captivated by your beauty, though it terrifies me.

I take comfort from knowing that you are strong, my darling. Very strong. You have a deep sense of self, and an innate pride in who you are. It will protect you from much of what this world throws at you.  Your moral compass will guide you, and it won’t lead you astray. I don’t need to tell you to stay true to who you are, because you always have done.  I have been more proud of you than I could ever have dreamed possible. Your goodness radiates from inside you; such a kind, thoughtful, sensitive, human being. Your capacity for empathy astonishes me, and hints at the instinctive wisdom of your soul, a wisdom I never thought to find in one so young. The pain of others hurts you, I know. Nevertheless, I pray it always does.

You don’t remember when it was just the two of us, do you? When all we had was each other, and I clung to you like a drowning woman, as I went under and wanted nothing more than oblivion, and to feel no longer.  You kept me afloat; the routine of our days kept me going when I had no choice.  When nappies needed changing, when bottles needed making, when small feet needed new shoes, and boredom needed to be assuaged with yet another trip to the park.  Sometimes, it was grinding monotony but it kept me alive. I’ve never told you that before, but it did.

Later, you became my friend; my tiny companion, with your constant questions, and your love of the same book, over and over again. We bonded over make-believe and imaginary creatures who shared our world. We played endless games together, for at home I was your only playmate. Later, the little ones would come along to share your life, which meant three more willing playmates. What an inspiration and a role-model you are to them. They are very lucky to have you

As for me, I thank God for the gift of you, every single day. You were my challenge; my test. I have never done anything so bone-crushingly tiring, so frightening, so achingly hard, as becoming your mother. Many, many times I have failed.  I hope you’ll forgive me when I continue to do so. I know you think I’m wonderful, and that you want to be like me, but I am just waiting for the day when you discover that I’m not. That really, I’m a scared, anxious, clueless woman, who isn’t half as clever as you think I am, and actually, is nowhere near as good as you.

I have led such a tiny life and in all the ways that this world measures success, I have achieved very little. I do not have a high-flying career or a string of letters after my name. There are no accolades for me, nor awards with my name written on them.  I have no fancy possessions nor do I own anything of great material value.

And yet…we have everything we need and much of what we want, because we never actually want all that much anyway.  I have made my choices, and I chose to live a simple life, and to pour what energy I have into raising you. I wouldn’t change a thing.

I’m not such a failure, as it turns out. Look at you. Just look at you! You, my darling; my first born; my daughter. I thank you for the privilege of being your mother, and I will love you until I die.

And before you say it: Yes. I love you more.

Parents, keep listening to your gut—not the gender therapist


A few months ago, my teenage daughter stopped trying to “pass” as male. She dropped the self-defined-as-male uniform, the stereotyped swagger and the fake-deepened voice and just—moved on. Her fervent desire to be seen and treated as a boy faded away, just as other formerly unshakable ideas and urges had in the past. And our relationship has never been better.

Although I’ve allowed myself to exhale, just a little, she will remain at risk, because every sector of society—the media, the government, the schools, medicine and psychology–is now saturated with the message that trans is real; trans is good;  and if you’re a “gender nonconforming” girl, you just might actually be a boy.

What did I, and the other adults who love her, do? It hasn’t been easy. In fact, for a time it was a living hell, a purgatory of slammed doors, stony silence, yelling matches, and mostly—waiting.


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The creation of Sisterhood – how can we help our girls to value each other?  

By @jaynemanfredi and reblogged from here 

I recently wrote about how our society makes it increasingly hard for girls to value and support oneanother and this got me to thinking about ways that we, as mothers, can help foster good relations amongst our growing daughters. We often take it for granted that girls will automatically want to nurture and support one another, but I think this is naïve, especially when we consider that they’re growing up within a highly misogynistic world.  Is it any wonder that they naturally seem to distrust, and all too often dislike one another? Sometimes, we have the expectation that if we just allow our daughters to mix with as many different girls as possible, both in and out of school, then they can be trusted to apply the standards of behaviour that we’ve set for them at home. Sadly, this demonstrably isn’t always the case.  Even the kindest and most caring girls can be capable of hurting and upsetting others, whether it’s done deliberately, or is out of carelessness or a moment of thoughtlessness. How then can we help and support our girls to support one another? Here’s some ideas.

Friendship Pact.

Encourage your daughter and her friends to get together and make a binding friendship agreement that they will never, EVER, talk about one another behind each other’s backs. This seems to be the single greatest evil amongst friendship groups; the thing that causes the most upset and arguments. It sows distrust between girls, is immensely upsetting for the girl who finds out she’s the subject of the gossiping – which she will, because someone always blabs, thereby causing more stress. Let’s encourage our girls to make a pact that this kind of behaviour is absolutely forbidden, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to uphold the pact. For tween girls it might be fun to cement the agreement by making friendship bracelets (which could be as simple as loom band ones), which all the girls wear to remind them of the pact, or it could be written down as a formal agreement, which all the girls sign. However they decide to do it, it’s crucial that each girl understands that back-biting and gossiping is absolutely not on, and that the agreement to not do this is sacrosanct.

Watch your words.

So many disputes between girls seem to come about over seemingly nothing at all; someone makes what they think is a harmless remark, and the next thing someone has taken offence, girls take sides and someone inevitably gets sidelined. We might tell our girls to “be nice” and to “not be mean,” but perhaps it might be more helpful to give them a solid framework to help them work out exactly how to do this. Get them to consider whether or not their words are Kind, Truthful, and Necessary, and encourage them to get into the habit of thinking more carefully about what they say. They might think that Maddie really needs to know that her new jeans look like they’re too tight for her, but it’s certainly not kind to tell her so, and while it may very well be true, it’s sure as hell not necessary! Also, sorry is one really powerful word.  If genuinely spoken, it has the ability to diffuse an inflamed situation, add salve to a bruised ego and mend bridges. Acknowledging and taking responsibility for thoughtless or unkind behaviour is also a huge step to becoming a mature young woman, especially if it’s done with sincerity with no caveats included. Heck, that’s probably good advice for all of us!

Girl Time.

Introduce the idea that girl time is both special and unique.  While it can be argued that there is no definitive shared girlhood experience, there are undeniably some common denominators, the most overriding of which is that only girls know what it’s like to not be boys. They’ve not grown up with the privilege of being born male, and have had to navigate their way through a world that overwhelmingly caters to and for the preferences and needs of males. It is a man’s world, and only girls know what that feels like, even if they’re still too young to fully articulate what that means.  Fostering within our girls a sense of pride in their sex and all that comes with it; be it periods, under-wiring or whatever, will also foster a sense of unity. Encourage your daughter and her friends to spend time together regularly that is just girl time, with no boys allowed, even via FaceTime or Instagram or whatever the method of contact usually is. Let her discover that girl only time can be immensely liberating, as it’s time freed from the pressure and potential performative friction that the company of boys can engender.  No one is saying that boys are off limits; just that making space to spend time together to enjoy one another’s company without this distraction is a really important and potentially sacred thing.


If they’re going to learn to support one another, they need to get into the habit of respecting differences and affirming one another’s individual choices.  During adolescence the pack or herd mentality is strong, and it can be really hard to chart your own course. It’s doubly difficult when your friends don’t back you up or even mock your choices. Girls need to learn to support one another by encouraging each other, and building each other up rather than doing what we’re  encouraged to do by our nasty and misogynistic media, which is to knock each other down.  Our girls aren’t ignorant of celebrity culture; where young women are on the one hand praised for being highly sexualised, and on the other hand mocked for exposing too much flesh, and then admonished if they fail to live up to ridiculously high standards of beauty. They will have seen the covers of well known celebrity magazines where women are chastised and mocked for being too fat/too thin/too old/too pale/too made-up/not made-up enough – etc.  They’ve absorbed the message that it’s open season on women and our bodies, and it’s our job to help them unpick this rubbish and not proliferate it with their friends.

Be the change…

Ultimately, we are our daughters’ first and most important influence.  How we respond to other women, whether it’s our friends, mothers, sisters, or that woman off the telly, is being absorbed and perhaps copied by our girls. We too have grown up in this sexist world, and thus, we’re sadly not immune to misogyny either.  How we speak about ourselves, and about other women is really important.  If we want our daughters to respect and enjoy the company of other girls, then we really need to practice what we preach, and model some womanly appreciation of our own. This even goes for that one girl in your daughter’s class who has been a thorn in her side ever since Reception year. Don’t give in to the urge to verbally rip her to shreds after your daughter has come home from school (yet again) in tears after another barbed comment. Try to criticise the behaviour, rather than the girl herself, however hard this may be. So much of what happens between girls is a temporary glitch, all over and done with and forgotten by the following day. It may seem like the end of the world in the moment, but that’s when we need to step in and remind them that these things happen; that friendship is worth fighting for and that they need to stick together. Always try and remember that while you’re comforting your daughter (and silently cursing the one who upset her) another girl may well be doing the exact same thing with her mum. Our own child’s perception of things isn’t always entirely accurate.

With this in mind, it’s also a good idea to try to foster warm, cordial relationships with the mothers of your daughter’s friends. This might require you to be quite proactive if your child is in secondary school, as the parents don’t mix as much as during the primary phase. Having a good relationship with other mothers means you can communicate directly if there are any on-going issues between girls, instead of inwardly festering about it, or immediately escalating it to a teacher; a sure-fire way to get someone’s back up. Also, it sets a good example to your kids if they can see that their mums present a united front, and behave respectfully to one another.

Ultimately, this is a hard phase of development, both physically and emotionally.  Few girls seem to emerge entirely unscathed from their secondary school experience, and for some, friendship with other girls and true sisterhood continues to elude them beyond school and into adulthood.  What this tells me is that we need sisterhood more than ever, because for every twelve year old girl returning home from school today in tears, there’s a doting mum handing over a tissue and worrying herself sick.  We all want the same thing; happy, healthy, thriving girls. Let’s work together to achieve this, and encourage our daughters to do the same.

NOT a natural mother

By Jayne Manfredi first published on The Road to Emmaus
A common, recurring response from other women when they hear I have four children; (after they’ve expressed the usual “Goodness, you’re brave!”) is often, “Wow, you must be a complete natural.”

What does this even mean? That I’m a natural mother? Perhaps one who breast feeds until her kids go to school? That kind of natural? Into whole foods and organic produce? Maybe it’s just a way of expressing admiration for someone who is so obviously committed to this mothering malarkey that they wanted to do it multiple times? Maybe all these things. Or maybe it’s just a bullshit notion entirely that has merely grown out of society’s erroneous expectation for mothers.

Women are socialised to be nurturing and this goes hand-in-hand with the idea that we are designed to be mothers. This doesn’t just mean being in possession of a womb; it means that hormonally,  genetically even, we are naturally predisposed to be able to carry out the task of raising a child. Why then do we sometimes find motherhood so hard?

Medical sources estimate that around 10-15% of new mothers will suffer from Post-natal depression, and the charity 4Children has estimated that the figure might actually be closer to 30%. I might be going out on a limb here but I really believe that most mothers suffer post-natal depression to a varying degree, at some point in the first year after their baby is born.  If you were one of the lucky ones who emerged from childbirth relatively unscathed, learned to feed your baby quickly and with no problems and in short, took to motherhood as if you were born to it, well, wonderful. I have a friend whose experience of labour and infant rearing was so lovely to her she described it as an epiphany. It was a wholly positive experience. If you are such a person, then I’m glad for you. I wish it had been like that for me.

I have known both ends of the birth spectrum, having endured a horrendous experience with baby number one, which meant I couldn’t walk for over two weeks; to leaving the hospital after having baby number four and then going to school to pick the other kids up on the way home. It does vary widely.

Perhaps, like me, your induction into motherhood went something like this: you’re weeping in the bathroom every morning at the prospect of peeing onto what is an open wound, your milk has come in and you could rest your chin on your boobs, you lost so much blood in the delivery room that you’re dangerously anaemic, bringing a whole new meaning to the word “tired,” and baby won’t stop crying, and you have no idea what the problem is. Oh, and your partner is a completely useless waste of space.  That.

The thought that your milk coming in actually means your body is being flooded with nurturing, mothering hormones will, I’m sure, provide you with no comfort whatsoever, as you attempt unsuccessfully to latch a child onto a body part that is four times bigger than baby’s head and is ever likely to be sore, crusty and bleeding.  I kid you not, so determined was I to breastfeed (or with hindsight: stubborn to the point of dangerous stupidity) I actually kept a wooden spoon near me to bite down on whenever I fed her, because the pain was so intense.  I can’t recall feeling very nurturing at the time. Funny that.

We’re told that in this aim biology is on our side. Our hormones, namely oxytocin, will gush out along with a maternal outpouring that will bond you to your child in ways that are  utterly unbreakable. If you don’t feel this way there is a real and harmful remove between your expectation (and society’s expectation) of your role as mother, and the bleeding, agonising, leaking, red-eyed reality.

I was terrified of my daughter. Absolutely terrified. I’d never held a newborn, never changed a baby, never fed a baby. I assumed if you put a baby down in her Moses basket, she would just go to sleep (I know, I know, the naivety!) and was flummoxed and rendered powerless by her cries, which only seemed to cease when I fed her, and that was so agonising, it was the last thing I wanted to do.  She pooped continuously, which meant constant nappy changes. She got nappy rash, despite the constant nappy changes, which meant I was checking and changing her every hour, on the hour, round the clock, in a paranoid fluster that it would get worse. I was unprepared for the tiredness, the ever present exhaustion that there was no respite from, because only I could feed her so no one could help me.

The fear of her quickly turned to feelings of inadequacy, as conversations with my friend (who gave
birth the month before me) revealed a very different experience. She went shopping on her way home from the hospital. Shopping! I had to be wheeled to the car.
She’d been out clubbing when her baby was six weeks old. Clubbing! Just the thought of leaving the house to nip to the corner shop made my chest tight and panicky.
I was scared of going out with my baby; what if she cried and I couldn’t stop her? What if she needed feeding? I didn’t want to feed her in front of other people. I didn’t want to handle her in front of other people; I might be doing it wrong. If I ever did, out of necessity, venture out of the house, it would take me the best part of an hour to pack everything I needed. I was paranoid about not having enough nappies with me, or enough changes of clothes. I’d obsessively change her nappy, feed her, check her nappy again, fret and worry over whether she’d need feeding again. She’d sick up, so I’d change her clothes; I was obsessive in keeping her scrupulously clean at all times. Then she’d need changing again, and so leaving the house sometimes didn’t happen at all.  Plenty of times I left, began walking up the street with her in the pram, only to return almost at once because the sound of her high-pitched, implacable wailing brought me out in a cold sweat and made my tummy clench so tightly it hurt.

I avoided other mothers – who were obviously doing it better than me – as their apparent competence and relaxed manner with their babies highlighted my own discomfort. I felt like a fraud; like becoming her mother was a freak accident. I felt like a nanny or a childminder; like she wasn’t actually mine. I was terrified that someone would discover the truth; that I was useless at this mothering thing, and they’d try and take her away from me.

I loved her; this tiny, impossibly beautiful creature. I loved the smell of her; the feel of her soft, downy head with its sparse covering of blonde fluff; her minute and perfectly formed little hands.  In the wee small hours, whilst feeding her, I’d look down and marvel that anything so sublime could have emerged from me.  But loving her didn’t make me enjoy the experience as a whole.  I was battered; mutilated by childbirth, my body distorted to nightmarishly comic proportions, and I was in
a world of pain.

For motherhood comes naturally, doesn’t it my sisters? I am a woman and it is what I am designed to do.  To nurture new life, not just inside my body but on the outside too.  As I struggled to do the one thing that I’d been taught that I was designed to do, I wondered what the point of me was if I couldn’t do this one, crucial thing. What did that say about my worth, not only as a mother, but as a woman? Unsurprisingly, I spiralled downwards into a depression that took a long, long time to recover from.

When I’ve discussed the myth of gender with men, they are sometimes keen to back up their largely essentialist ideas by citing the fact that women give birth as a reason for distinguishing our behaviour to theirs.  This is a problem for several reasons; firstly it erases the experience of women who can’t or choose not to have children by implying that they’re somehow not fulfilling a biological imperative. Secondly, and to my mind, more harmfully, this notion of women as natural nurturers does a disservice to us all by depicting motherhood as something that we ought to be good at.  If you struggle at all, for whatever reason, it can be an isolating and humiliating experience.

The more I think about the idea of women as “carers” the more I see how our biology has been used as a stick to beat us with.  Designating a caring role to women has the potential to let men off the hook (for “biologically” speaking, caring isn’t in their remit) and in practical terms also means that any duty coming under the umbrella of “care” can be foisted onto women, whether it’s taking on the bulk of childcare responsibilities or looking after elderly relatives. As an aside, it’s no coincidence that many jobs involving care, such as nursery workers and auxiliaries in old peoples’s homes, are overwhelmingly done by women. I guess it’s also a coincidence that these jobs tend to be minimum wage too. Mmm…

Girls are socialised from the off to fit into this nurturing mould; it is little girls who are given dolls to cuddle and feed, complete with tiny nappies and pretend bottles. Take a look at the commercial break during a time young children are likely to be watching and witness the blatant gender stereotyping.  We proliferate the “caring” myth by saying things like, “Sons grow up and move on but daughters always stay close.” Which sounds quite touching but actually means “there’s little to no obligation for my son to call or visit, but that’s ok because my daughter will take care of me.” And this is seen by some as normal!

The bitterest irony of all of course; in a society that trots out the nurturing woman stereotype, is that it is totally incompatible with the most dominant female stereotype of all, that of the “woman as sex object.” Indeed, nothing can slay your sexuality more than being pregnant and then feeding/mothering an infant, or indeed older children. In a world where being sexually appealing and appearing available is prized so highly for women, it’s no wonder that a woman’s perceived value in society can diminish sharply when she becomes a mother. The creation of new life and the responsibility of rearing an infant ought to elevate a woman’s status, and yet the experiences of women I know, my own experiences and the high rates of post-natal depression would say otherwise.

So what is my response when another incredulous woman expresses the opinion that I must be a “natural mother,” for choosing to share my life with four little people?
“Sister, there’s no such thing.”

To my daughter, as your 13th birthday approaches

It’s thirteen years now since you changed my life irrevocably. After a lengthy labour, I am told you were blue when you came into this world (trust me to miss your arrival, duh. Unfortunately a general anaesthetic had rendered me unconscious). I am told you had to be revived. I didn’t realise how close I came to losing you until the paediatrician sought me out the next day to tell me how “lucky” I was that you had survived. (Some conversations you don’t ever forget. That is one of them.) When I came round you were placed in my arms and I got my first look at you. You were pink and had a head of soft brown hair. People say newborn babies can’t see properly. I know this not to be true. You could see alright. You searched my face, more than a little bewildered. As I held you, inches from my face, your eyes darted about, taking me all in. I couldn’t believe how perfect you were. Ears, eyes, nose, lips, everything in its place. I think I expected you to look a bit crumpled, a bit battered even, after being cramped inside me for 42 weeks (you were determined to be an Aries, weren’t you? Never let go of that fighting spirit, my little warrior). You weren’t crumpled. You were perfect.

A woman old enough to be my mother cleaned me up, chatting happily to me as she did so. Her name was Dot. I’ve never forgotten her. She was an auxiliary nurse. She literally cleaned my arse, throwing my legs up onto her shoulders. There was so much blood, much more than I expected. I felt ashamed to be laying there, helpless (at some point I’d screamed for opted for an epidural and so could feel nothing from the waist down. Yes, you hurt that much. But it’s ok. I forgive you).

They wheeled us up to the ward, settled us into the designated space, drew the curtains around us. I unwrapped your blanket, wanting to look at all of you. I held you up, making sure everything was where it should be. Your head seemed huge compared with your lower body. You were vaguely tadpole-shaped. You had the skinniest little legs I’ve ever seen. Your feet looked like flippers in comparison (sorry, you got those off me) and the skin on them was scaly. You shed that skin over the next few days and I remember not wanting to throw your ‘old’ skin into the bin. It felt like I was throwing part of you away (don’t worry, I didn’t keep it – unlike the clip which was attached to your umbilical cord stump, which as you know I have kept, along with the little piece of umbilical cord still attached to it). I turned you over too quickly and you threw your arms apart, alarmed. Your back was mottled pink and covered in fine, blonde downy hair and you had the tiniest little bottom I’ve ever seen. I turned you back over and examined your head. You were bleeding – or, rather, you had been – from two cuts on top of your head. Concerned, I rang the bell for a nurse. One arrived and explained patiently that the cuts were superficial. They’d been inflicted whilst you were still in utero. It’s how the medics check the unborn baby’s oxygen levels (or something – don’t quote me on that).

I held you close to me and rested my nose on your head. That’s when I experienced it. The best smell I have ever smelt. Ever. Seriously, if someone could bottle that smell, they’d make a fortune. It was like nothing else. I struggle even to describe it. The closest descriptive I can think of is ‘earthy’. I drank you up in that moment. I relished it. As you may be able to tell, the memory is still vivid. That memory is the one I will cling to until my dying breath.

It occurred to me that you might be hungry, so I put you to my breast. You didn’t seem interested. Your eyes closed slowly and I watched you sleep. All around us, on the ward, I could hear babies crying and mothers’ soothing voices. People came and went. A nurse popped by. A woman came and started quoting the Bible at me (I don’t need to tell you what I said to her. ‘Short shrift’ covers it).  Another woman came to ask if I wanted a cup of tea and some toast (you were born just after tea-time, you little bugger). My sister – your Auntie – came to see us, her eyes filling with tears when she saw you. It was too late for other visitors – they would all come over the next couple of days. For the time being, I was thankful that it was just you and me.

I didn’t want to put you down. I settled myself in bed, cradled you in my arms and dropped off to sleep, only to be awoken by a nurse chastising me. She was afraid I would drop you (I wouldn’t. I knew that. But she didn’t). She took you from me and placed you in your little crib next to my bed. You barely stirred. The ward settled down for the night. I watched you until I fell back to sleep.

I don’t know what time it was when you woke me. Your cry was urgent, heart-wrenching (to me, at least. No doubt all the other mothers were cursing you). I tried to reach for you, but couldn’t. The epidural had not yet worn off, and I was effectively paralyzed. I buzzed for the nurse and she arrived a short time later. She plucked you from your crib and placed you in my arms. She stood over me as, tentatively, I put you to my breast. I didn’t have a clue what to do. I thought it would just ‘come naturally’. It didn’t. The nurse showed me the best position for you. I fed you and the nurse faded away. You didn’t feed for long – your stomach was so tiny.

I lost count of the times you woke that first night. One thing I do remember is the time when the nurse arrived and took you from me. She would put you in the nursery, she said. I was alarmed at being parted from you. The nurse told me to sleep. I wish I could say I lay awake, fretting over you, but I’m sorry. I didn’t. The tiredness was too much. I slept. They brought you back at some point for a feed, and then they returned you to your little crib. We both slept some more.

By the next morning, I had regained the use of my legs. Excitedly, I got out of bed and peered down at you. You slept. And slept. And slept. I went to the bathroom and freshened myself up. When I hurried back, you were still sleeping. I was dying for you to wake up (ha! The times after that when I would be wishing you would just sleep are countless). When you finally started stirring I picked you up and settled back into bed with you in my arms. I sang to you (sorry – as you know, I’m tone deaf. Also, I forgot the words of the song and ended up going ‘la-la-la’ like an eejit). I chatted with the other mothers on the ward. One woman opposite me was in having had her third child. She gave me some cream for my sore nipples (sorry – TMI) and some friendly advice about how to get you to latch on.

A nurse came round and informed us it was Bath Time. She asked all the first-time mothers to identify ourselves and one woman cautiously raised her hand, along with me. The nurse set up a baby bath on a stand, filled it with water, squirted in some baby-bath stuff. She decided my baby would be the one to be bathed, and asked me to undress you. I did so, trying not to look like the amateur I was. I passed you to the nurse and her capable hands grasped you and plonked you in the water. She showed me and the other first-time mum How To Bath A Baby. I watched her and suddenly, from nowhere, I was gripped with fear. What if, one day, I didn’t feel like bathing you? The enormity of the task I had undertaken hit me so hard I felt physically winded. I sat down, fighting back the panic. (Oh and you screamed for the entire duration of the bath, but then you know that don’t you? You know that you screamed for the duration of every bath you ever had for the next five years of your life. You know this because I’ve told you often enough. It’s ok. I’ll get my own back one day).

When the nurse passed you back to me, I dried you and put your nappy on. It took me about half an hour to get you dressed because I just couldn’t figure out how to get sparrow-like limbs into doll-sized clothes. When I finally managed it, I settled back into bed and held you close to me. I buried my nose in your head – and then I cried. Oh, how I cried. The bath had washed away that earthy smell. You smelt of baby-bath products now. I wept and wept and wept.

Now here we are, thirteen years and countless baths later, and I find myself wondering: where did those years go? I feel like I blinked and I missed them. Where is she, that two-year-old who screamed like a banshee when I lifted her off the bouncy castle (you were getting trodden on by older kids)? Where is she, that four-year-old, posing awkwardly for her first-day-at-school photo? Where is she, that six-year-old, who wrapped her tiny arms around me when she caught me crying one day? She is here, you are here, but now you are a teenager and suddenly you seem all grown up. You are – as you have always been – kindness personified. You are affectionate, funny, clever. You are fair, compassionate, sensitive.  You are transforming into a wonderful young woman and I struggle to keep a lid on my pride whenever I introduce you to somebody new.

I won’t lie to you, there are times when it’s been a long, hard slog. I know this won’t be news to you. Mothering is hard work. Single mothering is doubly hard. It’s the biggest adjustment I’ve ever had to make in my life, bar none, and it was a sledgehammer I was wholly unprepared for. It took me some time – years, perhaps – to get used to motherhood. To accept that a part of my life had ended and that I could never return there. At my lowest moments, I thought the responsibility would overwhelm me. ‘I can’t cope!’ I would scream, inwardly – but, of course, I could, and I did, and I have. Now, despite everything, despite my moods and my short temper and my propensity to embarrass you by singing at the top of my voice with the car windows down, here you are, this well-adjusted, personable, happy thirteen-year-old.

I was looking at your hands today – remember, we were comparing sizes. You opined that your fingers were “chubby” and I told you (and the entire cafe – sorry) not to be so ridiculous. Whilst you were still giggling at that, I looked at those hands of yours – not quite a child’s, not yet fully-grown – and I was reminded of that little set of handprints of yours I have in the kitchen. You know the ones. You ‘made’ them when you were in nursery, for a calender you were making for me. I’ve just looked at that calendar. The date is 2004. You were two years old. It seems like only yesterday since I hung it on that little nail I hammered into the wall. (More to the point, *how* has that calendar survived being hung up in our kitchen for eleven years?! There is only one little splash of food on it. That’s quite an achievement, I feel).

Anyway, if you’re still reading (you better bloody had be) you’ve indulged me for long enough. You have your whole life ahead of you and I remember how exciting that feeling is. Enjoy it, my girl. Live, and laugh (a lot. Laugh a lot). Go out with friends, have holidays abroad, discover the world. Develop happy memories of a youth lived to the full. Don’t put up with any bullshit – ESPECIALLY not from boys *raises eyebrow*. You will be hurt – it’s life, I’m afraid – but you know I’ll kick the living shit out of anyone who ever hurts you. And take it from someone who knows – the person who truly cares about you will not deliberately hurt you. That sounds very simple, but it’s good advice. Remember it. When a person shows you their true colours and you don’t like what you see, walk away – no matter how much they beg you, no matter how many apologies or bunches of flowers they send you. The person who does it once – whatever ‘it’ may be that hurts you – will do it again. If you believe me on nothing else, believe me on this.

Be aware of your worth, as a woman and as a human being. Have confidence in yourself. Don’t ever be afraid to speak out – your voice, your point of view, is worth just as much as anyone else’s. YOU MATTER. Don’t waste your youth on stupid diets or worrying about how you look – believe me, in ten or twenty years’ time when you look back at photos of yourself, you’ll kick yourself for having had such insecurities. You are beautiful inside and out, you just don’t know it yet.

Happy Birthday, my love

Mum xxx


Mummy, am I beautiful?

By Jayne Manfredi http://www.jaynemanfredi.blogspot.co.uk/

Recently I watched my two girls play dress up together, which is not an uncommon sight in our house.  I looked on with amusement and pleasure as my six year old teetered about the house in a long abandoned (pre-motherhood) pair of five inch heels, while my ten year old fashioned herself a dress out of a satin nightie.  They had both helped themselves to a tube of Rimmel in “shocker” and the scarlet grease was smeared around both their mouths.
Playing at being grown-up, at being women. Comic and colourful caricatures of what they will one day become.

For my eldest at least, with puberty just around the corner, the metamorphosis from spindly limbed, unpolished and pink cheeked child into that most exotic of creatures; that of woman, is fast on its way. Her induction is likely to be a painful affair, involving shaving, waxing, plucking, filing, moisturising, exfoliating, squeezing, brushing, curling, straightening, soaking, steaming, sweating and starving. This is of course without even mentioning cramps, underwire and P.M.T; some of the more obvious discomforts of womanhood.

I describe a particular experience of course; and I should know, because it was my own and my mothers before me.  I don’t think my experience is an uncommon one. Indeed, visit any Boots store on any street corner in Britain and you’ll see a dizzying array of potions, paints, implements, chemicals and creams, all purporting to do that one thing that is so terribly important if you’re a woman: Achieving real and lasting beauty.

For women it is an ambition, nay, a social imperative to be beautiful. It is something to aspire to, to yearn for and to set huge store by, whilst growing up and learning the ways of womanhood. I wonder, how have I, as their mother, contributed to my daughters’ need to be beautiful?

It’s because inside me there is a persistent and desperate need to be beautiful too. And its roots are strong and very, very deep.

I was born with a cleft lip, colloquially known as a ‘Hare lip,’ but I’ve always detested the pejorative feel to that term and so have never referred to it as that.  Put simply, I was born with a split down one side of my mouth; my upper lip being most affected as well as my nose.  I’ve had numerous procedures to correct this condition, all of them painful, the last one at age twenty-six, which was a particular joy. The surgeons have done an amazing job; I look what one might call “normal,” which pleases me no end but was never actually my goal growing up.

I didn’t want to look normal.

I wanted to be beautiful.

Surely this is a pointless and unattainable ambition, for how can one be truly beautiful with a scar down the middle of one’s mouth? How can a woman be beautiful with such an imperfection, when we’re trained to view beauty as the absence of imperfection and flaws?
If I am ever described as beautiful I always feel that “despite the scar” is being silently uttered, for I could never be considered beautiful because of it.

Ok, pity party over, because actually I think that at times my mother has suffered because of my defect (quirk of birth, condition…whatever) far more than me; after all, I have no memory of the trauma of the first corrective surgeries; nor of the isolation she must have felt when I was born and was less than perfect, and people avoided her out of embarrassment or worse still, disgust. She once
commented that a friend’s birth to a baby with a hole in the heart elicited open sympathy, (as you’d expect) whereas my birth, which involved a facial deformity, engendered a less compassionate response. People were undoubtedly uncomfortable about it. Living on a terraced street at the time, within a close-knit community, she remembers watching people walk past with gifts for her friend’s baby, whilst never once knocking on to say congratulations to her. She has memories of being out with me in the pram, and having people come over to look and gush over the “new baby” and seeing their faces freeze with horror when they saw me.  She can talk of being in the doctors’ surgery amongst a room full of whispering mothers and having the receptionist ask if she’d be “more comfortable in a side room.”

I’d like to think we’re more enlightened now; more understanding and compassionate. I’d really like to think that. My poor mother’s experiences of having a child with a facial deformity in 1979 were anything but. This heavily influenced her attitude towards me, in particular her insistence while I was growing up that I was beautiful, for aren’t all little girls beautiful? She has always rushed to reassure me that this is absolutely the case. With every new operation, each new procedure, it inched me a little bit closer to a “normal” face and a touch closer to achieving true beauty.

“Does it look better mummy?”
“Yes, you look beautiful!”
“Is my nose less crooked now?”
“It’s lovely!” 
“Are my teeth straighter?”
“Yes, they look great!”
“Is my lip still wonky?”
“No. You are beautiful.”

My mother’s motto when I was growing up, whether she was dragging a brush through my waist
length hair, or pulling it into tight rollers to achieve a true late eighties poodlesque perm, and I was complaining and whining as only a ten year old can, was always, “You have to suffer to be beautiful.”

Looking back, I can honestly say that I have.  We have both suffered for me to be beautiful.

My mum is a warrior of a mother; she would do all in her power for me to be happy, and isn’t happiness for women and girls utterly bound together with the notion of being beautiful? We’re taught this from the cradle, through a frothy, frilly preponderance of pink and prettiness.  Girls are beautiful. End of.

The consequences of not matching up to this standard are well known, and well documented. Anorexia and bulimia, appallingly low self-esteem, comfort eating, depression, crippling anxiety, general misery and unhappiness.  I look at my girls and I know I would do anything to spare them from any of these things, of course I would. Any mother would.

Are my girls beautiful? Yes. They are my children; I gave birth to them forty-eight hours apiece in screaming agony, and have marvelled and delighted in every inch of their peachy soft, delicate little bodies ever since.  They are wholly, unutterably beautiful to me, which does of course make me wonder then, would it matter to me at all if anyone else never thought the same thing. In other words, does their value come from how the world perceives their beauty, or from how they themselves perceive it?

I know some incredibly attractive people.  I know some people who are unusual and unconventional looking, and I know some people who would be considered unattractive, and/or possibly ugly – I hate that word! Here’s the interesting thing though: If I asked each of these people to rate their “beauty” or to tell me how happy they were with their physical appearance, the answers might surprise me.  People who the world views as beautiful don’t always agree with the world, and the more I hear of people who are dissatisfied with their appearance, the more I’m convinced that seeking beauty as a goal in life is totally pointless.  Even if you did manage to eat the right diet, do the right exercise, wear the right clothes, have the right hair, wear the right make-up, be the right age, etc, etc, life and the passage of time have a way of trying to lay you low.

You’re going to get older. You’re going to get ill from time to time. You might have a baby.  You might have a disfiguring accident.  Life isn’t full of many certainties but I know this for sure; nobody is beautiful forever.

Why then do we invest so much time and effort on pinning our happiness to something so fleeting? Something so hard to define anyway? Something which is actually far more subjective than we give it credit for?

No answers on a postcard please because this was, of course, a rhetorical question. I’m well aware of why women need to be beautiful (*cough* patriarchy) but that’s a blog post all of its own.

I don’t want to push the notion of beauty at my daughters. I want this to be the last word they use to describe themselves.  They are smart.  They are funny.  They are kind and imaginative and spirited and adventurous and thoughtful and loyal and fierce and a thousand other things that they’ve not even learned to be yet. I will not limit their potential by pinning their future happiness on something as nebulous as beauty, for as soon as you set this as your goal what you’re actually striving for is the approval and validation of others. Self worth has to depend on more than what we see in the mirror, but unfortunately it so seldom does.

In my efforts to be more God centred, it is to Him I look when seeking approval and affirmation. Why do I not look to myself? Well, I’ve proved time and time again that I am no judge of my own behaviour, or of my own esteem; I regularly find myself wanting or paradoxically, I rate my own efforts too highly.  My opinion of me can’t be trusted.

How then does God see me? How does He see my daughters?

Psalm 139, verse 14, tells us:

You are fearfully and wonderfully made.

Or, in the NLT version:

Wonderfully complex.

When my daughter’s ask me that dreaded question: Do I look beautiful Mummy? I will think twice before enthusiastically answering with a resounding yes. Instead, I will answer with this:

Darling, you are fearfully and wonderfully made. You are too complex to be merely beautiful. You are unique and you are eternally precious. You are loved. And despite what this world will try to tell you, you are enough.
 Are you beautiful?
You are so much more than that.

I Hate Mother’s Day

Here we go again! Flowers ! Cards ! Chocolate ! Pink ! Pink ! Pink ! Yes it is Mother’s day!

Yet another commercial made-up holiday. This one is designed to make us spend money in order to demonstrate our love to our mothers. And we all have this ONE day to express our affection and gratitude ! Hurry !

It is always nice to receive a card, I suppose. In the early years of our children’s life, this card is bought by our dear hubbies from the local corner shop. And don’t they have a lot to be grateful for !

I’m not going to lie. I hate mother’s day. Not because there is no hubby in my life to buy me flowers and a card. I am a political lesbian. I have chosen not to have one of those around thank you very much.

No. I hate mother’s day because of the hypocrisy of the whole thing.

We all know motherhood is hard work, right?

Yet we are made to believe that flowers, card, chocolate, perfume and other useless items wrapped up in some tacky pink packaging are supposed to make up for 24/7 of unpaid and undervalued housework and endless childcare duties. Flowers erase the 1825 times we have changed nappies since last mother’s day; the sleepless nights; the toddler’s tantrums in the middle of the supermarket; the daily school run; the many baby illnesses; all those trips to the GP; the balanced meal cooked with love that baby is going to chuck on the floor; the hours spent in front of the sink washing the dishes. Day after day.

Mum has not been feeling too well since baby has arrived? It’s ok! Flowers make us forget our Post Natal Depression; better and cheaper than antidepressants! Flowers erase these long hours of loneliness and isolation; daily trips to the playground; hours gazing into space at baby-group; weeping uncontrollably in the street; the rage; the hopelessness; the guilt; the death-wishes.

Buy flowers and women will not notice how much society hates us as women, and as mothers. Hates us so much that they demand that we lose our pregnancy weight in just a few weeks.As if there is nothing more shameful than having given birth. Let’s get rid of the evidence as soon as possible.

Buy flowers and women magically forget about the discrimination we face at work; a promotion we didn’t get, it went to an incompetent guy; that time we got sacked for being pregnant; that time we didn’t get the job because we have a two year old at home so the recruiter decided we wouldn’t cope; those flexible working hours refused by your manager.  Just because.

Buy flowers and women will forget how poor we are and dependent on the men in our lives.

Buy her flowers and she may forget that the first and last time you agreed to “baby-sit” your own two year old for an hour was because she needed a trip to the dentist. Buy her flowers and she may not remember how you spend all your evenings at the pub, drinking your wage while she has to buy food for the family on the little savings she has left.

Buy flowers, gents, and your wife will forgive you for the emotional abuse you have been subjecting her to, the manipulation, the control. More flowers and she will forgive you for that time you threatened her. More flowers and she will say you are such a nice guy even though you’ve been beating her since she was pregnant.

Buy flowers and she will end up being grateful !

I hate Mothers Day because it is yet another world-wide patriarchal propaganda machine designed to bribe us into submission. Mother’s day successfully promotes compulsory motherhood, and emotionally blackmails women so that we keep on working for men for  free and in silence.

We all know motherhood is hard work.

But don’t we dare to dream of a world structured around our needs as women who have children? Don’t we dare to demand our rights to prevent discrimination against us? Don’t we dare to ask and get the support we actually need? Don’t we dare to demand free universal 24 hour childcare?

And don’t we dare to think that the man we live with, the one who claims to be in love with us, will take on that fight with us?


Instead, you’ll have a bunch of flowers (if you are lucky) and a pink card.

Come on! Have one!

Childbirth and women’s reality – A Xmas post

Since the birth of my child, 2 and something years ago, one thing I have never managed to think about, let alone talk or write about, is the reality and trauma of childbirth. I am not planning to get into details now, I am still absolutely NOT ready to go there and frankly I don’t know if I ever will be. But I did find this quote today in an amazing book by Betty McLellan, “Overcoming Anxiety”. McLellan talks about how being silenced and being made to feel invisible is causing powerlessness and is a major cause of anxiety for women.

She explains how childbirth is another instance in which official (patriarchal) meaning can overshadow the reality of women’s experience. She talks about how childbirth for most women represents “excruciating pain and agony, loneliness and alienation”; feelings and sensations which are in total contradiction with the official patriarchal meaning, as we are told time and time again that childbirth is the most beautiful day of a woman’s life.

I can’t resist sharing this timely and perfect quote today.

 “The church’s role in covering up and denying women’s experience of childbirth is made evident with the telling of the story of the birth of Christ. Every year, the Christmas story is used as an opportunity to glorify motherhood and paint a picture of childbirth as a wonderful, almost ethereal experience. After a problem-free delivery in a fairy-tale setting, we are led to believe that Mary is thrilled by the singing of the angels and overjoyed at the visits by shepherd and wise men.

Told from the perspective of Mary herself, however, the story would probably be very different. She would talk about the pain, the discomfort, the smell of the stable, the lack of privacy, her concern about hygiene. She would express her annoyance at all those strangers visiting her when all she wanted was simply to be with her husband and baby. She would express her concerns about all that loud angelic singing when what she really wanted, in her exhausted state was to be left to sleep in peace while she could.”

As a woman in patriarchy, I have been living with depression, chronic anxiety and very low self esteem for many years. All of these symptoms became much worse since my experience of childbirth and since becoming a mother as I witnessed my life spin out of my control and I became for the first time totally powerlessness, both in the hospital labour ward and in my life ever since my baby was born.

I am having a sisterly thought today for Mary and for all the women who have been silenced and made invisible through motherhood. All those mothers who have lost the meaning of their lives and their sense of self while struggling in the nightmare of living in this patriarchal oppressive society and caring for another human being. All those mothers who have lost their lives in the hands of male dominated health system which puts profit above women’s lives.

Piero della Francesca's The Nativity  (This is what men think childbirth looks like)

Piero della Francesca’s The Nativity (This is what men think childbirth looks like)