BITCH MEDICINE by @_ssml

Cross-posted from: Fish without a Bicycle
Originally published: 11.12.16

Over the past year or so I have been thinking about a story of my first and favorite dog, Lady. I don’t know where she came from but she was a constant companion to me from the time I was four until I was about seven and my family made the move from rural Nevada to rural Illinois and my parents elected to adopt her out to some family friends who owned a nearby ranch. But while she was living with us, Lady got pregnant and delivered a litter of pups. My parents sequestered her in our attached garage and informed me that under no terms was I  to approach her. They made it very clear that she was an animal who had just given birth and that her instinct would be to protect her new babies. It was likely that if I went to her pen and got too close that she would bite me. I could not get myself to believe them. And so day after day I snuck into the garage to be near her and her litter. At first I simply sat next to the pen. And then I dangled my hand over the side. And then there was the day that I stepped over the side of the pen and placed myself in a corner. sitting there with all  the pee soaked newspaper and the tiny floppy puppies climbing on top of one another eager to nurse. Lady did not bite me. Ever. And in those moments I learned something about approach, trust, and quiet company keeping.
Read more BITCH MEDICINE by @_ssml

The power of words in an age of anxiety by @AliyaMughal1

Cross-posted from: Aliya Mughal
Originally published: 19.02.16

“The magic of escapist fiction is that it can actually offer you a genuine escape from a bad place and, in the process of escaping, it can furnish you with armour, with knowledge, with weapons, with tools you can take back into your life to help make it better. It’s a real escape — and when you come back, you come back better armed than when you left.”

Neil Gaiman beautifully articulates the essence of why reading is such an indispensable pastime in those moments when reality lets us down.

Gaiman was referring to how his 97-year-old cousin, a Polish Holocaust survivor and teacher, had escaped into the world of books during the Nazi occupation. For her and the pupils she secretly read stories to, books, forbidden at the time, provided a soul-saving gateway into a place that for a few precious moments, freed their minds from the shackles of their daily existence.

Liberating the mind can be both a vital and yet seemingly impossible task in the worst moments of mental anguish. Depression, for instance, has the overwhelming capacity to trap people in a vicious cycle of interminable horror.

The question of whether books can provide relief in the context of mental health is one that’s usefully being explored in Future Learn’s latest course, Literature and Mental Health: Reading for Wellbeing, a surprisingly rare offering that combines a traditionally academic field with the psychological element of the health sciences.

One of the questions posed in the opening survey for learners is that of why and where they read, “to pass the time” being one of the multiple choice answers.

It’s interesting to explore what is meant by this. The act of reading as means of passing the time sounds at first like a passive one, pursued for the sake of just getting through the day.

But for many people who suffer under the “daily rain” of depression, simply getting through the day can be a major victory.

Pause for thought

The social and psychological value of books isn’t a new idea. It was raised in Aristotle’s Poetics, where the concept of catharsis was explored in terms of the impact of tragedy to purge us of emotions, specifically pity and fear. The definition of catharsis is still debated but the essential idea of using the words of others to reveal something of ourselves to ourselves is one that has prevailed through the ages.

Jack Lankester, an English teacher for whom the sonnets of Philip Sidney provided a sense of fellowship and solace when he experienced heartbreak, describes the restorative power of poetry in a way that reflects this idea of a cathartic experience:

“I believed in my naivety that no one had ever been as heartbroken as I was. No one understood… When I started reading him, the penny dropped in that instant, I felt wildly less alone. And the fact that he had been writing these poems 500 years ago, really did make me realise that being heartbroken or sad or lost is in many ways inevitable. And it’s a part of the human condition.”

Far from being a passive experience then, reading poetry is a means by which we can intimately and consciously engage with the essence of what it means to be human. It’s a precious counterpoint to the modern day fixation on lives that ought to be in continual motion, racing from one day, one achievement, one love, one, one feeling, one thing, one experience to the next.

One of the poems I find myself going back to again and again for this very reason, and for its own wonderfully lyrical sake, is Dew Light, by WS Merwin:

Now in the blessed days of more and less
when the news about time is that each day
there is less of it I know none of that
as I walk out through the early garden
only the day and I are here with no
before or after and the dew looks up
without a number or a present age

As Stephen Fry, who also features in the Future Learn course, says: “There is so much nutrition inside the best poems.”

 

Aliya Mughal : I’m a dedicated follower of wordsmithery and wisdom in its many guises. Reader, writer, storyteller – if there’s a thread to follow and people involved, I’m interested. I’ve built my life around words, digging out the stories that matter and need to be told – about science, feminism, art, philosophy, covering everything from human rights abuses in Sri Lanka, to famine and the aid game in Rwanda, to how the intersection of art and science has the power to connect the disparate forces of humanity with the nanoscopic forces of our sacred Earth. Find me @AliyaMughal1

Toxic best friend: Glossy magazines and me by @glosswitch

Cross-posted from: glosswitch
Originally published: 14.11.16

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with glossy magazines. The reason this blog is called Glosswatch is because I originally conceived of it as a place where I’d go to rant about the publications to which I was still, inexplicably, subscribing in 2012.

I knew how these magazines functioned. I could see the way in which, like a toxic best friend, they eroded your confidence by drip-feeding you advice on ways in which to improve yourself. I knew that the solutions they offered were to problems you hadn’t even realised you had. I knew they didn’t really want you to be happy with yourself, since a woman who is happy with herself does not spend vast amounts of money on trying to make herself look like someone else. But I bought them all the same. I’d been buying them for decades.
Read more Toxic best friend: Glossy magazines and me by @glosswitch

The Big Bad Anti-Diet Brigade by @MurderofGoths

Cross-posted from: Murder of Goths
Originally published: 06.06.16

This is a subject that comes up a lot within the body positive plus size community, a hell of a lot. And it’s always controversial.

Weight loss.

There tend to be two camps.

On the one side – weight loss has no place within the body positive community, we are bombarded daily with messages from both society and the media about how we should be losing weight, about how weight loss is Great Goal and how losing weight is an amazing applause worthy achievement. Can we not just have one bloody space where our bodies are loved and cared for without having to dodge diet talk?

On the other – it’s a personal choice to lose weight, and therefore no one else gets a say.
Read more The Big Bad Anti-Diet Brigade by @MurderofGoths

Bounty should be banned from maternity wards by @lisaaglass

Cross-posted from: Femme Vision
Originally published: 21.10.16

Commercial organisations should not be allowed access to vulnerable women and newborn babies on hospital wards. Back in 2013, the Guardian published an article calling for Bounty to be banned from maternity wards and a petition was started, but this has since closed and the situation remains changed . Bounty reps are still allowed free rein among the hospital beds of new mothers. A 38 degrees petition was recently launched to raise awareness of the issue once again.

The government argues that the £90,000 it pays each year to Bounty to allow it to distribute Child Benefit forms is justified because that way they will reach 97% of new parents. Bounty itself insists that its reps play a crucial role in getting information to parents. It also argues that most parents are happy to talk to its reps and to receive the free goods and vouchers in its Bounty packs. 
Read more Bounty should be banned from maternity wards by @lisaaglass

9 Signs you may be living with childhood trauma – and what you can do about it via @WomanAsSubject

Cross-posted from: Woman as Subject
Originally published: 04.09.16

After I left home at 18, it took me a while to figure out that I was damaged. I had assumed my upbringing was normal and had no idea that I had spent years being traumatised by the violence and abuse I suffered at the hands of my father (which you can read more about here). I first discovered the concept of therapy at University when a friend recommended I went along. Talking about your problems was not something that working class people did and I don’t think I had any idea what counselling was. 20 years later, and I’m a qualified counsellor and have been working with trauma for many years. In the process I’ve learnt much about both the immediate and long term effects of childhood trauma and have unwittingly discovered a lot about myself.

Experiencing a single traumatic event such as an accident or the death of a parent may lead to the development of PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) which you can read more about here, but this article is more concerned with what happens when you are repeatedly exposed to traumatic events as a result of living in a violent or abusive home. This can cause you to live with the effects of complex developmental trauma which may become so embedded that you consider them a part of your personality. You may be experiencing the effects of complex trauma without realising. You may even have been told that you have a personality disorder (borderline or schizoid) which might add to the feeling that there is something wrong with you. 
Read more 9 Signs you may be living with childhood trauma – and what you can do about it via @WomanAsSubject

The Racist and Sexist History of Keeping Birth Control Side Effects Secret

Cross-posted from: Bethy Squires at Broadly
Originally published: 17.10.16

In September, JAMA Psychiatry published a Danish study that found a correlation between the use of hormonal birth control and being diagnosed with clinical depression. The study tracked hormonal birth control use and prescription of antidepressants over six years for over a million women. They found that women who were on hormonal birth control—be it the pill or a hormonal IUD or vaginal ring—were significantly more likely to be prescribed antidepressants.

Since the news broke, many women reported feeling vindicated that science is finally catching up to their lived experience. “I’d used the pill for ten years,” says Holly Grigg-Spall, author of Sweetening the Pill. “One particular kind, Yasmin, had huge side effects —psychological effects, depression, anxiety, panic attacks. I didn’t make the connection between what was going on with me and the pill for two years.”
Read more The Racist and Sexist History of Keeping Birth Control Side Effects Secret

Employment and Support Allowance: Re-tests axed for chronically ill claimants

Cross-posted from: Jayne Linney
Originally published: 01.10.16

Both ‘Official’ and Social Media are buzzing this morning with the above news – at last those of us who are chronically ill will no longer have to perpetually be tested for our ESA. This is very welcome news but…until I know exactly what ‘Chronically Ill’ constitutes, what illnesses and diseases (as reported on the 8.00 am news) make up the list, I will refrain from using 3 hours energy getting excited. 
Read more Employment and Support Allowance: Re-tests axed for chronically ill claimants

When Friends Forget You’re Still Alive- the life of a sick person

Cross-posted from: bottom face
Originally published: 04.07.16

Every day I lie in bed. The TV chatters in the background telling stories I do not even listen to. The curtains swell like the sails of a yacht and the noises of the outside world drift in in a jazz breeze. Car doors slam, children holler and laugh, a mum scolds her child, a lawn mower hums in the distance. The noises of lives lived, so unlike my own it’s almost absurd that they should be so near. And I lie and I half listen, and I drift in and out of sleep.

I barely see friends anymore. Too many invites unaccepted, so the invitations stopped. Too many stairs, and hills and bumpy pathways on the journeys once-upon-a –time-friends take. Mostly I’m alone. Yesterday I spoke to a friend I haven’t seen lately. She told me a dozen stories about people she’s spent time with whilst she was too busy to spend time with me. “We’re going camping this weekend. It was just going to be me and John, but then I invited Tracey, and then Gemma, and Sarah, and now it’s just grown into an event.”  I wonder whether it ever occurred to her to invite me. She keeps the tent that I own at her house as she has more room than we do. The deal being that she can use the tent whenever she needs to.


Read more When Friends Forget You’re Still Alive- the life of a sick person

Blissful yoga via @jenfarrant

Cross-posted from: Jen Farrant
Originally published: 23.09.16

img_6770I have practiced yoga for over twenty years now, most of it at home on my own, sometimes attending classes and more off than on if I am honest. Since I got sick I have done yoga every morning as a way to help my body heal, gain strength and cope with stress, which has an enormous detrimental affect on me.

For the most part it has been quite difficult. Mornings can be tough for me and I am often incredibly painful and sore, getting moving is an effort of will and doing yoga would sometimes feel like it was something I had to force myself to do in order for my body to work and keep moving. 
Read more Blissful yoga via @jenfarrant

PIP – Permanently Irritation Persecution? by @JayneLinney

Cross-posted from: Jayne Linney
Originally published: 07.06.16

Recent experience leads me to ask the question what does is PIP – Personal Independence Payment OR Permanently Irritation Persecution?

In February  I wrote about how following the DWP rules resulted in my health deteriorating, since then it has been one thing after another. The report from Capita following this assessment  was dire, therefore it was back into the Mandatory Reconsideration process once again, and duly into the request for Tribunal.
Read more PIP – Permanently Irritation Persecution? by @JayneLinney

Growing old while female by @WomanasSubject

Cross-posted from: Woman as Subject
Originally published: 16.10.15

Aside from being a little bit wiser and having to admit that I have an informed opinion about washing machines, I don’t really feel much different to the 25 year old version of myself that I once was. I often think I have a bizarre mental condition where I look in the mirror and fail to see the fact that I have clearly grown older (age-o-rexia?) My mind erases the wrinkles and grey hairs, kindly photoshopping out the ageing process and helping me to pretend that the inevitable isn’t happening.  I’ll never forget my 75 year old Grandma looking me in the eye and telling me: “I don’t feel a day over 25 my dear. I often look in the mirror and wonder who on earth that old lady staring back at me can be” – a sentiment I am slowly beginning to understand.

Despite my inability to see it, I am clearly ageing however. The big 40 is looming and I can see the unwanted and mysterious figure of my future menopause waving at me from the horizon. In these times of extended adolescence, you can kid yourself that you’re still young at 30, but by the time you start to approach the next big birthday you really have to admit that you are definitely a grown up now. The fact that I am also responsible for two whole other people and seen as some kind of authority figure only adds to this ridiculous notion. Yes, I am definitely getting older.


Read more Growing old while female by @WomanasSubject

This is about my period, full stop

Cross-posted from: No Humiliations Wasted
Originally published: 24.04.14

Logo for the TV show True Blood, consisting of the first word in black angular letters, the second in red, on a pale grey background.Periods periods periods periods periods. Bloooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood.

OK, the squeamish people should have left us now.

I’m super impressed that Mad Men showed us Sally Draper’s first period, but mine was nothing like that. Instead of the bright red stain I was expecting, I got a small brown smear. I was 11, and I had no idea what it was. After worrying for a while, I told my mum that I had something weird going on in the knicker department, and she gently broke it to me that this was my period.

“But it’s not red, it’s brown,” I told her, not having considered what blood looks like when it dries, and really hoping I could argue my way out of this one. “It’s your period,” she said again, softer this time.


Read more This is about my period, full stop

Silence Equals Death: Why Women MUST Speak Out About Illness by @VABVOX

I came of age as a journalist at the beginning of the HIV/AIDS crisis. Being a female reporter in a still-largely male profession, I got handed what then looked like a small beat that wouldn’t amount to much. Within a few years I was traveling across the U.S. covering breaking news on what was fast becoming an epidemic.

The mantra of AIDS activists in that period of the late 1980s into the 1990s was simple as it was graphic: Silence = Death.

Government officials refused to talk about HIV/AIDS, either at the federal level or the municipal level. I covered one demonstration outside the White House where AIDS activists kept chanting “say it, say it!” because then-President Ronald Reagan had refused to even say the word “AIDS,” even though his close friend, actor Rock Hudson, had become the first celebrity known to have died of the disease a few years earlier.


Read more Silence Equals Death: Why Women MUST Speak Out About Illness by @VABVOX

Women’s health: the patriarchal paradox at FemmeVision

cross-posted from FemmeVision

orig. pub. 2012

‘Health – bounding saucy health – is the fountain from which all true beauty springs.’1

This quote, from The Girl’s Own Book of Health and Beauty, sums up the perception of girls’ and women’s health in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A woman’s health was never just about her physical condition, but was related to her mental health and, most importantly, her appearance.

The commonly held view, propagated by ‘experts’ such as Dr. Henry Maudsley, was that girls had a finite store of energy, which needed to be reserved for the processes of pregnancy and childbirth. Any woman who was too active before marriage would exhaust this supply of energy, making for a weak, frigid and mentally deficient adult.

Some medical professionals and social commentators used this popular belief as an argument to petition against women’s education, for example, Maudsley, who wrote of the ‘excessive mental drain as well as the natural physical drain’ caused by school or college study.2 For women to reach the ideal of motherhood, therefore, and produce many strong and healthy children, the safest and most healthy pre-marriage lifestyle involved remaining in the home, inactive except when engaging in sedentary, non-intellectual pastimes.

The ‘New Girl’

In the post-First World War era, however, the ideal image of female health and beauty underwent a radical revision and the ‘New Girl’ emerged. Sport and outdoor activity were encouraged and beauty was linked with physical strength and the shapeliness that comes from regular exercise. Bodily beauty was linked with sexual attractiveness, and the role of the wife as a sexual partner, rather than as a mother, was emphasised, placing value on youth and women’s responsibility for their own lives and winning a husband.

The link between health and sexual attraction persists in our current popular culture. Newspapers and magazines promote diet and exercise, primarily in order to achieve a desirable body.  Even in supposedly health-focussed publications, physical shape and appearance, not intrinsic health, is the real subject of the advice, as a recent blog piece on the magazine, Women’s Health, points out.

Despite the more than 100 years that have passed since Gordon Stables published The Girl’s Own Book of Health and Beauty, we are still transfixed by the idea that health is linked with appearance. In the media, women promote health products to other women through their appearance; we should be attractive, active, always striving for self-improvement and always, always thin (yet still constantly engaged in an on-going effort to lose weight). Furthermore, we are also responsible for each member of our family’s health. Possibly the only indulgent product women are ever seen to promote is chocolate, which is represented as a guilty, sexualised pleasure to indulge in secretly (see every Galaxy ad ever made).

However, while women are placed as instigators and protectors of their own and their family’s healthy eating habits, advertising aimed at men encourages indulgence in laziness and greed through the consumption of unhealthy drinks, snacks and junk food.  But despite the preoccupation with women’s health in the media, it is the bad eating habits in men promoted by such gender-specific marketing that have been blamed for a far greater cancer risk in men than women. Yet the stereotyped images persist.

Doctor knows best

The late 19th century saw the development of obstetrics and gynaecology as discrete specialisms, opening a new market in the medical landscape. The effect of this was that doctors now had even greater control of women’s bodies, administering questionable and barbaric treatments for disorders such as epilepsy and ‘hysteria’. For example,  genital massage and the development of the vibrator for the treatment of hysteria, or Dr. Isaac Brown Baker, who claimed success in treating epilepsy and other nervous disorders in female patients by excising the clitoris. In the case of the development of the vibrator, as Rachel P. Maines highlights, ‘Doctors were a male elite with control of their working lives and instrumentation, and efficiency gains in the medical production of orgasm for payment could increase income.’

At this time, the female anatomy was shrouded in mystery. As Maines points out, Thomas Laqueur says that physicians writing of anatomy ‘saw no need to develop a precise vocabulary of genital anatomy because if the female body was a less hot, less perfect, and hence less patent version of the canonical body, the distinct organic, much less genital, landmarks mattered far less than the metaphysical hierarchies they illustrated.’ Therefore, treatment for women was much more fluid, experimental and ambiguous; for the female patient it all came down to trust in the physician’s knowledge and methods.

The image of the doctor as profit-focussed businessman, who capitalises on the lack of knowledge of his patients is reflected in the recent case in Bluegrass Women’s Healthcare Centre, where the owner pleaded guilty to misbranding non-FDA approved forms of birth control. In addition to the immorality and illegality of this action, the fact that these were intrauterine devices adds an extra level of violation. Women, against their will had had a potentially dangerous object placed inside them by someone they should be able to trust.

The paradox

Women’s health, therefore, has always been a strong preoccupation for patriarchal society. The womb is seen as public property and the health of its owner crucial to the that of the society as a whole. Though we are now somewhat more scientifically informed, many of the beliefs around women’s health of the late 19th and early 20th centuries persist today. We still equate women’s health with sexuality, and place the responsibility for the wellbeing of the family, and therefore society as a whole, on women’s shoulders.

Yet, ironically, it is often women that suffer the most when it comes to cuts in health services. Take this open letter from a resident of Ravalli county in the US, in which commissioners voted to eliminate funding to women’s healthcare. To these commissioners, the woman writes, ‘somewhere down the road you may meet a woman who has no hair and less hope due to an advanced breast cancer that, if you had voted differently, could have been caught earlier’. And elsewhere in the US, politicians have been accused of backing policies that are anti-women’s health.

In the UK, a discussion on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour on NHS funding for IVF revealed that 50% of those polled believed that, as a non-emergency treatment, the NHS should not fund IVF at all. Of course, access to IVF is not something that solely affects women but this is another area in which women can be attacked and made to feel guilty about their health. By taking away the universal right to fertility treatment (even just by raising the question in discussion), the message is sent that if you cannot conceive naturally your health must be at fault and you must live with the consequences. The technology that has been developed that could help you can only be accessed by the elite.

This shows that, when it comes to women’s health, there has really been very little progress made since Victorian times. Evidence shows that, when and where there are resources and a market in which to make a profit, women are made to feel their health is imperative, and that there is something inherently unstable in being a woman that makes her mind and body vulnerable to disease, which must be remedied with medicine without question. However, when resources are scarce, it is women’s healthcare that is the most dispensable.

References

  1. Gordon Stables, The Girl’s Own Book of Health and Beauty, London: Jarrold and Sons, 1891.
  2. Henry Maudsley, ‘Sex in Mind and in Education’, Fortnightly Review, 15, 1874, 466–83.

 

#50daystofit

Cross-posted from Diary of a Newbie Strong Women

orig. published 2.1.15

So a little elaboration and some nailing down of #50daystofit for me. This is what the Fit Writer has said:

“We’ve each set five positive habit, lifestyle and routine changes to work on every day from 1st Jan to 19th Feb. They’re mostly training and diet related but are specific goals personal to each one of us (for example, I want to stop sitting up too late every night and instead go to bed earlier and get more good quality sleep)”

I don’t want mine all to be about diet/training so far I have 2 nutrition related so I definitely need a training one and then I have 2 other slots.

The training one will be in 3 parts 1) join the gym 2) go to the gym twice a week 3) run once a week for 30minutes. I’m really hoping this will be a no-brainer once I’m back in the routine.

The fourth will be to write my blog. Not this one, my old work one. I say old because I’m currently on sabbatical from being a PT and am working as a Health Trainer, I am enjoying being a Health Trainer and I have no intention of leaving that for the moment but a) it’s a fixed term contract and b) I want to keep my brain ticking over with PT.

One of the things I wanted to do when personal training  was have a regular blog, 4-5 times a week. I never did as when I decided to write it always turned into a weighty tome (for a blog post!) and took hours as I am not a natural (or concise) writer. Pithy, funny facebook statuses are no problem but I would like to learn the art of turning out a fun, useful, informative blog post in 30mins and this will take (lots of) practice (and probably some failures).  Might be a good idea for me to start with reading this article Easy Ways to generate contact for your business blog !

I used to get bogged down in thinking I had to be original when I posted but to be honest all the information is already out there I’ve just got to learn to put it in a way that my reader enjoys, reads and wants to return to. This is going to be like my own NANOWRIMO (please don’t ask me what that stands for, just a lot of people I know and love use that phrase once a year to mean they are going to write lots every day). I would like to learn to own my opinion and to acknowledge the naysayers without taking it personally or starting to doubt myself.

So.

  1. ½ pint of water everyday
  2. Fruit or Veg for breakfast every morning
  3. Training
    1. join the gym
    2. go to the gym twice a week
    3. run once a week for 30minutes
  4. Blog more on work site (and hopefully here)
  5. WHAT!!!

Still thinking about the 5th. I want it to be something that improves my mental health, something that makes me smile, something that makes me a better person to be around and…wait for it….the 2014/2015 BUZZ WORD…MINDFUL…

I quite like the idea of getting a journal and writing 3 things I want to achieve that day and then at the end of the day writing 3 things I am grateful for that day. A resolution I borrowed from this article Fitness Pros Resolutions  and of course it means I would have to buy a lovely looking journal to write them in. Wonder Woman notebook  (or, and much more likely to happen, I could write them in one of the school exercise books I bought from £1 shop when they did 10 for £1).

Or it could be something like reading a novel for 30minutes a day, which would aid for NYE resolution of reading a book a month (I used to be capable of reading a book a day #sigh)

Or it could be to turn off all electronic devices after 9pm (this would involve me decamping to the bedroom as my husband likes to watch TV until late but again would help with the reading a book a month thing)

Or it could be to practice being kind, which sounds a little odd, but offer to help others more and remember to thank them for their kindnesses, to compliment more (but not about looks), to be better in keeping in touch with old friends who I rarely see. That sort of thing.

Or maybe it could just be to be more decisive…..

 

Diary of a Newbie Strong Woman: Diary of my journey to becoming a strong woman, both mentally and physically. Lived in a jacks all right world until I discovered mumsnet, twitter and my daughter. Vocal supporter of HAES.

Women’s health: the patriarchal paradox at Femme Vision

(Cross-posted from Femme Vision)

‘Health – bounding saucy health – is the fountain from which all true beauty springs.’1

This quote, from The Girl’s Own Book of Health and Beauty, sums up the perception of girls’ and women’s health in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. A woman’s health was never just about her physical condition, but was related to her mental health and, most importantly, her appearance.

The commonly held view, propagated by ‘experts’ such as Dr. Henry Maudsley, was that girls had a finite store of energy, which needed to be reserved for the processes of pregnancy and childbirth. Any woman who was too active before marriage would exhaust this supply of energy, making for a weak, frigid and mentally deficient adult.

Some medical professionals and social commentators used this popular belief as an argument to petition against women’s education, for example, Maudsley, who wrote of the ‘excessive mental drain as well as the natural physical drain’ caused by school or college study.2 For women to reach the ideal of motherhood, therefore, and produce many strong and healthy children, the safest and most healthy pre-marriage lifestyle involved remaining in the home, inactive except when engaging in sedentary, non-intellectual pastimes.

The ‘New Girl’

In the post-First World War era, however, the ideal image of female health and beauty underwent a radical revision and the ‘New Girl’ emerged. Sport and outdoor activity were encouraged and beauty was linked with physical strength and the shapeliness that comes from regular exercise. Bodily beauty was linked with sexual attractiveness, and the role of the wife as a sexual partner, rather than as a mother, was emphasised, placing value on youth and women’s responsibility for their own lives and winning a husband.

The link between health and sexual attraction persists in our current popular culture. Newspapers and magazines promote diet and exercise, primarily in order to achieve a desirable body.  Even in supposedly health-focussed publications, physical shape and appearance, not intrinsic health, is the real subject of the advice, as a recent blog piece on the magazine, Women’s Health, points out.

Despite the more than 100 years that have passed since Gordon Stables published The Girl’s Own Book of Health and Beauty, we are still transfixed by the idea that health is linked with appearance. In the media, women promote health products to other women through their appearance; we should be attractive, active, always striving for self-improvement and always, always thin (yet still constantly engaged in an on-going effort to lose weight). Furthermore, we are also responsible for each member of our family’s health. Possibly the only indulgent product women are ever seen to promote is chocolate, which is represented as a guilty, sexualised pleasure to indulge in secretly (see every Galaxy ad ever made).

However, while women are placed as instigators and protectors of their own and their family’s healthy eating habits, advertising aimed at men encourages indulgence in laziness and greed through the consumption of unhealthy drinks, snacks and junk food.  But despite the preoccupation with women’s health in the media, it is the bad eating habits in men promoted by such gender-specific marketing that have been blamed for a far greater cancer risk in men than women. Yet the stereotyped images persist.

Doctor knows best

The late 19th century saw the development of obstetrics and gynaecology as discrete specialisms, opening a new market in the medical landscape. The effect of this was that doctors now had even greater control of women’s bodies, administering questionable and barbaric treatments for disorders such as epilepsy and ‘hysteria’. For example,  genital massage and the development of the vibrator for the treatment of hysteria, or Dr. Isaac Brown Baker, who claimed success in treating epilepsy and other nervous disorders in female patients by excising the clitoris. In the case of the development of the vibrator, as Rachel P. Maines highlights, ‘Doctors were a male elite with control of their working lives and instrumentation, and efficiency gains in the medical production of orgasm for payment could increase income.’

At this time, the female anatomy was shrouded in mystery. As Maines points out, Thomas Laqueur says that physicians writing of anatomy ‘saw no need to develop a precise vocabulary of genital anatomy because if the female body was a less hot, less perfect, and hence less patent version of the canonical body, the distinct organic, much less genital, landmarks mattered far less than the metaphysical hierarchies they illustrated.’ Therefore, treatment for women was much more fluid, experimental and ambiguous; for the female patient it all came down to trust in the physician’s knowledge and methods.

The image of the doctor as profit-focussed businessman, who capitalises on the lack of knowledge of his patients is reflected in the recent case in Bluegrass Women’s Healthcare Centre, where the owner pleaded guilty to misbranding non-FDA approved forms of birth control. In addition to the immorality and illegality of this action, the fact that these were intrauterine devices adds an extra level of violation. Women, against their will had had a potentially dangerous object placed inside them by someone they should be able to trust.

The paradox

Women’s health, therefore, has always been a strong preoccupation for patriarchal society. The womb is seen as public property and the health of its owner crucial to the that of the society as a whole. Though we are now somewhat more scientifically informed, many of the beliefs around women’s health of the late 19th and early 20th centuries persist today. We still equate women’s health with sexuality, and place the responsibility for the wellbeing of the family, and therefore society as a whole, on women’s shoulders.

Yet, ironically, it is often women that suffer the most when it comes to cuts in health services. Take this open letter from a resident of Ravalli county in the US, in which commissioners voted to eliminate funding to women’s healthcare. To these commissioners, the woman writes, ‘somewhere down the road you may meet a woman who has no hair and less hope due to an advanced breast cancer that, if you had voted differently, could have been caught earlier’. And elsewhere in the US, politicians have been accused of backing policies that are anti-women’s health.

In the UK, a discussion on the BBC’s Woman’s Hour on NHS funding for IVF revealed that 50% of those polled believed that, as a non-emergency treatment, the NHS should not fund IVF at all. Of course, access to IVF is not something that solely affects women but this is another area in which women can be attacked and made to feel guilty about their health. By taking away the universal right to fertility treatment (even just by raising the question in discussion), the message is sent that if you cannot conceive naturally your health must be at fault and you must live with the consequences. The technology that has been developed that could help you can only be accessed by the elite.

This shows that, when it comes to women’s health, there has really been very little progress made since Victorian times. Evidence shows that, when and where there are resources and a market in which to make a profit, women are made to feel their health is imperative, and that there is something inherently unstable in being a woman that makes her mind and body vulnerable to disease, which must be remedied with medicine without question. However, when resources are scarce, it is women’s healthcare that is the most dispensable.

References

  1. Gordon Stables, The Girl’s Own Book of Health and Beauty, London: Jarrold and Sons, 1891.
  2. Henry Maudsley, ‘Sex in Mind and in Education’, Fortnightly Review, 15, 1874, 466–83.

World Mental Health Day by Agoraphobic Feminist

(Cross-posted from Agoraphobic Feminist)

Originally posted October 2013

Since today is World Mental Health Day, I thought I’d take the opportunity to write something, since it’s been ages since I’ve actually blogged!

Also, on this day in 1903, Emmeline Pankhurst formed the Women’s Social and Political Union to fight for women’s rights in Britain – so today is doubly important!

I’m probably preaching to the converted here, considering someone who doesn’t relate to feminism/doesn’t have any interest in understanding mental health issues probably won’t be reading this blog, but I felt I had to write SOMETHING, at least.

I want to raise awareness of the crippling illnesses of depression, anxiety and agoraphobia.

Some may argue that as these illnesses aren’t ‘physical’, they aren’t debilitating – I argue that although these illnesses originate in the brain, and in the case of depression are mood disorders – they definitely DO have physical side-effects.

My agoraphobia prevents me from going outside, so I don’t get the benefits of exercise or the Vit D from sunlight that I badly need. This, coupled with the lack of motivation due to depression means that I’m also overweight because the majority of the time I can’t motivate myself to cook a healthy meal.

It’s a vicious cycle.

Being overweight adds to my depression because I look at myself in the mirror and consider myself too ugly to be seen in society.

Being overweight also makes me worry constantly about the pressures I’m putting my body under. Every minor symptom (e.g. palpitations, leg pain, headache) will be blown out of all proportion by my anxiety. I’ve had countless scans, tests etc. to check there’s nothing physically wrong with me. The doctors say I’m perfectly healthy. I don’t believe them.

Being unable to go out means that I can’t work unless it’s from home. This severely limits what I can do, and it contributes to my depression as there are so many things I NEED and WANT to do.

The majority of the time I get my family, my boyfriend, or my friends to do favours for me, with strains my relationships with people.

Recently my anxiety has decided to make me worry about the medication I’m taking, so I stopped taking it. I’m supposed to be taking 40mg fluoxetine and 20mg mirtazapine, with 5mg of diazepam when I need it.

I’m well-versed in the side-effects of fluoxetine, as I’ve been taking them on-and-off for years. The mirtazapine is another matter, though. I’m not even going to Google it, as I know I’ll end up reading the side-effects, or some anecdote from someone they didn’t work for, and be even less inclined to trust them.

I will be starting the medication again soon, as my family have said that I’m better off with it than without it. We’ll see.

Another thing I wanted to mention is the fact that there are no set targets for mental health treatment within the NHS, which is something that’s always confused me but I’ve never thought to bring up until I saw it mentioned on the news a couple of days ago.

The story was about a young woman with bulimia and anorexia who had been made to wait 18 months for treatment. Instead of waiting, she has taken her care into her own hands, which I completely admire, but it definitely shouldn’t be this way.

If you’re diagnosed with anything physical – from a broken ankle, to epilepsy, to cancer – you’re put on a set pathway that dictates what treatment you need, and there are set timeframes for when you need that treatment.

With mental health issues, this is, unfortunately, not the case most of the time.

Now, I understand that mental health issues vary greatly from person to person, but in my opinion it seems like a lot of healthcare professionals take a shot in the dark when it comes to diagnosing and treating mental health patients.

I’m still researching this, so I honestly don’t have all my facts yet. In my experience, though, every healthcare professional will bring their own opinions to the table when they decide how they want to treat you, which is very, very wrong as it has confused me and made me less inclined to trust healthcare professionals.

The item I saw on the news did state that there will be better guidelines come 2015 – but I worry about the people who will suffer badly between now and then, and those who have already suffered.

It’s not only the patients who will benefit from better guidelines, but healthcare professionals too, as they will be less inclined to include their own opinions, morals or beliefs when it comes to diagnosing and treating someone.

My intention is to join (or set up) some sort of pressure group, the main aim of which will be to see guidelines put in place a lot sooner than 2015, and to change the way things work right now.

Some may call me naïve, and I myself know I’m not the most educated person on the subject, but when I see people suffering, all I want to do is help.

If anyone has any ideas or opinions for me, please comment below or message me. I’d be really grateful.

Spread the word – it’s so important to keep the conversation about mental health going!

AF x

Agoraphobic Feminist: I’m a versatile freelance writer that suffers from depression and panic disorder with agoraphobia. My writing covers a wide range of issues including feminism, equality, social issues and mental health.” If possible, I would also like to include the following links: (@AtHomeActivist)

Fertility and the Media: Unravelling the Hype by @lisaaglass

(cross-posted from Femme Vision)

Originally published 30.09.13

Each week in the UK, news and feature pieces on fertility, pregnancy and childbirth proliferate in the mainstream media, in tabloids and broadsheets alike. Stories based on results of clinical studies on topics such as advances in fertility treatment, practices to ensure a healthy pregnancy and so on appear on a regular basis. But how accurately is the science being interpreted, how much is being omitted and how misleading are some of the headlines?

Headlines such as ‘1 in 3 will be infertile in 10 years’ (Daily Mirror, June 2005) and ‘Babies given Calpol and other forms of paracetamol are more likely to develop asthma’ (Mail Online, November 2012) certainly grab readers’ attention, but they also cause fear and anxiety in parents and prospective parents, who may not have the relevant medical knowledge to be able to look objectively at the evidence presented. (For those who are aware of it, the NHS does a valiant job of combating some of the inaccuracy and misinterpretation of clinical evidence in these stories with its Behind the Headlines section of the NHS Choices website.)

The commodification of fertility and childbirth  

It is a sad fact that there is a high level of commercialisation around women’s health, which has undeniably increased in recent years, as health services become privatised. The areas of maternal health and fertility treatment are particularly affected. Vicky Garner wrote recently of seeing sales reps from a commercial ‘parenting club’ lurking on maternity wards handing out child benefit forms. Under the guise of offering support to complete the form, they were taking down the details of new mothers with a view to contacting them to market their services. She argues that the reps exploit women who are at their most vulnerable and anxious to give their newborns the best start in life; an anxiety that is heightened by the scare-mongering headlines we see every day.

When it comes to fertility treatment, it is easier to see where there are opportunities for profit to be made by private companies, given that fertility treatment is not universally available on the NHS (eligibility depends on where you live and other criteria). It therefore falls to private clinics to offer IVF treatment, and they can market and advertise their services as they wish.  However, as Miriam Zoll wrote in an op-ed in the New York Times, ‘marketing and advertisements’ play their part in selling hope to ‘customers who are at their wits’ end, desperate and vulnerable’. Zoll speaks of the ‘debilitating trauma’ associated with failed IVF cycles and treatments, highlighting that, though fertility clinics offer, advertise and market services to paying customers as if they were any other for-profit company, when treatment fails it takes a significant psychological and emotional toll.

Hype and hope

A recent event at City University, London, looked at the intersection between science, the media and public engagement, in reporting advances in fertility treatment. The meeting, entitled ‘Hype, Hope and Headlines: How Should Breakthroughs in Fertility Treatment be Reported?’ questioned where responsibility should lie for accurately reporting advances in fertility treatment. Speakers Prof Simon Fishel, Managing Director of the CARE Fertility Group, who was part of the original team whose work produced the world’s first IVF baby in 1978; Prof Nick Macklon, Professor of Obstetrics and Gynaecology at the University of Southampton, and Director of the Complete Fertility Centre; and Dr Hannah Devlin, Science Editor at The Times, discussed the issues around this controversial topic.

Ahead of the meeting, Profs Fishel and Macklon and event organiser Connie St Louis spoke on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour. St Louis said that PR teams at IVF clinics often put out ‘overblown’ press releases, and she cautioned science journalists to be wary when producing stories based on clinical trials, particularly when a study is being publicised by the organisation that funded it. She also pointed to the lack of balanced argument in healthcare stories, and said that journalists should seek out a range of expert opinions in order to include different voices in stories on IVF.

On the other side of the argument, Fishel, though he agreed with the need for robust reporting of results and for peer review, cautioned that the best must be done to push the science of the field forward via mainstream media.

The City University event following the Woman’s Hour discussion was organised by the Progress Educational Trust (PET), an independent charity that aims to raise awareness of embryo and stem cell research, genetics and assisted conception and to engage with policymakers and medical professionals to inform debate. Fiona Fox, Founder and Director of the Science Media Centre – a charity that improves public trust in science by persuading scientists to engage more effectively with controversial science stories in the media – chaired the meeting.

Media engagement

Fishel stated his position on the debate topic, saying that information on developments in reproductive technology must be accessible to patients as and when it becomes available. As the pace of reproductive medicine moves so quickly, he said, it takes time for cutting-edge technology to filter through the medical profession, meaning that GPs and even some specialists do not understand or appreciate the breadth of the work done in fertility research. He pointed out that even the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) can be too slow to issue guidance when seen from the perspective of a couple seeking new, improved therapies. When looking for clinical evidence to recommend a fertility treatment procedure, it is problematic to consider randomised, double-blinded, controlled trials to be the ‘gold standard’, he said. Because of their lengthy duration (15 years), by the time the results are available it will be too late for many couples, he argued, suggesting that other types of trials, such as cohort observational studies should be considered.

It is not always easy for journalists or the public to grasp that all scientific knowledge is provisional, he said. In other words, science is progressive, with improvement and advances being made all the time; however, the time in which a couple want and are able to have a baby is limited and they should be able to be access information on all current treatment options. The key lies in responsible communication to the media, he argued, so it is up to trial investigators, clinics and press officers to accurately communicate their evidence to the media and it is up to the media to look at the evidence before reporting.

False hope

Presenting a contrasting view, Macklon argued that when a couple see a headline proclaiming breakthroughs in fertility research, there is a danger of giving false hope that they will not only be able to access this new treatment, and that it will be successful. A relationship with the media is necessary to raise awareness and encourage funding of potential new treatments, he acknowledged, but if the relationship between clinics and the media is ‘too cosy’, this can lead to false hopes being raised. Macklon, in his argument, reminds us that there is a third party, the potential patient, who stands to lose out financially and emotionally, when ‘unproven technology’ is being offered in IVF clinics for profit. The patients are the ones paying the price for uncertainty, he said.

Devlin countered Macklon’s argument by accusing him of being ‘patronising’ to potential patients. She acknowledged that, as a journalist, IVF stories are always welcomed as the science is ‘easy to follow’ and is relevant to everyday life, encapsulating controversy, morality, life-changing events and they can be illustrated with ‘cute baby pictures’. Agreeing with Fishel, she posited that it is the job of journalists to filter out anything that might give false hope to patients, but that all developments, no matter what stage they are at, should be reported. She also highlighted that there is pressure from editors to cover stories reported by the majority of most national papers, to maintain competitiveness.

Considering responsibility

In the discussion following the speakers’ presentations, there was clearly a split in the audience between where it was felt that ultimate responsibility should lie for the accurate communication of clinical results to the public. One commenter suggested that patients seeking fertility treatment would not go to a medical journal to seek out the original research, thereby placing emphasis on the newspaper/journalist to offer balanced and accurate information. Another questioned the role of the PR or press officer in drafting a press release free of language and phrasing that might appear to sensationalise the facts. Concern was also raised over not withholding or omitting information and the need for the wider debate to move forward.

It was also emphasised that other expert opinions should be presented in a story and this would be the journalist’s responsibility to present alternative viewpoints. Macklon pointed out, however, that some doctors may have a vested interest in recommending a particular treatment (or, conversely, in not recommending it).

Does knowledge empower?

Fertility treatment is unlike any other area of medicine in many respects. Being largely provided in private practice, there is the market and, therefore, the finance available to plough into technological development; however, this means that the availability of evidence from (the so-called ‘gold standard’) randomised, controlled trials cannot keep up with the pace of development or the demands of the consumer/patient.

From the speakers’ presentations at the City University event and the discussion that followed, it seems clear that a collaborative approach is needed in order to responsibly and accurately communicate developments in the field of fertility treatment. Perhaps, as one commenter highlighted, this all points to the need for better-quality are more accessible patient information in the UK. But in lieu of this it would seem that it is the responsibility of all involved – press officers, journalists, and clinicians to communicate accurately and put in context any available information. Mutual trust, it would seem, is crucial when communicating science to the public.

Conclusions

The argument that knowledge is empowering for the patient certainly has merit, but it is important to bear in mind that both the media and the clinic stand to make commercial gain from the publishing of fertility stories. And as long as treatment remains in the private sector, there will remain a ‘cosy’ relationship between the media and the provider, however well hidden; the danger is that the patient, who should be at the centre of the discussion, will be open to exploitation.

Birth Story by @Jo_Planet (Content Note for Birth Trauma)

(Cross-posted with permission from Opinionated Planet)

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Famous last words.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Joanne – breathe in through this mask’

‘Is my baby going to die?’

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

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

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

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

’10, 9, 8…’

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

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

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

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

Apgar 2 @ 3 mins
02
H/r 60

Apgar 5 @ 7 mins
02
H/r 80

Apgar 6 @ 10 mins
(Etc)

Apgar 7 @ 12 mins
(Etc)

Apgar 9 @ 15 mins
(Etc)

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

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

Phew. I think I’ll put the kettle on!

Opinionated Planet: a radical feminist blog by women for women on male violence, women-only spaces and sports