Look How Big You Got

“To her belongs all that is beautiful, even the very word beauty itself…she is a doll…I’m sick of the masquerade.” – Germaine Greer

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by 19 year old artist Rosanna Jones

It’s time.

Time to address the elephant in the room (oh the irony) and talk about the thing every expectant mother is worried about, every medical professional (or my Great Aunt) loves to remind us about and every other person seems just cant help themselves from bringing up. *cue appropriately gloomy theme music* Lets talk about pregnancy and body image.

To be honest, it’s got to the stage where I feel a sense of duty to write about this, as what I have experienced thus far as a pregnant woman has disgusted me. Needless to say this has been pretty unhelpful with my history and in truth has required a number of interventions from my husband and parents to keep me level and on track. I don’t want nor intend for these blogs to become one angry rant after another, but sometimes, just sometimes it’s necessary. And on this topic I am angry. Very angry.

People really do seem to love talking about body weight in pregnancy, whether it be discussing what exactly you’re eating, the change in your shape and size, how your appearance strikes them overall (i.e. “you look tired/different/glowing/blooming/swollen” etc) or what you’re going to do to ‘shift the baby weight’ once pregnancy is over. I subscribed to a number of apps and blogs when I fell pregnant and one by one have deleted them due to the daily reminders not to over eat, that eating for two is a myth and about the dangers of gaining “too much” weight.

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Recently my husband and I began NCT (National Childbirth Trust) classes and met other expectant parents for the first time. When myself and other mothers were asked about the pros and cons of pregnancy, guess what was top of the list? I looked around and saw a very real pain, massively exacerbated by what others say. A number of pregnant women have told me, without prompt, that they are “big” and that they’ve put on a lot of weight, as if to say “I know I’m big, so please don’t tell me any more that I am” and clearly they’ve been hurting about this, when in my eyes there is nothing ‘big’ or wrong with them whatsoever. But clearly so many of us are in a lot of pain about this.

When I suffered with morning sickness (for 20 solid weeks. It all changes in the second trimester? Bullshit!), the key thing that alleviated nausea and prevented vomiting (ironically) was eating, which meant eating a larger quantity and more often than I have been used to. I learnt very quickly what my body was telling me and how I had to respond. Never before have I truly done this. Anorexia taught me to ignore my body’s signals completely and if anything, not eating would calm me down, but also deplete my mental faculties, slow my responses and dull my senses. In pregnancy this is the last thing I want or would ever consider doing to myself or to our child.

Beyond 20 weeks the nausea subsided and inevitably I was left with the panic and guilt about how my body has changed as a result of the increase in calories and our growing baby. But my appetite would rise up as if from nowhere, powerful and aggressive, that if I didn’t satiate it immediately I’d be punished with faintness and retching. I hit a period of what’s become popularly labelled as ‘the baby blues’, but perhaps more appropriate is prenatal depression. I didn’t want to be seen by anyone, feeling too ashamed and embarrassed of how I look and what I need to do to sustain myself through this pregnancy. I felt alone and, if I’m honest, judged and under a lot of pressure. The tiredness, feeling inept, change in lifestyle, relationships, priorities, assumptions made about my future and changes to my body image all became very overwhelming. My reflection (in every sense) was alien to me and I felt completely torn, by overwhelming pride of my protruding tummy and disgust with the engorgement of every limb.

I really want to document this pregnancy in photographic form but vanity (and shame) frequently prevents me from allowing any pictures to be taken of me. A classic victim of the selfie generation, I will photograph myself because I can manipulate my posture to make me appear more ‘acceptable’ (in my eyes). When I post a picture on instagram it is a conscious act of self-love, love for our child and a middle finger in the face of every negative influence on me. It’s an act of defiance but it comes from a place of insecurity, not confidence.

I’m conscious as I’m writing this that my It’s Rude To Stare blog said the exact opposite! I was feeling proud and confident and working hard at changing my attitude. So what the hell happened?!

Firstly, I hit my third trimester and BAM, it all changed again. No sooner had I begun saying enthusiastically “I feel great!” when baba had another growth spurt, walking turned to waddling, stairs became insanely difficult to conquer, getting comfortable sitting or lying down is impossible and choosing clothes is restricted to what fits (about 4 items of clothing now).

I also had someone say something very flippant and, dare I say cruel (albeit unintentionally), and it tripped a switch…

IMG_0712Being thin is genuinely no longer important to me and my every thought isn’t consumed with what calories I’m consuming, whether people are going to see me eat and how I’m going to punish myself tomorrow. I tend not to ask others opinions on what clothes look best on me because their answer is always, inevitably, the opposite of what I feel most comfortable in and I’d rather feel comfortable than look good in others eyes. What is important to me is how I feel about myself and being able to carry on with life as a decent and kind human being. 

It therefore SUCKS on the highest level to be perpetually bombarded with this massive agenda of weight and body image in pregnancy. Having people ask me about what I am eating, the constant commentary on how I look and the advertisements on social media, displaying perfectly slim and sculpted physiques at the peak of pregnancy, glowing, trendy, gorgeous models of motherhood, so far from my own reality, has worn me down. I had managed to filter out unrealistic body images and people who need to reference their own body image frequently from my social media feeds prior to pregnancy. I’d even managed to minimise conversations about dieting and food and I couldn’t have told you the last time someone commented on how I look, only on something I’d done, said or achieved. But now it’s all back to haunt me, with a vengeance.

 

 

Here are some examples of the bullshit I have uninvitedly received these last 6 months:

– Whilst staring continually at my tummy, sometimes scanning up and down – “Wow! Wow! You’re really pregnant aren’t you?!”

“Look at how big you’ve got! BUT you seem upbeat and positive?” – Note the inference “getting ‘big’ is a bad thing, but its admirable how you’re coping with this awful thing. 

– When holding a friend’s baby – “We need better pictures of you than the other night, they were horrid. You didn’t look your best.” – Tell me, what IS my ‘best’ exactly?!

– “You must be just eating and eating and eating, right?!” – Sometimes, because I am GROWING A HUMAN!

“Breastfeeding is a great way to lose your baby weight after birth.” – No words.

– “You must struggle finding stuff to wear, you’re so big now.” – Thank you so much for reminding me.

“Are you going to give birth, like, imminently?!” – I HAVE 3 MONTHS TO GO!!!

– and just yesterday “Are you having twins?!”

Now, I admit that I am perhaps more sensitive to these comments than most. I also accept that I am likely to misinterpret their meaning. However, I do not understand why

A) people think it’s appropriate to comment openly about appearance or eating habits and

B) why this would remotely interest me or carry any importance.

What’s the expectation? For me to think “Oh, phew, ‘such and such’ said I’ll lose all this weight if I breastfeed. Everything will be alright!” What if I can’t or choose not to breast feed (heaven forbid!)? Time to hit the gym, right? Or “Shit, ‘so and so’ thinks I’m really big. I better start watching what I’m eating.” As if I haven’t got enough to do or think about with growing this child, battling tiredness and depression, trying to continue with a relatively ‘normal’ social life and emotionally supporting the ones I love.

The tripping point recently was the comment about how “horrid” I looked in some photos. What broke me was that in my mind, I looked alright. It was a painful reminder that how I look matters to people – it shouldn’t, it absolutely shouldn’t, but it does. Image is so deeply engrained into our social make-up. We are obsessed by what it means to look ‘good’. Appearance is tied into achievement. So, if I gain minimal weight during this pregnancy (too late!) and remain an acceptable image for people to look at, then I have achieved something. *HUGE SIGH*

In my booking appointment with my midwife at 8 weeks pregnant I had to revisit the gory details of my eating disorder and talk about what continues to be unhelpful. They weighed me at that appointment, kept the figure from me and haven’t weighed me or discussed my weight since. I’ll have to face this at some point I’m sure, but we’ve agreed for me not to look at the scales and them only to tell me if they have concerns. All of this is so helpful and makes me feel like an actual human being, worthy and valuable, whose feelings matter.

For the record, I don’t plan on weighing myself at all this pregnancy, after the birth or thereafter. I don’t plan on dieting to ‘lose my baby weight’ (shock horror). That’s dangerous territory for me and not as straightforward as I’d like it to be. I also don’t see why I need to change my body back to pre-baby – this body has had enough punishment for one lifetime. I’m 34, I’m not supposed to have the body of a 24 year old any more. I trust myself to listen to my body and what it needs, I know what helps me to feel better, I know what makes me feel shit, I know what I like wearing and I know what trends float my boat. I know my husband fancies me and I actually quite like myself. All of this would be a lot easier if people just stopped interfering and feeling like they need to pass comment on how I look, all – the – god – damn – time.

Rarely do I hear how well I have managed this pregnancy, asked about what I am doing at work, asked about our baby, what I know about them and how they are progressing, asked about my family, asked about James, told I am interesting or important. Just “You LOOK…”

We have a few large social occasions coming up, ordinarily things I would look forward to these days. But I find myself wrecked with worry about facing people and what they’ll have to say about how I look as well as getting a lot of attention I am uncomfortable with. As well as photographs, sticking out like the ‘elephant in the room’, feeling isolated by not drinking (you’d be surprised at how unpleasant this can be), physically getting through these hot days, feeling like our child is going to pull an ‘Alien’ gimmick any moment (if you’ve seen the film, you’ll get the reference).

I often find myself crippled (I’ve used that adjective once before in relation to this issue, as it fits the bill) by anxiety, despite some of the lovely affirmations I get as well. It’s not that I am ungrateful, but sometimes even being told I look ‘beautiful’ is difficult, simply because it draws my attention to how I look. I rarely feel physically beautiful, nor ‘beautiful’ by the definition that society has given to it.

I do know that I can’t do any of this alone. I can work on my own attitude and fundamentally I know that it is my relationship with myself that matters. But others can help with that too. We can all help one another with this, by thinking before we speak, judging not on appearance but on character, or not judging full stop, challenging our own obsessions with image and asking ourselves ‘does it really matter?’.

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Whilst writing this, I am reading an(other) extraordinary book that was gifted to me called ‘The Beauty Myth’ (see quotations dispersed amongst this blog). I sense this is becoming a trend, where I am in the middle of writing, reading a certain book, which inspires me to write more . There is so much I am reaping from this book that it demands further focus. Even within the first chapter there are some poignant thoughts in relation to this topic. For example, Wolf writes that,

“There is no legitimate historical or biological justification for the beauty myth; what it is doing to women today is a result of nothing more exalted than the need of today’s power structure, economy and culture to mount a counteroffensive against women.”

I have to admit, it’s a difficult concept to grasp, that we have created this whole idea of what is ‘beautiful’ ourselves, that the images of ‘perfection’ we compare ourselves to are products of the demand of industry and that we all need to fight to destroy this ideology. “…the ideology of beauty is the last one remaining of the old feminine ideologies that still has the power to control…” When I see a picture of a woman that typical would be called ‘beautiful’, I stop and ask myself why, what is it that makes her so and is that important? So many of us call ourselves feminists, yet we still allow the myth of beauty to rule our worlds.

To close, for the record…

Personally, I feel I’ve been a champ so far this pregnancy.

I’ve just completed an application to become a Fellow of Higher Eduction, which if it gets approved, will be a huge career achievement for me. I plan to continue progressing in my career, not put it on hold, despite numerous assumptions…

Baby Clempner is a right wriggler and likes to bust out dance moves when they’re not getting enough attention! When we talk to them or touch my tummy, they become calm. They prefer instrumental music to singing. They like fruit juice and kicking all night.

James is working full time, studying to become a Chartered Surveyor and looking after us. He gets wiser every day, which is sort of annoying but mostly awe inspiring.

I swim about 4 km a week, directed a choir for people with respiratory problems recently, finished a singing teachers mentoring course, had my last gig the other week and am thinking of writing a book.

I am available for conversations about stuff that matters these next 10 weeks, until Baby Clemps decides to make an appearance.

The Gender Reveal

If you opened this with excitement/curiosity/expectation that I am about to reveal the gender of our unborn child then I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. I’ve been mulling for a couple of weeks on how to approach the topic of gender, particularly in relation to babies and raising children, as it opens a King Kong sized can of worms and pulls at a number of threads, including feminism, emasculation, class divide and even race.

So I feel I can only really set about this from my/our own point of view and with the intention of illuminating a little on our stand point when it comes to gender.

I mentioned in my last post that I was reading a wonderful book, aptly named ‘Man Up’ by Rebecca Asher, which by and large tells of how we have wronged men from the get go. Believe it or not, this comes from a feminists point of view and I tend to agree. But more on that later…

In her opening chapter, author Rebecca says,

“Our pre-birth expectations of a child, as shaped by its sex, go much deeper. They extend to its very personhood and the characteristics we imagine it will possess. Girls will be compliant, passive and in touch with their feelings, to the point of being a little over-emotional and intense. Boys will be assertive, domineering, active and emotionally uncomplicated.“

This pretty much sums up why we have chosen not to find our the gender of our child before they arrive. Because we feel we have no right to assume anything about them, it does not matter, and we don’t want others to place their assumptions on them either.

Just yesterday, when I was purchasing the most gorgeous hand knitted cardigans from a vintage market stall, the lady selling to me asked whether I knew the gender of our baby, then followed with “Oh a little girl would be so lovely, so you can take her shopping and be close to one another.” This is the assumption isn’t it? That should we have a daughter, she and I will of course engage in lots of mother-daughter, female stereotyped activities, such as dressing up, baking, shopping, playing with hair, dolls, talking about feelings, etc. But what if my daughter (like me!) has a mind of her own and wants to climb trees, be on her own more than with other girls, run and tumble and, woe betide, not talk about her feelings? My Mother and I are close now, but haven’t always been and the times we weren’t were probably made more difficult by the expectation that mother and daughter should be close. We are very different, but we find common ground and respect in other ways, outside of the expected norm.

Interestingly, ‘Man Up’ outlines how it has become more acceptable for girls to ‘behave like boys’ and is thus defined as being ‘tomboy’. Furthermore, statistically girls who grow up with an older brother (myself as case in point) are more likely to engage in ‘boy-like’ activities than those who grow up with an older sister. But then what’s the equivalent for boys? I won’t attempt to unravel this knotted ball of yarn, as ‘Man Up’ already does this so well, but I do want to pass this on as food for thought.

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Throughout reading this book I frequently interrupted James (who was desperately trying to study – sorry love!) to ask his opinion. What was brilliant, and continues to be brilliant, is that we are having a continual, open-ended discussion about this, arriving at no final conclusions or assumptions.

It’s my favourite motto at the moment that assumptions make an ass out of ‘u and me’, because it’s always, unequivocally true. Sure, on occasion we might find ourselves correct. “I knew it, I knew it was girl from the way you were carrying and the emotional connection you had with her and all the sweet foods you were eating!” Why is it such a success to have correctly guessed the gender of a baby though? We all already know that I am growing human, but any more than that is up to baby themselves; it is their right and their privilege to tell/show us who they are, what they feel, what they’re interested in and what their character is.

“How very modern and progressive of you?” I hear people say. But is it? Personally, my whole life I have been uncomfortable, nay completely bewildered, by gender stereotyping and differentiation. I’m sure I’m not the only female who has been traumatised by the pressure to be ‘girly’ or even ‘feminine’. I’ve been labelled both a ‘girly girl’ and a ‘tomboy’, leading me to be further confused about who I am meant to be and how I should behave. I grew up feeling complicated, difficult and demanding, because I fluctuated wildly between knowing my own mind and passionately trying to fit in.

I’m also ashamed to say that I came into adulthood believing that men were simple, straightforward and emotionally stunted. I used this as rationale for the countless failed romantic relationships. “He just doesn’t know how to show love” was the passionate consolation my friends would offer me when it didn’t work out.

Girls were told, and in turn our respective partners would believe, that men are black and white – they either want you or they don’t. So it was our fault as women for being too demanding of them, or we were within our rights to write them off as being ill-equipped to handle us in all our complex femininity. This was especially confusing since I grew up with two ‘sensitive’ men – I put ‘sensitive’ in inverted comas, because it seems that any man who carries that trait is somehow an anomaly, both in a positive and negative way. “Oh, he’s a sensitive guy”, as if we have to forgive him for betraying his sex with such a trait. Or “He’s so sensitive”, as if he’s to be commended for being so very different to all the others. I feel the truth is possibly something we just don’t want to handle, which is that boys are just as (if not more) emotionally intuitive and capable of displays of great, great affection, compassion and sensitivity. We just tell them from a very early age that they ought not to be.

As I read ‘Man Up’, countless memories throughout my 34 years sprung up. I hope you won’t mind me sharing a few with you;

  • I was in a relationship in my mid-twenties with a man who had a passion for outdoor pursuits, who, as he put it himself, was “one of the lads”. Spending time with “the lads” was an important pastime for him and he frequently explained to me why he couldn’t lose face and be seen to be distracted by me. He one day he said to me “but you wouldn’t fancy me anymore if I didn’t have my muscles”. Honestly, to myself I thought ‘I’d kind of fancy you more if you didn’t’. So sue me – I am just not attracted to a ripped physique! It’s not important to me. He had his mum teach me how to knit, which incidentally I am really grateful for, but the first task I was set was to make something for him, because, she said ‘it’s our job to look after them’. Ironically, it also became very apparent that this guy wanted/needed a partner who shared his passion for high energy, high risk sporting activities – I guess the giveaway was being chivvied into cliff jumping into choppy Welsh sea waters, which is quite frankly one of the most terrifying and stupid things I have ever done. I really did not want to, which he put down to me ‘being a girl’ and incidentally told me to ’man up’. Speaking of cliff jumping…
  • Earlier in my twenties I went on my first adult holiday without parents with a group of friends, one of which decided to cliff jump (at this time I also said a firm NO to this activity, so clearly knew my own mind on this matter all along) and dislocated his shoulder during the fall. I was in the water with him and found in this emergency situation I went into pragmatic, organised and calm mode. We collectively managed to get the injured party out of the water then the plan was to hitch a ride back to the mainland for help. I wasn’t permitted to join the boys in doing this though because, I was told, I would be “too emotional” for the situation. I was clearly the calmest individual there. I swam a couple of miles back to the shore on my own and got bit by a piranha in the process.
  • Not too long ago I had a tricky situation in a place of work with a colleague who went out of her way to isolate me. She would ignore me completely, engage in whispered conversations with other colleagues in my presence, start talking about me the moment I left the room, loud enough that I could hear, then when I calmly tried to address the issue was told it was all in my head. Long story short, she was terminated for gross incompetence, hiding money and bullying, but at the time I struggled to get anyone to hear me on the case that I was being bullied. On one occasion she and I had a fiery text exchange, so I approached one of the company partners to seek his advice. He told me that I was an “emotional” person and tended not to see situation as a black and white, when perhaps I should. It took me giving my notice and leaving that job for them to see that I had, in fact, been telling the truth and not ‘over-reacting’.

I realise that these stories actually portray the men in them in a negative light, which I admit when I first looked back I felt very angry with them. But more recently I am prone to look at the WHY they behaved in such ways.

On a base level it might be fair to say that we each, men and women, have become victims of the stereotypes of our sex, but this happens way earlier than I thought to imagine. ‘Man Up’ divides a plethora of research-led discussion into 6 developmental stages; Early Boyhood, Schooldays, Teens, Young Men, Family Men and Lonely Old Men. Within these chapters the author describes various situations within which we have let men (and women) down, starting with when they are in the womb. I admit that James and I are both guilty of placing expectations and assumptions on our unborn child. A few years ago I remember a discussion we had where James said he felt easier about having a son because he understood how boys ‘work’, something he would never say now. At the beginning of this pregnancy I admitted I would love to have a daughter because I thought there might be something special about having another girl to take after me. How very wrong of us! What right do we have to assume that this human we have created will want to follow in our footsteps, make certain choices or behave in any specific way?!

You might argue the ‘Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus’ approach and say that there are evident, categorical differences, and neurologically proven differences, between men and women. I’m not saying that we are created to be exactly the same. I’m saying that it’s unfair for us all to base our opinions, commentary and actions on a set of rules that are easier for us to just accept than to challenge. I am saying, along with Rebecca Asher, that

“men are still restricted by the straitjacket of the male stereotype. It is detrimental to their emotional well-being, their friendships and relationships with girls and women, and their ability to express their full humanity.”

This seems to be truer for them than it does for women, thanks to some of the impact made by the feminist movement.

I’m also suggesting that amidst the fight for our rights as women – a necessary and imperative battle, I might add – that we are in danger of bastardising men and also forgetting the ways in which we are all responsible for the way in which they behave. We all have a lot to answer for, on both sides, and I will be damned if I see the same inflicted upon our human.

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If men are emotionally stunted and unable to express their emotions (a pretty narrow view if you ask me), maybe it’s because we haven’t given them permission to feel in multicolour, allowed them opportunities or shown them how.

If men adhere to patriarchal attitudes, ganging together in ‘lad’ groups that immerse their activity around binge drinking and objectifying and abusing women, maybe it’s partly because we made them form a separate line at school, told them girls were different and didn’t engage them in meaningful relationships. Because we popularise male chauvinism in TV programmes such as ‘Made In Chelsea’ and portray masculinity repeatedly across all media platforms as tough, angsty and vulgar.

If men are less understanding of what it is to be a mother and less involved in domestic life, maybe its because this country only offers 2 bloody weeks of shit pay paternity leave, and despite Nick Clegg’s ‘revolution’ (pah!) of shared parental leave, institutionalisation has made them afraid to request any more time from work because of how that will reflect on their competency and how it will effect their career progression. Leaving them with the weight of responsibility to ‘provide’ for this extra human in ways they cannot escape.

SIDE NOTE: It was suggested to me recently that when I return to work after maternity leave, because my priorities will have changed I will more likely to want James to take the brunt of generating income and my ambitions for career progression will inevitably go on hold until baby is older. We will just see about that…!!!

Maybe it’s also because men are not acknowledged as caring, willing participants within pregnancy and childbirth by healthcare providers, being barely looked at by midwives, having eyes rolled at them for asking too many questions and whilst their partners are treated like goddesses who can do all of this without them.

“Men just don’t understand” eh? Well how about we bloody help them to understand and give them credit where credit is due!

You sense my rage, right? This is partly due to the fact that during this pregnancy James has been virtually ignored by every midwife, sonographer and medical professional we have encountered, despite being warm, engaging and amiable. I don’t mean to criticise everyone who works for the NHS (I mean, I’m speaking out against stereotypes here), simply the individuals we have encountered. He’s been treading a very fine line at work for asking for time to attend all of my midwife and hospital appointments, as technically speaking they only pay for 2 hospital appointments, whereas he has endeavoured to attend every single one. Apparently he’s “not needed” at every single one. Well I’m sorry, but that’s for me, the mother of his child, to decide, not medical professionals or his place of work!

We are both dreading the time his 2 weeks paternity leave comes to an end and he leaves us for work and are trying desperately to think of ways to break this trend and make sure he’s not just a Daddy in the evenings and weekends. James suggested a night out for me in October once baby has arrived, to which I responded “I don’t know if I will be ready to leave them yet” and he responded in kind “well I wont be ready to leave them when I have to go back to work.” Quite right too.

Our fight for our children has already begun and part of that is reclaiming what we have both lost through our own lifetimes by being told who ought to be and how we ought to behave, according to our sex. James is (WAY) better at maths than I am, he is more logical, pragmatic, ordered, physically strong and assertive. Is that because he is male? Perhaps, because he was probably encouraged in all of those things as they are acceptable traits for a boy! I am more creative, intuitive, passionate, candid with my emotions and free-spirited. We are both highly sensitive, articulate and feeling people, who crave meaningful relationships with others. We both have a tendency to ‘shut down’ when we feel emotionally overwhelmed. We both like spreadsheets. We both like superhero movies. We both like cooking. We both love taking care of one another.

So, in a very long-winded and impassioned way, I hope I’ve made clear our standpoint on the gender agenda! Will we be completely gender neutral in our choices, from nursery to fashion? Definitely not, but simply because we both like pink AND blue and flowers and dinosaurs and superheroes!

So if you see us and want to chat about our little one, please don’t feel you have to adhere to any set of assumptions or rules, but lets have fun dreaming about everything they’re going to show us that they are and relishing in the fact that none of us have a clue.

 

 

It’s Rude To Stare

We are currently in Marrakech, on our ‘Babymoon’, of sorts, before the wedding season hits and I am too pregnant to travel. Whilst here, I have said to J, my husband, that I have a number of blog posts brewing and bugged him with the contents of each. I asked him what I should name this one and we both agreed that the most apt title would be to say it exactly as it is. 

Thankfully, I am at the stage where this issue has become amusing. But I wasn’t quite prepared for the particular interest people have in my 25 week pregnant state on this holiday. We are staying in an adults only resort, which may have something to do with it…but why should it? Let me illuminate…

We embarked the plane at Manchester and as I reached my aisle seat a couple was already seated. The gentleman looked a little long and dare I say a little hard at me as I tried to settle bump and I into our seat, along with my trusty pregnancy pillow which is becoming rather well travelled.

On our first day I got into my first bikini of the season. I looked up ‘maternity swimwear’ before coming away, but didn’t understand why I should feel it necessary to cover up my beautiful, growing baby under a swimsuit or a tankini, so just treated myself to a couple of new trusty M&S bikinis. 

SIDE NOTE: Following my last blog post about the numerous aspects of pregnancy I was finding challenging, I seem to have reached an acceptance, nay, love of my pregnancy body and have actually been feeling pretty damn good about myself. I like my strong thighs, despite the extra cellulite they’re carrying. I need them! My arms help me swim 2,500 metres a week. My hair is long and healthy, my skin is in the best condition of my life. And I am so, so proud of our growing babe. I am wearing clothes I never thought I would, material that fits my form and shows it off. I am amazed by how my skin has stretched and accommodated for our baby. I am a miracle. They are a miracle. (I made a conscious decision to change the language I was using about myself. I increasingly noticed myself using words like “fat, puffy, huge, hippo, whale” in conversations with others. I shouldn’t bring my insecurities into my interactions with others. It’s poisonous and unhelpful to everyone and I’m sorry.)

So here I am prostrate on my sun bed, baby wriggling away in my tummy, because they’re happiest when I am comfortable and relaxed, and I start to notice that every passer by takes a good long moment to have a peer at me. I check that I don’t have an accidental nipple showing (I’m still not used to my increased breast size, so to be honest, it happens!) or my bikini bottoms aren’t riding up…nope. I’m all too aware that I am by nature a self-conscious person. I notice and react to peoples behaviour sensitively and don’t always read them accurately. So I run this by my far more pragmatic husband. After which he begins to notice it too. 

One particular lady did what we have now dubbed the ‘following stare’ on 4 occasions in one day. I walked through the bar, she glanced, she held, she continued, I looked back over my shoulder, she’d followed, I stared back, she stopped. It happened again as I passed her on her sun lounger, in the hotel foyer and in the restaurant. 

I make frequent trips to one of the pools in the hotel gardens to cool down and my hope was that the regular inhabitants by the poolside would get used to me appearing, dipping, swimming or sitting with my legs in the pool reading, and that they’d get bored of looking. My husband joined me for a swim yesterday and as I was exiting the pool caught a man and his two sons having a good long linger at me. A second longer and I don’t doubt a conversation would have been had by J that would’ve made everyone in the surrounding area pretty uncomfortable! 

A common denominator is that generally people’s expressions are blank and unflinching. I have started playing a game, where I stare back and seeing how long it takes for them to break gaze. Eventually they snap out, then give me a look of annoyance.

But not all stares are awkward and disconcerting. There have been one or two that I have clocked and have greeted me with a warm smile, as if to say “how lovely”. Interestingly, the Moroccan hotel staff have absolutely no qualms of just acknowledging baby, congratulating us, excitedly telling us what a blessing it is, and asking how baby is today, which I adore. 

What makes me curious, (hence the title of this post) is whether or not people’s parents raised them to believe that it is ‘rude to stare’? You can laugh at how very 20th century middle class of me this might seem. But is it just me? Did no-one else have a mother or father catch you as a child curiously holding a gaze, for whatever reason, and telling you in hushed tones “don’t stare darling, it’s rude”? Followed by “But why is it rude Mummy/Daddy?”. After all, you were only curious, admiring, or just surprised by something you’d not seen before. My parents would explain that looking for a prolonged period of time could make some people feel uncomfortable and therefore it was politer to refrain. 

Maybe it’s a cultural (or dare I say class) issue, but my personal feeling is that they were right – it does make one feel uncomfortable. Not only that, it’s embarrassing, awkward, makes me more self-conscious (as if I need that!) and pretty on edge. Having embraced my new and ever changing body, the constant stares are pretty unhelpful. 

So then I have to ask WHY? Why such interest in a pregnant woman at a holiday resort in a hot country. Here are a few explanations my husband and I have come up with: 

  1. People just stare.

    Sometimes for no apparent reason. We all do it. Especially in new places, we are curious observers, taking in new people and surroundings. It’s part of our processing. 

  1. People are just noticing.

    Like a curious child, we see, we notice, we add it to our collection of experiences, we move on. 

  1. They are disapproving.

    (Here’s where it gets more concerning) It’s hard to read people’s expressions accurately, particularly in a stare, without the context of knowing their character or the moment they are in. Again, we all do it. I often catch James in a prolonged frown and immediately assume something is ‘wrong’. Turns out he’s just thinking about changing the cat litter. But there’s a chance that some may have an opinion about an expectant mother travelling by plane to a hot, Muslim country, exposed to temperatures of up to 32 degrees celsius, putting herself at risk of dehydration, sun stroke, circulation problems, digestive issues, etc etc… It’s very possible. But I shalln’t waste time justifying our choices here. 

  1. They are curious.

    It’s also highly possible that a large percentage of adults have actually very little to no experience of the pregnant female form. We are staying at an adults only resort, where people presumably either do not have children, have left them at home, or have children who are grown up. Later generations may not have ever been exposed to pregnant women in bikinis. Current young adults may have not met with this at all yet. It is one thing seeing pictures in magazines, it’s another seeing it in the flesh. Therefore, perhaps it’s instinctive to observe. 

  1. They are judging.

    This is my biggest worry. One of the least helpful things I have found during this pregnancy is the wave of media displaying thin/slim/supple/unaltered female forms with a bump attached. I appreciate that pregnancy effects every body completely differently, but the en masse projection of these images sends the message that this is how one ought to look. Combined with countless (I mean relentless) articles about the dangers of over-eating in pregnancy (I’m talking daily blogs that enter my inbox, appear on my app, fill my instagram feed), can easily leave me feeling horrendously guilty for the portion size I just ate, my reflection in the mirror, the way that I photograph. It also raises expectations within our culture of what it means to be pregnant and quite frankly it’s bullshit. So my fear here is the dialogue running through the starers minds about my curvature, cellulite, lumps and bumps. Perhaps they are judging how ‘good’ I look for a pregnant woman? Perhaps they are comparing me to the way they would expect/like a pregnant woman to appear. 

  1. They are admiring.

    On the flip side, even I have to admit the possibility that they could be admiring my form. In my mind, I think and feel ‘out of shape’ and ‘unattractive’, but in reality (something I am working hard to accept) I am doing rather bloody well. Plus there is no accounting for taste, is there? Pregnant or not, some people will respond positively to certain shapes and sizes and others will not. I therefore have to admit the possibility that there may be an element of “wow, she looks fantastic”, or even “she looks hot”. 

If anyone has anything else to the list, I’d be really interested to know. It makes it slightly easier to accept and tolerate having philosophised and arrived at a greater level of understanding. However, I still find it rude. 

Staring, in general, is an interesting cultural activity. I’ve encountered it in different countries, for example when I spent time in Uganda, Africa, and I know it meant something different. I understand that in many places it may be accepted as ‘normal’. But as an inhabitant of western culture I still find it very difficult. 

Specifically as a pregnant woman though, I’d like to extend a message to our western, contemporary society…

Growing a human is extraordinary, but it also entails a great deal of all-encompassing change, day upon day; physically, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually, most of which is out of our control. We can choose how we deal with it but not prevent the change itself. No matter what support networks we are blessed to have in place, I am finding that most women who have experienced pregnancy can agree that at times it can be incredibly lonely. Being peered at, with whatever intention, only perpetuates that feeling. 

It also serves to stigmatise women as a gender, as if there is something abnormal about this process only we can go through to get human life into this world. I am currently finishing a wonderful book about gender differentiation and the impact this has on men. Yes, you guessed it, that is where my next post is leading. We’ve been met with a curious level of surprise for choosing not to find out the sex of our baby, which has lead me to thinking about the assumptions we make about what it means to be female and what it means to be male. 

But for now, there’s enough going on in this little head already without needing to rationalise long, uninvited stares from strangers. So please, have a care and some manners, and avert your gaze or smother it with a smile. 

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25 weeks pregnant in Marrakech.

Riding The Storm

Preggers log, star date 05.2018. We have entered a turbulent, inhuman environment within the second trimester of our most critical mission to birth Baby Clemps. I am attempting to navigate this hostile territory and study my behavioural responses to the ever-changing situation.

In plain speak, in this post I want to address the variety of challenges at this stage of pregnancy, attempt to be as candid and human about it as possible, and send a flare of hope out to anyone who has encountered/is encountering any similarity of challenge, as well as document this journey.

From the offset I need to admit to a hell of a lot of guilt over letting people down and feeling as though I am difficult to be around. My one regret at the moment is not having spent more time thinking about and preparing for pregnancy. I was so caught up with worry about not being able to conceive that I never thought about what it might feel like if I did.

There are some absolutely wonderful parts of pregnancy that I am loving; such as feeling physically stronger than I ever have. The irony! I’m tired, still get sick, out of breath and have a much shorter attention span than most people, I can no longer buckle my shoes alone (no joke!), but I’m also fitter and healthier than I have ever been. I am listening to my body and my baby, I am nutritioning better than I ever have and am like a human water balloon, full to bursting with hydration.

I also have a sense of perspective and of when to let go of the little things. That doesn’t mean disregarding people or situations, but picking which battles to fight. I used to feel weighted down by every little thing and got overwhelmed very easily. These days I am more able to to say “that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things” and release myself of the burden.

We have a very active child, who kicks and wriggles and tugs and dances frequently, which is the most extraordinary sensation! I’m never alone, in the most beautiful way possible. I’m getting to know our child and feel like I have a friend and a relationship with them that no one can take away. It’s also extraordinary, humbling and the biggest privilege of my life knowing that all they need right now is me.

The love and support I have experienced from innumerable people has been better than I ever hoped for. Especially in my place of work, my students have been incredibly cool about this life change for me, treat me with the same respect and courtesy and allow me to do my job in a slightly altered fashion, without complaint.

I also feel closer to my husband than ever and this experience has taken our friendship to a whole new level of laughter, intimacy, understanding and commitment. There is no one better at managing me and managing all of this with me. I cannot sing his praises enough.

What I am finding most difficult, all-consuming and almost impossible to get past at the moment, is a sense that I have somehow failed so many people and at so many things. That I am letting myself, my students (despite my above comment) and my boss down for missing almost an entire academic year. My family down by not being able to be fully there for them when they need, physically and emotionally. My husband down by not coping better and balancing myself better. And the list goes on…

I’m sure most people would tell me just to “do what’s right for you and for baby” and that they “just want to support you in whatever way is right for you” but I cant help but sense their hurt and frustration that I am not meeting their needs and expectations.

This is the curse of my nature – I am just so damn perceptive, sensitive and feel everything so deeply.

I’m practising boundaries, standing my ground and being completely candid about my feelings, but somehow always end up feeling like a Bitch, which in turn perpetuates the guilt.

The advice I have had from Mum’s, non-Mum’s, just human beings alike, has been to take every opportunity to practise this new life and new set of values, to accept help where it is offered, to anticipate and plan for times when I will feel utterly out of control and completely rotten, and to put my needs first for once. Sounds straight forward, right?

The vision I had for myself at this stage (unhelpfully reinforced by the likes of Pinterest and Instagram and dare I say other mothers who have had a completely different experience to me, or were pregnant so long ago they’ve forgotten what its like) was to be my exact same figure with a bump attached, be very chilled all the time, feel ‘normal’ throughout my second trimester (I DO NOT), look effortlessly cool with my pregnancy ‘glow’, continue to say with everything as normal and be there for everyone, excel in my job, and never give anyone any reason to say “oh its just the pregnancy hormones”. Talk about unrealistic expectations!

I’m so proud of my ever growing bump but, dare I say inevitably, feel horribly out of control of my body and most of the time very insecure about my body image. I’m told this is very normal for an expectant mother. I hate to play the ‘history of an eating disorder’ card, but this feels especially complex at times for me and deeply entangled with my feelings of self worth. I worry about judgement over the weight I have gained. I find myself looking at other women and envying their young, supple, unmarred form. I don’t like people seeing me eat in case they think I’m being greedy or living the myth of ‘eating for two’. I feel like I’m taken less seriously because of the way I look. It can be utterly crippling.

Amidst this minefield of emotions I am in essence trying to just get on with life and do my job as best I can. Being a teacher demands your patience, professionalism, expertise, wisdom, guidance, flexibility and availability. I have days where my brain seems to have vacated my body for no apparent reason and I cant get words out. This happened recently on an exam panel and I embarrassingly had to just pass the baton on. Humiliating.

And then underneath all of this has been some significant family hardship which I’m not inclined to talk about.

This reads as a list of “woe is me, how unfair life is”, “me, me, me, me, me”, and I hate that.

‘Attitude’ is my word of the moment; that it is attitude that determines our grip on life and how people perceive us. So I therefore understand that I really need to alter my attitude to all of this. I’m just not entirely sure how. Does anyone else find when another tells you to “just be positive” or “let it go” or “you can do this” one of the most irritating things, as if we all possess an ‘on/off’ button we can flick at will?!

One thing I do know is that any significant life upheaval really highlights the relationships that going to make you, as well as the ones that will break you. A couple of my friends who don’t have children have said that they don’t know anything and probably wont be able to help me because they’ve not been here, but let me tell you, they’re as in the dark as me with all of this, and what makes the biggest difference in the world is being given permission to just be how I am and ride this storm as best I can.

I hope our baby with forgive their neurotic Mama for struggling so frequently, for stressing out about things that shouldn’t matter and for being unable at times to just chill the f*** out!

I hope everyone else will forgive that this is just something I need to go through and be honest about and hope that I can adjust my attitude.

I hope you all aren’t bored already of hearing about the storm I am trying to ride out…

The Gift of Life

9b22ddda-c6a8-404c-a691-6712efb4e8e4It’s been almost two years since I have written a blog and I’m only just now finding myself re-inspired to pick up the metaphorical mantle again. But why did I stop and why pick up again now? Writing, for me, requires a calling. It never works if my writing is solely about me saying what I want to say, just for the sake of it, without regard for the consequences. It only ever served a purpose if there was something I could share that might be useful for others.

For the past two years I have been privileged enough to have a job that I absolutely love. Within that job I put a lot of energy into trying to be useful to the people I teach. That has meant that there wasn’t much left over to write about. But then something occurred that threw all of my values and priorities into the limelight and generated a shift…

Over the last couple of years there has also been a significant surge in mental health awareness. I see it in my workplace, on the media and in close friends and family standing up to the stigma. I take it very seriously, I think it’s horribly misunderstood and I believe it effects every single one of us. I have deep empathy for those suffering with the complexities of mental illnesses and the reason why is because I struggle with it myself. I feel now is an appropriate time for me to explain why I have become a passionate advocate of mental health and this is a story I now need to tell.

This September my husband and I will have our first child. I am exactly half way though growing our human. Some of you may remember me writing about the complexities of Motherhood a while back; about the desire to be a mother, the lack of desire, the preconceptions, the confusion, the heartache. I had an overwhelming response from numerous women, mothers and not, with a plethora of different experiences, which I personally found very comforting after years of turmoil about whether or not this was something I really wanted. You can read that blog, A Childless Mother, here.

Reading back has been a poignant reminder of how far I have come, but also an important reminder of what it feels like to not be where I am now. In that post I said that I had fears I would be unable to conceive and that one day I might tell the story. Like I say, I think now is the time to tell it, before I forget and before I no longer have the time or inclination! But I feel I need to preface by clarifying that this is not for myself, not a cathartic act, not for any sort of reaction, but in the belief that someone might be reading this who is going through a similar struggle and might need a little hope in the power of transformation.

At 19 years old I was diagnosed with an Eating Disorder, although through therapy I have traced the origins of it back to 10 years of age. At 20 I was referred to my first outpatient unit. A symptom of that illness was depression, which later was re-diagnosed as anxiety. Over the space of my 20’s I saw various counsellors, which I never stuck at through to the end. I saw this as a phase I had gone through and that my ‘wellness’ was determined largely by my weight. I continued to have a horribly unhealthy relationship with my body and food and survived by a viscous cycle of self-abusive behaviour.

Zip forward in time and I met my wonderful husband, which you’d think would make life complete, right? After we were married I was diagnosed with Anorexia Nervosa. Let me make clear that was in no way linked to my husband, his behaviour or any unhappiness in our union. I understand now that in facing the responsibility of marriage I had to face my true self and admit that I didn’t like me.

Again, I didn’t fully commit to therapy and refused to acknowledge there was anything ‘wrong’ with me. Looking back, it really is a miracle that I was able to continue to work and not only that, but I actually did a decent job. At the time I just wanted to be seen as a human being of worth and I am inexpressibly grateful to the people who saw that, despite the horrifying repercussions of my illness, and never gave up on me. I could list my symptoms and the ways in which I was critically ill, but I fear that this illness in particular can be judged according to a check list of noticeable ‘wrongs’… Critically underweight? Check. Refusing food? Check. Purging behaviours? Check. Isolation? Check. Etc etc etc. The reality is that a disorder manifests in a multitude of ways and every one is deeply serious and sad.

This is a condensed, shortened version of the story, as I don’t feel this should be about the illness itself, what I went through and the consequences of it. It’s about the direct impact it had on my perceptions of motherhood and my journey to where I am now.

It was finally being able to acknowledge a modicum of the impact that my illness had on others, particularly those closest to me, that I begrudgingly committed to working with an Eating Disorder specialist unit. Rome wasn’t built in a day and there have been several turning points and continue to be hurdles. A mistake for me personally was to believe that these afflictions have a cure or simply go away. They don’t. Psychologically speaking, I still suffer with an Eating Disorder and I believe I always will. I am ok with that, as it keeps me alert, always on the look out for what could stimulate it, gives me a greater empathy and awareness and keeps me vigilant about my health and well being. As soon as I start perceiving myself as immune to very particular triggers, then the trouble starts. I’m sure a lengthier piece about mental health is brewing for another time…

You can probably see where this is going… Because of the abuse to my body and internal organs for over a decade I was convinced that my reproductive system wouldn’t ‘work’ if it came to having children. Again, long story short, we decided to explore the possibility. 2 years later I fell pregnant, which caught us both by surprise. I had started a dream job, was building more confidence, feeling much more content and grounded, but in truth I was completely thrown and freaked out by the pregnancy. I have to admit this now and I know it’s an infuriating irony, but this topic really is such an enigma and can play absolute havoc with our mind and heart. I’m certain there is someone reading this who feels the same.

We hadn’t a clue what we were doing. Traditionally people are told not to tell anyone about a pregnancy until the 12 week mark. In fact my GP at the time specifically told me not to. When I phoned the midwife to book an appointment the first question was “where do you want to deliver?”. “I have literally just peed on a stick, how the hell do I know where I want to bloody give birth?!” We got no instructions, no advice, no contact, just a bible of pamphlets though the door telling us about all the ailments our child could have.

Still, we told no one, gave nothing away, both of us bewildered, so shell-shocked that the elation of expecting a child didn’t really settle in. I didn’t understand or like what was happening to my body, my hormones were through the roof and I felt completely alone. But as it started to become real and I slipped the news to my best friend and finally had someone who could help and support me, our baby left my body.

I’ve heard the question “why” quite a few times since, which if I am honest stings with the insinuation that I did something wrong. Being much better informed now, I know now that miscarriage happens to 20% of pregnancies – that’s 1 in 4 pregnancies ending in miscarriage. And although there are lots of things that can cause miscarriages, more often than not the chromosomes just haven’t ‘added up’, meaning that the embryo could never fully form and grow.

This is just another signpost on the journey to Here. Despite having been initially bamboozled by that pregnancy, we were both devastated. In fact the grief just keeps on giving, even now. It catches us both off guard and even though we know the facts and science behind it, something deeply emotional occurred that changed us both and we just cant escape it. I believe that thing was becoming parents.

They say that a woman becomes a Mother as soon as she discovers she is pregnant. I can easily understand that, however this is one of many aspects of procreation that I find deeply sexist. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been told “men just don’t understand” during this pregnancy and personally find it deeply unfair. Yes, the loss of our child affected me in ways that couldn’t really touch James, because it wasn’t his body, but in his heart he had begun to prepare to be a Dad and his loss was a great as mine. Equally, as I have gone through the challenges of pregnancy, the fact that he is unable to carry it and take away the painful bits really effects him. He is on a rollercoaster as much as I am. It may not be his body, it may not be him who labours, it may not be him who feeds our child, but that doesn’t mean the emotional implications are not as great for him. And were the roles reversed, I guarantee I could not do as sterling a job in supporting him and he has with me.

I would also say that I became a Mother long before I fell pregnant. I wrote in A Childless Mother that “perhaps I am already a mother, just a childless one.” I don’t know how exactly – maybe through teaching, maybe through Auntie-ing, maybe just a ‘maternal instinct’ (although I hate that term) – but I have had to admit that I’ve been wearing this hat for some time.

I say “admit” because there is a niggle inside of me, a resistance to being stereotyped or judged. Since when did being a Mother, with all its idiosyncrasies, become a negative thing?! Despite the deep joy of having a little sidekick growing inside of me, there is an anxiety that my world is already becoming smaller. Which is one of the reasons why I felt I needed to put this out there and why reading back on that post from 2015 is useful.

Over the last 4 months I have had to practise saying ‘No’ way more times than I am comfortable. I have actually used the phrase “the safety of my child” on multiple occasions. I have bailed on friends repeatedly because I have felt just too sick and too tired. I have discovered in no uncertain terms that “baby brain” is an actual real thing and completely sucks! I can barely string sentences together sometimes (frequently), let alone remember what my husband said to me yesterday. All of this is utterly infuriating, disconcerting and worrying to me.

My main topic of conversation is what card pregnancy has dealt to me today. Ask me how I feel and “exhausted” and “sick” are the predominant answers. I get distracted by finding nursery ideas to add to Pinterest. I discuss the size of my boobs on WhatsApp groups with my best mates. Every time I go into a shop I head straight to the baby section. Evenings consist of more baby name research… and I find myself often asking ‘Who am I?!’ What about the Musician who loves to sit at the piano and explore her voice? What about the Teacher who is scrupulously organised and in constant contact with her students? What about the Friend, Daughter and Sister who is ready to serve no matter what? The Wife who has interesting things to talk about?

This is why I have rediscovered The Writer in me, to own up to these anxieties and do something about them. Where does this fear come from that we cant be simply who we happen to be in this moment? Why cant we just allow the incredible gift of life to happen without fighting to control peoples perceptions and make ourselves an image of what we think others want to see?

I have no answers for these questions just yet. Perhaps I never will. But as I embark on this new story I am going to endeavour to reflect, record and reach out to others. I don’t want that just to be to mothers or parents, but anyone who has a mind or feelings about life. I guess the selfish part is to try and retain a sense of who I am in all of this, keep myself honest and humble.

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Daring to bare – 20 weeks pregnant.

In closing this first chapter of my new story, I feel I ought to emphasise (for the record, should there be any doubt) that we are both filled to overflowing with joy about our team mate and feel blessed beyond measure. We are just so, so chuffed that we get to do this. I know we would have been happy without it, but it’s a privilege to get the chance to make a new person. Fearful? Oh yes! Hopeful? Definitely.

We accept the certainty that we will make many, many mistakes, that we wont always laugh the way we do now, that our scrupulous plans will go to shit, that we will need to make sacrifices that we don’t even know yet. But we believe that a great, great love will get us through and that the bond of Family is strongest when it is tested. I am proof of that and therefore nothing will nor can tear us down.

Feminism and Politics and Values, Oh My!

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I think it’s safe to say it’s been far too long since I have posted about something I (the true Creative Clemps) have wanted to write about. Any loyal followers will have noticed an influx of wedding blogs, which are part of ‘work’ for me. But I can’t entirely use writing those as an excuse for my radio silence.
The last personal post I wrote was about Anger, and sadly I find myself as churned up today as the day I posted it. But there’s something tugging on my heart, besides anger. It’s almost like a calling to speak out about something I know others feel the weight of. As it’s been a while, this post is bound to be cluttered and inarticulate, but in spite of that, for all you crumbling under the weight of pressure, expectation and de-valuing, this is for you.
This year I have become deeply Feminist and way more politically concerned than I ever have been in my adult life so far. Probably about bloomin time on both counts, but I wasn’t quite prepared for it.
Having just written both “Feminist” and “Politics” I feel a pang of anxiety about the can of worms I am opening, just in uttering them. Both are such muddy territories and, I don’t know about you, but I often feel afraid of saying what I really think on these matters, for fear of upsetting someone, or being intellectually out-ranked by someone cleverer than me. We all have that one friend who is completely unafraid to share a lengthy political speech on their Facebook page and manage to cover all key items with flair and clarity, right? It’s inspiring but also really intimidating. Most of the time all I have to offer is a series of expletives, which in turn get mocked by similarly clever people for being all noise and no substance.

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But this is my territory and I’m going to (bravely) say a few things in my own way about things that really matter, yes to me, but to the world right now. And it’s my hope that they resonate with you and encourage you to be brave too. 



I was thrilled to see Presdient Obama’s recent open letter about the importance of him being a Feminist for his daughters.

“It’s important for them to see role models out in the world who climb to the highest levels of whatever field they choose,” Obama wrote.

He also recognised the limitations, stereotypes and the “unforgiving light” that women still contend with in society, both in professional and personal capacities. Immediately I have twinges of sadness that his predecessor could possibly be a mop-headed, chauvinistic, imbecile with so little sense of humanity, let alone what it means to be male or female in this world.

Because of course being a Feminist isn’t just about women’s rights and the perception of what it means to be female, but also the struggle that men face.

 

It’s about teaching our youngest generations that if you are a girl and have leadership potential you are not bossy, outspoken and “feisty” (if I had a penny for every time I have been called that…), but gifted and called to an important purpose, to lead others with integrity. That if you are a boy and are interested in having conversations about feelings, art and music, if you cry regularly and admit your struggles, you are not presumably homosexual (I’m sorry, but let’s just admit this happens regularly, and I take offence to it on behalf of my gay friends), you are not weak, you are not incapable of being strong and you are not a “sensitive type”. If anything you are the type of man that the majority of women are so desperately looking for and need as a friend, companion and soul mate.
Equally, this isn’t to say that girls are no longer allowed to be intrinsically ‘girly’ and boys a-typically ‘masculine’. There are common traits amongst both sexes that are to be celebrated and rejoiced in, but what it means to be male and what it means to be female is basically about what it means to be HUMAN. And I long for equality amongst the human race that recognises the creatives, the intellectuals, the business minded, the spiritual, the servers, the grafters, the thinkers, the dreamers, the motivators, the quiet ones, the chatty ones alike – without title and ranking, but with respect for the wonderful things they have to offer our world.
I am tired of facing the reality, day in day out, that we live in a world where your job title and salary dictates your achievements and success and also the level of respect you deserve. Where people don’t thank you for your hard work, certainly don’t thank you for sharing your gifts and don’t respect what you are good at, but feel threatened and irritated by it instead. Where as a woman if I share my opinion in the professional forum I am immediately ear-marked as a “feisty one”.
Wherever I turn right now I feel hit right between the eyes with blazing sexism. Just one an example of an absolute corker: “A pretty girl like you shouldn’t be carrying all this heavy stuff.” – In relation to me bringing in my gear for a gig.
This doesn’t begin to touch upon the stream of other remarks relating to class, race, and sexuality I’ve encountered. When debating why my husband seems to receive quite a bit of attention from the same sex (which I have absolutely no issue with, by the way) someone concluded that it was because he is ‘sensitive’. No, it’s because he’s downright gorgeous and warm natured and men and women alike are attracted to him and quite right too.
And then there’s Class. Ah, Class. Living in a wealthy county like Cheshire, the class system is very difficult to escape from and grinds on me on a daily basis. I grew up unaware that I was different or more privileged than those I went to school with. I suppose that it’s easy to be green about these differences when you are more fortunate, but then I was unaware that anyone might be ‘better off’ than me too. I hope you’re sitting comfortably as here is a little biographical anecdote for you…
My older brother and I had our formative years in Surrey then moved to a small town called Haydock in Merseyside. Haydock is historically a mining village and not shrouded in wealth (can you tell I am resisting using class categories?). My brother and I were bullied from day one for A) being ‘posh’, B) our Dad being the local vicar and C) our Mum being a local school teacher. To add insult to injury, my brother had pristine blonde hair, was gorgeous and polite, and I was exceptionally bright and talkative. We were loathed for it. It got easier when we moved schools, but I personally always felt like the odd one out and that I just didn’t quite fit into the environment we were in.
At 18 I packed up and moved to University in London as quickly as you could say, “What about taking a gap year?” Again, I struggled to ‘fit in’ because, suddenly, I was Northern and brash and outspoken. I remember being ridiculed by some first year law students during freshers week for being Northern and not doing a proper degree (I studied Drama). For someone who was once considered the most bright of her peers, I was intellectually outranked by just about everyone I came into contact with.
At 20 I took a temp job as a Receptionist at a very big church in Knightsbridge, London. After I had answered my first call, the long-serving lady who was conducting my training said, “Very good dear, but next time just remember to put on your Posh Hat.”



In The North I was always a little bit ‘posh’ and in The South I was common as they come. So inevitably this has led to a sort of confused displacement. These days there are certain environments within which I say “I am a Musician” and I am met with impressed gasps and a million questions relating to how ‘cool’ it must be. When I was a session musician for a popular band and toured the country, I was everyone’s ‘famous friend’ and it was perceived I had a very glamorous, rock and roll lifestyle, when in fact I was painfully lonely, played some rather basic keyboard progressions and a cow bell for a living and couldn’t keep a boyfriend for more than a couple of days. In other environments, being a 32 year old, childless, Musician is met with pity. People struggle to comprehend why on earth I would still be battling away in a largely thankless profession when I could/should be making babies and raising children.
You might be reading all of this and thinking “Oh get over it Jenn. At the end of the day, we live in a world that is full of judgement, stereotypes, class systems, mis-perceptions, etc etc and there’s very little we can do to change that. We must just accept that is the way things are.” Well *insert expletive of your choice* to that.
I have spent 32 years feeling confused about my identity because I listened to those who told me I wasn’t clever enough, so I tried to be more clever. I listened to those who got irritated by me having a lot to say, so I quietened myself. I listened to those who said I was difficult to love and made life really quite challenging for my now husband, because I pushed him away over and over and over. I listened to those who said I needed a position of rank in order to be respected and have made myself utterly miserable in pursuit of this.
I am tired of compromising my sense of self in order to comply with forces that dictate what determines value and respect and I am tired of seeing others do it. I am tired of seeing people debilitated in their confidence because they have no idea how to fit into this world and what they can do to survive in it. I am tired of the expectation to be and behave in a certain way and quite frankly feel frightened about bringing our children into a world like this.

 

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If any of this resonates with you whatsoever, I suppose I am issuing a battle cry to you.

 

Firstly, do not accept the image of yourself that this world projects to you. You are not your sex, your skin, your upbringing, your job title, your wage packet. And secondly, don’t submit to the belief that this is what we have to live with.
The world is at war because of our inability to accept and live with difference. We are at war because of our ignorance, judgement and lack of respect for one another. We see it on a devastating scale in the news, but we don’t recognise it day to day, in the office, at school, at the supermarket. Call me whatever you like but I, for one, refuse to accept this and will challenge it with every breath I take.

Leather

Liverpool 2016

Today is our third wedding anniversary. The year of leather, because by now we are tougher, stronger and hard wearing. And we certainly are, but all thanks to my husband.

I’ve been thinking about sharing this for a few days, whether I ought to and what it is I really want to say. I hope it doesn’t come off braggy, soppy and irritating, but I’d like people to know a few things about
my husband, James…

I think anyone who meets James immediately sees that he’s warm, intelligent and strong. Then people who know him well might go beyond that to say he’s loyal, thoughtful and generous.
But I don’t think anyone, besides our family and myself, gets to know or see the man he really is. No one will ever really know what James has sacrificed for me. How beyond the realms of normal human patience he has for me. You don’t see the times he challenges me to process situations more rationally, shows me how to see the best in people, but also fiercely protects me. He’s the first to stand up for me. He never, ever doubts my best parts and my abilities. He’s taught me how to be a responsible adult (which, if you ask my parents, has not been the easiest of tasks!) and enabled me/us to do things like travel the world, be generous to others and practically take care of myself.
You’ll never really know what he’s stood by me through and no one will ever see the depths of way he has loved me. It’s a blessing that only I get to share.
I also get to see the comedian far more than anyone else and he is bloody hilarious. James guards himself much better than I do. He doesn’t engage with the silliness of social media and isn’t bothered about showing off to the world, which I respect but also envy.
He’s by no means perfect (sorry love) and I know he learns as much from me as I do him, but I felt I had to tell the hundred odd people who follow our lives that, with respect, you don’t really know this guy and what he does for me.
So I guess I’m trying to say thank you God for James. And thank you James for letting stupid, irrational, wonky little me be the one to experience all you are and for your unwavering commitment to me, being a superhuman and making me a better woman.

Why So Angry?

'Hurting', by Helena Wierzbicki
‘Hurting’, by Helena Wierzbicki

So, 2016 – what are you doing to us? I’m not just talking about losing numerous icons, but also that it’s the 24th April, a month into the Spring Equinox, 5 degrees celsius, I just drove in heavy hail, a song called “I Took A Pill In Ibiza” is top of the UK singles chart, Donald Trump has won the majority vote in the state of New York, and today as the Royal family support breaking mental health stigmatism I read a comment that said “If I were in the royal family, there’d be no need for me to have mental health problems”.

Recently I have become more and more agitated, environmentally, politically, emotionally. I’m genuinely concerned about who will end up responsible for leading the United States of America, and about who currently leads the UK and hereafter, about gender-inequality particularly within the arts industry, about people STILL not getting that mental health problems are SO, incredibly serious and not a choice, about the welfare of my parents generation who evidently need better care and about the drivel in the UK music charts making millions of pounds. Granted, the latter on that list isn’t exactly a Life or Death issue, but I can’t help being passionate about it. I’m not one for publics rants. Not in recent years anyway. But over the last few days I’ve been sorely tempted. I am angry. 

I haven’t written for this blog for quite some time now and reason being (I think) is that I fear what will come out. It’s uncomfortable for us to read peoples ‘dirty laundry’ in the public forum. Unedited, careless, unwise outpourings of everything that hurts. I really don’t want to do that and fear the disapproval already…However…

When I started this blog I did so without expectation and without need for approval in the forms of ‘likes’, ‘comments’ and general adulation. When the approval came, naturally I was enormously gratified. But when it dampened, my confidence got knocked. I hate admitting that and I have fought against it, truly believing that I didn’t need other peoples approval to continue doing this. 4 months into 2016 (which is not going wonderfully for me) and I have to admit that I am human. I am flawed, fragile and vulnerable and that means, yeah, I care about what other people think and that impacts my choices.

My husband has been lovingly encouraging me to get back to my writing as recently I identified it as something that makes me happy. As I sat down to do this I remembered that one of the motivators for doing this was to be honest and in doing so, hope to encourage and comfort others. In the last 24 hours I have had a few people reach out to me and tell me that they ‘get it’ and that I am not alone. Well, today, if you resonate with what I share in any way, shape or form, I hope you feel like you are not alone and are comforted by that.

I often wonder where the tendency to baulk at the things that make us feel uncomfortable, are inappropriate or demonstrate a loss of control in any way, comes from. Don’t get me wrong, I am the first person to read a ranty political Facebook status, cringe and, on occasion, unfollow the offender. I’m not proud to admit that. Because when I share an article about breaking stigmatism around Mental Health and it gets absolutely ZERO engagement from my ‘followers’, I get really angry. I share a picture of my husband and I pulling silly faces and get thirty-odd ‘likes’… thank you, it’s lovely and makes my heart warm. But I share a post about what mothers can say to their children to promote a healthy relationship with food and body image and NOTHING. I guess this is the problem with social media engagement functions. We can choose now to ‘love’, ‘laugh’, be ‘angry’ or ‘sad’ about Facebook posts, but if we choose not to click that icon it sends the strong message that we just do not give a…

This is my question today and generally at the moment; What do you do when you really want to change something?

What if you genuinely want to change the state of our planet, societies perception of a particular issue, or political injustice…the list is endless. Today I watched the London Marathon coverage, mesmerised by the millions of people putting themselves through such intense, physical exertion for others and I wept on several occasions. Bravo BBC for very cleverly executed stories, evidently targeted to touch the sensitive hearts of sympathetic souls like me. But I really found myself thinking, if someone did that for me, for the things I have suffered through, even just to demonstrate their loyalty and love, I wouldn’t know where to begin with thanking them.

Often I feel overwhelmed with my ineffectiveness in the bigger scale of things. I would like to have the bravery and motivation to do something radical for others. But I am weak and under confident. I would love more than anything to see a real, significant change in societies understanding and attitudes towards mental illness. But I am too afraid of peoples opinions. I am concerned about world politics and whose hands we are placing our nations in to. But I fear my ignorance and all the things I don’t know and don’t understand. I want to see accomplished musicians and songwriters acknowledged within the public eye, over the heavily branded, synthetic and image-driven drivel. But I need the right opportunity to do so and being a woman doesn’t do me any favours. And on that note, don’t even get me started on gender-inequality.

Then we get closer to home, at the things that are preventing us from pushing towards real change and have to ask ourselves “What do I really need in order to make a positive change in my own life?”

I have this problem. Before I am misunderstood let me make perfectly clear…I am NO martyr. In fact I am pretty thoughtless, inconsiderate and selfish. I hate that. But I also really struggle to recognise my own basic needs. I am talking about sleep, nutrition, emotional welfare, etc… I just don’t ask for stuff and I don’t think to give myself what I need. I tend to say “yes” to everything and it makes me happy to serve others before myself. The issue with this is that (as a few wise beans have told me of late) that I end up with nothing left to give myself. If you resonate with this, is it any wonder that we are angry?

I get really tired of the new rave culture of ‘self-care’, currently parading around social media. Although I absolutely love the foundation of it, for me it sends the message that personal change is necessary and that it is easy. Maybe this is my/our problem – we are so busy trying to change ourselves and change other people and it’s this impossible battle that leads to bitterness, frustration and anger. Right now I could reel off a list of things and people (sorry) I am angry about and with but an endless list of things I am angry with myself about. I am most angry that I seem so stubbornly, irrefutably, incapable of change in particular areas.

My resolutions this year were to be Good, be Kind and to be Brave. Evidently, I’m not doing wonderfully at this. As I sit and write in the local pub, a gentleman who has had one pint too many has just given the staff grief about a tiny leak in the roof and I have the overwhelming desire to scream at him.

Can anyone relate? Have that “Oh my days, WHAT is your PROBLEM?” feeling, but also

“Why do you DO that?”

“Why do you BEHAVE like that?”

“What is WRONG with people?!”

Followed by

“I’m such a crappy person! Why can’t I be better? Why can’t I do something important and that matters? Why don’t people like me?!”

But how about this… Have you been good to yourself lately? Have you been kind to yourself? Have you been brave enough to face your anger and bitterness and admit your own basic, fundamental needs?

I reckon as human beings we need to just accept our fallibility sometimes and be alright with it. 

I’ll let you into a secret. Last week I didn’t get a job I really, really wanted. All the evidence proves that I did great, but of course when the news came, all kinds of self-doubt and loathing came hurtling in. Why? It’s just a job. I am blessed in immeasurable ways. How dare I be so ungrateful as to mope and whinge over an occupation. But the fact is, for me, it was an opportunity to be part of something important. I also saw it as affirmation that everything I have been doing throughout my career was worth it. How very wrong of me. Does the fact I missed out on that job mean that all of that has been wasted and that I don’t get to effect change?

What I do know is that I can’t even begin to make a positive change in the big bad world if I can’t take care of myself. Oh the endless chasm I could unravel in talking about what taking care of ourselves looks like! I’m not going to attempt to go there. But I am going to attempt to do more of what makes me happy and stop denying myself basic, human needs. And maybe, just maybe, in doing so I might feel a little less helpless in doing something toward the bigger agendas.

I’m going to round off with something I don’t normally do, which is to thank you, sincerely, for reading. I don’t like admitting it, but hell, I’m human. I‘m glad you did.

The Birds

IMG_0072
Copyright Dan Potter Illustration
I’ve resisted sharing my husband and I’s latest tattooing escapade and as I sat down to write today I began to wonder why.

I do love a bit of social media, but I’m picky about what I choose to ‘share’ on different forums. My main outlets are good old Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest and Twitter. I especially love the saturation of images (as opposed to words) on the likes of Pinterest and Instagram, which is why I was selective in sharing our recent ink on Instagram only. I suppose I felt that it was safe there. I see Instagram as a sort of Artist’s forum, sharing pictures of things that inspire one another, all manner of interests and activities, from motherhood to travel, from a picture of a city skyline to the light coming in through a single window. I have no idea who my followers are and find I really don’t care about how many ‘likes’ I gain (of course it’s always nice when it happens though). Whereas on the likes of Facebook I find that I fear judgement and criticism way more.

Perhaps if I tell the story of ‘The Birds’ it might explain why I have been a bit precious about preserving this part of ourselves…

For my 21st birthday, my Mum gave me a figurine of a young girl with three birds about to take flight, one on each arm. She wrote in my card “It’s time to fly”. This was my Mum’s way of letting go, I think, and encouraging me to adventure on into adulthood. As it happens, my ‘flight’ was rather bumpy and I took a nose dive on numerous occasions. I also felt pretty alone in it and longed for a flight buddy to fly alongside me. I had this idea that I would like a bird in flight tattooed to me at some point, then if I ever met my buddy I would have another added alongside it.

Skipping forward to meeting James and getting engaged, we asked my brother, who is a professional artist and illustrator (Dan Potter Illustration), to design our wedding stationary. We asked him to draw a simple tree – something about the symbolism in roots, strength, bearing fruit, etc etc… James suggested we had two birds in flight coming from the tree. I told him then about the idea I had had in the past and we resolved then together to both have two birds, representing our adventure, inked to our bodies.

Copyright Dan Potter Illustration
Copyright Dan Potter Illustration
These birds have been in discussion with my brother ever since (approximately two and a half years). Initially we sent the image of the two birds in flight from our wedding stationary to a Tattoo Artist and asked for a quote. They gave us some advice about shape, detail, size and the transition from print to skin and we decided that the birds needed to be larger and more detailed. We therefore commissioned my brother to draw two birds from scratch. We trusted him implicitly and had no real image in mind of what these birds would look like. To us, they were just two birds. But I loved the Artist’s response from my brother:

“Are they the same bird, or different?

What is their flight path like?

How do they move?

What direction are they flying in?”

He took the representation of the birds as ourselves seriously and began to research breeds of birds and their characteristics. He agreed with us that essentially James and I are very different people but with some intrinsic similarities.

At Christmas 2015 we got the finished product, which really is a piece of art. We are about to have the original professionally framed to preserve it forever. My brother is remarkably gifted at detailed drawing and the time and care he gave to this piece is evident the moment you look at it. The next job was to find a Tattooist who had the skill and vision to recreate his work on our skin…

An example of why I love Instagram is because I found our Tattoo artist there and began following her work for about a year before contacting her about my ‘Noli Timere’ wrist tattoo (you can read that story here). Whilst working on my wrist I carefully asked Barbara about whether she would be interested in ‘The Birds’ project. I know from experience that Tattooists are very careful about recreating others work, for a number of very legitimate reasons.

  1. They want to maintain artistic credibility and have a reputation for doing work that they believe in. Agreeing to do any old persons drawings could end up disrupting that.
  2. Copyright issues
  3. The level of time and skill required to copy a piece of art.

Thankfully, when I sent Dan’s work to Barbara she loved it. But she did admit when we saw her in person that she underestimated the level of detail when looking at a photograph of it.

We had a rare opportunity to go over to Hull just in time for Barbara’s new studio to be opened up in February, the weekend after James’s birthday. We were her first clients. James sat for her on Saturday for 5.5 hours and we all agreed to do my work into Sunday, when I sat for her for 4.5 hours.

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I can’t quite describe how much we love this piece. We altered the flight of the birds ever so slightly, to adjust to the shape of our bodies. Many people ask why my bird is chasing James’s. I like to think that I am following him. I am not a feminist and have no qualms about saying that I have chosen to follow my husband wherever he goes and I am grateful to have him as my guide. I have my own individuality in lots of ways, which Dan managed to pinpoint in the birds he selected for us. So here they are:

A Wagtail (Jenn, top) – They are small birds with long tails which they wag frequently. Wagtails are slender, often colourful and has a near constant tail wagging. In spite of the ubiquity of the behaviour and observations of it, the reasons for it are poorly understood. It has been suggested that it may flush up prey, or that it may signal submissiveness to other wagtails. However recent studies have suggested instead that it is a signal of vigilance that may aid to deter potential predators.

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A Swallow-Tailed Hawk (James, bottom) – The flight of this elegant species of Hawk is singularly beautiful and protracted. It moves through the air with such ease and grace, that it is impossible for any individual not to be delighted by the sight of it whilst on wing. A solitary individual, they are easily approached when they have alighted. At all other times, however, it is extremely difficult to get near them, as they are generally on wing through the day, and at night rest on the highest pines.

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That’s us.

I am a bit of a constant chimer, always doing, chatting, thinking, beavering away, but colourful and bright, or at least trying to be. I can be easily misunderstood but have real vigilance when it comes to challenges.

James is impossible not to like, beautiful (but doesn’t know it) and graceful, but introverted and difficult to get to know, always busy, always grafting, resting only with his mate, tucked away from sight.

Thinking about it now, I think I’ve chosen not to share our work more publically not necessarily for the fear of judgement, but because I don’t need to. It’s not for anyone else. Saying that, I am proud of our birds, not merely because they were drawn by my brother, but because of the story they represent and the pain I endured to get them. There are no two ways about it, tattoos hurt – sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. But life can hurt way more. This blog is about sharing my stories to encourage and inspire others. I don’t mean to encourage or inspire others to get tattoos (!) but I do mean to encourage people to express themselves and tell their own stories in a multitude of creative ways.

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When I asked Barbara about the name of her new studio ‘Sainthood’ and the meaning behind it, she told me it was actually nothing to do with religion and spirituality, but taken from a Bob Dylan song. I looked up the song later on and for me it epitomises perfectly why I choose to get permanent body art. There is something about turning pain into beauty that is almost cathartic and deeply expressive. I came away from our ink-adventure to hull feeling more confident, relaxed and liberated. So for now, it doesn’t matter what tattoos mean to anyone else, but for what it’s worth this is what they mean for us.

I Came So Far For Beauty, by Bob Dylan

“I came so far for beauty. I left so much behind. My patience and my family, My masterpiece unsigned. I thought I’d be rewarded For such a lonely choice, And surely she would answer To such a very hopeless voice. I practiced all my sainthood, I gave to one and all, But the rumours of my virtue, They moved her not at all. I changed my style to silver. I changed my clothes to black. And where I would surrender, Now I would attack…”

 

A Rather Grand Adventure

Image courtesy of Bear Fox Chalk // www.bearfoxchalk.com
Image courtesy of Bear Fox Chalk // http://www.bearfoxchalk.com

I love my thirties. I really do. I found that my twenties were mostly spent pretending to be an adult, whilst retaining the emotional maturity of a 16 year old. When adult responsibility was called of me I would play the ‘I can’t cope’ card and bury my head in the sand. As I progress through my thirties I am starting to see the big stuff not so much as a burden but as a privilege.

Saying that, I am still scared witless (I wanted to use a slightly less sophisticated word, here) by the choices I have to make. I can’t help but wonder how much my early experiences as a child has informed the way I handle choices as an adult. This is one of the elements of parenthood that terrifies me. That my every action, word and decision has the capacity to mould and shape our child, both to their strength and to their detriment.

My Mum and I have talked a lot lately about how the impact a parent has on a child doesn’t even stop when they become adults. In fact the relationship becomes more complex; the ‘child’ never stops longing for the approval of their parents, but in turn parents long for the approval of their children. It’s a fragile intimacy, which, if taken for granted, still has the capacity to shake a person to their core.

Then we must ask how far we ought  to feel responsible for one another. For a parent there comes a crucial ‘cut off’ point, when if they don’t take a step back the child will never learn to do things for themselves and become independent. Equally, a child must be able to live their life without feeling responsible for their parent’s emotional wellbeing. But to severe the emotional bond between a parent and child completely seems, to me, an exceedingly sad choice to make.

I am /we are faced with a number of exciting possibilities right now. Exciting, but also daunting responsibilities. It’s the kind of stuff that the child in you really longs for your parents support and encouragement in. For them to say, “What an amazing idea, clever you!”. But, complex as the adult-parent and adult-child relationship is, the adult-child will balk at the mere hint of being told what to do by the adult-parent. If they ask for advice, that is one thing, but advice unsought is a different matter altogether! What an adult-child still wants, in essence, is to be told “I approve of all of your choices.” But of course as an adult, we can’t expect that from anyone.

Image courtesy of Bear Fox Chalk // www.bearfoxchalk.com
Image courtesy of Bear Fox Chalk // http://www.bearfoxchalk.com

One thing I am grateful for in my thirties is the realisation that I don’t need to live in fear of making the wrong choices and, actually, I don’t need my parents to tell me which are the right ones. I have the capacity to make both very good and very bad decisions but I also have the strength and maturity to recover from the latter. For what is life without mistakes, monumental cock-ups and misdemeanours?

Photo courtesy of Bear Fox Chalk www.bearfoxchalk.com
Photo courtesy of Bear Fox Chalk http://www.bearfoxchalk.com

What is life also without risk? I can only imagine that this one is especially tough to witness as a parent. To see your flesh and blood take a risk, particularly one that you don’t understand or believe to be the right one, must put a parent on edge to say the least. But to intervene is to potentially steal away hopes and dreams and push the child in a direction that is not their shape or destiny. How can someone ever grow up if they are constantly prodded and pushed in a specific direction?

It takes courage to grow up and become who you really are. ~ E. E. Cummings

I don’t relish this aspect of parenting. I am privileged to have a number of parents around me, currently with children between the ages of 0 – 6, and every one of them has a different approach to raising children. It must be impossible to know if you are doing it ‘right’. I still have the urge to turn to my parents to check that I am ‘doing everything right’, then realise that they too are only human and that they too are still growing up – always, endlessly learning, adapting and changing. I must encourage them as they do so, just as they encourage me, let me go and allow me to grow.

I guess that when you have children you embark on a new adventure, one that takes them with you wherever you go. What we perhaps don’t realise is that that Grand Adventure doesn’t ever stop, but there are mini adventures in-between that we can continue to invite one another to accompany us on. As we embarks on our next adventure, I would like our parents there with us. As our parents embark on theirs, we would like to stand by and support them. We don’t need to understand or even approve, just be together in it; a Very Grand Adventure.