Thursday, 16 May 2019

How Trump’s America is taking back women's bodies

The United States of America considers itself one of the most progressive countries in the world. It's the Land of the Free with the Great American Dream. What they don't say it it's The Land of the Free Men, where any opportunity is open to anyone, just as long as you're a man.

In the country that has never yet had a woman in charge, Alabama this week passed a bill stopping women having abortions.

Whether the child is severely disabled, the result of incest or the product of rape makes no difference. Once a woman has seen the blue line on the pregnancy test she's responsible for it for the next 18 years. A doctor performing an abortion can be sentenced to 99 years in prison.

The Pro Choice argument

It should be enough to say women should have the right to abortion because no one should be forced to have a baby if they don't want to. But it's obviously not, so I'm going to spell it out anyway.

We know from history what banning abortion means, and it's not more happy smiling children in idyllic family settings. It means bringing yet more unwanted children into the world who will be at risk of physical and mental suffering, who may have to suffer the distress at being removed from the parents who didn't want them in the first place. It means children of women who have been raped growing up hating a part of themselves knowing their existence is only down to abuse. It means desperate women seeking out dangerous underground solutions to terminate their pregnancies which put themselves at risk. It means women having to give up the lives they wanted to care for children they shouldn't have had.

The anti-abortion argument

What shocks me most is that there doesn't seem to be much of a counter argument. It goes something like this: "I think that this supreme being that I believe in probably doesn't want women to terminate their pregnancies, so therefore it should be stopped." It doesn't seem to take into account all the people who don't believe in that particular supreme being, or in this assumption about their god's beliefs. Or indeed the lives and bodies of women.

Men taking over women's bodies

There were 25 people who voted to approve the new law. Six who voted against it. Of these 31 senators, four were women. Can you guess which group the women were in? Yes, they were the small minority that voted to continue allowing women in Alabama to have abortions. So only two men voted that women should be allowed to make decisions about their own bodies.

The new ruling is opening the floodgates to 16 other states which are considering cracking down on women's rights over their own bodies.

I hope that in a few years time those 25 (white) senators will be prepared to open their homes to foster some of the many children who will be born into difficult circumstances as a direct result of this legislation.

Photo by Victoria Pickering via Flickr Creative Commons
Abortion may not be for everyone, and if you don't agree with it, then don't ever have one, but pregnancy, childbirth and bringing a child into the world should be a choice, both for the women and the children involved.

When a society stops allowing women to make their own decisions about our bodies, then we are instantly made more vulnerable and less important than men, who do not have these restrictions. If men really want women to stop having abortions then maybe they should stop having sex with them.


Alabama

Today it's Alabama, but anti-abortion bills have been introduced across the US and other states could follow suit. I know I'm writing this purely for the people who already think as I do. But if I can provide just a few more words in support of those women in Alabama who are fighting for their freedom, then it's worth it.

It is absolutely essential that we, as women, insist that we are the ones qualified to make decisions about our own bodies. Men should not be doing this for us.

If ever there were an argument for women to be involved in the political process, then this is it. Because if the Alabama senate had been reflective of gender balance, with 17 female senators instead of just four, this bill would never have got through and women in Alabama would still have been able to make their own decisions about what happens to their bodies.


Wednesday, 1 May 2019

Turning 40

I turned 40. I’m still getting over it. I expect that by the time I have got over it I will be well past it. Possibly closer to the next big milestone.

The year I turned 40, life hit me in the face. I had two miscarriages, a collapsing roof to deal with, and then I very nearly lost my Dad. Oh and my daughter started school. I don’t lump that in with the other things, but it was a major life event and having a child in school is another being a proper grown up milestone. No matter that, at 40, I am one of (if not the) older mothers in the tiddler section of the school. It was the year that I had to face life and think about death

So a couple of months ago I finally became middle aged. And I can’t get my head around it. It’s only a number, but it’s a big number, it marks a new life stage and, even if I live to 100, I’ve now used a large chunk of my time.

My friend invited me to her husband’s 40th birthday party, shortly before I reached the milestone. I puzzled over the invite. “But I’m sure we already did this, a couple of years ago.” Slowly, it dawned. That was 10 years ago you idiot - that was his 30th. So there goes a decade. It’s true you know – time really does speed up as you get older. Except for Monday mornings. 

Chocolate and mortality in Bruges

Turning 40 came as a bit of a shock. I’d just about come to terms with being in my thirties. I was comfortable with that. I felt like I got good at it. I accomplished a few things as well. When I turned 30 I was married with no children. Since then I have gained a PhD, a divorce (surprisingly not related to the PhD) a good job, a five-year-old child and a new partner. I have also moved house four times (maybe not an achievement, since one of the times was moving back with my parents) and grown out my fringe (we’d been together a long time). I have still failed to publish a novel, but I have a blog which was going pretty well until my annus horribilis kicked in (more on that shortly). Put like that, maybe I don’t sound so bad. I mean, at least I’m doing stuff with my time.

Turning 40 was the bright spot in an otherwise bleak year for me. Two miscarriages, a collapsing roof (very expensive and stressful to sort out), redundancies at work and my Dad spent 12 weeks in hospital dicing with death (he got better).  

My 40th birthday was spent wandering happily around beautiful Bruges hand in hand with my beloved, drinking beer that is stronger than I can possibly handle. It was idyllic. The icing on the cake (metaphorical at the time, although I got one a few weeks later) was my mum’s heartfelt message that my Dad had suddenly taken a huge turn for the better.

My new favourite place in the world: Bruges. Photo by Jacob Surland via Flickr Creative Commons

Fear begins at 40

I moved into my 40th year on this planet feeling bruised from a relentless few months. Trying to spend and treasure every possible moment with my loved ones. And feeling terrified about the future, because when the past 12 months can do that to you, then you can’t help wondering what the next 12 will bring. My dad came face to face with his own mortality this year, and we faced it too. There were many times when my family and I were certain we were losing him. Once, my daughter, who always starts difficult conversations from the back of the car, asked me: “Will I ever see Grandad again?” And I had to keep driving and say brightly “of course you will, sweetheart” hoping that it was true, not least because I knew he, the one who was waiting outside the door when she was born, was missing her even more than she was missing him.

And I look back on my year of horror and realise that so much of that is what being 40 is. I’m grown up now, so while my little girl is allowed to fall apart, I am not. Disasters, like collapsing roofs, will happen and I will just have to deal with them, not necessarily alone. Miscarriages – if you’re going to try and have a baby at this time of life, then they’re more common too. And whilst once I needed my parents' support (and still often do), now sometimes they need mine.

I've noticed I type my date of birth now self-consciously – it seems such a long time ago. I don’t want to admit to my younger colleagues that I remember the eighties, that I grew up in a world without memes and mobile phones.

Many of my friends got to 40 ahead of me, and they seem to be coping OK with it. Is it just me? 

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

What not to say to someone who's had a miscarriage

It can be hard to know what to say to someone who has just had a miscarriage. It's a difficult time and it's not your fault if you don't know what it's like. So I'm making it a bit easier for you. Here's what not to say.

1. At least you already have a child.

Maybe this makes it easier in the long run, but in the immediate aftermath of a miscarriage it's not helpful, because it's not about having a child, it's about having this child, the one that's been lost.

2. Next time you'll have a healthy pregnancy.

A doctor said this to me, but I don't care how medically qualified you are - it's bullshit. Maybe I won't be able to get pregnant again. And if I do the chance of that one miscarrying are exactly the same as they were for this one. So maybe I'll have a healthy pregnancy, or maybe I won't. Either way, it's not a dead cert so don't treat me like an idiot and promise what you can't deliver (pun alert).

3. It was very early.

Obviously I know that, and maybe it makes it easier, maybe it doesn't, but you saying it is not helpful. Because from the second I became pregnant my body and my brain was preparing to have that baby, and now it's not going to happen, so I have to adjust to that. Just because it was early doesn't stop it being a big deal.

4. At least you can get pregnant. 

There's not a lot of point in getting pregnant if you don't end up with a baby. You get all the hassle - putting on weight, nausea, avoidance of lovely food and wine - without the lovely outcome.

5. It wasn't meant to be. 

If you'd spent hours cooking me a lovely dinner, and I came round to your house and we had a nice chat and a glass of wine and were both getting really hungry and you went to dish up the feast you'd been labouring at all day, only to find that the cat had just eaten the lot, and then I said to you 'It wasn't meant to be', what would you do? Obviously my maybe-baby wasn't viable - but you're not saying that because that sounds a bit clinical and insensitive (correct). Just don't assume I share your crackpot notions of fate.

6. You will have a healthy baby, I know you will. 

No you bloody don't. Shut up and see #2.

7. Are you going to try again? 

None of your business. I haven't got over this yet, so why are you asking me? Trying again means opening myself up to the possibility of another loss, so don't make me think about that right now.


Empty Swings by Viola Ng via Flickr Creative Commons

If you don't know what to say, that's OK. And it's OK to not really understand. I couldn't really understand, until it happened to me. And I didn't know what to say. "Sorry" is good. It doesn't need any more than that.

Saying nothing

Everyone's different, but to me, saying nothing is worse than saying the wrong thing. Saying nothing suggests that you don't care, while saying the wrong thing is annoying, but at least I know you mean well. 

So next time you hear someone has had a miscarriage, say you're sorry that their baby died, sorry they had to go through it, just sorry. Ask them if they're OK (but don't expect that they will be), ask them if there's anything you can do, and if you've had one yourself and want to share your experience, then do.