Today I took my girls to watch the Cinderella movie, and as it was about to start, I found myself wondering if I was doing the right thing introducing or worse, underpinning the story of a prince that comes to save the princess, whose contribution to king and kingdom is pretty much her beauty. (Do princesses ever get old with saggy bums and boobs?) I shrugged it off in the end because it’s a story, and one the girls have read and heard before anyway.
About half way through the movie, I began to think about the change to Disney movies over the last few years: Brave, Frozen, I’m sure there are more, where the hero is actually a heroine, and girls aren’t being told they are helpless individuals with only their looks in their favour anymore… for the most part.
I was so impressed with how they ‘did’ the new Cinderella movie. While they didn’t actually change any of the story, the bits they ‘filled in’ changed so many of the morals of the story. Cinderella, while a bit of a victim of her circumstances, and of the ‘way’ things were done in specifically Elizabethan England (think Jane Eyre, and marriages made for fortuosity) was still the master of her own mind; she still chose her responses to what was done to her; she still managed her emotions and tempered what she thought by what she believed in. Perhaps because her foundations in “a golden childhood” were so solid, and forged in love, or perhaps because of what Viktor Frankl 1 calls self-actualisation, whereby some people have the ability to see joy and beauty no matter their circumstances. Whatever the reason, the character Ella, who slept in cinders for warmth, was able to be who she knew herself to be, irrespective of the cruelty thrown her way.
Forget about princess and true love! THAT is a message for today’s young women!
No one is coming to save you. No one is perfect, any more than you yourself are perfect. Prince Charming will someday let you down. Just as you will let him down. Because we don’t die at 35 any more. Our years as adults are longer now, and someone, somewhere will disappoint you, hurt you, betray you, break your heart, or worse, your trust. And what matters is not what others do to you, but what you do with yourself after that. And how you respond when a time comes when you are the one with the power.
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
― Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning
Ella’s mother, on her deathbed, tells her young daughter to face life with courage and kindness. I’ve been thinking about this all day, and I can’t think of better mottoes for life. Everything can be filtered through courage and kindness. Tough love takes courage, forgiveness takes courage. Standing up for yourself takes courage. Not hitting back takes courage and kindness. And the whole world would be a different place if in our interactions with others, we always asked ourselves first: is this kind? Is what I’m about to do or say, kind.
As we were driving home I asked my girls what they thought of the movie, and of course they loved it. They thought the dress and the shoes were beautiful. They thought the castle was magical. They thought it was terribly sad that Ella’s mother died, just like Nana (although I was informed it wasn’t exactly the same, since she died in the day and Nana died at night. How do those minds work?!)
But they didn’t see Cinderella as a helpless girl, they didn’t see the prince as her ‘saviour’. They saw a girl who kept her head while those around her were losing theirs (thank you, Rudyard Kipling 2) and was rewarded for it in the end. Our journey home was spent chatting about courage, and kindness and what they mean to us in the real world. What choosing a life of courage and kindness means between them as sisters, between them and children on the playground, when they’re faced with bullies and mean people, how those mottoes are implemented in our lives.
As far as lessons from movies go, I’ll take this one and run with it, for if I can send my girls into the world strong enough to be courageous and gentle enough to be kind, I will consider it a job well done.
It’s not that it’s a failure, per se. I’m not even bitter. It’s just that things haven’t panned out as I imagined. If I’d ever made it into a year book, the caption by my picture would probably have said ‘Most Likely To Succeed’ or at least ‘Most Likely To Die Trying’.
But instead, I woke up one morning and found out that life today would be exactly like life yesterday, and life tomorrow the same too. Not in a day-to-day way, actually. I mean, today we may do crafts, tomorrow we may go out, but at the heart of the matter, every day has one objective: Make it through. Scrape the Pennies together. Survive. Okay, that’s three, but they’re on the same theme.
Biding my time has never been my thing. There’s so much to do in this world and with this life, but living from paycheck to paycheck, juggling which bills will get paid each month because there simply isn’t enough money around to pay them all? Well, that’s not where I hoped to be in life.
And it’s not just me. I was reading up recently about how many families with children there are in the UK and I found that the number of families who have moved in with other families (concealed families, they’re called) has dramatically risen over the last few years because people can’t afford to stay on their own any more.
Thank God we’re not there yet – I don’t even know who we’d stay with! But when did life become such a hamster wheel? There must be more. Teachers are striking. ‘Poverty Pay’ is an actual term used in the news. Apparently one in five in the UK live under the poverty line. And sure, there’s poverty and then there’s POVERTY. We’re not homeless with our children playing in the dirt outside ramshackle huts. I know that. But it’s all about perspective.
Maybe part of this ‘gentle stroll to granola’ is going to become about living different to the norm, out of the hamster wheel, and different to what’s deemed “right”. I can feel the North Wind blowing for me. It’s time to pull up anchor and see what’s still out there.
One day I sat in an adjoining room to where my husband and daughter were. I didn’t know particularly what they were up to, but at one point, a full few minutes of the ‘conversation’ was her Daddy saying ‘No, no, don’t touch that. No Ameli, put that down. No, no, I said no’ and so on.
I became conscious of how often we were saying no to Ameli and discussed it with my husband. At first he didn’t really think it such a big deal, but he must have become conscious of it, as he started pointing it out to me when I was doing it too.
We began to realise how difficult it really is to exclude ‘no’ from your vocabulary once Ameli started walking, unpacking things from cupboards, and generally expressing her independence.
It wasn’t until Ameli one day did something she was allowed to, then looked at me and shook her head that I realised that it did have an effect on her.
So we started making a few changes to the way we ‘do’ things.
For a start, we moved things that shouldn’t be in her reach – glasses, plates, important papers. If they’re not in reach, there’s no need to tell her not to touch them.
We tried to distract her, or deflect her attention from things she wants but shouldn’t have. She wants to play with a glass, I remove the glass, but instead of saying ”No, don’t play with the glass”, I will take the glass and give her a toy and say, “Let me take that, and you can have this.”
We change the words that we use to attempt to be more positively reinforcing, and making her think about her actions, rather than constant negatives – “Do you think you should be playing with that?””What do you think Daddy would say if he saw you unpacking his drawer?” “Are you sure that’s where those go?”
If she’s done something already before we could stop her, such as unpacking the dirty laundry basket, I stand by her and we repack it together, saying something like “Okay, now we need to put everything away again… come on, in the basket… that’s right… thank you for being helpful”
If she asks for something – and by asks I mean she comes, takes my hand, takes me to what she wants, holds out her hand and says ‘Ta’ with a rising inflection on the ‘a’ (very cute!!) – and it’s not something she can have or do, I will state what she wants, acknowledging that I’ve heard her. For example, “I know you’d like to climb the stairs, but Mama is working now. Why don’t you play with your book and we’ll climb the stairs later?” At her age (13 months), she doesn’t understand a word of it, really, but I will then pick her up, grab her book, make a comfy spot somewhere for her to sit and hand her her book, open a page and point to something on it to help her engage with it. So far, that seems to work.
I have found that since we have embarked on phasing out ‘no’, it’s impact has become greater too. Recently, Ameli ran along a patio, full speed towards the edge yet not looking at it. I yelled ‘NO!’ and she stopped dead, looking at me. I was able to walk over to her, take her hand and show her where she was headed. I honestly believe she got it, as she put her arms around my neck, and let me lift her down.
If we see our children as people, we can understand the frustration of constantly hearing ‘no’, generally because parents are too busy, preoccupied, or tired. If I heard ‘no’ all the time, I’d be frustrated too. If all children want is to be heard, then confirming we’ve heard them before giving them our decision should make that decision easier to accept – not because they like the decision, but because they can see it’s been considered and understood, rather than just a knee-jerk response. And anyway- if you say ‘no’ all the time, they just tune you out in the end!
So, yes, I’m holding my hand up. I might be getting this totally wrong. Perhaps I’ll turn out with a child who knows no boundaries, defies every limit and is thoroughly disobedient. It is possible. But my hope is that in positive instruction, providing alternatives and causing her to think from this young age, not only will it give me time to ‘practice’ and break free from the in-built ‘no’, but it will allow her to grow up as an analytical person aware of her decisions and choices, conscious of her actions, free to explore and ready to take on the world without fear.
How about you? Have you found alternatives to ‘no’ or do you think that’s a step too far?
My mother and father came to England to visit us for a holiday. Her cancer was in remission, miraculously and it was time to visit the grand children she loved so much. We were all so very excited. I’d planned visits to Santa’s grotto. A Christmas Train ride, visit to a Christmas through the ages exhibit. I bought a huge Christmas tree. We had things planned for every day. Winter Wonderland. Fairytale Wander. A visit to Pooh Corner. So many plans.
The hospital arranged a hospice for my mom in the next town up from ours, but also said she could come home while she was ‘well enough’ to do so. There would be community nurses that would come round daily and check on her, and refill her morphine driver.
The decision would be mine, my mom said – my home, my children, my choice. I felt strongly that she should be home with us and that we would send her to a hospice when she was no longer able to go to the toilet on her own, or we felt that we were no longer able to cope. But I believed that while she still had awake and lucid moments, her place was with us, in our home, surrounded by the noises and sounds of her family.
I was mainly surprised by the questions from especially people in the healthcare profession. You know your mother could pass at home? Yes. How old are your children? 4 and 1. Are you okay with having them in the house? …
Where else would I have my children?
I stood in the living room speaking to one of the community nurses and pointed to the floor to her right:My daughter was born here. It seems only fitting that life should end here too, I said, pointing to the very same spot, but upstairs.
We are so far removed from death in our culture.
Like birth, it is something that happens somewhere else. It’s something that is cleaned up and swept away. It’s something that’s dealt with by a professional, someone with experience, someone else. Yet another taboo.
My mother’s last moments occurred at 1:17 in the morning. If she’d been in a hospice, I would not have been there. I would not have woken up, gripped her hand, and told her I loved her as she gasped her last. None of us would have. Her grand daughter would not have been there to give her the last goodnight cuddle before going to bed.
When the nurses, who happened to turn up moments before the end to give some top up pain medication, declared that she was, in fact, dead, I sent my husband to the kitchen for the herbal poultice I had made earlier that day, hoping it would have some weeks to steep. My sister and I washed our mother’s body, cleansing it for one last time – oh, she did so love to be clean – before removing her nightie and putting a new one on her. Ritualistic body washing is normal in so many cultures, even deeper cleansing than what we did, but in ours it isn’t. We are missing out. It was beautifully therapeutic, healing, almost.
In the two weeks since, Ameli specifically (at four years old) has been through a series of emotions: she’s had separation anxiety.
She’s cried at random moments, whenever it’s been quiet. She’s role played death and dying and we’ve had to let her get on with that, knowing that she is processing, dealing. We’ve had questions upon questions too – but we’ve answered as far as we could, as much as we can.Being many hours before dawn on Boxing Day, we had a long wait before the doctor could come out, and then later the funeral directors, and my husband was adamant that the children should not see their still and lifeless grandmother.
I wasn’t as sure, really, but he’s been so supportive in everything else, I let it go. Once the room was empty again, however, my husband and I took the children into the room. Aviya pointed at the bed and said ‘Nana?’, but Ameli seemed to understand what the empty bed meant, and both girls cried, we cried. We have all allowed each other tears.
My mother’s funeral is tomorrow. A simple cremation, because she doesn’t really know people here. I’m looking forward to having a little bit of closure. It will be years yet, I’m sure, if ever, before we really move on, but at least we can have a little closure.
Do I have any regrets about choosing to bring death home? Not one. Beyond the fact that my mother should have lived much longer than her 54 years of life, the fact that she died in my home, in my arms, in the room next to my sleeping children? No, I wouldn’t change a thing.
Our Squidgy girl’s birth story is a little bit of a lot of things. It’s still quite raw in my head, and this will probably all come out a bit rambly, but… it is what it is. It was imperfect, and yet perfect too. It was perfectly different. Perhaps that’s the first lesson I’ve had to learn in parenting two children. Perfectly different. For a short birth, this is a long story. Here it is:
Squidgy, who is as yet unnamed, was born at 17:23 in water in our living room at home on 13 March 2012. She weighed 4.2kg, or 9lb 6oz, with a head circumference of 37.5 cm and length of 56cm. So, yes. A rather big baby. By scan dates she was 42 weeks and 5 days gestation. By my dates she was 40 weeks and 5 days. Her placenta was fine and she was still covered in vernix and not at all wrinkled or looking like an overdue baby.
Her birth story started a few weeks before, but her labour day started at 3:45 on Tuesday morning when I woke up with contractions that were strong enough that I was moaning in my sleep and realised that I was disturbing Ameli, who was in bed next to me. I went downstairs and tried to write a letter to Squidgy, but I had said everything there was for me to say in the weeks of waiting, so instead I sat on the birth ball, did figure of eight’s and popped the TENS machine on to help me through pretty strong, but well separated contractions. I lay down on the sofa to sleep, and the contractions stopped for a while, waking me every half hour or so, till Ameli came downstairs.
I kept the TENS machine going, but started getting Ameli ready for nursery – I figured contractions were far enough apart that she’d not miss anything by going to nursery. She went, and I did my work for the day, and sent a few emails and finalised a few things. I didn’t expect things to progress too quickly, and figured there was still time, so I didn’t do too much preparation.
Ameli got home and her and daddy went for a lie down, during which time my contractions were powerful, but still about 11 minutes apart. I just relaxed on the sofa or the birth ball, and did a lot of dancing in the lounge during contractions, swishing my hips and doing figure of eights and focusing on my breathing.
Martin had partially inflated the birthpool in the morning, and I was starting to feel it was going to become necessary sooner rather than later. I finished inflating it, and cleared the lounge, preparing it for the midwives.
I let my midwives, both of who were off duty for the day, know that I was in labour, and then let the on call midwife, Deanna, who I had never met before know that I was in labour, but that there was no rush. I had had a session of acupressure the evening before with a newish friend, Rhiannon, and had discovered that she was actually training to be a Doula and that she needed a few more clients before qualifying, so I’d said I’d let her know when I was in labour, and if she wanted to come over, she’d be welcome to. So, I let her know and she replied saying ‘Can I say that I’m secretly hoping to make it to support you!? I have felt so drawn to you the last week, it’s such a strong emotion to feel compelled to support a birthing woman!” Her reply excited me, and flooded me with energy and I looked forward to having her there. Also because I didn’t know who was going to be attending, midwife wise, I was happy to have someone impartial that I could trust – someone who wasn’t emotionally invested in the birth of a child or grandchild.
When Ameli woke up at 15:30, we went into the kitchen and started baking the cake in a jar that I had prepared a few weeks before. While we were in the kitchen, I became increasingly insistent that my husband needed to start filling the pool, which he began to do. And it’s about here that things started unravelling. Martin tried to attach the water fitting for filling the pool. When we’d tested it all, we’d had a different kitchen tap, but it has recently been refitted and suddenly our fitting didn’t fit the tap! He started fixing it to make it fit, and needed another pair of hands, so I called my mother downstairs to help him while I finished making the cake. My contractions had suddenly gone from every 11 or so minutes to every 2 to 3 minutes, and I started feeling like I was bearing down. I phoned Deanna and told her I think we’re progressing fast. I let Rhiannon know, and at 15:33 she said she was on her way.
Just after 16:00 I tweeted that we’d made a cake and it was in the oven. I was in the lounge. My mother was drying her hair upstairs and Martin was still working on the pool. I was contracting and couldn’t sit on the birth ball anymore for the pressure. I leaned over the back of the sofa, but became concerned that my waters might break over the sofa. I moved onto the floor, because I was pretty certain that I was now bearing down, but I wasn’t sure. Somehow I felt uncertain, because no one else was concerned. Everyone else seemed to be busy with other things, and I had Ameli with me saying “Are you breathing mama? Are you breathing?”
It was around this time that I became aware of Rhiannon arriving, and she immediately managed Ameli by asking her if she could go upstairs and get her favourite book, I think! I had another contraction before I could even recover from the previous one, and I told Rhiannon that I needed them to fill the bath because they weren’t going to get the pool filled in time. At this point the midwife arrived and there was such a rush of activity, I started feeling quite panicked. I stood up, contracted, leaning in to Rhiannon, and changed into what I would be wearing in the pool.
I climbed in the pool and Rhiannon gave me something homeopathic so that I wouldn’t be sick from the gas and air Deanna had set up. Amazingly, I wasn’t. I didn’t have any reaction to it at all, in fact. Not even the wooziness I experienced with Ameli.
Ameli got in the pool with me and was very excited by everything going on. We were still filling the pool, I was having definite pushing moves, my husband was somewhere, sorting out the video camera, (which I noticed at one point near the end, and realised you couldn’t actually see anything. I’d intended to have it with a room view, rather than just on me, but had obviously never communicated this to anyone else! I meant to say something, but had a contraction and forgot about it) and my mom was somewhere in the room with one or two midwives – somewhere during all this, Tanya, my midwife who was on a day off, had arrived.
Ameli started wanting to do all sorts in the pool and I felt the need to go inwards and have space, so asked for her to be removed. She was not happy, and my mother grabbed her and took her upstairs to redress her. She screamed fiercely, which unsettled me, but they were back soon enough, and my mom started doing theactivity pack with her. This pack was an absolute winner in my view-from-the-pool. There was enough to keep her busy, but she was able to be a part of what was going on. She was able to stick her head over the pool and see what was going on, but not having to be an active part of it. She didn’t watch Squidgy being born, but saw her raised out the water. I was very happy with her ‘involvement’ in her sister’s birth.
Martin finally came and stood by me. He’d finally gotten the water up to the right level, and was able to be with me. I rested my head on his hand and told him I’d missed him. He’d been my rock in Ameli’s birth, and this time we just weren’t ready and I’d been doing it without him. He helped me breathe properly again and was available to me and meeting my needs in birth. I am very lucky to have him as a birth, and life, partner.
At this point, however, I was feeling frantic. Everything had moved so fast – the last hour had seen three people arrive, a pool filled, Ameli in the pool and back out again and somewhere the beeping of the oven to say the cake was ready too! – I lay in the pool pushing, thinking ‘No, no, no! I’m not ready! I need to focus. This hurts. Why does it hurt! It didn’t hurt last time!’
I couldn’t understand where the pain was coming from. I know that sounds odd to most people, but there was no pain in the transition at Ameli’s birth. I was so calm, I was so focussed, it was so different. I said I needed everyone to be quiet because I couldn’t focus and the room did quiet down, albeit temporarily. I asked Martin to change the MP3 player from the hypnobirthing CD which I was just not able to focus on, to music. The effect was immediate. I was able to focus in on the music, sing along to the song and focus all my attention inwards. I felt immediately calmer, and my pain level actually halved. It was amazing relief being able to just internalise, and visualise. At one stage Rhiannon and my mother were singing along with me and I remember having my eyes closed and thinking they sounded like angels.
I also remember feeling my waters break very near the end – in fact I think Squidgy may have crowned just after. It was an odd feeling, like a ‘POP’ but I couldn’t say anything to anyone, I wanted to wave my arms and point, but I couldn’t move my arms, instead my legs jerked up and down. My eyes were closed, but I imagine I looked like chicken thighs jerking about. When I finally could speak again, I told them my waters had gone.
Everyone worries about pooing during birth, and at one point, I know I must have because I remember someone saying ‘where’s the sieve’ and I actually giggled to myself – although quite possibly only I heard it – because I saw the words from an article I read by Ina May Gaskin floating in front of my eyes “Where there’s maternal poop, there’s usually a little head that follows”. I was excited about the baby head and choose not to think of the poop.
It wasn’t much later when Rhiannon said that they could see the baby’s head. I was surprised. I knew I was in transition, I knew it was happening, but again, it was so fast. It was as if I stopped fighting and started going with what was happening. I felt myself stop fighting it. It had been about an hour since everyone had arrived, but once I’d been able to focus in on what was happening inside myself, it took minutes – maybe 15 and Squidgy birthed herself the way her sister had. All at once.
When I felt her head, I said I want to pick her up myself, I didn’t want anyone else to touch my baby first. Once she was born I remember someone telling me to pick her up, that I had to pick her up now, and I remember not moving, but thinking ‘no, not yet’. I think I mumbled something about ‘Where’s the cord’. Ameli had the cord wrapped around her neck twice, and we cut it straight away as we couldn’t get it unwrapped. I didn’t want the same to happen again.
That wasn’t a problem this time, however, and I picked my baby up out the water and put her on my chest. I asked for her towel to be given to me, and my mom handed it over to me. I wrapped her in it in the pool and we waited for the cord to stop pulsing.
She nursed pretty much immediately, I had some Angelica Root to help the placenta release and sat in the pool looking at my little…. Well, I had to look twice, because I had been so sure she was going to be a boy, but instead we had another little girl! I was so surprised – but we are both really happy to have another girl.
The placenta came shortly after the baby, and again, I was surprised by it. I ‘birthed’ this placenta, rather than it popping out. It was a strange feeling.
Martin cut the cord when it had stopped pulsing, and Rhiannon whisked the placenta off to the kitchen, ready for processing (I have had it encapsulated.) Ameli came to look at her sister properly, and her first words on the matter were “Can it walk?”
We all had a good chuckle.
From there it’s all a bit of a blur. The baby was weighed and weighed again, because we thought there was something wrong with the scale. She was so much heavier than we thought. I had a quick check, and then had a shower. Rhiannon made me a smoothie, and Deanna wrote her notes. My mom looked after both my children – BOTH MY CHILDREN!! – while I was finishing up (actually I have no idea what happened while I was showering, now I think about it) but when I came downstairs, my mom had the baby and Ameli was playing with her puzzles.
Deanna left, Martin made me some pasta, I shared the news with the world, and then went upstairs to bed. My mom called my dad and showed him the baby, by which time I’d fallen asleep. Someone, I think Martin, brought her back in to me, and so we slept, through the night, as newborns tend to do.
I woke in the morning, staring at this little piece of magic lying next to me, awed that we’re here again, that we’ve done this again, and blessed beyond measure. Not only the mother of two amazing beings, each so individual, but also a woman, an owner of my birthing experiences, floored once again by the magnitude and raw power of birth, proud beyond measure to be a member of the female gender and fiercely protective over the power that comes with it.