A Stitch in Time

Some years ago, I had a rather significant operation. I called it the ‘hitch and stitch’. An internal lady parts renovation. One part of that renovation called for my uterus to be stitched up via my pelvic ligaments to my spine. It was a great thing to do, for good reasons, and it worked. But the stitch on the left side seemed to be the cause of debilitating pain through my pelvis and down my left leg and ankle. I’ve been managing it since then; pain, pain meds, the endless juggle of when I can take them and have the relief I so need.

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Waiting for surgery.

When you are taking really strong meds, there are some things that just aren’t right to do, like drive your kids around, or work. You can’t rock up to a teaching or a modelling job with a floaty head because you’ve just taken your oxynorm. So on the days I worked, I just had to deal with the pain. There have been many tears shed or short words delivered to my nearest and dearest when I am back home after a day of smiling through pain.

Pain sucks.

I’ve learnt to adjust things as I go. Thinking all the time “can I take my pills yet? When will they kick in if I take them now? What else do I need my brain for today?” and then, the pill is swallowed and the other-worldly, floaty absence begins. Sometimes, when it kicks in, I cry with relief.

I am still aware of the pain when I take my pills, but I no longer care about it. Unfortunately, I no longer care about most things when I am in that state and finding words is a challenge. I might drift off mid-sentence, or repeat the same thing multiple times.  Writing for this blog doesn’t work when I am under the influence of my pills, or doing the freelance work I used to enjoy so much. So I’ve written less.

Managing pain meds makes me anxious, because I don’t want to give myself an addiction problem. I also hate my kids seeing me like that, tuned out. I often don’t take my meds when perhaps I should for that reason. But what can you do? Life goes on. Mother work doesn’t seem to be outsource-able. Pain just exists and we survive it. Centuries of women have dealt with women’s issues and got through. And if we can’t, we fall in a heap for a while… and if we’re lucky, the troops rally.

I have felt so fortunate to be in remission from Pandysautonomia that I have felt I cannot legitimately complain. I mean, my life, even with pain is so much better than before. So mostly, I have just shut up about it. People don’t generally want to know anyway.

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…suffering isn’t usually something it is socially acceptable to ‘selfie’

The day before yesterday was an important day for me.  I had a surgery to attempt to fix the problem with that stitch. My uro-gynae surgeon is Tim Dawson, one of the worlds finest medical people. He’s so kind. Previously he had done a hysteroscopy and identified the inflammation, and the location, of the rogue stitch so he knew exactly what to do. We are fairly certain this is the culprit. And here it is.

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This little stitch caused me a lot of grief!

My arch enemy, the cause of my pain, the author of all that suffering. It’s so small! But so are the nerves it harassed. Aggravated nerves can pack a wallop of pain when they’ve been bothered for a long time. When the nurse handed that stitch to me in a specimen bottle, I examined it closely: my Evil Nemesis. I thought about how much I hated it, that small but powerful stitch. I felt like you might feel if a scary spider that bit you is trapped in a jar. Like a victor.

Now, we wait. We wait for the bruising and dissolvable stitches from the operation to repair. We wait for the other procedure he did (an intra-uterine ablation) to heal. We wait for a good number of weeks on strong pain relief to see if my brain can cease firing on the same old pain pathways. And then, we’ll know if it worked. I feel hopeful.  I’ve been working with the Pain Team from ADHB and they have been so outstandingly helpful. They made sure that this time, there would be no re-admission to hospital from pain flare. I’m so lucky to have access to that team, they really know their stuff.

Wouldn’t it be great if removing this stitch in time, saves nine!

Here’s to all you ladies, who like me, never seem to have an easy time of the lady-parts-shebang. To all the girls suffering with difficult periods, menopausal madnesses, fertility frustrations and women’s woes. Here’s to you, to us.  We often don’t discuss these things because it is awkward, or embarrassing, or deeply personal. But if you are out there hiding in plain sight, suffering because of your lady business, I send you solidarity. Hang in there sisters!  The other side of menopause shines like a beacon of joy just over the horizon!  Let us sally forth!

And especially, here’s to the ladies who stood by me, offered to help and made me feel okay, to Pru and Tamra, to Flo my ever-wonderful bestie, to Mo and Toni, Noodle, Bunny, Bee, Nettie and Trissy.
Sisters in biology and sisters in soul. I am lucky to have you on my side.

Just look at what we can do even WITH the difficulties of our ‘downstairses’.  Women are incredible!

The Embrace

 

Some years ago I came across a seminal video clip that was going gangbusters on social media. I think my cousin, Kylie in Australia posted it. It was made by Taryn Brumfitt. I remember most the way she looked at herself in the mirror. The things she said out loud that sounded like the script I’d had swirling around my own head about my body.  She was talking about the shocking way we look at ourselves as women, and why that has to change. As I watched her clip, the tears began to run down my cheeks. I felt that old familiar despair about my body. I felt shame. That tired dirge within my heart, a deep disappointment weighing down my soul. It had to change.  I added Taryn’s clip to the arsenal of information I had begun to gather around my fledgling body positivity. I’ve thought a lot about this body of mine since then, all the things it has endured. I thought about how truly wonderful it is to be here, in it. This vessel deserves thanks. Not deprecation.  I hugged myself in a long, forgiving, kind-hearted embrace. It was the beginning of this new phase in my life, the start of something brand new. Liking myself exactly as I am (how sad that liking ourselves is almost revolutionary). It’s been liberating!
Thanks Taryn for your part in this shift for me!

 

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A little drawing from my sketchbook of me, embracing myself.

 

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Taryn Brumfitt’s viral social media post.

 

Taryn has since made a full length documentary, EMBRACE, exploring the potent body-ideal saturation of our media and the various ways that affects self image. She discusses the powerful, soul destroying ways we fight the unattainable fight and why we do. Sharing perspectives from a cosmetic surgeon, an anorexic girl, a plus size model, photographers, campaigners, educators, an actor, a public figure, and the general public. The themes and message in her documentary are world-changing.  I urge you to find a screening near you. I hope it will be available soon on DVD. It’s incredible. Last night, I took my daughter and my Aunty to see that documentary. It was a special screening hosted by Meagan Kerr and Monique Doy.  At the end of it, my eleven year old girl hugged me and said “Mummy, everybody needs to see this”.  She’s smart, my girl. She’s right.

 

The documentary was hit by controversy when it was first screened here for the Film Festival. Due to the images of female genitals during one part of the film, it was considered to be sexually graphic and had to be reviewed by the censorship board. The purpose of showing those private parts, was to address a very real problem for young women; asking crucial questions about the rise of labiaplasty among young women. Labiaplasty is surgery to removed the inner labia and create a more ‘streamlined downstairs’ sometimes known as the ‘designer vagina’. Women, especially young women, are clamouring for this surgery because their vulvas don’t look like the ones in pornography. They may not know this is the standard to which they are altering their bodies, but pornography and soft-porn magazines are often the only place women see other women’s vaginas. The proliferation of porn across our internet means young people encounter multiple images of one particular type of vagina (to be technically correct, vulvas). The type fashionable in the porn industry. Waxed or shaven, minimal labial folds. A vagina more stylistically akin to that of a pre-pubescent girl. It’s a sick world, and we wonder why?  Taryn shows a  range of female genitalia to shine a light on the fact we are meant to be unique. In showing realistic, post-puberty vulvas she valiantly attempts damage control. Thankfully, our censorship board watched the film and approved it’s screening. I actually dearly wish that we could make it compulsory in all schools, for girls and boys. But there are some themes that are significant triggers for our youth and it needs to be approached with care.  NB. Suicide, self harm, eating disorders, cosmetic surgery.

 

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Photographer B Jeffrey Madoff

My favourite part of the doco was when Taryn was shooting a special diversity project with New York photographer Bernie Madoff. I’ve been involved with a few diversity shoots, bringing up the rear (pun intended) and representing women over 40 and over size 18. I adore shoots with other women where encouragement and acceptance are part of the scene. It’s a rare thing in this world, for women to accept and encourage other women, just as they are, for being who they are, not just what they look like. It’s intoxicating. It’s a force I want to see more of in this world. Not just for me, but for the generations coming through. Empowered women empower women and when they do, happiness… wholeness, happens.  I’ve been involved in education, the disability sector, and now the plus size fashion world. Advocacy seems to be part of my purpose. But I can’t help wondering if all of the disparate sectors of my life, of my society, are together the thing that lights my fire. Diversity.

 

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Shoot for Euphoria Design’s “Confidence is Beautiful” campaign. 2016.

I want to see more fully grown women fronting women’s fashion brands and having a stronger presence in the media. Women of various ages, various stages, body types, abilities, ethnicities, backgrounds and gender histories. I want the fashion world to give us all credit for wanting more than the one type of ‘woman’ (girl) we see everywhere. I want more representation, not just because I love modelling and I am not a typical model, but because it matters for our young ones coming up. It matters for them to see that women are diverse. It matters for them to see that they have a place.  Here, with us. The women of the village. If we don’t show them they have value, that their image is beautiful, how will they ever embrace the realities of growing upward, outward, and older?

 

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Shoot for Autograph Curvy Model Search. 2015.

 

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Backyard shoot for Sera Lilly jeans. 2015.

Taryn Brumfitt makes room for us all with this documentary. With her wonderful fun loving sparky approach, she elbows the status quo out of the way and asks finally, and loudly, REALLY?  Is this what we want for our gender moving forward?  She calls us to wake up and begin the revolution in our own mirrors. She’s a rockstar, and I wholeheartedly embrace her movement.

#Ihaveembraced #TheBodyPositiveMovement

 

Adiós hermosa Chilena

(Farewell Beautiful Chilean Girl)

I love a road trip.
Today I’ve been down to Thames and back.  It’s a three hour round trip, not counting our stop.  For me, that means roughly three hours sitting. In my comfy car seat that makes for a pretty quiet day, though more tiring than sitting here in my bed.  I love the moving window views, but most of all, I love that I have the kids cornered.  Can I admit that!? On a road trip, we will talk, listen to music and re-connect.  And, like it or not, I will educate (because you can take the girl out of teaching, but never the teacher out of the girl).  Poor kids.   Yep, three whole CDs worth of education! Small wonder they fall out of the car at the end of a trip like a sigh of relief. Today, my travelling companions were Bee and Fifi.  Nine and Sixteen, but roughly the same height; vanilla and chocolate beauties, sporting, by chance, the same chin.  Fifi is here with us on exchange from Chile, and right now she’s feeling contemplative and emotional.  She’ll be heading home soon, after half a year in the land of the long white cloud.  Our beautiful countryside lived up to it’s name.  Cloudy skies and drizzle.  Vivid green fields and rolling hills. And lots of time to talk about life, travelling, the meaning of life and music.

A road trip isn’t complete without a soundtrack.  So Bee chose on the way there, and in testament to Fifi’s tolerance, I chose on the way back. The subject of investigation today was the importance of excellent lyrics (we agree that Rod Stewart was a bit lacklustre in that department).  The subtext was the importance of lyrical music.  I do feel my age when it comes to music;  I like a back story in a song.  A message.  A bit of universal truth packaged up in a melody that keeps you humming all day. I much prefer it to some fast-talking-bass-beating-boom-bah. I hear the sentiments of generations past coming out of my own mouth!

And… because my travelling companions were ‘my’ girls, I wanted to highlight with my song choices just how special and beautiful they are to me.  I do worry, about girls growing up in this world.  I worry about this post-feminist swing back into the badlands.  I see the sexualisation of girls in the music media and it seems so much more extreme than the gasp-inducing fifties advertisements that marginalised the value of women.  Back then, women were denigrated to their value as housekeepers.  Now, it seems to be their value as para-pornographic dancers, gyrating to some male gangster’s tough guy rap.

What happened to the work of our mothers?  The feminist discourse of the seventies seems to have become so diluted.  We are getting back there to the time where men are accepted to be the boss and women are simply sex props, without a voice. I worry about that.  Looking in the rear view mirror at my nine year old baby… and seeing sixteen year old Fifi’s face, just as fresh and beautiful and unscarred by life;  I just want to wrap them up.  Keep them here, suspended in a beautiful moment in time.  Before men and the messy business of love.  Before they change the way they see themselves and start to doubt the very thing that makes them so beautiful, right now.  It’s who they are.  All their dreams.  Every hope they hold for the future.  So breathtakingly beautiful it makes me want to cry.

 

Photography by Be Couper 2014
Photography by Be Couper 2014

I’m putting two songs into this farewell post today, one from the soundtrack on the way down to Thames (Taylor Swift) and one from the way back (Tim McGraw).  Both, for the beautiful girls who travelled the road with me.  Here’s to you two.  ‘Our’ baby girls (I know, you’re not babies anymore). Good people with so much ahead.  Kia kaha, sweet ones. 

And to Fifi in particular, Haere ra.  It has been an extraordinary experience having you in our family.  Go well, go far, and every now and then, look back and remember our Land of the Long White Cloud.  Our skies will be crying for you, long after you fly through them and back to your home.

(Fifi, you’re actually your own Mommy’s ‘baby’ but we feel lucky to have borrowed you for this important season of your life. Here is a ‘daddy’ song for you, from Uncle …and the rest of us too. XOX)

Baby powder, Burqas and Bikinis

Summer has just begun to slip off the seasonal dial.  It’s been a hot one and getting to a pool or a beach has been a prime objective most days.  I’ve seen countless little ones splashing through rock pools or creating sandy kingdoms, hollering to their friends in the water.  Pre teen girls running along the beach and squealing at the waves and each other.  The sun is high and the swimmers are mostly on, though it seems the younger the child the less likely you’ll find them wearing a one piece, or even two pieces of their cossie. I have an adorable photo of my daughter looking out to the horizon, her little bare butt cheeks dusted with golden sand.

Speaking of sand and butts, have you discovered that fab little trick with baby powder?  Who knew? Baby powder is the most efficient way to remove sand from feet after a trip to the beach.  Works a treat for butts too!  But I digress.

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The thing that bothers me, is that we are so acutely aware of the dangers within our society, that we can’t relax about nudity.  Pedophilia has frozen our reason, so that it is difficult to see the innocent sweetness of little nudie sweethearts without being hit by a bolt of anxiety.
Are they safe?
Is some predator watching them?
Can I prevent harm by covering them up?
Can you even buy baby Burqas?
Am I doing the wrong thing as a parent by letting my child run nude, or wear an itsy bitsy bikini?

I faced similar anxiety watching my son in his first dance concert.  Groups of heavily made up girls wearing cropped lycra confections and eyelash extensions took to the stage for the act before his.  They gyrated their way through a raunchy rendition of ‘Trouble’.  The crowd went wild.  I cringed, thinking of my young lad looking on from the wings. Then gave myself an internal face slap.  They are just kids, it is me that is interpreting these things through a sexual filter. What does my son see? Colour, rhythm, fun. I hope…. the dilemma.

I’ve read the forums about the sexualisation of young girls, the distress about the increase in products like padded bras, g strings, high heels and bikinis for pre teens.  I sympathise with both sides of the argument and I suspect that like many of the things on this parenting journey, we have less control than we think we do.  Girls have dressed up and emulated older females since the beginning of time.  Child fashion reflects adult fashion.  Girls will change away from home to wear the latest fashion, even if Mum and Dad don’t approve.  Didn’t you?

The media delivers skinny, minimally curved  women clad in little; bronzed brown and perfectly fashioned for the male aesthetic.  Young women everywhere depilate all the hair that shows they are, in fact, women. It’s a disappointment that, after all,  the predominant media image of women has not yet been revolutionised by the women’s movement.  Music videos add their controversial spin on what being a woman should look like.  The adult world is sending out the archetype of womanliness. And we wonder why young women go out with their backside creases showing.

It’s very difficult to see all that(!) and not wrap another layer around your daughter. But the thing is, I really, really want my girl to feel proud of and comfortable in her body, regardless of whether it is covered or not.  I want her to have the power of body-freedom.  Not the self limiting fears over what isn’t ‘perfect’ about her image.  I want her to think, “This is me.  Just as I am”.  I don’t want her to feel that there are parts of her body she should feel ashamed of.

She should grow up considering all her parts, private or otherwise as equally important, special and beautiful in their own right. I don’t want her to cower under the possibility that some freak somewhere is getting their jollies because she is wearing something that highlights her female-ness.  I certainly don’t want her to ever believe the lie that it is possible to ‘ask for it’ by what you wear, or don’t wear.  Rape and sexual abuse occur because there are people who make disgusting choices to overrule the personal freedom of another.  They do these things because of their own mental illness, because of hideous social norms, because humans do bad things to other humans.

I want to teach her to be as safe as she can be; within the understanding that she is a glorious and beautiful person.

I guess I want her to learn make good choices herself.  Not because she is afraid of the power of sexual predators, but because she values herself.  Is this something that you do by encouraging  chaste clothing? Or is it about encouraging safe behaviours, open communications, informed choices?  I know that this topic is something we will not shy away from talking about as my girl grows up.  I can’t change the world as it is.  The media, the pedophiles, the GenY fashion situation.  But I can build up my daughter to know that her worth is far deeper than what she does or doesn’t wear.  When she was a tiny toddler, looking out to that horizon from the beach, she couldn’t know all the issues that would face her as a female in this society, but she did know that she was awesome, just as she was.  I’ll do everything I can to help it stay that way.

There is a popular story that has been doing the rounds about Mohamed Ali.  It is told by his daughter Hana in her book about her life growing up with her Dad.  She recounts a visit to her father:
My father took a good look at us. Then he sat me down on his lap and said something that I will never forget. He looked me straight in the eyes and said, “Hana, everything that God made valuable in the world is covered and hard to get to. Where do you find diamonds? Deep down in the ground, covered and protected. Where do you find pearls? Deep down at the bottom of the ocean, covered up and protected in a beautiful shell. Where do you find gold? Way down in the mine, covered over with layers and layers of rock. You’ve got to work hard to get to them.”
He looked at me with serious eyes. “Your body is sacred. You’re far more precious than diamonds and pearls, and you should be covered too.” 
Source: Taken from the book: More Than A Hero: Muhammad Ali’s Life Lessons Through His Daughter’s Eyes.

Except that it isn’t true.

Everything valuable in the world is not covered and hard to get to.  The beauty of nature, the abundance of the earth, the joy of relating to other human beings from a place of confidence and peace.  Value is not about rarity and market dictations, I choose to have a different value system.

What do I value most in my daughter?  Her unique self. Sandy bottomed, hip hop happy, free, innocent and unfettered by all this grown up anxiety.  Long may it last!

What do you think?   Do you have daughters and worry about what they wear? How do you address the issues of body-shaming vs. over sexualistion?  Does it bother you?