My Year Ends Today | Mama Bird Doula

For the avoidance of all doubt--


A year ago today.


A year ago I had gone to bed afraid and woken up afraid.


18 months of control and abuse that had reached boiling point.


I had two hours.


I had to get out.


The questions;


Where is he right now?


How many times have you tried to end the relationship?


Does he break things in front of you?


Has he ever hurt a family pet?


Has he ever threatened to kill himself?


What are you afraid of?


Words tumbling from my mouth as I hadn't considered the answers to these questions might paint a picture too horrifying to contemplate.


I will forever be grateful to Women's Aid for telling me they considered me at high risk and needing immediate refuge space.


I only had a few big shopping bags... maybe five. So I shoved as many clothes as I could in them. I used one bag for my son's toys he had gotten for his birthday four weeks prior. I rushed to get it in the car with my newborn baby wriggling on the sofa.


Raced to his school to collect him. Said we had a family emergency.


"Where's Optimus Prime?"


The bag of toys.


I only had twenty minutes. I pulled up outside the house again and ran inside and got it as I couldn't face letting him down again.


We sped down the a470 all the way to Cardiff all the while my phone was going off--


Where are you where are you


I'm not ashamed of having spent six months in a refuge. It's something I haven't necessarily publicised due to ongoing issues.


It's my story, and I have been prohibited from sharing it.


Our first refuge was like a big boarding house with shared bathrooms and kitchen. We slept in a converted office downstairs - my son in the top bunk, me and the baby tucked into a single bed. So many women and children and heavy doors and every task was hard but I did it.


Our second refuge was a top floor self-contained flat which was more bearable. We slept on the bottom bunk and my hair would get stuck in the rungs above and the mattress was so slippery the sheet would fall off in the night.


I simply was not safe anywhere else.


Then I found my house.


When people ask why don't women leave sometimes it's because you don't realise it's abuse. Sometimes you are just very very afraid.


"Aren't you ashamed to be in a refuge with women who have actually experienced abuse, don't you feel like a lying fake? If they knew the truth they would be as ashamed of you as I am." My abuser said to me.


I have told nothing but the truth to all agencies I have been involved with and followed all recommendations to keep myself and my children safe.


It still baffles me that there are people who believe a woman would choose to spend Christmas in a refuge with an 8 week old baby, report herself to social services, take her four year old out of school, make him miss his first Christmas concert, risk the end of her business and income because she was a bit upset about the end of her relationship. But I guess if manipulators weren't believable we wouldn't fall for it in the first place. I know I did.


The lies - I went to refuge to get a council house. I don't have one. I went to refuge to get a free solicitor. I don't have one I self-represent.


He holds no power over me anymore.


Leaving is scary and messy and unknown. It's the first step on a long road. I have been stalked, harassed, bullied and intimidated including at my place of work where I had to hide in the toilet. I was spat at in court, followed to my car. Threats to burn my possessions, to turn my baby against me, harassment of my friends.


Women are FIVE HUNDRED TIMES MORE LIKELY to be killed in the first year after ending the relationship.


My year ends today.

I See You | Mama Bird Doula

I see you.

I want you to know I worry about you every day.

I think about you as an outlet for his dark rage and I tremble as I remember the moods and the blaming and the way nothing was ever good enough. 

Knowing that every time something goes wrong for him, means you will receive punishment in some way. 

I remember feeling like life with him was an endless black hole I thought I could fill with love.

Until I got buried. 

I remember believing the lies, because if they weren't true, why was he still fighting? Being told just enough of the truth to be convinced but being shielded from the horrifying reality.

All the women who had done him wrong. The pressure to never be like that. To never do anything to look after yourself and your well-being. 

It couldn't be abuse because he was the victim in all this, right?

I have been where you are. Wanting to save somebody you love while they pull you under with them. 

I see you, being mocked and shrinking and existing just to be his emotional punching bag.

When you are ready, you will know.

LIVE FEAR FREE 0808 8010 800

07449810881

 

My Happy Weight | Mama Bird Doula

I'm the heaviest I've ever been.

At least I think I am - I don't weigh myself, never have. I generally use my clothes as a measure. 

Growing up I had a very unhealthy relationship with food and was so paranoid about my weight. I developed early and used to wear oversized clothes to hide my body, having earned crude nicknames already by age 13. I developed an eating disorder as a teenager, trying to shrink myself out of existence, a problem that came back briefly in my early twenties where I would try to get through an 8 hour shift fuelled by a couple of crackers. This was combined with stomach issues that meant often whatever I ate would go straight through me, due to anxiety and panic attacks.

I've written before about how pregnancy resolved so many of my body issues, that food no longer felt like the enemy, like my body working and growing made it feel purposeful and strong rather than decorative. Breastfeeding my baby made me appreciate food like never before. 

Finding veganism gave me a structure I wanted and a reason for the repugnance I felt with animal products. I am always reluctant to link my eating issues with veganism so as not to give the wrong impression - for me it was a very positive thing. I don't think about food negatively anymore. Adverts almost always aren't relevant to me. It's like the noisy buzz of food consumption has quieted and I can just eat delicious food that nourishes me. 

Two years ago I lost a lot of weight. It was a combination of stress, the copper IUD, sleep deprivation and the relationship that I was in. I remember hardly recognising myself in the mirror. I am on a group for fertility charters and found a post I had made at the time where I was asking about anti depressants. The first photo of me pregnant with Autumn-Violet is a tiny, fragile woman who looks as though she might blow away. It wasn't normal for me.

Post-birth, post-refuge, my body has changed and so have I. I don't need to weigh myself to know that I am the biggest I have ever been. While this does occasionally niggle at me due to societal conditioning and I may have a little moan, it's also the cause for huge celebration. My reaction to sadness in my life was always to restrict my food, I can directly correlate my weight with how I felt at the time. 

So for me being rounder means... 

I can buy all the delicious food that I like and eat whatever meals I like

I sit in the evening with tea and biscuits and revel in the peace and calm

I can treat myself to meals out and takeaways

I am not trying to shrink away to please a man or society

I take up space 

I am not unhappy

I am not stressed

I am soft

I am not rushing

I am nourished

I am feeling good enough

I am feeling loved

Rounder and rosier - what a difference a year makes.

Venus is in Scorpio and I am really feeling all this sensual, feminine, creative, kundalini energy. Generally floating around like a free flowing goddess right now and feeling balanced and happy.

Life is good.

Women Are In An Abusive Relationship With The NHS | Mama Bird Doula


No, #notallhcps, and yes, we are very lucky and grateful to have the NHS.


But I'm starting to feel that this platitude I put before making any comment on the abusive and coercive practices in maternity care is a lot like the excuses women make for their abusive partners. Because we all know we NEED the NHS.

"But he does all these things for me, he looks after me, once he even saved my life!"So what does this relationship look like?


I have used the Power and Control Wheel as a basis.


EMOTIONAL ABUSE, COERCION AND THREATS

Women do not feel like they have the ability to make choices. They are guilted and coerced into consenting to things, or even consent because they don't want to "disappoint" the "lovely" HCP. They may even be told they won't be allowed in the pool or access to pain relief. This is not consent! If somebody doesn't feel like saying no is acceptable then their yes is meaningless. This sadly means that many women have been assaulted during their care.


ECONOMIC ABUSE

Free pregnancy and freebirth are an option but for the vast majority of women they won't be. Some try and are threatened with social services. We know that one to one care from a midwife is imperative for good birth outcomes. It's the one thing that doesn't happen. So women know that to feel even remotely safe they have to become part of the system. They may not be able to afford an independent midwife. They cannot leave the NHS because they know that they need it.


USING MALE PRIVILEGE

Although HCPs can be either sex, maternity care is hugely patriarchal and we enact the roles where women are told that the "system" knows what is best for them and they are merely the gestator of the baby.


USING ISOLATION

Women are told they must have a certain type of care, they aren't allowed to home birth, they aren't allowed a caesaerean, they aren't allowed to decline, they're not allowed to leave the hospital, they're not allowed to just walk out with their baby. They are given limited information or statistics tailored to the HCP's agenda. Women are left to languish on induction wards or labour alone, diminishing their morale. They may receive harassing phone calls and letters about their informed decisions.


MINIMIZING, DENYING AND BLAMING

Women are told that what happened to them was inevitable, or had to happen, or was necessary for their baby's safety. They are told (and I have witnessed this myself) that other women in different parts of the world have it worse and they are lucky! They are told to be grateful they have a healthy baby and not talk about the trauma they have experienced at the hands of the system. And of course the usual #notallhcps.


USING CHILDREN

Being told they are putting their unborn child at risk by requesting individualized care or declining interventions. They may have the threat of that child being removed from them if a social services referral is made.


And of course not mentioned but very relevant...


THE HONEYMOON PHASE

This is where a women wants non-standard care and has broken some unspoken rule and somebody senior is assigned to promise her the world. Of course you can use the birth pool, of course you can decline VEs, of course you can decline continuous monitoring...

Only to get there in labour to find she can have none of those things that were promised.

 

I am fed up of women being minimised and gaslit over this. Yes we need the NHS. But that doesn't mean it can just do what it likes to us.

They Want Me To Lie | Mama Bird Doula

The most vulnerable I've ever been is a year ago this week. Just five shopping bags of clothes and toys and nothing else. I forgot one bag full of his birthday things and had to go back. With twenty minutes to spare. Not even a toothbrush or pajamas. Everything lost. His first curl, her pregnancy cast.  

Sharing a house with strangers in a strange part of town. Services, endless services. Some of them shouting down the phone asking you what were you thinking how could you have been so stupid, so blind? 

I've never been able to lie. 

Every person I've been with has commented on that aspect of me, when they're telling me I'm cute, I'm an airhead, I live with my head in the romance clouds. Longing to connect. Unfailingly honest. They like it until that raw openness is no longer theirs to exploit and manipulate but is now shining a light on them without elaboration or fabrication.

Then they want me to lie. 

Will beg, rage, rant. 

With birth. I tell women the truth. I wish I could pretend that every care provider could be trusted and would be respectful and it might make for a nicer conversation but it's just not what I see. It's why I don't fit in anywhere, into the landscape of birth that often wants everything to be fluffy to make a sale.

I'm not interested in just making a sale.  I want a revolution. 

Now there are many people who want to go even further, who want to fit a scold's bridle on me, who admire my passion and my conviction but most of all just want me to shut up when they disagree. Who want me to deny my reality and my beliefs. Not realising I have faced worse than them and won. Their pettiness only souring themselves. Other people whose lives would be infinitely easier if I did decide to stop telling the truth and pretended it didn't matter when there's so much at stake. 

This time last year keeps going round in my head because I lost everything and also nothing. I clung to my work and would not stop serving and speaking, would not let it die.  I built all this up from absolutely nothing at all, five bags, two children and the clothes on our back.  And now I'm fiercely protective and vulnerable all at once. With more to lose.

And I still won't lie. 

Domestic Abuse Myths | Mama Bird Doula

I wrote this series for DomesticAbuse Awareness Month.

Myth #1

Surely a man couldn't be abusive to his partner when she's pregnant? That's the mother of his child!

Truth:


Sadly studies have shown that domestic abuse increases during pregnancy. Abusive men are much more likely to cause an accidental pregnancy in order to incapacitate a woman and "seal the deal" on the relationship if he fears she may leave him.


When a woman is pregnant she will naturally want to lean on her partner for emotional and physical support, as well as financial, and this need can be exploited by men. They will use her vulnerability, exhaustion and inability to leave to up the ante and perpetrate further abuse.


With things like midwife and hospital appointments and excited relatives an abusive man may feel he has "lost control" of his partner and may step up the abuse in other ways. I know of one man who made his partner secretly record her safeguarding interview with her midwife on her phone!


Some women may fear that people will say "why would you have a baby with him if he is abusive?" and "but you seem so happy and excited for the baby on Facebook!" which may make her worry she won't be believed.


She may not even realise what's going on.


It is much harder to leave an abusive situation while pregnant but there is support available.

Myth #2: Once you leave, you're free forever. Just do it!


Truth:


Oh if only it was that simple. Did you know that women are most likely to be killed when they end the relationship, and these risks remain higher for that first year following the breakup?


If you have children with your abuser there is no escaping, not really.


For some women the thought of handing their children over to the unknown is worse than just staying and managing the abuse to protect the children as best she can.


Women are experts on their abusers. They know what to say and how to stay safe. The women I have spoken to can even predict their abuser's next move and sense his presence before they see him, their survival instincts have become so fine tuned.


Then if you do manage to leave, there is the aftermath of PTSD, where you can be triggered by the smallest of things, like your child hiding and jumping out at you. Or a smell, or a facial expression, and your heart is pounding and you're zoning out. If you have to interact with your abuser then you will undoubtedly be stuck in some kind of abuse cycle still, albeit in separate residences.


I knew one woman who got to her own house in a safe location finally and couldn't lock the back door one night as it was stiff and she was so frightened she sat there crying and shaking for an hour.


Leaving is not the end - it's the beginning of a scary, long and difficult road to reestaablishing your whole sense of self and navigating your life when in fact you have lost some element of control by no longer being able to "manage" your abuser as best you can.

Myth #3: Abusers look and act a certain way


Truth:


A man who perpetrates domestic abuse is not always the stereotypical big bloke with a shaved head wearing a vest, drinking beer, and shouting at his wife.


There are many different kinds of abuser, and some are very good at hiding who they really are.


Abusers - particularly narcissistic abusers - crave attention and may be drawn to professions that give them a lot of fame and glory, or heavily invest in "altruistic" activities such as charity, social justice or religious work.


They may have a large group of friends who look up to and admire them, giving them credibility (these are also known as flying monkeys). This is all so they can maintain a good image and get access to vulnerable people. Some abusers use social media to portray a strong positive image, and embroil their victim in a web of deceit.


Acquaintances and friends may express disbelief that the man they know could do something like that.

This is what makes it so hard for victims to come forward, if the person is well-respected and liked, and known for doing good deeds, who would believe them?


It has been described a bit like Jekyll and Hyde, public persona and private persona, and is a form of gaslighting designed to confuse and disorientate the victim and doubt their experience.

Myth #4: If they aren't violent, it's not abusive


Truth:


In 2017 the law finally recognised "coercive and controlling behaviour" as a form of domestic abuse.


Domestic abuse is a repeated pattern of belittling and degrading the victim, sometimes culminating in physical violence, oftentimes not.


Abusers can be very clever at knowing their victim's limits and seeing how far they can push the boundary. They enjoy grinding their victim down and eroding their boundaries over time.


Women I have spoken to have said the psychological damage from the emotional abuse has endured long-term far more than any physical violence they may have suffered.


An abuser may break things in front of you to show you how angry they are, they may use their physical size to dominate the space around you, they may make hurtful and degrading comments about you, they may impose limits and curfews on you. All they care about is control. You get to a place where it is just easier to do everything "their way" rather than face the fallout.


I knew one woman whose abuser was obsessed with a certain colour, and would berate her if she chose any other colour for the house, so she followed orders to avoid fallout.


I knew another woman whose abuser shaved a swastika into her head under the pretext of giving her an undercut, and threatened to blackmail her with it.


I knew another woman who wasn't allowed to put anything for the children in the living room and would face anger and sulking if she did.


And sadly another woman whose partner called her boring in bed and would refuse to be affectionate so she would "let" him do things she didn't want to do.


If you speak to any woman who has been abused they can come up with hundreds of examples like this, of how their abuser humiliated and controlled them


Just because somebody doesn't hit you, doesn't make it not abusive.


It is always about power and control.

 

Myth #5: Why did she not leave him the first time he was abusive?


Truth:


Nobody is abusive 100% of the time and all abusers go through a phase of wooing their victim and disarming them.


When you first get involved with an abusive man they tend to love bomb you. That includes monopolising your time, showering you with love and attention - narcissistic abusers in particular are predatory and will "mirror" your qualities and personality back to you to convince you they are your soul mate.


Almost every single woman I have spoken to has admitted that at first they were not even attracted to their abuser.


This love bombing of time and attention and physical affection produces the same chemicals in the brain as an addiction to hard drugs. You become dependent on the "high" that only your abuser can give you. They rush the relationship so you move in together quickly, get married or have a baby.


And the abuse starts small.


You'll be driving somewhere and they'll make a hurtful comment. You're so confused but you figure they didn't mean it, it was so out of character.


They start to mock you for your little habits. So you change them to avoid the mocking.


They start to slowly withdraw affection. So you work harder and harder to try and recapture that loving feeling.


You are being conditioned.


I knew of one woman whose abuser would deliberately create crises and drama so that he could "save" her from them. That relief and instant dopamine hit kept her bonded to him and craving that safe feeling she felt with him, even though he was the real threat.

And before you know it you are under their complete control.


There is rarely a definitive "first time".

Myth #6: Just because he is abusive to his partner, it doesn't mean he can't be a good dad.


Truth:


Any man who exposes his child to him perpetrating domestic abuse is unsafe and a risk. The psychological and emotional damage to that child is devastating.


Any man who abuses the mother of his child does not have that child's best interests at heart and is not a good father. This is the opinion of Lundy Bancroft, an expert in abusive men.


Any man who abuses somebody he considers "inferior" to him or weaker than him is a threat to a child.


Men are much more likely to commit revenge murders, whereby to punish the woman for leaving him he will kill the children.


Abusers love to control and dominate others, ask yourself, why is a child exempt when a woman is not?


A child is a captive audience for the abuser and is at the greatest risk of all. My heart breaks for all the children sent as test subjects into the hands of an abuser after a breakup.

Myth #7: Why does she pick men like that, she must have really low self-esteem!


Truth:


Nobody goes into a relationship seeking abuse.


Often it's the other way around - they feel sympathy for their abuser for the "hard life" that he has had!

For many abusers - particularly narcissistic abusers - their target is their "trophy" and has something that the abuser wants or needs.


This could be good looks, money, social standing, reputation.


Imagine the thrill for an abusive man of targeting a strong, independent and happy woman and turning her into a ghost of herself, trained to respond to his every whim?


The survivors I have met are all like precious jewels and I have no doubt their abusers targeted them for their kindness, beauty, humour, warmth and generosity.


She didn't choose him, she was targeted so he could keep all those qualities for himself.


And he hated that, and punished her for them.

Myth #8: We need hard evidence before we decide a man is abusive.


Truth:


The definition of "domestic abuse" is that it occurs within the home, where nobody else can see.


It is under-reported and difficult to prove. You can be found not guilty in criminal court and guilty in family court as there is different criteria to meet.


Once you go to family court with your abuser, you are no longer allowed to discuss the evidence and the case. Family court hearings are secret.


The survivor is essentially given an order of silence and is not allowed to discuss the proceedings.


So those who want evidence will likely never have it and must watch the abusive person move onto the next victim and see the devastating story play out again and again, with even more extreme consequences for that woman.


This is how the cycle continues.


False allegations are rare.


Believe women.

 

Myth #9: She doesn't act like a victim.


Truth:


Survivors of abuse are human.


How they live with their trauma is as varied as their individual personalities, coping mechanisms and situation.


There seems to be a myth that survivors must be shy, scared and meek. Those who do not conform to this stereotype are less likely to be believed, studies have shown. And yet those same people are supposed to be brave and calm in court.

We are set up to fail.


The myth of the "perfect victim" is so damaging to survivors and it is a preconception that exists in all kinds of services.


I cried with fury watching Brett Kavanaugh be sworn in on the TV, in a crowded chip shop, with my children.


Survivors can be angry. Really angry.


Survivors can be bold.


Survivors can laugh at their abusers.


Survivors can have a happy life.


Survivors can fight for, and desperately want, justice.


There is no one kind of survivor.


Believe women.

Myth #10: Survivors should facilitate their exes seeing the children or they are just as bad.


Truth:


Survivors may be so terrified of their abusers just being in their presence would be too much of an ask.


I spoke to one woman whose social worker had told her that if she let her ex see their child they would consider her an unfit mother as she was showing she was making poor decisions for the child. This woman was even advised by a police officer to do whatever social services told her.


I have seen many women who gave into their abuser's demands to see the children even though it felt wrong, and by the time it inevitably got to court they were ripped apart, called inconsistent or a liar, as why would they send the children into the hands of such a terrible person? Are they unfit? Why were they happy to be in his presence to supervise contact if they were afraid?


These women thought they were doing the right thing.


If a survivor perceives her child to be at any risk, she has every right not to expose them to abuse.


Sadly you will hear different things from different agencies through all stages of the process it is ALWAYS the woman who gets the blame for whichever approach she takes regarding child contact. Whether permitting or withholding.


The wider world will blame her too. Survivors may not be able to, or want to, tell their story.


One of the hardest things in the world is to be a survivor and a mother.


Recovering from trauma and perpetually blamed.


Women are experts in their experience and can make their own risk assessment.

Myth #11: There are two sides to every story.


Truth:


With domestic abuse and sexual violence there is a 2% rate of false accusations, just as any other crime.


98% of accused men are guilty.

Even if they never go to trial. Even if court lets them walk away.


So when you hear an allegation about a friend or somebody you know, you can be almost certain that the survivor is telling the truth.


The stories I have heard from women about their abusive partners couldn't be made up. Their trauma is real.


Believe women.


No matter your personal experience with the abuser.


No matter what you've seen on social media.


Believe her.

Myth #12: If he was really abusive, she would have reported it to the police and he would be locked up


Truth:

It is rare for abusers to be held accountable through the courts.


Sadly, when you leave an abuser your first instinct is not to contact the police, it is to make your immediate environment as safe as possible. It can be a confusing time. Sometimes a woman may be so in denial she may not realise she has been abused, just that she needs to be safe.


Trauma can cause repressed memories and I have spoken to survivors who are still remembering things years later about their relationships.


This is particularly the case for those who have fallen prey to a narcissistic abuser - the different layers of deceit have produced an alternative reality where that woman has been living, not unlike being in a cult. The shock of that is indescribable.


It is hard to prove domestic abuse even if you do report. The Crown Prosecution Service will often drop a case if they cannot be certain of a conviction.


One woman was told by the police that if she felt at all unsure about attending court, they would not recommend even taking a statement from her about her sexual assault.


The most frightening thing about domestic abuse is how most perpetrators are free to walk among us with no repercussions, just move onto the next victim.


If you are at all suspicious about a new man in your life, you can use the police service Clare's Law to find out if he has any previous reports of domestic abuse or harassment perpetrated towards a partner or ex-partner.

Myth #13: She is making it up because she wants to be a single parent


Truth:


The survivors I have spoken to are devastated about what has happened to their family.


Every single one of them I would class as a romantic - somebody who believed that their love could fix somebody else, could heal them and make their life better.


Perfect targets for abusers.


In case you wondered, they happen to be fabulous mothers as well.


In our conversations they express one of their deepest wishes for their children is for them to have a healthy, safe father to make happy memories with. It is the thing they cannot give them.


They rehearse difficult conversations in their head about how they are going to explain one day. They miss out on friends' birthdays and fun trips because of no childcare. Many of them are running their own businesses and would give almost anything for a co-parent they could trust to pick up some of the slack.

They care for their children through illness alone, they celebrate birthdays and holidays alone, they sit in the evening alone.


They want somebody to share those special firsts with, to turn to and express shared love for their child.


They wouldn't have chosen this if it wasn't the safest way. The last resort.


I am in awe of all of them.

Myth #14: He was a great guy until he just snapped.


Truth:


Abusive men do not just snap. This is a narrative we often see in the newspaper and it is grossly unjust. "If only she hadn't left him, if only she hadn't cheated, if only she hadn't taken the children"


She is not responsible for his abusiveness.


A domestic abuse murder is the culmination of years of perfect control over the victim. The murder occurs because the abuser feels his partner is escaping him.


Survivors of abuse will tell you how their perpetrator would change in front of law enforcement, cry, be remorseful. Psychopaths in particular love to deceive others and do their pity routine.


Abusers are often very in control of their actions and emotions, that is how they keep their victim in check.


He wasn't a great guy until he snapped. It was the final step in the domestic abuse pattern.

 

 

Myth #15: She should just get over it, why can't she move on?


Truth:


One of the devastating impacts of abuse is post-traumatic stress disorder. It is very difficult for friends and family of the survivor to understand how much their loved one has changed.


Those with this condition may have nightmares, flashbacks, triggers, obsessive thoughts, an exaggerated startle response and dissociation.


Added to that - her time with her abuser was a cycle, so that her brain not only associated him with pain but with the relief of that pain. We call it trauma bonding, like Stockholm syndrome. So part of her may still "love" him, or feel a strong pull that she can't explain.


There may be ongoing involvement which means she is still living in an abusive cycle, even while in relative safety.


If you know a survivor - don't rush them. One of the things they may feel drawn to do it regain control over their own lives, which can mean many different things for different people. It's okay not to be "over" it, especially when their body still feels in danger.


The most hurtful thing you can do is to minimise their pain.

Let them know that you are there for them, and you believe them.

Myth #16: He had a really hard childhood/hard life, he can't help it


Truth:


Everybody has a choice to be abusive.


There are many people who have had horrendous childhoods and life experiences and have turned out kind and compassionate.


The abuser sees the effects of his actions, but unless he is directly affected, he does not care.


There is a great quote: "Women are not rehabilitation centres for damaged men." Which I completely agree with.


It is not your job to fix him. It is your job to keep yourself and your children safe, even if that means being as far from your abuser as possible.


He can help it. He chooses to control and abuse.

Myth #17: If I were her, I would leave.


Truth:


You don't know that.


We have already discussed trauma bonding in this series and how women can feel literally addicted to their abuser.


We have talked about how insidious abuse is and how it gradually creeps into the relationship and distorts the woman's reality.


What about if the perpetrator is threatening suicide if she leaves?


What if leaving involves splitting children up?


What if she has no money, no transport, nowhere to go? Her abuser may have isolated her and whittled away her self-esteem so she feels she can't leave.


What if she feels safer right now just managing the abuse than trying to leave? We discussed before women are more likely to be killed after leaving.


You have no idea what her situation is and what you would do. A woman will try and leave an abusive relationship an average of seven times before succeeding.

Tell her you believe her and you will support her when she is ready. It is imperative then for her to go as low contact as possible in order to detox from the abuse cycle and not get sucked back in.

Myth #18: Why doesn't she hate him?


Truth:


We have talked about love bombing and how nobody is abusive all the time - for a start it would be exhausting. And counter-productive, as then the survivor would have less reason to stay.


Deciding to leave an abusive relationship is choosing to love yourself and your children more than your abuser. It is a brave and strong thing to do.


As with all relationships, there are good times. And in fact the good times can be very good, to keep the survivor craving that loving feeling.


You can love somebody and accept that they are incapable of change and dangerous.

Survivors are often targeted for their loving, giving and empathetic natures. However they feel about their perpetrator is okay, and valid.

Myth #19: He seems so happy with his new girlfriend, his ex must really be crazy!


Truth: Social media often displays the love bombing/grooming phase of the new victim for everybody to see.


Declarations of love, romantic getaways, you name it.


Survivors who haven't acknowledged the truth may wonder what is wrong with them, and why their perpetrator chose to abuse them and not the new woman. Onlookers may be fooled by the display that is put on for their benefit.


Anecdotally, with each new victim the perpetrator simultaneously becomes more abusive and more sneaky about concealing the abuse. He has not learned to stop abusing but he has learned where he went wrong in pushing his previous victim too far so she left.


Seasoned survivors I have spoken to are worried to death about their abuser's new partner but they often keep quiet, as speaking up will only back the story up of them being "crazy". Abusers don't change. They just get more clever.

The new woman will be the crazy ex one day too.


Remember you can use Clare's Law to check if a man in your life has a history of abuse or harassment of a partner or ex partner.

Myth #20: Women should publicly name their abuser to protect others.


Truth:


Some people want to get as far away from their abuser as possible.


Some people cope by pretending it never happened, or wasn't as bad as they remember.


Some men don't reveal their true abusiveness until you have children together, so this particular woman may have escaped relatively unscathed.


Some people don't even realise what's happened to them.


Some people are in family court proceedings and can't say what's happening.


Some people have children with their abuser and don't want to be accused of alienation.


My friend spoke to a few different survivors of the same person who were STILL afraid to talk, years later.


Survivors don't "have" to do anything, especially when it puts them and their families at risk.

Myth #21: If you tell family or friends, they will support you to leave.


Truth:


Not everybody can or will acknowledge domestic abuse.


There is so much shame and confusion about what is or isn't okay in a relationship.


The family may have a vested interest in the couple staying together, for keeping up appearances or keeping a community together, or avoiding being associated with something like domestic abuse.


Maybe family members are in denial about their own abusive relationship and need the survivor to show them it can be "fixed". Studies have shown that survivors will try and talk to family and friends before they will engage in services.


I have heard of family members bribing the survivor to stay, or telling them just one assault is okay. Or that marriage is just hard.


Read this: https://www.mumsnet.com/Talk/relationships/2268977-The-Abuser-Profiles


Be aware of them dropping hints. Learn the signs of domestic abuse and show them you can be trusted and you believe survivors.

Myth #22: If she didn't say no, it was consensual.

Truth:


Humans have different reactions to fear. The two well-known ones are fight and flight, but have you heard of freeze?


Survivors describe this perfectly without even knowing what it is.


They describe freezing in fear, maybe after they've tried to give hints that they're not okay with this, and their partner goes ahead anyway. Their reaction is to go still and possibly even dissociate from the experience. For women particularly this is a survival mechanism.


If you've never been abused you can't fathom how impossible it is to say "no" to your abuser. You just don't. You've been trained.


This freezing and lack of a clear "no" means that in the eyes of the law, very little can be done.


Within the context of a coercive relationship, there is rarely true consent. One must believe that it is okay to say no to be able to say yes.

 


24-hour National Domestic Violence

Freephone Helpline

0808 2000 247


Cardiff Womens Aid

029 2046 0566

Your Shame Is Not My Shame | Mama Bird Doula

I felt it.

In my skin as it crawled, strapped into wire underwear, as the hair grew on my legs and I hunched my shoulders to hide my body and the baggy jumpers that fell to my knees.

It lived in me.

As a teenager, the guilt, the fear, disposable, sweaty, smelly, sinful, regress back to childhood with your French-braided hair, horses and fairytales.

Thought I killed it.

When I roared my child out of my body and faced oblivion, I saw the shame as separate from me and found strength in calling it by name at last.

I knew it.

When I wed after bed and my breasts were for feeding my child but it was disrespectful, distasteful, don't let the old men see.

Confirmed it. I was forced to confront, I dove deep, lay in the dark of the shame and bathed in it. Pointed my toes to the moonlight, in awe of the tar of it. Felt it hot and sticky where I was coated in it.

I realised it wasn't mine.

When I rose from the darkness only to be batted down.

When their eyes wouldn't make contact with mine.

When the panic grew in my throat and my soul screamed no and I felt the shame try to claw me back, just one last time...

No.

And you're right about one thing, I am easy after all. Easy to love, easy to trust, easy to laugh with, easy to spend time with, I move my body with the ease that it is to be me, to be free. Free of the shame that so long lived in this perfect body.

So you keep throwing shame

And I'll keep being free

Why Antenatal Education Is Different With A Doula | Mama Bird Doula

It can be hard for pregnant women to know where to turn for, for support and unbiased information. Some women might be reluctant to attend group sessions, particularly if they’ve had a previous traumatic experience or could particularly benefit from one-to-one planning or support. I offer women private antenatal education as part of my services, so that they can benefit from having a doula without having me at the birth!

1.       We have been there and done it

There is a quote that I read one that said “Ask the doulas. They know the hospital culture.” And I think that is so true. Wherever you are planning to birth, in whichever trust, what a huge benefit to be able to talk to somebody who has worked in that environment or has liaised with senior midwives, who can signpost you in the right direction and let you know what to expect.

2.       We aren’t teaching a program

Although I love the antenatal classes such as Daisy Birthing, and would recommend them to everybody, there isn’t always much time for discussion of individual circumstances and specific planning. A doula can give you bespoke support tailored to YOU, to complement all your existing antenatal preparation. It also means that we provide you with the most recent material and studies on which to base your decisions.

3.       We don’t have an agenda

Unlike healthcare professionals, doulas do not have a set of guidelines to work to, we have a code of conduct. We are truly able to make you aware of your legal rights and support you unconditionally in whatever choice you make.

4.       We are available outside traditional working hours

Many doulas I know are there to answer those late night worries, we don’t have a set time (although some of us have working hours in our contracts!) That means whenever you need support, we will be there. Whether that is one to one or in the online support groups.

5.       We don’t tell you what to do

We won’t tell you which position to birth your baby in, we won’t tell you what things “should” feel like, we won’t tell you where to birth or how to feed, we are simply there to make sure you are informed and feel supported in your plans.

6.       We offer continuity of care

You can talk to us through your whole motherhood journey – pre-conception, early pregnancy, postnatally. For that familiar voice and presence you know and trust, you can count on your doula.

Many doulas I know are happy to offer a free initial chat before being booked for antenatal and/or birth support.

Feedback on my antenatal support:


“A wonderful, empowering and supportive lady. Always there to support choices and restore confidence when insecurities and anxieties creep in. She is refreshing, informative and never passes judgement. I could not have got through my pregnancy without this lady. I will always value what she brought me during a challenging but special time in my life. Thank you.”

Thoughts On Freebirth, A Year On | Mama Bird Doula

Thoughts on freebirth, one year on

When my daughter turned one I began to think more about her birth and the experience.

Since that wonderful day, I have appeared on the BBC, the radio, had awful and great things said about me (I refuse to read the awful ones!)

People were so offended by a woman prioritising her needs in birth, by refusing to follow their ingrained narrative!

I know now that my desire to freebirth changed so much for me. For me it was about proving to myself that childbirth was fundamentally safe, that the woman’s experience was paramount to its safety. That I was the one in charge. That trust has woven its way into my life and my work and given innumerable benefits to myself and clients.

My son’s birth allowed me to process a lot of the body shame and hatred I had carried around with me, he taught me that I was built for birthing. It was a euphoric realisation. I had set out to prove to myself that I could do it. I knew then that I could do anything.

My daughter’s birth helped me release all my birth hangups. You cannot work in the birth field for long without being exhausted by what you see and hear from other women. I must admit, by the time it came for me to give birth, I had lost my way somewhat. I wanted to know, once and for all, what a truly physiological birth was. And I saw it. I felt it. As the intensity gripped my body and I flushed and shook, as I felt her wriggle between contractions, slide her head into place, and denied I was in labour until the very end.

My favourite memory is hovering in that in-between space, hearing Carolyn Hillyer singing the song about giving birth to a fish with a moon between its lips, neither here nor there, my eyes wide and wondrous, seeing Sam’s wry smile and her eyes dancing with mirth.

Me, laughing, the antenatal teacher saying “Oh no” as she anticipated another contraction. Operating on instinct rather than instruction.

The way I just knew that I needed to change the position to allow her to slot into my pelvis with ease. But didn’t realise until later.

Her birth taught me the deep connection that women have during labour, I recall how acutely aware I was of everything. I can still remember the amazing feeling of sinking into a birth pool that is the perfect temperature. 

I know more than I did then - and I would still choose my choice. 

The mother that was born this time is a fierce one. When you are pregnant you are watching, waiting, growing. Autumn-Violet, the energy building in my body. As she was born she awakened my protective nature, set me on a long and tumultuous journey in reclaiming my power and myself.

Happy birthday my love, my catalyst.

When I think of your birth I think

Joy

Warmth

Love

Euphoria

Release

Thank You For Breastfeeding My Baby | Mama Bird Doula

When women support each other, magical things happen!

I so wanted to do some training with women's aid to be a domestic violence ambassador, as the day drew nearer I expressed some milk for Autumn-Violet but I knew it was largely pointless, as she has never had a bottle!

My wonderful friend Pipi was having the children and I mentioned to her that if she wanted to breastfeed Vi, that was fine by me.

Both the children weren't even bothered when I left and it was with a happy heart I knew they were in loving, capable hands.

At lunch time I could feel myself coming down with a migraine and I rang Pipi to see how the babies were doing. My suspicions were correct, the bottle had been chucked aside, and my darling baby was napping after having familiar vegan breastmilk from her brother's mama.

It meant the world to me that she was able to do this for my baby.

Thank you for breastfeeding my baby.

Thank you for looking after her like your own.

Thank you for giving her comfort when I could not.

Thank you for supporting me to reach my dreams.

Thank you for helping me to help others.

In some Arabic cultures they believe in "milk siblings" where if you have fed another woman's baby they become siblings to your own children, it warms my heart that they are now siblings twice over!

Story Of A Good Girl | Mama Bird Doula

Dolls lined up, all in a row.

Fairy girl, bright hair, wasn’t to know.

Told I was a flirt with my big eyes and lashes.

Two years old.

When I got older, my imagination burst.

Animals and princesses as I turned and turned.

Heart hungry, heart shy.

Pinning my hopes on those boys that I liked.

If I only knew how vulnerable

I looked on the outside.

#

When I grew older, the horses arrived

I learned magic with my hands and healed them

With my mind.

Hours in the stableblock, whispering

Hauling hay

Sweating in my good body, girl body,

Woman’s body

That threatened to turn bad.

Dangerous in my knee socks

And my skirt

Thigh-high.

And now it was drink and endless nights.

Told I loved the drama

Instead I tried to hide.

You’d find me under tables and in cupboards most times.

Overwhelmed from the pain

I carried

Inside.

They didn’t want to know—

Thought that my instability

Was an affront to their ability

Every mouthful I denied

Mocking their sacrifice,

Sometimes I still feel the choke

Where food symbolised

The food of love.

#

Painted patterns

On my skin

Needles pushed through cartilage.

A different kind.

As a child I worshipped

At the stain-glass walls

Now I worship

Under artist’s scrawls

The sound of the gun can penetrate

Through to the bone.

Pressing to become more real, more real

More.

I found a man

Who called me home

That irresistible emptiness

So familiar

Beckoning forth.

#

Body rounding, what is this?

I know I dreamed of you

Little fish

You wriggle and thrive

And all I have to do to keep you

Is survive

And birthing you could be

The hardest thing in my life

And I did it,

And you’re here

And you’re telling me that it was all lies.

Look how the pretty one

Can be bloody and wise

Roaring her child earthside

#

Unlearning takes time.

The labyrinth to traverse

The lessons so hard

You have to learn twice.

I am not the dancing girl

But the woman

In her fortress.

The warrior

Even when my voice trembles.

Those hands for healing

Now used in birthing

The power that I find in words

Come together

Weave

A magic web around my world

#

You will attempt to cross

At your peril.

What I Learned From My Son This Week | Mama Bird Doula

Today is a big week for us as it's Judah's first week in reception class at school.

I have had so much going on with work and other stresses, and I recently was recommended to purchase a piece of Kyanite, a gemstone which is said to help with psychic boundaries and emotional wellness. I was so happy when it arrived last week and I have been wearing it daily, and hanging it up on the bathroom door when I go to sleep at night.

When I woke up yesterday morning I couldn't find it anywhere. Judah always gets up before me. I searched in the laundry basket, in my bedroom, anywhere it would have logically been and it was gone. I felt so upset as I felt like this necklace had been a proactive step for me in restoring some harmony and balance.

Judah is a bit of a magpie. He loves gemstones and jewellery and he has always been particularly fascinated with crystal cages and popping the crystals in and out. I asked him if he had seen it. No, he hadn't. I asked him again. I told him he wasn't in trouble I would just really like to have it back.

He heaved a deep sigh and went to the coffee table, where he opened one of the drawers to reveal my necklace, crystal out of the cage.

I didn't reprimand him, I just reminded him - Judah, this is mummy's special necklace. We don't take other people's special things.

"Well..." he said "You take my kitty and give it to Autumn-VI"

I was stunned. Judah has had this orange cat beanie baby since he was two, when his father and I separated, it was a good way to keep the comfort and continuity when he went on sleepovers. He loves this orange kitty. It gets packed dutifully in the front pocket of his suitcase and is clutched to his chest at night. 

Autumn-Violet is in the stage where she wants EVERYTHING. Anything that she perceives to be of value she just plain WANTS and she will kick up a fuss to have it. I will admit if I want five minutes peace to get stuff done it has been easier to give her Judah's kitty. She loves the privilege and babbles at it while I get on with something else.

Judah would sometimes snatch it back and I would gently remind him that she is a baby.

But obviously to him - this was not okay. I was giving his treasured possession to the baby and invalidating his feelings. I had been doing something really wrong without even realising it.

It made me really think about the importance we adults place on our possessions versus our children's. How my necklace that gave me emotional comfort I had automatically attributed greater value than his long-standing kitty. 

I felt awful.

It was a good reminder to me that for little ones, their experience and autonomy are just as important if not more so than ours. 

I apologised sincerely and told him that he was quite right, and I had been very wrong. Good thing they are more patient and forgiving of us as we learn.

Doulas Are Not The Fluffy Bunnies Of The Birth World | Mama Bird Doula

Lately I really think some people have this misconception that doulas sweep in with our essential oils and our birth pools, selling a dream, that we give false expectations to women, that we tell them to ignore any attempt at medicalisation of their birth, that we are the woo woo fluffy bunnies of the birth world.

I wanted to set something straight.

Doulas are often the only ones telling it like it really is.

The doulas I know blog about stillbirth, abuse and birth trauma. The things others would rather not think about.

We urge our clients to make not one, but three birth plans, to consider every eventuality to make sure their wishes are followed whatever happens. Because we know that it does and we aren't afraid to admit it.

For educating our clients about things like assisted delivery ahead of labour, we are told by medical staff that we are "scaring" women.

The doulas I know spend hours combing through guidelines and evidence to make sure women know exactly what their rights are.

We manage microaggressions in the birth room and try to keep the peace.

We support women through terminations.

We help to pick up the pieces afterwards when the medical staff go home believing they have saved the day.

From where I am standing, doulas are the ones with enough respect for women that we make them aware of the whole spectrum of birth - from the dark to the light - in all its beauty and its pain.

We don't try to hide it or use it to scare women into compliance.

We may look fluffy, but we are fierce.

You Might Be The Last | Mama Bird Doula

You might be my last baby.

You might be my last everything.

You might be the last mysterious rounding of my tummy.

The dwelling and dreaming and kicking inside.

You might be the last flush of my cheeks as I rock and dance to the rhythm of your birthing.

You might be the last triumph.

You might be the last snuffling, rooting and wide mouth looking for the breast.

You might be the last giggling, round baby putting your fingers up my nose.

So you'll forgive me for wanting to hold on a little longer.

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My Body Is Not Shameful | Mama Bird Doula

"We live in a cultural climate that makes women feel perpetually guilty for simply being women." - Lisa Lister

I sat this evening reading “Witch” by Lisa Lister and she has a fantastic chapter about the witch hunts. Lisa says that after women were persecuted for their skills, knowledge and life-giving power, we were now told that our bodies were places of sin and shame and we were supposed to be obedient under patriarchy.

It made me think of the photograph of myself feeding Autumn-Violet. Years ago I would have never dreamed of putting something like that on the internet. Not because I mind personally, but because I cared very greatly what other people thought. 

My body is not shameful, at least not to me anymore.

It has taken so long to get to this point. It is a lesson I learn, and re-learn, with deepening awareness. It’s something that takes me by surprise every now and then, as I worry my dress is cut too low or I’ve left it too long without shaving my legs. It leaves me gasping for air. I think, shit, I thought I dealt with all this before. Why is this coming up again?

Wounds run deep.

Trauma leaves epigenetic markers on our bodies – we are scarred by the trauma of our grandmothers and all that came before. It literally lives in our skin.

But maybe you are the one who has been chosen now.

What we are dealing with is layers. Peeling back layers of deepening awareness and truths. Learning is not linear, it is cyclical.

I look back to the days where I couldn’t leave the house without a product used for every part of my body. Where I thought I needed a bra that dug into my ribcage, left red welts and compromised my breathing to make me look decent to the world. That myself, unaltered, was something that was not fit to be seen. Shame, shame.

When I couldn't stand to even acknowledge the body I lived in. The plastic wrappers of menstrual products rustling, then hidden in the waste paper bin.

I look at myself. Soft stomached, face lightly lined.

Myself and my daughter, belly to belly, hand in hand. Born through me and of me. She will have inherited some of my trauma, some of my truth. She will have lessons to unravel and my own mistakes to contend with. I am in no doubt of that. I can do one thing for her at least… what I hope more than anything is that she will know her female body is a safe place to be, in its unaltered raw form. I hope that anything she chooses to do with her body is done through joy.

I hope she knows that she is the Goddess personified.

Photograph by Lillian Craze Birth Photography (click the photo!)

Freebirth Is A Feminist Statement | Mama Bird Doula

I have long mused over my reasons for freebirthing, some even I was not aware of at the time. There was a sense that I wanted to prove to myself – birth is safe, women’s bodies work. My choice to freebirth was my own personal desire to live everything that I believed to be true.

I have heard it said before that home birth is a political statement, something I completely agree with. Women taking agency over their bodies and rejecting the norm and what is expected of them. Not being processed in a hospital setting. But freebirth as a feminist statement?

When I did my interview for the BBC I tried not to read the comment thread. I knew that the people commenting were so far and away from the type of people whose opinions I valued and respected, so knowing them was not necessary. But I did manage to glance at one which said something along the lines of…

“All she keeps saying is MY birth, MY birth, she doesn’t talk about the baby at all, so selfish”

Perhaps that comment was intended to hurt, but I was actually thrilled that somebody had picked up on something I wasn’t even consciously doing. I was thrilled that anybody watching or listening was receiving this message that yes, their birth DOES belong to them! It is a message I completely stand by.

I am a feminist. I would say I am a matricentric/radical feminist who believes that women’s sexed bodies are the reason for our oppression, and that mothers are most forgotten about and maligned by the feminist movement. I choose to be a mother and a homemaker but that does not make my voice and my opinions less valid than a woman who dons a suit and works in a corporate office. I prioritise mothers in my feminism as we are the ones who are changing things from behind the scenes, raising children with our values.

Freebirth, in a way that home birth cannot be, is a feminist statement because it is the radical notion that the woman takes priority over the baby.

Does that make you feel uncomfortable to read?

It should. The overwhelming message in our culture is that birthing women should be selfless. I speak to women who are considering induction, or other methods of intervention, and they tell me that they are willing to sacrifice themselves for their baby, that they are not important as long as the baby is okay. This is seen as admirable.

Nobody really cares what happens to women. As long as the baby is okay. They are then gaslit postnatally and told to be grateful. Traumatised women take longer to rise up and speak up, especially when they are shamed into silence by other women.

And even midwives, with the best intentions, will prioritise the baby over the mother, as I have seen with my own eyes as they override her refusals and bring in consultants to bully and coerce, becoming agents of the patriarchy over the women they are supposed to serve. Midwives are victims of the patriarchy, much like the Marthas in The Handmaids Tale. I feel greatly for them.

And the shame. If they speak out and something happens they will be blamed. Women know this, and the shame keeps them compliant.

Freebirthing women are not stupid. They are not blindly optimistic. They are philosophical about the risks of their decision and make their peace with the fact that sometimes the outcome of birth is death.

Is this also uncomfortable?

There is a myth in our culture that all our interventions save babies. What isn’t made apparent is that although these babies can be saved in “the moment”, there are no studies on long term outcomes and how many of those babies later pass from SIDS or other problems. There was a breech study that followed long-term outcomes and found that those babies who were “saved” often passed before age two. In those circumstances, birth intervention was only able to prolong the inevitable.

Nobody is asking "Is this long-term crippling birth trauma suffered by thousands of women worth possibly saving one life?"

There is the sense that if we create a problem and we save the baby from a problem we have created, it’s a miracle, thank God for modern healthcare, etc. etc.

Just to be clear, I respect the wishes of any woman to birth in a way that makes her feel safe. That could be hooked up to every monitor going or scheduling a caesarean. I have supported these kinds of births and will continue to do so. What is right for me is not right for everybody, I would never be so arrogant as to push my choices on to others.

What I reject is the idea that this is fundamentally more safe, or that freebirthing is less safe.

What I reject is freebirthing women being called selfish and irresponsible, when we KNOW adverse birth outcomes happen when we use things like syntocinon and forceps and yet if you are seen as choosing these things for the right reasons, “doing it for your baby”, then the level of medicalisation is not attributed the same moral value as having nothing at all.

It's only dangerous when women are in charge, right?

Freebirth is a feminist statement because it is the mother declaring that she is the expert, she is the authority, and that her need to birth trauma-free is the most important thing to her. They know their baby needs them to be well. Empowering births create confident and whole mothers, who are able to raise their children to rebel. Mothers who are energised to challenge systems and create fighters and topple patriarchy. Freebirthing women are declaring that they are not merely a vessel.

And we can't be having any of that.

Freebirth doesn't say life at all costs. It says women at all costs.

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Placenta O'clock | Mama Bird Doula

It was placenta o'clock in the Wren household and not a creature was stirring, just maybe Autumn-Violet once or twice!


I ensure my children are nowhere around when doing placenta work, which often means I am working late into the night. There are physiological benefits to placenta consumption but for me it's as much that as it is energy work and exchange.


This time is my time to serve you.


I put on the music I birthed my daughter to, I sanitise the entire area with hospital-grade products, I excitedly open the box to see what I'm going to be working with tonight.


And then I put all my loving energy and attention into the miraculous organ in front of me.


All unique and all beautiful.

Mary Magdalene | Mama Bird Doula

I feel stripped raw.

These times come cyclically and I in my discomfort I wear my hair around my face, a shielding and a feminine cloak.

Masking the darkness and the deep.

Allowing me to slip by unseen. To pretend, for a time.

Unrest hums within my soul.

The feast day of Mary Magdalene - she, the misjudged, the whore and the Holy Grail.

Feeling imperfect, feeling exposed.

How hard to be a woman when your sexuality is turned and used against you.

The gift of life made violent.

Like birth, perverted, turned against us and using fear and shame to keep us downtrodden.

How to be a good lover.

How to be a good mother.

I have walked these paths in different ways. Refusing to be a victim in birth, the other I don't dare speak of.

I bite my tongue and force a smile instead. Good girl.

Whether I do what I want with my body or not, I'm wrong.

Walking the impossible line. Do as you're told, or be forever condemned.

Mary Magdalene.

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My Summer Body | Mama Bird Doula

I have a summer body.

My body darkens under the summer sun as I share an ice cream with my daughter.

She has sprinkles around her mouth and she eats intently.

Later, she starts to pull at my halterneck and whine and I feed her from my summer body.

Her hat is askew on her head like a wilting dandelion. Or a flowerpot man.

And when she sleeps, my breast is a cushion for her sweaty head. She is perfection - rosy cheeks and puppy snores.

When she wakes, I tie her to my back, my underarms dark and fluffy on my summer body.

The legs that prickle and brush together under flowing skirts.

There is work still to do, to undo shame.

My body is not a dirty secret that I must sanitise.

My summer body digs its feet in sandy beaches, my hair curls up from the breeze and my eyes turn green.

My summer body carries my daughter on strong shoulders and dips her in the sea with loving hands.

My summer body feeds my babies and I nourish myself with good food in turn.

My summer body sweats and bleeds.

My summer body
Is
Me.

Forgetting How To Be Light | Mama Bird Doula

On being a woman who has been through trauma.

And men who don’t understand.

They joke, they flirt, they tease…

My cheeks get hot, because I can’t respond like that.

We women—

Who have fought tooth and nail to survive. Making breakfasts and lunches while our blood hums and our minds reel. Our standards lowered to just safe, just safe.

Our laughter, when it comes, is raucous… finding comfort over the miles that separate us as we trade witticisms on those we once considered captors. Late nights whispering and wondering. Relishing the little comfort, the secret betrayal of the looming dark shadow.

I am not the lighthearted girl.

Only other women are safe now.

We check the garden before we lock our back door. We breastfeed while typing statements and making reports.

The man on the phone said don’t bottle it up, it will consume you. I can’t say that my voice is bound, my words halted… for now.

How to explain to a four year old his hiding game ignites those feelings you can’t escape.

And sometimes you cannot stand to be touched.

The onus is on me.

How was your day? He says.

I want to say something pleasant, but it’s not.

I kiss the baby goodbye, and I drive.

To face my demons, wild-eyed. I sit there with my hands entwined, hearing the words fall like knives.

My breasts ache for her and yet, yet, this is our life.

And I’ve forgotten how to be light.