Thalidomide and Sexism

First published in The Portsmouth News, 27/05/2014

 

In 1958, two things happened in the UK that had an impact on families and, in particular, the women in them. Firstly, the Church of England gave their moral backing to family planning, and secondly, the drug thalidomide was licensed for use.

I watched a documentary about thalidomide recently. It was uncomfortable viewing and disturbing on many levels: as a human being, a mother, and also as a woman. Any female who has suffered the nausea of morning sickness can appreciate the wish to pop a pill to take it all away. When it strikes, it is consuming, ruining the initial months of pregnancy.

But what I hadn’t realised was that thalidomide is a sedative. It was prescribed for morning sickness as a psychosomatic cure, due to the belief that the nausea itself was psychological. It was suspected that pregnant women felt ill because they were emotionally over-wrought at the thought of being pregnant, and not because they were essentially being poisoned by progesterone.

So, aside from being the cause of the greatest pharmaceutical disaster known to humankind, thalidomide also came with a distinctly unhealthy dose of sexism.

As women, even the language of our reproductive systems is built upon a sturdy foundation of patriarchy. The word ‘uterus’ has its roots in the Greek ‘hystera’, meaning hysteria or hysterical. Ever since Eve took the flak for The Fall, women have been seen as hormonal, unstable, and therefore incapable, creatures.

The only thing I consciously try to model for my girls is decent human behaviour, but I want them to see that mummy works, daddy works, and we make decisions together. I don’t believe that feminism means you shouldn’t stay at home with your kids; I simply believe it to mean that you should have choice, and the ability and freedom to make up your own mind about which options to choose.

Women and men are not the same, it’s daft to suggest that we are, but we should undeniably be of equal human value. It’s been a struggle throughout history to convince people, even ourselves at times, that this is true, and we are not helped by our very language betraying us. Just look back at that sentence: his-story.

I truly hope that the future my daughters and my friends’ sons are entering is a future filled with options, an appreciation of difference, and a strong sense of self-worth, irrespective of gender. Simple wishes, but not easily fulfilled.

 

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Infant Loss

First published in Portsmouth News, 20th May 2014

On the 22nd of this month, five years ago, a very special little baby was born: Albert Campbell. All babies are special, but Bertie has his very own nook in my heart. He was the eldest son of one of my closest friends, Ruth, and her husband Andrew, but he passed away when he was 7 days old. 

The unfathomable shock and finality of death is all the more poignant when linked to a child. The sheer hope and potential for life, the birthdays and milestones, the first days of school and the celebrations, are lost; stolen from under the feet of the families who have nurtured them since the earliest days of pregnancy. 

Parenting is always tinged with fear: fear that we will mess up, fear that our kids will mess up, fear that we cannot always provide the happy ideal. The Fear perches on your shoulder, brushing its bony fingers along your spine. It capers in dark corners on the nights when you walk the Calpol Trail, it lurks in the recesses of your tired mind as you lay awake listening for your teenager’s key in the lock. Parenting is an endless ride on the merry-go-round of love and fear: the two are inextricably linked.

Ruth is the bravest person I have ever met. She has experienced, and continues to experience every day, the loss of the child she created, but she has refused to crumble. The courage with which she has carried three further pregnancies, and the dignity with which she treats those who, out of their own fear, ignored her after Bertie’s death, astounds me.

It is often hard to know what to say when faced with someone else’s grief, and in the days of social media we can all too often put our foot in it, but we should never ignore it. I always remember Ruth telling me that not everybody wears their grief on their sleeve: when we feel as though we are the only ones, it’s worth remembering that we don’t always know each other’s stories, or how we deal with them in private.

Once any of us is gone, the place in which we continue to live is memory, and Bertie thrives in mine: sunflowers, Brighton, white butterflies in the garden, Sophie the Giraffe and The Killers on the radio. That special little boy continues to sparkle in the lives he touched, and he always will.

Extended Families…

Grandad Lush, far right, next to my grandmother, Rose Ivy Lush

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Tuesday 13th May 2014

 

Grandad Lush: the man, the legend. I have written about my 90 year old Grandad before, and such is his legendary status that several people contacted me wishing to get back in touch with him.

However, as I sit and type this today, Grandad Lush remains in a condition of some poorliness up at QA. He has had several admissions recently but last Friday he took it upon himself to scare us all silly and was rushed back in. The seriousness of his condition became apparent when we were guided to the Relatives’ Room, and my husband and mother rushed to be by my side. Had Grandad Lush been a religious man, this was Last Rites time.

However, although Grandad Lush might not be religious, he is hardcore. During the early hours of Saturday morning he finally stirred, and upon being told the day and time, he responded appropriately.

And what did he say, I hear you ask, following such trauma? Well, I am pleased to announce, for the sake of posterity, that Grandad Lush’s first words upon hearing that it was Saturday, were as follows:

“Oooh! Racing!”

Thus it became apparent that Grandad was not ready to admit defeat just yet.

These events happened to coincide with the shocking BBC documentary on the ‘care’ of the elderly. My Grandad is lucky: he has a lovely partner, Mary, and a wonderful extended family. During all of his times in hospital, they have been there, offering unstinting support and love.

His nieces and nephews came to visit him and others sent me messages of kindness and care. I am more appreciative of these than they’ll ever know, but I cannot help but think of those people who do not have the backing of their families, who are alone when they are at their most vulnerable. Who keeps an eye out for them? Who pushes for the medical or pastoral care they need?

It is upon this note that I would like to send a fountain of thanks and appreciation to the people who have offered such support this past week. So, to my darling Ashley, my mum and Peter, the lovely Mary, Kim and Lois, Darren and Leanne, Maxi, Auntie Anne, Jim and Carol. To my friends, Jodi, Leanne, Al, Emma, and everybody who sent messages of love.

And most important of all, a special message to Grandad Lush: I love you, Grandad x

 

 

 

 

Running. Allegedly.

First published in The Portsmouth News, 06/05/2014

 

Number of Races for Life in which self is entered: 1. Number of friends running with self: 1. Number of weeks until said race: 5. Training runs planned: myriad. Training runs completed: none.

It’s that time of year again: the time when women everywhere begin to regret their New Year decisions to enter the Race for Life and start to wonder instead if running to the corner shop before it shuts to grab a Mars Bar counts as ‘training’.

Running is the exercise friend of parents everywhere. Assuming that one stays away from dark alleyways, then it is a sport that can be indulged in at any time, anywhere, and costs nothing.

There is also little else in life that is quite as invigorating as an outdoor run. There is something primeval about it; you feel as though you were born to do it, and the runner’s high is unbeatable.

The problem with running, especially when one first begins, is that just because you are pounding along, feeling like an omnipotent bastion of fitness, you can become deluded enough to believe that you also look like one.

“Look at these glutes! Behold my quads and rippling calf muscles! Run with me, I beseech you, join me fellow human, let us embrace this most raw and natural of physical endeavour in unison!” And then you catch sight of yourself in a shop window, shambling along like the mutated offspring of a Fraggle that has mated with the Honey Monster.

Last year Jodi and I took our daughters with us to the Race for Life, but this year we have opted instead for the Pretty Muddy version. This is essentially the Krypton Factor, but with a lot of pink and no testicles. Best of all, the mud that is used is ‘pamper mud’. Apparently it’s the stuff used in salons. In other words, Jodi and I will enter the race looking like what we are, mothers approaching middle age, and leave it sporting the epidermis of a couple of twelve year olds. (Although not, for the avoidance of doubt, in a Texas Chainsaw way).

I have every suspicion that the organiser who told Jodi about the mud was having her on, and probably hung up the phone whilst guffawing to her colleagues that she’d ‘fooled another sucker’. However, if you’d like to sponsor a couple of deluded thirty-somethings for a jolly good cause, then our Justgiving link is: https://www.justgiving.com/muddybuddies-june14