En Famille

I will have delivered my baby tomorrow. It’s five year since I last delivered a baby. Some things loom large, other things I’ve had to ask about and read up on because, by accident or design, I’ve forgotten them. It’s good and bad that I know what lies ahead. The hellish stage of caring for a newborn looms large. As does the joy of seeing a new person in our family.

I’ve been thinking about all the women in our families who’ve done this before. My husband’s grandmother, who had 17 births to her credit. My grandmother, who delivered eight children, including a set of twins. My mother and mother in law, my sister in law and other relatives who’ve been through this.

I’ve been thinking further back too, to the women who were pregnant and labouring during times which were much more trying than the current state of the nation. I’ve been thinking of the girls and women in Tuam most particularly. I think about them being 39 weeks pregnant, as I am, and knowing they will have to birth babies they won’t be able to keep, and knowing that there’s a chance those babies will die because they’ve probably seen this happen myriad times already.

I had no say in how I delivered my first child. She (I thought she was a he and got an enormous shock) had settled into a comfortable but dangerous position and didn’t budge, so it was a c section and a planned and controlled birth. My second pregnancy also ended in a section, but various factors made me feel a lot more in control and it was an empowering decision and experience. I’ll be back in theatre, with that same feeling of control that you don’t often get to experience during pregnancy, when so much is outside your control, tomorrow.

This is the very first time I have been pregnant in Ireland without the eighth amendment being in place. My hospital consultant was part of the campaign to repeal the eighth. The legislation to give effect to the repeal of the eighth and introduce abortion services here has yet to be passed, but it is fantastic knowing it is on the way and our families won’t have to experience a pregnancy under it ever again.

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En Famille

Where It Would Do Most Good

We are homeowners. We know how lucky we are. We have access to finance and we have savings. We have never experienced much, if any, real insecurity in our lives. One of the things which I think made us so compatible from the start of our relationship was our similar backgrounds. We were both raised in stable environments and given every possible opportunity to succeed in life. There were always safety nets.

I sometimes feel enormous guilt at our privilege. We live in a house that was of our choosing. We face no imminent risk of having to leave it out of necessity rather than by choice. One of my children told me one morning that they woke in the middle of the night and it was so cosy in their own bed they went straight back to sleep because it felt so nice.

It’s really hard not to think of the other children sleeping in hotel rooms, hostels and police stations when your child tells you something like that. It is an accident of circumstances that our children are where they are and other children aren’t able to feel as safe as our children do.

The narratives around housing, homelessness and families can be difficult to listen to sometimes. Some parents are feckless. Some make bad decisions (I know I do, at least once a day). Some have made choices thinking only of the short term. Some have made choices with an eye to state benefits. Some make choices that make me angry.

Their children, no matter what the choices of their parents, deserve housing that’s as secure as the housing we have. I’m not an expert on housing but I don’t think it takes much imagination to realise that we’ll all do better, long and short term, if every child has a secure home and can wake in the middle of the night and feel so safe and secure they can enjoy the feeling of cosiness and go right back to sleep.

Social housing is good. It provides security for children and their parents, and how can anyone not be in favour of that? I don’t particularly enjoy paying taxes, who does? But when taxes are collected and spent, they must go where they will do most good. My tiny portion of the tax collected must go where it will do most good. In the long run, it makes social and economic sense.

Where It Would Do Most Good

Thoughts on September

My brain is addled lately and I hadn’t thought about our engagement anniversary (not that it is something we celebrate or even mark or think about these days) until I got a lovely message from my husband reminding me of it yesterday. We got engaged in Sorrento and it will always be a very special place for us.

One can’t escape the fact that this is the 17th anniversary of the September 11th terrorist attacks. I don’t need any reminder of where I was and what I was doing on this day 17 years ago. When I was 19, 17 years felt like a very long time. Not so much now its 17 years on and its become really clear that the reverberations of that awful day are only just beginning.

Our son was born in September and our third child will be too. Family life will be bookended by birthdays, and I quite like that because birthdays are a big deal in our home. Another two weeks and we’ll officially have the birth day over and done with.

Like many things, WH Auden says it a lot better than I do about September 2018 and what the world can feel like sometimes.

September 1, 1939

I sit in one of the dives
On Fifty-second Street
Uncertain and afraid
As the clever hopes expire
Of a low dishonest decade:
Waves of anger and fear
Circulate over the bright 
And darkened lands of the earth,
Obsessing our private lives;
The unmentionable odour of death
Offends the September night.

Accurate scholarship can 
Unearth the whole offence
From Luther until now
That has driven a culture mad,
Find what occurred at Linz,
What huge imago made
A psychopathic god:
I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return. 

Exiled Thucydides knew
All that a speech can say
About Democracy,
And what dictators do,
The elderly rubbish they talk
To an apathetic grave;
Analysed all in his book,
The enlightenment driven away,
The habit-forming pain,
Mismanagement and grief:
We must suffer them all again.

Into this neutral air
Where blind skyscrapers use
Their full height to proclaim
The strength of Collective Man,
Each language pours its vain
Competitive excuse:
But who can live for long
In an euphoric dream;
Out of the mirror they stare,
Imperialism’s face
And the international wrong.

Faces along the bar
Cling to their average day:
The lights must never go out,
The music must always play,
All the conventions conspire 
To make this fort assume
The furniture of home;
Lest we should see where we are,
Lost in a haunted wood,
Children afraid of the night
Who have never been happy or good.

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

From the conservative dark
Into the ethical life
The dense commuters come,
Repeating their morning vow;
“I will be true to the wife,
I’ll concentrate more on my work,"
And helpless governors wake
To resume their compulsory game:
Who can release them now,
Who can reach the deaf,
Who can speak for the dumb?

All I have is a voice
To undo the folded lie,
The romantic lie in the brain
Of the sensual man-in-the-street
And the lie of Authority
Whose buildings grope the sky:
There is no such thing as the State
And no one exists alone;
Hunger allows no choice
To the citizen or the police;
We must love one another or die.

Defenceless under the night
Our world in stupor lies;
Yet, dotted everywhere,
Ironic points of light
Flash out wherever the Just
Exchange their messages:
May I, composed like them
Of Eros and of dust,
Beleaguered by the same
Negation and despair,
Show an affirming flame.

Thoughts on September

Pennsylvania

I wasn’t shocked or even surprised by the report on child abuse in the Catholic Church in Pennsylvania. Over two decades of similar reports here in Ireland have resulted in a kind of weary acceptance that this is an organisation which, from the top to the bottom, covers up and facilitates child abuse. It doesn’t care about children, or adults, or anyone really. But the organisation can’t function without people. And I find myself getting angry with the people who not only continue to support the church I left long ago but make excuses, such as saying they want to stay in the church and change it or that there are plenty of ‘good’ priests and nuns and that’s the real church.

I rant in my head and on twitter about this quite a lot. How and why would a ‘good’ priest or nun stay in an organisation like the Catholic Church, knowing what we all now know and knowing that similar reports will yield similar information? What is a ‘good’ priest or nun anyway? Is it one who sticks with an organisation which shows not the slightest disposition towards change and reform? Is it one they can compartmentalise, taking only the nice and positive bits into account and simply ignoring the reports on places like Ferns and Boston? Is it one they’re simply unwilling to leave no matter what because they have decided where their loyalties lie?

I am deeply and profoundly glad me and my husband have been on the same page about religion from the start. I couldn’t imagine being in a relationship where ‘compromising’ on religion meant that the person who wanted to rub a bit of religion into the children was the person who usually ended up getting his or her way. It is very hard to shake off the indoctrination of child and young adulthood, and I am glad every day my children won’t have to deal with that.

Pennsylvania

The Third Third Time

I am officially exhausted. I could complain all day long about how tired, achey and breathless I am. Everything is a massive effort. I get spurts of energy and then I try to do too much because all I’m really motivated to do is nest, and then I’m tired halfway through a job.

This is the third time I’ve done this, and I think it’s been the most tiring of all. I know how lucky I am. I know how many people would love to be in this position. I know how privileged I am.

But I am just. so. tired.

The Third Third Time

Thinking Outside the (Letter) Box

Back when I was working in Louis Vuitton I spent some time one summer working in Birmingham. I’d never been to Birmingham before I agreed to work there and I didn’t know much about it. Many of the (mainly female) staff were Muslim and we bonded over a realisation that our mothers might be from vastly different cultures but their mothering was not. One woman said many times that it was deeply reassuring that Irish and Pakistani mothers were so alike.

Some of them wore headcoverings at work. Most did not. Some explained that they wore headcoverings for different reasons and occasions. Some were deeply devout Muslims, some weren’t. Some spoke of their parents’ plans for their marriages and the arranged marriages of brothers and sisters. I felt I had to preface any questions with a lighthearted (at least I hope that’s how it sounded) quip about it being interesting to hear about other people’s cultures. It was interesting, and eye opening, and made me question a lot of the assumptions I hadn’t questioned before about women and their choices and their obligations and restrictions.

Many women don’t need to be told by others that they’re being oppressed. Maybe they’re not being oppressed. Maybe they like dressing a certain way. Maybe they don’t need opinion pieces from white men to tell them they’re like letter boxes. Maybe we should all stop making assumptions about women’s clothes. Oppression comes in many forms. More tolerance for intolerance is one such form.

These women weren’t letter boxes. They were funny, and difficult to work with sometimes, and boring, and we had disagreements, and we had misunderstandings. Just like I did and do and will do with the people I work with now. Women make all sorts of choices every day about every aspect of their lives. What they choose to wear is their choice. We don’t need laws to tell us how to dress.

Thinking Outside the (Letter) Box

The Road More Travelled

I’ve been in my current role for ten years now. It’s the longest time I’ve spent in a job. I flitted around from job to job after college. I had no big or concrete plans and I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I chose my college course for practical reasons, and the fact it let me have a little more variety than other ones offered at the time. I was too afraid to change my reliable part-time job that helped me pay for my social life so I ended up drifting into the same sector I’d always worked in after graduation.

I liked my jobs. I didn’t love them. They weren’t particularly stimulating or challenging most of the time and I don’t think I saw myself in the sector in the long-term, but I needed to earn money and I was good at what I did so I stuck with them. I then drifted into another sector for a year and at the end of that year landed the job I’m in now. It’s probably been the best use of my skills for the past decade. It’s secure, stable, and mainly enjoyable.

Today, for the first time in a very long time, my mind drifted into ‘What if’ territory. What if I had planned my career more carefully? What if I’d sought more guidance? What if I’d studied something else? What if I’d been more open to opportunities in one particular role? What if I had taken more risks? What if I hadn’t let a personality clash stop me from learning more? What if, no matter what I did, I would have ended up here anyway?

Ten years ago I wasn’t married. I wouldn’t have met my husband if I hadn’t taken this job, because we met at a party one of my colleagues hosted after I’d been in the job for a year. I wouldn’t have my children. I was living a very different life. I was a lot more confident in some ways, and a lot more insecure and unhappy in many, many others.

I’m glad I’ve had the experiences I’ve had. It’s hard not to wonder ‘What if’ though. I wonder ‘What if I’m here for another ten years, and then another, and another and then I retire? Is this it?’, and that freaks me out a little.

The Road More Travelled