Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Simple Gift for Teacher

Almost 3 years ago I slowly started working on my garden. The first thing I did was put some huge rocks in and develop a rock garden. I had no clue what would work and bought a collection of alpine plants from our local nursery. In the bunch there were two cute little things....sempervivums. I discovered sempervivums for sale at very reasonable prices in Germany and brought 8 plants back with me at Easter. Well I've had a bit of a population explosion, as you can see in this post.

I decided for Joseph's teachers we would repot some of our sempervivums. Dividing them is easy, each offset has it's own stalk and root system. I used peat pots (£1 for 40 at the pound shop), cactus and succulent compost, and some gravel for the bottom which I had in the garden.

I wanted to get back to one main plant in each hole. I have manged to amass a huge number of offsets. What I don't use for gifts will be going to Manchester Friends of the Earth for Dig the City.

I wrote a message on a paddle pop stick, then stuck a plastic gem to each stick, then ribbon around each pot.

Hopefully they will be appreciated. I am sure the teachers get overloaded with chocolate this time of year so it's something different, and hopefully they will grow happily in their new homes!

Wednesday, 9 July 2014

Entertaining Angels

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. New Testament Hebrews 13:2
"Good morning, you look a bit confused, can I help?" the old lady standing at the bewildering ticket machine smiled. I helped her pay for her metrolink ticket and we started chatting. I sat with her on the tram and we talked all the way into Manchester. She was a kind, gentle old lady, reminiscent of my beloved grandmother, with a soft London accent.

As it turns out she was a retired neonatal nurse, she worked at the same unit Joseph was born at some 40 years earlier!  We talked about the differences in neonatal care. She was amazed to hear about Joseph and his birth and progress, and marvelled at the changes in care now. She even knew the head sister from Fairfield when she was training, just a student.

She spoke about her work at Great Ormond Street some 50 years ago, when children with Leukemia were just given blood transfusions. None of them survived. She told a remarkable story about a little boy she met whilst on night shift who wanted to paint. She was a young nurse and her father had given her some watercolours. She gave them to the boy. The next day his bed was empty. He had died. But he had spent the previous day painting beautiful pictures.

This lovely lady was going to meet a friend in Manchester to accompany her friend for a procedure. She revealed that she herself had cancer and had been fighting for 11 years. Truly an angel.

On the way home I waited at the bus stop and along came a girl, with a shaved head, wearing a beautiful elephant skirt and a gorgeous smile on her face. Her arms were about to drop off as she carried loads of shopping.

She had moved down to near where I live to help her grandma. She talked about her hair, it turned out she had had it shaved to raise money for a charity called ActionAid.

I beamed as I give £10 a month to ActionAid. She then said she used to give £5 but had been unemployed for a while so had to stop. When I came home I increased my donation to £15. As  I chatted to the person who took my call she asked me what prompted me, and I mentioned my new friend. She was so suprised, she knew her, and about her plans but didn't know she had gone through with it! She was amazed we had met on the bus!

I was so struck by this young woman's zest for life, her humour and her compassion.  On top of the charity aspect, she donated her locks to children with cancer to be made into wigs My best friend Daniel is always saying I am a stalker. In true stalker fashion I found my new friend!

I am so glad I catch public transport, that I will talk to anyone. You never know who you might meet. Maybe an angel.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Can Feminists Wear Pink?

I have been meaning to post about this for months and have recently read two posts here and here that prompted me to write my own. 

I've been a feminist pretty much since the day I was born. My mum is a feminist, I grew up believing that women had the right to choose what they wanted to do with their lives, to have freedom of choice, a right to earn their own money. I remember learning that my beloved Auntie Con had chosen not to get married, so she could continue her teaching career and I found it horrific that someone would have to choose between marriage and career. I was five. I still feel sadness for her. She had amazing experiences, travelled to London at a time when it was very difficult for anyone from Tasmania to get much further than Melbourne. She went to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. She was recognised for her work establishing a school for low vision children in Tasmania.

My mother has always loved clothes, and always bought us lovely things to wear. I have always loved pink. I remember my first real bedroom, the one after the Womble wall paper, had vivid pink walls and beautiful pink floral curtains, with a white wardrobe with dressing table. Very feminine. I've always enjoyed crafts like knitting and baking, sewing and colouring in.

The thing about feminism is that it shouldn't be anti feminine by definition. And it shouldn't be about pink. Yes the pinkification of everything is a little tedious, that women should have dainty pink tools or want all their kitchen implements pink *hides pink kettle on the hob* is annoying. However my big beef with dainty pink tools is their quality is usually poorer than bog standard tools, and you end up a) paying a "pink" tax and b) having to buy proper tools to replace them. I was bought a "ladies tool kit" for a birthday and have now replaced all those tools with "proper" ones.

I don't necessarily have anything against dressing girls in pink fluffy dresses if that is what they want to wear, and I have to admit I cooed over a baby in a fluffy pink pram today. Joseph had pink clothes including a great pink t-shirt that said "tough enough to wear pink", that he wore to consultant appointments.  If I had a girl she probably would have dolls and pink dresses. She'd have dungarees and welly boots, and trucks and cars as well, just as Joseph has had dolls and stories about girls as well as boys. I'm sure I would have still built a bug house, and helped my daughter collect snails to put in the bottom of it.

The "pink" debate can diminish from the message of feminism.

I don't care if your daughter wants to be a ballet dancer or an electrician, she should have the same rights as anybody else to pursue your dream. If she wants to be a nurse or a consultant she should have the right to be one, and her gender should not enter into it only her ability and aptitude.

Its 2014, and still girls perform less well at science and mathematics. Still girls are expected to do certain things and behave in certain ways, and the pressure is no less for boys. If a boy doesn't like sport, is into quieter pursuits, or is geeky they still are often seen as less "manly" whatever that means.

Feminists can wear pink, or can eschew it. They can wear florals, skirts, dresses or live in jeans. They can be teachers, nurses, doctors, lawyers, engineers, stay at home mums.

Feminism means choice based on your own desires, dreams, interests and abilities, not on your gender.

Feminists can, and do, wear pink. 

Saturday, 5 July 2014

Former Premature Children and School

Joseph started reception in September this year. Joseph had been at nursery since he was 2, and to be honest, I was expecting it to be a little difficult but I wasn't prepared for the reality of school life for my little boy.

It's been widely reported that prematurely born children can "underperform" compared to their peers born at term, and that starting children a year later can help. The reports focus on those children who have effectively skipped a school year, and this is an important issue. If a child is due in November and born in August to me it's clear cut, that child should be offered the choice to start reception in their correct year.

The law states that children do not need to be in compulsory education until they are 5. What generally happens is that child then starts in year 1 skipping their reception year. For most prematurely born children this isn't an option, it's counter productive.

This brings us to Joseph. He was born in May but due in August, he didn't skip a school year, so I didn't apply to the LEA for special consideration. It was clear Joseph didn't have additional needs enough to warrant any intervention or statementing so I sent him off to school, after explaining some of his quirks to his teacher. Only his teacher resigned shortly after the beginning of the school year, and effectively all the information was lost.

We've recently had some information back from school, a communications assessment. My little boy is behind with social communication. He doesn't relate to children in a meaningful way, and spends a lot of his time alone with brief moments of interaction. His gait and his fine motor skills are of concern too.

Holding him back a year wouldn't really have made an appreciable difference, and in fact, what is heartening, is that some of the July and August boys in his class are very similar to him, he is not alone.

The big problem I have come across is the lack of awareness amongst education professionals in our school regarding prematurity. I often think of the 1 in 13 figure of children born prematurely and wonder why this is. But on further reflection alot of these babies are born between 34 and 37 weeks and the impact on brain development is not as marked. The very premature children, on a local education authority level, are spread throughout the country so it's probably quite rare a teacher will have had experience.

School have been great. Once I explained about the research, about what Joseph was experiencing in terms of attention, social communication and fine motor skills wasn't unusual for a baby born at 27 weeks, we started pulling together as a team.

The assessor said to me that Joseph is a very clever, compassionate little boy and just needs some extra help to develop to his full potential.

I'm glad I made the decision not to delay his entry, but I wish it could be easier for him. He has struggled with school, but now, coming to the end of reception, he adores school and has made friends. He is very popular and all the children come and say hello to him, from year 6 down!

In my opinion more work needs to be done to ensure schools and local authorities are aware of the issues, beyond the delayed entry, and are ready to support teachers with a prematurely born child in their class, with the things they need to ensure they excel, to minimise stress for all concerned.

Early Years is a time of learning, exploration, and fun, it shouldn't be stressful.

Friday, 4 July 2014

A Sad Goodbye to Childhood Innocence

Until I moved to the UK I hadn't really heard of Jimmy Savile. I must have seen his picture and maybe seen clips, but I didn't really know who he was, he wasn't part of my childhood. When the revelations broke in 2012 I felt immense sadness for his many victims, but also for all those (and most people did) who had fond memories of his shows, and his sayings, things you can't say now that once you "Jim will fix it", sayings that had become part of the vernacular.

When I wrote "Jimmy Savile is Dead" in October 2012 I had no idea what was to come.

My friend Jayneen Saunders, the author of Some Secrets Should Never Be Kept told me first. That the man arrested in his 80's was Rolf Harris. I felt sick.

You see my abuse used to happen on a Saturday, very often. I would go home, wash and then have tea and watch Rolf Harris. I found him soothing and comforting, his voice, his paintings, his jokes, his warmth.

I remember one day my abuser saying "he is just like me isn't he?" I stared at him "touchy, feely and loves children". Those words now chill me to the core. I have to be careful not to stray into overthinking, wondering whether there was some sort of real knowledge of each other, although I am sure there wasn't, Bassendean is a long way from Hobart and Rolf had left Australia in the 50's.

When I first moved to the UK I met a Tasmanian lady my age who had married a Lancashire lad. She worked at an art gallery and mentioned she had met Rolf Harris and he had touched her and some of her other colleagues inappropriately. She mentioned the term "octopus" which later emerged in the press and court during his trial.

So the allegations, charges and now conviction weren't entirely a surprise to me. However it's so sickening that it took so long to bring him to justice, that a number of women and children were hurt (many gave supporting evidence in court that wasn't able to be brought as charges as it happened outside the UK) and I am sure there are many other women and children who didn't fully realise at the time that what he was doing consituted abuse, it wasn't just unpleasant or an old man being "touchy feely", it was sexual assault.

For victims today I think there is a bitter taste left for us. Some of us will never see our own perpertrators brought to justice. And some of these trials leave us wondering whether justice is truly being seen to be done. I know Rolf Harris is an old man, perhaps not in best of health, with a wife who is frail. However he paid no heed to the rights of his victims, to their right to body safety. He created a fake persona which enabled him to get away with abusing women and chidren.

He has received a sentence which not only does not reflect the gravity of his actions, but also does not reflect anywhere near the total of years he could have received, even given the law regarding historic crimes, where the sentence applied is the one that existed the time the offences were committed.

My heart goes out to all of us who have been affected by sexual abuse, as a child or adult, whether an unwanted kiss, touch or more.

What happens to our bodies matters. Sexual assualt is serious, it's a crime, and it should carry grave repercussions when it occurs.

Tonight Rolf Harris is behind bars, the Attorney General is reviewing the sentence, and his victims can know that they were believed, their cases were heard and justice was done. To a point.

Sunday, 29 June 2014

Sweet Are The Uses of Adversity

"Sweet are the uses of adversity,
Which, like the toad, ugly and venomous,
Wears yet a precious jewel in his head."
William Shakespeare - As You Like It

As regular readers will know I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder in 2009 shortly following the birth of Joseph. I was a mess, I had nightmares, flashbacks, was constantly on high alert. In my head I had my childhood and Joseph's confused and was constantly frightened that either he would be emotionally scarred by being abandoned in hospital, or that someone would hurt him now or in the future. It wasn't as "simple" as almost dying myself before he was delivered and nearly losing him.

I do think we are so quick to label condtions. I wonder now if the label "you have a disorder" and the reaction "let's medicate" was the most appropriate one. What I really needed was to be wrapped up in love, and cared for. I needed to heal, and to be reassured that a lot of what I felt was actually entirely rational and I think if I'd had CAT (cognitive analytical therapy) or CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) earlier, a lot of the protracted pain and symptoms I have had endured, and my family and friends have endured, could have been mitigated. Was my reaction a "disorder"? A difficult childhood, a life threatening condition, my only child in danger? Was it that "disordered" that I be frightened of something else going wrong in my life?

There is no doubt that out of the trauma of premature birth and pre eclampsia so much good has happened to me, that it was heartening to read this article during the week. In it Bob Clark refers to these 5 positive changes found by Richard Tedeschi at the University of North Carolina

• A renewed appreciation for life
• New possibilities for themselves
• More personal strength
• Improved relationships
• More spiritual satisfaction

I'm not quite 5 years on yet. The trauma for me was the separation from Joseph more than the birth or the other events in his stay, this I now know and understand, for to be with your baby is the natural thing, any separation no matter how logical, is deeply damaging for the mother. I believe the baby adapts, especially if attachment is as strong as possible during the stay with good family centred care and most importantly after return home. This is where we need to work hard, to give parents that confidence, and to help them heal when they come home.

I can certainly report that I whilst I have suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, in far more measure have I experienced Post Traumatic Growth. My life now is vastly different than the one before I had Joseph, as anyone who has had a child would report. But my "self", that thing that makes me me is vastly different too. I am more confident, I have skills I didn't have before, and I have all sorts of people in my life I didn't have before.

I am happy, fulfilled and my life has purpose. And I have an amazing family.

Do I still have periods of crushing tiredness? Nightmares that wake me up in fear? Periods of panic attacks? Yes and possibly always will, but I can manage those and I have techniques and support.

And that's the reality of trauma, whilst it can crush you, and bring you to your knees, the most remarkable growth is possible.  Embrace your experiences if you can, get support, and most of all know that so many of us experience trauma and whilst it is hard, and it hurts, growth can happen.

On my other blog I have a fun post about gardening which you might enjoy

Wednesday, 18 June 2014

My Three Babies - Miscarriage Care

Joseph is an only child.

But I've been pregnant three times.

First miscarriage I had wasn't, as far as miscarriages go, that traumatic, in a strange sense. My then husband was unstable and violent, the baby wasn't planned, and he was furious. I spontaneously miscarried. My marriage ended. I was traumatised by it all. The miscarriage was just one brick in a wall of trauma. At the time, it hurt like hell, don't get me wrong, it all did.

My second miscarriage was deeply traumatic. With a new partner, the situation and timing wasn't entirely ideal, and I began miscarrying in the doctor's office having my pregnancy confirmed. This was in Australia and I was a private patient and it was sorted, a D and C and sent home. I had privacy, dignity and warmth. And $1000 shortfall in anaesthetist bills for 20 minutes work, but that's another story.

When I fell pregnant the third time I spoke to my midwife about my miscarriages "oh because they happened in Australia they didn't really happen."

I'm sorry what? I was hurt, scared, upset. And actually in retrospect, I should have been angry.

The thing is, this is largely indicative of how miscarriage can be handled in this country. Practitioners often don't know what to say. "Oh well at least you know you can get pregnant" one said to me. "Well you can go home and try again".

Even worse huge mistakes can be made, catastrophic things happen in miscarriage care that just shouldn't, that are too painful to even write about. 

To a medical professional a miscarriage may just a be a collection of cells, a fetus, but to the vast majority of women a miscarriage is a baby. You already have hopes, dreams and fears for that little being.
I later learned that actually, the fact I had two miscarriages and then early onset pre eclampsia could have been significant.  It's another of the reasons I wouldn't try to have another baby. I couldn't handle a miscarriage as much as I couldn't really handle another NICU stay.

The state of miscarriage care in this country is shocking. That's why I'm joining the Mumsnet campaign to pledge to improve miscarriage care by 2020.

Compassion, counselling, timely care, "caring care", care with real heart as well as good sound evidence base, is absolutely essential.

Miscarriage is brutal. Your body's betrayal, failing what it is meant to do. Don't let the system fail us the same way.

Please follow the link to see how you can help.