Post 233.

Adults, including Ministers of Health and Education, political party representatives, religious leaders, police and doctors, are screwing adolescent girls. Check your dictionary for a fuller definition, but here I’ll define screw as ‘to mess someone up’ or ‘to cheat someone out of something’.

Imagine you are an adolescent girl in Trinidad and Tobago who becomes pregnant and decides you cannot manage pregnancy or parenthood. First, what is happening within your body is completely separated from ideas such as consent, choice and rights, as if T and T is not a signatory to the Convention on the Rights of the Child.

Second, you have been denied proper education about sexuality in schools, though it has been established for decades that this is one of the state’s best tools in tackling vulnerability to forced sex including child sexual abuse, high risk of HIV and STDs, early pregnancy, and difficulty negotiating contraception in sexual relations. You also face stigmatization buying contraception, making it less likely that you will do so.

Third, if you become pregnant, you will be prevented from staying in school with your community of peers, and will be sent elsewhere, as if your pregnant body is a source of contamination. Nurses will treat you like pregnancy is your punishment for having sex or having it forced on you. And, indeed pregnancy is your cross to bear regardless of your economic or psychological ability to cope. At least when a house burns down with a baby inside or when the newspaper says your murdered son had turned gangsta, everyone is clear who to blame.

Fourth, if you decide your mental health cannot cope and seek to procure a safe termination, rest assured that the best gynecologists in the country will not to help you, as they consider their own reputations, job security and freedom from criminalisation, rather than advocate for the law to be changed. When you find a good doctor, who bless her or his heart, will help you rather than judge you, you risk being charged by the police, and condemned by religious people more concerned about their beliefs than your care or welfare.

And, if you cannot find a gynecologist who will safely perform a procedure that women have sought for millennia, you can always bleed your way to the nation’s hospitals where about 3000 women a year will end up as a result of complications from unsafe abortions. Or, possibly, become a statistic: 10% of maternal deaths are the result of illegal abortions in Latin American and Caribbean.

For this reason, important clarifications are required.

Pro-choice policy isn’t pro-abortion. It is pro-women-not-dying, and pro-fetuses-not-being-found-buried-in-the-backyard. Fully legalising abortion does not escalate its numbers. Countries where abortion is legal generally have lower rates than those that don’t. Abortion is not a religious issue, unless the woman seeking to terminate her pregnancy is religious and this shapes her decision. It is not a ‘sensitive topic’ unless you are intimately connected to the pregnancy. Then, sensitivity is definitely required.

A referendum is not the way to secure safer and better-managed terminations; it’s a way to play politics and crush its possibility, for religious folk who are also pro-choice will be made to choose a side by opportunistic, patriarchal leadership. Charging women, including minors, and doctors will not stop abortions, it simply makes them more risky.

Abortion is, in fact, not illegal in our Common Law when it preserves a pregnant woman’s mental or physical health, preventing her from becoming a “physical and mental wreck”. Doctors should know this. More than half of the population supports expanded legalization, e.g. in cases of rape and incest. Calls for more discussion will not help mothers seeking terminations, decriminalizing abortion will.

Finally, important clarification is required of the Trinidad and Tobago Medical Association, and its PRO Dr Liane Conyette who is quoted as saying, “As doctors we are charged with protecting the life of all our patients, mothers and their unborn children alike, both of whom have rights that must be considered”. It is unclear where the TTMA sourced its position on the rights of unborn children. Do those rights begin at conception or later? What are those rights? Was this position collectively agreed on? Where is it written? What are the costs of this position for teenage girls?

Girls are cheated out of public education they need; public health procedures that should be safe; public programmes to empower them in the face of sexual violence and sexual exploitation by adults; public legislation that seeks to support their choices and needs; and a public that values girls and women’s lives, especially those who are poor.

The details of this week’s news of a sixteen year old who sought an abortion shouldn’t occupy us as much as the fact that there are many other minors in such precarious situations, and no end in sight. This is what it means to be screwed by adults and authorities, none of whom are publicly on their side.

Click to access IB_AWW-Latin-America.pdf

http://newsday.co.tt/news/0,226655.html

http://www.trinidadexpress.com/20160418/news/time-to-talk-about-abortion

http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,19661.html

 

 

Post 84.

It’s a choice that has taken two years to make, but it feels like the decision of a lifetime. Mothers of children numbering anywhere from four to fifteen will no doubt look askance at my inability to manage it all as Caribbean women have always done, with a handful of pickneys milling around their skirts, and a world to get on with it and carry on their shoulders.

I’ve decided not to have any more children. Zi will be an only child.

That is not a bad thing, I know lots of happy only-children and lots of folks with siblings who nonetheless should take up several years of therapy, but I know from conversations over the last two years that lots of people – often other mothers – think it’s selfish to not have more children, that it’s better for a child to have siblings and that even if the first two years are hard, it gets exponentially easier as time goes on.

I don’t know what finally and only recently enabled me to make this decision. Maybe it was the fact that, now two years old, Ziya is finally beginning to be seriously fun, to be able to carry on full conversations, and to be less dependent and exhausting than before. Maybe it was just that I reached a cumulative point of tiredness, from being awoken on average three times a night for two years, that made me feel I just could not go through it again.

In another world where I didn’t have a full time job or just had a different job, I’d have another baby mostly just to give Zi company and family throughout her lifetime. In another world where I was 28 and not 38 or where my husband wanted any children at all and felt able to manage not only one but two or where we had already paid for our house instead of still having to save to get a mortgage. In another world where Zi had been a baby who slept at night or where we lived in more than a one-bedroom house or where my mom was able to cope better than she can. In another world, I’d make another decision, but this is my world and I’ve come to terms with its realities and what they mean for me.

In my heart, I feel like Stone, Zi and I could be a really tiny, happy unit together. I could jump on a plane and take her to see whales in St. Lucia and it would be easier than managing two kids on my own. Stone could develop the relationship that I see slowly blossoming and clearly come to love the bond he has with Zi. Zi could spend nights by any of the aunties who love her already and who would, as much as they love me, be less likely to take two of my kids instead of just one. The entire army of people who must be mobilised, my mom and her helper, my husband and our helper, and me, could maybe not be on call all the time. I could find the balance I am slowly rediscovering, a balance that enables me to meditate in the morning, do the academic and activist work I am committed to, explore all the creative potential I’ve let go of over the last few years, and enjoy my relationship with Stone as we both get older. I feel like we could be happy now and later if we just recognised that this is right for us rather than embarking on a path that meant we’d have to survive two or three years of tired, manic, on-24-hour-shift hell before things settle down again and I feel able to find myself somewhere there inside it all.

This decision makes me realise, not intellectually but in my heart, how personal choices are, how much imperfect contexts and conditions shape the options that seem right at the time, and how much you have to come to terms with the fact that you can only make the best decision for you at that time even if you don’t know how you will feel tomorrow.

This is not the decision I’d make in different circumstances, but after endless thinking, feeling, reflecting and imagining, but I think this is the best decision that I can make for who I am right now and for what I think is right for me. Maybe I’ll change my mind tomorrow, but I feel a lot of relief so I don’t think so. I feel bad about that relief, like if I was a good mother, I’d make the sacrifice for Zi’s sake and with an eye to the future far ahead.

You never know if some decisions are right or wrong until much later. For that reason, motherhood – if it is anything at all – is about continually staying in touch with your own emotional truths and recognising that that may be all you can do in the present.

Post 71.

Motherhood is something both revered and feared. It’s revered because it’s powerful. Women create life, no one else does. We therefore rock and, by rights, should rule. There’s a reason why so many goddess figures over time have had pendulous breasts, swollen bellies and enormous labias. Power is leaking from, multiplying within and surging forth out of them, signifying a reproductive force that cannot be mimicked, ridiculed or contained.

Motherhood is also feared for similar reasons. It takes women, many of whom are already capable, resilient, responsible and smart, and adds to their cache of strengths. There is a reason why thousands of years of sheer force have been invested in making lots of us think its unnatural to give our children our own surnames or independently choose when and when not to make babies from almost nothing but our bodies. Motherhood doesn’t make women into tigers, it takes tigers and turns their instincts to ready. For what you ask? To do whatever is necessary.

When women become mothers, they put their foot down hard on what they might have once accommodated for themselves. They hold position, regardless of how much they love whomever they are up against. In the best interests of their children, they will leave marriages rather than compromise, get angry rather than accept and adjust, face up to stark realities rather than continue in blind hope. They say no, loud, when it matters, they say yes with their feet as they mark the path to a new life, they learn to replace self-doubt with trust, they throw out some of the garbage they are carrying because they need their arms free to gather up the ones they must protect and love, even  – especially – if it means protecting them against others they love too. While wrestling with near emotional insanity, motherhood will steel women in their struggle against all odds and compel a choice to be sensible rather than fuck up one day longer.

When it comes to their children, women will do what they won’t for themselves. Partners who once filled their hearts are still present, but more peripheral. Patience that was lacking can be decisively found. Mothers will stay awake at night planning by the decade and are fully-prepared to kill anyone who threatens their family within twenty seconds of waking from deep dream. When women make babies, they now operate as a package deal, and let no man and no one seek to tear them asunder. Hell hath no fury like a mother tiger. It makes sense that this kind of ability to refuse to negotiate, this willingness to cut losses and turn away, this commitment to do what’s best for their children regardless will be threatening. It completely takes women out from under the power of men, church and state. Or, it can. Not every mother can or does make these sacrifices or seize such power, but, from quiet to rich to raped to teenage to broke to overwhelmed, many, many do.  

For myself, I know what I once might have let slide, I now call out whether or not it ruins my reputation as easy-going, understanding or supportive. I brought this child into the world, she comes first. Beneath this smile are teeth. I am a mother tiger, ready, sure and unafraid.

Post 47.

I’ve spent this Carnival home with Stone and Ziya, my first Carnival at home in many years. It’s been wonderful. I’ve been dog tired and jetlagged, life has been hectic and these last couple of days has given me time to rejuvinate and spend time with them both, without rushing. Today was one of those days I was glad to be home with the hours stretching ahead. Zi slept well, ate well and on time, played, coloured, walked, talked, read and breastfed, and I got a proper afternoon sleep, one of the rare luxuries of new working motherhood. The rest has been vital to me to as, following up on my last post, the Professor I just met gave me until Friday (!) to send him a publishable paper. Goddess alone knows how I am going to do that between Wednesday and Friday, but I’m going to try and I need the energy to do so. I’m heading back to work on Wednesday feeling calm and good, something I really needed. I don’t know how I’ll do successful working motherhood with another baby, but that is off the cards until after tenure, that’s for sure.

I’ve been thinking about Lynette’s words about wanting it all and, instead, having to come to terms with what is possible. It’s true, it’s like I want the career I would have had without being a mother. Yet, I’d like a family and I haven’t come to terms how the trade-offs work. I am also annoyed at the trade-offs and aware of how much work it takes to transform them. Take tenure for instance, the fact is that women who make a baby should be given a two year reprieve from being assessed for tenure. If I had had that, I wouldn’t be feeling the pressure I do to match up to expectations (my own and others) that really don’t reflect the reality of my situation. In some places, women do get a year, but the truth is that two is really more fair.

In the first trimester, I simply could not function as I used to. It wasn’t a choice. I was exhausted. Like valium-unable-to-keep-my-eyes-open exhausted. One time after needing to sleep for what seemed like three days straight, I asked my doctor for a ‘sick note’ I could take to work to justify my absence. I got that classic reply, ‘but you are not sick’ and was refused a note. How do other women cope? Apparently, they just do. I did too, but it was like there was no acknowledgment, in the public sphere of work, that a pregnant working body simply cannot function as a normative working body does. Yes, I wasn’t sick, but what was I to tell my boss? I was sleepy? No! I was pregnant, something that falls between ‘able to function at work like a machine’ and ‘sick’, something for which you could get no note, something you could only negotiate individually with your employer in the hope they understand, something you might not yourself anticipate or understand, but something that slows you down, makes you cut back and cuts down your time and capacity for balancing it all, including writing.

The thing about that first trimester is that you don’t look pregnant and you might not want to tell the world – or your office – yet. So, the escape of later semesters when you ‘look’ pregnant can’t be relied on. At that point, people can see a baby and their concern is fleshed out by that visibility. Unlike later months when you can get doctor’s leave – usually to protect the health of your baby, in your early days you appear like any other woman’s body and have no excuse. It’s like the time on a plane when a flight attendant asked a woman who wanted to change seats, ‘how pregnant are you?’, as she assessed the validity of her request. Sitting there, I thought, you are either pregnant or you are not. It’s funny how without the baby to visibly justify your condition, your needs become so less valid. Really, women should get the right to a set number of days of pregnancy leave throughout the nine months, including in the first three when it can be worse than later on.

My second and third trimesters were better and in the third especially I put in full long hectic, frenetic days. But then I felt my baby was past the vulnerabilities of the first trimester when no woman can simply push forward as she might otherwise without wondering if it will have any repurcussions for her body, womb or baby inside. I also had a super easy pregnancy where I could work without unrelenting exhaustion, pain, nausea or who knows what else other women go through. And, like me, those women have to somehow just manage and make it, often in conditions much less negotiable and more demanding than my own, in a body that is growing another human being, a body that cannot be compared to a male body or non-pregnant female body. It’s life and women everywhere get on and do it, but that doesn’t make it okay.

So, you’ve got this body that for nine months, in various ways, can’t be pushed as you normally would. Then, you’ve got the first year of the baby, perhaps exclusively breastfeeding every two hours or so night and day as I did, for the first six months. When was I supposed to be writing then? Women do it and it’s definitely possible, but should it be expected? And, I couldn’t even get my brain together when Zi was still waking up at 11pm and 2am and 5am as she did up until about November. I’ve gotten maybe ten full nights of sleep since she’s been born, most of them when I’ve gone away to a conference, somehow still returning tired at the end. I’m supposed to work, mind my baby, not sleep and write? This is why altering assessment for two years, and not just one, makes sense. It cuts women some slack, recognises the reality of their bodies and that of their babies, and simply acknowledges that, obviously, there is no other way to level the field. The only other option is to continually make women choose between their families and their livelihood or to make the standard higher than they can reach. I guess this is the place where I feel I am.

As I talk to more and more working mothers, I come to appreciate their choices and sacrificies, what they have chosen to let go of for their children or their sanity and the potential drag on their career they come to terms with. I now understand those women who come to conferences and don’t go to all the panels, because when else might they sleep, dance, write, take a walk or not have breakfast standing up at the kitchen counter. I understand more how women give up on being terrified about what it says in their assessment, because they have chosen not to work on weekends, that time the private sphere deserves for itself. I’ve just not quite understood as yet what all this means for me, amidst all the circumstances that are individually mine.

How to come to terms with the new you that can no longer do what the old you worked so long and hard to be able to do? How do you know what’s the right place to set the bar? What does it mean to not want it all? Knowing that I won’t be seen as ‘behind’ where I should be would really help. I’ve mentioned it to my union but, as with everything else for women, so much work remains to do.

Post 37.

Today Ziya is one year old. I’m chuffed. She’s lively and happy, glowing and gorgeous. She makes jokes and can’t be easily fooled. She’s got her trademark skeptical look down cold, and she likes to do things for herself rather than having you show her or do it for her. She’s confident, communicative, generally unafraid and she’s clear on what she likes and doesn’t. She knows who is hers and loves to snuggle with us, clearly missing us even in her sleep. She’s growing in body and personality, and is suddenly all arms and legs, no longer just a baby.

My little amazing warrior of light. I smile all the time it seems and she smiles back with her whole genuine self. Sometimes, i wonder at the fact that I’ve never smiled so much in my life. She makes love spring fresh and full each day. Again and again, my heart runneth over.

I’ve become a person I never knew I could be, the kind of mother I only planned on becoming, without knowing if that was realistic or right or not. I’ve also become more confident, more clear and focused, more powerful, more grateful for life. That feeling of being a mother is both armor and vulnerability, spectacular and everyday. I had Zi basically because I wanted to know what it was like to be pregnant, to make a baby and to breastfeed, because I have a woman’s body and potentiality. Now that I know, I’m aware I had no idea at all what was in this place, beyond where I could guess. Motherhood is everything I expected and nothing I could imagine. I know I never made a better decision in my life.

For the last few days, thinking about my virtually three days of labour and hours of birth, I’ve felt like it’s all surreal, like when you win an award or finish an exam or you are about to take off in a plane or when your dream comes true. I can’t believe it’s happening, and it’s hard to be calm and excited, live in this moment and live in them all, all at the same time.

Somehow, I’ve managed to combine work and marriage and motherhood. I’ve not done it perfectly, and whether its missing spending the majority of the week with Ziya or not getting out my publications at work or being too tired for enough quality time with Stone, I’ve had to learn as I often do that I can’t do it all well instantly and simultaneously. I keenly feel these ghost wings, but I’m coming to recognise, if only by necessity and for my sanity and self-acceptance, that I’m born to put one foot in front the next, not to fly. I still wish I had four arms, but when I let things go its because I’m adjusting to the reality of not being that goddess, recognising as women and mothers have to, that we are both divine and only human.

I couldn’t have survived this year without huge amounts of investment, understanding, advice and help from my mother, my research assistant, my boss, my husband, my friends near and far. So many people have helped to carry my cares and burdens, enabling me to continue to stride purposefully ahead. It takes a village to empower a mother to raise her child.

What have I learned? In a sense, no words, just love. To be a better person and to try harder, to reflect and repair, to appreciate and be amazed, to accept and to not abandon ambition, to do my best knowing that it might only be enough to keep the basics together and to continue to evaluate what the basics really are. I’ve learned that few things really are worth stress once my husband is home and my child is healthy and I work for the feminist revolution, the rest will have to unfold as I can shape it and as it should. Above all, I need to be healthy in mind, spirit and body, and even if it’s a work in progress, it’s important work. I need to know honesty, love, aspiration and acceptance to be able to be mother, wife, daughter, sister, friend, worker, feminist, woman in all their inter-related moments and forms.

Hopefully, one day, I’ll write and perform poetry again, paint T-shirts again, edit video blogs again and all the other creative parts of life I don’t have time or energy for, I’ll exercise and fete and engage in more activism, but life is about stages and phases, and I’m rocking this one as much as I can.

She’s been her own person here on earth just one year. I’ve been that person who became a mother just one year ago. I’m full of joy for us both. I’m here and I’m loving it, learning from it and living it in full, as much as I can. I’m taking each day as it comes, as much as I can. I’m trying to balance the ups and downs, as much as I can. I’m letting Zi teach me, as much as she can. We’ve got so far to go, together. I’m open to what each of us brings, as much as we can.

Happy first birthday beautiful baby Zi.
May you continue to blossom and become the person you are meant to be.
I could not possibly love you more than I do
I wish all the goodness of the world for you
Mama.

Post 36.

Cunt! Yesterday my class and I collectively shouted out this word, twice. Right after we shouted the word ‘vagina!’, twice.

No, this wasn’t some flaky exercise in faux feminist power, or scandalousness or boundary-pushing for its own sake. And, yes, this is the kind of thing that my tax dollars and our oil dollars might be spent on as long as students continue to register for my class.

It was an exercise in consciousness-raising, in revealing power in language, in thinking aloud about how our silences will not protect us. Truthfully, as far as I can remember, this is the first time I got students to do this, wondering the whole time why I hadn’t done this before.

The majority of students agreed to do this by a show of hands and of course who didn’t want to say vagina or cunt didn’t have to. One young woman who said the first but not the second, said that she saw it graffitied somewhere once, asked what it meant and was told by her mom never to use that word – and she hadn’t since. Another one, who joined in the second time, said to me after class that she had never said the word ‘cunt’ in her life…and here she was saying it twice in one day, now realising that if anyone ever called her that, she would not be intimidated as she might have been, knowing the word’s original possibilities.

And, in fact, cunt historically meant the very opposite of its current patriarchal associations with insult, debasement, stupidity, failure and obscenity. What is now the worst thing to call someone (man or woman, for different reasons) was once a word denoting and synonymed with the sacred, spiritual, powerful, knowledgeable, gutsy, cunning, wise, divine (meaning God-like), life-giving, heartfelt and sustaining. Those meanings were destroyed and replaced by the ones we take to be normal, natural and timeless today. The very word that is unmentionable because it is so shameful and dirty, especially for women, is the very word that describes our sex. Surely, this can’t be right.

As any good university educator, I backed up my lecture with a great article called, ‘Cuntspeak: Words from the Heart of Darkness’ which traces the etymology of the word cunt, showing the violence that left it bruised and pariah-like at the base of its ancient pedestal. This was a violence implicated with the silences around sexual violence, with the shame invested in women’s bodies, with the hold patriarchy and pornography have on women’s erotic power despite Caribbean hype about phat pum pum, ‘waan punane bad’ and punani power.

I had a few minutes before the feminist advocacy organisation, ASPIRE, was to address my class about reproductive health and rights, and it seemed like we could, if only for a few seconds, collectively articulate a naming, emotion and power that would be impossible outside of my allotted two hours in the vast chamber of the LRC. Besides all that, it was the kind of thing that I teach Women’s Studies to be able to do, just cus I can, just cus it’s fun.

Fun aside and teaching aside, it felt good for me too. I’ve always loved women in the sense of having a basic admiration, respect and solidarity with them. Women somehow end up being my greatest heroes even if they are my younger sisters or my over-worked bosses or my mother or my friends who all seem extra-ordinary in some way. I’ve understood the injustice of the shaming and silencing, and the sacredness that they replaced. I don’t believe in the human-like deity called God, but if I did, it’s obvious to me that God would have breasts, womb and a vagina, which create and sustain life, and certainly make females the closest to God’s image.

Yep, any God worth her salt has a cunt through which to birth life. Anything less is, well, Man.

The experience of giving birth brings all this home. The feeling of life emerging through your womb, that process of starting something that takes you to the point where you think you can’t go on any longer, the fact of us all as Woman-born leaves me without question that female bodies, wombs and vaginas are to be given the freedom from degredation which they are due.

As long as ‘cunt’ is both a curse and part of my body, it can be used against me. And nothing that is mine shall be cursed. Nothing that has created and birthed my child shall be used against me. Nothing that makes me both woman and mother shall be used to disempower. Nothing that was once sacred shall be used to silence and shame.

And nothing can stop me, woman, mother, feminist, Women’s Studies lecturer from encouraging my students to shout ‘cunt’ in class when I know nothing else may shake their biases and their socialisation and their fears. I’ve got the degrees to teach. I’ve given birth in the drive-way. I’m mother to a little girl growing up in a patriarchal world. I’m a feminist who understands I’ve got the erotic as power to draw on. And, I’ve got a class of 100 students willing to shout.

What can I say?
All together now.

Cunt!

Post 26.

I had a great day today. Taught my third class in a course i love. today, i tried to convince my students to say ‘Woman the species’ instead of ‘Man the species’ when referring to us human beings. After all, every single one of us is woman-born. Or, alternatively, if they want to stick with ‘Man the species’ and will argue that it refers to women as well as men, then to think about phrases such as ‘Man the species breastfeeds for up to two years’. I like to see them thinking, not necessarily convinced by what i’m saying – which is good, skepticism is good – but also that look they get when you can see them figuring out what they really think. it’s a real privilege to be in the learning business. fun, fun, fun.

i then got home to baby that shakes with excitement when she sees me. like a rattle or like when dogs are so happy that, not just the tail, but the whole body wags and shimmies. makes me laugh. she tries to meet your eyes, crinkles her nose and gives a toothy grin, kicks the legs and bounces the arms around. and, truly, its only shak shak and zouk that also give me such a zestful homecoming welcome. its such a joy to walk through the door, tired as i might be.

she had a big bowl of oats (more oats!) for dinner with not a complaint. feeding a baby who is happy to eat is so fulfilling, but even more is the exchange you can have over a meal. Zi and i laugh – a lot. i sing the alphabet in ways she finds funny. she screams scandalously because she knows it makes me laugh. when each of us laughs, it makes the other laugh more. a good dinner is full of giggles.

then we sat to breastfeed which is something i always look forward to. it’s dark and quiet and snuggly. she looks in my eyes and i get to kiss her fingers. its magic and i will really miss breastfeeding when its done.

on nights like this, despite the lack of sleep and overdue deadlines, waiting emails and unpublished papers, its easy to feel really good. teaching what you love is a joy. mothering the baby you love is a joy. i feel like here is exactly where i am supposed to be.

there’s still a long night ahead of multiple wakings and a long day tomorrow where my aspirations will not match the time i have at work. i’d like to get out a bit more, especially to hike in a forest or by a waterfall, but haven’t yet. now none of my pre-pregnancy, pregnancy, immediate post-pregancy or mid-year post pregnancy clothes quite fit because i’m the smallest i’ve been since my pregnancy but larger than the size i was before. i’d love to spend a day at the movies, but maybe that’s just not for this year. and i’ve got way too many things on the go to really do them well.

what i mean is, there is all the usual ups and downs of life, love, work and family – all of which i’m managing with as much realism as i can. but, otherwise, there is no way else to say it. my life has passion (of the romantic and political kinds), fun (of the academic and with-friends kinds), love (of the family and life’s work kinds) and much more.

i feel lucky and really really really happy!

Post 11

i’m happy for all i have because i believe i work for it. at the same time, i am terrified of chance, the random instant when it all changes. i love living in Trinidad but I feel terror of crime. Some men, and women, will do anything to get what they want. As I sit out in the simple beauty of a perfect night, i am edged by complete fear that our house could be fatally and violently attacked. i am sure a lot of other people are too, especially women. What kind of life is this?

i feel politically committed to work in my region, where i can make a difference. yet, i dream to live where i am not in fear, and yet migration is my last option. it is one thing to fear for your life, but another to also fear for your child and her father. i’ve seen the tragedy covering front pages too often.

i fear for my child. what to do? stone doesnt feel as i do, but he is also a man. we also live in a pastoral community, with less crime. but having been very close to criminal violence and male attack before, men attempting to kick in the bedroom door, trying to hang up my call at public telephone, mauling my family, i have learned that it can happen anytime. just because it hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t. am i being paranoid? many many people i know have been robbed and there are many many more guns in circulation now. wtf.

i’m still uneasy from Ester’s Ugandan story of violence. that has me reflecting on just what can happen. the unbelievable. am i ready? what should i do?

i’ve thought about it many times. i’ve actually scripted it as a movie. i would do everything to get control of the situation and survive. i’d kill anyone without thinking if they attacked me and i feared for my body and life. seriously. a guy i knew once told me, you only have one chance. he was right.i’m that mother in defence of her cub. no wonder mothers are so territorial.

i’m also mourning the death of too many of my people in the last day alone. i am thinking of those mothers who have lost their children. death stalks the land like men in business suits and men with guns. i feel sadness at all our loss. how could we not?

i’m reading and thinking, recovering from a tiring day. safely and happily at home in domestic quiet. typing in joy. and i am glad for the world. for love and relationship and home, purpose and passion. i feel like this palace on the hill is this beautiful planet, with this starry night. whatever life’s challenges, i am lucky. here is where i am supposed to be. yet, amidst all this are shadows. i want to focus on the good. rather than worrying for my family, i wish them safety.

Post 9

i’ve been thinking about love. the last couple of nights have been hard. for some reason, Zi has been waking even more than usual and, after midnight, i was up giving her a feed. i sat there looking at her changing face, her eyes closed in trust and surrender, her soft fingers stroking my face and i felt my heart pulse, pushing at its edges, hurting for the split-second that it felt ready to burst. i was so conscious of the present moment, i couldn’t believe it.

this is what it feels like to love.

when did i begin to love her so fiercely, so physically? my friend Makeda, who’s beautiful baby boy is mere months older than Zi, says she loved her son from the second he was born. Stone says he loved Zi since she was in the womb, something i had no idea he felt until months after she arrived, quiet guy that he is.

it took me about 7 weeks before i think i began to love her. my friend tracy will tell you how in the first month or so i was still saying that i was happy to have her and that i felt care and responsibility and even awe, but i certainly had not experienced the overwhelming pressure on my ribcage that i felt last night.

at first i thought that it was only me. but then i read that its quite common for mothers to take a few weeks for love endorphins to settle in their system. It has to do with getting to know your baby, this new person, and through the slow nurturing of familiarity, coming to like and look forward to and love the relationship that develops.

it makes sense. i’ve been best friends with stone for over a decade and even when he became my boyfriend, it took me a long time to fully love him. it took me three years of mutual caring to give 100% of my heart. it took two more years of trust and togetherness to know he was the one. i used to wonder how people knew someone was the one. then one day i realised that it isn’t that the universe sends you a sign. you know someone is the one when you can decide that they are. when your head is quiet and your heart is loud, and there is no point asking any more.

i don’t remember when i started to love Zi. i do know that one day i realised my heart was no longer in my chest, but beating in hers. i had given it over. one of the things that most amazed me about being pregnant was the fact of carrying two hearts, beating at their own rhythms, in my one body. so miraculous and surreal, those rare months with those two hearts.

then one day, we had made an exchange of sorts. it wasn’t quite the same, but now she carried mine near to hers, mine that would tremble at the thought of anything murmuring hers. mine that was no longer mine. my heart that felt like wings beating against my body, aching to fly to its companion in her chest, when i looked down at her feeding sleepily, unaware and serene.

this could only be love, i thought last night, held still by the loudness of my heart and the attempt by my head to quickly catch up. 10 years ago i never would have known this so surely. i woke thanking life for lessons that take partners and babies and time…and an open heart.

Post 3

All lofty-ambitions-like, I had planned some profound post today. But then, and stop here if you are squeamish, I got my period.

It’s the first period I’ve had for eighteen months. I’d been feeling a bit strange over the last few days, womb-heavy and slightly wobbly, and was hoping (kind of, well mostly, well I was prepared to live with whatever) that I was not pregnant. I woke up this morning, saw the unexpected blood and, as a first time mother, got slightly confused and worried.

I called the two mamatoto mid-wives who generously continue to answer, for free, my continued calls nine months after the birth. This is why we need midwives because which doctor are you going to call at 7.50am to ask, ‘I think I got my period, but I’m not sure, what do you think?’ Of course, like most midwives, they were breezy about it. ‘It happens’, said Debbie. ‘Some women bleed even though they are breastfeeding’. ‘Yes, well, it’s been nine months ‘, said Marilyn who a week ago told me I could cut down on pumping and breastmilk during the day – and so I had. Hmmm, I thought, hoping I hadn’t been pregnant and then lost the baby moving around my entire stock of office furniture in a grand getting-ready-for-Semester-1-move that happened yesterday evening.

By mid-morning I had acclimatized and was working steadily at my newly-positioned desk, feeling like a super and simultaneously breastmilk-pumping, bleeding, paper publishing, email-replying , breezy, on midol mom. I’m technically on vacation and could have stayed home but there is that ‘you are up for tenure next year’ letter I referred to in Post 1.

This minor transition in my post-pregnancy body got me reflecting on how little I know about women’s bodies in general, even at my age, even as a feminist, even as a proud owner of my own ‘Our Bodies, Ourselves’ since I was fourteen (a gift from my older brother Sean). I didn’t even know that women bled while breastfeeding. I thought it kept away your period, and delayed fertility and childbirth. I knew you could get pregnant…but I didn’t know I could get a period. So basic, so obvious.

This is like when I first realized that women bled for a couple of weeks after childbirth. I was waaay into my pregnancy, probably in early second trimester, when some woman made an offhand comment about it. My jaw literally fell open. I had no idea. I thought you had the baby and then it was out and then…well, I guess I hadn’t really thought after that point. Kind of like when you are a kid and you don’t really imagine your life after, say, 28.

‘Really?’ said my husband when I told him, ‘that must suck’. For the first time since I was thirteen, I had no menstrual cycle and had gotten into the swing of taking its absence for granted. Yes, it did kinda ‘suck’. Yet, I got a little internally defensive when, before hanging up and in response to a few sticky details I had added, he perfectly innocently concluded how glad he is to not be a woman. But Eh heh!

‘Well!’ I wanted to say, ‘it’s really only a problem because there is no paid menstrual leave, no menstrual centres, no menstruating goddess worship and no elevated status attributed to this amazing moon-tidal elixir of fertility. It doesn’t suck. Patriarchy sucks! ‘.

In this vein, I had convinced some male and female students in my first year Introduction to Women’s Studies class to create a ‘Menstrual Centre’ on the UWI campus for their popular action, a culture-jamming activist assignment …gotta love teaching Women’s Studies!! 

Menstrual leave I had pointed out is a decades old workers’ right recognised in some Communist countries. In modern Indonesia, women factory workers continue to fight for two days of monthly leave: http://www.cleanclothes.org/newslist/252-labour-rights-in-indonesia-what-is-menstruation-leave.

Perhaps, women should get two days, each month, of leave with pay because female laboring, PMSing, bleeding bodies should not have to work under the same conditions as supposedly ‘normative’ non-bleeding, non-egg producing male bodies. After all, women workers are female humans. What about menstrual centres on every corner instead of rumshops? Women could go for massages, consciousness-raising and support groups, delicious and helpful smoothies, information, health care and collective organizing. First scandalized, the students countered that they should also include support groups for men, sort of like ‘Friends of Menstruating Women’. Just stuff for thought.

The students built a frame using bamboo, interviewed male students about taboos on buying pads and tampons in a store, painted posters saying ‘Man the species menstruates’(If Man refers to men and women, then it really should include women, right?), and handed out pamphlets on how wombs work and why, and natural fruit and teas that help. Many students went through the centre that day (see photo!)Students at the UWI 2009 Menstrual Centre.

Maybe if Menstrual Centres really were on every corner, I might have known more about my own body, post-birth and during-breastfeeding bleeding. Anyway, as i keep learning, even with myself, there is clearly a lot more work still to do.