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Archive for May, 2011

So sue me

Talking of Stacey in the Daily Mail, here’s a lovely photo of Stacey Cooke at Manchester United’s Player of the Year awards. Minded to think of that famous quote of Paul Newman: why go out for a hamburger when you have steak at home?  Incidentally I have a daughter named Imogen, it means “maiden” and  ironically was Shakespeare’s first misprint.

Thought of an excellent piece of cockney rhyming slang.

Flyin’ Pigs

Apt on so many levels.

I am Spartacus.

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A headline with which I had empathy caught my eye in today’s paper (“I hated being pregnant”). It turned out that this was, perhaps inadvertently ,something of a pro-life message.

The former X-factor contestant and winner of I’m a Celebrity Get me out of Here, Stacey Solomon has just written her autobiography at the tender age of 21 in which she details her unplanned pregnancy, her struggle with post-natal depression and her rise to “fame”.

The following extract tells you everything you need to know about the state of sex education in the UK:

‘While I was there I felt sick a lot of the time. I thought I had a tummy bug. I had no reason to think I was pregnant because Dean and I had never had unprotected sex and I was having regular periods.’

It turned out she was still having periods due to low hormone levels. Despite the fact that she was experiencing classic signs of pregnancy, it did not occur to Stacey that she might be actually be pregnant because she hadn’t ever had unprotected sex. Whilst I am not going to suggest that it would have been better had Stacey abstained from sex, clearly she absolutely idolises her son, what is interesting is that her sex education had obviously included contraception, but had never mentioned that there might be any possibility of failure. She didn’t think she could be pregnant  because she had been acting “safely.”

This is precisely what those who scorn abstinence refuse to acknowledge. If you have sex, you might get pregnant, regardless of whether or not you are using contraception. A condom has a typical failure rate of 15%, which means there are 150,000 unwanted pregnancies in the first year of use for every million women.  To contextualise, using James Preece’s analogy, if a school nurse hands out condoms to 100 girls in her school, 15 of them will get pregnant in the first year. The effectiveness of the pill will also depend upon how the individual reacts to the type of pill that is prescribed, doctors tending to prescribe a generic pill unless there is any specific medical history. The pill being no protection against STDs. As I said in my previous post, the policy is indicative of a defeatist policy. “All young people are going to do it, they see their peers doing it, let’s make sure they do it safely”.

As Stacey Solomon and countless others will testify, there is no such thing as safe, risk-free sex. You have sex and unless one or the other of you have been sterilised, then you might get pregnant. This is the message that needs to be given to young people, rather than an attempt at risk management. Sex = chance of pregnancy, no matter how “careful” you think you are being.

Another horrifying aspect of Stacey’s story is that because it didn’t occur to her that she might be pregnant (presumably sex education doesn’t cover symptoms of pregnancy) she only visited her GP when she was 18 weeks who confirmed that the fetus was so developed that he could feel it.  She visited a gynaecologist for an abortion.

“I saw a gynaecologist and was given a scan. The doctor turned the screen away from me but Mum was with me and I saw tears in her eyes.‘The baby was well-formed and 18 weeks old. Having a termination would be complicated and when the doctor described exactly what would happen I knew I couldn’t go through with it.”

Many pro-choice advocates express disbelief that abortions may be carried out for social reasons following 12 weeks. Stacey’s story is a perfect example of how the spirit of the abortion law has been twisted far beyond its original aims. Here we have a young woman, with a fully formed baby, so developed that the GP is able to feel it upon external examination, with no reason to abort her child other than the fact that she was 17 and had just commenced a course at college.  If that is not a social reason, then what is?

It is a mark of our society that many people would feel that there is absolutely nothing wrong with a woman aborting a healthy 18 week old baby simply because it interfered with her future career plans. Her body her choice, although surely no-one in their right mind could argue that an 18 week old fetus is a woman’s body? A baby and the placenta do not comprise the same genetic material as the mother, therefore how a baby can be considered to be a part of the mother’s body, particularly at such a late stage in development is beyond me. As is the fact that anybody could feel that this is acceptable, that a mother has a right to kill her healthy fully formed child simply because it is inconvenient.

Even more disgusting is the fact that the gynaecologist turned the screen away so she couldn’t see her baby in an act of frightening manipulation. That’s not kindness or sensitivity, that’s an act designed to keep pregnant women in ignorance to steer them away from any recognition that this is a child, an unborn human life. Most pregnant women carrying healthy babies would not fail to be swayed by the image that they saw. This is why women considering abortions are never ever shown the ultrasound image, an act of denial which highlights the lie that is pedalled that this baby is not really a baby or is not human, being merely the “products of conception”, a term deliberately coined to dehumanise. If it’s a woman’s body, a woman’s choice, then why is she not routinely shown the ultrasound of her unborn child, in order to make her informed choice?

No doubt many fierce advocates of abortion would employ emotive language such as Stacey Solomon was “forced to give birth”. To a certain extent she was. When faced with the truth of the human life inside her, when faced with the reality of having to give birth to a dead baby, she took the only option that was available to her and continued the pregnancy which no doubt contributed to her depression both ante and post-natally. But as she testifies, she like many other women, came through it and is now devoted to her beautiful son, whose very existence has in no small measure contributed to her success. Her son will be enormously proud.

As for the issues of sex education, social abortions on demand and whether or not a woman considering abortion should be shown the ultrasound image of her unborn child, I think it’s time for a good old Blackadder quote:

‘If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through.’ 

Quite.

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Abstinence and abuse

Nadine Dorries has come in for an unprecedented amount of criticism in the last few weeks, firstly for her ten-minute bill proposed in Parliament suggesting that the benefits of abstinence should be put on the PSHE curriculum for girls aged 13-16 and yesterday for making the following remarks regarding abstinence on a TV show.

“A lot of girls, when sex abuse takes place, don’t realise until later that that was a wrong thing to do … Society is so over-sexualised that I don’t think people realise that if we did empower this message into girls, imbued this message in schools, we’d probably have less sex abuse.”

Taken at face value these remarks are incredibly distressing, anyone who has ever been party to any sort of sexual assault, will be painfully aware that what occurred was wrong and that being empowered to say no, would have made absolutely no difference to the assaults that took place. I can understand only too vividly why many people, were distressed by the implication that a simple ‘no’ would have prevented the abuse. If this is Dorries’ position, it is indefensible and crass to say the very least.

The problem is that Nadine Dorries seems to be incapable of conveying any sort of nuance in her utterances and failed to recognise the loaded nature of the phrase “sexual abuse”, which is associated with pedophilia, rape and the grooming of children and adolescents. The reality is that sexual abuse can take many forms, being the improper sexual treatment of one individual by another and is not solely restricted to adult/child relationships. It also needs to be remembered that, unpalatable though it may seem to many, sexual abuse can be consensual and comprises an element of BDSM relationships.

The term encompasses many meanings. It is not stretching the bounds of imagination to state that pre-teens and adolescents under the age of legal consent, may often have sex due to a mixture of sexual persuasion and societal and peer expectation, later regret it and subsequently feel abused. A study released by the NSPCC last year suggested that a quarter of girls aged 13-17 had experienced physical violence from a boyfriend and a third had been pressured into sexual acts that they did not want. The children’s charity said it was alarmed by the number of young people who viewed abuse in relationships as normal. Another UK study suggested that 1 in 5, 14 year-old girls has had sex with an average of 3 partners and that half of the sexually active girls regretted the experience while 70% of girls wanted more advice. Interestingly, “the majority of girls questioned held traditional views on marriage and tradition.Almost all (94%) said they wanted to get married by the time they were 25, and 89% said they wanted to get married before they had children.”

So viewed in the light of the above information, perhaps Dorries’ comments were not quite so ridiculous after all? If teenage girls were taught about the benefits of abstinence then perhaps these statistics would be reduced. However what Nadine Dorries desperately needs to do is clarify what she meant by her comments and also apologise to any victims of sexual abuse whom she may have offended. There have been many calls for her resignation, which seem to be off the mark. The electorate needs to be the judge of whether or not she is fit to be an MP, she is not the first MP to make controversial remarks which have caused unwitting offence, and no doubt she will not be the last. If every single MP who came out with crass, insensitive or potentially offensive remarks was asked to resign, then the country would be experiencing by-elections on a weekly basis. Nadine has not incited hate-speech, she has merely been ill-judged and clumsy in her remarks, clearly she is not the master of rhetoric or the handy political sound-bite, in fact quite the opposite. She is her own worst enemy.

I suspect however, that an apology and clarification will not be enough for the vehement anti-Dorries brigade, who attempt to paint her as some kind of heinous misogynist. It is not only this perceived misogyny that brings the opprobrium, but her proposals which are broadly based upon Christian values which are the cause of so much hatred, vitriol and derision.

Why is promoting the benefits of abstinence such a terrible and dreadful thing to be teaching impressionable young people. What is abstinence? It is merely the refraining from sexual intercourse until such time that one feels that it is appropriate. What is getting everybody’s gander up, is the religious undertones. What Nadine Dorries is suggesting is not an “abstinence only” approach, but an “abstinence plus” whereby the virtues of abstinence are taught alongside the various methods of contraception. Abstinence is not saying sex is dirty, sex should be avoided, indulge in it and all sorts of terrible things will happen to you and its all your own fault – quite the opposite. Abstinence is all about waiting until the appropriate time to have sex. From a Catholic or Christian viewpoint, sex is viewed as a positive, wonderful thing, it’s not dirty, it’s a gift from God, something that we are meant to enjoy, in fact it’s so special, so intimate it should be reserved for the context of a lifelong committed relationship.

But Dorries is not advocating that abstinence is taught from a Christian perspective or anything like it. What she is saying is that sex undoubtedly has consequences: not least pregnancy and STDS and therefore should not be undertaken without due forethought. She also correctly observes that by and large that it is girls who suffer the ill-effects of sexual activity; teenage pregnancy, STDs have the potential to affect female fertility and the developing female body is not yet able to handle either the wear and tear of repeated intercourse or premature pregnancy. It is an undisputed fact that there is a direct correlation between the amount of sexual partners one has and female sexual health, the fewer partners one has, the less likely one is prone to various conditions. Just as schools attempt to promote moderation and health in other areas of life, such as diet and underage drinking, it seems logical that they should also promote this in terms of sex education, instead of what seems to be a current risk management/defeatist approach, which seems to say “well kids are going to do it, we might as well show them how to do it properly and safely”.

Teaching teenagers the health and emotional benefits of abstinence seems to be an eminently sensible approach. The current approach which has been in place for almost thirty years now, has had minimal impact on the teenage pregnancy rates. The government pledged in 1999 to halve the teenage pregnancy rates, but the latest figures in 2010, showed that they were were still nowhere near this target, despite the £260 million allocated to reducing these figures and the extra £20.6 million announced by Ed Balls in 2009, for funding contraception resources. The notion that teenagers don’t know about contraception is verging on the absurd.

I fail to see what is quite so wrong about teaching about the benefits of abstinence, alongside contraception. Nadine Dorries seems to have been willfully misunderstood on this issue, what can be more empowering than teaching a girl that she is in control of her own sexuality, that sex is too special to be ruined by some grubby panting encounter, with a sweaty spotty grunting teen under the pile of anoraks in the spare room at the party. I have heard an enormous amount of guff spouted regarding underage sex in recent months, how young people need to be taught that sex is an essential part of any loving relationship and that there is nothing inherently wrong with two 15 year olds indulging in a loving, caring sexual relationship and they need to be taught how do this responsibly. This is a saccharine idealised view. Most teenagers lack the emotional maturity to be able to conduct an adult physical relationship and there something more than a little bit obscene and stomach churning about 2 underage people, learning about the finer details of erotic pleasure, at a time when they should be focussing on their schoolwork. If we’re honest about this, most teenage sex consists of distinctly unerotic and unsatisfactory fumblings, most teenagers are clueless when it comes to sophisticated sexual pleasures, which develop over time and involve the psychological as much as the physical and sensual. Sex is a learning process, in which one grows in deeper intimacy with one’s partner and which tends, like good wine, to improve with age, something which is beyond the understanding of teenagers caught up in today’s culture of instant gratification.

The teaching of abstinence is never going to stop all inexperienced teenage tumbles, however it might prove an effective tool against the pervasive culture of sexuality. which doesn’t empower women, but encourages them to collude and consent to their own objectification. I fail to understand the vehemence directed towards Dorries’ for advocating that children might be taught that there is another way of remaining sexually safe. Given that in the above survey 94% of girls said that they wanted to get married before the age of 25 and 89% wanted to be married before having children, is it really so bad to teach children that sexual intimacy might be worth saving for their life partners? That’s not shameful or nor does it create stigma, but might in fact be maximising their chances of a successful marriage. The problem for opponents of abstinence is the perennial one of today’s moral relativists, in that for them, the promotion of abstinence as the ideal, doesn’t validate the choices of sexually active teenagers and as in all teaching now, the idea that we might promote a certain method as being the ideal is discriminatory and unfair on those who might do otherwise. Actually life is all about choices, there are some lifestyle choices that are wiser than others, such as, for example not taking drugs, therefore to advise that abstinence is a wise teenage choice is simply guidance, it is another option or choice not an imposition of morality.

Where Dorries has gone wrong is to limit abstinence teaching to girls, which has the potential to switch all the emphasis and responsibility for sexual activity onto girls. I fail to see why boys should be excluded, although I understand why she might think that given girls are the ones who will disproportionately suffer, they should be the main recipients of her teaching. Why can’t boys be taught about love, respect and responsibility, in short to behave like gentlemen? (The clue is in the word). Surely it is as important for boys, as it is girls to understand that sex is not without consequences, contraceptives fail and if they do not want the responsibility of become a teenage father, then by the far the best way is not to engage in sex. Or are we implying that all boys are incapable of controlling their sexual urges. Because this is ultimately what seems to be at the root of the opposition to abstinence, that sexual desire is something that controls us, something that compels us and something over which we have no choice. All consensual sexual activities involve an element of choice, no-one compels or forces one person to have sex with another. Before pausing to pull on that condom, isn’t it better to use that pause to think “is this really advisable”? Or is it wise to attempt to pull-back way before then? We are not animals, we should all be capable of self-control or is the teenage boy, as Dorries seems to imply, a feral grunting gorilla, able only to drag his knuckles across the floor, speak in monosyllables for whom finding a pair of clean matching socks is something of an achievement?

And abstinence, is not an irreversible or permanent state of affairs. It is simply asking oneself whether one is really in a position to engage in sexual activity and whether or not one is prepared to cope with the consequences. I always say to teens “have you discussed whether or not you want to have a baby with this person”. At which point they usually blush and look rather embarassed and say “well it’s too soon, I don’t really know him well enough to be talking about that”. To which my response is always “well, you don’t know him well enough to be able to talk about whether or not you want to have a baby, but you do know him well enough to strip off, get naked and intimate and exchange bodily fluids”?! Go figure. The issue of teenage sex will never be resolved, teens will always want to experiment, to rebel, to prove their adulthood and indulge in danger. How else do you explain the recent findings of Professor Paton of Nottingham University who discovered that in areas where the morning-after pill was freely available to teens, there was a sharp spike in the teenage STD rates? They didn’t know about contraceptive options, or decided to throw caution to the wind, knowing that any pregnancy could be resolved?

Problem is Dorries is now something of a Baldrick figure, well-meaning, but without the intellectual gravitas to back up her cunning plans. Her enthusiasm and passion for pro-life and sex education issues cannot be faulted. Her PR skills certainly can. We should not let her verbal clumsiness or personal reputation detract from the issue. Abstinence will not prevent pedophilia, rape or sexual exploitation (an increasing amount seems to occur between female school teachers and young schoolboys these days). Mrs Dorries needs to clarify and apologise for any distress her remarks may have caused in this area.

It cannot be denied that abstinence may however, prevent young teenagers from getting into situations that they later bitterly regret. The American Centre for Disease Control has reported a drop in teen pregnancy and sexual activity with 39 births per 1,000, the lowest rate in 70 years, a success attributed to abstinence programmes. 68% of boys and 67% of girls aged 15-17, have never had sexual intercourse, with 53% boys and 58% girls never having any sexual contact in the years 2006-2008, a distinct improvement from the rates of 2002, whereby 46% boys and 49% girls reported no sexual contact. If it’s worked there, it could work here and it’s an infinitely more holistic option than chucking a condom at a boy, pumping artificial hormones into a girl and crossing fingers that it works.

Dorries has a point.

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Walking with sluts

The organisers of slutwalk are suggesting that parents bring their children along to these marches. Now I don’t want to come over all Mary Whitehouse, if women want to don their leather bra and hot pants and march along the street to protest about rape in the name of empowerment that’s entirely up to them, although the point of these marches has escaped me.

Do the organisers really think that these walks are going to prevent rape or sexual assaults, which anyone with half an ounce of common sense knows, is never about the victim, the fault or blame always lies with the attacker. Let’s be clear here, rape and sexual assaults are always about power and violence, sex is simply the weapon used to inflict this upon another. A woman or man, walking down the street or out and about in the general public, does not consent to sexual assault by virtue of how they may be dressed or behaving. The majority of rape victims are women, although we cannot forget that male rape is also prevalent in society,  but it must be remembered that the reported crime figures regarding the incidence of male rape is estimated to be only the tip of the iceberg, most incidents go unreported, due to the still very taboo nature of the crime.

Are any potential rapists likely to go home and re-think their lives on the basis of witnessing the march? Or will the sight of women sexually objectivising themselves and ironically, for a bunch of feminists turning themselves into objects for fetishistic sexual admiration, further entrench the link between dress and sexually promiscuous behaviour? Will women in their micro-mini skirts and bras reinforce the idea that women are simply objects for the viewing pleasure of men? Will this whole march prove somewhat counter-productive as women are deliberately flaunting their sexual attributes and buying into the whole “prick-tease” attitude? We know that men are wired to respond sexually to visual stimuli whereas a woman’s sexual responses are, on the whole, more complex than a simple physical reaction. Slutwalking is glorified teasing. It’s saying look at me, I am a sexual being, I have the freedom to dress as I want, to behave as I want (none of which are freedoms that I would wish to deny) I’m going to dress as provocatively as I can, I’m going to associate myself with a word that has connotations of not being choosy about with whom I might have sexual relations, and if a man has a sexual response to me on the basis of how I am dressed, then he has to deal with it.

All of which is fine up to a point, of course if a man does have a physical response to a woman, then he needs to ensure that his sexual desires are appropriately and consensually channelled,  and the same applies to women. But the question needs to be asked, if women don’t want to be objectified, if they don’t want to be “slut-shamed”, i.e judged by their sexuality and potentially feel unsafe as a result, why they then choose to present themselves solely in terms of their sexuality? There is nothing brave or empowered about going on a slutwalk, whereby safety is guaranteed in numbers. All it does is present a totty fest for the likes of Jeremy Clarkson.

Dressing in a sexually provocative fashion is usually something that is grown out of by the mid twenties. Most teenagers who dress sexually provocatively, do so because they are insecure, they want to attract the opposite sex, they want to be attractive to the opposite sex, but haven’t yet gleaned the emotional maturity and sophistication to work out that there are better and more effective ways of meeting your soul-mate than simply reducing yourself to a collection of your various body parts. And why is it that a chorus  ” you’re not going out dressed like that” still resonates around most households containing a teenage girl, the length and breadth of the country? Is it because parents want to “slut shame” or is it because parents are actually wishing to protect their children, because they realise the message that teenagers may inadvertently or otherwise be sending out? That they realise that their children may be solely identifying themselves as someone who is available for sexual activity, something that is fraught with danger for inexperienced teens.

Most women come to the realisation that actually they want a partner who loves them for who they are, soul, mind and body, not just the latter. To dress sexually provocatively screams immaturity and attracts attention for all the wrong reasons. Generally women who dress like sluts are not taken seriously by men and women alike and with good reason, namely that they are reducing themselves to the level of an object, they are showing themselves in a one-dimensional aspect. And by dressing sluttily I mean by leaving nothing to the imagination. There is a distinct difference between dressing sexily, which leaves room for  a hint of imagination and dressing in a sexually explicit fashion.

And this is why I find it incredible that the organisers of this walk, are inviting people to bring their children. No doubt these would be the same type of women who would scream at me for taking my children along to a pro-life rally due to it being “inappropriate”. I cannot think of anything more inappropriate  than to take children along to a march which is concerned with the very adult business of sexual behaviour. To take my seven year old along, would surely necessitate an explanation of both sex and rape? How on earth is this appropriate for a child? How is appropriate to take a child along to a march where she will be surrounded by people dressed in a sexually provocative fashion, and explain that men like to see ladies dressed in their knickers and that sometimes a lady in this state might make a man want to do things to her without her consent which could hurt her? How on earth does one explain to a young child the various implications of the word ‘slut’?

Is it really appropriate to start teaching children that they can have sex with whoever they like and whenever they like and there should be absolutely no consequences? Surely by introducing the idea that others may be judgemental of their sexual behaviour, that in itself gives them pause for thought about sexual behaviours and norms? I can just imagine what my child’s school, who operate a zero tolerance policy on swearing and bad language, would make of her weekend diary detailing slutwalking with mummy and the accompanying drawings.

The word “slut” implies that one is not particularly choosy about one’s sexual partners, that one has plenty of them and defines themselves by their sexuality. Well that’s fine and dandy, you have as many sexual partners as you like and be proud of that, dress as provocatively as you like, be seen purely in terms of a sexual object, invite men to be sexually aroused by your appearance, but don’t expect me to endorse your quasi page 3 parade nor pass that message on to my children.

I wonder how many women who feel that it is so empowering to walk semi-naked through the streets with a group of similarly attired women, at zero risk of assault, would actually choose to wear the same clothing, or lack thereof and walk through a city centre alone in the small hours of the morning? Or would encourage their daughters to do similar? Because if we don’t invite sexual appraisal by our appearance, then surely both a niquab wearing and  scantily clad woman walking through a city centre alone at 2am would be at identical risk?

It’s all about taking responsibility and taking ownership.  You choose to dress in a sexually provocative fashion, then you choose to be judged purely in those terms, like it or not. That’s not inviting rape, as I stated, the responsibility always lies with the attacker, but you are marking yourself out as a target for those with proclivities towards sexual violence, regardless of whether that’s right, just or fair. In an ideal world, a woman should be able to wear whatever she likes without inviting judgement, be that bikini or burka. The world we live in is far from ideal and defining yourself purely in terms of sexuality or sexual attractiveness does little to change stereotypes.

Besides far more empowering is knowing that you don’t need to define yourself in those terms, that your attractiveness and sexuality transcends the mere physical. Tramping around in the altogether, celebrating your freedom to dress as you please is one thing, but don’t expect it to change any attitudes. Still Primark might finally discover that they have a run on their padded bras for seven-year olds.

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Why I am so vehemently opposed to abortion? Well just lying here in bed, gazing at Felicity, and thinking how beautiful and perfect she is in every way.

I then think back to the abortion that was suggested on 3 separate occasions in pregnancy. It terrifies me to think how easy it could have been to take this “healthcare option”.

There are no words that can accurately describe the horror of any physical harm coming to my baby and the thought of preventing her from being born or existing is beyond my comprehension. Why should she have been denied a chance to live, why should she have been killed at what would have been 22 weeks, because she was inconvenient.

To the troll who commented “just what the world needs, more jobless people having babies” do you still think I should have killed this child? To the doctors who suggested there were strong medical grounds to kill my child were you really justified?

She is perfect in every way and I am apoplectically angry that we live in a society that would have not only turned a blind eye but also sanctioned my killing my beautiful baby as moral and licit.

On what grounds was it OK to kill my child and how in the name of all that is good and holy can this be right?

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Gruesome rumours regarding Margaret Thatcher’s alleged imminent demise swept Twitter today. It was something of an unpleasant spectacle, quite why someone would think it amusing to fake a news report stating that anyone was hours from death is beyond me. Almost as bad was the inevitable gloating, invoking the usual clichés of dancing on her grave and worse. What struck me, is that much of the sentiment eagerly anticipating her death and the celebrations that would follow, came from precisely the same people who have been professing so much outrage about the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. There seemed to me to be more than a little dissonance between on the one hand,  people working themselves up into states of apoplexy about the killing of the leader of a known terrorist organisation and on the other, positively wishing for a nasty, painful and protracted death of an eighty-five year old woman in frail health, who was as well as being a democratically elected leader, was a mother and grandmother.

I don’t hold with the dehumanization of anyone. Whilst I can’t bring myself to feel grief-stricken over the death of Osama Bin Laden, I can see that perhaps America had legitimate grounds for his execution, there are nonetheless some moral issues to consider here. Fr Lombardi struck entirely the right note when he said that

“faced with the death of a man,  a Christian never rejoices but reflects on the serious responsibility of each and every one of us before God and before man, and hopes and commits himself so that no event be an opportunity for further growth of hatred, but for peace.”

We are all created with equal dignity and worth, emotive hyperbole only serves to dehumanize us, thereby justifying acts of violence, and just as Osama Bin Laden was a father, Margaret Thatcher is a mother and grandmother, the difference being that like her or loathe her, Margaret Thatcher did not set out with the aim of wantonly killing swathes of non-combatants, nor was she filmed laughing and celebrating the slaughter of thousands of innocent people. I am well aware that some people might argue that her government had precisely the same effect, however the difference is Maggie was the democratically elected prime minister of this country, voted for by the vast majority. She did not order or sanction the wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians, British troops were not asked to indiscriminately kill vast swathes of population. Whatever Margaret Thatcher did was to act in what she believed to be in the best interests of this country. I don’t think one can accuse her or Denis, of being motivated by self-interest, book deals, publicity stunts or freebies.

Which brings me to the main point, namely state funerals. The question of whether or not a state funeral would be appropriate was mooted. My answer was initially no. It seems to me that either all former British prime ministers should be accorded a state funeral, or none of them should. I then wondered whether or not Margaret Thatcher should be given a state funeral simply on the basis that she was the first female ever to reach the highest echelons of power.

I’ve come to the conclusion that every single former British Prime Minister who has served at least two terms should be accorded some sort of public funeral as should a prime minister who dies whilst in office. Even Blair, whose actions I find indefensible and who frankly makes my blood boil. By public funeral I’m not talking of a royal affair with gun carriages, 21 gun salutes, or any sort of lying in state. I think, in the case of Margaret Thatcher any sort of lying in state, would be of more detriment than of benefit and this would probably apply to most prime ministers We are not talking about venerating the relics of a holy saint, or according former prime ministers a holy and hallowed status, but I think it is only right and proper that the state holds some kind of public ceremony as a mark of respect for the office itself, for our traditions of freedom and democracy and in thanks-giving for those prime ministers who have, often to the detriment of their own personal health, dedicated a prolonged period of time to acting in what they believe to be the best interests of the country. Particularly when, in the cases of Thatcher, Blair and even John Major, they have been democratically elected by the vast majority of the country. Why not give the office of prime-minister the respect it deserves? It was morally indefensible that democracy was snubbed by the omission of two former serving prime ministers at the royal wedding.

Let history and God be their judge and let us be grateful that we do live in a country that will permit us to wear t-shirts hastening and celebrating the demise of a grandmother riddled with Alzheimer’s.

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Felicity

Arrived at 12:45 pm on Thursday 21st April, via planned cesarian section, at 39 + 6, weighing 8lbs and 2oz. I am still alive and she is thriving, so as predicted, I do feel a little silly for publicly stating quite how terrified I was by the whole process. Although I am more than aware that I have a propensity towards melodrama, my fears were not entirely unfounded. I do have a history of hemorrhage, the final few visits to the midwife and consultant involved much talk of cross-matching of blood and being aware, that my previous section had involved a right-angled incision which had nicked a vessel.

Probably fairly routine stuff, but to a medical ignoramus who seems to glean most of her knowledge either from google (bad idea) or Holby City, the prospect was rather terrifying. I had been holding out for a natural birth and though I have absolutely no need to feel defensive about having a section, various press headlines that constantly mention the unacceptably high rates of cesarian sections performed in the UK, combined with the “are you like one of them celebrities who are too posh to push remarks” and disappointed looks I received from various acquaintances, together with my own sense of failure that my body seems to refuse to do what should come naturally in childbirth have made me hyper-sensitive. I will spare the gory gyneaological details, but my consultant concludes, “square peg, round hole, you’ve just got a funny shaped pelvis Mrs F”. Even my midwife, who had been very supportive of plans for a home-birth last time round and in common with most midwives is an advocate of natural birth, felt that in my situation, a natural birth, though not impossible, was highly unlikely. In the event, it was felt that at 39 weeks, with the head still free floating and my blood pressure rising, that a c-section would be the safest option. C-sections certainly have their place, without them, I suspect I would number among the childbirth mortality statistics, but anyone who thinks that they are somehow an easy option is sorely mistaken.

I was more than a little staggered when the anaesthetist conducting the pre-op procedure blithely informed me that if his partner were having a baby he would definitely want her to have a c-section before a natural birth, no question! For medical professionals it seems to be all about medically managing what is, for the majority of women, a perfectly straightforward process, but from my perspective, having experienced a natural birth (albeit a very stressful one, entailing 56 hours of labour and resulting in a high cavity forceps delivery with many related subsequent problems) and now two cesarians, my preference would be for a natural, even if assisted , birth without a  shadow of a doubt. The procedure was traumatic, to go into gory detail would be inappropriate, suffice to say, that unlike the birth of our previous daughter, we have no nice photos to share from the operating theatre. The one brief snap that was taken involves me with an oxygen  mask and several canulas. Then it all got a little hairy.

The good news is that Felicity is thriving. As of yesterday she had already regained her birthweight and weighed 8lbs 4oz. I don’t go in for obsessively weighing babies, being my third I could tell she was absolutely fine, without needing the official check, but it was reassuring nonetheless. I’m in that post-natal mess phase; due to subsequent complications, I am suffering with a low iron count, a problem that dogged me throughout pregnancy, an infection and am the usual mix of hormones and exhaustion,so am at times even more emotional than usual. Low spots include a violent reaction to ferrous sulphate and a sobbing fit in Mothercare when I was informed that my breasts are now an H cup, the only lingerie being available resembling barrage balloons and official confirmation that my cleavage dwarfs Ann Widdecombe’s. For someone who suffers from more than a  spot of body dysmorphia and considers herself fat at a size 10, this temporary change in body shape is taking some coming to terms with. It serves as an excellent lesson in humility and when I see how much benefit Felicity, like all my babies, is deriving from being breast-fed.  I know that it is a small price to pay, but the sight of Pippa Middleton in all her finery brought about a most unedifying attack of envy and determination to hit the WiiFit once I have been declared fit to resume normal activity.

Right now, life is once again extremely hectic with the demands of a week old baby, a 17 month old and a seven year old. There are moments when I’m overwhelmed by it all, moments when I’m riding on a crest of adrenalin and definitely pushing things physically and others when I just want to collapse in the corner in a sobbing, tired heap of emotions. I was released from the hospital on Holy Saturday and attended the Easter Vigil high on painkillers and adrenalin. It was perhaps one of the most moving services of my life, certainly it seemed more than a little appropriate that this was the first Mass that we took Felicity to, I apologise to anyone reading this who spotted me sobbing away on a tide of happiness and gratitude in the pews. I am also extremely grateful for Fr’s look of horror when I asked him prior to the birth whether or not an Easter vigil baptism might be possible. Both him and my mother-in-law were flabberghasted and a little concerned that I was even contemplating leaving the house a few hours after discharge, however my husband knows quite how tenacious I can be when I set my mind on something and was therefore resigned and thus supportive. Though an Easter vigil Baptism would have been wonderful, it would also have been highly inappropriate, the state of my health would have overshadowed proceedings and the day would have been remembered for all the wrong reasons.

In my more rational moments, I know that this current phase of permanent exhaustion and roller-coaster of post-natal hormones will pass. Looking at how big our 17th month old appears by contrast, I also know how quickly this little newborn phase will pass and thus I am determined to enjoy it. Felicity just seems so little and fragile and yet it feels like only yesterday that Imogen, the 17 month old was at exactly the same stage. Yesterday the umbilical cord fell off prompting yet more tears. It inexplicably felt sad, the end of an era, her physical connection with me being severed. But this is the job of parents, to help children to grow to be healthy independent people in their own right. Today, she seems to have woken up from her newborn slumber having been asleep for the majority of the past week and is fully opening her eyes. She has been quite jaundiced so we have been putting the moses basket in a sunny window which has worked wonders in terms of her colour and no doubt has contributed to her new wakefulness.

Life is not going to be easy over the next few months.I feel pulled in several different directions, under self-imposed pressure to be the perfect mother to all my children, but inevitably with 3 of them,  they are not going to get the same amount of attention as my eldest daughter did when she was just the only child. This weekend we had a Royal Wedding diary to complete, with 6 blank pages for writing and decorations and drawings to complete. The teacher had sent a helpful email with extra pages attached and prizes such as Headmaster’s commendations on offer for super work. I am achingly conscious that my daughter’s effort will probably pale in comparison with those of the uber-mummies and competitive parents, being something of a rush job, but with a week old baby and a 17 month old, time and resources are limited. I still feel terrible that I have let her down. It’s been a glorious weekend, we should have been romping in the park, instead I have been sat on the sofa with a baby glued to my breast, unable to do much physical activity because it brings on blood loss. Moments like that make me feel like the worst mother in the world. My time and attention are finite and I feel more than a little inadequate.

But all of this shall pass and things will settle down. When I discovered that I was pregnant, I knew that we would shortly lose our home, our circle of friends, acquaintances and parishioners to whom we had grown close. Everything that was physically grounding us was about to go. We had no idea where we would be living or whether or not my husband would get some kind of a job or if we’d have enough money to survive. I was just embarking on a degree in English Literature, a long-cherished ambition and all of a sudden life was thrown into a massive haitus, everything seemed to be beyond our control and my degree, the one piece of permanence and stability, had to temporarily fall by the wayside.

Each subsequent pregnancy has been harder on me physically. I fell pregnant when our daughter was 8 months, I was still breast-feeding, I struggled on until her first birthday so I could feel that I’d done the right thing for her, but obviously I had only just begun to fully recover from the pregnancy and birth and there I was pregnant again. There are no words to adequately convey how very difficult the last nine months have been physically and emotionally. There have been times when I have been on the very brink, overwhelmed by sickness, tiredness, general despair and panic. I have felt an utter failure as a woman, that I didn’t once bloom, that my condition meant that I couldn’t be the wife and mother that I wanted to be, I looked at all these active blooming healthy women jogging around the park or attending film premieres with undisguised envy. What was wrong with me, why couldn’t I just pull myself together and find some energy? The answer was an iron problem that never managed to fully resolve itself,  constant sickness, diagnosed ante-natal depression and in the latter stages, SPD and  restricted mobility.

But, grim as that all sounds, I am still here and I am blessed with another beautiful healthy baby. I have not had an easy time at all, far from it, but when I look at my baby, who is here now, snuggling under one arm as I type one-handed, I know that it has been more than worth it and though absolutely not desperate to do the whole thing again, I would in a heartbeat.

I am passionately pro-life, I know first-hand how physically and emotionally draining an unplanned pregnancy can be, this is not the first time that I have coped with an unplanned pregnancy, coming at what might seem the most inopportune of times, but the reward has been more than worth the effort. When I discovered I was pregnant, I was offered a termination at 7 weeks, at 18 weeks and at 21 weeks respectively. With all that was going on both physically and emotionally, it seemed like there was a “clear case”. My iron levels were low, my energy was low, I had hyperemesis and I was depressed and frightened;  our world and future was in turmoil. I blogged for a bit of therapy and received hate-mail and trolls. One of my commenters noted that  ” you had unprotected sex, you behaved like an irresponsible 16 year old, you got pregnant, well done you”. There was a lot worse besides.

Point is this. I am not special or particularly strong. I was given all these ridiculous doomsday scenarios about my pregnancy, blood loss and so on and so forth and I’m still here, I’m alive and I have a healthy baby. My pregnancy is not a typical physical experience although I know emotionally many women, even with planned pregnancies go through the mill. I did it, I got through it, it was to date one of the most difficult times of my life, I know I should have been grateful, happy and excited but I was none of th0se things and I experienced guilt on a daily basis, particularly knowing that there are so many who struggle with infertility.

But I’m here, I did it, I’m alive and if I can do it and get through this, then anyone can. Yes prayer helped enormously, as did the support of my husband, but in terms of practical support we had very little. Both sets of parents live hundreds of miles away and have suffered major illness, my father having had a massive heart attack at the beginning of the year, shortly after his 70th birthday. It is only thanks to the support of Christians, both in real life and the on-line Catholic community that gave me the courage to go on. To those who helped, thank you, you know who you are.

When I told my mother I was pregnant her response was “oh NO, that IS bad news”. Other people on-line berated me for my use of NFP, told me how stupid I’d been and expressed sentiments that I’d probably carry on having children until my uterus prolapsed. Others thought it was no bad thing that my “options” had been discussed and probably I was being very foolhardy in not having an abortion. It didn’t help to be repeatedly offered the procedure by various doctors and it scares me that it was brandished about so freely as an option in the later stages. An abortion may have been a short-term health “solution” but at what cost, both in terms of my baby’s life and my mental health. I would never have recovered or forgiven myself, though at times I felt that I would have done anything to recover equilibrium and health. I can see only too clearly how abortion might feel like the only sensible solution to a vulnerable and desperate woman.

Here is the reason why I am so glad that I kept going. Here is the choice that I made, although effectively there never was any element of choice in my mind. This is the child that I didn’t want ending up in the sluice drain and this is the image that I kept in my mind throughout the whole period.

As well as being an early Christian martyr and a patron Saint of mothers who are separated from their children because of war or persecution, Felicity also means bliss or happiness. I don’t think we could have chosen better.

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