‘Advice’ Category

  1. Abortion: Don’t be afraid to say it

    November 22, 2012 by SarahH

    PRO-CHOICE. Potential trigger warning,

    Image credit: BPAS

    For those who do not follow the pro-choice movement, the events of last week proved to be a bit of a shocker. And, rightly so. For those of us who do follow the pro-choice movement, Savita’s story is not such an anomaly. The biggest, most distinguishing factor about this tragedy is that this happened in Ireland, in a ‘developed country’, our neighbours, incredibly close to home. As one of my closest friends (who is Irish) said to me in an email earlier this week ‘I’m in shock and utter rage about what’s happened in Ireland. This is my country, it’s the first world and this happens?’

    Abortion is a subject which warrants a dialogue and engagement not avoidance. Abortion is a social issue and abortion is a feminist issue. Acknowledgment, understanding, and awareness of abortion is vital if we are to break down the negative labeling associated with it. When it comes to personal experiences of abortion, why is it that women only disclose this information to their nearest and dearest and most trusted? Why is it that, in 2012, women do not feel confident enough to stand up and admit to being a woman who has had an abortion? My answer to this would be because of an unwarranted, widespread, and insidious judgment powered by silence, by shaming, by avoidance, and ignorance. Contrary to what the heavy regulations and controversy surrounding abortion suggest, it is a not scarcely performed medical procedure: in 2009, 21% of UK conceptions ended in abortion, yet women still feel the need to be silent about their experiences for fear of being judged or tarnished with a label which is not, and should never be, applicable to them. There are so many myths and negative connotations surrounding abortion that, for many women, speaking out about it is a daunting and frightening prospect.

    So, here’s a bit of myth busting:

    1. Abortion is faced by married women, by single women, by mothers with children, by women in long-term relationships. Statistics show that approximately one in three women in the UK will have an abortion in her lifetime. ONE IN THREE.

    2. Abortions occur at all reproduction life stages: 9% of abortions are for girls under 18; 41% ages 18-24; 36% ages 25-34; and 14% age 35+.

    4. Abortion is very safe in Britain. It is one of the most commonly performed gynaecological procedures.

    4. Internationally, each year, 20 million abortions take place in unsafe, unhygienic, and downright grotty conditions. Because of this an estimated 80,000 women die.

    (stats taken from www.dh.gov.uk and www.statistics.gov.uk)

    Why is this still a taboo subject? Why is this still something which society teaches us to be ashamed of or be made guilty for doing? Why is this still an issue which is subject to restrictive, and down right shaming, legislation which makes women jumps through hoops, stand on their heads, and do a tap-dance?

    At present, British abortion legislation is based on the Abortion Act (1967) and the Section 37 of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Act (1990). In Britain, abortion is not legally available at the request of the woman. The ultimate decision resides with not one but two GPs. This gets even more scary when you take into account that 10% of British GPs consider themselves to be actively anti- abortion and have or would refuse to grant a woman an abortion because of this. The situation for our sisters in Northern Ireland is positively medieval: British abortion laws are not applicable in Northern Ireland, therefore women do not have access to safe legal abortion.

    So, what are the repercussions of this? What does this really mean? In Britain, it means that women are side-lined and marginalized. It means women have little choice and no voice. It means that women are subjects not citizens. Furthermore, for women in Northern Ireland, it means trauma and emotional distress brought about by having to surreptitiously seek an illegal abortion.  It means serious complications and health repercussions caused by back street abortion methods.  It means death. How can we expect abortion to break free from social stigma if the people who seek it are treated as though they are criminals, offered up to and bound by the decisions of others.

    Where is the autonomy in this? As far as I can see, there is none. It is a humiliating and paternalistic attitude, perpetuated by a government who so cleverly appointed an anti-abortion health minister (a man, no less!) who wants to reduce the upper limit to 12 weeks. A bizarre move given that only 8% of abortions are carried out over the 12 week period anyway. Who exactly is being protected here? Not the women facing abortion, that’s for sure. These attitudes need to stop.

    Abortion is not a dirty word.
    Abortion is not a crime.
    Abortion is not something to be ashamed of.
    Abortion should not be an ‘issue’ which is pushed under the proverbial carpet and only discussed/ acknowledged at time of crisis (i.e. now)
    Abortion is a real and tangible factor of everyday life.

    Abortion. Don’t be afraid to say it.

    One in three women in the UK will have an abortion in her lifetime. One in three. Look around you….
    For honest, reliable, and unbiased information or advice see:

    Education for Choice: http://www.efc.org.uk/
    British Pregnancy advice http://www.bpas.org/bpaswoman
    Abortion Rights http://www.abortionrights.org.uk
    Abortion Help (Marie Stopes) http://www.abortion-help.co.uk/

    (Please Note: “LIFE” and “Crisis” centres are religiously motivated abortion advice centres. Please be aware that the information they offer may not be unbiased.)

    Sarah (@sazbottle) is a grass roots feminist campaigner and is involved with groups including @femactioncam and @armpits4august. Sarah writes for various online magazines/blogs and is partial to a bit of blogging in her own right (obviously all her posts are her own views, and not necessarily the views of organisations she works for, or anything like that, for all you legal eagles out there). By day, Sarah works for an NGO  which targets corporate malpractice and illegal marketing strategies. Sarah likes history, yoga, raspberry leaf tea, and loud music.

  2. A personal account of abortion

    October 18, 2012 by Anon

    This is an anonymous post detailing a personal account of an abortion at 21 weeks. It is a bit longer than our usual posts, I am sure you can understand why I wanted it to remain as written. Many thanks to our anonymous author for sharing her story – it’s so important to hear from people who have actual experience of the stuff that gets bandied about in politics. This piece offers a very personal perspective, which may offer some food for thought in the context of Jeremy Hunt’s desire to reduce the termination limit to 12 weeks. 



    I looked in my purse – I couldn’t really afford it. I sighed because pregnancy tests are horrifically expensive. I gave my brother and sister everything I had, and they sauntered into Tesco (I was too embarrassed to go myself). It wasn’t a big moment. It was a joke, almost – something different to do that Saturday afternoon. None of us thought it would end up coming to anything, least of all me. I was more annoyed about the money that anything else.

    I’d finally been pushed to do it after I’d had a shower that morning. I’d felt bloated for weeks, but because I’d done a pregnancy test a few months before – about two months after my last period – and it was negative, I thought it must be a food allergy or something. Fruit squash, was my bright idea. Apparently the sweeteners in the sugar-free ones can cause digestive reactions in some people.

    Anyway, whilst looking at my bloated stomach for the twentieth time in as many days that morning, I noticed that my belly button was sticking out more that it used to. It was the first time I’d noticed it; it wasn’t a complete ‘outie’ but it was definitely more visible than usual. So when I started moaning again about what on earth was going on with my body, my siblings persuaded me to get a test so that I could rule that theory out (again) and then go to the doctor to figure out what it really was.

    I’d had other symptoms of course which, when I look back, all blatantly pointed to the first trimester of a pregnancy. I’d suddenly had really oily skin, but I thought this and my periods stopping was to do with the stress regarding my break-up with a boyfriend and residual angst from my parents’ separation. I had felt some unusual nausea when I was on a holiday in India two months previously, but I’d reasoned this was because of the local food and water, and the antihistamines I was taking. It’s easy for people to say ‘You must have known’, but it’s not that simple. One negative test was all it took to become blind to (and make excuses for) a million other signs. That and the fact that the only instance of unprotected sex I’d had in the last six months (a horrific event I was barely aware of) was hastily followed by the morning after pill.

    As we pulled back in our driveway after buying a twin pack for £14 (all they had, which annoyed me even more) we encountered my dad packing up the car to go off for the weekend. ‘Don’t leave yet,’ I joked, ‘I could be pregnant, in which case you won’t be able to go!’ He rolled his eyes at me.

    I practically skipped to the toilet, so unassuming was I. I read the instructions and carried them out. Because I was so sure it would be negative, it had turned into a kind of game. It was quite exciting really.

    I put the lid on and wiped it with a tissue. I threw a cursory glance at the stick.

    The word ‘Pregnant’ stared back at me. Barely twenty seconds had passed. I frowned, looked at it again (thank god I hadn’t got one of the one line/two line/crossed line ones, it really had to be spelled out to me). I didn’t understand, that was way too fast – the instructions said wait two and half minutes?

    I walked quickly out of the bathroom and into the kitchen where my sister sat swinging her legs, sitting on the Aga. She looked at my face. I thrust the stick into her hands. She continued to look at my face and dismissed my expression, shaking her head. ‘Very funny’, she said. She looked down. I waited for her to read it.

    ‘It said that after seconds,’ I stressed. ‘That can’t be right, can it?? It’s supposed to be two and a half minutes. It was seconds!!!’ I was beginning to panic now.

    My sister finally looked up. Whatever she felt personally was overruled by her maternal soothing instinct (which we’d all developed on overdrive since my mum’s departure). ‘Don’t worry, it’s probably just wrong,’ she said tentatively. ‘It shouldn’t have given you an answer so quickly, should it? It’s wrong. Just do the other one.’

    ‘I can’t be pregnant, this is crazy…’ I felt a little sick.

    ‘You’re not! You’re definitely not. Just do the other test; that’ll be negative.’

    Shaking, I walked back to the toilet. She advised me to do it the alternative way the instructions described (by peeing into a cup and dipping the stick in, if you must know). I did as I was told. I put the cap on and walked, still in a daze, back to the kitchen.

    My sister had gone outside to speak to Dad who had been about to leave. Together they walked in the front door. He clearly didn’t believe what he’d been told. Yeah, sure, his face said. Either they’re having me on or they’re incapable of reading the instructions on one of these things. She showed him the original stick. His face became drained of colour.

    ‘Oh, shit,’ he said.

    ‘Don’t worry,’ my sister interrupted, ‘she’s doing the other one and that will be negative. This one gave her the result way too quickly.’ She sounded confident now.

    The remaining test burnt my hand as it clenched around it. I was afraid to look at it. About a minute, maybe a minute and a half, had passed.

    I looked at it.

    ‘Oh god.’ I started crying. ‘I can’t be pregnant, I can’t be pregnant, I can’t be pregnant…’ I said over and over again. My sister took the test from my hand. I sank to the floor, staring at nothing. ‘I did a pregnancy test. I did a pregnancy test!! Months ago. It was negative! I can’t be pregnant. I ALWAYS use condoms!’ Now I was shouting.

    It was true.

    My mind went into hyper-drive, scanning a history of my recent sexual episodes in intimate flash-backs. There had been the incident in December, but I’d got the morning after pill in plenty of time. Yes I’d had the odd occasion here and there since where there had been brief penetration before a condom was resentfully but dutifully sourced – doesn’t everyone?? But while we’ve all heard the scare-stories about ‘pre-come’, but who actually thought it was a real threat? I have friends who have used the pull-out method for years, with no scares at all. Could that really be what got me pregnant?!

    If I was pregnant, there was one thing that I immediately knew – I’d been pregnant a while. The symptoms, which I’d tried to blame on everything under the sun, had started before Christmas. It was March. I had to be damn close to the legal abortion limit, I thought. Oh god, was it too late?

    And there was also one thing I definitely did not know – whose baby it was. Since there was no notable occasion to pinpoint, and since my ex-boyfriend and recent sexual partner had overlapped, it was a toss-up. I didn’t know whether this was a good or a bad thing.


    At some point there was a phone conversation with Marie Stopes abortion clinic. I don’t really remember it, except that I knew I had to make the call to go private, and quickly, because of how far along I knew I must be. I told them this, which meant that I was booked in for a scan in days, rather than weeks. I found out on Saturday; the scan was booked for Tuesday.

    I went to London for it, with my sister and my dad. I’d booked the whole week off work by this point. I don’t even remember what excuse was made. It’s the one time my dad’s helped me pull a sickie; he rang them for me. I didn’t trust myself to speak to them.

    The whole day was pretty surreal – I felt like we were playing parts in a play. A warning play to others. I told Dad he shouldn’t come to the clinic, thinking it might make other women and girls in the there uncomfortable. So he waited for us in a nearby café. He was really nervous but trying not to show it. He didn’t know what to hope for aloud I don’t think. None of us did I guess. It’s a difficult thing to say ‘Good luck, hope you’re within the legal limit to get an abortion!’ So he just hugged me hard.

    We headed over early as I was partly afraid I wouldn’t find it and partly afraid we’d have to fight our way through protesters. I really didn’t know what to think. When we arrived we were directed into a little room. It was exactly as I imagined – everyone was very hush hush; everything was white; there were quite a few young girls there with their mothers. I felt bad being there when I was at an age where I was clearly able to care for a child. We sat down; my sister held my hand. I tried to look anywhere but at the other girls. We all sat there for a while, trying to pretend we didn’t know what everyone else was all doing there.

    Then suddenly a new pair came in – a very young oriental girl and her tiny but much older mother. The mother had a number of bulging Sainsbury’s plastic bags. She bustled in quite loudly whilst the girl followed quietly behind and sat down. The mother continued to bustle for a while, until she ripped off a big piece off a baguette sticking out of one of the bags, and proceeded to eat it noisily.

    I thought this was rather insensitive since some of the girls there would have most likely been nil by mouth for the morning, but she surpassed herself the next minute by pulling out a steaming bag of hot chicken. The smell filled the room! She took out a wing and started gnawing at it. Her daughter looked at her reproachfully, and she sharply defended herself by shouting: ‘What? I hungry!’

    (Why she spoke in broken English to her daughter who presumably spoke Chinese I don’t know.)

    This made my sister and I burst out laughing, and we spent the next few minutes until I was called sitting there with barely controlled grins on our faces, which was quite unexpected but split the tension in two. So I really need to thank that woman.

    When we got upstairs, however, nothing seemed funny any more. The only thing I could hear was the question ‘Less than 24 weeks or more than 24 weeks?’ going round and round my head like a broken record. In a few minutes I was going to find out whether my world was about to seriously change forever. I’m ashamed to say that at this point I was only worried about myself: my life. Not the one that I was praying I would be able to end.

    We went into a little room. They asked if I wanted my sister to come in with me; I was adamant that she must. I was starting to shake. It was too overwhelming. The nurse asked me some questions, I don’t remember what. She did a prick test on my finger to test my blood type. She was a nice gentle lady – quite old and small. She knew I thought I was close to the legal limit for termination. It was probably in the file, but I also must have mentioned it eight times in 10 minutes. She explained that if the scan implied I was close she would need to call a second physician in, as legally two of them need to agree and sign off that it was within 24 weeks in such circumstances.

    She asked me to lie down on the bed. Gurney, whatever. She asked me to pull my trousers and underwear down – I was surprised on how far down she needed them to be. Kind of like when you’re surprised by how low down a woman’s caesarean scar is. She squeezed some clear gel onto my stomach. I started crying – I had seen this happen a million times in films and TV this was not the scenario I imagined it happening to me for the first time.

    She started moving the wand from side to side, looking intently at the screen – which was luckily was by my head, so I couldn’t see it. My sister could, though. She was sitting at the foot of the bed, and I was watching her. She was looking at the screen; she clearly couldn’t help it. She squeezed my foot, hard – for her benefit as much as mine I suspect. I was really crying now; I couldn’t look at her face any more, sickened by trying to read what it was she could see whilst at the same time not wanting to know. I had an overwhelming urge to ask the nurse if she could tell if it was a boy or a girl. I don’t think I said it out loud.

    I lay back and put my hands over my eyes. I was shaking so much now the nurse had to ask me to calm down, Calm down dear, I can’t get a good reading.

    Finally she stopped. She said ‘I’m just going to get my colleague to have a look’. I knew that wasn’t good. She left the room. ‘Please’ I whispered aloud through tears. ‘Please, please, please, please.’ I’m not ready for this baby. Five days ago I hadn’t even been pregnant – now I might be past the legal limit for abortion? It can’t be, it can’t be. I had the self-awareness to feel guilty about my pleas but I meant them as much as I’ve ever meant anything.

    The nurse came back in with another more senior looking physician. They both looked at the screen. The nurse looked at her colleague. I looked at both of them. ‘Yes, you’re about 21 weeks,’ the new guy said. ‘Maybe a little over.’

    ‘So I can have it?’ I said, I didn’t want to say the word. ‘I can have an abortion?’


    I burst out crying again, out of guilt and relief. 

    Night before

    Because I was so close they booked me in to have the ‘procedure’ in the next few days. I had to be there early. So early, in fact, that I decided to go to my friend’s the night before, as she lived relatively close to the clinic. Also, if I’m honest, I hadn’t seen any friends since I found out I was pregnant and I kind of wanted to.

    That sounds weird; let me explain. After the test said positive I suddenly felt and, I thought, looked very pregnant. I was convinced people were wondering whether to offer me a seat on the tube, or scorning me for having a cigarette in the street. Or maybe I just wanted to look as pregnant as I suddenly felt? The feelings were quite overpowering. My centre of gravity seemed to change all of a sudden and I felt I needed to get out of chairs hips first. As I walked I held my arms around my belly, protectively. But mostly I felt fiercely maternal for the first time, a time when I was about to do the least maternal thing imaginable.

    These were possibly reasonable thoughts and feelings considering my hormones– I was five months gone after all, more than halfway through a full term – but because I had gone until the week before not having a clue, and because of what I was about to do, I felt like a fraud feeling physically and mentally pregnant all of a sudden. I certainly didn’t think I deserved to have these feelings which seemed so precious and private.

    All I knew was that they were feelings I wasn’t ready to lose as quickly as the baby I knew I couldn’t have. I hadn’t fully processed what was going on yet, but I thought that if I saw a friend before I had the abortion, someone other than family who could later say ‘Yes, she was definitely pregnant’, then it would be a way of helping me process them later. I sensed that in the future I’d need to have proof it was real, as it was sure to seem like a dream after the reality of it would only last 4 days and nights. I wanted to make sure I had some tangible connection to it later. I find it difficult to explain why.

    My sister and I got the tube to my friends’ the night before. Poor thing hadn’t a clue what to do or say, or what food to get, or whether it was an occasion for booze or not. I had wanted to go the 24 hours before ‘clean’ – to somehow give something good to this piece of me that I was betraying so badly – but I couldn’t even manage that. I smoked and drank, just as I had done for the past five months, selfishly and desperately.

    It was only a matter of time before polite questions of how I was feeling turned into a morbid curiosity. I would have been exactly the same. My friend and sister, who hadn’t dared be so personal thus far, watched as I pulled up my top to reveal my swollen stomach, half scared, half – dare I say it – proud. They placed their hands on it. They were incredulous. ‘I can’t believe none of us noticed,’ they said. It seemed huge.


    They wanted the money as soon as we got there. Incredibly, we hadn’t thought about this part. I had nothing, so my sister paid, which added to the surrealism. She paid with her student fees money which wasn’t due to be paid for another few days. My dad would pay her back, it was arranged. That made me feel quite sick. I couldn’t even pay for this awful thing I was doing. It was £1,600.

    Another waiting room, another group of young girls. We weren’t allowed to eat anything, so I thought the smell of toast wafting through the window from the staff kitchen was quite insensitive. There was some rubbish morning television show on. I prayed some tacky coverage of abortion hadn’t been scheduled.

    Eventually I got called through. Considering we were told to get there about 7am, I was physically and emotionally exhausted by the time I was called in after 10am. It turned out it was because they’d lost my blood work. After being shown upstairs (and given a sheet to wrap round myself – I hadn’t been told I should bring my own nightie in) I waited another hour while they did some more and had it read.

    After spending no small amount of time trying to figure out how to lie in my kind of hammock chair daintily, trying not to disturb the other girls who were lying down staring at the walls, I was eventually led through to what looked exactly like a hospital room. That’s when I realised where the money goes – there were about six nurses led by a doctor. I don’t need all these people, I thought. The doctor wasn’t very friendly; gentle but firm I guess you might say. Not sure what I expected. He told me to lie down and put my legs in the stirrups. He told me that he was going to insert a pessary, and that when he did that I would experience ‘some discomfort’. He said that I would then go back to my hammock chair where I would wait for a few hours until the pessary had done it’s work and my womb had contracted, and then I’d come back in for the ‘procedure’ where the ‘contents’ would be disposed of. I felt sick at his use of words, and then guilty for being such a hypocrite.

    ‘Some discomfort’ turned out to be the closest thing I hope I ever come to what I imagine being sexually assaulted feels like. He unceremoniously stuffed a plastic speculum inside me, followed by what felt like his entire fist, and jammed around until he seemed satisfied. I choked back tears – I refused to allow myself the luxury of crying. He left the room. One of the nurses was obviously aware of my reaction. She soothingly placed her hand on my arm and said ‘That’s the worst of it, later you won’t be conscious. We’ll just take you in to sit down and relax now.’ She put me in a wheelchair – my legs didn’t seem to work very well – but I pulled myself together enough to insist quite strongly that I not be taken in to the other room before I composed myself. I didn’t want to scare the other girls by letting them see me so upset.

    I lay down on my strange chair, much less concerned now about how I might manage it with grace. The nurse told me I’d be there for between three and five hours, depending on how long it took for me to become contracted enough for them to finish. Contracted, I thought? I’m going to have contractions?? I hadn’t been prepared for that. She gave me a heat pad and told me that I would be given some ibuprofen if I needed it. I didn’t really understand what she might mean.

    It’s hard to explain the next few hours – they passed in a blur. At times, the pain became so unbearable I didn’t know what to do with myself. It came and went in waves, as I presume contractions do. At one point one of my closest friends rang. I didn’t know if I was allowed to but I answered. Unfortunately at that moment I was suffering particularly badly, and I didn’t seem to be able to get any words out. My friend immediately went into panic mode – I don’t think she expected me to be consciously going through so much pain, either – and within the next 10 minutes I received phone calls from the three other girls. Each had had a worried phone call from the last. I felt incredibly touched at their concern, but was physically quite incapable of reassuring them in any way.

    Eventually – after what seemed like days – I was wheelchaired back into the hospital room. They gave me a general anaesthetic. They asked me if I had any questions – I asked where they put the baby after they’d taken it out. They looked at me like I’d just emitted a bad smell. It was a distasteful question, I realise, but I had to know. The ‘contents’ were disposed of safely, they said. Then everything started to fade out, and the last thing I can remember saying is ‘Please don’t hurt her…’

    When I came to, I felt almost euphoric. General anaesthetic has that affect on me, I now know. I felt like I was floating on a cloud. When I got back into the room, they gave me a biscuit and a cup of tea. I was told I could collect myself for 30 minutes. I looked around the room, wistfully. It was quite late in the day by that point, and there were only a few girls left. ‘I think we’ve all done really well,’ I said in my fuzzy, disconnected state. They smiled weakly at me. I have no idea what I expected.

    When the time came I slowly made my way outside to where my sisters and mum were waiting in a car. Mum had insisted on picking me up, saying I wouldn’t be able to get the tube. I had had no idea what she meant, but now it was only too clear. I could barely walk, and certainly couldn’t bend in any way. The pain is hard to explain. It was like my whole body was centred around this very potent but dulled ache in the centre of my body. I was also still druggy from the anaesthetic.

    I was also, of course, incredibly grateful to see their faces. I hadn’t realised quite how lonely and distressing the last six or seven hours had been until I was in their bosom.

    They had clearly spent a long few hours pottering around, not sure how to prepare to see me, or what, if anything, to get me. In the end they gave me a pulse and lavender filled bear, which you warm in the microwave and then hold against ‘aches and pains’. Even now the smell reminds me.


    I don’t regret what I did – I wasn’t ready, I had no idea who the father was, and I had so abused my body with drink and drugs during those five months due to emotional distresses of the time that I can’t imagine the child would have been healthy. It would not have been the best start in life. When I compare how I looked after myself then with the rare glasses of red wine, multiple pregnancy vitamins, and soft cheese bans that wilfully pregnant women around me endure today, I feel physically sick.

    But can’t quite let it go either. I can’t count the number of times since that I’ve Googled ‘foetus at 21 weeks’. It’s kind of like when you unwittingly find evidence of betrayal, and you find yourself looking at it over and over again. You purposefully put yourself through the pain as you develop something of an unhealthy fascination. These periods comes in ebbs and flows, perhaps triggered by some mention of abortion by friends or the news, perhaps not.

    Maybe it’s because I was so far along that my body has experienced how strong the hormones can get – maybe it’s because I had to make the decision so quickly – maybe it’s because I’m self-indulgent – but every pregnancy of those close to me since has been that much more interesting to me. I find myself looking at those who are at a similar term and yelling to myself, ‘How could you not have noticed??’ But that, along with exactly how and when I became pregnant, why that first pregnancy test failed, and who the father was, will remain things I will never know the answer to. Sometimes I imagine the afterlife as being sat in a room while someone gives you the answer to every one of those mysteries that have built up in your life. I guess that’s something I’ll find out.

    If you have a story you would like to share anonymously, please email anonawot@gmail.com or DM me on Twitter for the anon account log in details. Thank you.


  3. Is being single ‘going to waste’?

    May 15, 2012 by Thimbelina

    Image from Pinterest

    There are many reasons why I love Twitter (the Awesome Women count alone is stupendous), but the ability to ‘over-hear’ conversations is right up there.  Every now and again, you gain a glimpse into what folks really feel about themselves; sometimes directly, and sometimes it’s just seeping out, unspoken, from between those scant 140 characters.

    It’s there where I overheard two extremely attractive (and I sensed a fair bit younger) ladies lamenting that their most ‘attractive’ years were drawing to a close; those good looks and damn fine bodies were starting to soften and, without a romantic partner in their lives, those attractions were ‘going to waste’.

    I intervened, of course: these women are, if anything, at their peak of desirability, surely?  The body still toned, the face still firm, but with the gilding of experience and confidence to make them women and not mere little girls.

    And doesn’t a real man want a woman, not a little girl?  They are still gorgeous; desirable.  They and those fabulous bodies have had, are still having, fun.  They could have ‘wasted’ those years in a crap relationship, with someone who didn’t appreciate them for who they really are; that would have been worse, no?

    Still, I understand where they’re coming from.  I read this on the Guardian’s Invisible Woman fashion blog;

    “It’s a bit of a no-brainer really, isn’t it? Look around yourself on the train, in the coffee shop or canteen and count how many “celebrity magazines” you see – all peddling the impossible myth of eternally youthful chemically enhanced “beauty”. Look at almost any red carpet event and the subsequent reporting about who looks “tired”, who’s “struggling to contain her curves” and whose décolletage is not quite as perky as “they” think it should be. You wear gloves (Madonna) – it’s because your hands “give you away”. You wear a scarf (sensible in January) – it’s because your neck is “crepey”. No perma-tan? Then you’re emotionally and physically exhausted and your relationship is probably on the rocks as well.”

    I’m watching the years make their steady progress across my face and my body, like everyone else.  Sometimes I’m not sure if it has an additional level of mental discomfort for me; perhaps I am too vain, too subconsciously accustomed to and dependent upon the generosity of new folks who claim surprise at the advancement of my years.  I am, however, much luckier than many, many others; I have a large LTR behind me, I do not hear a biological ticking clock, I have no-one who enquires with kindly yet perceptible impatience, “so, when are you going to settle down, then?”.

    Despite this good fortune, I am still teetering on the edge of many a grey area; do I dress the age I sort-of look, or the age I genuinely am?  Does my face ‘match’ my body?  Is it a lie?  Should I care?

    I feel I can claim some triumphs with age, though.  For one; with greater confidence, my posture is better.  My body has changed, improved; a regaining of post-break-up weight, a tapering of my ribs, a clearer shoulder-line and waist; basically, more curves.  My face has slimmed a little and, despite the many faults I could list, the wrinkles at least are still pretty fine.  I still smile.  I smile a lot.

    Is this last blooming, this last fragile beauty of my late summer, being wasted through having no one to share it with, no-one to appreciate it, enjoy it, love it?

    I could see it that way.  I know I have spent a lot of time in the not-so distant past doing just such a thing.

    But it ignores one crucial element.  There IS someone here to appreciate it.


    It’s even more important that I appreciate myself as, quite frankly, no-one else is here to do so.

    I have very few folks to bear witness to my (in real) life, stuck here as I am, mostly house-bound through chronic ill health.  Very few visiting friends (perhaps once every 3-6 months), no colleagues, no dates (that’s a long story, next time, my amigo), no family, just the occasional lunch with a female friend.  I talk via Skype to a couple of friends but it tends to be via audio only; and I know for a fact that neither of them are invested in how attractive they find me…

    So.  Here’s the point.

    If I do not think I am beautiful, and funny, and special, then who will?

    If I do not look in the mirror, see beyond the faults, see the good heart shining through despite them all; who will?

    If I do not love myself: who will?

    And this is why I think I am grateful for the toll the years have taken upon me.

    My attitude, my outlook, my attempts to grow and develop any compassion and kindness within me (I say attempts; I’m not so vain as to believe that I succeed!) means my ‘beauty’ (such as it is or was), while still perhaps remaining an acquired taste, is far deeper than it ever was. It grows day by day, as I try to be a better person.

    And this is the gift, the blessing given in exchange for my youth: I am a more ‘beautiful’ person to be around.  A calmer, wiser, more secure soul.

    (Generally: you know, I’m not a freakin’ saint, right??)

    Just because I cannot pass for 20 doesn’t mean I’m no longer ‘beautiful’; it has merely changed, grown, evolved into something more.  Something different.  A different kind of beauty, I hope.

    Of course, I am sitting atop a high-horse on all this; as I say, I’m extremely lucky.  I’ve read the OKCupid statistics on how men my age will still look at and message girls half ‘our’ age more than they will their own contemporaries and, while I can ‘go cougar’ to obtain short-term sexual thrills (and yeah, I’ve had offers), that’s not quite what I’m after.

    (Sidebar: up to 9 years younger than me, then hell yeah.  If an impossibly kind, intelligent and beautiful young man wants to persuade me, hot damn, then go ahead, sport :) )

    But yeah.  Even if no-one can see you nor hear you, nor validate nor endorse you: fuck it.  Appreciate how rocking your body is, how your own eyes glitter in the sun and the snow, how much you love those who do come across your path, and just how bloody hilarious you damn well are.  I do.  I have to.

    It’s not a waste if someone appreciates it.  Why not make that lucky person be you?

    Peace out.

    Thimbelina  blogs  here  (where this post first appeared) – a site which was conceived to house her occasional thoughts about sewing and CFS/ME, but which has subsequently collapsed into the incoherent chaos about life, love and relationships that it is today.  She also hands out hugs and cups of tea to complete strangers via Twitter here, as restraining orders have yet to be invented for the Virtual World she almost entirely inhabits.

  4. Things I Wish I Had Known At Sixteen

    May 1, 2012 by CJMortimer

    Image from http://www.srjohannes.com/

    So my teenage years weren’t that fun. Acne, angst and unpopularity plagued my existence and I imagined by twenty one I’d have it all figured out, I’d be cool, have friends and be out of the town I grew up in – known as ‘The Town Were Original Thoughts Go To Die’ (TTWOTGTD for short).

    Having achieved the latter two I am still failing on the first and have come to the conclusion that I have figured out very little in the past five years, and that the major difference between me now and me then is now I have to pay rent.

    However what I have learnt in the past few years came to the forefront of my mind this morning as a peculiar man about my (actual) age approached me on the way home from Sainsbury’s and as a preamble to hitting on me asked my age. I immediately lied and said I was sixteen. He then believed me which I was shocked at as I looked older than sixteen when I was sixteen (tall girls holla!). However it got me thinking about whether or not I would want to be sixteen again. I immediately said ‘absolutely not, no way, not a chance, never!’ but after a moment of reflection I concluded I would like to go back and fix the mistakes I made and erase the time I wasted if I’d only known what I know now.

    Of course, I will probably be saying the same things at 30 about being 21 but regardless this is what I wish I could tell my sixteen year old self:

    1. No matter how much Clash you listen to or Ramones T-Shirts you buy you are not emo if you refuse to dye your hair and still secretly love Britney Spears. And that’s OK because emo is not a good look for you.

    2. Even though it hasn’t been your natural hair colour since you were eight, you look much better as a blonde. But whatever you do, DO NOT LET YOUR FRIENDS DYE IT FOR YOU!

    3. You may be considered weird for being so passionate about politics at this age but don’t worry as soon as Obama gets elected other people will get interested enough to talk to you about it.

    4. And don’t worry about those who still won’t; you’re smarter than them.

    5. Don’t feel weird about being the only thirteen year old who read George Orwell/Sylia Plath on family holidays in your neighbourhood. There are others like you and you will find them at university I promise!

    6. The popular girls in your class are lying about having sex. They also get up two hours before school to do their make up. True story.

    7. Feminism is NOT a dirty word and ignore anyone who tells you to shut up about it.

    8. You think you’re in emotional pain now? Wait until the shit really hits the fan in a year or so and then start complaining.

    9. The three or four friends you do have are the most important people in your life.

    10. You’re weird. You’re kind of insane. But most people will eventually think its adorable.

    11. Boys are pretty much exactly the same as girls and have similar emotional pratfalls. Its OK that you sometimes prefer them to girls. Some of the boys you will meet in the next few years are the greatest friends you’ll ever have.

    12. Some boys are lame and will break your heart though most of the time they don’t mean to. They’re just stupid.

    13. In turn, you will accidentally break some boys’ hearts by not liking them back. Don’t worry and don’t let them make it your fault.

    14. Disney movies, and kids’ movies in general for that matter, are amazing. Stop pretending you don’t love them. And give up on ever liking chick flicks no matter how many sleepovers ram them down your throat.

    15. You are never going to be good at maths. Interesting people seldom are.

    16. Stop avoiding your future. Getting out of TTWOTGTD is a noble life aspiration but given you achieve it at eighteen you need to come up with some ideas beyond that and get working on them in more ways than ‘saving money so I don’t have to come back’ ASAP.

    17. You’ll still be self-absorbed at twenty one but you’ll also be more caring so it balances out.

    18. Having online friends is not for nerds. Twitter is a fantastic invention.

    19. You’ll still have no idea what you want or what you’re doing when you escape you adolescence. Good luck with that.

    And finally…

    20. You will never stop tripping up over your own feet. Though you will learn how to style it out.

    So what about the other lovely (and far more sophtiscated) AWOT ladies? Any thoughts, tweets, blog posts about what you’ve learnt since sixteen? I’d love to hear it.

    Caroline is a student at Birmingham University. She’s also a freelance journalist and blogger, providing insights into political, social, and economic news from around the world. You can follow her on Twitter here, or you can check out her superb blog here

  5. Playlists and prose: what to take on holiday

    April 26, 2012 by luc7m

    Image from schools.natlib.govt.nz

    If you’re anything like me, packing for a holiday falls into three categories; clothes, books and music. While it can take me less than an hour to fill a suitcase with outfits for daytime (bikinis), outfits for nighttime, accessories, shoes, jewellery and makeup, it can take me at least two weeks to decide what books I will be reading and what music I will be listening to.

    Just in case any of you has the same problem, I thought I’d give you my guide on what to take… *massively helpful face*


    I like a good holiday playlist and let’s face it, foreign radio stations are fairly wank. If iPods had been invented in the 90s, we would never have been subjected to Saturday Night or The Macarena complete with equally wanky dance moves. For this reason, I usually make a couple.

    My favorite playlist is the one I listen to constantly for the first few days of each holiday, lying by the pool drifting in and out of sleep, before I start getting distracted by the amazingly hot waiter who keeps bringing me water. It’s full of music that has a memory for me and I’m instantly transported back to place where I first heard it and the people I was with. This is the playlist that helps me turn off from life, stop thinking about work and start thinking about things I probably shouldn’t be thinking about, which is the whole point of a holiday after all…

    I add to this playlist all the time so it’s massive, but here’s a snapshot of my most favourite and evocative tunes that really provide distraction. Feel free to steal.

    Counting Crows: Round Here
    Fiona Apple: Shadowboxer
    Jackson Five: I Wanna Be
    Kings of Leon: The Face
    Matchbox 20: Kody
    The Verve: Lucky Man
    Tracy Chapman: Fast Car
    The Doors: Light my Fire
    Queen: Old Fashioned Lover Boy
    Tom McRae: Ghost of a Shark
    Example: Kickstarts
    Duncan Sheik: Barely Breathing
    Guns and Roses: November Rain
    James: She’s a Star
    Lamb: Gorecki
    ELO: Mr Blue Sky
    The Wallflowers: Heroes
    Empire of the Sun: Walking on a Dream
    Massive Attack: Unfinished Sympathy
    Snow Patrol: Chocolate
    Prince: Little Red Corvette
    Oasis: Stop Crying Your Heart Out


    For me, a big part of my love of reading is the book itself – the smell, the touch, it’s own space on my shelf – and while I would never encourage anyone to buy a Kindle, I do recognise its usefulness after the hundredth time of gathering up the pages that have come loose and fallen in the pool because the spine glue has melted in the heat.

    I tend to take five books with me whenever I go away. I don’t ever assume I’ll read them all, due to my aforementioned habit of falling asleep whenever I lie down, but they’re there if I need them. I think the perfect book list is a combination of old favourites, new recommendations and a classic or two. But, this is just how I do it.

    You will never find anything on my list by Marian Keyes, Sophie Kinsella or Jodi Picoult, because I think they’re nauseatingly trite. You will, however, find the complete works of Jilly Cooper because I’ve loved her forever and I don’t think any summer is complete without some fantasising about Rupert Campbell-Black. I make up for this by balancing them out with a bit of Shakespeare, Salinger, Julian Barnes and Ian McEwan. I will also have some crime novels because, for some reason, I love gore. My favourites are Karin Slaughter* and Jeffrey Deaver, they’re really easy to read and generally scare the shit out of me. And, for some genuinely funny, rib-aching laughter Tom Sharpe always hits the right spot.

    Over the past few years, here are some books that have racked up the miles with me and I’d thoroughly recommend.

    Tom Sharpe: Blott on the Landscape
    Margaret Mitchell: Gone with the Wind
    Andrew Kauffman: All my friends are Superheroes
    John Irving: A Prayer for Owen Meany
    Harper Lee: To Kill a Mockingbird
    Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
    Sarah Waters: Tipping the Velvet
    Delphine de Vigan: No et Moi
    Homer: The Iliad
    Matthew Pearl: The Dante Club
    Bella Pollen: Hunting Unicorns
    Alexander Masters: Stuart, A Life Backwards
    Alexander Dumas: The Count of Monte Cristo
    Mötley Crüe: The Dirt

    If you’ve never read any Jilly Cooper (Ashley…) it doesn’t really matter which you go for, but there are reoccurring characters and I like things in order, so I say do as Maria von Trapp and start at the very beginning, with Riders.

    So there you go, my thoughts on holiday packing. Now, if you’ll excuse me the hot waiter is on his way over with more water. And then i’m scheduled for another nap, natch…

    * Re: Karin Slaughter.  Be warned, they’re not for the faint hearted and if you are sqeamish in anyway, I wouldn’t recommend them. If you’re not squeamish but haven’t read them, then start with the first one, Blindsighted, because they have reoccurring characters and there’s a central story running throughout.

    Lucy is a PR lady, peanut butter aficionado and marmite lover. She’s a big fan of Jilly Cooper and recently came second in her work’s big bake off. You find follow Lucy on Twitter right here


  6. Standing up to street harassment: Operation Creep-Be-Gone

    February 8, 2012 by laurenbravo

    Lauren shares a recent story of heroism. I like to think the picture below is in fact a self portrait. She will strenuously deny said claim, but we all know the truth. 

    Image from http://www.herstorynetwork.com/

    I did a good deed the other week. On the scale between replacing the loo roll when you’ve finished it and pulling a child out of the way of a speeding bus shouting “Little Jimmy, nooooo!” then I’ll concede it’s closer to the Andrex end, but still, I felt proud.

    My deed was this: I saw a woman, on a busy Euston Road at 6pm, being hounded by a man. He wasn’t being outwardly aggressive, but he was sliming round her like a slug in an overcoat, asking questions and ignoring all clear signals (headphones in, one-word answers, refusal to make eye contact) that she wasn’t interested.

    I caught the girl’s eye and mouthed “are you ok?”, to which she shook her head. So then I had a decision to make, quickly. To barge in like the Green Cross Code Man and say “STOP, letch! She doesn’t want to talk to you. RETREAT,” before blasting him with a sonic ray gun, or the alternative; pretend to be her mate.  “There you are!” I cried, launching myself on her (for if I’m going to do a good deed I may as well get a hug out of it). “Hi!” she faked, as I dragged her away. Then we stood together on the pavement miming friendly chat like a couple of am-dram actors, while Slug Man stared, lingered, and eventually slithered off back to his cabbage patch.

    She was pretty grateful, or at least acted like she was. “I always attract the weirdos too,” I told her, in what I thought at the time was a reassuring manner. Then I disappeared off into the night, swishing my imaginary cape and feeling proud.

    Why don’t more people do this? Seriously? There must have been 20 people within view and earshot standing nearby, yet nobody else paid the slightest attention. I assume for the same reasons more strangers don’t tell you when you have food on your face – because we are all really hermit crabs, and unprecedented human contact is more often than not a big ol’ faff.

    There’s the worry that you’re going to get ‘involved in something’, of course, and I can appreciate that. But nobody’s saying you have to leap in with your handbag swinging. Even a stern glance or a calm, disapproving presence could help. A well-timed ‘tut’ might still go some way to helping these lowlifes learn that harassing us for the simple crime of possessing ovaries is Not Ok.

    This isn’t necessarily about sisterhood, either. I stopped and rescued her because I’ve been in her place enough times to know it’s shit, and because it makes my blood boil that street harassment is still so commonplace when it ought to have gone the way of the permed mullet. But a bloke could likewise have stopped and rescued her because he’s a decent person, and it makes HIS blood boil that street harassment is still so commonplace it ought to have gone the way of the permed mullet.

    So let’s make this a new thing – street harassment crusaders! Operation Creep-Be-Gone! Bolshy builders, drunk leerers at bus stops, creepy guys who hang around asking you your name at train stations – all beware! For before you know it, a Fake Friend might leap out of the shadows and stop you in your tracks. Who’s with me?

    (Capes optional)

    For more from the fabulous Lauren Bravo (yes that is her real name), check out her blog (where this post first appeared) or follow the magical lady on Twitter*.

    *Highly recommended for funnies 

  7. Guest post: What I would teach my daughter

    February 7, 2012 by Ashley

    This post comes from Swissminx.blog.com. Reposted with permission from the author.

    Photo from tumblr.com

    It’s ok not to be the most popular girl in your teens. Focusing on your studies and your interests may make you Geek of the School for a while. I am not going to lie to you, “a while” can sometimes mean years. Push through it. Focus on your studies. Broaden your horizon. Go as far academically as you can. The world will be your oyster. That über cool girl who gets all the boys and has branded you a massive loser? One day you will be chairing a meeting and find that she is serving you coffee. It’s a triumphant moment – you will have one, too.

    Learn about Photoshop. Realise that all those glossy pictures of flawless women are fake. Embrace your curves. Be the weight and shape you are comfortable with. Celebrities don’t eat what they want and stay skinny. It’s as much a myth as Father Christmas (my apologies if this is news to you). Ignore sizes. Accept that some companies use their clothes as marketing tools and design their cuts so they don’t fit anyone bigger than a broom. Don’t ruin your health and teeth with an eating disorder. Develop a healthy relationship with food because if you don’t, you will miss out on one of the big joys of life.

    There is nothing wrong with being sexual. Explore your body. It’s an enigma but a beautiful one. Learn to love yourself first before you let anybody else influence your journey of discovery. Ask questions. Find your own boundaries and never ever let yourself be pressurised into anything. Never ever fake. There is no right age for the first time but remember this: It will turn out to be an important moment so share it with someone you will remember fondly. And always, always protect yourself.

    Even if you don’t expect or even want him to leave his wife, don’t sleep with a married man. You are worth so much more – a true partner and a friend. He is not your friend. He lies to the woman to who he vowed, in front of witnesses, to cherish, love and respect for the rest of his life. He doesn’t stick to the big promises. The long, heart-felt emails, texts and phone calls will stop once the deed is done. He will then discover that his wife is actually not as bad as he had portrayed her. You can convince yourself, you don’t love him and that what you have is enough. However, there will be a moment you need a strong shoulder and you will see his suddenly oh so busy backside doing a runner faster than Sonic the Hedgehog on acid. Don’t be the other woman. Be the No 1 woman or enjoy being single.

    You will hear that woman have the same rights and privileges as men. Chances are very high though you will encounter or even hit the glass ceiling. You will have to deal with sexism, you will be overlooked. Yes, it’s not fair. It’s ok to cry about it. Then move on and fight for your rights. Be realistic about your abilities and never forget that they don’t depend on gender. Remember what Samuel Johnson said: “Nature has given women so much power that the law has very wisely given them little.”

    To see the original post from Swissminx, click here, or to follow her on Twitter, click here.