Category Archives: Feminism

Bend me, I won’t break

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Bend me, I won’t break

I think we all have moments when we worry about our physical abilities – after an accident or injury, after too many drinks (!), when pregnant, when especially tired. For the most part, these are well founded fears – our brain’s way of keeping us safe and uninjured. But sometimes, they’re the result of unfounded or exaggerated anxiety and recognising these worries as different to the reasonable, justified ones, can be tricky.

As anyone who has read the blog knows, I’m currently pregnant. 31 weeks pregnant. Pregnancy is a time when you absolutely have to be careful and aware of your body and how you’re feeling (please note this careful disclaimer to avoid a horde of angry midwives at my door). However, I think sometimes we can get so caught up in our anxieties (particularly when we’ve suffered prior complications or losses), that we miss out on opportunities to get stronger, healthier and better prepared for what’s coming.

I’m one of the worriers.

After two previous early miscarriages, and despite a normally good amount of common sense, I was terrified of everything. Eating the wrong thing, lifting too much, sneezing too hard (completely serious), passive smoking, exercising.

Now, all of these things can absolutely be a danger to a pregnant woman and her unborn child (except the sneezing thing, that was just daft) but they also all require a bit of reason.

Food guidance is there for a reason, and it should be observed. But it should also be understood. The risk of getting food poisoning from soft cheese or uncooked meat is the same as it’s always been. You’re not necessarily suddenly more likely to get it. The danger is, that should you be unlucky, the damage will affect more than just you – it can affect your baby too. I followed everything my midwife told me – ensuring that I stuck only to her advice (not the forums online filled with fellow unreasonable worriers, not family, not friends). This served me well and quickly quelled my worries. It also meant I could eat medium rare steak.

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When I was about 18 weeks pregnant, I picked my friend’s little girl up without thinking – she had no shoes on and we were popping out to say hello to my husband, who was waiting in the car. Picking her up was the logical thing to do. As we later drove away (having deposited my little friend back to her mum – we’re not child snatchers), I turned to my husband and said, anxiety stricken, with crazy, manic eyes and a wobbly voice, “I shouldn’t have lifted her, should I?!”. To which he held my hand and sensibly replied, “Mums with more than one child all over the world continue to pick up their toddlers throughout pregnancy. Stop panicking, you’re fine.”

I have very little to say about passive smoking, except that walking behind a smoker on the street once or twice during your pregnancy will not have an impact. Something I had to convince myself of, despite being a normally reasonable person.

And now, exercising. For any Sex and the City fans out there, I had a Charlotte moment. I panicked that any exercise would somehow pull the wrong muscle, causing my comfy, cozy womb to become a dark, dank cave that any self-respecting baby would quite rightly up sticks and leave. So despite recently starting Pilates and enjoying it, I stopped the moment I found out I was pregnant…just in case. It was only upon reaching 24 weeks that I decided I’d be brave and try the antenatal Pilates class instead, something I could have done weeks earlier. I checked with my midwife, who told me any strengthening exercise run by an individual who is trained in supporting pregnant women, would be a great thing to prepare me for birth. 7 sessions later and I absolutely love it.

charlotte yorke

So I guess what I’m trying to say is, of course there are times in our lives when we feel more fragile, more vulnerable, less sure of our bodies and their capacity to continue to support us. But you know what? As long as you’re sensible and listen to medical advice; 9 times out of 10, the things we’re most scared of sit within two categories: Utterly ridiculous, or exactly what we need.

And to my fellow pregnant women – it’s OK to be frightened. But you’re not a fragile, delicate crystal, you’re a diamond – tougher than most grown men, and doing something absolutely incredible with your body.

Be brave, try that exercise class, get involved in decorating the nursery, eat that steak. You are so much stronger than you know.

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Hiding my light

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Hiding my light

So 15 October was the day when people all over the world lit candles to create a wave of light – it’s part of baby and pregnancy loss awareness week. Obviously this is a cause close to my heart, an incredibly worthy cause and one that needs more people to talk about it. However, I didn’t join the wave, no candles were deliberately lit for this cause in my house, and here’s why.

In the last 6 months (yes our first miscarriage was 6 months ago in November) the miscarriages have defined who I am. How I feel. What people say to and around me. My reaction to my friends, to TV, to songs, to films. My relationship with my husband. My friendships. My health. There have been some positive lessons learned – friendships have been cemented by the love, support and normality that’s surrounded us. Me and my husband know for certain we can weather anything – because we’ve been through more in our 2 year marriage that most couples cope with in a decade. I know for certain I’m ready to be a mother – because I’ve grieved the loss of my unborn children and everything they could have been. As I’ve talked about previously, we’ve also learned some hard lessons – we’ve been disappointed by people. But it’s made us tougher, more resilient, better at saying no to those people.

My point is, the last 6 months have either been spent pregnant or grieving. That’s not to say the grieving has stopped. I still have my moments, and I’ll never forget our pain. But on Saturday 15 October, the weekend before my birthday, I wanted a weekend about me. The Hilary I used to be – laughing til I cry. Acting like a wally. Enjoying all the cheesiness and tackiness life has to offer. So I planned a birthday day out to Dreamland in Margate – the birthplace of tack and cheesiness. I went on fairground rides with friends all day, drank prosecco, came home for a takeaway with friends. Played Cards Against Humanity. It felt really nice. It did me and my husband the world of good. We felt like, even if just for 24 hours, we were back in the game. Part of the gang again – there were no kid gloves or eggshells allowed.

After an extra couple of days off and some brilliant time with my husband where he spoiled me, I feel genuinely relaxed for the first time in a very long time. I’ve got some kind of peace. I’ve been reading the ‘7 days, 7 stories’ Tommy’s stories that appeared on my newsfeed and acknowledging that this experience is happening around the world and talking about it and addressing the pain is a positive move. One of my very favourite couples in the world announced their pregnancy and while it still hurt that the universe had been so unfair to us, that was quickly overshadowed with genuine joy. Other people deserve happiness and a family. Resenting the people we love will only add to the things we’ve lost. It’s a pointless exercise that will eat away at us and prevent our (and their) happiness.

We now occasionally let a ‘when’ creep into conversations about our future family, not just ‘ifs’. It doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten. It doesn’t mean it’ll change anything when the time comes again – we still need to be cynical and prepared for the worst and we’re still healing.

But for the first time in half a year, we feel like us again. Defined by the things and the people we love, not by our pain.

Love and laughter

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Love and laughter

So it’s been three weeks since our awful hospital stay. 23 days since the ultrasound room, 21 days since the day of pain and loss. 24 days since I last remember feeling genuinely happy and hopeful. Since the weekend that broke our hearts and stole our hopes and dreams. During that three weeks there have been a lot of tears, a lot of ‘what if’s, and a lot of politely smiling while people fumble through inappropriate question asking and platitudes. But in the last few days, something miraculous happened.

Drying the tears

You see, today, it’s been exactly 5 days since I last cried. And more than that, over the most recent weekend, me and my husband laughed, we took the mickey out of each other, and we felt…..’normal’. Neither of us is naive, we know that there will still be bad days – the next pregnancy announcement amongst our friends and family, the due dates of our lost babies, and (when it’s time) the next pregnancy for us. But for now, we’re starting to heal.

A slow process

Don’t get me wrong, the happy you might see for a day, an hour or a minute is not as it used to be. There’s still a permanent dull ache in my heart that doesn’t go away. For my husband, he’s angry that it can’t just happen for us as easily as it seems to for our friends and family. No matter what’s in our future, we’ve both fundamentally changed and nothing will erase these experiences from our hearts and minds.

Every single conversation brings up a momentary ‘what if’ that hurts. Some mornings I feel like my very biological make-up has changed and I’m now made of lead or stone. Everything is just so heavy. There are random moments – in the office, at home, with friends – when an emotional wave washes over me out of nowhere, and it feels like my heart physically sinks into my boots.

I still ask questions out of the blue of my husband “We’re going to be OK aren’t we?” or “I just want us to have a baby – what if we can’t?”. I’m the woman out of comedy sketches, desperate to hold my own little one. Only it’s not so funny anymore. But this sadness doesn’t keep me in bed anymore. It doesn’t immediately generate tears. I acknowledge the ache and the heaviness, and force myself up and out into the world.

Take care of you

I just wanted people to know that it does get better. Life going on feels like the worst thing in the world when you’re in that ultrasound room, receiving that heart shattering news. You just want everything to stop – the whole world to acknowledge the immense pain you’re suddenly feeling. But actually, when the world keeps turning and you realise you have a life to return to, it’s a positive thing. It’s healthy, and necessary, and like it or not, just what you need.

Just be careful with yourself. You’re understandably fragile and no matter how many good days you have (and you will), you still need to listen to your body and your heart. If you feel like telling someone at work what’s happened so that they stop asking about your ‘lovely tan and holiday’, do it. Their awkwardness is their problem. You lost a child. If you get home from work and need to go straight to sleep because just ‘being ‘has exhausted you, curl up and do just that. If you have one too many glasses of wine with your best friends and suddenly realise your miscarriage is all you’ve rambled on about for an hour, don’t feel guilty. Your friends love you and understand that they have a vital role in your recovery.

You’re grieving, don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. You’ve suffered a huge physical and emotional loss. Take care of yourself and your partner and you’ll suddenly realise you laughed today. And it’ll get better.

 

Aspiring to bigger things than a piece of paper

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Aspiring to bigger things than a piece of paper

For those who haven’t spotted it on their Facebook feed or via online news sites, the A4 challenge is a new trend in China which encourages women to slim down until their waist fits within the width of a 21cm-wide piece of A4 paper. So. Weird.

While this doesn’t seem to have taken off outside of Asia yet, I have no doubt that it will. And that’s what makes me sad.

Why are young women’s aspirations no bigger than a sheet of A4 paper (literally)? Aspiring to be 21cm wide is not a goal, it’s a health concern. Our aspirations should be to cure cancer, to design the next architectural masterpiece, to travel the world. It got me thinking about the role models and media onslaught that young girls are exposed to every day. And sadly, helped me to understand why a tiny waist might be considered ‘an achievement’.

Naked Kim and friends

I refuse to reshare that picture of Kim Kardashian. Suffice to say that if that’s what young women perceive as beautiful, it’s no wonder they’re considering crash diets, crazy ‘at home’ lip jobs and pieces of paper as waist width measurements.

While I’m sure a lot of young women are savvy enough to realise that there’s very little that’s natural about Kim K, it’s nonetheless a concern that every time she posts a photo of herself in the buff, it goes global. Whether you admire her or hate her, there’s nothing to kick your self-worth in the teeth when you’re having a bad day like a glance at a stretchmark-less, made-up, teeth-whitened celebrity who looks flawless in the nude.

We’re quite good in the UK at highlighting our talented women (and natural beauties) – Holly Willoughby, Jodi Ann Bickley, Fearne Cotton and Dawn O’Porter to mention a few of my favourites. All three are beautiful women with different body shapes, unafraid to share ‘real’ photographs of themselves and in addition, (and importantly), intelligent, driven, funny, ambitious, creative and principled.

I can’t imagine a single one of them would even consider the A4 challenge. Because it’s ridiculous. But sadly, for a lot of young women, these celebs don’t get a look in when compared with looks-focussed YouTubers and global celebs famous for simply being famous. And with all that personal-trained, photoshopped, made-up -ness to look at; it’s all too easy for bizarre food and fitness crazes to sneak in under the guise of the solution to our body and self confidence problems.

Call to action

So here’s my request, think carefully before trying a ridiculous fad diet or unrealistic fitness craze. First and foremost because you should take care of yourself – that means getting fit and eating and living well in the right ways.

Secondly,  bear in mind that for every one of us, there’s a friend, a sister, or someone we don’t even know who might see our content as endorsement that these ridiculous trends are a good idea.

And finally, think carefully about who you follow on social media (famous or otherwise) – if they’re not making you smile, encouraging you to live well, to be kind, and to be healthy; perhaps it’s time for a fan/follower cull. And to be honest that goes for real life too!

Let’s raise the bar – no more silly size challenges, just good old fashioned encouragement, pride and sisterhood.

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Leadership, creativity and me

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I’m a manager of two, overseeing a team of four; a woman of 31 and a human being with a silly and slightly eccentric personality. Sometimes, (and I’m pleased to say, not in my current role) it’s felt like there’s an expectation that these things should be mutually exclusive. As I’ve settled into my new job (6 months in, settled and enjoying it), I’ve been pondering my feelings about being a leader, a communicator, and just myself, and how best to make them all fit together.

Hate the game, not the player

There’s an assumption (from some) that, as a manager, you have to be sensible, that you can no longer join in the ‘bants’ and that it’s probably no longer appropriate behaviour to drip jam from your donut down yourself and point it out to everyone with a self-deprecating smile (guilty!).

I made myself a promise recently that I will stop beating myself up for being myself. Yes I say silly things, I can be a wally, I can overthink things, over-engineer and worry too much about my impact on others; but these things are inherently Hilary. I’ve been told (in the past) that, because of these qualities, I need to learn to ‘play the game’ better. I need to learn which face to present to which people, and to be more political about the alliances I make publicly.

I say codswallop.

If my outputs, attitude and work ethic aren’t enough to demonstrate my value, I’m probably in the wrong role/team/organisation. Finding the right role is about so much more than salary and commuting distance – it’s about finding a place where I fit. And on the whole I’ve been lucky – I’ve found various groups of lovably eccentric rogues who embrace my weirdness wholeheartedly, and this includes my current bunch of funny, creative and kooky individuals.

I absolutely accept that it’s necessary to switch communications styles with different people – sometimes you need to carefully frame your request or news to persuade the recipient to come to your desired conclusion. However, I don’t and simply won’t accept that this should come at the expense of your personality. I hope that I’m the same slightly nutty individual I was as a 21 year old admin support, just with a bit more life experience. Sure, I’m a bit more careful with my words in a Board meeting than my team meeting, but I’m still me.

Communications is creative

My chosen career path is a creative one. Even as I ascend the metaphorical ladder and find myself undertaking more strategic work than creative, I still get to think of catchy taglines, eye-catching campaigns and to offer my opinion on design ideas and outputs.

In order to maintain this creativity, and not lose it amongst the wealth of reports and papers I now find myself writing, I need to retain my personality. Being silly, thinking slightly differently and letting my mind wander are all imperative to excellent communications work. And that’s why I’ll never become a corporate zombie, and I’ll never encourage my team to do the same. I want them to be a bit cheeky, to take the mick and to feel ‘allowed’ to suggest slightly odd ideas to promote our services. If I shoehorn them into a suited and booted corporate box, they won’t be the people we hired. We’re fortunate in that the social enterprise in which we work shares my mindset, and encourages innovation; so we’re allowed to be who we are.

Find your puzzle piece

I often think about what I’d say to a room of 18 year olds considering their future career paths and I’ve come up with the following. Some are clichéd and some are life lessons learned. I hope that just one inspires someone:

  • It’s OK if you don’t desperately yearn to ‘be’ something. I fell into my career and it turns out I love it, and I’m good at it. But it emerged from just taking an admin job I liked the sound of, and letting my skills grow.
  • Always be yourself. There’s a certain element of curbing behaviour at work (pounding Prosecco at your desk is generally frowned upon, for example). But if you find yourself numb and a little bit ‘grey’ in the personality spectrum of life, you’re in the wrong place. There is somewhere out there with a you-shaped gap – go find it.
  • Being a leader doesn’t mean being a parent. When you reach management level, there’s an element of parental behaviour that it’s easy to slip into. Try instead to view your role as a critical friend and never forget that these people are your equals. You’re not superior simply by virtue of a change in job title and a different salary. Even if the issue at hand is a serious one, remember that both of you are human, and don’t forget to listen, and support.
  • Have fun. I hope you make it to the top of your game (if you want to – see my next point). When you do, don’t ever forget why you started. Even in the midst of reporting, budget setting, and strategic planning, you can still have fun by reigniting your passion for your subject, sector and/or role.

  • Follow your own path. It’s a cheesy one, but there’s a certain pressure (particularly on women) that confuses ambition with getting to the top. Ambition is ‘a strong desire to do or achieve something’ – no-one but you can decide what that ‘something’ is. It doesn’t have to be reaching CEO level, it could simply be finding a job you love, and being good at it. It could be being a great mum, or it could be exploring the world and falling in love. Don’t let someone put your ambition in a convenient box – if you want to be the best snake wrangler in all of Australia, your ambition is as valid as the next Prime Minister’s.

#Thisgirlcan have a wobble and survive

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#Thisgirlcan have a wobble and survive

So it’s been a long while since I last blogged. Let’s face it, if I carry on like this, my dream of being a renowned and respected writer isn’t even going to make it off the starting blocks. To explain, (and perhaps grovel a little) let me go back about two months.

If you’ve read this blog before, you’ll know that my dad had a serious accident last year. To be honest, aside from working, eating and sleeping; he’s pretty much been my life for the last eight months. He’s doing well – he’s been in neuro rehab for nearly three months and he’s made huge progress. He’s eating normally, the PEG tube is due to be removed, and while his mobility and conversation is not quite normal, it’s miles better than it was.

Good news gone bad

Back in February, when we got the news that my dad finally had a rehab place at a fab facility, I was over the moon. Then only a couple of days later, I was signed off work for 3 weeks with stress.

The best way I can explain it is that for six months my in-brain Google had over 50 tabs open and I was frantically clicking between them, day-in, day-out. This crazy mental kinetic energy was keeping me going. Until the good news we’d all been waiting for, when some of those tabs closed down and I was forced to *gasp* relax a little. That’s right ladies and gents, I got signed off with stress because I finally had time to relax.

Stress is…crying over what to cook for dinner

Being stressed wasn’t fun. It was a guilt-ridden, anxious and tearful period when I was forced to face the reality that I’m not an actual superhero. Thankfully I’d recognised that something wasn’t right relatively early on. It was during a crying fit when I exclaimed to my (bemused and concerned husband) that

“I can’t even decide what to cook for dinner tomorrow and lists no longer make sense to me!”

But it wasn’t all bad. It gave me some much needed time to take care of myself. I joined (and enjoyed) some gym classes, ate better, slept, read some books, let my family and friends fuss over me and stopped trying to be everything for everyone.

It also gave me time to think. For the eight months since my wedding not once had I thought “What do I want?”. I’d got married, gone on honeymoon and come back to a reality where my injured dad and my worried family was my world. My life had been on hold so I sat down and considered what I’d like to do with it.

A brave new list

I started a list:

  1. Get a new job
  2. Visit my friends in America
  3. Get fit
  4. Enjoy being married

I’m in the process of all of the first three (and I’m really chuffed to tell you that I’ve already secured a new job – I start in June. Exciting!).

Enjoying being married is perhaps the most important. My husband has been amazing. He hasn’t judged, moaned or questioned what I went through. We’ve made time for each other. He knows now that when I seem to be taking non-stop phone calls, booking trips out and running around like a blue-arsed fly, it’s time to remove my phone, turn off the TV and cuddle.

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Telling the world

One of the main reasons for my delay in publishing this post has been fear. Fear of being turned down or frowned upon in a new job for having been stressed. Fear of sounding like a total victim when there are thousands of people out there struggling to manage the most debilitating of mental health conditions every day. Fear of publicly admitting to struggling when life got tough.

But I recently realised something. I’m not afraid. I’m proud. To slightly misappropriate the recent fitness campaign #thisgirlcan kickbox like a good’un. #thisgirlcan face the hardest year of her life, stick two fingers up and start afresh. #thisgirlcan talk about stress, depression and anxiety and not feel like she has to whisper ashamedly.

And #thisgirlcan (and most importantly will) be a better person for it.

A celebratory after-gym shot. Because #thisgirlcan

A celebratory after-gym shot. Because #thisgirlcan

 

A change of name but still the same

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So in case you didn’t notice, I got married. Traditionally, the wife changes her name when she gets married, but in recent years that’s become more flexible. In an era where we finally opened our minds and legalised same sex marriage, and when women are more empowered than ever, there’s a variety of options when it comes to post-nuptial names. I have friends who both adopted part of one partner’s double-barrelled maiden name to establish a new family name for themselves. And another whose other half chose to take her name. Additionally, I have a number of friends and family who’ve gone down the traditional route.

But no matter what your choice, it seems to be a hot topic. I myself took the traditional route. I loved being a Castle (it’s inspired a number of ‘chateau’ moniker-ed social media accounts), and I’m proud to be part of my dad’s family history. But I’m also a child of divorced parents and I know how bureaucratic schools and social institutions can be about families with a variety of names. And finally, I’m not ashamed to admit that I wanted to establish our very own partnership unit by taking my husband’s name.

Everybody’s business

The reason I can reel off my reasoning so easily, is that I’ve had this conversation more often than I expected since tying the knot. People apparently feel quite strongly about a woman choosing to take their partner’s name. There’s an assumption that their hand was somehow forced. Some of the reactions to my name change are jokey (as a result of my married name and the fact that I’m older than my husband) –  “Ooooh Mrs Robinson, how funny!”; while others verge on offensive – “Did my grandmother burn her bra for nothing?” and “Why get married? You’re giving away your identity”.

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The funny ones I’m fine with, it’s quite amusing that I’m Mrs Robinson and truth be told, I’m not yet sick of people singing at me a la Simon and Garfunkel. The jibes about my identity, frankly, confuse me.

What’s in a name?

My surname, pre and post marriage, does not define me. Personal attributes and characteristics are not affiliated with specific names. Whether Hilary Castle or Hilary Robinson, my personality and identity has not changed. When I sign paperwork, the recipient can’t instantly tell whether I’m caring or selfish, aggressive or kind, can’t decipher my voting habits, or whether I have any phobias or quirky personality traits. In short, it’s just a name.

Additionally, as a woman, a surname is something you inherit from your father (or both parents in some cultures) and not something you ever choose for yourself. The (slightly aggressive) criticism of my name change as a willingness to forego my identity seems illogical. I never picked my own name – first, middle or surname!

Feminism and marriage

The reference to feminism and burning bras also confuses me. How have I betrayed a plethora of long-dead feminists (who also, I’d wager, took their partner’s names at marriage) by changing my name?

I still believe in equal rights. I still believe that I can do anything I want as long as I’m ambitious and hard-working. And if I choose to have children, I’ll bring them up to believe the same. I also have a husband who will support me in every dream I choose to follow. Contrary to my critics, I didn’t sign on the dotted line at our wedding and transform into a pinny-wearing, meek and mild servant to mankind.

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I’m independent, with very strong opinions of my own on everything from everyday sexism to the portrayal of women on television and in literature. I also like to bake and I changed my name when I got married. These things are not mutually exclusive.

Everything changes but me

In reality, of course I’ll change ever the years. My opinions might shift, I’ll get older and will need to move with the times. I’ll acquire new skills, I might take on new roles – personally and professionally. But I’ll still be me. None of those changes will be the result of my having a different surname to the one I was born with.

Honestly? I love being part of a united unit. Me and my husband against the world! Most importantly, I chose to change my name and like any choice, I’m excited to see where it leads me.