I’ve moved.

If you’ve enjoyed reading Sunday Girl In Newie, please feel free to come over to my new bloggy-home at Louise Faulkner Photography

Thanks for being part of my Sunday Girl journey. X

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Mum’s the word.

Newcastle’s Saturday soundtrack is the buzz of lawn edgers and the throttling hum of mowers. It’s the first sunny weekend after the April storms, the massive east coast low that wreaked havoc on homes and communities. There’s a welcome breeze drying out waterlogged yards and blowing a cloud of sawdust across my clean washing; our fallen gum was finally chainsawed into oblivion two days ago. The air is filled with sweet grass smells and the expectation of a sunny weekend, a fine Mother’s Day.

And on this fine morning, I found myself reflecting on what it means to be a Mum, all those moments that bring joy and exasperation in equal measure. Last year I wrote a little ditty in honour of Mother’s Day, my response to some of the over-the-top sickly sweet reflections on motherhood that peppered social media in May last year (you can read it here). This year I’m rolling a little differently, exploring some of my most memorable mother moments and experiences of the last 12 months. Here’s my take on my mummy year-that-was.

Making the grade. Making the 2014 preschool end of year concert with my partner and Missy Moo’s grandparents and great-grandmother. Full family representation at preschool’s final day followed by an organised afternoon tea at a cafe. Missy Moo was delighted we were all there and it showed. As someone who works long hours and often travels too, this effort in logistics paid off generously via Missy Moo’s smiles. I was pretty proud of that one.

Failing the grade. The very next night I received a phone call at 6.45pm whilst at work asking if Missy Moo was still coming. Pardon? To what? I listened to the daycare teacher tell me that the Missy Moo’s ‘graduation’ from 4 and a half years of daycare was imminent; they could hold off the ceremony for another 10 minutes. I rang my parents who agreed to drive her there as quickly as possible whilst I sped down the highway cursing the previous day’s smugness. Roadwork delays turned me into a sobbing mess. I made it to daycare as other parents and children were leaving. Missy Moo’s first words were a sympathetic “It’s OK Mummy”. Hmm. Mother-guilt cemented for at least 6 months.

Joy to the world. Christmas, glorious Christmas. Could there be anything more fun than Christmas Morning with a 5-year-old? Novocastrian Backyard Summer2

Schools in. Missy Moo started school this year. Sheesh, where did the time go? Circumnavigating this new entity and all it brings whilst worrying that Missy Moo is making friends, spending time with nice kids, learning and coping. She’s still excited after Term 1 which is a good sign. Some minor traumatic moments but all in all she seems happy. And so we are too.Belle ist day 3

“You can go in now”. First meeting with the school principal. That feeling of trepidation when walking into a principal’s office doesn’t change with age. A tough conversation about school stuff-ups and a few tears and sniffles later I walk out reassured and hopeful that the problem will be fixed. Go Mummy-me!

Pass the pencils. Cafe colouring-in time with my girl. On increasingly rare ‘free’ days we search the web, source  and print off black and white mandalas, grab her textas and coloured pencils and head off to a cafe together. We chat, colour and compare our artworks. Love, love, love this time with her.

Pass the bucket. This one goes to Missy Moo’s courage and how proud it makes me feel. My little girl is wonderfully brave when she is sick, really sick. She is the best young “bomiter” I have ever met. No fuss, no hesitation. She’s scared when she knows it’s coming but she’ll grab that bucket and bow that head, even when feverish, tired and sad. What a little trooper.

The best medicine. The sound of my little girl’s laugh is infectious, giggly and has a touch of madness about it. It’s natural and sweet and always makes me smile and laugh too.

Dance baby dance. My daughter and I sing and dance together all the time. I’ve embraced singers that will never grace my preferred station of Triple J’s playlist: we shake it off to Taylor, shake our booty’s to Meghan and I shake my head at Charli XCX. Nevertheless, we do it together whilst singing and flinging our bodies around. Glorious!

Nighty night. Saying good night to Missy Moo every night. Kisses, cuddles, sometimes lying in bed reading a book together. It’s special and I know oh-so-short-lived. She will grow up in no time and these moments will pass. I treasure them.

Last but not least. Each morning last week I was greeted with the number of days until Mothers Day, my own personal countdown . Sunday morning she had the same look on her face as Easter and Christmas Day, that gorgeous anticipation. I love the fact that she’s as excited by giving as receiving. It makes me hopeful for the type of person she will grow into and that is, without a doubt, the best Mothers Day present ever.

Belle birthday 4

 

Four weeks.

The first week.
I was sitting in my car outside Lambton Swimming Centre with my family. Our daughter was learning to swim, so we were all at the pool for the morning. I made a quick phone call; I’d found a message the previous afternoon requesting I ring my doctor for test results. And so I was patiently waiting with the ‘phone to my ear, wondering how long they were going to take, wishing they’d hurry up so we could join the line to get into the pool. And then finally, this: “Doctor wants you to come in please. Urgently. We can fit you in this afternoon. Today would be best.”

I should note here that the test results in question were pap smear results, that I normally get results over the phone no problem, and that the urgency in the receptionist’s voice scared the bejesus out of me.

So I found myself at the doctors that afternoon, sitting in the waiting room feeling more than a little trepidation. My doctor called me in and after some small talk about her holiday (my doctor is my age, female, has kids and is great to talk to – we could easily monopolise 3 or 4 appointments with our chats) she cut to the chase. “You’ve had an abnormal pap smear result. They detected grade 3 squamous cell abnormalities, cervical intraepithelial neoplasia or CIN 3. I’d like to refer you to a gynaecological oncologist for further treatment.”

I think it was the word ‘oncologist’ that sent me over the edge. I cried a bit, then managed to ask some relevant questions. Abnormal squamous cells? Pre-cancerous? Grade 3? On a scale of 1 to 3, 3 is the worst. Is it cervical cancer? No, it’s ‘intraepithelial’ so the cells are contained and can be treated. Left untreated however, they will develop into cervical cancer.

OK. Upset but accepting, I leave the doctors with a handful of tissues and referrals.

The second week.
I couldn’t help it. I consulted Dr. Google. In the end, it was kind of reassuring, reiterating everything my doctor had told me. I had cancerous cells in my cervix, not cervical cancer – there’s a difference. The chances of arresting their nasty development via removal was very high. The chances of any sexually active woman having the same diagnosis was roughly 20% – 1 in 5 women. So…good to know…not dying just yet and not alone. I wasn’t experiencing something that no-one else had. I felt a little better.

My doctor had organised an appointment with a gynaecological oncologist for me – I said I’d take the first appointment available – so I found myself in Dr. O’s waiting room within the week. I’d been steeling myself for this visit; I was to have a colposcopy but didn’t really know what to expect, how it would roll or how it would feel. Lucky for me Dr. O was lovely. He patiently explained what would happen. A colposcopy involves an examination of your cervix after it’s been sprayed with an acetic acid and iodine mix. Squamous cells appear as spots, making it easier to determine how many there are and take biopsy/ies of the nasty little buggers.

The nurse held my hand, made small talk and then it was over. No biopsies for me; there was more than enough visual evidence of the squamous cells to warrant their removal. Dr. O spared me the discomfort, time and cost. I probably should have been grateful but instead was slightly terrified that he didn’t need to. Just in case there was any doubt, we examined a digital photograph of the offending cells on a large flatscreen TV in his office. I can now say I’ve seen my cervix. I should’ve been intrigued but instead I wept at the image of light pink flesh measled with squamous spots.

I drove home, explained it all to my partner and spent the rest of the day feeling sorry for myself.

The third week.
Dr. O had an opening for surgery. Last on the list, late in the afternoon, but I’d still said ‘yes’ of course. And I gained some perspective in the intervening days; what I had was nothing, really, not cancer, just “pre-cancer”. Like threatening clouds without the storm. I wondered how people who had cancer coped with the waiting – for treatment, for appointments, for results. I developed a new level of respect and sympathy for the people who wait. And in a not-unexpected development, I started thinking about my daughter and my partner. Because it’s in my nature to plan and roll out scenarios, to plot 5 courses of action at a time, I did just that. I thought about my daughter growing up without a Mum, what I could leave her by way of advice, what mechanisms I could put in place to support her. I wondered how she would get along with my partner when she hit her teenage years, how I could possibly ensure they remained close and loved each other. I couldn’t turn my brain off.

The day of surgery arrived. LLETZ (Large Loop Excision of the Transformation Zone) procedure. Under a general anaesthetic, the lovely Dr. O would use a loop of electrified wire to slice out the offending area of my cervix. The plan was this: cut out all the nasties, get the all-clear from pathology in a week, be happy. I wouldn’t need to see Dr. O for 6 months then, for another colposcopy and pap smear. If that was clear, then I had another 6 months reprieve, same tests again. Then, finally…I could pretty much breathe easy and return to the normal odds we all face. This was my best case scenario. Anything else would mean reassessing my options, my choices, my treatment.

I was admitted, operated on, released – all in a day. I don’t remember anything beyond the pre-op needle; I was asleep for it all. I was told to rest, take it easy, give things time to heal. I should expect bleeding from a few days to a couple of weeks. For one month use pads, no tampons, no exercise, no sex, no over-exertion. Fun times.

The fourth week.
And so we come to now. I’ve been waiting for the results of the LLETZ procedure, waiting to hear if they got all the cells, if the margins are clear, waiting to see if the discomfort and worry is almost over. I’ve been feeling OK, tired and a bit achy but generally…good. I went to the beach on the weekend and it was great; I felt alive and happy. We went to a 5-year-old birthday party last Sunday. My daughter started pre-school last Monday. I had a skin cancer removed from my arm on Tuesday, a not-unusual occurrence in my fair-skinned family. My daughter had a tummy bug and vomited all Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. My partner worked on the Central Coast on Wednesday. We had home-made Nachos for dinner on Wednesday night (well, my daughter had a recovery dinner of Vegemite toast, but the rest of us did). I worked from home, spoke with a bunch of consultants, organised some account payments. Life rolls on.

This morning, just before lunch, I rang Dr. O’s offices. Yes, they had my results. Yes, they were CIN 3 cells, yes they’d gotten all the cells, yes I wouldn’t need to see Dr. O for 6 months. Yes, yes, yes!

So my story ends well. I’m back in the pool of everyday women just going about their business, albeit with a little less cervix than others.

I thought long and hard about whether to write any of this down. I’ve composed elements of this blogpost in my head every day over the last few weeks. There are people reading this who will no doubt find it uncomfortable and others who won’t know how to acknowledge it when they next see me. There’ll be some who think I’ve overreacted, and others who’ll be worried and sympathetic. There’ll be some who are very familiar with this story, whilst some will think me indelicate, an over-sharer.

The only reason I decided to write this blogpost is because it would have helped me to read this 4 weeks ago. It would have helped reassure me that I wasn’t concerned without cause, that it’s not great but it’s not the worst. That it shouldn’t be isolating. That it happens everyday to all sorts of women. That it’s OK to be stoic sometimes and a mess at others. That just because it’s more common-place than you think, it doesn’t diminish the fact that it’s officially a Big F#@king Deal when it happens to you. That when you have no other benchmark, nothing to measure against, it can be terrifying. It just would have….helped.

If you’re reading this and you’re a woman, I have the following advice: make sure you have regular pap smears. I do and despite this, in the space of 12 months I went from being in the all-clear with no abnormalities to a cervix peppered with CIN 3 squamous cells. I’m lucky it was picked up. I’m lucky it was removed. Amazing and frightening and for now, over. I couldn’t be happier.
Belle and Mummy pic Jan2014

Somebody’s Daughters.

Lately the news has been breaking my heart, my female heart.

It started with the rape and murder of Somebody’s Daughter in Melbourne. She worked for the ABC, so it received even more coverage than most; a good thing, as at the time, the perpetrator was still at large. The story was shocking and elicited widespread workplace and café conversations. So sad, Somebody’s Daughter out relaxing with friends, having a drink, going home to her husband, and then – nothing. Nothing, because she was stalked, targeted and preyed upon, murdered, hidden, lost. So sad.
Layne 2
Yet the conversations I heard were often about Somebody’s Daughter being out on her own, walking home on her own, how “silly she was”, how “she might have been drunk”. Wait, wait – what? Many musings only barely stopped short of saying she was asking for it. Listening to these conversations I could have, and could still, scream.

It was later revealed in the media that the stalker, her attacker, was well-known to Police, had been charged many times with brutal assault and was out on parole when he raped and killed Somebody’s Daughter. He was a large, broad-shouldered, physically strong hunter of women with a known violent streak. Because of this, her husband now fights for more transparency and stronger controls around parole conditions for known offenders. The loss of Somebody’s Daughter will hopefully yield a meaningful legacy, a positive change.

But not soon enough for Somebody’s Mother who was killed in April this year. She was bashed to death with a cricket bat by a man who was on parole for violent rape. He had almost 100 prior convictions and has since pleaded guilty, and been charged with, murder. Unfortunately this doesn’t help the woman’s 4-year-old son, who found her body. As a mother of a 4-year-old myself, I find it overwhelmingly sad to contemplate what effect that will have on that little boy as he grows up.
Boots bw somebodys daughter
In July, another young Somebody’s Daughter was walking home after celebrating the birth of her then-two month old child. She had been in the city with friends and after being approached by, and refusing the attention of a lone man walking the same street, she was dragged into a laneway, punched, kicked and raped. It was a particularly brutal attack; one of the gashes on her face was so deep it required plastic surgery. She would likely be dead if not for neighbours running out of their homes upon hearing her desperate screams.

Then there was the kidnapping, ongoing assault, rape and brutalisation of three Somebody’s Daughters by a man, a school bus driver, over a period of years. These (now) women deserve a bloody medal, as does the (literal) man-on-the-street who “did something” upon hearing a plea for help from inside the man’s house. I have watched subsequent courtroom vision and listened in shock to the man’s denial of guilt, his words on a badly done by youth and an addict-like urge to harm, disrespect and demoralise. Whether real or play-acted self-delusion, it was a slap in the face to hear this soulless man attempt transferral of blame.

I thought about another man, the father of a daughter he kept as prisoner in his cellar for 24 years, who he sexually abused and who bore him seven children. With forethought and careful planning, he kept his Daughter and three of their children in the cellar for their entire lives whilst raising another three ‘upstairs’ in the house, as he and his wife’s own family. The seventh child had died shortly after birth and the man disposed of the body himself by burning it in a boiler. He hurt not just his Daughter, but his own children who now have an extraordinary challenge adjusting to life in the light of day.

Flannel Flower

And finally, this: in Delhi last December, Somebody’s Daughter, 23, and her male friend boarded a bus. Not long after they had sat down a group of 6 men started harassing the pair, asking the friend what he was going to do to Somebody’s Daughter when he got home. The friend protested and the 6 other men hit him on the head with an iron rod. To try to save her friend, Somebody’s Daughter challenged the men. In response, the men gang-raped the girl and beat her with the same iron rod for 45 minutes. Then they threw Somebody’s Daughter and her friend out of the bus. In hospital they discovered the true extent of Somebody’s Daughter’s injuries; besides being raped and bashed, the iron rod had been inserted into Somebody’s Daughter and removed with such force it dragged her intestines with it.

On this last story – perhaps I should have warned you what you were going to read. It’s horrifying and beyond belief except that it actually DID happen to Somebody’s Daughter, on a bus, with her friend, at only 9pm at night. I’m getting upset again. It breaks my female heart.

And so I ask this: what is happening? When did all the Somebody’s Daughters become so targeted, so expendable, so devalued and worthless? And how did such violent, predatory, brutal behaviour become an almost-everyday news item? And why are we not making a bigger fuss about it all? There are pockets of action, stories of ill-feeling and a mood of sadness – but what are we actually doing? I’m no better than anyone else really, for here I am, only writing and lamenting. It is not enough.

There is a terrible and tragic thing happening, bigger than anything else and worse because its far-reaching consequences go beyond the violent and murderous madness of the stories above. It is about humanity. Within our own species, in our own kind, our own families – the stronger preying on the weaker, with intent to harm. I’m not an expert biologist, but truly – does any other species exhibit such destructive behaviour? And even if there was – why would we want to emulate it? Aren’t we supposed to be a higher-order, more aware, more morally conscious, more ethically driven species than any other? Aren’t we?
Lightroom Outside stable door
I hate the fact that I am more frightened now than ever before. I am Somebody’s Daughter with my own gorgeous girl, who I want to have all the experiences life can bring without fear of being stalked, preyed upon or attacked because she went out with friends, or walked home, or rode a bus. There are no boundaries for this fear; it consumes me when I watch the news, when I’m walking alone in a dark car park, when I watch my daughter at a playground. I feel less empowered than ever before, less able to make something change and I’m sure this is part of it, this overwhelming fear. I’m ashamed to feel this way because I’m pretty sure it’s what predators and stalkers would want, my inaction, my horrifying and crippling fear.

So today, no answers, only these thoughts:

I quietly hope that talking about my fear for all the Somebody’s Daughters will affect a small change somewhere in the big, wide internet world. I wonder about the over-arching themes in these stories of predation and violence of men against women. Perhaps this is where we can start, with teaching our children respect for themselves and for others – because all those horrific acts described above have also been carried out by Somebody’s Sons.

I can’t think of anywhere else better to start than that.

…hear me roar.

Yesterday I attended the Newcastle Writers Festival, a session entitled “How women are changing social media”. Carol Duncan of ABC Radio Newcastle shepherded Jane Caro, Kerri Sackville, Rebecca Olive and Marina Go through a discussion of how these strong women each utilise and influence social media in their work, their careers and their lives. And strong women they are – in thought, in the pursuit of their chosen field, in their passion and in solidarity; even when panelists expressed an apparent difference of opinion, the general discussion moved towards encouraging one speaker not to undervalue her voice, rather than pursue a right/wrong scenario.

I loved this session. And whilst I don’t think these women stayed directly on-topic, I didn’t care. They were successful women talking about a brave new social media world which is all-inclusive, easily accessible and tremendously exciting. They outlined concepts I understood and mentioned platforms I use. They shared anecdotes, made us laugh, nod our heads in understanding and shake them in sympathy. I walked out inspired and more determined than ever to keep exploring and contributing to this new electronic realm. It was bloody great.

I’m not going to revisit the detail of the discussion here, but I will share what I took away:

1. A reaffirmation that social media is here to stay.
This one’s important because I’ve had a minor crisis of late, mainly due to my circle of friends and family not being as enamoured with, or excited by social media as I am. I’ve felt like a bit of an island, so at the very least – the Writers Festival session has propelled me back into the archipelago.

2. An enduring admiration for the panelists.
Already a fan of Jane Caro, and with some memories of Marina Go as a teenage-magazine editor, I was unprepared for the ‘smartness’ of all 5 women at the front of the room. The quickly articulate Kerri; the powerful pocket-rocket Jane; the quietly confident and elegant Marina; the earnest and humble Rebecca; the eloquent and dulcet-toned Carol… what a powerhouse of female intelligence. If I didn’t follow or subscribe to them on twitter, WordPress, BlogSpot or the web before – I certainly do now.

3. A sunny-side-up feeling about life in general.
I’m not saying I’m the smartest person I know, not even close. Nor am I the most philanthropic or even very sympathetic person. I’ve definitely got my faults. But I think I generally recognise them; I am a work in progress. In the meantime I do try to live an ethical, empathetic and mindful life. So with this in mind – lately I’ve been reading, hearing and seeing a God-awful lot of stories about horrible, stupid, rotten and/or just mightily dumb people and things. Selfish acts by thoughtless humans. Harmful, hurtful and generally clueless things. My opinion of current, broader societal values and behaviours has been at an all-time low. My thoughts about the world my daughter will grow into have been particularly bleak. So it was truly wonderful to spend an hour or so being simply inspired, sitting with like-minded peeps and exploring…..possibilities. Thinking about and feeling empowered, acknowledging the ‘good stuff’ that can be and is being achieved by women in social media. Talking about taking people to task, accountability, exposing bullies. Listening to stories of success and shared wisdom. It. Was. Awesome. I left Newcastle City Hall with a spring in my step and a headful of smiley thoughts.

4. A compelling feeling.
I like writing, but haven’t committed to it in a long time. I did write a diary for my daughter during her first 2 years of life about her achievements, cute moments and baby-milestones, for her to read when she’s older (perhaps as a teenager when she’s not liking me so much) – but that’s it. So earlier this year I started this blog: my sanity-saver, my challenge and my biggest leap into the unknown in a long time. I’ve set myself a goal of writing once a week. It doesn’t sound like a huge commitment but as someone who works, has a partner, a 3-year-old, a household and two 15-year-old dogs, well, it is. So to walk away from an experience and actually want to write and write and write…whoa! Be still my fingers! Hold the phone on the thesaurus! Charge that lap-top! Perhaps this point should be entitled ‘Inspired’ or ‘Excited’ or ‘Caffeinated’? It doesn’t matter. The ‘gift of the urge’ is precious.

My final thoughts?
If you’re reading this blog it means you’re somewhat web savvy, so go mull over the social media stylings of the women mentioned above. You won’t regret it.

Thank you ladies.