‘The man who saw me struggling with my toddler and a buggy in the tube: I hate you!’ I read the Facebook status update of one of the bloggers I follow at the moment. I chuckle to myself and marvel at her guts, because this young woman writes things I do not dare to think!
Certainly, for me speaking my truth at the risk of offending someone’s feelings goes against the grain. But here is my dilemma: As a memoir writer, if I tell my truth, my family and friends’ feelings may get hurt. If I don’t…. What’s the personal cost of not speaking the truth? Conditioned to think of other people’s needs first, I rarely considered this question before. But as my awareness grows, I realise that not saying things in the moment drains my energy. The amount of time I spend on fretting about how to package nicely what I’m trying to communicate in the least offensive manner removes me from my feelings and keeps me stuck in my head. And what about the impact of this trapped energy on the person on the receiving end? Surely, they feel that behind a meek smile there is a strong negative energy punching them in their belly.
I have recently discovered the great benefits of putting difficult experiences to rest in the moment. It was a hard-learnt lesson that started two years ago. I remember vividly returning home after delivering my son. I was deeply traumatised by the insensitive treatment of two midwives, so much so that I repeatedly compared one of vaginal examinations to rape. And believe me, I do not use word ‘rape’ loosely here, because I know exactly how it feels from past experience. I did not dare to tell this to her. I was too busy being nice. The pattern of ‘appeasing the abuser’ in order to survive and to stay safe were way too strong at that time. I did not talk to anyone at the hospital. When I finally raised it with a community midwife a couple of weeks later, she encouraged me to leave the incident behind me and focus on my healthy baby. Ultimately that was all that mattered, right? My husband and I were exhausted all the time; we had no support with the newly-born and I was recovering from a C-section; so we decided to follow her advice and forget about it.
Well, it turned out that it was easier said than done. As the due date of my second baby’s birth approached, I found myself worrying at the prospect of encountering those midwives. Sitting in the room of a community midwife when I was 24 weeks pregnant, I found myself falling apart.
‘I want to change my care provider,’ I heard myself saying through sobs. The words were as unexpected to me as to my husband and the midwife. ‘I cannot face going back to that hospital.’
The community midwife who saw us that day was amazingly supportive. She came out to see me again at home two weeks later. She brought along my delivery notes. Together, we made a plan to ensure I was treated more sensitively and respectfully the next time. But even that plan was not enough to put my fears to rest and in the end I opted for a homebirth, the only place where my body felt safe enough to let go.
Yet going back to the hospital proved unavoidable. Whilst the birthing part went according to my wishes (even despite delivering the baby via C-section), the postnatal care was far from perfect. It included pressure sores from being neglected as well as a vaginal examination to which, as far as I was concerned, I did not consent to.
Unlike the first delivery, I decided to leave my grievances behind. I spoke to relevant people whilst I was still at the hospital. I felt clean for speaking up, even joyful, and I did it as much for myself as for other women. There is a power to speaking one’s truth, a personal power. I felt stronger and somehow more beautiful for it. I felt transformed from within, connected to all other women. I returned home in peace; instead of rehashing what went wrong, I was able to focus on my baby and my own recovery.
Today, I am writing this to remind myself the value of speaking up for myself and on behalf of other women whose voice may never be heard otherwise. I am conscious that holding back in telling my story because I may offend my mother’s feelings does not serve us; it stops me from growing and it holds her back because the negative energy of all the unspoken hurts is too great for us to be truly in peace. I am also telling my story for other women who might have had similar experiences. After all, the themes of mother-daughter relationships is universal, even though each story is unique.