We lined up and took turns to announce the dedication to the room and then dance while being witnessed by the whole group. Standing in the middle of the line, I kept frantically thinking of causes and people worthy of this dedication. In that moment, I realised I could dance small. I could dedicate it to something worthy but neutral, like world peace or something.
I chose not to.
‘I am dancing this for all women who were raped.’ My voice boomed in a spacious hall of the Bilbery centre in Birmingham. ‘Including me,’ I added in a smaller voice as tears choked me. I sailed into the middle of the room and danced like I have never danced before, pouring my heart and soul down onto the floor, honouring myself and other women.
Exposure was a huge thing for me at that time. I was not in a habit of sharing personal experiences of this kind. Instead, I buried them away in the depths of my heart where even I had a limited access to them.
The next day all the capillaries around my eyes popped. My face looked spotty and red. For a while I felt scared that my face may never go back to normal. I wondered whether, had I known my body may respond so strongly, I would have put the same intensity into that experience.
Absolutely. Speaking up felt empowering.
It was a small win though. Those were people I got to know and love. I felt accepted in the group. It was safe enough to open a notch.
Today I look back at that experience with different eyes. It was an important stepping stone to where I am today. Opening does not happen at once. We unravel notch by notch, over time.
I’ve been asked to speak about my birth experiences to the board of the Birmingham Women’s Hospital. The group I will address on Thursday makes important decisions in relation to women’s birthing and post-natal experiences. It is they who create the overall culture at the hospital. To stand in front of these people and tell my story in the hope that it could improve the birthing experiences of many other women is an honour. It feeds directly into WHY I write: to share my story to inspire change and to give voice to women who may never be heard otherwise. And it is possible thanks to those small ‘wins’ which opened me up one notch at a time.