I couldn't resist coming back for another blog post.... I enjoyed the last one so much so here I am again. And it feels like the right time to publish what was going to be an article for EOS, but which was too dear to me to change or compromise in any way, which is what they were asking me to do...
I really wanted to write a piece to empower people to believe that they too can achieve all kinds of things in their life if they are willing to make the right changes, sacrifices, effort and decisions, because usually we hold the key to our own freedom. The chains we claim hold us back in life are often self-built, and completely imaginary, made out of our own fears. Not always, but often, they are.
I often get told "Oooh, you're so lucky to be doing what you're doing!" And I agree. Up to a point. I am lucky to have been born as a white female in a relatively wealthy country, which is relatively tolerant of people's religious beliefs, of race, or sexual preferences or lifestyles. I am lucky to live in a country where people can make choices and generally speaking, not be attacked, imprisoned or even killed for making the choices I make. I am lucky to be healthy, and for my family to be healthy too. But the rest? The exact life I live? Is it really just luck, or being 'jammy'?
It always hurts my feeling a little when people imply that I am somehow exceptionally privileged to be living the life I am living, as if my life just got handed to me on some golden platter or is some kind of extended golden handshake. As if there was no reasoning, or decision making or hard-work or sacrifices that have gotten us where we are now. Because nothing could be further from the truth! The fact is, we've made choices at every turn to align ourselves with the life we wanted. It wasn't pure accident. We've engineered and steered our lives, and if the winds have blown for us, it's because we bothered to make good sails!
So anyway....here's my article......... I hope you enjoy it xxx
Live the life you love
Sitting in bed and looking out at the view from my window this morning, I am faced with a beautiful misty mountain scene. We are high up in the Alpujarra mountains in southern Spain – quite a feat for our 32 foot bus. It was a pretty hair raising adventure getting her up the twisting and turning ribbon of a road that clings so precariously to the mountains edge, like the slowest roller-coaster ride. It took some balls, I tell you.
When I look back over the last few years there have actually been quite a few times when we have taken a leap of faith, into the unknown, and made choices that required growing some … cajones! Deciding to home ed was one of them. Having our second child at home was also another leap into unknown territory. Moving our family to an area where we knew no one, and starting again, is another example.
Professionally speaking, Pete has spent his entire working life pushing passed boundaries that might have put others off. Fronting up to bosses and asking for a promotion, offering an ultimatum to allow him to work from home, quitting an unstable company and setting up his own whilst I was seven months pregnant with our third child. It took further guts to close that company whilst it was thriving and providing our family with a high standard of living. A move some thought was madness, as, in closing the company he gave away his clients and assets to the employees who had worked for him. And on one level perhaps they are right, but how many old men look back upon their working life and wish they had spent more time in the office…. missing those precious early childhood years?
Taking risks and leaps of faith have become central to how we roll as a family – and of course, this means occasionally that we fall flat on our backsides, or have to make sacrifices in order to achieve a bigger goal. This is part and parcel of life’s twists and turns and no one could ever take such leaps without life slapping you in the face with the some amount of hardship, failure, rejection and sometimes even a string of bad luck. Ever the optimists though, and like those weeble toys, our default setting is to accept these setbacks with as much grace as we can and bounce back up. We don’t stay down for long.
When our last bus burnt to the ground in a glorious blaze it would have been easy to give up our life on wheels and call it a day. We very nearly did. With only three weeks until our departure date for a trip to Austria and Italy, we had to work out just how badly it mattered to us to travel and live in this way. We decided it mattered so much, that we could not cancel our trip and we took a huge risk and bought a new bus – before our insurance money had come through. Using our precious savings to do so, we took a punt that we’d recover the money. It could’ve all gone wrong, but we reclaimed it eventually. Some things in life are worth gambling on!
In the last year there have been a number of circumstances that prompted our family to truly follow our hearts and these things have taken us on a journey that has seen us coming up against the system and the conventional way of doing things, and forging our own path.
When faced with the scenario where we were told the homebirth service had been withdrawn in our area, we searched long and hard inside ourselves and talked over many solutions and scenarios before taking the leap and joining the ranks of those who call themselves ‘freebirthers’. A decision which we researched extensively and was not taken lightly, but which was born of our refusal to sacrifice all that we held sacred and true about birth. But even after spending the last decade studying, living, breathing and talking birth with other women, in the same level of depth as a midwife might do (out of my own passion and curiosity), and having birthed three of my babies at home – it was still a big deal to cut loose, to deliberately do something so ‘audacious’ as birth my daughter without the approval or assistance of the NHS.
Sometimes we are faced with situations in life that are simply non-negotiable to us. And for our family, having to go and have our daughter in a hospital and for our other children to miss this unique life event, would have been a sacrifice too far. We took responsibility for her birth into our own hands, quite literally, and it was truly the most beautiful experience of our lives as a family, and I will always be grateful we went against the norm, and found the courage to do it.
Many months after her birth, I am now fighting for other mothers who are not inclined as I was to give birth without assistance, and am campaigning to reinstate the homebirth service so they can have that option. Not every mother has the confidence, experience, knowledge or desire to freebirth, especially first-time mothers, and I have been lobbying the hospital for several months.
Bypassing the usual complaints procedures and preferring instead to write an impassioned plea to the homebirth policy-makers has been one of the most empowering experiences of my life and has opened up so many doors and connections that I would have missed out if I’d taken the conventional route, or not complained at all and kept quiet about the injustice of the hospital’s actions. My own bravery sparked the bravery of others.
Finding the courage to share my letter online prompted scores of women to write to me with their own birth stories, some of them never shared in public before, some of them so painful to recollect and write, confirming for me that I had absolutely made the right choice. It was heart-breaking to read about how these women had been so poorly treated, or how their hospital experiences in general had left them feeling so traumatised – sometimes even years after their babies’ births.
I decided to collate all these women’s voices into a dossier to send to the hospital and it has, over the last couple of months, grown into an 80 page document called Birthplace Matters, with comments and support from a number of prominent midwives and figures in the birth world. In fact, some of my most ardent supporters in this campaign have been the midwives themselves.
Today, an article about Birthplace Matters featured in the Lynn news. Who would have believed all this could have started from just from one little letter? And who knows if we will win? Even if we don’t – I have learnt something so valuable from taking a stand and following my heart. I hope my legacy will be that I believed passionately in something, that I stood up for my beliefs, united a lot of people together, and didn’t give up, but kept persevering. When I took to the streets of Kings Lynn with my family and some other mothers, carrying some home-made placards and leaflets and a petition, I was shaking like a leaf, my insides all in a swirl. My inner critic was saying “Who do you think you are, Paula?” and “You have no idea what you’re doing, do you?” and yet I put a smile on my face and once I got talking I discovered it was the easiest and most natural thing in the world when we talk to people about things that matter, things that are truly important to us. And you know what? The good people of King’s Lynn blew me away with their solidarity. Imagine if I’d chickened out? What an opportunity would have been missed.
What I hope we are teaching our children, is that some things matter so much you have to follow your heart even if it means bucking convention, being scared or facing ridicule or criticism or being blocked or even persecuted for it. Home educators well know that not all family and friends are delighted with their informed choice. Yet when we make an informed choice, it is a way in which we reclaim our lives from simply following what we are told by society we must do. Can we really call it a life unless we are prepared to live it on our own terms?
Often we can choose our life without resistance from anywhere or anyone. But as Nelson Mandella so beautifully said "When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw".
Either way, whether it comes smoothly or by effort, no-one will hand us the exact life we want on a plate. It is ours to reclaim, to fashion for ourselves. Our decisions, our challenges, our opportunities are unique to each and every one of us.
This last year has taught me that unless we are sometimes disobedient, unless we say boo to that goose, unless we say NO to what we cannot condone, or YES to what we truly desire, our soul slowly withers and we become small and sad, resenting others who live the life they want and waiting for that lottery ticket to solve all our problems.
Grow some balls. Take some risks. Get your priorities in order. Go out and do what you want to do. Live the life you want to live. Grab life with both hands and own your choices. Love your life and don’t complain and wait for it all to fall in your lap.
When you make up your mind to act decisively, the universe has a funny way of showing up and helping you out.
Only you can take those first brave steps towards the life you REALLY want, so what are you waiting for?