Grrr, Radio 4!

This morning there was a short piece on BBC Radio 4 about female engineers. The woman being interviewed said how it was a great shame that there were not more women engineers in our country and how they were actively working to bring more women into the industry. The presenter concluded by urging all female listeners to consider a career in engineering. Well I have considered it, and here follows my reasons for not pursuing a new career.

I am a big believer that if you set your mind to something, with enough hard work you could achieve it. Certain social groups will have to work harder than others because of prejudice and inequality (anyone who isn’t a white, middle class, able-bodied male). But I went to a modern girl’s grammar school where we were taught to break the glass ceiling, don’t be the same as men – be better, and all that feminist malarkey. So my views that follow are by no means coming from the position of an oppressed, uneducated or indoctrinated woman.

Since my teen years, there has only been one career I have wanted: to be a wife, a mother, a homemaker. C.S. Lewis supposedly described ‘the homemaker’ as the ultimate career. And I do believe to make a home is a very noble task. A place to grow and thrive, somewhere safe from which to explore the world. A place to learn what love is, what it means to care for someone, to sacrifice for them. Somewhere to be valued and respected. Somewhere where there is joy and laughter, where sorrows are shared and loneliness is eased.

5113200859_377d4ec976_o (1).jpgMy (engineer) husband and I are a team. He works hard to provide our house – he pays the bills, provides food to sustain us and financial security so we don’t have to worry about tomorrow. I work hard to make that house a home – I try to make it a welcoming, relaxing place to be, somewhere where there is nutritious and delicious food(!), a haven where he can relax and feel safe and loved after being away from it all day.

Soon my job description is going to expand! I will have two little ones to care for who need stimulation, education, love and reassurance. My job will involve providing them with opportunities to learn and grow, caring for them physically, emotionally and spiritually, teaching them what love is through daily sacrificing of my own wants and needs for theirs. My job isn’t simply childcare, it’s child-training! Preparing them for school, for independence, for responsibility, for adult life, for marriage, for parenthood, for life!

As I write this, the photos we have of our two little ones are playing on a slideshow on the second computer screen. As I think ahead to this new stage of our lives, this new role in my busy and rewarding career, my heart swells in my chest with anticipation, with love and with frustration at BBC Radio 4. I do not feel I should pursue a career in engineering, just because I am a woman. If there are less female engineers than male in our country, is that a disaster? Could it be that those women just chose other careers? Telling me I have to consider a job in engineering simply because I am a woman, is as bad as telling me I should stay home with my children all day because I am a woman.

With full awareness of my options in the world, I am choosing to be a wife, mother and homemaker because that is what I want. If other women choose to be engineers – great! But let it be because they want to engineer, and not because society says they should in order to appear more equal. I do not feel any less than my husband because he engineers and I homemake. I couldn’t do what I do without him doing what he does. Likewise, he couldn’t do what he does without me doing what I do! That’s what makes us equal. The freedom to choose your own path rather than being pushed down the one that best suits others. That’s what makes us equal.

In my third year of university I took a module in Feminism. I used to come home irate  after each lecture and every time I vented my feelings towards my husband, he would respond with a smile, “grrr, feminism!” Well that’s how I feel today. Thank you very much for the right to vote, but please stop telling what to do in order to feel fulfilled and free.

Image: pbkwee

Why my mental health is a strength

When we decided it was the right time to pursue adoption, our main concern was that I have a history of mental health illness. A few years back I suffered from Generalised Anxiety Disorder and Depression. We worried that they would think I was unstable, unreliable, weak. We knew that these children would need extra care above and beyond ‘normal’ parenting, and that I would be the stay-at-home parent so a lot of pressure would fall on me. We didn’t want to take something on if it would be damaging for us or for the children. But we felt we were ready, and we knew the social workers would make the right decisions.

As we have gone through the process and learnt more about the things our children will be experiencing, I have become convinced that my mental health isn’t just not a weakness, but that it is a strength.

Hyper-vigilant, trouble sleeping, restless, reliant on structure, distant, short tempered, compulsive behaviours, irrational fears, overeating/unable to eat, emotionally erratic, expecting the worst, unable to trust.

These are all behaviours I’ve been told that children who have been neglected, abused or who have had a significant loss might have. It’s also a good description of me when I was at my lowest point.

I can never understand what these children go through on their way to their forever families. But I do know what it’s like to be on constant high alert. I know how it feels to believe everyone who comes to the front door wants to hurt you. I know the fear of going to sleep in case my loved ones die in the night. I know the utter panic of last minute changes to plan. I know what it’s like to lie awake all night because your mind is so busy that it feels like it might explode. I know the temptation to curl up and shut out the world because it hurts too much to be in it. I know what it’s like to want to reach out for help, but not be able to make the words come out. I know the confusion when your heart starts racing and your ears start burning for no apparent reason. I know how it feels to struggle to breathe as your body goes into panic and seems to implode. I know how much it hurts to really believe the person you love most is lying to you, or trying to harm you.

DSCF1339.JPGAfter two bouts of Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and prescriptions of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety medication, I’m OK. I know my mind much better. I know the signs of an attack and I know how to cope. I know the words to communicate what’s happening to those around me. I know there’s no shame in mental health problems. I know techniques to ‘talk to myself’, to control my mind and my physical reactions to it. I know how important it is to look after your mind. I know that we are stronger than we think. I know that all of this can be overcome, but that it’s not easy.

The things my children struggle with, the reasons why and the ways we deal with it will all be different to my story. But I am convinced that my experiences will help me to be a better mother, to understand just a little bit more what my children are going through.

And so I believe my mental health is a strength. And if going through all of this means I can help my children in just a tiny way to heal, then it will all have been worth it.