This week is anti-bullying week. Rather than let it slip past, I want to use my voice in the blogging community as a #powerforgood. Bullying comes in many forms. Bullying isn’t just ‘part of growing up’. Bullying doesn’t just disappear when people grow up and ‘know better’. Even though they should. I assumed as an adult, a mother and a
fairly respectable member of society, I was unlikely to encounter much bullying. I like to think that I surround myself with people like me who try to support one another rather than bring each other down. Bullying is when you use your power or influence to intimidate someone, usually into doing something or acting in a certain way. But that doesn’t happen to us regular, decent adults does it?
Over the years, I’ve met countless people who act as your friend whilst undermining your confidence, making you question who you are, what you’re doing and the decisions you’re making. It took me a long time to appreciate they are bullies in one form. These people are not my friends. These people are not people I can trust. These people don’t have my best interests at heart.
But what about when they’re meant to?
Is that bullying?
When I fell pregnant, I was allocated a midwife to see me the entire way through my antenatal appointments. My midwife was what a kind person would describe as ‘no nonsense’. She had her opinion on things and didn’t mind telling you so. If you didn’t agree with it, tough. You were in the wrong. Who was I to question her authority? I’d not given birth once, I had no idea what was going on and she’d been a midwife for over 20 years. She was even in charge of the other midwives in her area.
She was adamant that I should give birth at the local understaffed birthing unit where she was based (despite it being closed at weekends/nights/every-day-ending-in-a-y due to staff levels). Every time I patiently explained that I wanted to go slightly further to the 24hr birthing unit attached to the hospital she would sigh, roll her eyes and give me a talk on why I was ‘being silly’. Of course I wouldn’t need an emergency 25 minute transfer. Of course there wouldn’t be an issue with my baby. Of course my baby would be born between the hours of 9 and 5. I found every appointment unnerving because it came up every.single.time. Usually when I was laid out on the bed half dressed.
It got to the point that I hated attending my appointments solo. I found if I dragged my mum along (I say dragged, she bloody loved it!) with me that she’d treat me like a normal human being. She refused to write in my birth plan about being open to an epidural, instead telling me I could cope with just gas and air and was over-reacting. She made me feel that I was putting my baby at risk because I worked up until the week before my due date. If I asked a question, it was either brushed aside or responded to patronisingly. She would repeatedly remind me that she’d done this hundreds of times and I hadn’t.
Is that bullying?
The truth was I didn’t want to go to the birthing unit because of her. She made me nervous, horribly intimidated and terrified every other midwife would be exactly like she was. She made me feel like an inadequate version of me and an awful not-quite-mother. She used her position to make me feel lesser. Thankfully, when the time came, I had the loveliest, most laid back woman in the world who sat in the corner and just let me be me. Thank god for her.
I’d love to say that I was just unlucky with my midwife. That she was a case of a strong personality rather than a bully but I don’t think it was bad luck. I think there’s a flaw within many working with new mums where the system and those working within it waiver on the border of bullying. Maybe it’s because we’re vulnerable, we’re unsure of ourselves and we don’t feel able to say “this isn’t right”.
Whilst I have had only good experiences with my health visitor, I know women; strong, articulate women, who have been terrified to say how they’re really feeling or how their child is truthfully acting because they’re afraid of the consequences. They’re afraid to admit they’re no longer breastfeeding. They’re afraid to admit they’re co-sleeping just to get some sleep. They’re afraid to admit they’re not coping. These are parents made to feel like failures, talked down to as if they just aren’t trying hard enough. Told to persevere despite being at their wits end. Made to feel like it’s just them.
Is that bullying?
I know that these professionals are women (and men!) who are just doing their jobs. Departments are often short staffed. Long shifts are worked, dealing with a mountain of paperwork whilst trying to help as many people as possible. I get that they are working to guidelines, that they have to give certain advice, that 99.9 times out of 100 they’re trying to help. Mostly, I know that it’s not all of them, that it’s a small percentage who give others a bad reputation. I have a huge respect for those working within the medical field. I could not thank them enough for making sure me and my baby are okay at every step of the way and yet…
Whilst it may not be the standard definition of bullying, to me, it still falls within that grey area. Regardless, it’s not okay to use that power or position to make parents feel threatened or like they’re failing in the process. We all know that there’s no-one more vulnerable than a sleep-deprived parent/parent-to-be.