Sticks and stones may break your bones

But words have the power to end you.

Maybe not in the same way disease can, or sudden physical trauma, but words have more power than realised by those who speak them.

I was born to a woman who was intelligent, quick-witted, and not short on opinions; through my devastating modesty, I can tell you that the apple did not fall far from the tree. I am vocal and expressive both on line and face to face with people and that opens me up to criticism from people who disagree.

I try not to take any criticisms personally, as long as they are not aimed at me, and that they are focussed on my opinions instead. To quote a controversial character, Margaret Thatcher “I always cheer up immensely if an attack is particularly wounding because I think, well, if they attack one personally, it means they have not a single political argument left.” Whatever you think of her (personally or politically) it’s a damn good point.

When people get personal, they’ve run out of ideas.

There’s another virtual shield when dealing with insults and criticisms – I only get offended by people I respect. So when someone I respect says something hurtful or offensive, my brain struggles to disagree with them. Self-esteem for me is a fragile thing; self-doubt is its enemy but it seems to have found a cosy, impenetrable part of my brain where it has set up camp with good WiFi access.

Every now and then, it uses that access to “Tweet” things like “Why are you even bothering? You are shit at everything.” “You’ve got way too much to do, and you’ll never get it done, it’s best to do nothing at all. Stay under that duvet you useless idiot.” Not to mention my favourites where it tells me I’m fat, ugly, and that alone is a good reason to not exercise or put on make up – “What’s the point when you’re worthless anyway?”

Except I know that it’s not a separate entity, it’s me. They are my thoughts. It doesn’t happen all the time, it’s not a constant, but it’s there lurking and it rejoices when external circumstances “prove it right”.

I’m a Harry Potter fan…wait a minute…I don’t think I have ever written anything that’s more of an understatement. If I knew as much about midwifery as I know about the Harry Potter universe I wouldn’t ever worry about assignments or exams.
For those of you who don’t know it particularly well, the author J K Rowling talks about creatures called Dementors – their presence sucks all joy and hope from people. She says that although Muggles (non-magical people) can’t see them, they can still feel them near because they suddenly feel filled with despair, morose, downright apathetic. The cure after an encounter is to eat quality chocolate – you can see how it’s cleverly related to “real life”.

The only way to protect oneself from Dementors is to use something called a Patronus – a bright, glowing charm that can take the form of an animal and act as a virtual talisman. You don’t get to choose it, it’s not your favourite animal, or one that looks like you – Rowling says it’s more complicated than that. Stick with me – this all has a point, I promise.


With this in mind, I would think that mine would most likely be a stork – the animal anecdotally linked to bringing babies to their parents. Not because I’m a student midwife, but because the women I cared for yesterday who’d already had their babies made me feel hope and joy and purpose. With their words of thanks for my care, they unknowingly surrounded me with this virtual protection from my own self-doubt.

As I said: words have more power than realised by those who speak them. Those women will never really know the impact that what they’ve said has had on me. They don’t know how I’m feeling or anything like that, they aren’t offering advice, they are just appreciative of the seemingly little that I have done for them. They’ve helped me draft an eviction notice to that lodger with WiFi in my brain – it might only be a serviette with a few words written on it right now, but that’s been the start of many great things.

Language of care while women are in labour is pivotal to their experience – not just the words we use, but what we truly hear when they are speaking to us. We can identify fear, disappointment, feelings of failure, and how we receive those words; how we act upon them. As I have been affected by the small things women have said to me, it’s imperative to remember that it works both ways. It’s the difference between a woman feeling like the rockstar she is, or feeling like a failed auditionee for the role of a lifetime.

I am aware of the irony of me talking about the effect of language, and this particular post being a little carelessly written, but it’s the first time in nearly three months that I have felt I could express more than a few words on line because I finally realise how I feel, and I wish I could thank those women from yesterday over and over and over again.

Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words have the power to mend you

Heather xxx


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