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I warn before you read- this is a rant. I bet you never read a rant about Afghanistan AND childbirth in the same place before…

July 12, 2009

(Warning- before reading this- please note that this post is a rant in two parts, and if you do not feel particularly in the mood to hear me ranting, I suggest you close the page down)

The first part of my rant is aimed at Dr.Denis Walsh, whose comments about women who ‘don’t fancy the pain [of childbirth]’ and who should be prepared to ‘withstand pain’, were repeated across my sunday morning media.

Now, I understand the sentiment that inspired these comments. Of course labour should be a natural process, I wince at the medicalisation of childbirth, and the taking away of control of birth experiences from women, instead handing it to the ‘experts’ in the medical profession. I am lucky enough to live in an area where the local birthing centre meant that I didnt have to see a single doctor, in the whole time I was pregnant- conscious that I was going through a normal process, not an illness that needed to be presided over by a doctor. Instead receiving support in making MY choices, about delivering MY baby.

However, as a woman, who when refused drugs by a helpful midwife, launched the gas and air mouthpiece at the midwifes head, and demanded my husbands phone to obtain my own drugs- I have to say, I have a teensy weeny problem with this mans statements.  Debates about the medicalisation of childbirth, seemed irrelevant as I bargained in my head that death could not possibly be worse than this-while my daughter remained stuck and refusing to budge(yeah she was stubborn before she was born!).

And quite frankly Dr.Walsh- when you have shat a bowling ball, without anaesthetic, or stretched your front lip over the front of your head, as a new fetching winter hat- you may tell women they should just ‘deal with it’.

When doctors are telling people to have broken bones, and severe burns treated, without pain relief, because that pain will teach them a valuable lesson and enable them to process the trauma better- you may tell women to just get on with it, and stop whinging about pain.

Support women in their birth choices, teach them about natural pain relief techniques(loved the birthing pool, the tens machine..assaulting my husband…all fine, until was bargaining with a god I didnt believe in, begging to not be in pain and tired any more)- but telling women to just get on with it? To expect women to just grin through complete agony- implying that they are simply being ‘soft’ for wanting to manage their own labours in a way that isnt traumatic- makes me want to hunt you down and spray paint graffitti on your house.

I would quite like for women to be able to use the only imposition on childbirth, which benefits women, without it being implied by the profession that is supposed to be helping them, that they are just not ‘hard’ enough to cope with what nature throws at them.

Which links me nicely onto the subject of Afghanistan. Well, it doesnt, but it has also been bothering me this week.

I have this friend Sid. He isnt really called Sid. We called him that because his dad was a village bobby, when we were teenagers. Sid, Sid, the coppers kid.  Sid was one of my best friends, when I was a rebel without a clue 16 year old. We would skive school, and go to my flat and smoke dubious cigarettes of low quality weed(which I am sure was more boot polish than anything else..).

In our early twenties, Sid joined the army. It came as a surprise to me, but on consideration, as I had been bossing Sid around since I was 16, and everyone else had too, I suppose it was a logical step.

Last year Sid came back from Aghanistan. He had returned unscathed from a tour in Iraq, and on paper he returned from Afghanistan the same way. But the stress of whatever he saw out there, had taken my beautiful boy, and changed him. I hope not forever.

I stood in Leeds train station, on the day of 9/11. THe station was more or less silent, although packed. People all of a sudden knew who Osama Bin Laden was, and who the Taliban were. Within days, people who weeks earlier had professed ignorance, when I talked about the treatment of women in Afghanistan, were talking in detail about Islam, and reciting a glossy understanding of this countries history- helpfully served up and spun by our media.

This clear criminal act, perpetrated by a an organisation, was being discussed as an act of war.  We started a war, in a country, on the basis that they harboured a criminal, and because ‘terror training camps’ existed within it. We bombed the people of a country, where they were already experiencing poverty and hardship that we cant imagine in the West, with bombs with more financial value, than the markets and towns they hit. We have been fighting in that country now, since September 2001.

Now pardon me for being simplistic- but I was a little concerned at the time that we were bombing a country, for essentially harbouring a criminal. Given that we regularly harbour war criminals, and that we have criminals being harboured in probably half the countries in the world- was declaring ourselves at ‘War’ with terror, and bombing this poor country back to the stone age really the best way of approaching this?

We didnt define what terror was. We liked having a catch all umbrella term, that could justify almost any atrocity we cared to carry out. By declaring war, we legitamised criminals, and made them combatants. We radicalised the youth of an entire faith- by treating them with hostility, and by placing them on the opposing side of a war-with atrocities carried out, which were only matched in scale by the rhetoric of democracy, and fighting oppression, which glossed them over and repackaged them.

We have created a quagmire- and now politicians are worried- because we arent winning and we cant get out. We cant win- because there was never anything to win. You cant measure success if you never had an objective in the first place. And you cant bomb a country into the stone age to satisfy blood lust, and a right wing agenda.

We sent boys in to do the dirty work. Boys like my friend Sid, who were sent out, ill prepared, ill equipped, with little or no understanding of the country they were fighting in, and a half cocked illusion about what they were fighting for.  When these boys, and they are boys- look around at the reality of where they are. The illusion shatters, and they realise the lies that are being told about what they are doing. Only they are in a country where they are barely equipped for the geographical conditions, never mind to fight an enemy they cant even identify. They are the targets, and they deal with the consequences of the agendas of those who started this. They arent even safe in the knowledge that they will return home heroes, because they are fully aware of the way this ‘war’ is perceived.

This week, we had one of the worst weeks in Afghanistan since the conflict began. With more boys dying, and no end in sight.  I have heard comment from politicians, using words like ‘winnable’, and waxing lyrical about womens rights in Afghanistan-like that was even a contributing factor to our actions. On Friday it took every bit of restraint I had, while listening to Any Questions, not to throw the radio at the wall- as a response to the glib lies and platitudes about this ‘conflict.

I was in Vietnam a few years ago. In Ho Chi Minh city, the rickshaw drivers are those who collaborated with America, in the 11 years that they tore that country apart. They have an official status as outcasts, and are not allowed to eat in certain places, their lives are spent as a permanent reminder of their collaboration. They tell horrific stories of what happpened when America withdrew- leaving those who they claimed they were ‘helping’ to face the consequences of being on the wrong side during a war that should never have been fought.

We will be forced to do the same, when we leave Afghanistan. The soldiers out there know how little we are achieving, and they know that the country we have spent the last 8 years tearing apart, will have to deal with the consequences, as our leaders come up with a hastily devised, ill thought out exit strategy. Will we help those who risked everything to help us in our misguided confused aims? No, of course we wont. Tales are already pouring in from Iraq, about the consequences faced by those who did our translating, and our driving. People who have been rejected in their applications to come to the country they worked for, even though they are at risk of death without our protection.

The aim of this exit strategy will of course be to appease British Voters, rather than a consideration of the needs of the country we have destroyed.

I daresay this exit strategy will be sold to us like a victory for democracy, and like Russia, we will consign our 8 years in Afghanistan to the drawer of history. Trying not to dwell on it. In the meantime boys like Sid, and the people of Afghanistan will be living with the damage done.

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