Saturday 26 September 2015

Motherhood & Me (or Life Is What Happens Whilst You're Busy Writing a Birth Plan)

Over ten months ago, just after eleven o' clock at night, my husband and I walked hand in hand towards the hospital which is a few blocks down the road from where we live. That night I could not sleep. I mean, I could not sit up in bed next to my husband for I had not been able to sleep properly for a few weeks already by then.

Inside me, our son kicked restlessly. After nearly 41 weeks of pregnancy, I knew him well enough to be sure he has had enough of being inside. He still kicks like this to this day when he is excited, as if with a fever - a raw and pure sort of energy inherent to those who have joined us on Planet Earth.

 "He was brought to me wrapped up on a blanket, like a letter whose tip of the envelope was left open."

In hospital, once his heartbeat was monitored for quite a while, I was asked to stay the night. Then at 6 a.m. the next morning I was induced. I was in labour throughout that day with nothing more than 1 cm dilatation to show for at the end of it.

Suddenly everything changed later that evening when we our boy was getting very distressed by the whole thing. I was then wheeled into the theatre for an emergency c-section. I remember signing the form as they wheeled me out and telling the doctors to get our son out safely.

He was born at 4:44 the next morning - nearly 24 hours after I was initially induced. The birth itself felt like 5 minutes. My husband - who was next to me the whole time through ever single contraction - said it was more like 15. As the amazing surgeon patched me back on, our son was cleaned and checked up.

He was brought to me wrapped up on a blanket, like a letter whose tip of the envelope was left open. All I could look at were his eyes, dark and deep. I gently touched the little I could see of his forehead and said "welcome to the world". They took him away again as they finished making me whole again. Then I was wheeled onto another room where I was not sure what exactly for. I suddenly asked: "Can I feed my son?" To which the lovely midwife replied, "of course". "I need to throw up first" I said - and I remember thinking how funny that was. He was finally brought to me and I put him on my right breast. He fed like he was just as thirsty as me.

The time in hospital was, believe me, idyllic, compared to the overwhelming emotions of being left to care for him at home when my husband finally went back to work. I was fed and given painkillers. I was on a bed on a ward full of women - patients midwives and doctors - at different stages of this incredible time: mothers to be, others like me, holding their little babies in their arms. Some trying to walk and venture beyond the confine of the blue curtains and metal frames of the beds.

I was asked to try and walk to encourage better circulation on my legs. They were so swollen with all the liquid I was injected with for the operation that they did not feel like my own. They were also a bit numb which made it all even more alien from my body. During that time. I was living in my head and in my heart. I was already without sleep for about three nights and I could not stop staring at my son - that little man dressed in a bodysuit with a print of an astronaut coming out of his pocket right where his heart is. He was asleep all the time. When he was awake, I fed him. I remember how blatantly smug I felt having a plate of pasta in the middle of all hubbub and activity of the ward as he slept. The two of us, islands in the middle of an euphoric sea.

I was inside that bubble of care - with the exception of one 'funny' nurse who left me bruised after one of my daily injection to keep my blood from clotting, the general experience felt very caring and welcoming. However, I could not wait to go home. I obviously did not have a clue as to how much I would miss the round-the-clock attention from those early days.

When it was time to leave the hospital I could barely fit into my maternity clothes, let alone any of the clothes I took with me. I was bigger when I left the hospital than when I went in due to the surgery. I do not mention this out of vanity. I honestly could not care less how I looked. My body went though so much with the sole purpose of bringing this new person into the world. I feel nothing but deep gratitude and respect for its strength.

 "What fascinates me the most about you is not what I recognize but what I do not yet know"

It is such a huge change on so many levels. We are not fully able to comprehend the magnitude of it. I do not think we are supposed to rationalize maternity. It is all about instinct and conscientious decisions - the best decision you can make at each particular moment a decision is needed.

It would take me a while (in hindsight I am quite thankful for this) to realize how much had happened - physically, emotionally and mentally. I guess it was my very own survival mode set up to the maximum: 'I am responsible for a little boy now'. It did not matter how frail I was myself.

For those who never had a c-section, when you walk for the first time it feels like you are walking underwater, with your thighs are clipped or tied up together.

As the taxi parked outside our house. My husband carried our son out of the car and into the house. My mother in law carried my suitcase.  I dragged my feet out of the car, on the pavement, there was a light  drizzle falling down. I went up the stairs. The house did not seem fit for the jewel we brought in. The sofa was old and torn. I came to realize that sofa looked how I felt. Torn and tattered, right when I needed my joviality and strength the most. In hospital, I was fed and given painkillers and every so often checked by a caring nurse or doctor. At home I had to be the one in charge. I left the house in a whirl of subtle determination, concern and hope. I came back with a little boy in need of my full care and attention. I am a mother.

Months later, I finally cleared the contents of the bag I brought along to hospital - a night gown and robe, dry shampoo and body butter, a book, brand new slippers for me and apart from my son's first outfits and blankets, all unused.

I also eventually found tucked inside a pocket a few prints of my birth plan. They were meant to be given to the midwives and doctors at hospital. They were like soft fossils from another time; the pages were creased and crumpled - in the urgency and emergency of two lives to be saved they haven't been of any use.

Those pages showed how simple I wanted it to be: No gas and air, no epidural. I wanted to assist my little boy out into the world by enabling him to thrust himself outwards. All the boxes ticked; all the wishes and instructions kept to a very straightforward minimum. But paraphrasing John Lennon, 'life is what happens whilst you're busy writing a birth plan'.

Recovery has been slow but life does not wait. As I heal I also grow muscles in my body from holding him up and down the stairs or rocking him to sleep. The pull of the tear, the strength that comes from wanting to be a stronger and better person, all for him - like a ballet dancer using all the strength in her body to showcase a seemingly effortless grace. My son does not need to know all of this. All I want is for him to feel safe and welcomed by the world.

Months go by and so much happens. Days, hours, minutes intermingle with euphoria, exhaustion, wonder,  chaos and glory. My body no longer carries you, but it feeds you. My arms hold you and sooth you. You. An other.

What fascinates me the most about you is not what I recognize but what I do not yet know; what unfolds daily as you open new petals of self expression. A grin, laughter, a coo, a cry, a caress. It's all you, being, alive. Hungry, content, sleepy, assailed by the world outside and then gently taking over by reaching out, rolling back and forth, casting your eager gaze, placing your feet on the ground, holding our hands and walking.

It's all ahead of you. And yet the future comes slowly. Days are giant mountains to climb and then enjoy the view, out of breath, inside the welcoming and exhausted arms of Unconditional Love.

Luciana Francis
- London, September 26th 2015.
Last edited on October 31st 2015.

Sunday 11 May 2014

Masters!, They Say. But Where Are the Mistresses? Premiere of The Story of Women and Art Part I on BBC 2

Professor Amanda Vickery (image source: BBC 2)

 To watch the programme, please click on the title below:

The Story of Women and Art Part I on BBC 2

"Professor Amanda Vickery journeys from Renaissance Italy to the Dutch Republic and discovers a hidden world of female artistry. By digging in storerooms, convents and basements she rescues dazzling female artists from the shadows, and reveal stories of courage and determination in the face of seemingly insurmountable obstacles."

Available to watch online until the May 16th 2014.


Monday 10 March 2014

The Woman Reflected: Vivian Maier

Vivian Maier, Photographer (1926 -2009)

Inhabiting the attic and the world
was the road you walked
during your lunch hour. You had your hat on
and a coat and from your neck they dangled:
Two cameras. Your eyes lingering on reflections –

what were you thinking?

Boxes found – a lifetime bound in cardboard and gelatin:
Suitcases, three pairs of shoes to walk with;
and the letters, back and forth.
From these images I figured a woman
who found her place in the world by looking at it –

and how many of us take the time? No, really?

Glass windows let you in and you are, ironically,
juxtaposed with the objects laid out for sale, Vivian.
You walked them by: The vases, the laundrette,
the jewelery, and other women, looking through
the glass — you saw them and what they wished.

By keeping it to yourself you haven’t denied
anyone anything.

You have saved what you saw,
not selling what you looked at so well.
And as if by chance it was found –
by those who never knew you, and dared breaking
into the pyramid that domed your riddles

of a life well spent
and what was found is you, and the world.

 - Luciana Francis, London February 2014.

Friday 7 March 2014

International Women's Day 2014 - and What Have We Done?

Nu Cubista by Brazilian artist Anita Malfatti (1916)

We have done a lot. We can vote and we so should. We can have a go at raising a family, having a career and a refurbished home. We can have a "satori" moment and realize that 'having it all' is not what's cracked up to be.  We have also been overtly critical of our physical selves and we still seem largely critical of other women (all a reflection of our own insecurities).

But we have started to speak out more (even if "speaking out' these days goes in via the twitter-sphere or facebook-land) against violence and injustice - and realized the battle has just begun.

We have demanded fellow women to be celebrated on bank notes, and that demand alone brings along centuries of forgotten or overlooked achievements by women everywhere, in every culture.

It feels like we just got home, after years of following the path of progressive and proactive women who have shown us the way in a time when we were meant to breath through whale bones pressed tight over our rib cages. This house does not need tidying, it needs inhabiting.

This house does not need tidying up, it needs inhabiting.

We are no longer aiming at the fainting couch, we are in that moment just after awakening, blinking and slowly adjusting to the levels of light around us.

We have a long and hard journey ahead but we are not alone and nothing in this journey is new. We have prime examples of incredible human beings that left us trails showing the tracks of emancipation, evolution and freedom.

Do not let anyone but yourself define who you are and what you are about. We have assimilated the wrong given that women are the other to the standardized version of humanity, that is, men. We are not mere variations of a gender - we are humanity too.

Let's go on the look out for those tracks, let's get on with the good fight and let's keep the way open for all the girls following on our footsteps. Like us before them, they certainly need it. Welcome to the world, welcome to history, welcome home.

Welcome to the world, welcome to history, welcome home.

- Luciana Francis, London March 7th 2014.

Tuesday 22 October 2013

Look at Me! Pretty Ugly by Louise Orwin at Camden Arts Centre

image source: Louise Orwin official website-

On BBC radio 4 Woman's Hour this morning, performance artist  and researcher Louise Orwin talked about her latest project Pretty Ugly as part of The Feminist Festival taking place at Camdem's People Theatre in London until the 5th of November 2013.

In Pretty Ugly, Louise Orwin acted as an undercover investigator, infiltrating the surreal and virtual world of internet, bullying and avatars. In this parallel universe, girls are willingly exposing themselves via different guises and consequently subjecting themselves as targets for bullies and voyeurs running the risk of debilitating their self esteem and sense of individuality and purpose.

Why do girls need that kind of attention and validation to the point that they will dress themselves up or down, exposing a facade of girlishness and eventually being deeply wounded by strangers who do not really know nor care for them?

This is might be now a question of our times but the issue itself has not arisen in recent times. This thorn on women's trajectory has been long stimulated and exploited by arguably placing womanhood as a topic to be incessantly scrutinized much like women themselves.

By giving strangers the power to inadvertently affect us with their judgement we are no longer free, we cease to exist as individuals and there won't be much left for us to thrive on and grow from. What girls need to realize is that their assets are priceless, never for sale and for their own use and exploration.

Surrounding your self with positive friends, relatives, attitudes, comments and a network of support is a life long challenge. There will be negative individuals who will try and break a girl or anyone that is seen as a human variant of the male species. When a girl willingly surrenders to this cyber roman arena crowded with lascivious intent, she should at least be aware that any hope of flattery is not only preposterous but it might come at a very high price indeed

Monday 21 October 2013

Home Truths: Against the Idealization of Motherhood

Image by Elinor Carucci, Feeding Emanuella with a Bottle After I Stopped Breast-Feeding

Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity is one the current exhibitions at The Photographers' Gallery in London

For centuries the imagery created and propagated to illustrate the myths surrounding motherhood has painted a picture of mothers as the serene, selfless nurturers; semi-divine beings; capable of ever giving love and support. The mother came to be a social and cultural archetype veiling the real woman underneath.

In Home Truths, eight photographers (including a father documenting his wife and child) expose the physical changes, scars and struggles of motherhood, all to great effect and insight. This exhibition does not aim at painting a dark picture of such myth but rather it wishes to expose the reality of motherhood and of how women truly experience it.

The exhibition helps us to realise that motherhood does not have to be ideal nor idealized. However that does not take the both the profundity and the ennui found in this experience; the images enhance the power through all the emotions lived, experienced and expressed.

Hanna Putz, Untitled (2012)

In this powerful setting of a mother and child relationship we have two people bonded by survival. There is also the major changes to a woman experience of herself, of her own body and this new being brought into the world coming to terms with its own existence and all the new experiences it entails; the realization of his or her own wishes and dependency, the need for assertion and vulnerability.

Strength and vulnerability are, in fact, the two words that could better described motherhood. And both words can be used to describe the experiences lived by both mother and child, in equal measure.

Home Truths: Photography, Motherhood and Identity runs from the 11 of October 2013 until the 5th of June 2014 at The Photographers' Gallery in London,

Monday 7 October 2013

Just a Girl: Malala Youzafzai (b. 1997) - Nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize

Malala Youzafsai, 16 years old, shot in the head and neck by Taliban gunmen in 2011 for demanding the right for girls in Pakistan to go to school, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Image Source: The Guardian

Malala had this to say in a interview broadcast today on BBC1 News: "I was afraid of my future (without education). I don't want to see any girl to be ignorant. I don't' want to see any girl to be illiterate in future. And I don't want my future to be just sitting in a room, to be imprisoned in four walls, just cooking and giving birth to children. I didn't want to see my life in that way."

You can read more on Malala Youzafsai's blog here.

For the BBC1 Interview, you can click here.

Talking of Witches...

Text and Image Source: Visit Lancashire website.

A poem by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy has been carved into the landscape of a new 51-mile walk created to commemorate the 400th anniversary of the Lancashire Witches. 
The 10 tercets will appear on cast iron mileposts installed along the Lancashire Witches Walk which follows the route taken by the ten women and men who were executed as witches in August 1612.
The poem, The Lancashire Witches, begins:

One voice for ten dragged this way once
by superstition, ignorance.
Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live.

Witch: female, cunning, manless, old,
daughter of such, of evil faith;
in the murk of Pendle Hill, a crone.

Heavy storm-clouds here, ill-will brewed,
over fields, fells, farms, blighted woods.
On the wind’s breath, curse of crow and rook.

‘I was struck by the echoes of under-privilege and hostility to the poor, the outsider, the desperate, which are audible still,’ said Ms Duffy. Manchester-based textural artist Stephen Raw is creating the ten mileposts; each will feature the full poem, the name of one of the ‘witches’ and a verse in specially designed letters so a rubbing can be taken.
The poem was commissioned by North Lancashire-based arts organisation Green Close as part of their programme of artistic events to mark the witches’ anniversary this summer. The poem mileposts, 30 carved brick waymarkers, signposts and a booklet about the footpath will be ready in the autumn when there are  guided walks planned.

Read more here.

The Mistress Bookshelf: The Book of Courtesans by Susan Griffin

Words are powerful. Look at the word 'Mistress'. What do you think of when you hear it or read it?

That is why is important to investigate the meaning of words and they context and how they are and were used through different stages of history.

Courtesans, who were they? Were they prostitutes? Were they kept women? Are we still supposed to feel slightly uncomfortable with such terminology? Were they independent or  were they a mere adornment for a upper class man in a society indulging its citizens in debauchery and pleasure?

Susan Griffin explores the fascinating topic of the courtesan in Europe, from Italy's Renaissance to the France's Belle Epoque.

It is important to understand not only the roles women played to achieve notoriety, independence and to participate in society, but also the context in which they were allowed to proactively exercise influence as such.

The raw base for all questions regarding the role of women in any society and at any time could be thus: Is it a passive role? Is it empowered? Is it determined by the religious patriarchy? Is it instinctive, natural, coerced or already conquered?

The Book of Courtesans (2003) will definitely shine a light (and not a red glowing lamp kind of light) on society and its foundations as well as its underpinnings - as hidden and still tightly felt as the underpinnings of a lady's corset, and as such as eagerly to be removed.

And please support Independent Bookstores when buying your books!


In this blog I intend to do some historical justice to the many, many women who have contributed with their genius, creativity, adventurous spirit, nurturing - amongst other qualities - to the apparent linear and male dominated prescribed notion of History. This is just the beggining.