Here I am at Kingston and St Georges midwifery conference, 2018. Today there will be ten talks and events exploring the concept 'I Have a Voice' and I’ll be reporting on each of them in ‘Notes of Midwifery Voices’.
You probably know Francesca Martinez as a comedian from Live at The Apollo but she’s also an actress and writer.
Francesca has cerebral palsy but prefers the term ‘wobbly’ as it’s far more positive than ‘cerebral palsy’ (which I read somewhere she thinks sounds like a doctor who villain).
She’s about the feistiest speaker I’ve come across and I love her because she once said to a teacher ‘you’re only treating me like shit because you can.’
I was usually seen as a good student but I can remember having the odd argument with teachers and may have sworn at a few when there was due cause. I don’t think stepping into your power as a teenager is such a bad thing and the ability to speak your mind is key for anyone making a difference, midwives included.
But I’m going off piste.
Francesa started by telling us about her experiences at school and how kids had lots of questions, which they'd ask with no political correctness. As we get older we stumble over our language and are often offensive because we don't know what to say; in an attempt at empathy we ask how disabled people cope; how severe it is; how difficult their childhood was.
But as Francesca says, we don't usually concentrate on what we're worst at. We don't introduce anyone by saying 'this is Ellie, she's rubbish at playing the piano'. We all have things we can't do - why concentrate on them?
Her discussion of her parents and their experience of discovering her level of brain damage was both hilarious and distressing. Apparently, the doctor told them she 'would never lead a normal life' and they were stubborn and strongwilled enough to not listen because 'who wants normal?' They wanted to her to have a 'fucking amazing life'.
When Francesca was older and asked them 'were you disappointed about having a child with a disability?' they replied 'no, we were just so excited about the free parking!'
Francesca's experience of the medical system wasn't amazing - she was pretty much ignored at the appointments. At one point her Mum was asked 'could you tell me how Francesca is feeling, in her own words?' I think midwives know this situation all too well.
Francesca is reassuring because she says over and again 'there is no normal'. We all have the power to choose how we see ourselves. And the ability to say what we think instead of covering up for what we're afraid of is a political act based on us trusting and liking ourselves.
I think Francesca Martinez is about the brightest person I’ve ever heard speak and she brings her vulnerability to the stage. She has turned being 'wobbly' into her greatest strength. Having a real voice is often about saying what you think without taking on board society’s perceptions.
Maybe we should get Francesca to teach an e-module on All4Maternity or the RCM training videos on how to stand on your own two feet?
Are you here at the conference? What was the most insightful thing you learnt from Francesca?
Or what was the best thing you learnt from this post – leave a comment below!