SEARCHING FOR SUNDAY: MOTHERHOOD, GUILT AND DISILLUSIONMENT by @boudledidge

Cross-posted from: We Mixed our Drinks
Originally published: 12.05.15
via Wikimedia Commons

I spent my teenage years dedicated to the music department at my Fenland comprehensive school. Choir, orchestra, string quartet, vocal ensemble, recorder group. Local music festivals, county-wide choir days, youth orchestra every Saturday and umpteen church fêtes. We were a partner school of Cambridge University, and so it happened that every December, we’d pile into a minibus and he’d drive us to Cambridge, the Head of Music leading a gaggle of girls over the Backs and to King’s College chapel, where we’d sit, awestruck, alongside fellow music geeks of Cambridgeshire, and listen to a special performance of Carols from King’s; without the TV cameras, without the crowds of people queuing from breakfast time to try to get a seat. Just 20 or so teenage girls high on sugar from vending machine sweets, on the lookout for nice male undergraduates in the choir, with a slightly harassed middle-aged man known as ‘Mr C’.


Read more SEARCHING FOR SUNDAY: MOTHERHOOD, GUILT AND DISILLUSIONMENT by @boudledidge

The Real Life of Twins at Communicating with Kids, by @cwknews

Cross-posted from: Communicating with Kids
Originally published: 15.07.15

I am an identical twin so I sat down to watch ‘Secret Life of Twins’ on ITV yesterday hoping that it would do something I’ve never seen before on t.v. by portraying the real life of twins, rather than the freak show entertainment we usually get.

But no, it didn’t; so here, for all parents of twins and everybody else in the world for that matter, is my critical response. I think I’ll start with a few requests to future t.v. producers of programmes about twins:

1. Would you stop getting twins to pose together doing exactly the same actions so that we can gasp at how amazing that is – they look AND act the same!

2. Can you stop the really patronising voice-over. Twins are not fluffy bunny rabbits.

3. Can you not act like the similarities between twins are the reality and the differences are aberrations. And please don’t sound SO startled when you mention those differences.
Read more The Real Life of Twins at Communicating with Kids, by @cwknews

The (Other) Mothers by @HeadinBook

Until very recently, if you’d asked me to tell you three facts about myself, I might have answered the following: I have bright red hair. I am incurably clumsy. I used to have a career.

To my immense surprise, if you asked me the same question today, the answers would be different. I still have hair next to which carrots look insipid. I still trip over invisible obstacles. But, somehow, the career has moved from being a thing very firmly in my past to being, quite possibly, a thing in my future too.

Being at home with my children for the past few years has been my choice, albeit one forced slightly by circumstances. It has been that most grown-up of things; a compromise, neither principled nor perfect, but good enough. Now that there is a chance of going back into work that I loved, though, I’ve been slightly taken aback by the sense of freedom I feel at the prospect of being something other than a mother and housewife again.


Read more The (Other) Mothers by @HeadinBook

When being a working mum doesn’t work

(Cross-posted from Littlee and Bean)

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I feel like one of the balloons E asks his daddy to blow up and let go of. After whooshing about at breakneck speed Monday to Friday, I spend part of each weekend sitting in a deflated heap and with a growing knot in my stomach from knowing that, come Monday, the organised chaos starts again. My nights are all about squinting at piles of marking, admin, and planning, and they’re followed by painfully early mornings, guiltily shepherding 2 tired little boys to nursery after minimal sleep. I’ve been giving myself some motivational pep talks this week, stuff like ‘get a grip woman…it’s always like this as winter creeps in…you’ve been doing this for 8 years now, you should be used to the workload…you love this job with a passion…your students are the best…it’s all worth it’.

Except this year things are different because last year, during a typically mountainous workload and with way too much going on emotionally and physically, I had a breakdown. It was hideous. Thankfully, now that I’ve healed, I’m free to see it as a blessing. I learnt that I can’t do everything, despite what the culture of my profession tells me. I learnt that my family has to come before work, and that my children have to take precedence over the emotional hold of others. I thought that would be it; that I could put all those life-lessons in a neat file and take them out as and when I needed them. But it’s not as simple as that. I can feel the pressure rising again, and I have to face facts – I’ll probably reach melting point every year, for as long as I keep this impossible dynamic going. And I don’t want it. I don’t want to have to dig around for the last scrap of energy to get me through the working week. I don’t want to stay up until midnight most nights working, with no recognition, just more pressure, and more judgement. I don’t want to forfeit any kind of relaxation, couple, or ‘me’ time because of my job. I don’t want to feel anxious each weekend because the thought of Monday is so exhausting. I don’t want work to be such an overbearing pressure that it forces my children into second place.

E starts school next September, and despite my neurotic tendency to over-plan everything I’ve been too busy with work to visit any of his potential schools. The guilt. While I don’t know what school E will go to, I do know that that my assumption that life would get easier was naive. Life is going to get much more complicated. With E at school, OH and I at work, and Bean at nursery, we’ll have to somehow get the 4 of us to different places at different times each day. It’s a logistical nightmare, particularly on the nights that I have to stay late for parents evenings or meetings. If I’m lucky E’s school will have a breakfast club, and perhaps an after school club. If not I’ll have to find a child-minder and drop him off at the crack of dawn each morning. The thought of either scenario makes me want to weep. My big boy will be going to school, and unless I make huge changes, he’ll be making that transition on his own. That’s not what I want for him. I want to pick him up from school and to hear how his day has been. I don’t want to have to rush from work, knowing he’ll be too tired to tell me about the friends he’s made, or that he’s had a rough day.

We can’t afford for me not to work, and I’d be miserable without the stimulation and challenge of a career, but I know I need to be brave and consider, for the first time in years, an alternative to this crazy status quo. I’d love to write in some capacity, it would be the dream. Perhaps, if I had more time, I could make a proper go of this blog and earn a small income from it? People seem to like it still, despite me being so terrible at responding to comments (I’m so sorry!). Or maybe I could make something of my other blog? It’s driven by causes I’m passionate about, but I just haven’t had the time to invest in it. Maybe, eventually, I’ll write the book that has been gnawing away at me for years. Or perhaps there’s something else out there for me. Whatever I do, I know I’ll put everything I have into it.

I’ve been Instagramming the hell out of my dilemma for days and now I’m blogging about it, not to wallow in my own self-importance, but because I tend to brush aside my working mum woes, which just perpetuates the stress. I tell myself to get a grip and to focus on the holidays – the biggest perk of my job. But each summer I’m burnt out.

I won’t look back in 20 years and feel nostalgic about the hours I spent working, but unless I make big changes, the lost time with my boys will hit me hard. I could keep pretending this working mum juggle is no biggy, that my career is worth us all feeling depleted come November, but I’m terrified of the time that’s slipping through my fingers. My boys need me and I need them.

Littlee and Bean:  I’m a mummy and a blogger. Sometimes I’m all about the saccharine, other times I’m all about the rage. Motherhood doesn’t define me but right now it’s the biggest part of me. I record moments with my boys, from the sacred to the profane. I discuss how I’m trying to find that elusive work/life balance. And I reflect on how breaking free from fundamentalist religion and sexism has shifted my horizons and my psychology.

KIRSTIE ALLSOPP, CLASSISM, AND A DISTINCT LACK OF CHOICE by @boudledidge

 

 

It was obvious what was going to happen yesterday when the media started putting its own spin on Kirstie Allsopp’s comments made in an interview with Bryony Gordon for the Telegraph, coming up with headlines such as “Kirstie Allsopp tells young women: ditch university and have a baby at 27“. As everyone who bothered to read the original article knows, that’s not the extent of what she said – but why let that get in the way of calling her stupid, accusing her of wanting to take women back to the 1950s, and telling her where to stick her overprivileged expectations about home ownership and marriage?

 

According to the law of how women talk about lifestyle choices and how it’s played out in the media, Allsopp has, of course, been positioned as some sort of spokesperson for womankind, judging everyone who doesn’t want to live their life the way she thinks they should. And in their reactions to her comments, many of those who don’t agree with her have fallen into the trap that’s so obviously laid for us all, every single time some vaguely high-profile woman has something to say about women’s lives. Yesterday’s ‘debate’ became a defence of education and careers (and why not? No-one’s going to deny that they’re important things to defend), against the spectre of smug, twee, wealthy motherhood and financial dependency on men.

 

No-one likes to feel patronised, especially by someone they perceive to be out of touch with what most women think and want. I don’t think it’s correct to say that women are unaware of fertility issues, or that they are never talked about. There’s enough discussion of it about for us to know roughly at what point conceiving a child does begin to become much more of a struggle – if, indeed, we were all that fertile to begin with. But the fact is, even as most women know what they’d do about becoming a mother, in an ideal world, and even as they laugh at scaremongering headlines about ‘career women leaving it too late’, the years pass by quickly – years of trying to find a suitable partner, trying to save money, trying to get a job, or a better job, or a job you actually like.

 

What Allsopp did touch on – which I believe is important here – is the pressure on middle-class women to have the various aspects of their lives sorted out and adhering to an ideal before children get factored in. The degree, the wedding, the ‘life experiences’, the career, the foot on the property ladder. It was noticeable yesterday just how many people I witnessed saying “But NO-ONE can afford to buy a house/have a baby in their 20s!” And it’s certainly true that for many people, saving up for a house deposit is a terrifying thought. Wondering how to pay the bills while on maternity leave or afford to pay childcare is a terrifying thought. But it’s also true that many, many people become parents in their 20s (and earlier). Many, many people who aren’t privileged and whose parents haven’t bought them a flat somehow manage to become parents and just get on with it. Yesterday’s ‘debate’ had a particularly narrowly-focused and classist side to it – one that needs to look beyond non-debates over the ‘right time’ to have children or go to university or get married and question instead the way UK society places expectation on women about the ‘right’ way to live their lives in a country that makes it so difficult for them to do so, sneering at both those who choose not to go along with it and those who are happy about having achieved it.

 

Let’s leave aside, for a moment, the fact that becoming a mother at a young age so often gets you labelled as a ‘scrounger’, a ‘waste of potential’, or a statistic for the right to sneer at, and the fact that being a relatively young middle-class stay at home mother gets you labelled as ‘smug’ and ‘irritating’, and being a childfree woman in your 30s gets you labelled as ‘sad’ or ‘selfish’ – because these things are important, but they’re not the most difficult things.

 

Not when a particular ‘route’ of university followed by the career ladder followed by ‘settling down’ when you’re financially secure and have ‘really lived your life’ is the ‘desired’ one. Not when the cost of attending university has skyrocketed and the housing market in London and the south-east is ridiculous and there’s so much competition for jobs that people despair of ever getting the job they want or feeling financially secure at all. Not when maternity discrimination is rife, maternity leave difficult to imagine for those in difficult financial circumstances, and childcare here is the second most expensive in Europe. Not when the burden of care and everything child-related is still seen as a woman’s domain. Not when the voices of women who have had children at a young age, and working class women who have never had the luxury of expecting to get all their ducks in a row before making big decisions about their lives go unheard, as feminists who are quick to sneer at the idea of having children in their 20s without thinking how that looks to their sisters who already have children and are doing just fine. For all the cries of “Shut up Kirstie, can’t you see it’s all about choice?!” it’s evident that most of the time, it’s really, emphatically, not.

 

Yesterday wasn’t the first time in the last couple of years that I’ve been reminded of this piece on women in Iceland that appeared in the Guardian in 2011. I remember being struck at the time by the idea that being a young mum at university could be seen as totally normal, rather than a ‘challenge’ or something worthy of a newspaper feature as it might be in the UK. Writes Kira Cochrane:

 

“Parents here talk strongly of community support, of collective care for children, and there is no sense that motherhood precludes work or study, which effectively changes the whole structure of women’s lives.”

 

One woman, who we’re told had her first child at the age of 19, is quoted saying: “You are not forced to organise your life in the ‘college-work-maybe children later’ way”. Another woman explains how couples in Iceland don’t tend to think of parenthood in ‘How many children can we afford?’ terms. And with full-time childcare, at the time of publication, costing single mothers £70 and couples £118 a month (as opposed to an average cost of more than £700 a month for full-time working couples in the UK – much higher in London), you can see why.

 

Feminists do enough shouting about the perceived egalitarian joys of Scandinavia and I’m aware that no country is perfect. The fact remains that women in the UK find themselves supposedly liberated yet also restricted by what we’ve constructed as the ‘right’ way to do things, the ‘right’ way to live the capitalist dream and the ‘right’ way to experience life. For many, it’s a bind and an enormous source of anxiety. For many more, it’s unattainable and unrealistic, and by doing things their way they end up being derided and devalued by Kirstie Allsopp’s cheerleaders and detractors alike.

 

 

We Mixed Our Drinks I write about feminism, politics, the media and Christianity, with the odd post about something else completely unrelated thrown in. My politics are left-wing, I happily call myself a feminist and am also an evangelical Christian (n.b. evangelicalism is not the same as fundamentalism, fact fans). Building a bridge between feminism and Christianity is important to me; people from both camps often view the other with suspicion although I firmly believe that the two are compatible. I am passionate about gender equality in the church [@boudledidge]

My Daughter’s Too-Round Tummy at Learner Mother

(Cross-posted from Learner Mother)

I knew it would happen, one day. Perhaps naively, I wasn’t expecting it for another few years. I remember it sweeping through my peer group at secondary school, when we were 14 or so, and I remember how ill one of my fellow pupils became as a result, unable to pull away as the rest of us did. I know that as a girl, my daughter runs a higher risk than her brothers of this becoming an issue. But I also knew – or thought I did – that as she has only just turned seven, I had a little while before I needed to worry.

Wrong, wrong, wrong.

‘Mum, if I do lots of ex-tra-cise, will my tummy get smaller?’

‘What? Your tummy is fine as it is! Why on earth would you want it to be smaller?’

‘Well, it’s just that it looks a bit too round. You know. I’d like it not to stick out so much. So, should I do lots of ex-tra-cise? Or maybe just eat less?’

What the WHAT? Did I hear that right? It seems that I did. In fact she has actually broached this subject before, but in such a roundabout and convoluted way that I had managed to convince myself that I had misunderstood her meaning, and the conversation had turned to other things.

I’m gobsmacked. Though I am certainly guilty of passing on some of my own issues to my kids, weight loss and body shape has never featured highly on my worry list. I never, ever turn down food, or buy diet options. I am a member of a gym, and I run semi-regularly, but exercise for me is about keeping my mental health on track more than anything else. We don’t have a pair of scales in the house, not even because I think we shouldn’t, but because it wouldn’t occur to me to buy them!

I’m not unaware of the external influences surrounding her. The Weight Watchers ad that she saw in the cinema – before a screening of Moshi Monsters FFS. The fact that every time we go into a newsagent she can’t help but see magazine covers screaming out that some celeb or other has *shock* cellulite, or the latest way to a happy, healthy, THIN, you, is just inside these pages. The women she sees on TV – even on the kids’ channels – are all on the skinny side of healthy. She hears adults in her wider family talking about weight loss, she probably hears kids in the playground use the word ‘fat’ as an insult.

But I’d made the mistake of assuming that without any validation of all this tripe from us, she would disregard it. Big mistake. BIG mistake. I had completely underestimated just how pervasive the messages are. I mean, on an intellectual level, I know it. I’m aware of the cynicism which drives the ‘health’ food industry. I’m aware that women and their bodies are seen as public property, to be picked over and criticised in the drive to sell ever more magazines.  I’m aware of the media mis-representation of women and their shape. I know that the chance of me switching on the TV and seeing a woman larger than size 10 is pretty small. Even smaller if I’m hoping to see a woman larger than size 10 in a positive, aspirational role, as opposed to a downtrodden character in some soap or other.

I know all this, and yet I have ignored it. And worse, I have assumed that my daughter will be able to ignore it too, even though her childhood is surrounded by exponentially more of this shit than mine was, back in the in the days of only 3 TV channels, black and white newspapers and no internet.

It makes me absolutely furious that, short of locking her in a room for ever, I cannot protect her from any of this. I can hope that she follows my example of ignoring it all, I can say all the right things, I can give off the right messages, but it’s a tiny drop of sanity in seven seas of madness. And more to the point, I’m furious that I should have to protect her in the first place! Maternal instinct is supposed to kick in to save our young from real threats – presumably back in the day it came in useful when faced with a marauding woolly mammoth – imagine the reaction explaining this to our ancestral mothers now…

‘Right. So let me get this straight. WE gave birth in caves, foraged for food, killed animals with our bare hands, fought off predators, to rear our kids. YOU get to rear yours in a nice warm house, with no man-eating wild animals hanging around, and you don’t even need to catch your own food. WE worried about starvation. YOU are worrying about your daughter worrying about whether she is thin enough. PROGRESS, huh?’

How they would laugh. Because put like that, it sounds laughable. And you know what, it SHOULD be laughable. But the truth is, it’s not. It’s really not funny at all. It’s not funny when a seven year old pokes herself in the tummy because she thinks it is too round.

Not. Funny. At. All.

Learner Mother:  I blog about parenthood and a few other things (@learnermother) (Facebook) (Google +)

Motherhood is not for every woman by @LK_Pennington

Cross-posted from: Louise Pennington
Originally published: 22.06.14

Every single time I read this statement, I twitch. Because I do know what the author, in this case Melanie Holmes, means  but it’s inevitably from a place of privilege. I certainly agree with this statement:

Motherhood is not for every woman. And we shouldn’t assume that it is. It is unjust to view females’ lives through the lens of motherhood. Instead, we should view females through a wide‑angle lens.

Not all women want to be mothers, many become mothers by accident and some want to become mothers but are denied that through infertility or life. Not all mothers are “great” (however you want to define that) but most mothers are “good enough” – a statement which is as patronising as it can be true. Most mothers are doing their best whilst living in a culture which devalues and, frequently, hates women.

The problem I have with the “motherhood is not for every woman” rhetoric is encapsulated in Holmes’s concluding sentences:

When we speak about motherhood, let’s be realistic. No one can have it all. Some don’t want it all. And it doesn’t make them selfish, dysfunctional, or “less than.”

The problem is the phrase “have it all” is absolutely limited to  white, well-educated middle class women who are not disabled and nor do their children have disabilities who live in house free from domestic violence in an area where street violence is minimal and the schools and childcare are excellent. Many women living on this planet are working extreme hours living in absolute poverty with no access to education, healthcare or, in many cases, clean water. There is a vast chasm between white, ‘western’ women who have ‘it all’ (however you define that) and the reality of the lives of most women who become or want to become mothers.

It’s much easier to be a mother when you have money, healthcare, and sanitation. It is much easier to mother your children when they do not have profound disabilities in a culture with very little support for your child and basic access to education for your children, whilst guaranteed by law in the UK, rarely exists. It assumes that you have access to every single specialist that your child needs to support them. It ignores women who have disabilities themselves, who are most likely to be living in poverty. It ignores women living in poverty working 3 jobs to pay the rent whilst their child’s father refuses to pay child maintenance. It ignores the women who are experiencing domestic violence and are desperately trying to protect their children from a violent father and a social structure which blames the mother rather than holding the father responsible for his violence. It ignores women living in conflict zones: from gang-ridden areas of major cities to war zones across the world. Being a mother in an area where violence is the norm is incredibly difficult.

We’ve got to ensure that the “motherhood isn’t for everyone” and “motherhood isn’t the most difficult job in the world” rhetoric don’t end up silencing or erasing women for whom motherhood is indeed like being a soldier – esp when you live in a conflict zone from Iraq to any area where gang violence is endemic.

Motherhood would be easy if we didn’t live in a capitalist-patriarchy. It would be easy if male violence weren’t a real threat that all women live with. It would be easy if access to clean water were actually considered a basic human right and not a commodity to be sold. It would be easy if our government actually invested in our children with well-funded schools, libraries, parks, and healthcare instead of spending £3 billion year on nuclear submarines. It would be easy if mothering our children were valued.

The capitalist-patriarchy harms us all but it disproportionately affects Women of Colour, women with disabilities, and women living in poverty. Not all women want to be mothers, not all women can be mothers and not all women should be mothers. But, we need to recognise that mothering is made harder than it should be because of the culture in which we live.

We need to be realistic about the context in which we live.

International Women’s Day: Raising a boy in a sexist world by @Pasta_Patchwork

Cross-posted with permission from Pasta & Patchwork

 

You can find more from Pasta & Patchwork here.

The Triple Burden of Working Motherhood by @jesschivers

(written by Jessica Chivers)

Rummaging around my PC looking for an article I thought I’d written, I found something else I started writing several years ago and never quite finished before forgetting about it (that’s what happens when you have two children in nappies. They are now seven and five – tempus fugit). I give you an explanation of what the ‘triple burden’ of motherhood is and why it’s an issue.

The Triple Burden: Bad Behaviour, Broken Heating and a Burgeoning Workload?

I have turned to writing to stave off the tears prickling behind my eyes. For the second time this week I have lost my internet connection, my son is refusing to go to school, I have taken on more work than I can realistically do without losing sanity and jeopardising family relations and to top it off we have no hot water.

Let’s deal with these in turn. The first time I lost my connection to the information superhighway my husband had been digging in the garden close to the Virgin cables. It became apparent that we have lost touch when my computer screen fails to find red pesto on www.sainsburys.com and to cut a long story short we go without the internet (and our Sainsbury’s delivery) from Sunday – Tuesday. I am not impressed but I get over it, look for the silver lining (no pressure to respond to e-mails and no distraction from Twitter) and spend more time with my children. Today I am not prepared to get over it because I have a stack of work I need the internet for and I really can’t face another 2 hour ping-pong phone marathon with an offshore call centre. In short I am ready to weep.

It’s at this point I text my husband to have a small moan. I can see him in his comfy chair at his uncluttered desk getting on with the interesting, clever things he does, totally unaware of my plight. He does not know of the battles with our children this morning. He hasn’t had to coax our son to school; the son who was really, really excited about starting Reception on Tuesday but who now says he doesn’t like all the different teachers (he has two who job-share but now a third has appeared) so doesn’t want to go. And who can blame him when powerful captains of industry won’t entertain job-sharing? Neither has my husband had to drop his daughter at the childminder with tears in her eyes (I know she gets over this very quickly so am not dealing with guilt on that front as well this morning). And my husband certainly hasn’t had to worry about getting dirty school uniform washed or sort out what we’re eating for lunch and dinner.

Then I remember something I read whilst researching my book on working mothers: The Triple Burden – a phrase coined by academics. What I’ve told you about my life is the ‘triple burden’ in action – women earning and doing disproportionately more ‘childcare’ and domestic drudge than her male partner. I don’t claim to handle the triple burden without moaning or occasionally sniping at my husband but I do get on with it as so many women do all across the world every day of the year. To all of you I say, you deserve a medal and if we want to change the world, we need to shape the cultures of the places we work to help men feel able to be active fathers. If you’re curious, read my thoughts on fathers here: Paternity Perspectives – Businesses Benefit from Active Fathers.  Whilst you’re at it, you might appreciate this piece on how to ask for a job-share.

 

Jessica Chivers is the author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work! (Hay house, 2011). She is the founder and managing director of The Talent Keeper Specialists (www.talentkeepers.co.uk) and blogs at www.jessicachivers.com (@jesschivers)

There are free maternity comeback workshops available. The next one is Monday 30th June:

 

Birth Story by @Jo_Planet (Content Note for Birth Trauma)

(Cross-posted with permission from Opinionated Planet)

 

It’ll be Little Planet’s 11th birthday on Monday, and this afternoon, I was reminded about her birth. To be honest, I try not to think about it too much. ‘Serene’ ‘whale music’ ‘water birth’ or ‘natural birth’ all bring me out in hives when I think about it – they remind me of my (wonderful) midwife who used these words when suggesting I write a Birth Plan. I’m going to tell you the story – but I’ll start by saying if you’re pregnant, don’t read it. Please. If you’re squeamish, it’s probably not for you, either. If you follow me on twitter, you’ll know it had a happy ending, but I’m aware that many women who have a similar birth experience to me aren’t so fortunate. I send you my love.

I’ll start with how I actually got pregnant, (don’t worry, I’ll not be doing an impersonation of an embarrassed teacher!), seeing as I was adamant that I never wanted children of my own.

I met LPs dad in a pub when I was pissed, his friend was going out with my friend. He was funny, and we ended up dating. One weekend, he picked me up from work & had arranged a ‘romantic’ break to Torquay. (I know. The signs were all there!) He’d packed a bag, remembered my hair dryer and booked a B&B so off we went. We had a night out in Torquay, and who did we bump into?! Why yes, his FAMILY who were also there on holiday. Now, LP’s dad wasn’t the sharpest knife in the drawer, but his brother couldn’t cut warm butter. I got progressively more drunk in order to drown out their family idiocy, and it actually turned into a pretty good evening. When we got back to the B&B, condoms were missing from his ‘expert packing’. Just once can’t hurt, can it? It actually wasn’t even quite once, so I was pretty sure I’d be safe. <hollow laugh>

A week later, I was thoroughly bored of the ‘funny’ man I was dating, so I decided he had to go. I didn’t see him for a few days, and so I just left it to ‘cool off’. A week or so later, my period was late…. I bought a pregnancy test & asked him to come over so I could do the test. He arrived, following the obligatory ’4 pints with the lads’ and I’d already done the test, fuming in rage that he couldn’t be bothered to be present. (This turned out to be his MO, more on that another time).
I was pregnant. He, you may be surprised to know, was delighted. So delighted, that I didn’t hear from him for 2 weeks, as he was ‘celebrating’ impending fatherhood.
That’s enough about him now, needless to say, he’s not a huge feature in our lives.

Within a few days, I’d started to feel sick – really sick. I spent lots of time with my head over the loo, vomiting up anything and everything that I put into my body. Even water. Even ginger nut biscuits. Everything. When women have ‘morning’ sickness & tell you – don’t offer them solutions unless they ASK. They will have thought of everything, and probably tried it. Twice.

Four weeks later, I was hospitalised with hyperestemis, and spent a week on the gynae ward, on a drip. I was 10 weeks pregnant. ‘Not long now’, the people said. ‘It’ll settle down after 12 weeks’.
I vomited continually until I was 20 weeks pregnant – losing weight. I spent part of the 2nd trimester looking like I’d been dug up. Blooming, my arse.

At 21 weeks, I had a little bleed, so I went into hospital as instructed, where they declared my blood pressure to be ‘a little high’ and prescribed a week of bed rest. Lovely, I thought. I was off sick from work with the sickness anyway, being instructed to stay in bed was just what I needed.
Until I found it was a hospital bed. I wasn’t allowed out of bed unless I needed the toilet, or a shower.

January ended with me being allowed out of hospital, as they medicated me to control my blood pressure. As I came into February, I started to feel better – more energy, the sickness had settled to just the mornings & late evening, and I felt much better – including the development of a ‘bump’, which made me feel less of a malingerer! At last, I could wear my maternity jeans with pride! See – I’m not putting it on! I’m pregnant AND poorly!

I was put into consultant care, with appointments every fortnight – not much fun, and a wholly medicalised experience that I’d not planned for. Regardless, I attended my appointments, feeling utterly fed up at the way my pregnancy was progressing.

February brought good news and bad – I was made redundant, along with the rest of my team – 3 of whom were pregnant…. I knew I wanted a change of career & the redundancy payout gave me some financial freedom to decide which direction I might head in. I signed the forms & kissed my engineering career goodbye.

The middle of February brought another one of those consultant appointments. I was feeling better, less tired, but a bit breathless – all to be expected, I thought. As I was checked over by the midwife prior to seeing the doctor, she took my blood pressure.
‘Go & have a lie down, Joanne. Let’s see if we can get this BP down’.
The next reading was even higher, so they had another week of bed rest planned. This time, it was absolute bed rest. No wee breaks or trips to the shower for me! My goodness, bed rest is BORING.

March came – and I was allowed home! Yay! The deal was – I had a midwife visit the next morning. I would have agreed to anything, so fed up was I of Ward 14! My lovely community midwife visited the next morning, and took the dreaded blood pressure…. ‘Oh Joanne I’m really sorry. We can’t leave you at home with your BP so high’. I’d not even unpacked my bag, and I came to realise that this was the best way…

To save boring you with the minutiae, this happened a number of times – a few days in, a night at home, a midwife visit, a few days in, a night at home, a midwife visit. You get the picture. Until I got to 33 weeks – when I was IN UNTIL BABY ARRIVED. I had pre-eclampsia. My body was swollen, I had a face like the moon (and like thunder, much of the time!) and blood pressure so high that they thought it might kill me.

Bored, frustrated, hot (it was summer 2003 – bloody boiling!), bored, fed up, furious with the foetus, bored, raging with the consultant and far too knowledgeable about the midwifery off-shift antics!!

Finally the day arrived when my body could take no more. I was 37+3 – I was being induced as I had eclampsia. I saw the consultant, who breezed through the details of ‘induction’, telling me that my cervix would probably take a bit to ‘get going’.
I believe ‘get going’ is a euphemism for ‘need tearing open with metal probes, fingers, manky looking gel pessaries and brute force’. I called my birthing partner Kaz, and got settled in, ready to get birthing.

4pm on the Friday evening – we were off! A midwife tried to sweep my cervix, but it was ‘solid’. I knew this wasn’t good. In came the pessary, and I was sent for a walk. A long one. Round & round the hospital. And again. I had this conversation with a midwife on my way around the block:

M/W: how’s it going, Joanne?
Me: terrible. I’m not having any pains, or anything.
M/W: give it a chance!

Another turn around the block. Kaz bought me ice cream & we sat outside in the sunshine. Then the pains came. Big, long, hurty pains. We walked swiftly back to the ward, certain that this was It. I met the same midwife on the way back: ‘See Joanne?! You just needed to give it a chance!’

They lay me down to monitor the heartbeat, gave me two paracetamol and examined my cervix again. It was still impenetrable. They planned another pessary, then we’d be off to Delivery Suite. Easy peasy!

Ha. If only. 4 women arrived on the ward, all progressing much quicker than me – laying down to have the monitor on had slowed my contractions to a standstill. It was 8pm. The night shift came on, Delivery Suite was full, they decided to medicate me with a tamazepan to help me sleep, and they’d try again in the morning.

Saturday morning came, and I was determined I’d do it TODAY! I was thoroughly fed up & tearful, I just wanted it over and done with.

New pessary, new route around the hospital. I walked and walked and walked. And ate ice cream. It was still Hot.

Saturday evening, minor contractions, more paracetamol, more walking. My cervix was not considering thinning. On Saturday night, there were no beds on Delivery, so they followed the same routine. Sleep-inducing medication, try again tomorrow.

Sunday – this was the day I’d do It! Kaz was really bored by this time, but getting into her role as Birthing Partner. She called my mother to give her a progress update, only to find she was On Her Way. Now, my mother is a whole other story – I was getting this baby out as soon as I could, if she was arriving imminently!

The registrar decided they’d have ‘one more crack’ at opening my firmly closed cervix. I had another pessary and a bed on Delivery Suite. Oh – and my BP was 150/195. Time for action.

I was given another pessary, and some gel – and then I was put on a drip to ‘speed things up’. My slow progress & BP meant that I had to be constantly monitored, so I had to lay on my back. My contractions felt forced, painful, I was tired. My BP was fluctuating & the heartbeat monitor showed baby was a bit unhappy.

Sunday mid morning – here comes the consultant… On a sunny Sunday, I knew it was serious. ‘Break her waters’, he instructed. The midwife gave me the gas & air pipe. What do I need that for? I said, innocently. Breaking waters doesn’t hurt, does it? ‘Just use it if you need it, Joanne.

Legs akimbo, facing the door, the registrar crouched down between my thighs ‘I’ll try & be gentle Joanne, but use the gas if you need to’. The pain was agonising – I’m wincing now, as I type this. My cervix wasn’t dilated at all, so she forced open with some kind of implement that looked like a crochet hook, and tore at the amniotic sac. I screamed, sucked on the gas like my life depended on it, and the registrar, midwife & wall were covered in bloody mucus.

Kaz had been sitting quietly, in a very hot room, with me screaming & crying. She saw the blood, and made a dash for the door. She pulled it open, crashed into the wall, stood by the midwifery station trying to get out of the ward and fainted. Onto her face.

The door was wide open, as the team caring for me left and rushed to her side – she’d taken the weight of the fall on her cheek.

“Fucking hell you selfish bastard! Way to make everything about you!!” I screamed, as she was put onto a stretcher and taken to A&E.

The midwife patted my hand. ‘Don’t worry Joanne, we’ll soon have this baby out.’

Famous last words.

The shift changed again, and in came the Scary Midwife. I’m not going to name her, but my goodness I’m tempted. SM introduced herself as the senior midwife, and I didn’t like her one bit. My mother had arrived by this point, so I told her I wanted a new midwife. My mother loves nothing more than a ruckus, so off she went to ask.

“Joanne – you are High Risk. I haven’t got any suitably-qualified midwives available to look after you. You’ll have to manage with me” said SM, disapprovingly.

I burst into tears & said I was Going Home. She heard me, and came back to say there was another midwife available, who was recently qualified (see what she did there?!), and she’d supervise from a distance.

The new midwife was lovely, really put me at ease. She took my obs & decided I needed to see the doctor. In came the consultant, no doubt interrupted during Sunday lunch. Frowning, he looked at my file & said I had to have an epidural to bring my BP down. It was 185/215. I was in a bit of pain, but not much, and I really didn’t want to have to lay down constantly. But with my BP the way it was, they were worried I might have a stroke. The Anaesthetist arrived, the needle in my back did its job & off I went to sleep for an hour – with the sound of the snooker on in the background.

I was examined an hour or so later – still no movement in my blasted cervix, despite my waters being splashed all around the room. My contractions were stilted, baby was still a bit unhappy, but then perked up, so I was given some toast & told to ‘relax’.

Later in the evening, news came from A&E that Kaz had a fractured cheekbone, so it was just going to be me and my Mother.

Late evening came, and the registrar checked me over. Yet another check of the cervix, no change. Regular contractions, no pain due to epidural.
The registrar decided that she’d leave me overnight with no further interventions & they’d take me to theatre for a caesarean on the Monday morning at 8am. Because id had an epidural and was high risk, another lovelier midwife was to be my support overnight (I couldn’t be left alone as I’d had so many interventions & had an epidural in).

I was relieved and scared and fed up & exhausted – but I settled down with the snooker, had yet more toast & then settled for sleep. Lovelier midwife talked me down when I was stressed, and I settled to sleep.

I woke up with a start, when the BP machine attached to my arm wouldn’t stop inflating; the midwife checked me over and called for senior staff. It was 2am.

Lovelier midwife: I think we should get the Reg out to look again
Snr M/w: they’re leaving her, do you want to be responsible for getting her out of bed at 2am?!
LM: she needs to be seen. Heart rate is dropping & not recovering.
Sm: be it on your head… But it’s likely they’ll still leave her.
Me: I am HERE you know!

The registrar arrived at 2.45am – and by this time there was panic in the room. She examined me, and shouted ‘CRASH’. Now, I’d watched enough Casualty to know this wasn’t good. I’m shaking writing this – 11 years ago, and yet I have a dry mouth, racing heart, and a feeling of panic that takes me back into that room.

CRASH 2 CORD PROLAPSE the registrar shouted, as the room filled with people.

A nurse came towards me with a piece of paper – ‘sign this Joanne, you need an operation to save baby’s life’. I signed it, with nothing that resembled my actual signature!

A nurse came towards me, waving a razor. ‘DONT CUT ME OPEN WITH THAT!’, I yelled.. ‘I need to remove your pubic hair Joanne, keep still’

‘Drink this Joanne – it’ll stop you from being sick’. As my trolley was disconnected from all the equipment & pushed towards theatre, I vomited up the stuff that would ‘stop me being sick’. All over the only man in the Crash Team. Go me 😉

We arrived in theatre and it was bright – so bright.

‘Joanne – breathe in through this mask’

‘Is my baby going to die?’

‘We’re going to do our best to make sure you’re both ok’

‘This is iodine Joanne I’m going to paint it onto your tummy’

‘DON’T CUT ME I CAN FEEL WHAT YOU’RE DOING. DON’T CUT ME YET. DON’T CUT ME. IS MY BABY GOING TO DIE?’

‘We’re putting you to sleep Joanne, your arm will go cold, count backwards from 10′

’10, 9, 8…’

When I woke up, they told me I’d had a baby girl at 3.22am but she was ‘a bit cold’ so they had her in a hot cot. I had been sure I was having a boy (call it my mothering instinct!), so the poor little 5lb 15oz mite didn’t even have a name.

We had skin to skin, and I fed her, then we slept. For hours and hours.

I woke up and asked what had happened – I have to be factual here because it’s still so scary. This is an excerpt from my notes.

Emergency c-section.
GA administered – suspected inter-uterine death.
<drug info>
Apgar 1 @ 1 minute
H/r 40
O2 & compressions
Nil reflex
blue

Apgar 2 @ 3 mins
02
H/r 60

Apgar 5 @ 7 mins
02
H/r 80

Apgar 6 @ 10 mins
(Etc)

Apgar 7 @ 12 mins
(Etc)

Apgar 9 @ 15 mins
(Etc)

She recovered, and so did I – after a 2 year bout of PND. She was well, and although the paediatrics team warned me that she might develop differently to her peers, she met her milestones as expected and is as healthy as I could wish for.

I started writing this piece because she’s 11 on Monday, and I’m finally able to write about our shared trauma. Recovering from her birth took me a lot longer than I expected. Although I’m still shaking.

Phew. I think I’ll put the kettle on!

Opinionated Planet: a radical feminist blog by women for women on male violence, women-only spaces and sports

Motherhood is a Feminist Issue by @Firewomon

(Cross-posted with permission from FireWomon)

 

I keep reading about how much trouble kids are. About how they disrupt your life, about how you’ll never sleep again for the rest of your life, about how you’ll be knee-deep in baby milk, vomit and shitty nappies. And I keep thinking: it isn’t actually that bad.

I have two children a few years apart so I’ve done the shitty nappy thing twice over. They have each vomited a few times, I suppose. For about six months the first one woke me every night; with the second one, it was every night for three years. Yes, I often got tired – I still do. I have always been a single parent so have never had anyone to share the load with. However, it just isn’t that bad.

I am by no means perfect. I am selfish. I would much rather read a good book, or mess about on the internet, or sleep, than I would play a game with my kids. I leave the playing games (mostly) for them to do together. Before now, I’ve thrown lovingly-crafted Play-Doh in the bin because I couldn’t be doing with the mess. I once took the batteries out of a toy guitar because the noise it made was driving me up the wall (my child strummed it mournfully and I told her it was broken). I don’t read a bedtime story every night, because sometimes at the end of a long day I just can’t be arsed. I really can’t. Are my kids going to grow up emotionally scarred because I didn’t read to them every night? I doubt it.

Same goes for bathtime. There are evenings when one of them has needed their hair washing and I, well, just couldn’t be arsed with the bathtime rigmarole. There are parents at the school who claim to bath their kids every single night. We’ve never been a bath-every-night kind of household. Does this make me a bad parent? No, I don’t think so. Doubtless some would disagree.

Maybe you’re reading this now thinking I have a somewhat laissez-faire attitude to parenting. I wish I could say I have, because that sounds rather cool. I don’t. In some ways, I am super-strict. For example, my kids sit down in restaurants. They have never, ever been allowed to run around (unless they’re in a playground or similar). I just wouldn’t allow it. That’s just me. I bumped into an acquaintance recently and her two kids were rolling around on the floor of Tesco, wrestling each other. She seemed completely unperturbed by it – but then, perhaps she ensures her children have a bath each night, regular as clockwork? I don’t know.

Similarly, I am super-strict (and an enthusiastic helper) when it comes to homework. This interests me, see. Reading fucking Topsy & Tim doesn’t. I am relishing my eldest choosing her GCSEs. I can’t wait to discuss this with her, to help her, to provide advice, guidance, support. However, what she would like – I mean really, really like – would be for us to go to Alton Towers over the Easter break. I won’t do it, no matter how much she wants it. I can’t be arsed. Crowds, queuing, other families? – sod that for a game of soldiers. I’d rather scoop out my own eyeball with a spoon (yes, I watched Utopia) than go to Alton Towers, especially during school holidays. In fact, I’d rather take the kids out of school one day to take them to Alton Towers, under the pretext of ‘sickness’, just so we could go there when other families/kids were less likely to be there. Oh, and yes, I have done this before too, more than once – phoned in sick for one or more kid when I actually just couldn’t be arsed getting out of bed to take them to school. Maybe I was sick myself, or tired, or on occasion, hungover. Before you all start phoning Social Services, more often than not they are in school. But sometimes I’ve pretended they were sick when they weren’t. Yep.

There is no doubt that becoming a parent changes your life irrevocably. Sometimes, I entertain myself with the ‘I wonder?’ game, as in ‘I wonder what my life would be like now if I’d never had kids?’. Well, I would still have a spare bedroom. Heck, I would still have the biggest bedroom. I would have much less washing and ironing to do. I wouldn’t have (as I glance about me now) miniature plastic Smurfs lined up on the coffee table, five stuffed toys sitting on my living room floor and Doc McStuffins on the fucking telly. I wouldn’t be typing this in between trips to the toastie maker (toasted cheese/ham sandwiches – Nigella, eat your heart out). In fact, I wouldn’t be typing this at all, because if I wasn’t a parent I’d be doing something less boring instead (yes, I watched Why Don’t You?). Quite possibly, I’d still be in bed. Quite possibly, I’d have someone in that bed with me.

If I hadn’t had kids I would have much less to worry about. I wouldn’t spend half my life worrying myself shitless about some terrible accident befalling them (I shudder even typing that), or about some shit doing something shitty to them. I love them so violently it scares me, so much so that I often envy people without kids, people without that worry. So much so that – and here, I am going to upset and/or offend a few people – if I had the choice, that is, if I could have seen into the future and see how very much I would love and thus worryendlessly about these little people, I would probably choose to remain child-free. There, I’ve said it. I don’t want rid of them – far from it, there’s no turning my feelings around now – but if I could go back X number of years, before I got pregnant with the first, and somehow known how much the thought of one of them being hurt would distress and panic me, I would probably have chosen never to have known them. Probably.

Feminists, of course, have long critiqued motherhood. Undoubtedly, it can be physically and emotionally draining (but not always – at least not in my experience). Undoubtedly, it is for the most part a thankless task (but not totally, in my experience – no.2 has just thanked me for her toastie, after all). I understand feminists who, putting women first, point out that motherhood involves lots of hard slog on the part of a woman for comparatively little gain. What I do not understand is why some feminists treat mothers with such disdain, or refer to their offspring as ‘little brats’ (or similar). One woman’s ‘little brat’ is another woman’s baby, and she has toiled long and hard over that baby. Even worse, perhaps, is the practise of some self-proclaimed feminists to refer to a mother as a ‘breeder’. Calling another woman a ‘breeder’ is so anti-feminist that I really don’t see why I should waste my time trying to educate such a woman; and yet, here I am, writing this. Similarly, as a lesbian, sometimes I meet other lesbians who, as soon as they know I am a mother, literally do not want to know me. It’s as though I am letting the side down in some way, by having children. A faux lesbian and a faux feminist.

It is possible to be a radical lesbian feminist and to be a mum – look, here I am! *waves* (disclaimer – there are more of us, of course). In online discussion groups on Facebook and similar, feminists are allowed – nay, encouraged – by other feminists to discuss their collection of animals/insects, but try discussing children and you’ll be met with a brick wall. I don’t bore anyone with tales of how I don’t bath my children (apart from here but, hey, you’re still reading, aren’t you?) but now and again I mention them. Of course I do – sometimes I can go entire days when they’re the only other human beings I speak to – but I always run the risk of being called a ‘breeder’, or being put down in some similar way by a woman who, having chosen to remain child-free, can’t abide another woman having made her own decisions about her own life.

That said, there are many of us radical feminists with children who, through the internet, have been able to connect. Motherhood can be isolating, especially single motherhood (and most of the radical feminist mothers I know are single). You can leave your cat or your stick insect home alone for the evening while you go out and get wellied; not so with children. The internet has given us the opportunity to connect with other mothers, and thus have some semblance of a social life, in a way not previously possible. One such woman, feeling as keenly as I do this problem of not being able to discuss motherhood in feminist circles, has started a blog Motherhood is a Feminist Issue. On this blog, mothers who are also feminists and sometimes lesbians, will be able to come together to write about and discuss our experiences of motherhood. You can take part just a little or not at all, or you can become fully involved, without worrying about discussing something which doesn’t affect the woman you’re discussing it with. You can write a piece for the blog and/or join in with the comments section(s), as and where you like. Motherhood is a unique experience. It is nice to have somewhere to discuss that, without worrying about boring anyone shitless. We don’t want any special treatment just for being mothers, but nor do we want to be outcast just for being mothers. Motherhood is a feminist issue because it is of course unique to women.

I need to end this piece by saying I’ve just looked around and half a cheese-and-ham toastie is sitting forlornly on the plate (I told you I was no Nigella). Still, Doc McStuffins has been replaced with Dr Who so it’s not all bad. Bathtime tonight? *looks at watch* Nah. I really can’t be arsed.

 

Firewomon: A Radical Feminist Blog [@Firewomon]

Teenage Mothers, Domestic Violence and Shame by @God_loves_women

(Written for A Room of our Own: A Feminist/ Womanist Network by @God_loves_women)

I have a confession to make. I have been totally prejudiced against teenage mums. As a young person myself I imagined they were seeking a council flat, had no aspirations and were lazy and from families who had obviously not cared about them. The usually smoked, abandoning their children wherever possible to go out clubbing. They didn’t know how to discipline their children, were incompetent and slept with lots of different men.

All of them except me of course. I was 17 when I found out I was pregnant and had my daughter when I was 18 years old. I refused to go to any “young mum” groups, because I wasn’t like “them”. Of those least likely to get pregnant or even have sex before marriage I ranked probably highest in my school year. I’d met the father at a friend’s party; he was dangerously charming and within six months he had gained total control of me, including his convincing me not to use contraception. Having a Catholic secondary education (contraception is evil) and a Daily Mail reading mother (contraception gives you cancer) contributed to the ease with which I accepted his view that “it’s not real without a risk”.

I married him within months of giving birth. Growing up as a strongly committed Christian left me feeling marriage was the only way forward. Plus the need to not be “one of those teen mums” left me feeling I must get married. At least then I could pull the “marriage card” (or ring as it’s usually known), “See, world! I’m not like the others, I’m married.”

My ex-husband destroyed me; sexual and emotional abuse left barely able to function, constant undermining of my parenting and ongoing sexually relationships with other people. We were both 19 when his abuse of teenage girls led to him being put on the sex offenders register for five years. Yet I couldn’t leave him. Alongside the reality of trauma bonding and his devaluing of me to the point I knew I was worthless; there was a deeply held fear of becoming “one of those teenage mums”. I needed to stay with him otherwise I would be failure; because fundamentally that’s clearly what I thought all those other teenage mothers were.

At 21 I escaped when my son was born three months premature after my ex-husband assaulted me. My son’s birth and subsequent hospital treatment led to me and my daughter living in a hospital over an hour from our home town. This forced separation and my son’s ongoing treatment left me knowing I must speak out, so I reported him to the Police and legal proceedings began.

Many of the doctors and nurses who cared for my son would ask, “Are you on your own?” “Where is the father?” I couldn’t only say, “Yes, I’m on my own. I’m no longer with his father.” I always had to quantify it with, “His father is a registered sex offender.” I had a premature child who frequently almost died, I had a traumatised toddler and we lived in a hospital an hour from anyone we knew and yet I desperately didn’t want anyone thinking I was one of those teenage mums.

I’m now 29, my children are 11 and 8.  They are amazing, intelligent, creative and kind people (I know I’m biased, but still…).  I married my now husband (the good one) over six years ago.  The journey I have walked, sometimes crawled and sometimes been dragged through has and continues to be full of wonder, the mundane, of brokenness and beauty.  Through much counselling, prayer and many miracles I am still standing.  I am now proud to say I was a teenage mother.  I relish the opportunity to stand with all those who I once othered, to challenge anyone who tries to talk about those teenage mothers.  I was wrong.

I stayed with an abuser for four years in part because of the messages I received.  I was conditioned by the media, society and comments from adults I knew to think that those teenage mums were less than fully human.  Media outlets, writers, politicians, schools, musicians, business leaders, each and every person, has a responsibility to consider the consequences of how our prejudices may impact others.  Because there is no those, there are only us.

 

God loves women: A blog sharing my love of God, the love He has for women and my frustration that the Church often doesn’t realise this (@God_loves_women)

The Cobblestone Path – raising a child with a disability

 

What does it mean to raise a child with special needs?

 

The short answer is that it is a lot of hard work. But you knew that already anyway. For me, it has involved a lot of soul searching, career plans that have had to change, aspirations forgotten. Let’s not beat about the bush. We all know that in the vast majority of cases the onus is on the mother to change her life and take on responsibilities of caring for children, and in the case of special needs, doubly so.

You may think that I am fortunate in that the nature of my work means that I can work from home. However, in reality, it is next to impossible to work while caring for my son. I spent the first three years of his life taking him to appointments, to physiotherapy, to occupational therapy, to see the paediatric psychiatrist, to see the neurologist, to the mental health centre, and so on. I took advice from the physiotherapist and performed the exercises with my son myself every day. It was a lot of hard work, and it affected me physically as well as mentally. I started to lose a lot of weight, and people would congratulate me and ask me if I had been on a diet and what my secret was – something which I found quite ridiculous, as I was already thin to begin with, and losing weight was starting to make me look ill. What does this say about our society, I wondered at times, that here I am showing the signs of the strain taking its toll and affecting my health, and all people can do is comment on how nice it is for me to get even thinner! It isn’t nice, and it made me worry about my own health too, on top of all the worry about my son!

Perhaps you are wondering where my son’s father is in all of this. Well, he was there. But he went out to work every day, and caring for my son, doing his physiotherapy, was not something that could just wait until the evenings. Of necessity, I did the lion’s share. I thought deeply about this. Was this unfeminist of me? Should I have tried to arrange our lives differently to give my husband a greater share of the care work, and myself more chance at employment? No, I concluded, it was simply the best arrangement for us. Simple biology decided matters in the beginning: my husband could not breastfeed the children. Far better for me to take the time I needed with them, and for him to enable that by continuing to work as normal.

So what about now? My youngest son – I have two other children who do not have any special needs – has now started school. You might think that this is an opportunity for me to breathe a sigh of relief and relax a bit. You would be wrong. The first few months presented a constant string of problems – dealing with special needs in a school environment is not a simple matter, even when the child is enrolled in a special integration unit. I went back and forth from the school, I took in things from home to help my son settle in, I donated books and toys to the integration unit, I made suggestions to the teacher, who clearly didn’t know what to do with my son. I took him to educational assessment committees, to specialists, and at every turn I had to hear that I was making a mistake, that I did not have my son’s best interests at heart, that I was doing it all wrong. I researched matters myself and went against the advice of the professionals to do what I thought best for my son, both in his daily life at home and with regards to his education.

Not once has anyone suggested to my husband that he is doing it wrong. Not once has he been told that he is making a mistake. In fact, on one occasion, when we went to the educational assessment committee, the chairperson turned to my husband, after I had explained our position, and said, right in front of me: “Do you really agree with her on this? Perhaps you see it differently?” I had already made it clear when I was speaking that we had agreed on those points together. Conversely, when my husband did the talking, no one questioned what he had to say.

So, I have told you about the hard work and the appointments, the insults from professionals who are supposed to be helping you. But that is not all life is when bringing up a child with special needs. It is also about laughing and having fun with my son, about playing with him, teaching him nursery rhymes, singing songs to him, all the normal things you do with your children. He may have special needs, but he is still just a little boy who wants to play! I may never see him write his own name, or even hear him say it, but he has a beautiful smile that melts my heart, his infectious giggle makes me laugh too, and seeing him wave his arms in time to music, especially after all the physiotherapy that has got him to this stage, brings tears to my eyes. He plays pretend games and likes to throw a ball or play on a swing, laughing away as he swings to and fro.

That is why I call it a cobblestone path – it is a bumpy ride, but the road goes on, we are not standing still.

I don’t deny that it is hard work. I will not claim that it is all plain sailing. But it has its rewards, and I do not begrudge a moment of it.

 

The Cobblestone Path

The fiddler takes a bow before performing,

She dances onto the cobbles,

Drawing the bow lightly over the strings.

She flits from pebble to pebble, playing gently.

A soft melody hums in our ears and we lean towards it.

With quick strokes, the fiddler plays a discordant sound,

But we are strangely drawn in,

Onto the unsure footing of the cobbles.

The music beckons us with its unevenness,

We follow it over the rough stones.

The fiddler plays faster now, a wildness to her tune,

And dances over the stones before us,

Leading us ever forward,

To tantalising promises of more,

Sounds of sweet music ringing in our ears,

While we stumble on the cobbles in her wake.

It’s only 9 months to save a life, by @Herbeatittude

(Cross-posted with permission from Herbs & Hags: Meanderings of a Hag)

“It’s only nine months! Isn’t that worth it, to save a human life?”

So goes the argument made by those idiots who are in favour of forcing girls and women who get pregnant with an unplanned foetus, to continue with the pregancy and give birth to it against their will.

As anyone who has actually been pregnant knows, it’s not 9 months, it’s 40 weeks, which is actually nearer to 10 months. The reason tradition has it as 9 months, is because in the old days most women didn’t know they were pregnant in those first few weeks.

There is a modern myth abroad which declares that “being pregnant is not an illness” and that it is in fact, nearly exactly like not being pregnant. Again, as anyone who knows anything about it knows, that is simply not true. However for many of us, we have NO IDEA, not a single conception, of just how unlike not being pregnant, being pregnant can be, unless we ourselves experience some of the risks and side-effects or know someone who has done so.

I did a little bit of research on this. Oh all right, I didn’t, I went on Mumsnet and asked them – this should not be taken as a comprehensive list or a serious meta-analysis. It’s just a list of things people on Mumsnet have had happen to them as a direct or indirect result of being pregnant and giving birth. Some of them are relatively trivial, some are vair serious indeed, like Death. Anyway it’s my starting point for a list of potential risks that women undergo, when they decide to keep a pregnancy. Or when somebody decides they have to keep it whether they want to or not. When you see it written down, you wonder how much hatred pro-forced-birthers have for women. For the real hardliners, none of this means anything, they hate us anyway and don’t believe our lives have any value. But for the thoughtless knee-jerkers who aren’t that committed to the forced-birth arguments, this list might be a useful thing to contemplate. Anyone wanting to add anything, I’d be interested to hear from you.

Anaemia
Anal fissures
Anal incontinence
Anaesthetic mistakes leading to permanent disability.
Asthma – 1/3 of women who have it finds that pregancy makes it worse.
Back pain
Bell’s palsy
Blindess (tearing retina during delivery because of pressure of pushing)
C-sec wounds getting infected, haematomas associated with C-sec wounds, keloid scarring.
Carpal tunnel syndrome
Cascade renal colic
Change in digestive system
Change of body shape – breasts and hips do not return to form prior to pregnancy. There are implications for psychological harm there alone.
Coccyx problems – some women have difficulty sitting down forever after.
Constant nausea sometimes for the whole 10 months
Cutting of bladder during caesarean
Death
Decreased suppleness (particularly bad for women who do sport).
Dental problems
De Quervain’s Syndrome or Mother’s Thumb?
Diarrhea and vomiting lasting for 2 or 3 years after the pregnancy.
Eclampsia
Eczema can be made worse
Episiotomy wounds can open up
Eye prescription changes.
Fistula
Gestational Diabetes. About 8% of women are affected by this.
Guilt and self-loathing from giving child up or not bonding if kept.
Gum disease and wobbly teeth
Haemorrhage
Hair colour change
Hands and/ or feet can grow and not go back to their old size.
Hernia
Hip pain
Hormonal effects on pre-existing conditions ie psoriasis, acne, etc
Hyperemesis, with severe dehydration
Increased risk of gallstones and kidney stones
Increased risk of osteoporosis
Increased risk 12 months post partum for Pelvic Inflammatory Disease (inflammation of the uterus, ovaries, FTs) – can leave permanent scarring, cause infertility, ectopic pregnancy etc
Iritis (a horrid auto-immune inflammation of the iris, which leads to blindness if not treated quickly and efficiently. A sudden change in hormones can cause an attack).
Less intense orgasms
Lochia can be retained, causing distention of the uterus.
Lowering of the immune system
Mastitis
Memory implications
Mental Health conditions are often exacerbated by pregnancy.
Months of sleeplessness. Sleep deprivation recognised as serious health risk by most medical authorities in the world.
Muscle tears
Multiple Sclerosis has been known to be triggered in pregnancy
Negative impact on finances that will affect mental health, lifestyle, access to jobs.
Nerve damage
Nipple thrush causing nipples to permanently invert. Leading to lack of confidence, lowered libido etc.
OCD can be triggered/get worse post partum.
Pain of the milk coming in.
Permanent increase in blood pressure
Piles
Plantar fasciitis
PND
Post partum hyperthyroidism, leading to the need to take thyroxine for the rest of ones days.
Post-birth complications. Poor stitching followed by repair operation months later.
Post natal psychosis
Pre-eclampsia
Pre-existing conditions like Arthritis, need drugs to control them. These drugs are harmful to foetuses and need to be stopped, leading to the woman with arthritis ending up in constant pain for years, possibly life and needing to use a wheelchair.
Pre-natal anxiety and depression is generally not discussed but common.
Prolapse
PTSD
Restless Leg Syndrome
Scarring
Sexual problems (libido, sensations)
Skin changes like patches, spots etc. Sometimes patches never clear up.
Snoring and sleep apnoea
Spinal migraine
Sore and painful joints, sometimes lasting months or years.
SPD – a syndrome which can lead to serious disability and pain, no cure.
Splitting of chest muscles (can’t remember term, but colleague could fit a fist in the space between her muscles)
Tears into urethra and clitoris as well as vaginal and anal.
Thrombosis- deep vein and superficial vein
Tokophobia
Urinary Incontinence – stress incontinence, urge incontinence and both. This would be considered a major effect in a man, but for some reason women are supposed not to mind. This can lead to lack of confidence, depression etc. (Which since this is how patriarchy likes women to feel, should possibly be seen as not a side effect at all, but a lovely womanly enhancement.)
Varicose veins
Women who suffer Gestational Diabetes are more likely than average to develop diabetes later on in life. Sometimes gestational diabetes will be permanent.

Only 9 months eh? I don’t think so. Now imagine telling a man that he should risk any of the more serious things on this list (or even some of the less serious things), in order to save the life of a child, because human life.

It just wouldn’t happen would it? Because unlike women, men matter.

HerbsandHags: Meanderings of a Hag: I have no fixed subject matter for my blog, it tends to be whatever grabs me, but for some reason lots that has grabbed me has been about rape or other male violence. It’s all with a feminist slant though. [@Herbeatittude]

My Feminist Parenting by @HisFeministMama

Following my recent personal experience with the great and knowledgeable trolls of internetlandia, I feel the need to share some information. It appears that when people use the term “Feminist Parenting” they attach a whole world of incorrect and oppressive misinformation.

To begin, and this must be the vein through which any further discussion on Feminist Parenting runs,Feminist Parenting is different in every situation, every family and within every parent-child bond (arguably, parenting can be further sliced as being different with every interaction we have with our children or ourselves as parents). But, in essence: my feminist parenting is just that. It is mine.

In our house, Feminist Parenting means:

1. we actively sought out research and information about birth, and did what we could to ensure that my choices were communicated throughout the experience.

2. my partner supported me throughout pregnancy and childbirth. He respected the choices and decisions that I made about my body.

3. when our son was born we began parenting gently and with mindful attachment. I have discussed before the connections between attachment and feminism. Read bell hooks’ Feminism is for Everybody or connect with other Attached-Feminist parents to learn more.

4. despite my decision to leave my job as a teacher, we view my work as a parent equal, and as valuable as the work my son’s father does in his paid employment.

5. I strive to teach my son about oppression when it is appropriate and contextual. Got that? Being a Feminist Parent has zero to do with dogma or indoctrination. Everything we do is contextual and developmentally appropriate. Example: If my son wants to play with a doll he does. Because his sex assignment should have zero to do with what toys he plays with, books he reads or activities he is involved in. If he wants to play with trucks (and trust me, he does) he should and will.

6. my partner and I practice shared parenting. Despite working outside the home, Aodhan’s father is 100% involved in raising and parenting our child. We celebrate fatherhood as being caring and nurturing and really no different than mothering (minus the biologically ability to breastfeed and birth – if these are possible or chosen)

7. we welcome into our family a worldview that is inclusive, loving of all and intersectional. I strive to ensure that my child sees a reality that isn’t limited to our cis-heteronormative, white world. I do this through story-telling, songs and play. This does matter.

8. we practice gentle discipline. We do this not only because it is our instinct, but because we believe the research around gentle discipline, and as teachers we have first hand experience: we know that through kindness, respect and communication, people come to much better understandings. As a Feminist, I am also critical of any type of oppressive control, and thus work against it in the parenting that I do.

9. I neither hide, nor excuse my Feminist beliefs in family discussions. Aodhan’s father is an ally and celebrates me as the Feminist I am. He is proud to be raising another ally.

10. I continue to read, learn from, and connect with other Feminists – both parents and child-free.

Perhaps the most obvious element of Feminist Parenting is that I am a Feminist. I believe in discovering a world where we are free of rape-culture and where there are no more barriers, glass ceilings or ‘in spite ofs’. I believe in a time when people are loved and supported for the unique and wonderful people that they are. I raise Aodhan the way that I do because I want him to care deeply for others – no matter who they are or where they have come from. I raise Aodhan the way that I do because I want Aodhan to love HIMSELF, no matter who he is, who he loves or what choices he makes in his life. I do not ask that Aodhan be a Feminist, nor that he be an ally. I ask that he grow up in a home where love is paramount and acceptance is vital.

That is my Feminist Parenting. It isn’t perfect, and neither are we.

 

Our Feminist Playschool: feminist discussion while mothering tweets as @HisFeministMama

Is it the beginning of the end for our family relationship with cbeebies??!!

Cross-posted with permission from Mum in a daydream

My youngest child, I’ve noticed recently,  rarely asks to watch cbeebies anymore.

This is going to be a very long,  drawn out, heart wrenching goodbye…….. for me!!

When biggest boy was little we didn’t have the actual cbeebies channel, freeview wasn’t a necessity back then. Also I had first child syndrome in those days and was never going to be the kind of mum who sat her child in front of the TV. As it turned out cbeebies has been such a good babysitter over the last 10 years I probably should buy it a pizza and slip it a tenner!

The different children have all had their favourites. Biggest boy had a fondness for The Shiny Show and Rubberdubbas. Though when he was younger the tweenies was his absolute favourite. He had a particular DVD (or was it video eeekk) which I reckon to this day I could probably recite word for word the hammering it got. Don’t judge me I had 3 children under 3 at one point. I was tired often.

Littlest boy was Bob the Builder obssessed. Even now at the age of 11 he’s a collecter, Damn you Match Attax. I believe it started with the Bob vehicles though. Every Christmas and birthday there would be great excitement for these toys which I can vouch  were the most played with toys to this date.

For biggest girl it was all about Charlie and Lola. I believe she gained all inspiration for being an annoying, demanding little sister from this show. She does it well I have to say. Though she had to adapt the technique to get right under her brothers skin as she’s gotten older, I believe she still at times is able to channel her inner Lola in a way I, as a female, can only stand back and envy.

Littlest girl though and I have had more time to peruse the delights of cbeebies together. By the time she came along the elder kids were in school so I had way more free time and we always scheduled in an hour of cbeebies on return from the school run. We’ve seen Night Garden, Postman Pat and Chris and Pui live (Chris and Pui were exceptionally good)

Now though, the only programmes she really asks to watch are Old Jack,  Topsy and Tim and Katie Morag. This week though, she’s been into the Stargazing programme so much that biggest boy is trying to convince her to watch Brian Cox with him!

We’re still happy to snuggle with beebies when tired or off colour.. I hope we’ve got a little while longer with Mr Bloom and his friends . I’m not ready to leave them behind just yet.

So thanks to Sue and Chris for giving for allowing a pregnant woman half hour here and there to slouch on the sofa. Thanks to Nicole and Chris for entertaining my toddlers for a while and allowing me to feed a newborn unnagged. Thanks to Sarah-Jane and Justin who allowed a bit of housework to be done from time to time. Thanks to Cerrie and Alex for the days littlest girl and I had the best singsongs to the summer/winter songs,and the memory I will always treasure of eldest three singing the bedtime song to littlest girl every night before bed. To Katy who littlest girl adores and had great fun going to watch in the Trafford Centre (obviously daddy got that gig as,sshhh don’t tell anyone, but he’s a bit in love with her himself!!) and who inspired a little girls love of cooking so much, it’s the food channel that she favours now.

It’s been a lovely 10 years, and even when little girl has totally left you all behind, I do have a baby nephew so will be popping by from time to time… Purely for research purposes to gain auntie points of course!!

Follow me on Twitter @daydreamer_mum