Train Tracks of Doom

Cross-posted from: Never Trust a Jellyfish
Originally published: 05.11.15

Fifteen minutes from where we live, there run a set of train tracks.

Not special train tracks, nor particularly busy train tracks, just normal, run-of-the-mill train tracks like thousands of others all over the country. Yet those train tracks manage to give me panic attacks every time they announce their existence.
Read more Train Tracks of Doom


Cross-posted from: The Coven Speaks
Originally published: 02.06.15

My son was two when I first gained an interest in feminism, and initially, I found myself keeping him out of the conversations that arose from a subject that has come to be very close to my heart. Over the past five years, however, matters have shifted and I have found that feminism hasn’t so much become an occasional conversation for us, but one that heavily underlies a way of life.

I rarely blog about my son for several reasons. The main being that the voice of male children so often over-rides that of female children in feminist circles. Even now, these words will not be entirely my own, but touched with the thoughts of a seven year old. The reason, this time, being that I feel it’s important to discuss why feminism – along with other forms of equality and liberation – is a discussion that our children need to be included in. Regularly.

What’s The Big Deal With Skin-To-Skin?

Cross-posted from: Your Journey Doula
Originally published: 12.03.15

Skin-to-skin has become a birth plan buzzword. The term has penetrated birthspeak and, in my view, is at risk of being treated as a trend that is only paid lip service in the immediate postpartum period. I did just this with my first child! I knew skin-to-skin was something I *should* be doing but didn’t really know why or what it should look like.

I mention skin-to-skin A LOT in my professional and voluntary  practise supporting mothers, the evidence shows it is something of a panacea for mother-baby pairs. I wonder if it is sometimes overlooked as a suggestion because it is such a simple idea; putting your bare skin to your baby’s bare skin is not difficult, radical or revolutionary.

Read more What’s The Big Deal With Skin-To-Skin?

I Couldn’t Love My Post Pregnancy Body by @rupandemehta

Cross-posted from: Rupande Mehta
Originally published: 21.07.15

Last week I saw a picture of a musician mother’s tummy from South Carolina on my Facebook feed. Tired of being told that she has the perfect body, she wrote,

“Everyone always compliments me on how I have such a ‘perfect’ body after 4 kids. I decided to upload this pic and leave my belly ‘unedited’ and ‘unphotoshopped’ because I used to struggle with accepting my body after kids.”

Even though my initial reaction was, “I would never tire of someone telling me what a fab body I have,” the picture made a huge impact on me. I thought about my own assessment of my body because yes, I too have struggled to accept it.

I mean, who hasn’t?

In 2012, I was in the BEST shape of my life. This is not to say I am dangeroulsy unhealthy as of right now, but back then, I fit the media’s idea of what sexy and gorgeous was supposed to look like. At 125 lbs and 5’7”, I loved the way I looked- my abs, my biceps and my tall skinny legs. Mind you, I’ve never actually had a six pack but I loved everything about myself and was proud to flaunt it. Standing tall in a size 4, I had no insecurities and was proud to admit I was one of the few women who loved their body and was comfortable in her “skin”.
Read more I Couldn’t Love My Post Pregnancy Body by @rupandemehta

Man tells women breastfeeding is easy. Woman observes man is a nincompoop.

Cross-posted from: Herbs & Hages
Originally published: 05.12.14

“I think that given that some people feel very embarrassed by it, it isn’t too difficult to breastfeed a baby in a way that’s not openly ostentatious,”

After swearing, I literally laughed when I saw that statement from Nigel Farage who was commenting on the story about a woman in Claridges being required to cover her baby with a large swathe of fabric, thus rendering her feeding of her child far more conspicuous than it would otherwise have been.

How nice it is to be a man who has never breastfed but nevertheless knows how easy it is to breastfeed a baby discreetly.

And how nice it is that even though you know nothing whatsoever about the subject of breastfeeding, you can pronounce on it and expect to be listened to.  Indeed, your voice is much more welcomed and likely to be heard, than those who have actually done the stuff you know nothing about.  How very agreeable it is to be a white man.
Read more Man tells women breastfeeding is easy. Woman observes man is a nincompoop.

Emerging issues concerning mothers apart from their children by @monk_laura

Cross-posted from: The Mothers Apart Project
Originally published: 15.02.15

The overarching aim of my research project is to address the problem that, in the UK, there is no comprehensive, statutory provision of support for mothers who have become, or are at risk of becoming, separated from their children. But how is it that there are so very many women that need this support? Mother-child separations occur largely in a context of domestic violence and can have profound and long-lasting effects of both mothers and their children. Provision is made, of course, for the health and wellbeing of children through health and social care and the children are the priority – as they should be. However, largely due to a lack of understanding about the dynamics of domestic abuse, professionals often do not see that children could be better protected by protecting and supporting the mother as a priority – by recognising and respecting her status as the primary carer and attachment figure (in the majority of cases), who is often the child’s prime source of soothing and security.

We seem to have found ourselves in a position, however, that mothers are blamed for being in abusive relationships and in seeking to protect the child from being in an unsafe household/environment, all the focus of professionals’ interventions are aimed at the mother: not on protecting her but blaming her. By threatening to remove her children, making action plans with unrealistic targets and setting impossibly high standards of parenting she is all too often set up to fail and ends up losing parental responsibility. Meanwhile, the perpetrator frequently remains largely invisible to any intervention and when a child is removed from its mother because she has supposedly failed to protect the child from the fallout of the abuser’s behaviour, the mother might even find that the abuser eventually ends up with having more contact with the child than she does or even residency of the child. This is likely to be a devastating outcome for both child and mother with lifelong implications for mental health and wellbeing.
Read more Emerging issues concerning mothers apart from their children by @monk_laura

Why Does a Toddler need a Toy Mop in her Toy Box?

Cross-posted from: Never trust a jellyfish
Originally published: 03.08.15

In the not-so-distant past, the feminist in me was always a little (to put it mildly) miffed by the proliferation of toys in stores that, to me at least, seemed nothing more or less than ‘housewife training equipment’. Why in God’s name would a toddler require a miniature mop and broom in her toy box?? What is this, 1955? Are we supposed to train our babies to be prim and proper housewives from birth now? Should I be enrolling her in finishing school so she doesn’t bring shame upon the family when she doesn’t know the proper technique required to fold a napkin into a swan for Tuesday night dinner?

Read more Why Does a Toddler need a Toy Mop in her Toy Box?


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’.


Playboy Feminism TM isn’t feminism, it’s the same old misogyny by @sianushka

Cross-posted from: Sian & Crooked Rib
Originally published: 01.07.15

No one wants to be ugly. No one wants to be the unsexy one. No one wants to be rejected.

And that, I think, is what makes this weird phenomena of ‘Playboy Feminism TM’ so attractive.

Okay, if like me you read the phrase ‘Playboy Feminism TM’ and went WTAF, I thought Playboy was rather antithetic to feminism seeing as it involves Hefner’s insistence on being flanked by much younger women and the magazine’s 50+ years history of treating women as disposable objects for male consumption, then you have my sympathy.

But no! It’s 2015 and let go off your anti-porn hang ups ladies, because apparently these days Playboy is totes feminist. In fact it always was, and the proof is that they got a bloke to write an article telling all us boring women feminists how we’ve done feminism wrong, and Playboy-reading men have done feminism right (sorry guys who read Playboy thinking they were sticking it to the feminist movement. Turns out you were feminists all along! Oops!).

Read more Playboy Feminism TM isn’t feminism, it’s the same old misogyny by @sianushka

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

I don’t want this for my children by @mummytolittlee

Mum-blogging often has an air of ‘dinner party’ about it. “No politics, sex, or religion, thank you very much”. But those are 3 of my favourite subjects, damnit. So, at the risk of totally alienating myself, here’s my take on the general election, and why I’m now nervous to be raising my children in this country. Brace yourselves, it’s a bigun’…

As we inched closer to the result of the British general election the days took on a surreal, limbo-like quality. I was distracted, desperate for change, and I genuinely hoped we’d see a cultural shift within government to allow for fairer, more humane politics. As it stands more than 1 in 4 children live in poverty in the UK, and the latest figures from The Trussell Trust show a 163% increase in demand for foodbanks over recent years.  Our loudest political and media voices depict benefits fraud and immigration as the source of Britain’s financial and social problems, and actively dismiss the huge elephant in the room: tax evasion. We have the world’s most billionaires per capita, and our richest 1% has reached giddy new heights, having accumulated as much wealth as the poorest 55% of the population put together. These facts have undoubtedly contributed to Britain becoming the only country in the G7 group of leading economies with worse inequality than at the turn of the century.
Read more I don’t want this for my children by @mummytolittlee

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


cross-posted from Head in Books

orig. pub. 15.4.15

As Tolstoy never wrote, every working family works in its own way. I’m not sure he would have had cause to make the observation in nineteenth century Russia, but it strikes me that it’s one worth making, here in a 2015 Britain gripped by General Election…well, if not fever, then certainly a bit of a nasty bug. Parents’ perceived priorities are high on the agenda.

It’s just that creating policies for “(hard)-working families” makes about as much sense, really, as creating them for people called Tom.

How on earth is a “working family” to be defined? I’m not even going to address whether unpaid work in the home counts; this is specifically about paid employment of one kind or another. People – and for the purposes of this post, I’m really thinking about women – have educations, lives and jobs and then – oops! – they reproduce, as people (women) have been prone to do since long before Anna Karenina got herself in such a muddle.

And after reproducing, there they are, suddenly, with the pieces that made up their lives hitherto needing to be rearranged into a pattern which best suits them. And those patterns are infinite.

For every parent who works in order to pay the bills, there’s one whose job provides a welcome but not indispensable addition to the family budget.

For every two-income household, there’s someone on their own stretched to breaking between the demands of employer and home.

For every parent racked with guilt about leaving their child when they have no choice, there’s another who could never be the parent or the person they are without the chance to do the job they love.

For every one parent motivated by ambition and passion for their career, there’s one who simply likes the adult time.

For every parent who believes on principle that a child’s place is in the home, there’s one who knows that their child thrives in nursery, or with its grandparents, or in the care of a childminder.

Parents choose, or they compromise. We aren’t motivated by any single factor, and from my own experience, ideology very rarely seems to come into it. We make it up as we go along, and – do you know what? – I think that left to our own devices we get it right.

I’ve tried, for a long time, to steer clear of anything about the tired old Mummy Wars, that tainted, painful, unwinnable argument over Who Is Doing It Right with a side order of bludgeoning for the ones Doing It Wrong. It’s hard to avoid, though, because we are all so sensitised from media coverage which seems determined to polarise, and, increasingly, clumsy political rhetoric which  leaves those in one situation feeling victimised or unfairly judged.

It seems too much to ask that we move the discussion on from whether one type of behaviour should be selected as preferable and rewarded, and more to how we can recognise that parents’ circumstances are as unique and as shifting as sand on a beach. I don’t want to talk about whether free childcare penalises those who don’t or can’t work for whatever reason, I want to talk about how we ensure it doesn’t compel parents to work longer hours than they want to and rely on leaving their children in settings they wouldn’t choose. I don’t want to argue about who is more deserving of state support, I want to ask politicians to grant parents pragmatic and flexible ways to manage their own situations.

It’s probably too much to ask. In the meantime, I’ll be working on my own jigsaw and trying to resist the temptation to compare it with everyone else’s.

Head in Books: I write about politics, predominantly on issues which affect parenting, children and education.

will shared parental leave work?, by @cwknews

Cross-posted from: Stephanie Davies Arai
Originally published: 27.03.15

When I had my four babies my husband and I were both self-employed working mostly from a home office so we had the perfect situation for sharing childcare (bar his frequent trips away). We were both able to spend time with the children while they were little and we could both escape to the office (mutually acknowledged as the easier job).

When I had to go to outside meetings I would take the latest breast-feeding baby along in a sling. I was once in a meeting of all men, my baby was slurping very noisily on the breast and every so often he would pull away startled, causing my breast to spring out still spraying milk. I remember thinking I had to be ten times as professional to get away with that.

So it wasn’t easy but I think I was very lucky to have the flexibility I did. I wanted to spend every minute of the day with my babies at the same time as being desperate to get away from them and have some adult space, stimulation, and a life of my own. I’m sure I’m not the only mother to experience childcare as both the most beautiful rewarding gift in the world AND the most boring tedious drudgery.

Working parents will now have more flexibility in sharing childcare as new government regulation comes into force from April 5th and couples will be able to share 50 weeks of leave (37 of those paid) on top of the mother’s statutory two weeks maternity leave after the birth of a baby. This looks good on paper, it allows for more equality in childcare and more flexibility for couples, but I’m not convinced it will have any real impact on most people’s lives.

I wonder if my daughter, when she grows up, will still be the one having to make the choice between children and a career in a way that my sons won’t. I wonder if she will be the one who stalls mid-career and never reaches her potential while my sons fly higher and still get to have a family.

Because according to the government’s own predictions, only around 5,700 fathers are expected to apply for the new parental leave over the next year. 50% of dads don’t take their full entitlement to statutory paternity leave of two weeks anyway – a figure that rises to 75% of those on low incomes. 40% of new dads with partners who are not in employment won’t even qualify.

Take-up will not be great even amongst couples who are equally committed to sharing child-care as long as the macho work culture we have in the U.K. remains unchallenged. Working life in this country is still heavily skewed towards men who are assumed to have a wife at home looking after everything else. We have the longest working hours in Europe, increasing pressure to do overtime, attend that important meeting scheduled for 7pm, or take part in after-hours networking – and if you don’t do it, someone else will. Asking for shared parental leave in this culture will be seen as a lack of commitment and ambition, and not many men will risk that, no matter how much they want to.

Add to that the low pay for traditional ‘women’s work,’ the socialization of girls to be too nice to push themselves forward in their careers, the gender pay gap (where even female graduates will start out on a lower pay level than their male equivalents) and the British sexist work culture and it’s clear that when couples take a look at the financial implications of which career to risk, all factors are weighed heavily against the mother.

When Sweden and Norway implemented a similar shared parental leave policy back in the Seventies, take-up was very low (7% in Sweden and 4% in Norway). Today, both countries have a ‘use it or lose it’ policy whereby a section of shared leave is ring-fenced for fathers – if they don’t take it nobody can – and the take-up rate is 90% in Norway and 80% in Sweden. Sweden introduced an ‘equality bonus’ tax credit in 2008 to further encourage dads to take parental leave, and the system is underpinned by high levels of wage replacement (in Denmark, Norway and Portugal it’s 100%) whereas U.K. parents get 90% but only up to £138.18 a week.

The other building block in place in these and other countries (France for example) is excellent and affordable (or free) child-care, whereas here in the U.K. child-care is limited, low paid, under-funded and of varying quality.

In 2010 the Fatherhood Institute published an international Fairness in Families Index which placed the U.K. at number nineteen out of twenty-one nations on issues including parental leave, time spent caring for children and the gender pay gap. We are not doing too well.

The new shared parental leave is a step forward, and I’m very happy for the families who will benefit, but the real test will come when the results are assessed. Will a low take-up lead to greater political motivation to take further steps to create a fairer society for our girls, or will the government sit back and take it as evidence that women really would prefer to be at home and men are just not cut out to be child-carers?


Communicating with Kids: I’m a feminist, mother of four and I blog about how we communicate with our children. Very interested in cultural influences and neuroscience.

My Mother & I: A Love Story by Petals fall from my afro like autumn


Cross-posted from Petals fall from my afro like autumn

Orig. pub 22.2.14

super babies

Today my mother left, she boarded a plane and travelled far away.

She turns 60 this year. Having an almost entirely absent father has left our relationship resembling, as I put it in a toast a few nights ago, not only that of mother and daughter, but also a tried and tested friendship. This latter aspect our affections being considerably less fraught than the former. Never the less I would say that we have made a dedicated study of one another, a critical, yet mutually respectful observation over many years, under many suns. Perhaps this is what my step father could not stand about me, stumbling his way into our lives when I was only four: our devotional fascination and partiality to one another. Un-rivallable and un-touchable except by alienation and wilful destruction. How was he to know that the death of my mother’s mother, when I was still in her womb, had bound us doubly to one another’s blooded souls. I needed her to feed me, clothe me, love me, she needed somewhere to pour the love, the anger, the shock and the grief of my grandmothers abandonment of her and of this world. The result of so much primal need must have been a force to be reckoned with by a man, hurt, angry and belittled by life in his turn, yet no match in passions for this five year old, this romantic, ready to give it all for the one true love of her young life.

I have known for some time now that mine would never be the mother who lived down the street, who knitted blankets for her grandchildren, or moved in when she turned eighty, and I suppose, after twenty-two years I’ve come to terms with this. Of course my mine is the mother who is virtually un-shockable, constantly supportive, who will pick up at 3-am when I call, and fly half-way around the world if I really needed her to… So it’s not all bad!

There is a great moment in Zach Effron’s ‘Garden State’, one of my favourite films to this day. I tried to write it out, but then I thought – argh you just have to watch it for yourself, and I found the clip on youtube:

(original link to video has been removed)

I’ve felt ‘homesick for a place that doesn’t even exist’ for so long now I can’t remember what it felt like in the first place and I wonder how much of it is a fantasy, an imagined amalgamation of all the things and all the people that feel displaced and lost in the world, magnetically drawn to one another? But when I’m with my mother, just sometimes, I catch the faintest whiff of it, it’s like I can finally, actually relax because I’ve made it. I’m home. It’s an understanding, a lack of judgment, competition or expectation that I have never found with anyone else. So that every time she leaves I am deprived of that blissful if brief respite, and the loss of it hits me like a deep blow, somewhere in my gut.

In her essay ‘Eye to Eye’ Audre Lorde writes:

‘Last month I held another black woman in my arms as she sobbed out the grief and deprivation of her mother’s death. Her inconsolable loss – the emptiness of the emotional landscape she was seeing in front of her – spoke out of her mouth from a place of untouchable aloneness that could never admit another Black woman close enough again to matter. “The world is divided into two kinds of people,” she said, “those who have mothers and those who don’t. And I don’t have one anymore.” What I heard her saying was that no other Black woman would ever see who she was, ever trust or be trusted by her again. I heard in her cry of loneliness the source of the romance between Black women and our mommas.’

And though she birthed, fed clothed, held and consoled me, I wonder how much I had a mother, and how much I had a friend, a sister, a soul mate. And as my friends now grow further apart from their mothers – mothers so dedicated to their motherhood, I wonder if it is this friendship that will endure, that will allow us to grow together rather than apart? Which brings me back to my grandmother, unknown in life yet so very present in death. They threw her ashes into the sea and whenever I am near its stormy British shores I think of her, and speak to her, and sing sometimes a while. She was, from what I know, a strong woman in her own way, a woman -were she born now – who may have run a company, sat in boardrooms, or even been a TV chef, but of course, meeting the world in 1926 she lived a very different story. Married her whole life, five children, and a constant support to her husband, a wonderful cook, spotless home.

many moms

My mother – ‘allergic to housework’ – as she put it, was ever desperate to get out of  their country home and nuclear life in which the greatest expectations of her where to go to secretarial college. Breaking the mould by going to university instead and bringing home, not an affable young lawyer but a woman she met at the bakers instead. (Ever the rebel my old mum.) Went on to fight for women’s rights, and their right to live without men, not needing anything from them, not an allowance, not a roof, not a penis. Quite literally. And though (note the hopeful tone) I believe that this extremely powerful, world-jolting chapter of feminism was effective and necessary, I think it is our responsibility to keep pushing things forward with men and not against them. Indeed I believe this is the only way forward. Still I look at women around me who have careers, who have achieved, are achieving, and in all of them I see a choice made, well I don’t think it was always a choice, and I certainly don’t think it was always conscious, but there it is: work, or children. I’m not saying that women haven’t had both – they most definitely have, but how much was sacrificed, and who or what ended up coming-up trumps?

In Sheryl Sandberg’s TED talk: Why We Have So Few Women in the Workplace she talks about that gut-wrenching pull of “oh mummy, don’t leave, don’t get on that place to speak at that conference, stay here and make play dough pokemon with me!”

If it hasn’t been possible to work on your career and be a devoted parent in the past, despite all of feminisms efforts, will it be possible in the future? As the children of career-driven mother’s can we ever forgive them for not always putting us first? And as the grown-up daughters of home-focused mothers can we ever forgive them for not fulfilling their professional potential?

mother and daughter

It’s not a new conversation, but it does seem to be coming back into prevalence. Certainly when I hear James O’Brien of LBC, a station I finally agreed to listen to after much nagging from my boyfriend, and guess what – I still think he’s an old-fashioned and hypocritically-leftist pillock, talking about how one in three women want to stay at home to look after their children in the UK and this must be because of a genetic pull which is stronger than any mans ever could be.

What tosh! First of all it’s got to be taken on a case-by-case basis, some men will feel much more desperate to stay at home with their children, some women will be scratching at the door to get back to work and vice versa, neither or these scenarios make you a bad parent! Or indicate m/paternal abnormality. And all parents are severely influenced by the society they grow up in, and what that society/culture considers normal, acceptable parenting. In parts of Africa it is considered acceptable to not speak to a woman when she is on her period, in parts of Britain it is considered acceptable to hit a woman’s bottom in a club then later that same night to beat up a sixteen year old boy for flirting with your sister or daughter. In certain social circles the idea of not having a nanny is absurd, whilst in others children are kept with their mothers and breastfed till over the age of four. It all depends on your up-bringing and the social-conditioning you either conform to, or rebel against James!

Right – excuse me, James O’Brian rant over. And once again this blog is becoming too long! I guess what I’m really trying to look at, well it’s many things, but if we can accept for a moment, the taboo that is a romance with our mothers (with much the same fraught frustrations, betrayals, execrations and mis-communications that we often find with our lovers) can we then begin to acknowledge the anguished heartbreak, and fury that we cause one another in life, and the unconsolable grief we feel not only in death but sometimes in long partings, and can we then begin to heal? Begin to forgive our mothers either for their devotion to us and neglect of their professional lives, or for their devotion to their work and absence in their domestic roles. Begin to allow friendships to bloom, to see all women as our sisters, flawed, challenged, often oppressed and of course – as ends all great personal journeys – begin to forgive ourselves and to let go the fear that we will fail in our own mothering and sisterhood as they did. Because – of course we will. We are human, we are women, and the system is flawed. But perhaps with less pain, anguish and expectation, we can fail a little less.


Ama Budge: A performance artist turned freelance writer commenting on gender inequalities, reflecting on my own challenges and experiences as a mixed-race Londoner and most importantly taking note, in awe, of the extraordinary resilience of human kinds striving for be better, and to love.

Unspoken Grief: The Death of a Daughter by @VABVOX

Three years ago I went to hear a renowned American psychic speak with one of my close friends. My friend had recently lost her partner of nearly 20 years to complications of cancer. She was understandably riven by the loss and hoped to get a message from the psychic.

I went with her not because I am a strong believer in psychic phenomenon, but more the opposite. I went as a protector of my friend–a buffer between her grief and anyone who might prey upon her vulnerability. Also, in the back of my mind, was my reporter’s instinct, suggesting that I could write about the experience later, and what it meant in a social context.

As soon as I entered the place I could see this was a female-driven event. The audience in the smallish 2,000 seat theater was nearly entirely women. My friend and I were seated near the back of the theater in which I had only ever heard music performed.

The buzz around us was intense. I could absolutely feel the pulse of grief in the room. Everyone there–everyone but me, it seemed–had come hoping to reach their beloved dead. Sitting where I was, on the aisle near where people were handing in their tickets to ushers, I caught snippets of conversation. The air was redolent with perfume and anticipation, each woman willing that she would be singled out to get the sign from the Other Side via the psychic.

As the lights dimmed a bit–not fully, as the psychic wanted to be able to see her audience–the tenor of the room shifted. People were rapt. And truth be told, the psychic was engaging and compelling. It was easy to see why she had a hit TV show and why we had paid $100 per seat.

The psychic spoke at length about herself, about accessing the dead, about being a witness to the void in other people’s lives left by the death of someone beloved. I was pulled into her talk–like a TED talk, but about psychic phenomena. She never mentioned ghosts, but it was clear the audience believed the room to be filled with them.

When she left the stage to walk amongst the audience, I wasn’t sure what I felt. I found her immensely likable, real and, for lack of a better word, believable.

The very thing I had come to prevent–her accessing my friend’s grief–I suddenly found myself wishing for. Did it really matter if this was all hocus-pocus dominocus as the cartoon used to say? Wasn’t what mattered that people find a release from their loss or their guilt or their lack of resolution? My friend felt guilt at having gone home from the hospital–a mere three blocks from their house–the night her partner died. She had never said good bye because the death was sudden and unexpected.

And most of all, she ached for her wife of so many years.

As it happened, my father had died very recently. I didn’t miss him. I wasn’t grief-stricken. He’d had a miserable time after a sudden stroke over lunch one afternoon and his death was too long in coming, not too soon. I wasn’t yearning for a visitation or even a resolution.

As the psychic moved from person to person, I watched those she touched with her spirit talk change. There were tears, there was–something. It was palpable, but I had no word to articulate it. But all of us there were experiencing it together, whether we believed, as my friend did, or were skeptics like myself.

My childlike willing of the psychic to come to my friend was derailed. She had been asking questions of the audience, trying to find the people who matched what she “saw.” So when she looked toward us, I wasn’t sure what to expect. But when she said, “Who here has lost a child?’ I was stunned to see my own hand shoot up, involuntarily. The only one amongst the 2,000 or so people in attendance.

She came to me, the psychic. She asked me to stand–I was much taller than she, despite her high heels. She put her hand lightly on my arm and I had the most inexplicable feeling, but of what, I can’t say.

She told me things–numbers that were dates, names, a plethora of tiny details that I knew no one knew but me and–oddly enough–my friend’s dead partner who I had spoken to about it one night in a random fit of revelation.

And then as quickly as the psychic had appeared before me, she was gone, moved on to another person, another death. I ached for more. Tears streamed down my cheeks. What had just happened?

I’m not the woo-woo sort. Although I am a Catholic and believe in an afterlife, and like most girls, I once had a Ouija board as a tween, I am not a devotee of the “I see dead people” coterie.

How to explain what happened? I can’t really. The details were too specific to be lucky guesses. All I can say is that night changed my life. It opened a door that had been sealed tightly shut.

The loss of a child is something one never fully recovers from. There is a place that is deep and dark and empty and it is the void where your child–in my case, a daughter–should be.

The years pass and some memories fade and others remain disturbingly vivid. Will I ever forget that last hour of labor? Am I forever imprinted with the green tile and the sounds that came out of me, sounds I didn’t even know were in my repertoire of vocalizations? Will I ever forget that last push and the sensation of the baby–my baby–leaving my body?

No. I will never forget those things.

Nor will I forget the time leading up to that–all the things I imagined. The mothering I would give that I had not received myself. The knowledge I would impart. The things we would share. So many things I expected to give her.

But when a child dies, time stands still. You and your child are forever trapped in her baby-ness. There is no toddlerhood or first day of school or complicated adolescence. There is only that tiny, beautiful baby face, that painfully, incredibly soft baby skin. And that smell that is the lure of all babies. The scent of the child to whom you gave birth. The scent of sense memory.

Years before the psychic, years before the birth of my child, years before her death, a student of mine wrote a novel about a woman who loses a baby and cannot recover from the loss because no one around her considers it a loss. Her friends all look the other way, they ignore what has happened. It is as if she were never pregnant, never had those late night talks, her hands on her stomach, never went to the hospital, never came home alone to delicate baby things that would never be worn by her child.

There’s nothing to be said about dead children. It is such a horror, that we cannot even speak it. We just pretend–society, each one of us–that it hasn’t really happened.

Because if it happened to them, it could happen to us.

When the Newtown Massacre happened in that quiet unremarkable Connecticut suburb on December 14, 2012, it was a few months after my friend and I had gone to the psychic event. I sat in front of the TV sobbing. Keening, really. I watched as parents waited for their children to come out. Some did, some never would again.

I kept visualizing how the holidays would never be the same for the families of the 20 dead six year olds. The shooting took place in the middle of Hanukkah that year, halfway through the menorah. The shooting took place ten days before Christmas, halfway through the windows on the Advent calendar.

No, the holidays would never, ever be the same for those families.

I have reported on the deaths of children. In the late 1980s I had reported on pediatric AIDS and spent a few days in the ward of Montifiore Hospital in the Bronx, New York, holding the abandoned AIDS babies whose mothers had given birth in a tile-lined room like I myself would years later. Those mothers had left and never come back.

I had reported on the pesticide poisoning of the children of farm workers in the Central Valley in California, days spent in scorching heat driving from one tiny enclave to another, just to interview the parents of yet another dead or dying child. One afternoon I sat beside a tiny white coffin festooned with little woven Lady of Guadeloupe figures. Inside lay a four year old girl, her bald and wizened head against a satin pillow, her dress the frilly white of the First Holy Communion or quinceañera she would never have.

When you lose a child–when your child dies–you are forever bonded to other parents who have lost a child. It’s not a club you want to be part of. It’s not a club you want to invite new members into. And it’s also not a club you can ever leave.

Years ago I had interviewed the mother of Nancy Spungen, the girlfriend of Sex Pistols bassist, Sid Vicious, whom he murdered in a New York hotel room after she wrote a book about her daughter’s murder.  It was a complicated interview for me and for Deborah Spungen because I was the same age as her daughter, had been born only six days before Nancy, in the same city. We had a similar look, Nancy and I and midway through the interview I could see my mere presence was problematic. But Deborah talked on, about her daughter, about the murder, about what it was like to lose a child. About how your life can never be the same again.

How could I have known then that one day many years later, I would know some semblance of what that grief felt like?

I have only written about the death of my child once before–in a poem published in the grief issue of When Women Waken Literary Journal in Fall 2013. The poem is in couplets, the rhyme scheme complex, the pain raw, the visceral juxtaposed with the imagery of nurseries and mother-child bonding.

Woman after woman wrote to me after reading that poem. Each having lost a child, each having felt both unmoored by and ignored in her grief. Their silence had shackled them. I had, it seemed, breathed life into their pain, but in a good way–the way of recognition.

I have a relatively new friend whose first child died in infancy. It was a long, protracted painful dying and it was, like the death of my child, two decades ago. Yet my friend speaks of her daughter in the present tense. Her daughter is with her every day, along with her other children. Talking to her has taught me new things about grief and sadness, loss and longing. One of the things I have learned from her is that my loss should never be hidden, never be confused with shame–we gave birth to these children and there is nothing else like that, like giving birth. There is no other feeling one will ever experience to replicate it. It’s not fungible and it is definitely not forgettable.

The hallmarks of motherhood–the things we do as our children grow up–those are, for me with this child, mere fantasy. But the fact of motherhood, of carrying a child, of labor, of delivery, of that first touch of motherly finger to baby cheek–those things will never leave me.

These disjunctive bits of memory and longing, of loss and sadness, are meant to anchor others in their own grief, their own memories. This is raw, not refined. But then grief is raw, not refined. And so this essay is a litany, a dirge, an elegy, a memento mori. It is about all the dead children, mine, yours, ours.

Silence can comfort and silence can shatter. Keeping silent about my loss hurt me, deeply. I can’t recover what was lost in not speaking sooner, but I can say to other women, don’t hide your loss. Mourn it in the open. Lay the coffin bare for all to see. Allow yourself the endlessness of grief and the succor of memory. Name her, name him, name your bond. Carry your child with you in the present, not the past. This is the way it was meant to be. You and your child, always. It should not have taken a psychic to tell me that my daughter was still with me. But once she did, she opened a door for me. And in the light that shone through was my child, reaching out to me as I had always known she would.


Victoria A. Brownworth is an award-winning journalist, editor and writer and the author and editor of nearly 30 books. She has won the NLGJA and the Society of Professional Journalists awards, the Lambda Literary Award and has been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. She won the 2013 SPJ Award for Enterprise Reporting in May 2014. She is a regular contributor to The Advocate and SheWired, a blogger for Huffington Post and a columnist and contributing editor for Curve magazine and Lambda Literary Review. Her reporting and commentary has appeared in the New York Times, Village Voice, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and Philadelphia Inquirer. Her book, From Where We Sit: Black Writers Write Black Youth won the 2012 Moonbeam Award for cultural & historical fiction. Her novel, Ordinary Mayhem will be released in February 2015. @VABVOX




When being a working mum doesn’t work

(Cross-posted from Littlee and Bean)


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.

Digi-Parenting my way

(Cross-posted from Room of my own)

I am a mother to a cute 1 year 8 month old baby girl. I am learning and unlearning several things each day with her. I have the privilege of waking up to her smiles each new day so that I can safely say that I get to relive my childhood with her! Having said that, I would want her to enjoy the simple pleasures of childhood, just as our generation did. I know she is too small to get into that stage but I wish that as she grows up, she too gets to enjoy life outside the four walls of a 2 BHK flat. Why not pave the way from now itself?! I still remember the time when we as youngsters used to enjoy the simple pleasures of life – the joy of running around the nearby lanes, climbing trees with cousins in our ancestral home, running and cycling around with friends without being gender conscious (yes, I had lots of boyfriends too), playing police and thief, catch-me-if-you-can, kabadi and lots more such outdoor games are all evaporating gradually…I wish I could bring those back for my daughter! As a mother (especially of a daughter), I am worried about the ongoing rape and molestation cases that are plaguing the society every day. I often wonder can’t we have an app that will give out an alert signal when our daughters fall prey to molesters so that we can take some quick action? The way crime is increasing in our society, all parents are naturally concerned about the safety of their children and wants maximum security both in school and outside. So in the process, we tend to snatch away their childhood, pose restrictions on them, trim their wings so that they cannot fly like free birds. This is where the arrival of digital media thrives on to become part and parcel of our everyday life especially in the life of our children. It can be a boon as well as curse at the same time in their development. For instance, I bask in happiness when my little daughter interacts with her grand patents back in Kolkata, my hometown. What’s more gratifying is to see the face of her grandparents lit up when they see their granddaughter in Skype. Technology has bridged the gap between the two generations, you see! As a daughter, I also pride myself in successfully teaching my dad the likes of Facebook and Skype so that we can stay connected. My toddler loves to see her nursery rhymes in You Tube. O wait, why not?! It allows me to complete my work in the kitchen and also to feed her well…so each time she says, “Maa, gaan chalao” (Maa, play songs), I very happily play her favourite songs in You Tube. But deep down in my heart, I also fear that technology in today’s digital age should not mar her innocence. I am aware of the huge role I have to play as a parent to protect her from the dangers that lurks in the virtual world. I think that’s where eKavach can help me with its news, views, tips, resources etc. As my daughter grows up, I hope to be her friend as well. I want to make her understand that everything has a good and bad side to it. I would not mind her addiction to the digital media provided she respects the limits that will be set for her. After all, you have to be within the system to change the system, for good! I want her to know that it is okay for mom to keep a tab on her activity log upon fear of inviting unnecessary attraction from paedophiles. I am also aware that I may not be able to hold the reins over her for long and she might slip away from my controls once she reaches her teenage years…but by then I want to imbibe a strong sense of balanced use of the digital-tech world in her. Neither she should shun them nor should she allow herself to be swept away by the digital wave. She should embrace the best of both the worlds, if she wants to enjoy her life in totality. This post is written as part of the Women’s Web – eKavach ‘This Digi-Parenting Life!’ campaign ( ).


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.

Mother Tongue by @headinbook

(cross-posted with permission from Head in Book)

My undergraduate degree was in modern languages. What else would an incorrigible reader study? The more languages available to you, the greater the range of books to devour. Deeper still, there was a genuine interest in words and the fascinating, impossibly complex way in which we use them to communicate. I regret now that the study was so shallow, so short and so very long ago. I’m left with, rather than any expertise, a smattering of understanding; a fleeting impression of a huge richness beyond my ken. That, and the ability to guesstimate the meaning of a menu pretty much anywhere in Europe.

Words matter. Words don’t reflect what we see, they refract and reframe it. This isn’t the subject of a blogpost, of course, it’s the subject of a life’s work. But I have been thinking more and more, about the words we use around motherhood and the way in which language itself distorts our perceptions and colours – poisons, even – the debates about stuff which really matters.

I’ve thought about writing this – and the way in which media coverage and discussion always seems intent on driving mothers into two opposing camps – for a while. There’s too much to put into one post, really, but one tiny, apparently innocuous phrase, struck me tonight.

Taking part in a Twitter conversation about motherhood and feminism, I wasn’t “defeated” by anything when I decided that my career, at that time, wasn’t making me happy, wasn’t giving my children the start in life I wanted and wasn’t, on balance, providing adequate (non-monetary) compensation for the things it was costing me. Nor did I cease making an effort. Women like me who leave the workforce are, quite literally, air-brushed out. Our motives and, often, our lives too are dismissed as superficial, cosmetic, lacking in seriousness. I was incredibly lucky to have a choice. I don’t perceive myself as a victim in this. But nor will I concede that I have, in any way, somehow stopped trying. I didn’t “give up” working. I chose to stop.

The same is true with the endless battles over breastfeeding. How much of a sting there is in the simple phrase “she gave up”. Again, it smacks of defeat, of lack of effort, even while the woman involved may know how hard she tried and feel bitterly let down by lack of support. Or, conversely, may have taken the decision for the most sensible, practical and compelling of reasons. “Giving up”, with its connotations of weakness and lack of commitment, casts over every discussion, at whatever level, semi-conscious shadows of accusation and defensiveness and causes a huge amount of hurt to many women.

Do we talk like this about men? Not about breastfeeding, of course; not really about employment, since so few men’s working lives are outwardly changed when they become fathers. I think in general, though (and I know that this is a fairly generalising post) we assume an active decision making, a positive and rational approach to problem solving with which we fail to credit women.

I’m never again going to slip into the easy, barbed trope of saying that I gave up work. I stopped. After all, in the absence of a detailed conversation and valid interest in my circumstances, that is all that anyone else needs to know.

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