The Surprising Thing at Never Trust a Jellyfish

Cross-posted from: Never Trust a Jellyfish
Originally published: 19.07.16

Kids shouldn’t be allowed too much screen time, it’ll rot their brain, everyone knows that. Ok, that makes sense, but have the people who hand out these sage pieces of advice ever met a toddler? Because if they had they would know that turning on any device with a screen within a 1 mile radius of a kid will result in the said kid either wrestling the device from you, demanding you hand it over peacefully or throwing a migraine-inducing tantrum.

pictured: a wrestling match waiting to happen

Theoretically, the idea is ‘limited screen time for kids’ but practically speaking, all parents eventually realize that limited screen time for kids = limited screen time for parents.

So yes, I end up either not watching tv at all or being subjected to episode after episode of talking ponies and their friendship problems.

As a parent to a 2 year old, that isn’t exactly too surprising. What’s surprising though is that I’m starting to realize I actively avoid non-toddler friendly programming even when I do have the opportunity to watch it. Grown-up tv may have more depth, variety or entertainment value, but kids tv has something better: a make-believe world where nothing bad can ever happen. With the kinds of things happening in the real world these days, I kinda prefer the primary-colored world of preschooler tv.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t need any more ‘realistic’ and ‘gritty’ in my entertainment when the world is too real as is.

Safe Spaces and Cosseted Childhoods, by @cwknews

Cross-posted from: Communication, Kids and Culture
Originally published: 26.04.16

safe spacesThe Head Teacher at St Albans High School for Girls, Jenny Brown, has spoken out recently about the current trend for safe spaces at Universities across the UK, for which she blames the cosseted childhoods our children now experience in comparison with the tough times of the past. She says:

Is there a teacher or parent left in the country who doesn’t decry the sprouting of the safe-space movement in universities?

“The movement . . . comes with a language that alone alarms: no platforming, safe spaces, trigger warning . . . But why are we surprised? We’ve created this. These undergraduates are some of the first children brought up in health and safety heaven.

“These children of the millennium didn’t play unsupervised, they didn’t play outside . . . they didn’t climb trees, grub up or get back for supper with torn jeans and wet wellies.”

Yup. I’m one of those who is horrified by all this self-indulgent protection from the world that some young people need, it seems to me that there’s a crucial stage of development being missed here: your young adult life is a time when you should be coming up against new ideas and opinions which anger, challenge and even disgust you.
Read more Safe Spaces and Cosseted Childhoods, by @cwknews

Tomboy by @HeadinBook

Cross-posted from: Head in Books
Originally published: 02.06.16

Do people still ask children what they want to be when they grow up? It’s not a question I’m aware of hearing these days; perhaps because the answer: “heavily in debt and renting till I retire at 94” is too guilt-engendering for the adult in question to cope with.

Shopping for children’s clothes last week, though, I saw that Next have grasped the nettle…sort of. Among the varicoloured bits of jersey were two T-shirts which flirted with the idea of one’s destiny in life:

Screen Shot 2016-05-22 at 11.29.49                Spot the difference?

Read more Tomboy by @HeadinBook

What My Mum Went Through by @HelenSaxby11

Cross-posted from: Not the News in Brief
Originally published: 06.03.16

My mum was twenty eight when she had her first baby. That was quite late for a first baby in those days, especially as she had been married for a whole five years at that point, but she and my dad wanted to wait till they could afford a baby and had their own home to live in first. Finally they got a mortgage on a narrow two-up two-down terraced house with damp on the walls, silverfish in the fireplace and a toilet in the back yard, and then they started their family.

My sister took a whole day to be born, she was a big baby, and my mum had to have stitches after the birth. However, that didn’t prevent her from getting pregnant again within a few months. It has to be remembered that rape within marriage was not a crime in those days, and although I am not casting aspersions on my dad, I do think that those ideas, that a wife owed her husband regular sex whenever he wanted it, were strong enough at that time to ensure that most women would see sex as their duty (and most men would see it as their right). Even after a difficult and painful birth.
Read more What My Mum Went Through by @HelenSaxby11

The Best Thing We Can Do For Our Daughters, by @cwknews

the best thing we can do for our daughtersI was once, at the school where I worked, in a meeting with a mother whose daughter was causing upset amongst the girls’ group as well as being disruptive in class. It was typical Year 6 behaviour in a way, when kids have essentially grown out of primary school and are itching to get on to the more grown-up world of secondary. Her behaviour was not unusual, just more extreme than most, and it had been going on for a long time. Her mother was very resistant to talking about it, and eventually said, with some distress and anger, ‘But I want her to be tough and speak out and stand up for herself!’ That’s when I got it. I thought to myself ‘Of course you do.’ My next thought was ‘Yeah, but she’s being a real pain…’

Read more The Best Thing We Can Do For Our Daughters, by @cwknews

Schrödinger’s Mum by @HeadinBook

Cross-posted from: Head in Books
Originally published: 03.02.16

I don’t know Schrödinger, you understand, let alone his mother. I think they had a cat, but I think that may have ended badly. Or maybe not.

So it’s silly, really, to say that I thought of her (the mother, not the cat) this lunchtime, as I made an emergency dash to the Post Office to get some cash.

I was working from home, you see, feeling smugger than smug after a productive morning job-wise and happy in the knowledge that I’d got two loads of washing out on the line too. The sun was shining, I had some interesting work to pick up in the afternoon, and I was relishing the novelty of re-tracing the steps of a gazillion school runs without my ankles being in imminent danger from a scooter.

Then I saw her, as I sped past the park. Pushing a toddler on the swings, the pair of them wrapped up warm and presumably filling in time before going home for lunch and a nap. I couldn’t see her face; couldn’t tell if she was revelling in the moment or deflecting wails and grizzles from her child and counting down the minutes till they could decently go home.

It was a lovely image, one of those snapshots of motherhood that matches exactly the gallery we all seem to carry within us: This is what being a mum looks like. The image that we look forward to and the one we miss when it’s past.

She could have been me, that mum. Me on any one of a hundred days, standing in the park, playing with one or two or three children; making the most of a break in the weather or just desperate to get away from CBeebies before the programmes started all over again.

“The hours are long, but the days are short” they tell us, those whose children are long grown and gone. We know they’re right, and yet it’s hard, to be in the picture and behind the lens; to try to provide in the now for the wistful regret we know we’ll feel in the future.

Knowing that this precious time is fleeting but, sometimes, desperate for it to pass.



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

NEW MOUNTAINS, NEW MAPS. at Fish without a Bicycle

Cross-posted from: Fish without at Bicycle
Originally published: 15.03.15

…when women speak truly they speak subversively–they can’t help it: if you’re underneath, if you’re kept down, you break out, you subvert. We are volcanoes. When we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains. That’s what I want–to hear you erupting. You young Mount St. Helenses who don’t know the power in you–I want to hear you. Ursula K. Le Guin

I have not been able to write. There is a weight on my chest that has been there for months. It heats up and swirls around and settles heavy when I endeavor to speak to the confusion, outrage and injustice as I take in another narrative of child sex trafficking, the dismantling of reproductive rights and a woman who was recently convicted of Feticide after having a miscarriage. My pulse quickens as I read the latest update of a rape case in which a boy chummily gave a thumbs up in a photo while he penetrated a 15-year-old girl from behind as she vomited out of a window. That split second in her life was memorialized, fed to and devoured by the millions of people in a culture that is fueled by images of female degradation. Rehteah Parsons hung herself in her home on April 4, 2013; her mother pushed open her bathroom door and held the body of her lifeless teenage daughter. In January, the boys involved with her rape and the photo of it were handed a 4-week course on sexual harassment because after all, consent is “complicated.” Mount Holyoke (a Women’s College) cancelled their production of the Vagina Monologues because some members of the student body have adopted the ideology that to stage a production that acknowledges and focuses on the experiences of women who have vaginas is “inherently narrow, reductionist and is exclusionary” to women who do not have vaginas. I can’t help but wonder what could happen if the same internet outrage that that was turned toward Eve Enlser for her work that “reduces gender to biological distinctions” was turned toward the hordes of men who perpetrate psychic gang rapes on Twitter by talking about how they are going to dismember, defile and denigrate the vaginas of women who speak out of turn. Feminist writers are putting down their pens and stepping out of public conversation because the hate speech, death threats, and the vitriol are all so much. Yes, we live in an era of “call out culture” but I have never seen a woman say she was going to sexually violate someone’s face and then murder them because she disagreed with something they said, nor have I seen men doing this to other men.
Read more NEW MOUNTAINS, NEW MAPS. at Fish without a Bicycle

The egg

I come from my mother, full as an egg with the weight that sits and grows, sinking into her pelvis, into the centre of her like a truth. I am plump and round and perfect, as the midwives declare my sex, and for a moment, all is whole. One has become two, and each of those two is one. A whole.

Crossing the road with my mother when I am 11. She launches a volley of fury at a man passing us. Somewhere, later, I learn that my swelling breasts, still tiny mounds on a child’s body, had drawn his eye down. A little piece of me is nipped away.

A dark bus station, 14 years old, counting the chewing gum pebbles on the bricks. A man sits next to me. His hands, my legs, my skirt. I am giddy with relief when another man comes to help, hollowed a little more when he asks me to show him my gratitude. The police come and my mother, who was the start of me, tells me I will be the death of her. Another chunk of me falls away.

Read more The egg

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?

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.

A Sphere of One’s Own

Cross-posted from: Trouble & Strife
Originally published: 24.05.14

Attachment parenting, mommy blogging, hipster homemakers and urban homesteaders…Delilah Campbell reads a book about the new domesticity. 

Emily Matchar, Homeward Bound: Why Women are Embracing the New Domesticity (Simon & Schuster, 2013).

Back in 2001, I wrote an article for T&S about the ‘new domesticity’– a sudden revival of popular interest in the art of keeping house. Knitting was back in vogue, and cleaning was the subject of a popular reality TV show. Nigella Lawson published a book entitled How To Be a Domestic Goddess, and a rash of glossy magazine articles featured women who had given up their high-powered careers to concentrate on full-time homemaking.

Thirteen years later, it’s clear that this was not just a passing fad. Cath Kidston, the queen of retro household accessories,  is a global brand; the Great British Bake-Off is a national institution. University students have formed branches of the Women’s Institute. And the new domesticity is also big on the other side of the Atlantic, where according to Emily Matchar, the return of the full-time housewife is a genuine trend. Her book Homeward Bound is an attempt to investigate what’s behind this phenomenon, and to ask what it might tell us about the times in which we live. She thinks it has a lot to tell us: ‘Our current collective nostalgia and domesticity-mania’, she argues, ‘speak to deep cultural longings and a profound shift in the way Americans view life’ (4).
Read more A Sphere of One’s Own

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?

A Child’s Right to Bodily Autonomy by @FatFemPinUp

Cross-posted from: Fat Fem Pin Up
Originally published: 28.04.15

Well I have decided that I have too much invested in this idea of a child’s right to bodily autonomy, not to blog about this. Bear with me because it’s been a while.

I’ll start with a short story: This past weekend a family member slapped her 8 year old son in the face with an open hand in front of a room full of adults. His transgression? Asking for candy. Well actually, he was asking if he could bring his aunt a piece of candy and his mother misunderstood him. Not once, but three times. Angrily. He asked and was given a stern no. He tried to clarify and was screamed at and on the third try, he was slapped.

Lets start with the fact that she heard him wrong 2 times before her irritation led her to physical violence. Sometimes parents get stressed out, they run around all day and they do for their children 24/7. They get tired, they get cranky and exhausted and they can’t always stop to have a true conversation with their child.
Read more A Child’s Right to Bodily Autonomy by @FatFemPinUp

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

Barbie, I Want Barbie! at Kiss me and be quiet

(Cross-posted from Kiss me and be quiet)

My kids have discovered Barbie. She lives on Netflix, where they can access her any time I allow them to turn the TV on. ‘I want Barbie!’ shouts the 5yo. ‘Barbie, Barbie’ squeals the 2yo.

It is full of nothing but outfits and hair dos and shopping and parties, crap romance and being bitchy. It is very pink, contains a fair bit of slapstick humour, which they find hilarious, and is very obviously not real.

This week the conversation went like this:

5yo [sighing] “I LOVE Ken.”

me: “Why?”

5yo: “He’s SUCH a superhero. He has a special Barbie sense so he knows anytime Barbie needs ANYTHING.”

My friends think it is hilarious that my kids love Barbie. Some are just laughing at me, some ask if I mind, some ask me why I let them watch it.

Do I mind? Nah, not really. Sometimes we talk about it afterwards and challenge it a bit, sometimes I don’t bother and they just watch it for a while. I think I was coming up to double figures before I willingly wore trousers rather than a skirt, and before I thought that maybe ‘princess’ wasn’t a viable career option. I used to make cardboard crowns and my favourite colours were gold and silver and I wanted anything that sparkled. I probably would have happily broken several laws to get my hands on the princess outfits that hang in every supermarket these days. If it was pretty and sparkly, I wanted it.

Do I think it’s bad if my child wants to dress herself in head to toe pink? Nah, not really. On the next day she might want to dress as batman. Or maybe she’ll wish to combine paisley with tartan like I did at her age.

I like my daughters to be able to think for themselves, and that includes being allowed to like pink, princesses, shiny things and barbies. I remember being heartbroken when I played with my barbie as a kid and I accidentally melted her hair with the hairdryer. They don’t need to challenge the status quo every step of the way, they’re allowed to just like some stuff too.

My job is to make sure that they know all the doors are open to them, including science, maths, climbing trees, being sporty, being allowed to speak without being interrupted and liking any colour toy they fancy. If my 5yo swoons over Ken and his Barbie sense for a while, she won’t get any criticism from me.


Kiss Me and Be Quiet: “Be plain in dress, and sober in your diet; In short my deary, kiss me and be quiet.” A satirical summary of Lord Lyttelton’s Advice to women, written by Lady May Wortley Montagu in the 1700s. Not enough has changed since then. I am a feminist, parent to two small children, and I have lived with chronic back pain for nearly two years, and counting. These are 3 topics that occupy a lot of my thinking. I’ll share some of those thoughts with you here.

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




Postive & Promise: The Memories & Musings of a Neurotic Bookworm

Language: A Feminist Guide

We Mixed Our Drinks

Storm in a Teacup

Mairi Voice

Hiding under the bed is not the answer