August 2006


Once upon a time, many years ago, there was a bright young woman with a bright future ahead of her. She was a student soon to complete her studies and embark on a glittering career, and her life was full of promise.

But despite all this, the young girl was sad. Worse than sad, if the truth be told, because the break up of what she thought was a match made in heaven had knocked her sideways and she was struggling just to get through each day. She would make it into classes as and when, and in between she survived on TV and ready meals. Exams loomed, and they worried her, but she didn’t really seem able to get excited about them. It was not a pretty picture.

She wasn’t stupid. She did know that her body felt different. She did notice that her periods seemed not to come. She blanked it out, and put it down – wishful thinking, this – to the stresses of her life. Exams. The split. Friendlessness. The sadness.

But then, the exams were over and, back at the family home for the summer, reality had to be faced. She did the test. The Test. It was positive. A parting shot from that match made in heaven.

Now what the hell do I do?

The NHS doctor said – you’ve left it too late. A friend said – go private. The private hospital said – this is the price, when do you want your appointment?

The operation. Waking up groggy, relieved. A scan – the alien is still there. A few days later, a trip to the hospital, some drug or other. The next day, admitted into hospital. The same drug, I think, or maybe a different one. Twice. The alien is tenacious.

Contractions, although I didn’t know it at the time, because what they had done was to induce an early labour, I think. I didn’t really understand. At the time, just pain, cramps. They offered me pain relief, eventually they gave me something that worked a bit, for a while. Then, at long last, the weird slippery rush of a flushed alien. Later, I would know that it was the same slippery rush of a normal, full term birth. But this one, of course, was different.

The rest – the placenta and all, I suppose – stayed put. Another operation. I remember being woken for the trip to theatre. I remember the anaesthetist, cheerfully competent in the middle of the night, coming to me after an emergency somewhere else. I remember the relief of waking up to find that it was finished. Really finished this time.

Was it bad? Pretty bad, I think. Regrets? None.

I’m sorry, Mum, if you’re reading this, that I never told you before.

Well, my blogging break is just about over now.

I’ve been having a fabulous time, as has Baby M, without you. Hope you didn’t miss us too much.

Here are a few of the things that Baby M has been doing:

  • Sliding down the big slide at the park.
  • Running after ducks.
  • Visiting a new baby.
  • Getting to know Nana and Grandad (er, usually aka “Nana” but two or three times “Ganda“)
  • Swinging high enough to touch the sky.
  • Running away from thunderstorms.
  • Sleeping nearly all the way through the night!
  • Paddling in the sea.
  • Building sandcastles.
  • Cutting a new tooth (18 down, 2 to go).
  • Eating phenomenal amounts of food.
  • Learning new signs and new words.
  • Picking blackberries, and getting very purple.
  • Saying NO!
  • Giving her mummy sweet little kisses

In the last few weeks my little girl has come on in leaps and bounds, and has taken in so much with so little difficulty.

Yesterday on the way home from the airport she called “nana, nana, nana” and signed busily “Nana, Grandad, Nana, Grandad”. After I had explained for the gazillionth time that Nana and Grandad had gone home but that we will see them again quite soon, she said “Nana” very sadly, and then signed: “Nana, Gone, Grandad, Gone.”

Back to normal today, back to work, back to nursery. I missed her so.

(So did the milk factory: I was seriously boobalicious by the time I got her home, and we had a lovely, long milky cuddle together. Aww.)

Thank Clare. I’m going to make this quick if I can!

Meme of three:

1.Things that scare me:

  • Losing Baby M in some horriible freak accident.
  • Failure.
  • Fat, hairy spiders.

2. People who make me laugh:

  • Baby M.
  • My pseudonymous friend, WG.
  • Lenny Henry.

3. Things I hate the most:

  • Lies.
  • Hatred.
  • Greed.

4. Things I don’t understand:

  • Superconductors.
  • The appeal of cockles, winkles or whelks.
  • What Baby M means when she says “Ganana, daba, GAH!”

(Oh, and why this taggy thing is called “Meme of three”.)

5. Things I’m doing right now:

  • Writing a blog post, duh.
  • Listening out for Baby M, who is stirring.
  • Oh, bum. Breastfeeding.

6. Things I want to do before I die:

  • Become a grandmother.
  • Retire from paid work.
  • Become very old indeed.

(Hopefully in that chronological order…)

7. Things I can do:

  • Write.
  • Cook.
  • Sleep through thunderstorms.

8. Ways to describe my personality:

  • Determined.
  • Reticent.
  • Impish.

9. Things I can’t do:

  • Fly.
  • That yoga posture where you have to practically do the splits and then put your head on one knee, with one hand between your shoulderblades and the other one on the floor by your ankle.
  • Lick my elbow. And I bet you can’t either.

10. Things I think you should listen to:

  • Gerard Hoffnung’s rendition of The Barrel Story.
  • The aforementioned WG, snoring.
  • The sound of a waterfall, gentle in the night.

11. Things you should never listen to:

  • Anything you are told by adverts.
  • Anything you are told by politicians.
  • Anything described as “avant garde” or “cutting edge”.

12. Things I’d like to learn:

(I’m going here more for “Things I’d like to know but not necessarily things I want to know passionately enough to put in all the effort of actually learning them.”)

  • Spanish.
  • All about growing fruit and vegetables.
  • Doing yoga properly.

13. Favorite foods:

  • Bacon.
  • Cheese.
  • Chick pea curry.

14. Beverages I drink regularly:

  • Water.
  • Tea.
  • Milk.

15. Shows I watched as a kid:

  • Blue Peter.
  • The Raggy Dolls.
  • Dangermouse.

16. People I’m tagging to do this meme:

  • Nemo.
  • Nobody.
  • No-one.

(Cos I’m a Grumpy Moo and I want to put the baby to bed and, and, and… however, if you want to do it and for me to link to it then just ask – and it shall be granted you.)

Once upon a time there was a Beautiful Princess and her delightful Prince, who was Charming. One day, the Beautiful Princess and her Charming Prince had a bit of a slip-up of the contraceptive variety, for which they were equally responsible, and – lo! – about three weeks later there came that inevitable, spine-chilling dots-on-a-wee-stick moment.

OK, so the princess was me, and the prince turned out not to be so charming after all, but if I’m going to tell a story I feel I should do it right…

I knew I was pregnant before I even took the pregnancy test. My period wasn’t late, no more than a day or so which wasn’t unusual. But I could feel it in my breasts, a tenderness and a tingling pain, a sense of growth and change. Something different in my body. I knew.

The night before I took the test, I tossed and turned in bed and failed to sleep, wishing I could come to terms with the idea of pregnancy. It was the May bank holiday weekend. A few days before my birthday. I took the test in the morning very early, and confirmed my suspicion. I was horrified. I rang the father. He said “Well, good news!” but he didn’t mean it.

Later, he suggested – no, he urged – abortion. I didn’t want one. I didn’t want a baby, but I didn’t want an abortion either. He resented that it wasn’t his decision, and he pushed me to do it. It tore me up a little. Well, a lot.

But.

It sounds daft but I felt the hand of fate upon me. We’d spun the wheel, taken our chance, diced with destiny, made our bed… and we were stuck with what we’d got. Not our place to change the course of destiny. As though it was somehow meant to be. How many bites at the cherry did I want? And also… again, it sounds daft… I felt already an emotional connection (perhaps it was love, perhaps “only hormones”) to this thing implanted and growing inside me. Just a clump of cells, but a necessary clump. An essential clump. Something irrefutable and un-do-away-with-able. Magical. Mine.

He’d said he would “stand by me”. Now he said he wouldn’t… couldn’t. Ha! I decided I didn’t care. I knew that nobody could bully me one way or the other. Not even my silver-tongued prince, playing the little-boy-lost. If he upped and left, so be it. I’d manage, somehow.

I chose my clump of cells. I chose the little person that it became.

My daughter, chosen.

Welcome to the world: a new little cousin for Baby M.
Awww.

Some guy has a blog. And an idea.

Ten things I would put in Room 101

1. Sexism.
2. Worldwide corporations.
3. All the people who stand in the way of a ban on the marketing of breastmilk substitutes.
4. Internet trolls.
5. Bob Dylan.
6. People who drive a 4×4 in town.
7. Organised religion.
8. Factory farms.
9. Anybody who is or wants to be in charge of anybody else (let alone anybody who is or wants to be in charge of a whole country-full of people).
10. Liars.

Ten things I would put in Room Fluffy

1. Baby M (and all my family, but mainly Baby M).
2. The Big Green Gathering.
3. Breastfeeding support groups.
4. Good, dark chocolate.
5. The internet.
6. Solar power.
7. Women.
8. The smell of lavendar on a warm, sunny day.
9. City farms, and allotments.
10. Cats. They’re just sooooo snooty and cool.

Please note: none of the above items are in any way ordered. They are just in the order that I thought of them, with no ranking intended. OK?

If anyone I know wants to shamelessly pinch this idea, like I did, then post me a link so I can go and be nosey about what you put in your Room 101 / Room Fluffy!

Blackberries. Milk. Need I say more?

Q: When you go into a bookshop or a library looking for a book about feminism, where do you go?
A: The Social Studies section, or possibly Sociology, Gender Studies, Special Interest, or Women’s Issues. Certainly not, never, under any circumstances will books by feminists or about feminism be, Goddess Forbid!, in the Politics section. It can’t be in Politics, it’s a special interest women’s thingy isn’t it? Like tampons? It should be hidden away!

Q: When you are putting together a booklet advertising the Very Short Introductions series (an excellent series of short, snappy reads introducing serious subjects to the casual learner) in which section do you place the VSI to Feminism?

A: In Arts and Culture of course*! Forget the Politics section. Feminism IS NOT political. Repeat after me, it is women’s stuff. That makes it culture, not politics.

[At least they included it at all. On the website, the Feminism title makes it onto only one of the three lists of titles - not onto either the alphabetical list or the by-subject-grouping list. Hmmm.]

The same goes for blogs, apparently. Although I don’t frequent “political” blogs, I do frequent women’s blogs which from time to time bemoan the fact that men’s political blogs bemoan the fact that there are no women political bloggers. (Are you following this?) The point being of course, that most women bloggers write from a female perspective. Therefore, they are not political, but feminist. And feminism is not about politics.

To me, feminism self-evidently is a political movement, a political activity, a political perspective. It is a view of the world which offers both a scathing, radical analysis of existing power relations and a vision for a better society (for both women and men). Feminist activism is designed to reach out towards that better society. What could be more political than that?

Yet, time and again, the message is: feminism is not politics.

Why is that?

Is it because, if we acknowledged that feminism is politics, we would have to take it seriously and respond to it sensibly, no longer able to dismiss it as some women’s fad of no great importance to the rest of the world (i.e. to men)?

Is it because, if we acknowledged that feminism is politics, we would have to acknowledge that it has the power to change the world?

Take: enough pasta for 2-3 people; some olive oil; one onion; 2-3 cloves of garlic; a couple of handfuls of mushrooms; Worcestershire sauce; black pepper; a good dollop of double cream; and some milk if necessary.

1. Set the pasta to cook in a pan of boiling water.
2. Meanwhile, peel and chop the onion and garlic and fry them gently in the oil.
3. While the onion and garlic are getting started, finely slice the mushrooms, then add them to the pan with some extra oil if need be. Add the Worcestershire sauce and black pepper and turn up the heat.
4. Stir the mixture until the mushrooms start to look fried, then add the cream.
5. By now the pasta should be about cooked. Drain it thoroughly and add it to the creamy mushroom mixture, stirring gently to combine all the ingredients. If need be add more cream and/or milk till you get something that looks yummy.
6. Serve with parmesan and black pepper.

Makes enough for 2-3 people, which in our house means me and Baby M with seconds all round. (Pasta is the one thing she will always have seconds of!)

VEGETARIAN’S TIP
You probably already know this, but Worcestershire sauce has anchovies in it. If this bothers you, get a veggie alternative (available from your local health food store!)

Clare has blogged today about a Daily Mail article – “Sorry, but my children bore me to death!” – and rather than clog up her post with my overlong comments I’m blogging it here. This one has been ticking over in mind since I read it, and has bothered me emormously.

Perhaps it is my guilt-ridden-working-mother sensitivity speaking out here, defensively. But then the very fact that I am guilt-ridden as a working mother is a problem for me (on so many levels that I just can’t bring myself to go into it here – maybe another post!) so I am trying not to let my lingering feelings of bad-mother guilt get in the way of responding to this.

Well, the writer of this article, Helen Kirwan-Taylor, discusses how she finds children’s activities boring, and how she is not constantly in thrall to her children and their wants / needs, and how this makes her – in most people’s eyes – a really bad mother. Most of the people commenting on the article agree with her. She is a bad mother – selfish and lazy and superficial. Both she and her kids are missing out.

Although I can’t say I sympathise entirely with her position (after all, she does write for the Daily Mail and therefore must have something wrong with her!) I do respect her point of view. And I find the comments that she is getting interesting. For example, most of the commenters are quick to say that she is selfish, that her kids will turn out badly in some way, that she herself must have something pathological wrong with her, that she shouldn’t even have had the kids in the first place if she wasn’t going to look after them.

Yet she, and several of the mothers she quotes, and a number of the commenters, all describe their experiences honestly and all say that the work of mothering is dull. Are we saying that it isn’t dull and discounting their experiences? Or are we saying that, whether or not they find it dull, they should do it anyway because they chose to have children? Either way, what these commenters are saying is that there is something wrong with Kirwan-Smith and all the other mothers who expressed similar feelings. It is their fault for unnaturally not liking all the baggage of modern motherhood, or else it is their fault for not just putting up with said baggage and putting on a brave face, or else it is their fault for having kids in the first place if they weren’t just going to suck up the bad stuff along with the good.

I read through all 89 of the comments so far on this article, and even for the Daily Mail they strike me as somewhat hysterical (testerical?) in that when you read the article it is clear that Kirwan-Smith does actually spend some time with her kids and does love them and want them. She just doesn’t enjoy children’s parties, or child-centric social events such as school plays, or reading bedtime stories and, where she can, she avoids doing that stuff – preferring to have a work life and a social life as well as a maternal life. Moreover, Kirwan-Smith herself believes that her children are well-adjusted, creative young people developing as independant individuals – but her judgement doesn’t count, of course, because she is a bad mother, and other people’s idea of how her children will turn out is clearly thought to be more credible.

We all love to judge mothers – whether we say that she is a bad, selfish mother who should never have had kids in the first place, or that she is an independent woman bravely speaking out for all the mothers who are made to feel guilty about not being good enough… But what I thought was most interesting about the article and the responses to it is the almost complete absence of any reference to these children’s father. Where is he? Down the pub, if we are to take the only clue in the article seriously. He is certainly not stepping in to read the bedtime stories that his wife dislikes so much.

This is of course standard Dad behaviour. (I said standard, not universal.) Yet where are the people calling him out for being selfish, and not spending time with his kids, and leaving it all to the nanny? Who is asking him why he bothered to have children in the first place? How is his, and many other fathers’, failure to spend time with his children any less blameworthy than his wife’s? What are we hearing about his qualities as a father?

Nowhere, No-one, No-how, Not a dicky bird. Somehow, I am not surprised. Just saddened.

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