Sunday, 23 September 2012

The language instinct

A month or so ago the language switch in my daughter's brain seemed to turn on. Practically overnight her vocabulary grew vastly, and she started to have enough command of language to tell us stories. "Daddy, big hole, water," she told me after a day on the beach. It's brilliant, even when she uses it to send back her bedtime milk for not being warm enough. Chomsky, Pinker, eat your heart out.

But I have one nagging fear about her language instinct. It's been at the back of my mind since she started nursery shortly after turning one. Nursery routine goes something like this: Wash hands. Breakfast. Nappy change. Wash hands. Play. Wash hands. Lunch. Sleep. Nappy change. Wash hands. Play. Wash hands. Tea. Nappy change. Wash hands. Play. Wash hands. Snack. Home time. And ever since she started I've been dreading the day when she is able to turn to the nursery nurse helping them in the bathroom, and as soap is applied and they are encouraged to rub their hands together, says "We don't do this at home."*  

*We do, after a very messy poo or a session with paints, but not, you know, all the time.

Friday, 21 September 2012

On being fat and pregnant

It was perhaps a mistake, shortly before the birth of my daughter, to write an article on being fat and pregnant for Easy Living Magazine. Not because I didn't strongly believe the article should be written - it was about the one size fits all approach to fat women when it comes to a failure to conceive and the determination to blame this on weight when weight is only an issue here if it prevents ovulation - but because it meant speaking to experts who were mostly all doom and gloom about pregnant women.

"Fat women who are pregnant," one obstetrician told me, "are much more likely to die in childbirth." "Gulp," I said, "because I'm rather large and 38 weeks pregnant." "I'm sure you'll be fine," she said, unconvincingly.

The thing is, something I don't think non fat people understand, no amount of telling us something is dangerous is going to sate our desire for a baby. I don't know what odds they would have to have given me against my survival to stop me trying for a family but given that in my trying to conceive madness I genuinely felt that I didn't see the point of life without children, I suspect they would have had to be pretty low, and I imagine my husband would have stopped it before me.

Still, I couldn't bring myself to watch 'One Born Every Minute: Fatties' last night as I enter my third trimester with number two, though I recorded it to keep for a moment when I feel particularly vulnerable, when I shall hunker down to watch it with a big bowl of ice cream and a mansize pack of tissues. They didn't call it that, you might cry, and no, they didn't, but they might as well have, as the euphemism of 'One Born Every Minute: Plus Size Mums' is really no better.

I wrote an email to the hospital's head midwife after the birth of my daughter. Stopping short of a formal complaint it offered some friendly advice. Don't make fat women feel shit by sending them to the special fat clinic midwife, it said, if when you get busy you say oh sod it, see a normal midwife today. Either stigmatise us and follow it through with consistency that we actually need someone specially trained to look at us pitifully and ask how much we exercise, or stop bloody stigmatising us.

This time round I'm more confident. "I'll make an appointment for you to see the midwife who specialises in nutrition," my midwife said at my booking in appointment. "No thanks", I replied, "I'm not fat because I'm ignorant, I'm fat because I'm greedy." 'Refused' she duly wrote next to the appointment in my notes.

Nor are fat women allowed to use the birth centre, where women push out babies while sitting on space hoppers with whale music in the background. I don't mind this - I'm an interventionist when it comes to most things, be it world peace or birth - but I know plenty of people who do. On the other hand, I found the idea that I needed a pre birth meeting with the anaesthetist in case I wanted an epidural (I did) a bit insulting. I swear my friend's right that they are just checking you have a spine. Turns out that the same anaestheist looked after me while I had a (non fat related) post birth op for a retained placenta. "Hi", he said, "we've not met before." I wasn't too out of it, or, ahem, spineless, to put him straight.

I'm no evidence denier. I'm sure there are more dangers to fat women in pregnancy and birth than to non fat women. But my guess is the most common danger is to our mental health, when we're treated differently, told to worry and made to feel, ironically, incredibly small.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

Still tired...

There is a photo of me on Christmas day two years ago, just four days after we were allowed home from hospital with our new daughter, and in it I look absolutely and completely shattered. I feel so sorry for the me of that day whenever I see the photo that I usually burst into tears, not least because I know that as the days and weeks went on after that photo, and though that photo looks like I was at the bottom of the tiredness well, I got even more tired.

It's no surprise I was tired of course. I'd had nine months of interrupted sleep during pregnancy thanks to a baby using my bladder as a trampoline, followed by six nights in hospital without more than 45 minutes sleep in a row, then a few days at home with our slightly poorly baby where any sleep we did have was interrupted by, you know, checking she was breathing and all those crazy new parent things you do. And that's before we start on the normal newborn waking every few hours thing.

Nearly two years later, and though I have had quite a few (though not enough) extended periods of sleep since then, I am sure I still feel the effects of that sleepless beginning. It's only recently, in arguments or negotiations or when making an excuse or working out whether I can bothered to do something, that I realise I can't really point to that time two years ago and say 'don't you know I'm exhausted, I have just given birth and now have a newborn.' My newborn is nearly two. At some point I am going to have to get over it, and move on.

Lots of people don't move on from things though. I know plenty of adults who blame their behaviour as a grown up on something that happened in childhood, or what they do in their current relationship on how they were treated in a previous relationship. Experiences can explain why we are who we are, but they can't always be used as an excuse. After all, should a ninety year old be able to treat someone badly and have everyone excuse this because 'they had a difficult childhood'. At some point we have to say, 'get over it.'

So I have decided - between now and the arrival of baby number two in a few months time, when once again I demand allowances be made for pregnancy, birth and newborn exhaustion, any unreasonable behaviour on my part is not because I am tired (though believe me, I am) or dealing with a young child (though I am doing this too), but just because I am being unreasonable. Ha - there are no excuses, so anyone at the receiving end may have to take me seriously. Turns out it's empowering this being unreasonable with no excuse thing. So now it's your turn to get over it.

Monday, 17 September 2012

Baby eating shark

It's been exactly a year since this post so I thought it was time for another cute baby being eaten by a shark picture. Available here.

Sunday, 16 September 2012

Ambitious woman would like to meet...

I've been stewing on all the motivational articles I've read around the Olympics and Paralympics recently, and coupled with watching The Thick of It last night I remembered something that has been bothering me for almost ten years.

I used to work in political communications. The office was largely staffed by young women in their twenties - first or second jobbers. And a senior (male) colleague asked one day if any of us would like mentors. Yes, I said, and named the head of communications at Downing Street*. But that was too ambitious, I was told, and he wouldn't even approach him about it. The trouble with bolshy ambitious young women, he said, was we wanted too much, too soon, and that we should do things gradually without always looking ahead to the future. 

Try telling that to Jessica Ennis, or Victoria Pendleton, or Nicola Adams.

It pissed me off at the time, and it pisses me off even more now I am mum to a girl. The idea that anyone might try to thwart her ambition one day, whatever that ambition might be, is incredibly upsetting. In fact my main job, other than, you know, to love and clothe and feed and shelter her and try to encourage her to be a kind human being and nurture her inquisitiveness and give her fun memories and all of that, is to give her the confidence and self-belief and ambition, not only to want as a mentor the best person she can think of in whatever field she wants to enter, but to tell the person who says she can't where to go. 

I see from Facebook that the other woman he was referring to at the time also has a little girl. Luckily, I also know that he doesn't. So within a generation it may all work out okay.


*By the way David Hill, I think you would have been a great mentor for me. Not only did I grow up in Walthamstow, where you live, but I too could be described,as you were in a BBC Profile, as "...lively, quarrelsome, occasionally aggressive - and extremely good company." Have your people call my people...