Thursday, 22 November 2012

Only kidnap a child who shares your surname

The other week border officials at Eurostar's UK Passport Control in Brussels asked me to prove my daughter was in fact my daughter. They said they were challenging me because we do not share a surname. Here's an article for The Guardian that I have written about this, published today.

Travel troubles: the problems of not sharing your child's surname

And here are articles about the Mexican case to which I refer:

The blond 'Mexican beggar child' story holds a mirror to US perceptions of race

Little blonde beggar girl whose treatment has sparked race row in Mexico

And a previous post by me on a similar subject:

I did not steal my baby

Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Closing the doors on the advent calendar idea

Last year my friend, who blogs as When you ARE that woman, wrote a lovely post about a book and DVD advent calendar she had made for her sons, where they had a Christmassy thing to read or watch each December evening in the run up to the big day.

I loved the idea of this and from January-March I pounced on any Christmassy reads in charity shops hoping to make my own. I got so many I thought perhaps I would make them for friends' kids too. It wasn't hard - as That woman had pointed out to me, many books you don't automatically think of as a Christmas book is actually set at Christmas - Cops and Robbers takes place on Christmas Eve, That's not my penguin might as well be and the wintry scene of The Gruffalo's Child is ripe for a North Pole interpretation.

But all this was before I knew a second one was on the way, due the week before Christmas and within days of the first one's birthday. A birthday, a birth (hopefully), Chanukah (a present a day for eight days!) and Christmas itself suddenly seems an awful lot to contend with without having to summon up enthusiasm for an extra twenty-four presents, and not just opening them but reading or watching them too.

So whilst I am looking forward to watching The Snowman and introducing my daughter to the comfort of an annual tearfest, and Father Christmas Needs a Wee tickles me despite poor rhyme and an unlovable Santa, and Brigg's Father Christmas is fit for both reading and watching, and Cops and Robbers will do me any day of the year, and I'm rather taken by Penny Ives' Mrs Christmas, and the tactile That's not my..., be it snowman, penguin or santa, still pleases us all, an organised once a day advent thing is proving a bit beyond me this year.

Of course birthdays and Christmas are immovable and Chanukah moves though is beyond my control, so this will be the case forever more,. But I still love the idea. One day I shall be brave enough to try it.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

How to make a fuss

At an antenatal appointment this week I was ushered into a room before my main appointment so my urine and blood pressure could be tested. The room, a side room off the waiting room, would be private if only they'd shut the door. And, of course, if they hadn't tried to do my tests in the same room at the same time as they were testing someone else. I made a fuss of course, I am good at that. "It's not our normal practice" they told me. "Then why are you doing it now?" I asked. So they waited, not, I think, because they thought I was being reasonable, but because I was making a fuss. Or as I think of it, making a fuss. The reason? As I explained to them, it's no good for patient confidentiality, mine or the other patient's, if they discover something wrong with one of our tests.

But I have a particular interest in/chip on my shoulder about this issue that stems back to the early weeks of my daughter's life. In the area in which we live, due to high density housing, a large number of immigrants and poverty, all newborns are offered a BCG injection to protect against turberculosis. I was in two minds whether to have this for my daughter, largely because of the associated swelling and scarring and not wanting my beautiful newborn's perfect skin to be sullied in this way, but a belief in herd immunity won out and we duly went to our appointment.

If you are not the kind of person who believes that environment affects behaviour you have probably never been to this particular health centre in Tottenham, North London, where the TB jabs in our area are offered, I used to be a patient at the GP practice there but found it so demoralising I left very quickly. Once I rang over fifty times before getting through to a receptionist. Upon telling the GP I finally saw about this he agreed,saying he'd had the same problem one day when trying to call in sick. Unlike my current GP where you get what you want by being nice to the receptionists, there I found you only got acknowledged by being as arsey as possible.

Anyway the appointment started badly when everyone there for this injection was asked to fill out a form about their baby including whether they are HIV positive. I understand of course that medical professionals need to know the answer to this, but the forms were being collated on the counter where any other patient walking by could see them. This would not only impinge on my daughter's confidentiality if the answer were yes, but on my own too. On principle I objected.

We were then escorted into a room with another parent and baby. "Are you intending to do both of these children in this room one after the other?" I asked. They said yes. What did I do? That's right, I made a fuss. It wasn't going to happen, I explained, for two reasons. First, I did not want my child, or the other child, to get upset by the post injection screams of the child who went first. But also because it was possible that I, or the other mother, might have medical questions or issues to ask that should be kept confidential. Not just HIV which was clearly on the agenda as a question, but anything else too. "You'll have to wait here in the corridor then," they told me. Which I did. But I was fuming. What they were trying to do as a time saving measure ignored some of the basic tenets of healthcare that we expect our modern health service to offer.

It reminded me, in those early days, that I was not only my own health advocate, but my daughter's, and that just because she was a baby did not mean she didn't also have the right to respect, dignity and privacy as a patient. What's more, that there are times when she will only get that by making a fuss, something I am proving very adept at teaching her.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

The extra hours

I received a phone call the other day at about 10.30pm, just after I'd put my phone on silent for the night, though I happened to see I had a message when shortly after I reached for my phone to set my alarm.

The call was a member of the production team of a respected morning news program on the radio. They wondered whether I might be interested in being a rent-a-gob, I mean insightful commentator, for an item they were planning the next morning about, oddly, The Great British Bake-Off. I say oddly because though I like cake, and indeed like the programme, I have not written about it and am not a cookery expert.

Now once upon a time I would have leapt at the chance. I'd never been on this programme before. It's the one all the journalists and all the politicos listen to and would have reminded them I exist and am available for work. Plus I love the challenge of speaking about things I am not an expert on, having to become an instant expert en route to the studio by speed reading cuttings. Except in these days of limited sleep there is very little that would persuade me to voluntarily get up before 6am, though it happens more often than I would like that I am woken up at that time by calls of "mummy, mummy" and little feet padding into our room. (Whoever it was that told me children don't realise they can get out of bed by themselves for months after moving to a 'big girl bed' was either wrong or I have a child genius on my hands).

And even if I had wanted to do it, I would have had to wake my husband, also a convert to the early night in an attempt to counter the demands of pre-dawn parenting, to find out what time he had to be at work and to negotiate changes to the next day's childcare.

There have, in fact, been a flurry of media requests for me recently, which is odd as I have gone from being a bit of a media whore once upon a time, the kind of person who thought nothing of getting up at 5am to get a cab in the snow to the Sky Studios in the back of beyond in Osterley to review the day's papers, to turning down most requests.

One came a couple of months ago from one of my favourite radio programmes asking me to speak about an issue that features in my feminism book, and that I still feel strongly about. But again it fell on one of the days I spend with my daughter. Never mind that these days are precious and I largely enjoy our time together, and have chosen to work part-time in order to have this, but the logistics were impossible. I would do it, I said, if I could bring my daughter and if they had a child-friendly member of staff prepared to sit somewhere safe with her and entertain her. They could probably arrange this, they said, they would have a researcher do it if they were free. If, of course, was no good. What would I do if the if didn't work out - jiggle her on my knee trying to stop her demanding an episode of Charlie and Lola or grab the microphone in the studio whilst discussing the appropriateness of rape jokes? Sure I know I can multi-task, but can the listeners tune out a toddler while taking on board her mummy's salient points? So I turned it down.

I know now why the people I was paired with on those early morning sojourns to Osterley were usually men and certainly never women of the age where they might have young children - other than the fact that two women youngish women sharing a slot is unusual in itself what with most commentators and pundits chosen to go on air being men. Because logistically mothers cannot just drop everything at the short notice broadcasting demands and head to the studio. And when they do, it's a much bigger deal to have gone to all that trouble if the item is pushed off the agenda and the slot shelved just a few hours later. Which is a shame because it only takes people seeing you on television or hearing you on the radio once or twice to think you must do it all the time and that you are very much in demand and that therefore they too should offer you work.

That's the thing about mothers' careers. It's not about whether we are any good at doing our job or put in our core hours or have lost confidence. It's about the extra things - the networking evenings that would mean getting home to bed hours later than our usual bedtime, opportunities lost due to childcare arrangements and an unwillingness to drop everything for a tenuous arrangement that would be great if it worked out but a pain in the arse if it didn't. These extra things are the ones that raise our profiles and give the impression of industriousness, and it is without these that our careers suffer.