Twenty years ago, if I’d pictured myself with children, I’d have seen them as school-aged, possibily teenage. I would not have expected to be pregnant at 40, but here I am. The past few days have seen a spate of fertility panic articles, prompted by gyeacologist Professor Geeta Nargund’s letter to Nicky Morgan, asking that asking that young people be “warned” of the risks of leaving it too late (that is, until you are in your 30s) before trying for a baby. While I wouldn’t argue that my own late pregnancy means that Nargund is highlighting a made-up problem – fertility is unpredictable, and it does drop off with age – the nature and focus of the panic alarms me. Is the problem really female ignorance, or the fact that women are being asked to conform to a series of impossible, contradictory ideals? And if it is the latter, how would additional pressure – as opposed to support – ever help?

It’s easy to say “have children young” but any woman who does so is likely to be going against a huge number of powerful cultural directives. Many young women are not yet in fixed relationships and may not wish to be, yet we live in a country in which the nuclear, two-parent family is still fetishised; even if politicians and religious leaders have become slightly more tolerant of same-sex and unmarried couples, single parenthood is rarely presented as a positive choice. The “hardworking family” –  one in which two parents are in paid employment, or one earns enough for another to stay at home to care for children full-time – is held up as an ideal, as though the practical obstacles in the way of such “hard work” (low pay, zero hours contracts, workfare, prohibitively expensive childcare) simply do not exist.

Government recognition of unpaid care work extends no further than proposals to offer tax breaks for married couples, marginally increasing the take-home pay of (usually) husbands who have stay-at-home wives rather than helping carers as a whole. Individualism and ambition are celebrated in the workplace while selflessness is expected in the home. Technological progress has meant that in practical terms, domestic labour ought to be less arduous, but increasing demands regarding what constitutes “good mothering” have taken the place of physical work. The only person who has the time and space be a “good mother” is someone with a wealthy partner and/or vast independent means, but even she will end up being dismissed as someone who “doesn’t work.” Meanwhile, wealth has become increasingly concentrated amongst the older generation, people who are long past childbearing age. Young people are being asked to behave like their parents and grandparents without the same access to property and stable work. (more…)

This morning I had a long bubble bath, with a cup of coffee and a book – a pleasant Sunday morning treat. Nothing strange about that, except for the fact that my partner was out and I had one child still at home. I have long felt that treats are not something one should have unless one’s children are out, soundly asleep or with another responsible adult. This morning, however, it crossed my mind that my elder son did not really need me to monitor his Minecraft adventures and that, should he require anything, his knowledge of which kitchen cupboards to position a chair beneath was sufficient. So I left him to it.

It has taken me years – years and years and years – to get to this stage (needless to say, I’m not quite there with the younger one). If having a baby snatches away all those freedoms you’ve taken for granted, raising a child is a long, slow process of winning them back, with some sadness, yes (why doesn’t he need me now?), but far more appreciation than ever before. It’s been a while since showering and going to the toilet alone were not possibilities, but  I still remember those early restrictions. On one level I can’t imagine ever going back, which makes me all the more bewildered as I stare down at my bump looming out of the bubbles, a future restriction kicking away.

I am getting back on the treadmill – in theory, at least. Part of me does not expect this next baby to really be a baby. I have done babies. I am over that. There were those four or five years which I still see through a kind of haze – tiredness, probably – but I have come out the other side. My next child will have the body of a baby (for ease of birthing purposes) but the mind and capabilities of a five-year-old. A well-behaved five-year-old with inexpensive tastes. Things can’t possibly be like they were before.

The distance from baby- and toddlerhood has allowed me to become increasingly honest, and scathing, about some of the realities. There are toys I have in storage I now look upon in dread. Red fox running about, are you in? Or are you out? Let’s play! I can/cannot believe that such activities and mantras await me again. And childcare fees. I have, I think, paid enough over the years. I can’t be expected to pay again. Ditto sleeplessness. With my first two there were difficulties I could not admit to myself at the time for fear of being someone who couldn’t cope. Crying in the car on the way to toddler groups (but not real crying, obviously, so I’d tell myself). I have since taken the liberty of acknowledging how things really were, meaning that this next baby must come on easy mode. Which obviously it won’t.

I am having another baby for the same reason I had a first baby and a second: because you can’t half-have one. You can’t dip your toe into the water, enjoy the good bits, discard the rest. You either do it or you don’t. And to be honest, I can’t wait. Unless I win the lottery (which I don’t play) this will be my last ever pregnancy, my last ever baby, the last chance I have to feel and be all this with another tiny person. The excitement I feel at this also makes me feel irrational because this time I know. I can’t plead ignorance. So I am torn between bring it on, savour the moment and I hope he does me a favour and gets to seven or eight pretty quickly, then I can have more Sunday morning baths. All this mixed with the knowledge that by the time he gets to one, I’ll inexplicably want to do it/not do it again.

This should no doubt lead to some great conclusion about what motherhood is “really” like but it doesn’t. Only that feelings are not straightforward and I am someone who likes straightforward feelings almost as much as I like being able to go to the toilet alone. Which, for the time being, I can still do (hiding away in the bathroom with a book, yelling to the kids that “Mummy needs extra time because Mummy has to go for the foetus, too!”). Soon I won’t be able to and, as will be the case for years to come, I don’t mind and I do.

Post written on 8th January 2015

At the time of writing this I am 5 weeks pregnant – so not very pregnant at all. My period is late, my breasts are sore and the blue line on the test leaves no doubt, but it is early days and I am 39. I don’t know what the risk of miscarriage is but I know it will be much higher than when I lost a pregnancy at 31. I have not looked it up. What good would it do? But I am worrying, all the time.

I cannot stand the worry of the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, that time when you know something is inside you and that that something could be everything or nothing. The alternatives could not be more extreme. I could have a baby before the year is out or I could be empty-handed. There is no consolation prize – perhaps a niece or nephew, or a cute kitten. Nothing could replace the loss, and the risk of losing is so high.

I have developed various psychological ruses to try to make early pregnancy more bearable. I am not yet “mummy” to this thing inside me (currently the size of a sesame seed). I pretend it’s like the X-Factor. I am not “having a baby”; I have merely entered a competition that involves many, many stages. A positive pregnancy test is just getting through the judges’ auditions (trying to conceive being the producer trial run). Right now I’m nearing the stage where the heartbeat may or may not start; I look at my stomach and hope for a spark that I’ll be unable to see or feel. Getting that spark is being chosen for boot camp, then a positive 12-week scan is a trip to a judge’s house. Only after 24 weeks do you make it to the live final. I am exaggerating the odds deliberately. There is far more chance of me having a baby than there is of me winning the X-Factor. Yet pregnancy is unknowable and capricious. Like Simon Cowell.

And so the worry continues, with every twinge being a sign that it’s all gone wrong. That said, my miscarriage at 10 weeks was not heralded by stomach cramps (at first); it was the loss of hardness and sensitivity in my breasts. I simply no longer “felt” pregnant.

“But you’ve never been pregnant before!” said my partner, trying to be reassuring. “How would you know?”

But I just knew. Then again, I’ve “just known” it had all gone wrong during what turned out to be perfectly healthy pregnancies. Right now, for reassurance, I spend a lot of time prodding my breasts, hoping no colleagues on neighbouring desks notice. Then I worry that my breasts are only sore now because of all the prodding. Plus I don’t yet feel sick and I want to feel sick, just a bit (nothing too dramatic, obviously, but just so I know).

Sometimes I am afraid to move. I need to keep reminding myself that the following things do not, in all probability, lead to pregnancy loss:

  • Sneezing / coughing / “over-exertion”(which could of course mean anything)
  • Decaffeinated coffee which your body “thinks” is caffeinated
  • Tempting fate by feeling happy about being pregnant
  • Tempting fate by telling people that you’re pregnant
  • Tempting fate by telling yourself “no, it’s nothing” every time you feel one of those “pains” which, a week ago, you wouldn’t have noticed at all

I tell myself that if it was that easy to end a pregnancy, women wouldn’t still be fighting and dying for basic reproductive rights. An unwanted pregnancy could be solved by downing a couple of espressos and jumping up and down on a trampoline while eating brie and yelling “I’M PREGGGGNAAAAANNNNT!” (in much the way Noddy Holder yells “It’s CHRISSSSTMAAAASSS!”). It is more difficult than that. When an embryo wants to stay put, it does (unfortunately you cannot persuade a reluctant one to remain in place by double-bluffing fate by pretending you don’t want to be pregnant at all; yes, I have tried).

There are of course some things which do cause miscarriage: chromosome abnormalities; placenta defects; sheep (I think – I vaguely remember something to do with sheep, but I am too scared to check and just remain thankful I don’t live in Cumbria any more). And there are things which increase the probability of having one: being over 35 (can’t do anything about that); having had a previous miscarriage (ditto); caffeine consumption (I’ve given up my daily dose, but what if the embryo doesn’t realise that Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Decaffeinated Columbian Fairtrade Ground Coffee isn’t the real thing? What if it “thinks” I’m not showing it sufficient respect and decides to sod off anyway?). The thing is, I just want you to stay, invisible sesame seed thing! And I don’t know what to do to make it happen! Please?

I do not want to feel this way. I want to feel like an all-powerful fertility goddess, brazenly creating new life, not some fear-filled failure, just waiting for it to all go wrong. Since I already know that pessimism does not lessen the pain of miscarriage, why not just cherish the hope while it lasts? Somehow I just can’t. Instead I’m counting down the days till I reach the judge’s house, hopefully not alone.

Postscript: I’m now at 20 weeks which, for some reason, feels like a psychological triumph, as though somehow the foetus and I have got here together by virtue of me thinking the “right” thoughts. The first trimester, which is always so grim, has finally come to an end (it is so much longer than 12 weeks!). I know that in truth I’m just lucky yet it always feels like more than luck – a moral test of sorts. I do think if we could find different, better ways of talking about this it might feel different.

Well, here’s hoping that publishing this doesn’t mess things up …

According to Kirstie Allsopp, nature is not a feminist. On the face of it, it’s hard to disagree. Gloria Steinem, Andrea Dworkin, Audre Lorde? Feminist. Nature – plants, trees, flowers and stuff? Not feminist. There, that was easy.

Of course, this isn’t exactly what Allsopp means. Her comment comes in the midst of an online “debate” about fertility, one of those in which you’re meant to take a position on when a woman, any woman, should reproduce. The most ridiculous thing about it is the suggestion there might actually be a right answer. Too early? You’re feckless and just won’t cope. Too late? You might have missed your chance. Somewhere in the middle? Way to piss off your poor, hard done-to employer, you traitor to the cause! Face it, would-be breeders, you’re destined to fuck it up, and besides, we haven’t even taken into account the specificity of your situation. We’re talking about this as though it’s an abstract choice, in which issues of safety, wealth, culture, interpersonal relationships etc. don’t play any part (best not start looking into those things, too, or your head would explode). (more…)

Way-hey! Richard Dawkins – who is male and science and think-y – is pro-choice ( sort of)!  He may not be big on women’s rights and consent in general, but he knows an opportunity to have a pop at Catholics and the disabled when he sees one. Let’s send him over to Ireland forthwith, to sort out the issue with reason and logic where all those shouty women have failed.

And yet I do wonder whether boorish, imperialistic tweeting, topped off with some smug-but-irrelevant science facts, is the right way to go about these things. Apart from anything else, the whole angle of analysis seems to me somewhat off – an obsessive focus on what the foetus is (can it suffer? Does it feel pain? What is its chromosome make-up?) and very little on the context of its surroundings. While this makes for a pleasant parlour game, I’m not convinced it gets to the heart of the matter: are pregnant women people?

The abortion “debate”, such as it is, continually revolves around the personhood or otherwise of the foetus. Personally (and I’m a woman so I may have got this wrong) I’ve always thought the pertinent issue was the personhood of the foetus container. After all, person or not, you wouldn’t just destroy something for no reason. And since overall it is considered impermissible to breach another person’s bodily integrity in order to give life to another – rendering forced blood, bone marrow or kidney donation illegal – surely the same should apply to pregnancy, assuming pregnant women are to be accorded the same status as everyone else. Of course, this is an enormous assumption to make, one which flies in the face of our general expectations of womankind (Richard’s in particular), but let’s just explore it for one moment.  Are they actual people or just, conveniently, walking wombs? (more…)

Everybody loves babies, at least in abstract terms. They’re super cute, aren’t they? All babbly and cuddly, with their plump little arms and downy heads. They never start wars or fuck up the economy or make George Osborne Briton of the Year. They just flop around being babies. Bless them. I bloody love babies, I do.

I’ve had two babies myself. They’ve not been cute all the time, what with the incontinence and crying and being totally useless at witty repartee, but it’s pretty hard not to fall for your own. Mine are particularly brilliant now and were perfectly lovely when they were tiny. I was even fond of them when they were foetuses, loving every kick, wriggle and hiccough.

Like most people who pay attention in biology classes, I’ve a good understanding of what pregnancy means. I’ve seen that little heartbeat fluttering on the scan and been filled with complete and utter joy. It’s not just a clump of cells, it’s a human life – a bloody miracle! And how fragile, innocent and precious that tiny life must be. The trouble is, though, I’m also a pro-choicer. What this means is that whenever anyone mentions the word “abortion” I forget all of the above. I just think, “sod it. Baby, schmaby. Isn’t it just some random blob?”

This, at least, is how a number of male columnists seem to think pro-choice women operate. Silly little creatures who come to the debating table having completely forgotten the magnitude of having a life grow inside them. Good job there’s always a bloke on hand to explain it to them.

Take Mehdi Hasan, for instance. Last year he took it upon himself to patiently explain to the pro-choice lobby that “Being pro-life doesn’t make me any less of a lefty”. His piece included the following anecdote, which I’m sure will delight us all:

I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”.

Obviously I’m grateful for that insight. Me, I look back on having 20-week scans and think “bloody hell, what kind of alien parasite was that?” The very idea that one could invest personhood in one’s own offspring and still have a clear-eyed view of the human cost of pregnancy; well, that’s just impossible, isn’t it?

Then we have Marko Attilla Hoare getting out the tissues at Left Foot Forward and telling us that “abortion is a tragic choice no woman should have to make”:

Women who seek abortions are victims of a society that does not respect them or their babies; they should not be stigmatised or treated as criminals. But let us stop pretending that this ongoing bloody tragedy is a manifestation of their emancipation.

I’ve responded to this more fully here. Suffice it to say, I am surprised at Hoare’s pitching of abortion as the choice of the woman who lacks privilege, since without easy access to safe, free abortion, it tends to be only the very wealthy who can avail themselves of what should be universal right. But never mind. Clearly the 68,000 women who die every year due to limitations on legal abortion are emancipated in ways I could never understand.

Now we have Tim Montgomerie of The Times (and supporter of SPUC), telling us that “the ground is shifting in the abortion debate”. Montgomerie writes approvingly of the recent approval for new restrictions on abortion in Spain, and of Michigan’s decision to force women requesting abortion see pictures of foetal development to help them “fully understand what they’re choosing” (because clearly they have no sodding idea). He’s utterly incensed about UK abortions being permitted at later dates on the grounds of foetal abnormality:

Many people are simply too frightened of having to raise a disabled child. Although the UK currently recognises that a 24-week-old foetus deserves the full protection of the law, this protection is not afforded to babies that might be disabled in some inadequately defined way.

Brave, brave Tim, making a stand against all those women who carry a foetus inside them for 24 weeks then think “disability? Yuck! Can’t be arsed!”. If only there were more Tims like him. But wait, there are! Here’s Tim Stanley of The Telegraph ready to back Montgomerie up:

Yeah. Who’d be pro-choice at Christmas? Imagine. Makes you think etc. etc.

The thing is, I’d rather not be pro-choice at Christmas. Who would? It makes you sound like a right Scrooge. “Right to life? Nah, not for them there embryos, Tiny Tim.” If it was all about protecting unborn babies, I’d be waving the anti-choice flag as much as the next person. The trouble is, that’s not what abortion is about. Human beings not yet born are not merely sitting in some waiting room, hoping that the evil pro-choicers won’t come and nab them before their time has come. They’re inside other human beings. These other human beings need ownership of their own flesh and blood. Clearly that’s a right pain in the arse, but there it is.

Being pro-choice is hard because it involves empathising not just with abstract innocents, but with women who are faceless, ordinary and no more perfect than you or I. There’s evidence to suggest that, at least when it comes to their own lives and those of their nearest and dearest, anti-choicers can be somewhat flexible in their understanding of pro-life politics. Being pro-choice involves taking the empathy you have for those closest to you and extending it to all women, whoever they are and whatever they’ve done. In a patriarchal society that isn’t easy but we owe it to womankind to do so. Fussing over the blameless foetus is easy; defending the rights of normal, everyday human beings is far more difficult (but, if we’re going to get religious about it, I’d bet it’s what Jesus would do).

In Backlash Susan Faludi refers to US legal cases in which it was established that parents are not obliged to sacrifice their bodily autonomy for their live, born children. In one such ruling the judge stated that “to compel the defendant to submit to an intrusion of his body would change every concept and principle on which our society is founded. To do so would defeat the sanctity of the individual.” And yet this is precisely what anti-choicers expect pregnant women to do for those not yet born. In England, where consent to organ donation after death is not even assumed by default, we still expect living pregnant women to give and give, regardless of their physical health, social environment and personal needs. This is not right. If we’re prepared to let people die because we won’t automatically harvest the dead, we should not expect the living to serve as hosts for those not yet born regardless of the effect this will have on their lives.

When it comes to foetal abnormality, I’ve made my personal position clear before. And I feel bad, if not ashamed, about it. I don’t want to care for a severely disabled child because I’m already in a position of having to care for a disabled adult in later years and I know what it involves. And having grown up with this adult, I know what it’s like to have this pressure around you when you’re young and I don’t want that for my children, too. It’s not easy. It’s miserable. The thing that Montgomerie et al miss is that we are not simply talking about babies (who are in any case dependant). We can be talking about whole human lifespans, and witnessing slow, agonising declines. One thing I know for sure is that not wishing the pressure I face to be upon my children is in no way similar to wishing the person I have to care for out of existence. I love him, but I am realistic about my limits, and those of people around me (and of the society I live in). It’s a horrible thing to admit to but it is, I think, more truthful than glibly stating that people are “too frightened to raise a disabled child”.

And that, perhaps, is the most difficult thing about being pro-choice. You feel it strongly and vehemently because you respect the bodies of other women, but you also know it’s not as neat as you’d like. You know it’s difficult. Some things are morally messy, but it’s no reason to trample over the bodily autonomy of half the human race.

It would be brilliant if pro-choicers were simply deluded. If “look, it’s actually a baby!” was the only answer we needed. That’s not how it is. “Look, we’re all human beings, we all make difficult choices, we all have to own our bodies and lives” is the less satisfactory answer. It is, nonetheless, the most honest and humane one we can give.

Word order can make a huge amount of difference to meaning. I suspect anyone who writes headlines knows this. Having never written headlines myself, I don’t know the precise rules on making a story a bit less true but a lot more interesting. I know, however, that it doesn’t take much to achieve this. Even the subtlest of differences can make a huge impact.

Right now several news outlets are running reports on Kate Middleton’s experience of giving birth. “Kate Middleton told friends: I had a ‘perfect, natural’ labour” reveals the Hollywood Times. “Kate Middleton calls birth ‘natural and perfect’” says the Christian Post. ”Kate Middleton tells friends of her ‘perfect, natural birth’” announces Yahoo. According to the International Business Times not only did Middleton have a “perfect, natural” labour, she even had a “perfect, natural” pregnancy, too (although anyone who knows the slightest thing about hyperemesis gravidarum might dispute the latter). (more…)

Should the royal baby be born with a uterus, I dread to think of the miserable pregnancies that await her. Given how intrusive we’ve been this time around — will Kate breastfeed?, is she too posh to push?, is it out yet, is it, is it? — I’m wondering how much further it can go. Perhaps by the time she marries we’ll be having a monthly day of mourning each time our future Queen has a period. The grim two-week wait known by all couples trying to conceive will be tracked by all major news outlets (graphs from the Daily Mail, complex CSV data files from the Guardian). Newscasters will solemnly inform us that since, by this stage, First Response has a 99% accuracy rate, once again we’re likely to be disappointed. Recourse to IVF would be a source of national shame, surrogacy a catastrophe. Actual infertility, or recurrent miscarriage, or stillbirth – well, let’s not even go there.

Today’s focus on the fact that the Duchess of Cambridge is in labour — but how far? How many centimetres dilated? Tell us, tell us! — has really freaked me out. I’m not a fan of the royal family — neither the principle nor the individuals — but I find the media frenzy *prim voice* rather distasteful. I imagine Kate Middleton (or Windsor or whatever she’s now called) doesn’t give a shit at this point in time. For all I know she’s high on pethidine, demanding Rage Against The Machine as birth music and telling William she only ever married him for the money and fame. Even so, this national focus on one woman giving birth seems to me wrong. It shows, not just how much how pathetically obsequious we commoners remain, but how far we trivialise the whole of pregnancy and labour, presenting it as one set narrative with a happy ending. It’s not.

I don’t know how hard the Windsors found it to conceive. I don’t know whether there were pregnancy losses along the way. I won’t ever know because it’s not part of the official plot. True, it’s not my business to ponder how much fruitless, passionless shagging took place in the quest for our third in line, but neither is it my business to know how long the Duchess has been in labour, or whether she’s having pain relief, or countless other things which are meant to be of national importance. We’re not just being fed royalist propaganda, we’re being fed sanitised pregnancy propaganda too. It sits alongside the whole morality tale that insists that those who don’t drink or smoke, take their folic acid, practice their breathing, don’t lie on their right side, make sure the bath water’s not too hot, have a loving, supportive (and ideally rich) partner etc. etc. will bring forth happy, healthy, bouncing babies. It’s this very narrative that makes the millions of people for whom this doesn’t happen feel so alone, while also feeding into the anti-choice lie that pregnancy and birth are mere stages in the pre-born lives of others, and not violent, bloody and potentially highly risky experiences.

When my partner and I lost a pregnancy we were knocked for six, even though we’d known the statistics and tried hard to prepare ourselves not to think too far ahead. This evening my partner commented that if something went wrong with the royal birth, it would be a tragedy for those most immediately involved, but might at least go some way to changing our rose-tinted, moralistic narrative regarding perfect pregnancies and risk. It’s hardly the way you’d want it to be changed, though. But labour can reduce you to your most raw and it seems to me strange that, at a point where (one suspects) the regal mask is most likely to have slipped, we’re doing our damndest to reinforce not just the myth of royalty, but the myth of birth as mere storybook ending.

“The women who have had nine abortions” screams the Telegraph headline. Then you click on the link and find out that these 33 women – about whose experiences we know absolutely nothing – are mere statistics embedded in a more general piece on “repeat” abortions. That’s a pity, isn’t it? Shouldn’t these feckless baby killers be named and shamed?

You do of course wonder how the Telegraph would react if news came that anyone who’d had one abortion never had a second. Presumably this would mean that all those tragic “abortion industry“ victims / cold-hearted murderers had seen the error of their ways and vowed never to do the same again. In actual fact, though, that’s not what’s happening. Not only are there women who have more than one abortion over the course of their lives but the number who do so is increasing. (more…)

Whether or not the Duchess of Cambridge chooses to breastfeed her baby – and if so, whether or not she chooses to do so in public – is fast becoming one of those utterly pointless “national debates”, the entire purpose of which is idle point-scoring. True, for all I know Kate Middleton is at home this very minute, scanning the reader comments in the Huffington Post in order to decide what to do with her own breasts and where to do it, but I doubt that very much. I can imagine Diana being that bothered, certainly, if she thought it would simultaneously win the nation’s hearts and piss off the queen,  but not so much Kate. All the same, it’s a bizarre pressure to be placed under. Isn’t it bad enough to be part of a family that is constitutionally obliged to treat you like a brood mare? (more…)

Part of me feels amused that the Daily Mail is lauding the Duchess of Cambridge for not being “too posh to posh”. Isn’t the whole purpose of today’s royal family being posh?  Indeed, isn’t she rather letting the side down by opting for a mere vaginal birth, or “natural” birth as the press likes to call it, presumably because a duchess wouldn’t have anything so vulgar as a vagina? I’m not sure what she’s meant to have instead, mind – perhaps a plush velvet gateway, to counteract the sheer commonness of pushing.  

Of course, the Kate Middleton may end up not pushing anyhow. Or pushing and having a caesarean anyhow, which is then classed as not having pushed. Pushing is, after all, not a physical act but a moral identifier. Anyhow I don’t really want to think about it because it’s no business of mine or anyone else’s how she gives birth. (more…)

This evening I read my children a lovely story called The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure. In it, a beautiful princess called Kate visits her friends Biff, Chip and Kipper, owners of a magic key which takes them on amazing trips to far-off lands and … Only kidding. The Duchess of Cambridge’s Big Adventure is actually the story of a woman in her thirties who looks nice while being pregnant. The end.

Disappointing though it is that Kate Middleton isn’t doing something genuinely adventurous, it’s not entirely surprising. Day after day we’re reminded that she’s “ripping up the royal baby rule book” by planning to stay with her parents once her baby is born. And that she’s whipping Kim Kardashian’s much commented-on arse in the pregnancy fashion stakes. All very exciting, at least for those of us who are excited by staying with parents and wearing clothes. For the rest of the world, it’s just a bit bewildering. You know something’s not quite right, but it’s hard to put your finger on it. Is it the crapness of royal protocol, the shamelessness of royalty itself, the fawning press, the sexism, the infantilisation of pregnant women … or all of these things at once? And is it even worth worrying about it now when it’s only going to get worse? (more…)

According to the headlines, new advice issued to pregnant women by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists could be “confusing”. That’s not a word I’d use. Patronizing, impractical, scare-mongering, guilt-inducing, yes. Confusing, no. Contrary to popular belief, pregnant women are not porridge-brained fools, panicking at the merest mention of “chemicals” and “science”. They’re not confused. They know unhelpful advice when they see it. Unfortunately, it still doesn’t stop them feeling guilty. That’s because, contrary to yet more popular belief, pregnant women are human beings (and, despite what the pictures tell you, they have heads!). 

The latest recommendations from the RCOG state that pregnant women should avoid too many “chemicals”. Not all chemicals, mind – just “some chemicals”. In stuff. Stuff like “food packaging, household products, over-the-counter medicines and cosmetics”. So not things you’d encounter in actual, day-to-day life, apart from all the bloody time. There’s no direct evidence that these chemicals do any harm but it’s best to “play it safe” by being scared witless.

So the latest thing to avoid when pregnant is iodine. No, wait – I got it the wrong way round! When pregnant it’s best to have loads of the stuff. Loads of iodine, and loads of iron. And maybe all the other elements that start with “I”, just to be on the safe side (I’ve heard iridium’s nice).

As with all these things, you’re not allowed just to have supplements, though. That’d be cheating (oh, and taking iodine supplements “stuns” the thyroid. A likely story). You have to get your iodine through eating a varied diet, the kind of diet it’s impossible to eat because you’re so busy trying to avoid anything unpasteurised /raw /caffeinated /unwashed /with a high mercury content (that’s assuming you can keep food down in the first place). Anyhow, do your best, and just to help you, here’s a handy, meaningless table listing the iodine content in mcg per average serving of various common foodstuffs. Just make sure it adds up to 250mcg every day while you’re pregnant or breastfeeding; it’s easy, providing you ignore the fact that the list contains items such as nuts, shellfish and oily fish which, actually, you’re not really allowed (plus organic milk is now worse for you than normal milk, but only in terms of iodine content. Make of that what you will). But hey, in case it all seems too much of a hassle, the British Dietetic Association have even illustrated their advice with one of those photos of a headless pregnant woman. There’s a man standing behind her, hands resting protectively on her bump. So now you know just how important it is. You’re not a person, you’re a baby-brewing machine, and you run on iodine, folic acid and virtue. (more…)

According to the Daily Mail, my children should never have been born. To be fair, this is true for 99.9% of the human race but it’s always interesting to identify the various and overlapping reasons why this should be so. In this particular instance it’s because they are descended from women who had children in their forties – i.e. old ladies who left it too late.

Both my partner and I have mothers who were born to women over forty. This is because Lancashire in the 1940s was a seething hotbed of middle-class feminist extremism, where women were too busy smashing through glass ceilings to think of reproducing in a timely manner. Or it might be, in my case, because my grandma came from an Irish Catholic background, didn’t believe in practising any form of contraception and had a load of other children before my mother, most of whom survived to adulthood. This is something from which I clearly benefited, having thereby got to exist, but it’s not without its drawbacks. Women such as my grandma clearly didn’t know the risks of late motherhood, such a being pregnant while not being at your maximum blooming potential. The few black and white photos we have don’t show it but let’s be honest, she probably looked well past it by the time she was having my mum – a bit like Kate Garraway in this photo.

Baby bump: a stomach swollen to beyond its usual size due to the presence of a fetus. Precise size of bump will vary, dependent on age of fetus, genetic heritage of stomach owner and sheer bloody randomness. And, um, that’s about it as far as baby bumps are concerned, only that’s not saying much. So here are some further facts I’ve compiled, mainly out of annoyance at all the inexplicable admiration that the Duchess of Cambridge is getting merely for having a small one:

  • If you are famous, it is not possible merely to go out and about while in possession of a bump. You “debut” said bump, then “flaunt” it. To be fair, you might then go on to do a nude magazine cover with arms “tastefully” covering your tits but at this point why not? Might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb.
  • Small bumps are, generally, good.* For instance, if you’re the Kate Middleton-as-was it’s really classy. Reporters can’t shut up about how petite it is, with the Express claiming that Kate “will be the envy of many pregnant women as she’s still modelling a tiny figure despite being six months gone”. Meanwhile reality TV star Kim Kardashian “blooms”, that is to say she is distastefully large. So too are Jessica Simpson, Lara Stone and “Channing Tatum’s wife Jenna Dewan” – pregnant porkers, one and all. Bet William’s relieved he didn’t pick one of them to produce his heir.
  • It is possible to “dress” a baby bump. For instance, in this picture Kate has dressed her bump in a “gorgeous blue cocktail dress”. Unfortunately she’s ended up having to put the rest of herself in it as well – meaning it doesn’t look any different from just her wearing a dress – but it’s the thought that counts, at least until they develop invasive intra-uterine styling.
  • Alongside housing a fetus, one of the main purposes of a baby bump is for use in advertisements for body lotion and financial services. Or any other advertisement seeking comic effect via the owner of a bump grumpily demanding rubbish food combinations in the early hours of the morning.
  • Once you have a baby bump, you are public property in a way that you weren’t previously. People will smile benevolently, even take the liberty of patting your stomach. It’s annoying, yes, but worth remembering that those who beam at you on the bus one week will be glaring at you the next if you dare to stagger on with a screaming newborn. So you still have to “enjoy” it while you can.
  • Baby bumps can be used for making political statements. You could write “100% pro-choice” on yours. Or “future anarchist leader”. Or you could just put “baby on board”, “under construction” and/or “it started with a kiss”. But know that I will judge you for it.
  • Once a baby is born, a baby bump becomes part of what is known as “baby weight” i.e. that weird, liminal fat that clings to a woman’s post-pregnancy body but isn’t really her. According to Grazia, you can “get rid of your post-baby mum tum with the Gowri Wrap […] an elasticated corset that helps restore your pre-pregnancy stomach” and costs £75. Or you can just not. Personally I’d recommend not.

So those are my baby bump facts. Personally I miss having one but do appreciate the whole “being able to lie on your own stomach” thing. And also the “being able to get drunk” thing. And there’s also the “having the actual children around” thing. So yes. Swings and roundabouts, really.

* Small bumps are sometimes rubbish and a sign that you’re a bad mother who’s not taking care of herself aka her baby (see Kate Moss).

Until this week, I didn’t realise bump painting – having one’s heavily pregnant belly decorated by a professional face painter – was “a thing”. I knew about those plaster casts some women get made, and that some pregnant women choose to wear “statement” T-shirts (“Under Construction”, “Baby on Board”, “It Started With A Fuck” – I may have tweaked that last one slightly). But I didn’t know that some were actually going in for having their tummies made into temporary works of art. This is annoying; if I had known, I’d probably have had it done myself.

In Oklahoma, this month, Jamie Lynn Russell, 33, died in agony from a ruptured ectopic pregnancy in jail. Police, who were called to a hospital where Russell sought help for severe abdominal pain, charged her with drug possession after finding two prescription pills that did not belong to her.

Guardian report on ‘criminalisation of pregnancy’ in US institutions

When I turned up in tears at an unfamiliar doctor’s surgery, convinced (correctly, it turned out) that I was experiencing the start of a miscarriage, I have no idea what was in my bag. Probably the usual – money, phone, lipgloss, Prozac, half-eaten tubes of Fruit Pastilles. I leave stuff in there for months. There may even have been the remnants of my pre-pregnant life – Alka Seltzer, the odd cigarette butt, those stupid RU21 pills that were meant to prevent hangovers but never did. I didn’t live a pure life before I conceived, and I sort of muddled through afterwards. I’m relatively organised, on the grand scale of things, but clean-living would be an exaggeration. (more…)

Has anyone else noticed that when cis, fertile men get sentimental about pregnancy, it’s most likely to be when they’re suggesting pregnant women shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions? This is the moment when the most rational amongst them can turn to mush; witness Mehdi Hasan in his now-infamous New Statesman piece on being an anti-abortion lefty:

I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”.

Aw, isn’t that sweet? (Providing you squint a bit and ignore the part that reduces a living human being to a mere “mother’s womb”.) It’s always nice to find men who are in touch with the cute side of pregnancy, even if it’s only in order to tell the unhappily pregnant that they just don’t “get” it.

When we’re discussing a normal pregnancy – that is, one in which a woman is appropriately receptive to her “with child” state – it’s a different matter. Sure, men write about it, but it tends to be in sarky, distancing (dare I say paranoid?) tones. There’s a real fear of engaging too closely with the subject; you might have been able to impregnate your bird (“he shoots, he scores!” as a million fatherhood manuals quip), but actually showing an interest in the implications of this would undermine the manliness and virility which you’ve only just demonstrated. In a wonderful (and unusual) article on becoming a new father, Sarfraz Manzoor notes that the books he found on the subject “tended to be written by men who deludedly believed they were funny. The blokiness was deeply dull”. God forbid that men should be expected to take pregnancy and birth seriously. It’s way too girly for that. (more…)

Eight years ago my partner and I became addicted to “gritty hospital drama” Bodies. Set in the obstetrics and gynaecology department of a fictional UK hospital, the series tracks the moral descent of registrar Rob Lake, who becomes aware that his superior is bungling procedures and maiming the women he treats. Two years after watching the series I became pregnant for the first time and tried to forget I’d ever seen it. Of course, I knew that real life wasn’t like that. Your average registrar isn’t as fit as Max Beesley, for starters, plus you’d hope your average consultant wasn’t as incompetent as Patrick Baladi’s Mr Hurley. All the same, things can go wrong, just like on TV, and just like on TV, sometimes all you can do is watch. (more…)


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