New Statesman: A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter“ – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Read the full post at the New Statesman.

The Pool: Instagram “fit moms” aren’t the problem – policing pregnant bodies is

Performing motherhood, you soon discover, involves positioning yourself at extremes. If you can’t be perfect, you must excel at ineptitude. Just bumbling along in the middle, being “good enough,” simply will not do.

Take our approach to health and beauty. At the time of writing this I am rocking a “full-on slummy mummy” vibe. I have one breast significantly larger than the other, thanks to my baby son’s insistence on feeding from one side only, and I’m housing a family of nits, kindly donated by my shaggy-haired seven-year old. I can’t remember the last time I exercised, beyond the odd, panicked pelvic floor clench. Some might call this slovenliness; I call it “taking an organic approach.”

At the other end of the spectrum we find the women currently being hailed as the “fit moms.” Like their predecessors, the MILFs, they don’t see making a real, live human being with one’s own body as any excuse to let oneself go. On the contrary, women such as Sia Cooper, owner of the Instagram account @diaryofafitmommyofficial, are to be found working out on the very day they give birth (apparently giving birth itself doesn’t count as a workout, at least if you’re not doing it in the downward facing dog).

Read the full post at The Pool

New Statesman: Birth wars: The politics of childbirth

Birth is divisive. It divides women from men, and women from women. It requires of the body an opening up, at times a cutting, or a tearing apart. “But to let the baby out,” writes Maggie Nelson in The Argonauts, “you have to be willing to go to pieces.”

So going to pieces is precisely what women do.

To be of woman born is a universal experience, yet women themselves remain a diffuse, fractured group. “What is a woman, anyway?” is still considered a deep, meaningful question to ask. The polite answer is, of course, “whatever anyone wants it to be”. More than that would close off the vessel, seal the hole, glue back together the broken shell. There’s a sense in which women are simply not meant to be whole. We need to be in pieces so that men can survive intact.

I have given birth three times and each experience has a different colour. For the first, I lay in the bedroom of our terraced house, staring at the brown wardrobe opposite, trying to think my way beyond pain. With each contraction I pictured a hill (“some women like to imagine themselves ascending and descending a mountain peak,” said the birthing guide) but it was grey, dull and unimpressive. Then just as the pain peaked, I’d see a figure emerging over the crest, a grey-faced man in a top hat and black overcoat. Jack the Ripper, eviscerator of wombs, an involuntary visualisation.

Read the full piece at the New Statesman

New Statesman: Cristiano Ronaldo’s approach to fatherhood is a victory for male supremacy

So, is he or isn’t he? Cristiano Ronaldo, 31, chose to keep mum while training for Real Madrid last week. The Portuguese heart-throb has been coy about rumours abounding ever since he was spotted flaunting a football-sized bump in a recent match against Celta Vigo. The unlucky-in-love national captain has been brazen about his desire to embrace single parenthood for a second time. Is he set to exchange 4-4-2 to become a 2-by-2? Will the broody forward, who’s spoken of his desire to have five or six little Cristianos, become international football’s answer to Natasha Hamilton and Ulrika Jonsson? Watch this space!

Wrote no one, ever (apart from me, just now).

We don’t write about one half of the population having babies in the same way we write about the other half. This is because babies are gestated by people who have wombs, not people who have penises. An obvious point to make, perhaps, but an increasingly necessary one. No matter how much the world changes, the fact remains that not everyone has the innate potential to carry a child to term. A person with a womb probably does; a person with a penis definitely doesn’t. This matters.

Read the full post in the New Statesman

True liberation needs to keep maternal bodies in the picture

Recent news reports have described the way in which a photograph of two men holding their newborn baby has been used, without their or the photographer’s permission, in an Irish politician’s campaign against same-sex surrogacy. Condemnation of this has been widespread and, I think, absolutely correct. The picture tells us absolutely nothing about whether same-sex couples are less equipped to raise children than heterosexual ones (they’re not). Even so, every time I see that photo there is something that seems to me not quite right.

It’s the face off to the side that bothers me. Is that the woman who has just given birth? How does she feel? Is she hurting? Is she still struggling to deliver the placenta while the camera clicks away? Does she feel a desire to touch and hold the baby, too? Hopefully she is fine, her pregnancy, her labour, all gifts freely and joyfully given. But would anyone care if she wasn’t? Would they have refrained from taking the picture in that case? Would they even know? Continue reading

New Statesman: Paid surrogacy makes disadvantaged women into walking wombs

Last week, a national newspaper ran a piece on the shortage of people in the UK willing or able to sell a kidney.

“It’s terrible,” said one interviewee, a stockbroker forced to buy his kidney from an organ farm in Mumbai. “UK regulations need to change so we can have this service closer to home.”

Another customer agreed.

“It’s very distressing to know that if someone over here sells you their kidney, they can change their mind. The ownership documents aren’t worth the paper they’re written on as long as your kidney’s still busy filtering waste products in the body that grew it.”

Read the full post at the New Statesman

New Statesman: It’s not self-indulgent to prioritise choice in maternity care

I knew I should have waited a little longer before having my third child. According to the Times headline “Pregnant women get £3000 for private births.” Huh. All I got from my local NHS birthing centre was tea, toast and a shot of Syntometrine. Sure, the staff were lovely and my baby was healthy, but it wasn’t exactly plush. Certainly it was nothing like the Sex and the City-style shopping trip the Times imagines future mothers planning in response to Baroness Cumberledge’s National Maternity Review:

Home births, acupuncture and hypnobirthing would be offered by companies and midwife co-operatives in exchange for the vouchers as health chiefs aim to use competition to force the NHS to listen to women’s choices

Way-hey! Bring on the whale music and essential oils! It’s deep, meaningful birthing “experiences” for all, apart from those unfortunate enough to live in a poorly resourced area and just want your basic, no-frills, safe birth, minus any Primrose Hill bullshit.

Read the full post at the New Statesman

Accidents of biology

In 1990, Dan Logan, executive director of the men’s rights group Free Men, made the following killer argument:

We always treat reproductive rights as a women’s subject and something they control. I think the fact that women carry a womb in their body is an accident of biology. It could just as easily have been men.

Can’t fault that logic, can you? Yes, there might be only one class of human beings who gestate, but there might not have been. It’s all totally arbitrary, so best not to go making legal arguments on the basis of reality. This is, after all, only one of an infinite number of possible worlds.

25 years later, and Logan’s case for pretending human reproduction is completely random is now being made by trans activist CN Lester on Newsnight. “The idea of sex as we know it now really emerged in the nineteenth century in French sexology,” they opine. “The idea of male and female is far more complicated than what we were taught in GCSE biology.” Thus it would be foolish to go claiming that, say, people with uteruses are more likely to get pregnant than people with penises. Sure, this might be what actually happens, but “proper” sex is, like, way more complex. It’s pure coincidence that me, you, Lester and everyone else on the planet had to start life in the TERFy environs of someone’s womb. It could just as well have been via the stork. Only it wasn’t.

It’s not that anyone minds the fact that only one group of people gestate, give birth and breastfeed. Just as long as they STFU about it. Sure, the female role in reproduction is hard and sometimes it might kill you, but it doesn’t do to make a big deal of it. Aristotle had the right idea, arguing that women were just the potting soil in which the active male principle could grow. That’s far more inclusive, right? Let’s all deny the existence of a reproductive class, since it’s not as though that will stop us benefiting from their labour. It just removes the need to attach any status or significance to it, while also clearing the way for some healthy free market exploitation. Continue reading

The whole ball game

In a 2012 interview, Gloria Steinem was asked why she felt that contraception was still an issue for feminism. Her answer was unequivocal:

Because it’s the whole ball game. It’s the whole thing. If our bodies weren’t the means of reproduction, we wouldn’t be in the jam we’re in. That’s the name of patriarchy game: to control reproduction and how many children and who owns them. That is the bottom line.

For someone who came of age in feminism’s third wave, it’s a strange thing to read. My instinct is to think of reproduction not as a something to be fought over, but as a biological millstone around women’s necks. Men do not live with the fear of getting pregnant and, if and when they do have children, they do not have to bear the physical costs. Hence reproductive rights matter because they enable women – some women, at least – to enjoy the same freedoms as men and in doing so become less dependent on the latter for support. Biology will no longer be destiny and all that.

But that’s not quite how things have worked out. Men, it seems, do not want women to make their own decisions regarding conception, pregnancy and birth. Rather than simply delight in their avoidance of Eve’s curse, men have remained very keen to make it known that PREGNANCY INVOLVES US, TOO. Whether a woman gets and/or remains pregnant is not just a matter for her. Abortion is entirely illegal in seven countries, even when a woman’s life is in danger; it is practically inaccessible in many more. Each year an estimated 47,000 women die from the complications of unsafe abortion. Women’s bodies might be metaphorical battlegrounds but the deaths are very real. Continue reading

Instead of telling women to have children younger, we should make it easier for them to do so

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. Continue reading

On starting motherhood again

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.

Early pregnancy: Like the X-Factor, and not in a good way

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 …

Not being male doesn’t make anyone less human

2014-10-09 22_35_37-

An adaptation of the post that accompanied the above image:

Buried away somewhere in our collective subconscious is the knowledge that hundreds of thousands billions of children women are human beings aborted every year in the UK As a civilised, democratic society we have somehow to square what we’re allowing to happen to these young lives with our need to view ourselves as decent, compassionate and caring.

Cognitive dissonance is a term first coined by psychologists to describe the unease we feel when facing a situation which causes a conflict between our attitudes, beliefs or behaviours.  This feeling of discomfort leads to an alteration in one of the beliefs or behaviours in order to restore balance.

So for instance, I might think that it’s important to vote in my local election (belief) but I can’t make it to the polling station on time.  I have some options to reduce the dissonance this causes me: I can either drop what I’m doing and make sure I do get to the voting station on time (change my behaviour) or alter my belief that voting’s important by telling myself that my vote doesn’t count anyway (change my belief).

On a societal level we’ve developed a veritable arsenal of tools to relieve our collective cognitive dissonance about women abortion.  Unwilling to change our behaviour (we allow what is effectively the terrorization of an entire sex class abortion on demand) we reduce the discomfort this causes us as a nation by altering our attitudes to women abortion.   Among the beliefs promoted to ease our consciences are that the woman has men have the ultimate right to choose what happens to ‘her’ body control women’s bodies and labour and that there are too many people with full human rights (aka men) in the world already. Continue reading

“Nature is not a feminist”

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). Continue reading

Why female biology matters

Female biology is neither magic nor mysterious. It doesn’t make those in possession of it nurturing, or caring, or motherly. It doesn’t mean we ought to bear children, nor does it mean we can always bear children if we’d like to. Female biology is flawed, inconsistent and, most of all, it is not the sum of us.

It is, however, real. My female reproductive system is as real as my heart or my brain or my lungs. It will exist whether you allow me to name it or not. I am not simply “a female”. I am a person. I am, nevertheless, female. I am neither ashamed nor frightened of this.

Identifying bodies as female is not an oppressive or exclusive act. It is simply a statement of fact, but also one that has political import. If we stop naming female bodies, female bodies will still exist. We will still interpret them and respond to them. We will, without radical changes to our thinking, continue to reject, abuse and punish these bodies just for being what they are. We will not call them female, but we will still call them something: the bodies of breeders, bleeders, post-menopausal non-entities. We will demean their owners by taking away a biological definition and replacing it with a function. We will have decreed “female” far too good a word for that lower class of humans, the fleshy, sinful ones with their blood, discharges and holes. We will have taken a word that articulates the source of their oppression and offered nothing in return.

Continue reading

What are reports of Kate Middleton’s “perfect, natural” birth really telling us?

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). Continue reading

My problem with Virginia Ironside’s parenting advice

One of the perks of being a mother is being able to tell a woman expecting her first baby any old crap you like. After all, what’s she going to do about it? Facing the unknown,  she’s hardly going to contradict you. You’re a mum. You know stuff. As for her? Let’s face it, she hasn’t got a clue.

Of course, this is a mean thing to do and you should, ideally, refrain from it (unless said expectant mother is especially annoying). If you already know how much uncertainty and self-doubt motherhood can bring, it’s just vindictive to set about stoking it up in someone else before she’s even got started. That’s why I can’t see any excuse whatsoever for Virginia Ironside’s current “advice” column in the Independent.

First of all, allow me to present the dilemma:

I’m about to have my first baby, but I’ve just been head-hunted by a firm that wants me to start work as soon as possible. Friends say I should wait and see how I feel before I commit to a new job but my husband has said he’s keen to look after the baby and become a house-husband  – he works freelance and he’s going through a time when he doesn’t have very much work. Can you or any of your readers offer advice on what I should do? I’m at a loss and can’t make  a decision.

What should this woman do? Well, here’s my suggestion: don’t write to Virginia Ironside. She’s not interested in your life. She just wants to use it as a springboard for promoting her vision of Perfect Motherhood. Continue reading

Royal baby watch: Yet more pregnancy propaganda

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.

“Too posh to push”: Can we please kill this phrase now?

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. Continue reading

The royal pregnancy: A not very big adventure

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? Continue reading