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


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: 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

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

Pregnant women! Have you really considered the risks?

Calling all mums-to-be! I hope you don’t mind me asking but have you really thought this one through? I know, you’re all excited about the impending birth but do you actually, honestly know what you’re doing? And yes, people might have said this to you before, but you should listen to me. I might not know you, but I’m a doctor.*

Pregnancy and childbirth can seriously damage your health. Trust me – I might turn out to have a PhD in something entirely unrelated to healthcare, but I’ve had children, so I should know. Except I don’t. No one ever went through a list of all the possible negative effects with me (and I went to see the GP loads!). In the interests of writing this post, I’ve just gone and googled a list myself. There are a lot of effects I recognise but hadn’t given much thought to until now, plus there are others about which I knew nothing at all. For instance, I had no idea pregnancy could be linked to a loss of bone calcium. And as for prolapsed uterus – well, I knew it could happen, but I had no idea that it affected as many as 11% of women. 11 sodding percent! And all that’s before you scroll down to the really serious stuff (including, naturally, death). Flippin’ heck! Do these children of mine, currently scrapping over whose turn it is to push down the lever on the toaster, have any idea what I’ve risked for them? Do they heck as like. And to make matters worse, I can’t even change my mind and undo it all. The damage has been done, both to the toaster and to me. Continue reading

What about Daddy? Essential advice for new mothers

In response to some comments added to this post (see end) I’d like to add some clarification regarding the article under discussion. It was written by the Dating Divas in response to “a lot of emails from women who wanted ideas for after the baby came. They wanted to know how to make the father feel more included as well as creative sex ideas”. Evidently there is a demand for this and I am sorry for failing to acknowledge it (I nevertheless believe the response that was offered by the Divas still leaves much to be desired).

New mums! Have you noticed that, at the end of practically every guide to pregnancy and birth, you’ll find a section on “Daddy’s role” in all of this. This is because fatherhood is really important and needs, ooh, at least three pages of coverage to set against the four hundred that Mummy has had to wade through. Admittedly it’s still actually Mummy who’s meant to be reading the Daddy pages – after all, men are busy, aren’t they? So Mummy might as well read up on how to manage Daddy. She’s got sod all else to do.

I have always found these “Daddy’s role” sections profoundly irritating, for two main reasons:

  1. the author tends to assume that you are married to the father of your baby
  2. the author then assumes that your husband is in fact a self-centred knob

Time and again we are told that the arrival of a new baby can make Daddy feel “left out”. If you are anything like me, you will read this and think “sod off. I am too tired to deal with a grown adult feeling ‘left out’. We all feel ‘left out’. That’s because babies are really shit when it comes to empathy”. And then you will look at your partner and feel glad that he (or she) isn’t one of those self-centred knobs that the book describes. At least, that’s what you’ll think. But hey, you might be wrong. Daddy might just be hiding his true feelings from you. Continue reading

Total cunt avoidance: We have the technology!

Hey everyone! Been doin’ a bit more blue sky thinkin’ and I’ve come up with an idea I think you’ll like: let’s outlaw all vaginal births!

There, I’ve said it: vaginal. A word that could get you banned from addressing the Michigan House of Representatives, and with good reason, too. After all, it’s disgusting. I was going to phrase it differently and say “let’s make caesarean births mandatory”, but that might sound a bit weird, like I don’t still wholeheartedly condemn all those who are too posh to push. On the contrary, I’m quite prepared to condemn all childbearers under my proposed system. I’m just thinking of the children here.

Both practically and symbolically, being born is of great significance. It amazes me that for so long we’ve put up with the involvement of the vagina upon such a momentous occasion. Let’s just consider it for a moment. You probably celebrate your own birthday. But do you think about where you were and what you were doing on that very first day? It’s totally obscene. If you’re a member of the GOP, it must make your skin crawl.

Vaginas – stinking, fetid vaginas – are all around us. There’s probably one mere feet away from you right this minute. There might be one that’s even part of you. Urgh! That’s just nasty. We need to do something about this straight away.

While in the US women are being banned from debates for even saying the dreaded v-word, over here in the UK Femfresh have been doing their damnedest to try and clean up “down below”.* Intimate wipes and washes offer “expert care for down there”, all marketed under the empowering slogan “woo hoo for my froo froo” (translated into English: “Hooray! My fanny no longer smells like a fanny!”). But let’s be honest, none of this is enough. Not when we still have to touch the filthy things. Not when they’re still, like, there.

By allowing all children to be born by caesarean – or to use Shakespeare’s words, to no longer be “of woman born” – we could at least offer half of them a start in life away from the vaginal taint. In theory, male babies could go on to live full, healthy lives without ever having to come into contact with the v-thing. After all, sex and reproduction are still possible without such unholy contact. As far as I am aware, the word “arse” has never been banned from any US political debate. And turkey basters are cheap and highly effective when it comes to making babies (after all, it worked first time for Jacqui Dixon on Brookside, and she’s not what you’d think of as prime stock).

Of course, there are some men who will still manage to overcome what should become a natural aversion to vaginas. They might still film or watch disembodied versions in hardcore porn, or even sticks their cocks into real ones, regardless of whether or not the owner gives consent. We should pity these men, but we should also salute them for their lack of prejudice. People have all sorts of absurd fetishes. We shouldn’t judge them for this. But we should judge women for having vaginas.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much we can do about this last thing. If we were to try to stop women having vaginas, that would be a bit like committing female genital mutilation. And that’s a thing weird foreigners do. Foreigners who live in backward countries where women are considered inferior. We’re nothing like that. And besides, we don’t want to do anything which might impinge on our right to judge the funny foreigners.

Anyhow, all of this is just a suggestion. I realise it will take a while to make the cultural shift. In the meantime, vaginas are here to stay. Looking on the bright side, though, it’s still possible to take action to avoid all cunts. For instance, just don’t make any trips to Michigan any time soon.

* wrote a wonderful post on Femfresh, only I can’t link to it directly as my computer says it’s too rude. Moreover, I am at my in-laws at the moment, so I’m not going to take any risks by trying to override this, especially as they think I’m still working on German grammar.

Tolstoy: Great writer, useless birthing partner

Here is a quiz which gets to the heart of what it means to be human: when witnessing a fellow human being in intense physical pain, do you:

  1. try to support them, even if you can’t take the pain away?
  2. try to support them, and to inject them with hard drugs, if available?
  3. shrug, say “there’s not much I can do”, and leave, on the basis that frankly, this whole “pain” thing is making you uncomfortable and might make you look at the victim in a different way should you want to shag them later?
  4. go for Option 3, but also call the victim’s mum, just to show you’re not a complete bastard?

So, which did you pick? As you might have guessed, this is actually a stupid quiz. There isn’t a “right” answer. They’re all context-specific.

For instance, if you were an army corporal and your best buddy had had his arm blown off, you’d probably be there for him, at least until the enemies were too close at hand. If, on the other hand, you were an army corporal but your wife was in labour, you’d be justified in running a mile, even with no enemies at the gate. It’s all just a bit … uncomfortable.

Today’s Daily Mail  includes a piece arguing that for many couples, having the partner (or “husband”, as they so quaintly insist) present at the birth of a new baby is a Bad Idea. To put this point across, they don’t just use the examples of various couples who tried it once and didn’t like it. Oh, no, this is also what the experts recommend. For instance, here’s what one has to say:

The ideal birth environment involves no men […] The best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labour apart from a silent, low-profile and experienced midwife. No doctor, no husband, nobody else.

Thus speaks Michel Odent. A childbirth expert who also happens to be a man and who therefore, by his own definition, cannot ever have witnessed an “ideal birth”. But hey, ladies, he just knows. Shouldn’t we all put our trust in him?

Of course, you might not be able to get a “silent, low-profile and experienced midwife”. Not to worry. Guess who the Mail recommends? Your mum! That’s right, your dear old ma! And to be fair, I’m not having a go at her. She’s probably ace and may well provide you with much-needed support. But whom you have as a birthing partner is a very personal choice. And personally I cannot think of anyone I’d like less than my mum. She wouldn’t faint or anything but do you know what she would do? She’d tut. That’s just what she does, all the sodding time. And in this situation, I wouldn’t know whether it was disapproval at labour for being painful, or at the midwife for not being good enough, or at me for being in labour in the first place. Or possibly all three. Tut, tut, tut. That’s what it would be like. And eventually I’d find myself begging for Michel Odent.

Naturally if a couple agree that it would be better for Daddy not to be present at the birth, that’s their choice. Or rather, I think it should be the choice of the person who’s going through labour, really. It’s the least she deserves. But I can’t help thinking that men such as Gordon Ramsey and those featured in the Daily Mail article, who publicly and loudly declare themselves unable to face seeing their partners give birth, are in no way making a declaration of weakness. On the contrary, it’s pure bloody-minded machismo. I’m so hard, I’m leaving my partner to cope with labour without me. I’m off to shout at some trainee chefs! Labour’s for girls!

I was once in the pub with some medical student friends, way back in 1999. There were five of us – two heterosexual couples and me. One of the couples were in the middle of rotations in obstetrics. Thus they were describing, in vivid detail, the miracle of giving birth, or to be more specific, the fact that some women shit themselves during the process. “I’d never be there to watch my wife give birth – the whole thing would disgust me”, announced the male half of the couple, smugly. And everyone nodded in agreement. Everyone except me. I tried to object as best I could, but I was hampered by the fact that a) I was the only one who hadn’t seen a person give birth (and potentially shit themselves, which was the main thing), and b) I was the only single person, i.e. I couldn’t even find a man, let alone one who’d be willing to stay with me after I’d shat myself in front of him. Well, fast-forward 13 years, and Couple Number 1 have split up. Couple Number 2 have four children, and the father was present at all of the births. As for me? Well, not only was my partner present at both our children’s births, he even delivered no. 2, on account of there not being anyone else around. For a while we pinned the birth notes to our kitchen cupboard, since we liked the fact that it said “Delivered by: Dad in the car park”. After a while, though, we took it down, as that page of the notes also contained other details. We’re an open household, but I don’t think people need to know about my vaginal tearing when I’m offering them a Rich Tea.

I don’t think fathers should be present at the birth of their children if both they and their partner believe it’s the wrong thing. However, there’s a difference between this and claims, reported in the Mail, that “seeing female biology in an entirely different light can destroy the intimacy between a man and a woman”. I mean, what the fuck? Isn’t it about time the sheer greatness of female biology gained proper recognition? Proper recognition which doesn’t include women having to forgo all future shags so as not to upset the general balance of things by making men feel a bit cringe? This is, surely, where we should be.  And if women feel that they’ve been seen “in what you might call an undignified state”, there is a real issue with our priorities and our understanding of what dignity really is.

Tolstoy’s novel Anna Karenina features a character called Levin, who is unable to look at his wife Kitty in the same way after she gives birth. According to the introductory notes in my Penguin translation, Tolstoy modelled Levin on himself. This (and the over-use of that rubbish quote from the start – you know the one – “Happy families are all alike blah blah blah”) has led me to think Tolstoy was a bit of a tosser. It’s the reason why I’ve never read War and Peace. Hey, you could use this reason, too!

PS If you’re wondering whether I shat myself when I gave birth well, I might have, the first time. There’s a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy regarding what my partner may or may not have seen, so it’s not an incident I’m going to investigate any further.

Potty training: I just don’t know if I can face it again

When I was pregnant for the second time, I wasn’t particularly worried about labour. I’d had one positive experience already and having pushed one out, I was confident I could manage another.

That being said, by ‘positive experience’ I would like to stress that I didn’t have one of those mythical ‘orgasmic’ birthing experiences. It hurt, rather a lot. I was already “in transition” by the time I arrived at the hospital, so the worst part took place at home. I lay in bed trying to imagine each contraction as being like “going over a hill”, just as my books had told me. Unfortunately, I kept visualising a hill and then seeing whoever it was who played Jack the Ripper in the film From Hell coming over it, reading to slice up all my womanly organs (can’t think why that kept popping into my head). I remember staring up from the bed, at the cuddly toys from childhood we kept on top of our wardrobe, and hating them and their stupid cuddly toy faces and wishing that Pigwig and Teeny the panda were feeling it all instead of me (we’ve since been reconciled – they’re aware it was a bad time for me). Anyhow, by the time my second was due, I’d forgotten all about it. Until we were in the car on the way to hospital again, at which point I was thinking “fucking hell! How the fucking fuck did I repress all THAT!”

The thing is, though, labour itself didn’t last that long. It didn’t last, say, a whole sodding year. Unlike potty training my eldest. Jesus, that was a real nightmare! Wees in Sainsbury’s, impromptu poos in soft play, pair after pair of underpants painstakingly scraped and then thrown away anyhow because, sisters, I know when I’m defeated. It was AWFUL! And now I have to do it all over again. But unlike with labour, I have some say in when it starts. Hence I’m putting it off. And putting it off. And putting it off just that little bit longer.

Youngest is nearly three now. I really ought to get going. With Eldest, it ended up being a race against time before he started school, with a photo-finish that involved some serious Thomas the Tank Engine bribery. I don’t want it to end up like that. I want to do it “the right way” this time. Unfortunately, “the right way” was going to include starting much, much earlier. I’ve already missed the boat on that.

It will be different this time. My youngest can talk, for starters. Eldest had delayed speech development (now miraculously sorted thanks to the insertion of grommets). When we started potty training, he couldn’t tell us how he felt or what he wanted. It’s not like that with Youngest. He’s a right little chatterbox.

I can ask him if he’s done a poo, for instance. He always denies it. And to be fair, sometimes he is “falsely apoosed”, as we so hilariously put it. But most of the time we’re right. Right now I sometimes ask him if he’d “like to” go on the potty. Alas, he always tells me he wouldn’t. I can’t think why. It has a sticker of Thomas on the front. I mean, what more could you want?

Before we get started, I’ll buy him some nice pants, just like I did with Eldest. That didn’t help much, though. They were Thomas pants, but to be fair, I think my partner and I chose them because they amused us far more than they amused our son. It was the Thomas slogans that ended up being emblazoned across our son’s crotch. These included:

  • Toot-toot!
  • All aboard!

And our personal fave:

  • Ultimate engine!

All very inappropriate, I think you’ll agree. But to be honest I’m having a bit of a giggle right now, just thinking about them. So I guess potty training’s not all bad.

Anyhow, I do really want to do it better this time. So, any suggestions? (Providing they’re not “start early” or “it’s easier if you have a girl”, because I’m fucked on both those counts.) I just need that extra push to get started. And Youngest needs that extra push to get poos and wees in the potty instead of re-commencing his brother’s mission to fertilise Britain’s carpets. Right now I’m feeling like a soldier who’s been on leave and can’t face going back. Don’t make me go there. You don’t know what it’s like. PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE *clings helplessly to the maxi pack of Junior disposables*. I can’t go on like this. Any ideas?

Blogging it for babies! Way-hey!

I’ve decided to write a post on Save the Children’s Blog it for Babies campaign. After all, makes a change from the usual moans/rants/not-quite-sure-what-these-are-any-more pieces.

Blog it for Babies (#blogitforbabies – no idea what putting the hashtag version in here will do, but thought I might as well) supports Save the Children’s Build it for Babies campaign, which is raising money to provide equipment to health clinics in Bangladesh, providing essential care for mothers and babies. At this juncture I would like to add a sarcastic comment, or a pun, to lighten the mood, but it would be inappropriate. Nonetheless, rest assured that this did cross my mind (something along the lines of Blag it for Babies – the less ethically sound branch of the campaign – but don’t worry,  I’ll stop right there. No, actually, I won’t. Snog it for Babies – there, I’ve suggested it. Although I haven’t yet decided what “it” is).

Some bloggers are offering their birth stories in support of the campaign. I, however, have blabbed about mine quite enough here and here (to summarise: my birth experiences were tops and I was one lucky lady, apart from the fact that I therefore got absolutely zero ammunition for ranting out of them. Although ranting on behalf of the rest of womankind is also good, as you can still swear but it just looks like you’re all the more impassioned and caring).

Anyhow, to prove you are not some heartless meanie who doesn’t like babies, why not visit the site and make a donation? Or you can donate by text: just text the following code and the amount e.g. a pound – XVRL71£1 – to this number – 70070. Then I will feel I have done some good and will match you pound-for-pound with a new shoe purchase as a reward for me (only kidding. I’ll match your donation to the project like for like, then double the amount to create my actual shoe budget. Wayhey! Everyone’s a winner!).*

* PS I am still joking at this point. I’m not actually getting any new shoes. But sod it, I’ve messed about so much in this post, and in life in general, who’s going to believe me now …

POSTSCRIPT I feel a bit cringed by this post, like I think I’m Lenny Henry, or something. But hey, I really do like Premier Inn, so I’m not that much of a fraud.

Home birth vs hospital birth: The obvious solution

Today’s Daily Mail* features an article claiming that it’s actually better for second-time mums to have home births, but not first-time ones. On behalf of the whole of womankind I would like to say this:


(You’re allowed to include extra swear words when it’s on behalf of other people as well.)

I am so, so tired of women having to experience their own labours, each a hugely personal and potentially terrifying experience, as a battleground that’s always being fought over by people who don’t have to go through it themselves. One minute you shouldn’t have a home birth because that’s “risky” and therefore makes you naive and selfish. The next a hospital birth’s out of the question because that’s just giving in to The Man and accepting the over-medicalization of the beautiful, touchy-feeley, feminist experience of squeezing a fucking enormous baby out of your cunt. Will everyone please just SHUT THE FUCK UP!

Thank you. And now, please allow me to announce my solution to the whole sorry mess:

Don’t have your child at home. Don’t have your child in hospital. Have your child in-between.

By “in-between” I do not mean at a midwife-led support centre (although I understand the government’s been ploughing billions into these of late). What I mean is, give birth to your child literally, geographically in-between your home and the hospital. You think I’m joking? Because this is exactly what I did.

There is not a glowing history of positive childbirth experiences within my family. Severe complications during labour (one leading to a fatality, the other to a life-changing disability) had a massive impact on my parents’ generation, and to a lesser extent on mine. For that reason, when I first found out I was pregnant, I requested an elective caesarean. My doctor was fine about it but advised me to just wait and see. I did so, and eventually I found myself coming round to the idea of just going to the hospital, seeing what happened and trusting in people to intervene if and when it was needed. This is precisely what I did and my first child was born safely with no intervention at all. And thus, when I found myself pregnant with my second, I was no longer afraid, making the idea of a home birth tempting.

My midwife was all for it. The consultant I saw at the hospital was dead against it, reminding me of all the terrible things that could happen if something went wrong (things that I knew of already, but had just about stopped feeling irrationally terrified of, at least until then). So in the end I wimped out and said I’d have a hospital birth again. I say “wimped out” because that’s how it felt. It had fuck all to do with what the “best” birth might have been. My midwife didn’t say it, but I knew she felt I’d let her down. I’d have let people down, and felt massively guilty for it, whichever decision I’d made.

Labour day arrived, and I rang the hospital when the contractions were still relatively mild and well spaced apart. We mutually agreed I wouldn’t come in yet. Fifteen minutes later my waters broke and suddenly I was in complete and utter fucking agony. We set off to the hospital there and then, a ten-minute drive, with me almost in tears because the pain was so bad I was scared I’d “disappoint” people by having more pain relief than I’d had the first time around (as it happened, I ended up having none). I got out of the car and remember thinking bloody hell, this feels far advanced. And then I thought you’ve only been in labour once before, what the fuck do you know? So rather than lie down or anything remotely sensible, I set off walking across the car park holding my partner’s hand. We got as far as a Portakabin near the ticket vending machine when I had the most enormous contraction, put down my hand and felt the top of my son’s head. So then I told my partner that I “thought” the baby was coming now and he said he “thought” I should lie down now (at no point do I remember taking my knickers off. For anyone who remembers late-eighties Neighbours, me and Daphne are one and the same person). My partner caught our new son and it actually was an amazing, beautiful, special experience. It felt like we were the only people in the world (our other son was at home with a friend. He was going through a hygeine-obsessed phase and we felt the mess would have bothered him).

So that’s how Youngest came into the world. No doctors, no midwives, no fucking house, just fresh air and tarmac. Beautiful.

Of course, this probably wouldn’t work for everyone. That’s why it might be a good idea to give women A CHOICE but also to stop making them feel guilty for whichever choice they make. Because you just don’t know what’s going to happen and giving birth is not an experience that should be constantly exploited by people who want to promote their own agenda.

Anyhow, I thought me and partner did rather well. But apparently not. Months later I was at a breastfeeding support group and got identified as “that woman who gave birth in the car park”. Rather smugly, I asked people how they’d heard of me. Was I some role model for efficiency, for just getting on with it, for not making a fuss? Oh no.

They mentioned you at our ante-natal class as an example of why women need to be organized and not leave setting off to the hospital too late.

The fuckers! That is the last time I use my wonder-cunt to save the NHS time and money. If ever I’m in labour again it’s gas, air, gold-plated forceps and a birthing pool filled with asses’ milk. Because listen here, medical establishment: YOU OWE ME!

* I read it so you don’t have to ;).

Labour: a fuckwit’s guide

One of the things that prompted me to start a blog was seeing the newly-launched blog of a friend. You could say I was inspired; I looked at it and thought hey, I could do that! Less charitably, you could say I was piqued; I looked and it and thought, hang on a minute! Why’s she doing that instead of me? To put it bluntly, it just didn’t seem right.

The thing is, my friend’s a journalist and her blog is all shiny and professional, 100% free from swearing and full of detailed recommendations (in short, not at all like this one). BUT (and this is a big but, hence the capitals) hers is a personal blog devoted to giving advice to mums, yet HER FIRST BABY ISN’T EVEN DUE FOR SEVERAL MONTHS!

Ahem. Now, look, I’m all for not patronizing expectant mums. By the same token, however, I don’t want someone who’s never struggled with a baby sling on a daily basis telling me which one’s the best for day trips to Outer Mongolia (not that this blog’s going to tell you which sling is best, either. But you get my drift). Clearly, there are certain things you can learn at journalism school, and certain things you have to learn from life. And the art of cramming a screaming infant into a floppy strip of canvas and managing to look like an earth mother rather than a total twat… well, it’s a life skill, girls. And one that I, despite already having children, have not yet acquired. Hence I’ll leave it to someone else to write the sling blog, ideally someone who’s actually used a sling with a real live baby AND is good at it. In the meantime, I’ll stick to what I know and what I’m genuinely good at. And in the spirit of this, I thought I’d share with you the one area of motherhood where I know that I excel, and about which I am therefore qualified to advise the masses:


This is absolutely true. When it comes to expelling small people from my cunt, I totally rule.

My first child was born completely healthy within 90 minutes of me arriving at the hospital. I just had gas and air and nothing at all got ripped or torn. My second was even quicker, arriving 20 minutes after my waters broke, with no pain relief at all. See? How fucking ace is that? None of this being “too posh to push” or twatting about with epidurals. I just get on with it, me.

I bet you want to know my secret. Well, I’ll share it with you now:


That’s right: LUCK. It could’ve been you, but it wasn’t, it was me. That’s just how it goes.

I am not particularly fit and healthy; I was shit at PE and never got a single BAGA award (not sure how this relates to labour, but I think it should). I didn’t go to NCT classes. I didn’t even visit the labour ward at the hospital where my first child was born (I’d only moved to the town ten days earlier so hadn’t even met my midwife). I didn’t do any of the things you’re supposed to do. And yet for me it worked out fine, and for billions of women it doesn’t.*

I am sick of witnessing all the false morality that surrounds tales of childbirth (but probably not as sick as those who have suffered far more than me). There’s always this suggestion that women who have “successful” pregnancies and “successful” births have somehow earned it, in ways which those who “fail” (and, say, nearly die in the process) haven’t. It’s bollocks. I thought it was bollocks when I lost my first pregnancy, and I still think it’s bollocks now, despite my subsequent “success” and rehabilitation as a “proper” mother.

So in short, I had two easy labours.**. But I am not about to advise you on how to achieve this. All I can say is, ideally, be lucky. But if you’re not, don’t let anyone tell you you’ve failed.

* I am not suggesting you shouldn’t go to NCT classes and or that you shouldn’t be better informed than I was, as I’m sure that must help. But when it comes to how you’ll be assessed on “labour performance”, people don’t have any right to judge you. Not when fuckwits like me get off so lightly.

** NB Only I am allowed to use the adjective “easy” in relation to me giving birth. My partner did so once and let’s just say he knows not to ever again.

POSTSCRIPT: Having written all this, it now crosses my mind that being a total slag in my youth may have been what prepared my body for such straightforward deliveries. They never recommend that in the books. But perhaps they should.

Brewster, Wilson and my pelvic floor

One of my children’s favourite Chuggington stories is Braking Brewster. If you haven’t ever enountered it, don’t worry – I have, approx. 5,078 times (as TV episode, bedtime story, in-car audio CD narrative – not yet as live performance or art installation, but give it time). To cut a not-that-long-but-feels-interminable story short, it starts with trainee chuggers Wilson and Brewster learning how to use hopper cars. These are like normal loading cars but with trap doors at the bottom, and operating these seems to require tensing and releasing whatever the chugger equivalent is of muscles “down below” that you don’t usually exercise. It may not surprise you to know that I cannot watch / read / listen to Braking Brewster without thinking, somewhat shamefully, of my own shabby attempts at toning my pelvic floor.

I do my best. Well, to be honest, I don’t. And I know I will regret it later (it’s like having some strange advance hindsight, yet still doing bugger all). I have my excuses, as we all do. But to be fair, I don’t think it’s all my fault. I mean, I know I would say that (it’s the trainee chugger in me), but I suspect there are a lot of issues at play here which aren’t covered by the “Postnatal exercises” leaflet.

First, the excuses. I know what I should be doing.

Imagine a lift going up first one floor, then another, then clench it right at the top. And hold.

Well, I’m good at the just thinking about lifts bit. Apparently that’s not enough. Then there was:

Imagine you’re trying to stop yourself mid-wee. Only don’t actually do this because it could cause an infection.

Of course, I was mid-cystitis before receiving the second part of that advice. The worst one was probably:

Through the door, pelvic floor.

That’s right, you’re literally meant to clench your pelvic floor muscles every time you go through a door. And I don’t know about you, but I go through doors A LOT. And having had severe OCD as a teenager, I felt rather unwilling to set it off again by developing some weird tic about doors and muscle clenching.

There are other things I’ve tried. I bought an expensive pelvic toning aid, reasoning that if I’d paid a fortune for it I’d bloody well use it. And I did, a bit. It looks like a plastic dildo with springs in the middle. You can move the springs around to increase the resistance, although I never got that far. I could never find the right time and place for a session with it. Mornings were too much of a rush, and besides I’d have to use it curled up in our tiny bathroom to avoid our sons bursting in. Evenings were a possibility, but it was never something I wanted to leave till late, like a black cloud hanging over me for the whole of the day (I mean, using it wasn’t actually that bad. But it wasn’t exactly my idea of post-kids-in-bed-and-kitchen-tidied relaxation). I could have used it at the very end of the day, snuggled up in bed next to my partner. I mean, it looked like it could be a instrument of pleasure rather than one of mild annoyance. Had I rammed it in me and hid behind a copy of Fifty shades of Grey at the same time, I’d have completed the whole “looks like I’m having a great time but actually it’s crap” tableau. But seriously, I couldn’t bring myself to do this. So instead I have allowed myself to descend towards saggy disrepair.

It’s my responsibility, I know. But I can’t help feeling that, well – potential future incontinence and crap sex plus a possible prolapsed uterus – it’s a pretty extreme punishment for not doing these boring, repetitive exercises several times a day, every bloody day, for the rest of your life. It’s a bit harsh, surely? And yet we never really kick up a fuss. Yeah, yeah, just get on with it. Through the door, pelvic floor.

As a permanent effect of pregnancy and childbirth, I think what happens to us is extreme. Certainly enough to count as the kind of “physical injury” that makes a mockery of the need for two doctors’ signatures in order to get an abortion. And I’m just thinking about the usual effects, not the severe birth injury that can truly change women’s lives without warning. And yet, we’re not meant to complain about this. Indeed, post-natal “troubles” such as this are almost a (secret) badge of honour. The merest suggestion that women who have caesareans “get away with” not pissing themselves when they laugh has become yet another reason for resenting those who are “too posh to push” (don’t worry, women-haters. The weight of the baby pressing down during pregnancy itself should do enough damage to keep you satisfied). Furthermore, any form of reparative surgery gets lumped together with the quest for a “designer vagina”. I mean, wanting to enjoy sex and not wet yourself! How frivolous can you get!

All this being so, you’d think we’d all least be more sympathetic towards women who have kept it real and suffered the consequences. But no. We’ve had Mrs Emery in Little Britain and her hilarious “accidents”. We’ve had countless jokes on Mock the Week regarding old mothers and their wizard’s sleeves. The very best we get are the Tena Lady adverts, which at least try to present women with incontinence issues as glamorous, albeit while being complete fuckwits around lift doors. Shouldn’t we be demanding better than this? Shouldn’t we be demanding it a bit louder, regardless of whether or not each of us is being a good girl and clenching like a trouper?

Well, anyhow, back to Chuggington. Brewster is good at using hopper cars, Wilson not so good. BUT at the end of the story, it’s Wilson who saves the day. He doesn’t clench as hard, but he does it in the right place at the right time, ie before Brewster, who’s foolishly taken on a massive load and set off too fast down the mountain, crashes and ends up in some serious shit. And to be honest, I think there’s a message in there. I can’t articulate quite what. But anyhow, don’t worry if you’re a Wilson. So am I, and saggy or not, our time will come.