Thursday, 7 March 2013
Thursday, 28 June 2012
Monday, 2 April 2012
In the last eight months there have been three diatribes about mothers in the ‘Family’ section of the Guardian, which I find disheartening and a bit baffling (why alienate your target readership?). They have all come from childless women in their forties. Last summer’s self-congratulatory twaddle from Emma Kennedy portrayed mothers as deluded and insensitive. Then ‘I’m Not a Mother, but I’m Still a Person’ – gentler in tone, but implying no mother was capable of showing interest in anything except motherhood/children. And now Lynch’s demolition job ‘Mothers, stop moaning!’ Between them they assume all mothers are vacuous, ungrateful and self-obsessed.
‘I don’t want to mum-bash’, claims Bibi Lynch. Why then, open your article with two stories about mothers who anyone, even other mums, would find ridiculous…? That of the ‘devastated’ about-to-be-mother of three boys and how tired Victoria Beckham is, despite her undoubted fleet of staff and luxurious lifestyle.
She then slips in a sideswipe at Mumsnet Towers, assuming all women who have procreated, worship at its feet, instead of finding it often cloyingly self-righteous and clique-y, as organisations run by women can tend to be. However, if moaning mothers annoy you, why look at Mumsnet? It’s like saying you hate origami and getting all aerated because Peter from Swanage can’t fold the perfect swan on origami.co.uk.
Lynch claims she knows how horrendous post-natal depression is, or illness as it is technically termed. Depression is depression, yes, but does she know that according to the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (RCOG), more than ten per cent of maternal deaths - that's deaths within one year of giving birth - are caused by suicide? And often particularly grisly suicides at that, the women wanting to punish themselves in the worst way possible for leaving their child motherless.
Mothers are treated as superior citizens, she says. As anyone who has battled with a baby in a busy place will tell you, this is not always the case. People tend to look the other way and tut when a noisy baby and harassed mother cross their path. She was asked to get off a bus for a mother with a pram. Yes, that’s not fair. Perhaps the woman might have been someone like me, who had cried every day since giving birth four months earlier and was in desperate search of a group that recognised I was still a person behind the mother. I had to get two buses to this group with a new pram (the inherited one had collapsed) which I hadn’t, in my agitated state, learned how to deal with. The crowded bus watched as I tried to fold it with one arm, the other holding the baby, before admitting defeat and leaving the bus. Half an hour’s walk later, upset and very late for the group, I phoned my partner on the second bus, and didn’t put the phone away properly. It was stolen. I didn’t make it to the group.
In the majority of cases, depression in new mothers does decrease and of course, they have the immense gift of that baby, but to suggest that they should have no further sadness, anger or boredom in their lives, just because they are mothers, is preposterous. I run a creative support network in Brighton called Mothers Uncovered. The women that participate are bursting with love and gratitude, but they are also struggling to find their way as mothers. And before you say it, they are not pampered middle class brats. They come from all walks of life.
Lynch dwells romantically on how mothers and their offspring belong to each other. This is a wonderful thing, but the very many cases of estrangements within families belies this as a universal truth. Or what about the mothers of murderers, of rapists, or the case of the boy in the news this week who killed his mother with a hammer? Were they glad they were mothers?
‘I will never be loved as you’re loved’, she mourns. Well, let this ‘moaning’ mother tell you: one of the bittersweet truths you come to realise is that your love for your child is greater than they will ever have for you. While your child is still young, it is reciprocated in equal measure. But the child must grow, move away from the nest, fall in love with others, perhaps have a child of their own. If they do, they will feel for that child what you felt for them. There may be a renewed closeness when that point is reached, but the intensity of motherly love is a one-way street.
Saturday, 18 February 2012
I saw a picture of Amanda Holden this morning arriving at a Britain’s Got Talent audition. ‘Less than a month after giving birth to her daughter’ trumpeted the paper, ‘and after having been in intensive care, here she is “radiant” in blue silk dress by blah blah blah…’
And so on. There is the picture of her looking radiant, as promised. Her stomach is as flat as a young girl’s. Perhaps she’s been photo-shopped. Perhaps not. It doesn’t really matter when this is all we see. Women who give birth at the age of nearly 41 and spend time in intensive care should not look like this a few weeks later. As soon as she was released from hospital she must have been on a hardcore diet and exercise regime.
And for what…? To show that she is still worthy of her crown as ‘Woman who Cries on Judging Panel’. She knows she must look perfect, every moment she is not in her own house, because if she allows it to slip, for even a second, there’s several hungry up and coming starlets desperate to be in her shoes.
Was it always this bad? Women have always been judged more on their appearance, rather than their ideas or accomplishments, this is not new. Are they not allowed to let real life show, even for a day or two…?
When I run Mothers Uncovered workshops, I ask participants to name mothers in the public eye that might be considered role models. There is always a thoughtful silence as they cast their mind over the various actresses, presenters, singers etc and concede that none of these women are shown mothering. Even when they are in their 43 page ‘Hello!’ feature special, everything is perfect, everything is manufactured.
This maybe would not matter, if it weren’t for the fact that the 99% of mothers who are not in the public eye feel inadequate next to these airbrushed lovelies. They feel fat, messy, exhausted, irritable, emotional. They ache all over. They wonder if they’ll ever be anything beyond ‘mum’ again.
Where have all the real mums gone…?
Saturday, 7 January 2012
Opening my Guardian guide this morning I read with the usual sinking sense of inevitability that ‘How to be a Good Mother with Sharon Horgan’ was not going to be an insightful, thoughtful documentary. Rather it was going to be the usual ‘Point your Finger at the Freak’ style of programme. Because that’s all we want these days, isn’t it..? Heaven forbid we might see ordinary people going about their lives. How deathly dull!
The fact that most of the population, except for new mothers, doesn’t actually know what life is like for new mothers, is neither here nor there. Instead we’ve got this to marvel at!
Lynnea worships the placenta and turns other people’s into edible capsules for them; while Daria does not believe in nappies, or any detachment at all from her toddler.’ (The Guardian 7/1/12)
So, this is ‘Knock the Hippies Week!’ Next week will probably be ‘Knock the Trailer Trash!’ and the last ‘Knock the Pushy Career Mums!’ I realise this programme hasn’t aired yet, but this doesn’t fill me with confidence.
So, here’s a plan, thought the programme-makers. Let’s pick the most extreme example, so that anyone who practises attachment parenting/alternative methods (the first episode) will be made to feel ashamed of their choices. Who cares when we can have a good laugh? Indeed, the Guardian points this out for us: ‘It’s a fascinating look at the insanity of parenthood, which strikes just the right tone between the audience’s hooting and Horgan’s own mildly incredulous line of enquiry.’
I have to confess a personal interest in this. In March last year, I was forwarded an email from a friend who runs a music group for toddlers. She had been approached by the television company and thought I, as the director of Mothers Uncovered, might be interested in getting involved. Their intention was to make a documentary that was:
‘a celebratory look at women who love being mums and who are very focused on bringing up their children the best way possible.’
(Doesn’t seem much celebration if we are ‘hooting’ at them.)
I spoke to one of the production team, saying that I was keen to share my views on motherhood and perhaps other members of Mothers Uncovered might feel the same, but that I didn’t want myself or the group to be edited or presented in such a way as to mock us. There was a slightly uneasy tone to her voice as she ended the call as quickly as possible. Needless to say I wasn’t chosen, thankfully.
The reason I say people are unaware what life is like for new mothers, is because when you are a new mother, you withdraw from the world, for a short or longer time. When you return to the fray many of those memories and experiences have faded. One of the reasons I created Mothers Uncovered was to give space to those experiences and the chance to capture them, through writing, photography and interviews.
I would love for a respectful film to be made about mothers. We have had such a film made about us by Ceri Whitby http://vimeo.com/23501568. There’s no chance of that, or anything like it, reaching a wider audience as long as we retain our desire for ‘Point and Laugh’ television.
Friday, 2 December 2011
way of staying vertical whilst falling forwards. The things I remember: The thud of the soles
of my feet reverberating in my chest, the ridges of the rubber bar gripped in my hands, the
sweat under the wool of my too warm coat, the running of my nose I didn’t have time to
stop and wipe. My beautiful girl asleep in her pram. Her big, round, red cheeks, the left one
tilted up at me. Her dark lashes resting on the tops of them. Her little nose. There snuggled
in her sheepskin. Green woolen blanket. Yellow babygrow. Lilac flower motif. Amber
necklace. Toe nails need cutting. Hands done, little finger on right hand a bit jagged. Dry
patch of skin above left eyebrow. Beautiful hair. My girl.
I was going so fast. It felt. I don’t know how fast you can go rushing downhill pushing a
buggy. I guess that’s the problem, you’re not really pushing it. You’re holding on. It’s this
strange feeling of falling forwards and pulling backwards at the same time. Very confusing.
I became hyperaware of my movements, my coordination. I became aware of how easy it
would be for me to make a mistake right now. My clammy hands gripped the handle bar
even harder. It’s a white knuckle ride, I thought, telling the joke to my girl in my head. I talk
to her all the time, whether she can hear or not.
I started to panic about the buggy slipping out of my hands, about how steep the hill was,
about whether I would be able to catch up with it. I checked the road for traffic, evaluated
the likelihood of the pram being hit by a car should it slip away. I saw it go in my mind,
zooming away from me. I gripped harder. I walked/ran/thudded faster.
I didn’t see it go. I think I did, but I can’t have. It must be what I thought I’d see. Though I
can hear the turn of the wheels, the whip of the wind, see the shaking of her cheeks as it
went over bumps. But I can’t have. I can’t have seen any of it.
I looked up - But no, I didn’t. That’s something I thought would have happened. The first
thing I saw was the road, from sideways. I opened my eyes and I saw the road from the
side. I felt my cheek on the ground, the emptiness in my hands. Then my eyes pulled my
head forward. I could see her. I could see her pram. It was on its side.
I do not know how long I did not see her for. How long I was not there. I hit my head. The
ground. Hit my head, tripped my foot. My hands. My hands let her go. I don’t know. I know
that I had to be where I was going at 10:45, and I’ve worked out that it takes 6 minutes to
walk from where we were to where we were going. I was running 5 minutes late. I don’t
know how long it was until I knew the time again, I’m told it was about 2:15. The man in the
cafe said he saw me at 11:05. The woman in the car 10:50. I don’t know if what they say is
true. Every second has been a hundred years.
I crouched down to the pram. I looked under her blanket, under the sheepskin. A few
seconds, hundreds of years. I moved very fast and I stood very still. Road, pavement,
other side, that way, behind. Listen. Listen for her. Nothing. Again. Blanket, sheepskin,
road, pavement, other side, that way, other way, all around. Listen. She must be calling.
She must be making a noise. Few seconds, hundreds more years. There. She was not
there. Here. She is not here.
She is not here. She is somewhere. She is somewhere. She is. She is. She is my little girl
and she is somewhere. And she is happy. Do I want her to be? Happy, yes. Somewhere
else, no. To be? Yes. To be somewhere else if she is happy. To be if she is not happy? To
be if one day she might be happy? Until one day when we find her.
I search. I search, I search, I search, I search. Everything. Everywhere. I see her. Long
hair. Dark lashes. Little nose. Long limbs. Maybe not red cheeks. Her eyes haven’t
stopped changing colour yet. I don’t know. I don’t know. My little girl. I look down. I see her,
asleep in her pram. Little nose, lashes resting on big red cheeks. I keep going. I hold on. I
don’t let her go.
Monday, 5 September 2011
I had a wonderful few days with my partner trying to bring on labour. My waters broke on the Sunday and by the Wednesday still nothing had happened. We went for windy spring walks along the seafront in Hove where a ship load of wood had just been washed up on the beach. We had curry, pineapple, sex, jumping up and down and acupuncture. Nothing happened.
The flat was spotless. The sitting room was one large bed. A pool had been borrowed but not set up. I went into hospital for a checkup and the doctor reacted very strongly indeed to the fact that we had left it so long since the waters broke. He wanted me to stay in and be induced immediately. I was told I was risking the baby’s health by waiting a moment longer.
Greg drove anxiously home to get my stuff. I waited in an empty room for him to come back not knowing what would happen next. I didn't want to see the doctor again until Greg was safely there by my side. We had been wrapped up wonderfully in our little bubble for the last week.
Later, I remember the epidural wearing off because they had to take the line out for some reason and they forgot to put it back in – suddenly I was in the full blown pain of labour. The female doctor took a look and told me the baby's head was turned. I had an hour more, she said, to try and turn the head before they would try forceps or……
In the end I was taken in for an 'emergency caesarian'. I lay on my back, ‘please be gentle with me.’ I remember looking up at the female doctor at one point and she had my blood up to her elbows and spatterings of it on her protective goggles. My baby girl was pulled out of me and she was fine. I was over the moon – once you have your baby and she was healthy and everyone was fine – it doesn't really matter any more.
Crossing the seafront road we pass Henry Allingham – 1st World War survivor and the world’s oldest man – leaving in his funeral hearse. In 2 hours time she will arrive.
At the lowest most impossible point, when I absurdly, mulishly say ‘I can’t do it, I can’t’, the quiet watchful midwife with the beautiful cow-brown eyes speaks, ‘I see lots of dark hair. Feel’. I reach down into the pool and feel - between my legs the clotted tendrils of her hair float free. It feels the way seaweed feels, brushing my legs when I swim. Now, everything is certain.
I plunge and plunge and I’m the only one there until she is here and I grip her greasy duck-down body, her head above the water between my breasts, and look into an open howling mouth at some hardy gums.
Curiously, the first thought I have is: ‘That is where her teeth will be’. And I think what I meant was – in that shocked moment – ‘She will eat. She will speak. She will laugh. She will sing. She exists.’
It was approximately 11am when my midwife arrived. She came straight into the bathroom to try to gently coerce me out of the bath water. There was no way I could move, I was not able to get up. I wanted to stay in the water, it felt like mercy. I knew the baby was coming soon, I needed to stay in the water, I needed to push.
“You need to relax, dear. Your baby is not coming for some time yet. If you get out of the bath, I will be able to examine you to see how things are progressing.”
I could not believe it. Her words cut straight through my confusion. Suddenly I became very scared. If this was the early latent phase, then I knew I would certainly not be able to cope with the later stages of labour. It was already so intense, so overwhelming I would not be able to continue like this for hours.
Eventually I was able to stand and, leaning heavily on G’s strength, I walked over to the bedroom and lay down. I was crying and deflated as I opened my legs for Steph to examine me. I needed to calm myself down, to find a way to get through the early phase of labour. I drew on my inner strength and the guidance from hypno birthing. Perhaps I had been overconfident to believe that I was capable of getting through childbirth at home, with no interventions other than breathing and love. I began to have doubts, to wonder if I was strong enough to cope.
G and I had decided to try for a home birth. We spent the weeks leading up to the birth attending antenatal workshops, preparing ourselves physically and mentally to cope with the arrival of our baby. We both wanted to share the experience with our parents, in the comfort and safety of our flat. We bought a birth pool, prepared the bedroom for resting. We were excited, but relaxed. I was jittery with third trimester nerves whilst G remained outwardly calm and level headed. After all, first babies are always at least 10 days later than their due date. We knew we had lots of time to prepare to buy all the necessary bits and pieces.
So without concern we went to bed on the 8th. March in the comfort and knowledge that we had time. We would go out to buy nappies and a blanket later that week. We would test out the pool some time tomorrow, and possibly even go out for drinks with some friends that evening.
For these reasons, when I woke on the morning of the 9th. March with cramps, I was sure that I had constipation. It was quite a surprise when we both finally realized that the cramps were minutes apart and I was in labour. At 7am., the process had begun. By 9.30a.m. I was unable to move. I rocked on the bed, hugging my knees with my head in G’s lap. We were confused, it was all happening so quickly.
We finally decided to ring the maternity ward to give them the co-ordinates. Needless to say, they calmly suggested I take two paracetamol and go for a walk or soak in a hot bath. And that is how I came to be stuck in a cold, shallow bathtub for an hour and forty five minutes.
G called for a midwife to come and help, because he was unable to keep count of the contractions. It was too erratic so we asked for someone to come along to make an assessment. As my birthing partner, G was tasked with the important job of keeping count. As my soulmate, he was my strength, the keeper of the space. Ready to solve, ready to count contractions, ready to light the candles, burn the essential oils, fill the pool, monitor the temperature. He was ready to hold me up, lay me down, ready to speak for me, to sing for me or leave for me if I called for it. However, it just so happened that at that point, he was not quite ready for what happened next. Through gritted teeth, I demanded that he ‘get someone who knows what the fuck is going on!’. And that is how Steph came to my rescue.
To my infinite relief, after the internal examination, I recall Steph’s voice uttering words to G I shall never forget: ‘Here are my car keys, please fetch my bag, and be quick, the baby is coming now!’ I was ten centimetres dilated, and the baby, Ella, was ready to be born.
There was no time for the pool, not time for candles, oils or music. I manoeuvred to the floor, leaded against G and helped the baby birth on dry land. By 12.47 she was born, by 1.47 the placenta was out. Unfortunately the cord was very short so it had to be cut, freeing Ella from the comfort of the placenta shortly after her birth. I was then able to reach her up to my chest. I watched in awe of the majestic power of mother nature as her swollen lips suckled on my breast for the first time.
Five hours after her descent began through the birth canal, Ella lay with her bare skin touching mine. Breathing against my chest, totally content.
I’ve been meaning to write my birth story since my little girl was born, but those first 8 weeks were so full on and then you’re in a situation where you’re enjoying the subtle shift to a place with a little more space, psychologically and before you know it the intention to write comes when she’s needing you. Why do I never remember when she’s napping. Too many other activities competing for that gap. So here I am in a coffee shop, little one asleep for who knows how long and I’m writing it. Where does a birth story start? What the medics call active labour. It can’t have been a female who thought that idea up. On my due date I had menstrual like cramps as I walked around town. Oh, I hear her now, a little murmur from the pram announcing that ‘I’m here, I’m awake’. So now here she is, sat on my left knee as I write, coffee going cold. This is how it is. I think this’ll come in instalments.
I remember it as a wonderful magical experience – it sits outside any other experience I’ve ever had, a unique bizarre experience. A place where time stops for 48 hours. Just for us, the world stopped for Mark and I, so we could bear our son. So I must have already forgotten the pain, it’s already blurred at the edges, my body has forgotten the sensation. I remember being scared of every single contraction though and 14 hours in, thinking it would never end. I just wanted to stop and sleep, there was no way I was ever going to push this baby out. I remember between contractions being total bliss, lying in the birth pool, the room being flooded in light, with huge windows. Gazing at the midwife and the student, being held from behind by Mark. I was rushing on pure endorphins, loved up like I had been dancing in nightclubs 10 years before. His arrival was just utter exhaustion, bewilderment, shock, disorientation. Here was this huge battered and bruised baby lying across my breast, peering out of swollen eyes at me. I got them to give me a copy of the notes of the birth. It’s quite amazing for looking back at, see what happened. I think it’s more moving than what I’ve written. This is what was written ‘Delivery of live male infant. Delivered onto mother’s abdomen. Dried, stimulated, cried at birth. Clean towel, cord clamped, cut by Mark. Baby skin to skin with mother, placed across breast.
Thursday, 18 August 2011
Woo made hungry noises with his lips. He kneaded his
Mothers breast to encourage the milk flow.
It was past his bedtime, but he couldn’t settle.
It took a while for him to drop off.
A floorboard creaked beneath his mothers weight as she crept away, rough skin on the soles of her feet made scuffing sounds on the new carpet.
Woo heard her leaving his room, but he was too tired to fight sleep tonight. So sleep won.
It wasn’t long though, before he had his first visitor of the night.
‘ta ta ta’ was the noise on his window.
Woo woke up straight away because this was an unfamiliar sound.
He slid off his bed and toddled over to the window.
It was difficult, but he managed to climb onto a chair beneath the window.
He laid his tiny hands flat on the window sill and came face to face with two
little black eyes and a short beak, ta ta ta it went on the glass.
“Hello” said Woo, in a language grown-ups didn’t quite understand.
“Hello” said a little brown bird with red all down its front.
“What are you?” asked Woo.
“I’m a bird. What are you?” Asked the bird.
“I’m a baby,” said Woo. Then he asked the bird,
“What can you do?”
“ I can fly,” said the bird
Woo widened his enormous brown eyes, and blinked.
“What can you do?” asked the bird.
“I can walk,” said Woo proudly, and he padded up and down on the spot to demonstrate.
“What where you doing before?” asked the bird’
“I was having milk, from my mummy”
“Yes, she keeps it under her jumper”
“Yes, it keeps the milk warm”
“Warm. Yes I know about warm.” Said the bird.
“Why are you here?” asked Woo.
“I can’t sleep.” Said the bird.
“Are you afraid of something?” asked Woo
“Never!” Snapped the birds tiny beak
“Do you see my chest?” said the bird sticking it out. “There is a fire inside. A red hot fire that burns and burns and never goes out”
Indeed it did glow a fierce bright red as he spoke.
How do you feel your style of parenting compares with your own upbringing?
I don’t really know which my parenting style is. My daughter is only 3 months old; hence the only parenting I have done has been related to dealing with her wellbeing and not really with her conduct. It is funny, but I still find hard to see myself as a parent, as I consider myself more as a carer. In this role, I try to be as loving, assertive and give her as much freedom in order to get to know her. Saying that, I always thought that I will be quite an authoritarian parent, who will try to care for Liliana based on a defined routine and a set of rules. I was brought up that way – although this is when we were older than my daughter currently is – and consider certain aspects of it effective. As kids, we were indulged in many ways; however, we had to obey rules, routines and values which are established in my culture for different kinds of situations.
I guess that now that I am a mother, I realise that imposing limits might be more difficult than it sounds. For instance, I’ll have to know more about the personality of my daughter, what she likes and dislikes before being able to work out limits and boundaries. I still consider these important, but understand that they should not be set in stone as they are only there for her happiness and positive upbringing. In a way she becomes my own little project. I hope that I will be able to take the best of my upbringing and apply it with other things I learn along the way. I am finally starting to see that parenting is a learning process for both.
Do you seek advice on aspects of child-rearing?
I am always open minded and eager to learn on any aspects of child-rearing. I have the great advantage of knowing different cultures and being able to compare each other when it comes to dealing with my daughter. Of course this doesn’t mean that in practice I can address effectively day to day issues, such as sleeping, crying, etc. It just means that I am open to consider a variety of tools, techniques and perspectives. I can only hope that taking into account my daughter’s personality and my own instinct as a mother, all this knowledge will serve to find my way to give her a happy upbringing.
Describe any methods that you have tried relating to sleep, feeding, etc.
Liliana seems to like her simple but effective routine for sleeping at night. She usually gets a bath around 6 and feeds/settles until she falls asleep around 7.30 pm. Sometimes, she might have some problems for sleeping, but she will usually do so after following this routine. She usually wakes up when she likes (usually no later than 8 in the morning) and it will depend on when she has woken up during the night. After that we have a routine of changing her, which now she is happy to follow. I also feed her on demand throughout the day and night, so I let her dictate when she wants to do this and for how long.
Napping during the day is usually a problem; and I currently keep trying different methods. For instance, taking her for a walk usually works, but it is quite demanding on my side and I would not like her to get used to do this in order to sleep. Other methods I have tried are rocking her, settling her by lying with her in bed, giving a massage, tapping on her tummy or offering her a dummy. I tried once letting her cry but I felt so bad I promised I’ll never do it again. Hopefully, as I try different things and she becomes older, we’ll find the best methods for her day routine.
Your birth story
The birth of my daughter Liliana happened very much as planned. We had a homebirth which started around 1:30 am on the Saturday 14th of August. My partner Laurens got ready the room that I had planned to give birth with all our preparations. He also helped me breathing through the contractions up the moment our midwife arrived at 7 in the morning. There is not much more to tell really, Liliana was born at 8:43 in the morning and we were really delighted to meet her.
How have you changed since becoming a mother?
I don’t think I have changed but became a bit richer. I have new reasons to wake up in the morning and look forward to the future. I have learnt to be more patient, more positive and more caring. Apart from that, I keep having the same hopes, goals and motivations than before I became a mother.
What are your hopes and fears?
In the short term, my hope is that our lives will stabilise again; where me and my partner can regain a bit our sleep and a sensible routine for the day. In the longer term, I hope I will be a good, fair and fun mother to my daughter. My fear is that I am unable to do this; hence, becoming frustrated by my inabilities as a mother.
Describe a pivotal moment when you realised you were a mother?
I think the pivotal moment has to be when she was born and I realised I was bringing to life a human being.