Tag Archives: family

A Womb With a View: After birth – what I’ve learned…

IMG_6788So, here he is. Or, should I say, here we are.

Meet my five-week-old little boy, Evan, and his heavy-lidded, rocket-boobed, topsy-turvy mother. I’m someone changed quite a lot by the last month and a bit. I’m writing this with my thumb on my phone at 4.07am while feeding for starters (EDIT – I’ll be writing the rest of this column in 10-minute bursts in the next week-and-a-half when the baby’s gurgling at his cot’s mobile while farting/sleeping in his pram, which I’ve gingerly inched in from outside as he only conks out in the open air/cooing in the sling with his dad, at a time when I should really be catching up on sleep, blah blah blah).

I’m also someone who remains, despite everything, the same person.

The birth? Not conventional. Then again, whose is? I had an emergency caesarean section after 3 days of failed induction, at nearly 2 weeks over due date, and after countless alternative therapy sessions (yep, even this sceptic tried everything – and isn’t having your feet fiddled with for £60 divine). Pessaries and drips were applied, Mister still wasn’t shifting, his mum wasn’t dilating, and his heart-rate started levelling out.

And so the necessary was done. At 10.06am on Monday 28th April, in a bright operating theatre, my son made his entrance into the world. He was 9lb 4, 57cm long, with brown hair and a chubby belly. And yes, I’m lucky that I love him so very, very much.

Here’s some other things I learned about having a baby:

* Ginger Rogers did everything Fred Astaire did, only backwards, and in high heels. First-time mums do very little that other people do, but they do keep another tiny person alive, with no specialist training or experience, one-handed, on no sleep, in mismatched leisurewear with a stray, leaky tit.

* Yes, yes – I know I’ve barely started, and I’m proving that happy mums whinge a lot. We got ourselves in this position etc, etc. But as a person largely responsible for fulfilling the needs of another breathing human, while you’re in recovery from 24 hours+ of agonising pain/major abdominal surgery/a torn perineum, while everyone else tells you this is all normal, surely you’re allowed a grumble. You disagree? Then bugger off.

* Newborns rarely sleep for more than three hours at a time, if that. I missed this fact in the endless reams of baby literature I read beforehand. Mine is pretty good at kip (EDIT – I lie – the last two nights have been like living with the creature off Eraserhead – EDIT – he’s changed again, he was an angel last night ­- EDIT – this only proves the inconsistency of babies). Anyway, their short sleeping cycles should remind mothers of three little words. Take. Things. Easy.

* A diversion for my brief Caesarean Section. The idea of being too posh to push – ie that caesareans are the easy option – is, quite frankly, ludicrous. Before mine, I hadn’t realised how big an operation a c-section was; five weeks on, the seven-inch smile on my abdomen and the residual aches and pains reminds me I’m still recovering. If you have one, don’t panic – I am still in awe of them, genuinely, as a baby with an impacted head got pulled out of that tiny slit, somehow – but you need to remember how big these ops were after the fact. So: accept help from all sides. Buy a load of high-waisted, non-sexy granny knickers (thank you, John Lewis). Live in yoga trousers bought hurriedly online that make you look like you eat quinoa for breakfast. Take your bloody painkillers. Slob in front of DVDs you love when you’re feeding to cheer yourself up. Don’t be a martyr. You don’t have to be Superwoman.

* Don’t accept too many visitors. Or be prepared to tell people to sod off. You will probably be knackered and crave your own time more than ever before (then again, do see friends if it’ll make you feel a bit better, and if family are bringing warm arms to help you with the baby, then accept them).

* Our generation give ourselves a lot more shit about parenting than our mums and dads did. They only had people around them to ask, and most of us turned out OK. There’s a lesson in there, somewhere.

* The internet is unhelpful. Type any question about your baby’s health into Google, and the responses you’ll get will largely be from “normal mums”. Normal mums who a) you don’t know, b) might be mad, c) might be smug, d) keep telling you to “trust in the Lord’s work”, e) keep telling you to “trust in nature”. If I’d trusted in nature, as many women have to in countries less developed than ours, my baby and I might not have been here now.

* The internet is amazing. During endless night feeds, you can play Word Scramble, read the news, nose at people’s normal lives on Facebook, receive advice from countless wonderful people about your baby through Facebook, and text your mum-pals on Whatsapp. Which last point brings me to the the biggest tip of all…

* Meeting people having kids the same time as you, through antenatal classes or activities, or post-natal support groups, is essential. Knowing you’re not the only mad harpy worrying about every burp, sick or poo will change your life.

* The mental health of new mothers is a huge priority for healthcare professionals, as it should be, but normal anxieties get pathologised too much. Worried you might break your baby? Or drop it down the stairs? Every mum I’ve spoken to thought that too, so these worries aren’t necessarily a sign of incoming depression. Other medical issues get less attention, however, like babies that have tongue-tie (this is when babies’ tongues need a snip to help them feed properly). I know four recent babies who had this condition, and their mothers had to fight hard to find out if their children needed help. Without help, babies struggle to gain weight, spend hours at the breast, making their mothers, ironically, more and more distressed. All these women need is someone trained to have a very quick look at their little ones. So listen up, NHS.

* Becoming a mum soon? You will be endlessly grateful for having cooked and frozen meals before the big event. If you like being at the hob, as I do, this is what maternity leave is for (I also enjoyed solo cinema trips, afternoon dozes, and forages for weird old documentaries on the iPlayer – do use your maternity leave to do gentle things you enjoy). If you haven’t cooked and frozen food before baby comes, tell friends not to bring presents round, but something that can be shoved into a pot, or the oven in one dish, and eaten out of a bowl with one hand.

* A tea towel placed over a baby’s head helps you eat out of a bowl with one hand.

* Long, patterned, diaphanous scarves are essential pieces of kit for any new mum (not plain colours, ladies – these will show up dribble, or worse). Scarves help you feed discreetly when you need to, or hang over your pram, especially when the sun suddenly deigns to blaze out on a previously grey day (thanks for that, British spring).

* “Nature is amazing, science is awesome”. My friend Ellie, who gave me advice about what to do about the in-hospital Bounty reps in my previous column, said this to me in a text while I was still in recovery. It’s still the best sentence ever. For instance, when I was sad about Evan not having arrived in the usual way, and my body not having done what it “should” have done, I realised that every time he fed – which was, and is, often – I felt my stomach cramp, and this was helping me heal. Breastfeeding helps the womb contract, and reduce to its old size; now, five weeks on, I look pretty much as I did before I was pregnant. Somehow, our bodies also keep us awake in these difficult weeks, and power us through. But science also has its place, beyond doubt. Take Evan, on antibiotics for a week after he showed signs of infection, who is now absolutely thriving (EDIT – today’s weigh-in – 11 pounds – oof). Things don’t have to be either/or. Let’s use everything we’ve got to keep Mum and baby well.

* If your mum/friends seem to be posting pictures of their babies too often on social media, consider this: that may have been the most constructive thing she felt she did with her day, or the one moment when baby was happy that she wanted to preserve. Facebook pictures are little markers that say, yes, world, I can manage this.

* Midwives are brilliant, undervalued people. One upside of me being in hospital for a week is that I had fantastic midwifery care. I’d go further, in fact: when you’re a new mum, there’s something to be said for having a longer stay in hospital than six tiny hours (the usual time now), and being cared for by people who have been there, and done that. In hospital, I got specialist breastfeeding advice that proved invaluable later, was watched over by a midwife while I slept in bed with my baby (who wouldn’t sleep in his crib, when I’d hardly any sleep for five days), had every question answered about my baby’s qualities and quirks, and felt properly monitored. It’s helped me ever since.

* I’ve also got a new-found respect for the power of women. I’ve had so many of them help me immeasurably since Evan arrived – both professionally and personally – and as a result, I’m enjoying my little boy so very, very much. Here’s to all of you, ladies. And here’s to us. We’re still here!

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers 

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Mothers and babies will die

OFFERED: Fabulous boutique room, freshly painted, king size bed, 24-hour staff, pool.
REQUIRED: vaginal delivery of a perfect baby.

Of course, you’ll be lucky to make it through the doors of this little piece of heaven within the NHS. If you have any hint of a complication you’ll be sent packing to your standard local obstetric-led maternity suite. Oh, but hold on – there’s no room at the inn: all of the obstetric-led units have been shut!

Don’t get me wrong, I am all for natural childbirth. Women should be supported to give birth at home or in a midwife-led unit as advised in new guidelines from NICE (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence); let’s make sure every baby’s first moments are skin-to-skin, suckling at the breast. But the harsh reality is that the sweet, sweet words from NICE are nothing more than a whispered lullaby to lull women into thinking that they have a heart and that they’ve listened to mums and midwives. With a shortage of nearly 5,000 midwives nationally and a maternity service in tatters thanks to countless hospitals being downgraded, there is no way that a move to a midwife-led model of maternity care is a serious proposition.

So, let’s get serious. Women need an individual service tailored to their needs. Home birth requires two midwives to be present but is otherwise cheap as chips and has very good outcomes for mums and babies (within reason). Birth Centre delivery requires one midwife, with very little intervention, is slightly more expensive and also has good, reliable outcomes for mums and babies (within reason). Acute Obstetric care is on a graded scale of expense with increasing intervention and has good outcomes for mums and babies (within reason).

Reason, skill and medical training decide where it is most appropriate for a woman to give birth. In a service where the mother is at the centre of care, this should be a fairly straightforward decision – but in a service where profit and a confusing web of tariffs, CQUINS (and I’m not talking disco here) and penalties take centre stage, then the woman and her ever-expanding waistline are left to the mercy of a lottery of the market.

NICE can say what they like but the Department of Health are no longer accountable for our care and, with the advent of the CCG, they have no control of a national maternity strategy. When asked in a recent government report the Department of Health were not able to name a national policy for maternity. It’s still Maternity Matters, by the way, Jeremy.

The Health and Social Care Act untethered the Department of Health from the NHS. It claimed to hand over power to the Clinical Commissioning Groups, but in reality they are at best confused and at worst rife with corruption. All of this while introducing an open market that is spiraling out of control. The result for women is that maternity services are floundering. In that government report it was found that the Department of Health is no longer responsible even for such basic and fundamental aspects of care such as how many midwives are employed by the NHS. So, who is? No one.

With Public Health banished to the savaged hinterland of the Local Authority there is no longer a powerful body integrated into either the NHS or the CCGs to ensure that local commissioning of maternity services is in line with Department of Health Policy. Even if they knew what that is. By breaking up the NHS, the Department of Health has made it perfectly clear that it is not remotely interested in having a public health policy at all. They prefer to focus on forcing hospitals into becoming Foundation Trusts as quickly as possible.

Jeremy Hunt and his cronies may not care about boring epidemiological studies and evidence-based care, but for us mums the fragmentation of services is a catastrophic blow to choice, continuity of care and equal access to healthcare. With the desperate shortfall of 4,800 midwives (The Royal College of Midwives ‘State of Maternity Services’ Report 2013) and almost half (47 per cent) of UK hospitals lacking enough consultant obstetricians, along with a steady baby boom in England over the past decade, there is increasing strain on maternity services. Midwives and obstetricians look after women with much more complex needs.

The Coalition, UKIP and other misguided souls push an identity parade of people to blame: Immigrants (the Polish get a hard time despite working legally, paying taxes, and therefore being no different from Mr and Mrs Smith born and bred in Tunbridge Wells); The Poor (to listen to George Osborne and Iain Duncan Smith, one could be forgiven for thinking that eugenics may well be on the cards for the next election manifesto); The Needy (we might as well kick the disabled while they’re reeling from ATOS); and finally, The Labour Party (they gave those pesky women far too much with their tax credits, Child Benefit, Children’s Centres and Maternity Matters).

Amid the frenzied dismemberment of the NHS we are hurtling towards an insurance-based system for our maternity care, which embraces intervention rather than holistic, aromatherapy and massage amongst caring midwives handy with a birth stool. We need to ask ourselves, do we seriously want to live in a society in which only the super-rich can afford to have babies while the rest of us lucky enough to have health insurance count the pennies to calculate whether we can afford for the stork to pay us a call?

Never forget that pre-NHS women died in their droves in cavernous lying-in wards, or for want of an experienced midwife. The idea that all women are going to have the opportunity to lie-in in a luxurious birth centre would be a joke if it weren’t so utterly terrifying that the back-up intensive obstetric care is being closed down. We mothers need to fight and fight hard for our hard-won maternity services. We need to join together and fight those seeking dismantle the NHS and fight them we shall: we shall fight them on the labour wards, we shall fight in the midwife-led units and we shall fight in the birthing pools; we shall never surrender. We shall go on to the end.

Jessica Ormerod is the parents’ representative on the Lewisham Maternity Committee and a candidate for the National Health Action Party in tomorrow’s European election.

Photo: Wikimedia

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Why the East London housing crisis is a feminist issue

In February, Editor Deborah Coughlin reported on the Focus E15 Mums’ campaign against their mass eviction from temporary accommodation in Stratford, East London. Instead of being relocated to permanent housing nearby, the young mothers have been offered housing in Hastings, Birmingham, and other cities away from their support networks.

The Focus E15 Mums campaign is ongoing (you can sign their petition here) and a public meeting has been organised in their support by Feminist Fightback, Hackney DIGS and Plan C London, on Saturday 24 May in Bethnal Green. We got in touch with co-organisers Feminist Fightback for their perspective on the housing crisis.

We have organised this meeting to try and help raise the profile of a campaign that we see as very important – this is the coming together of young families (and young people in general) to fight for fundamental rights to decent homes; a decent place to live in the area they have either grown up in or found a home in. It is a campaign for something immediate in East London – halting evictions and ensuring secure housing for the families who are moved on – but it is part of something much bigger too. The brutal reality of London’s housing ‘superbubble’ combined with cuts to public services is frightening.

Some of us in Feminist Fightback grew up in east London, and many of us have lived here for many years. Many of us face the daily stress of housing insecurity ourselves – living in fear of the next market-driven rent hike, waiting to be thrown out of our homes because the landlord wants to sell to make a quick and easy profit. Also many of us work in East London as teachers, midwives, social workers – we work face-to-face with families forced into poor quality, insecure temporary housing and we are angry about the injustice of it.

Every week in my own work I meet young mothers living in one room with one, sometimes two young children, trying to make ends meet. This is ‘temporary accommodation’ but so many of these women have been living in such conditions for a year or more. This exists in the midst of intense gentrification in East London – all around us blocks of ‘luxury’ flats are being built, old houses are being refurbished into large family homes. Very few of these developments are accessible to ourselves or the families we work with day to day. Our homes are not our homes – they are ‘property’.

That is why the E15 focus campaign feels so important to support. The struggle of these young people against eviction poses the question of what society we want to live in. One that removes young families from their communities and forces them into insecurity, while the houses next door sell for half a million pounds? Or one that values people’s right to a home, a home not a property, no matter how much money or capital they have access to. For Feminist Fightback this question is fundamental not only to east London campaigners and activists but to feminist struggle as a whole.

We hope the campaigns gains momentum and hopefully the meeting will help with this. The intent is to build solidarity and gain more local support.

I don’t think many of us held out that much hope for an ‘Olympic legacy’ – this felt like a fallacy from the very beginning. When you live in insecure housing, with rent prices soaring all around you, it is very hard to feel overly grateful for a new shopping mall and sports centre…

For more information about the public meeting on Saturday 24 May, click here.

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Womb with a View: Bounty – I’ve got my best “fuck-off face” ready

We asked Bounty for a response and have published it directly below the article. It includes contact details for anyone who has had a difficult experience and for those wanted to take themselves off the Bounty database.

Two weeks to go… or rather, not two weeks to go. I’m 38 weeks pregnant today, and his Highness could plausibly arrive this afternoon. Or tomorrow. Or next week. Or the week after that.

Between the 37-week mark and the 42-week “we’ll try anything” cut-off, a pregnant women is ready to roll, set to go, fully cooked. So what are women like me really thinking about now? The small issue of pushing a baby out between our legs, yes. But also what happens soon after, and who we want to be with us.

This brings me to Bounty, an organisation in the news frequently last summer. A profit-making company that provides “support to families in the transition to parenthood”, their representatives are present on many post-natal wards in the UK. Here, they sell women photographs of their babies hours after they’ve had them, get paid by HMRC to pass on Child Benefit forms (some Bounty reps have told mothers it was the only way to get them) and sign away patients’ details to parent-friendly businesses. Yep, you read that right.

This isn’t the brave new world of the stripped-down NHS either. Bounty has been around in hospitals for over 50 years, although what they do there has changed significantly.

These days, women encounter Bounty very early on in their pregnancies. At my 10-week check – at which the risk of miscarriage is still significant – I was presented with my free Bounty folder. This is a heavyweight plastic bag full of free samples and advertising. No, I’m not averse to a freebie but this didn’t seem the right environment so, after a cursory look through, I chucked the lot in the bin. (One leaflet also offered dietary advice that contradicted NHS guidelines – yes, I can eat stilton, you demons – which I emailed them about and, to their credit, they responded.)

A note on the back of the Bounty bag was more galling, however. “Mum to be tip: baby brain? Keep your maternity notes in here so you know how to find them,” it gushed. There, there, dear, went Bounty, patting our silly little heads. We’d much rather be patronised than supported.

Then I started hearing about other women’s experiences of Bounty. One friend was pressured to sign up by her midwife, before miscarrying, then kept getting information from the company on what would have been her due date. Another had a very poorly baby and kept getting harrassed in intensive care. Another thought the Bounty rep was one of many health professionals at first, before handing over her email to send her away – only to get bombarded with spam emails ever since, selling life insurance, kids’ ISAs and toddlers’ ballet lessons.

The first issue to tackle here is transparency. Why don’t these reps say who they are straightaway? I’m told that, in the hours after giving birth, medical staff pop in constantly; a new mother isn’t necessarily going to be ready to deal with uninvited guests. Also, why are these reps allowed into wards when only a few other family members are, especially given the risk of infection? Are these reps monitored and checked properly? Are they made aware of women’s different medical circumstances? A woman could have had an easy labour or a very traumatic one. Neither kind, from the anecdotes I’ve heard, is spared the sales treatment.

So what do Bounty bring the NHS? In a word: money. Amy Willis’ June 2013 investigation for The Telegraph revealed that 150 NHS hospitals were signed up to cash-for-access contracts. Some hospitals were paid according to the number of babies born, while others got bonus commissions when Bounty managed to take their bloody photographs. Furthermore, as of last summer, HMRC paid Bounty £90,000 a year to distribute child benefit forms – forms that can be picked up in post offices for free or downloaded online.

No change has been reported about this figure yet. It isn’t exactly the best use of taxpayers’ money, whichever way you slice it.

But things are hopefully changing. Last summer, a Change.org petition against Bounty attracted over 25,000 signatures. As a result, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, Dan Poulter – a medical doctor himself – wrote to the Chief Executives of NHS Trusts expressing his concerns, albeit it, of course, in a very privatisation-friendly way.

“Whilst it is beneficial to have accessible information available to women when they are responsive to messaging”, he wrote – a touch of the “baby brain” schtick there, so thanks for that, Dan – “I am sure you will agree that it is unacceptable for parenting support organisations including Bounty to use this as an opportunity to collect private data and share it without the expressed informed consent of the parents.” Which is all well and good.

This letter was written last June. By July, Poole and Highland NHS Trusts had severed their Bountry contracts. By August, Poulter was saying that the Care Quality Commission would be enabled to take action against maternity wards that “did not ensure the protection of women’s dignity and privacy”. The worry I have now, however, is that this story loses traction. That overworked staff on maternity units forget the complaints that have been made. That the existence of Bounty reps on the wards for so many years makes the issues blend into the background – rather than the practices of individual reps being questioned.

After all, these are some of my friends’ experiences of Bounty, on post-natal wards, since last August. There’s the friend who was having difficulty breastfeeding when the rep appeared – a woman who didn’t take a strongly-worded hint to leave well alone. There’s the friend who was told by an anonymous woman that she needed her details, without being told how these details were going to be used – expressly against the advice recommended by Dan Poulter. A few others had better, hands-off treatment, and I’m hoping for the same – but I have the advantage of being prepared for it, which many women don’t.

Whatever happens in the next four weeks, I’m taking the advice of my friend Ellie. After the birth, whatever happens, I’ll have my best “fuck-off face” ready.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

Response from Clare Goodrham, Bounty General Manager said: “As a proud partner of the NHS for over 50 years, which sees over 2,000 new mums every day, we have worked to provide free products and important health information to generations of new mothers. We work closely with hospitals to ensure that mums and hospital staff are happy with the service we provide, and 92% of mums say that they love our packs as it gives them free products and money off coupons.

We are proud to give mums such offers and we take a responsible approach to sharing information with our partners. We audit and approve all the communications that our members receive and enforce a strict policy that data is only shared with our partners when a member has given us permission. We understand that some members might change their minds about this, so anyone who does not wish for their data to be shared can be removed from our database within 24 hours and no longer receive correspondence from Bounty or our partners if they wish.

Whilst expecting a baby should be such a joyful event, we know from our long term partnership with Tommy’s the baby charity that for one in four women things can go wrong and they lose a baby in pregnancy or birth. Bounty takes its responsibility seriously and has systems in place so that our members can privately update their membership details on our website or unsubscribe using a link at the bottom of our home page www.bounty.com and any of our emails. Additionally, Bounty signposts to the Baby Mailing Preference Service on our website and through our customer services team as the service will ensure that any communications from other sources they may have signed up to are also stopped.

At Bounty, we want 100 % satisfaction with our service and regularly assess all aspects of our practices to ensure that mums continue to get the best experience possible. Our Independent Advisory Board is also in place to provide us with recommendations for how we can continually improve our service and the experience for mums across the country. If anyone has any specific complaints or suggestions for improvement, then please let us know straight away at telluswhatyouthink@bounty.com.”

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“You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?”

Conceptual Photographer Suzanne Heintz explains her “Life Once Removed” project, after it went viral online.

What would drive you to pack a family of mannequins into your station wagon, and take them on a road trip? Enough pressure to conform will send anyone packing. Conform to what? Well, it was getting late. Seriously late for a woman my age not to have a ring on her finger. People said, “You’re such a nice girl, why aren’t you married?” No one actually used that out of date word, but, what they were driving at was that I was a “Spinster,” and I got tired of hearing about it.

THE HAPPIEST DAY - 650px-wmk

Even my mother must have thought she was setting me straight when she said, “Suzy, there’s nobody perfect out there. You just need to PICK somebody, if you’re going to settle down.”

I snapped back, “Mom! It’s not like I can go out and BUY a family! I can’t just MAKE it happen!” But then, I found a way. I bought a beautiful family… of mannequins. I decided to start a photo project out of the Kodak Moments I’d capture with my new Store-Bought Family.

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My own home was the backdrop for the first images. Over the next decade, scenes of an idyllic home life eventually extended into a series of Holiday Greetings, as a satirical response to annual family photo cards. However, the project took a turn after taking them on a road trip. I saw the potential in shooting in public. Seeing me work with the mannequins is such a peculiar and funny thing to witness, that people are immediately disarmed. As soon as that happens, their mind is open and impressionable. Using humor, paired with shock, allows my message to penetrate, and the work can have greater impact. The aim is to get people to reconsider their stubborn allegiance to traditional life expectations.

Holiday - FEAST - 650px-wmk

Ozzie & Harriet are dead. So why is this antiquated idea still affecting our image of marriage? It is the reason why this series is named “Life Once Removed.” A family relation, a generation apart, is “once removed.” So is our relationship with our path in life. It’s passed on by the previous generation, once removed from our own. Why do we cling to past tradition as the measure of success in the present? 

Christmas00 - THE TREE - 650px-wmk

This is a weird time in Women’s History. Don’t get me wrong, I’m pleased as punch that I was born when I was. I have more choices and opportunities than any generation of women before me, but our roles have never been more complicated by deeply ingrained mixed messages, from both previous and present generations. The term “perfect” is no longer used to describe what we’re all striving to be. Now it is called, “fulfilled.” But for women, the path to fulfillment is not through one thing, it’s through all things: Education, Career, Home, Family, Accomplishment, Enlightenment. If any one of those things is left out, it’s often perceived that there’s something wrong with your life. We are somehow never enough, just as we are.

Even if we do have a finger in each of those pies, there is never enough time to do any of them to our satisfaction. We are constantly set up by our expectations to feel as though we are missing something.

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I thought it was high time to call this nonsense out publicly, because this notion of insufficiency is not just about me, nor exclusively about women in regards to marriage. It’s about anyone whose life doesn’t look the way it “should.” Rarely does anyone’s life turn out the way it was expected, and if by some miracle it does, what they expected isn’t what they thought it was. I’m simply trying to get people to open up their minds, and quit clinging to outdated assumptions of what a successful life looks like. I want people to lighten up on each other, and themselves, and embrace their lives for who it’s made them, with or without the Mrs., PhD. or Esq. attached to your name.

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Suzanne Heintz is a Conceptual Photographer, based in Denver, Colorado in the USA. Find out more and view the full “Life Once Removed” series at: www.suzanneheintz.com

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Charlotte Raven

Again! Again!

My conviction that I am a bad mother has cast a pall on Mother’s Days past. When I’m depressed, motherhood feels like an ironing pile that never goes down. I will be wiping bums, pairing up socks, adjudicating disputes, sweeping floors, scolding without end. Wracked with guilt, I want Mother’s Day to pass unremarked sans daffodils, sans nice-lie-in. It’s not the normal working mother’s guilt but something more subtle which sadly wouldn’t be solved by putting in more hours at the parental coal face. It’s not what I do, but who I am.

When a good friend was agonizing about whether to have children, I invited her round to discuss the pros and cons. My husband was away at the time and I was in sole charge. The cons were immediately apparent: the mess, fuss and constant clamour of competing demands. I knew she’d miss the freedom to create storylines and choose the dramatis personae in her life from an international cast of characters. She looked terrified and I hadn’t even mentioned the guilt! The cons list was as long as your arm. But were there any compensations? I said running jokes, because they are easier to communicate to a third party than unconditional love.

My kids love repetition more than me. “Again,” they say.  “Again.” Not again, I think. I try to distract them with a debate about the dumbing down of children’s fiction.

“In my opinion, Thomas and Friends was a wasted opportunity. The modernisation could have given birth to something whacky and off the wall like The Magic Roundabout. Amazingly, Thomas and Friends is more banal and no less offensive than the original. Over to you John. Where do you stand on this issue?”

“Mum, stop talking, read it again.”

Thank goodness for running jokes; the one repetitive bit of family life we can all get behind.

Every night, John asks: “have I got the ring of confidence, mum?” when he’s finished cleaning his teeth. A few weeks earlier I had commended his brushing and declared: “you have the ring of confidence,” when he bared his teeth. “What’s the ring of confidence mum?”

“It comes from a toothpaste ad from my olden days. The ring of confidence will make you feel a million dollars, even when you’re wearing your holey jeans.”

“Like you can climb Mount Everest?”

“Yes!”

“In real life?”

“No!”

John hates tidying up but loves polishing our taps until they gleam. “Mum, this tap has the ring of confidence.”

Running jokes can be redemptive as well as reassuring. Some of my personal favourites deploy black humour to alchemise angst and redeem family life from my depressive tendencies. When I was depressed ‘doom’ became a verb. My family maintained that I was more dooming than doomed. I thought it was the other way round. I was forced to exist in a house of doom, drive a car of doom and navigate biblical rainstorms every time I left the house.

In our family running jokes, rather than photographs, reveal us as we really are. I look terrible in pictures and feel more at home in one of the comic set ups I’ve had a hand in creating. I wouldn’t say this was in my DNA; it was nurture rather than nature that led me to understand the importance of catchphrases and comic tropes in rescuing family life from the quotidian.

I can’t picture the inside of my childhood home, but I do remember my dads catchphrases: “hit the switch titch”, “put it there pal” and the secret rabbit face my mother wasn’t allowed to see.

My dad liked running jokes because they allowed him to maintain his mystique. He never anecdotalised or reminisced.

Like fine wines, his running jokes get better with age . For forty years, he said “plagiarist” every time Germaine Greer came up in conversation. He repeatedly claimed that he could write a better Bob Dylan song than Bob Dylan and repeatedly assured us that he was within a whisker of finishing his poetic opus The Last Great Whale.

As long as families are full of people repeating themselves, there will be running jokes.  You can’t escape them, even if you want to; we are captive audiences!

My grandmother used to say: “I’ve got a lot of secrets, I will take them to my grave,” every Friday night after four huge glasses of Pinot.

Running jokes are sometimes in the eye of the beholder. My brother and I thought this was hilarious, but it irritated my mother. One evening, we found out why: “If you mean I’m not Mick’s daughter I already know.”

I don’t have any secrets I’m planning to take to the grave; my kids know that I’ve suffered from depression for years, and have found that running jokes and other rituals often cheer me up.

This Mother’s Day is the first one in living memory where I haven’t been depressed. Ironically, I am now in the early stages of Huntington’s Disease. I’m constantly breaking things and bashing myself. Yesterday I bashed the top of my head on a sharp edge of the bathroom cabinet door. “Shit”, I always say, and sometimes “fuck”.

“You must have your Mother’s Day present early,” John said. I got a beautiful installation of found objects on my bedside table and four letters full of kind words in blue envelopes. At least I think they were full of kind words – John favours highlighter pens over pencils or biros, so I asked.

Modern children are meant to be self-absorbed and unempathic. Mine are more accepting and tolerant than most of the adults I know. Now that we both have children, my friend and I agree that this capacity for forgiveness is one of the biggest surprises of motherhood. I thought John and Anna would retreat somewhere hard to reach and would mistrust me after all those years of dooming. Their forgiveness means I will have the ring of confidence this Mother’s Day.

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A Womb With A View: Antenatal depression

Read the first in Jude Roger’s series, A Womb With a View: The Anti-Medicine Brigade.

Thirty-five weeks in, I am enjoying lots of things about pregnancy. Watching my stomach doing a John Hurt in Alien. Getting seats on trains (when people aren’t cocooned in their technological bubbles, anyway). Waddling. Napping. And my favourite: not holding my belly in.

But then there are the other things, of course: the niggles, the concerns. The guilt about what food and drink you can eat. The worries about whether baby is moving enough. Random pains. Itchy skin. Recently, I’ve been physically monitored to check some of these out (and I’m fine, all is well), but I’ve been surprised how rarely their psychological repercussions are acknowledged by health professionals.

The thing is, everyone knows about post-natal depression. It’s a regular headline on women’s magazine covers and something addressed, very rightly, in many birth preparation courses. Antenatal depression, however, is a fairly unknown term. Perhaps, once again, it’s because pregnancy is meant to be a blooming, beautiful time, when an ordinary woman becomes a walking, talking miracle. For many of those people, pregnancy is not the easiest draw, though. The pregnancy may have been unexpected or unwanted. It might bring up difficult emotions from the past. It might feel uncontrollable.

According to pre- and post-natal charity PANDAS (Pre and Postnatal Depression Advice and Support), one in ten women will experience antenatal depression. In the UK, it’s meant to be on the health agenda too. In 2007, NICE [the National Institute for Clinical Excellence] published guidance to help women at risk from the condition, and encouraged healthcare professionals to ask women at risk of it three simple questions: if they had felt down or hopeless, found it hard to find pleasure in doing things, and whether they wanted help with these feelings. Even if these women didn’t have specific mental illnesses, NICE advice continued, they should be encouraged to get support from professionals or voluntary organisations.

From my experiences, and those of others I’ve talked to, this isn’t always the case. At 19 weeks, I texted one of my healthcare contacts in desperation, worrying madly about having felt the baby move a few weeks previously, but not since. I felt bleak and couldn’t stop crying, I said. She replied to say sometimes movement changes happen, but didn’t address my state of mind.

At my next appointment, she had forgotten our exchange entirely. Ah, everyone gets anxious, she said, when I reminded her. Worry is normal. Which is all correct, of course, but that wasn’t the point.

A lot of anxiety in pregnancy is put down to hormones – and yep, there’s a lot of them, swirling and rollercoastering around. But bring up slight concerns about your state of mind and most health professionals plump for the “don’t worry, dear” response. A friend of a friend of mine who felt very low during her pregnancy was asked if she wanted to be monitored on machines more often for reassurance. She was never offered what she really wanted: services to help her emotionally.

In October 2012, Netmums, in association with the Royal College of Midwives, published more research about antenatal depression. Their findings reinforced a causal link between antenatal and postnatal conditions. Press headlines at the time had a specific focus, as a result: ITV’s typical example was “Report reveals antenatal depression affects relationship with baby.”

There’s something missing from that headline, of course – the mother herself, and her initial experiences. Once again, the individual growing a new life inside her doesn’t have her own taken seriously. This makes me wonder, dispiritingly, if post-natal depression is given more time because there are two people involved by that point. Still, in so much rhetoric and care, the woman alone, the mere vessel, doesn’t matter as much.

What this comes down to is how psychological illness is treated in healthcare, of course. This requires resources and money, but more importantly the communication of guidelines to all staff working within the system – something that should make the treatment of these issues frustratingly simple. After all, sometimes all that pregnant women want is a listening ear, and a mouth that responds. They want the opportunity to tell someone, “this is how I feel when I wake up in the morning… this is how unmanageable things feel when I think that’s something’s wrong”, and then be given some leaflets, or website addresses, rather than flail around in the dark.

Only then can pregnant women start getting on with the business of enjoying their strange, pregnant lives – something we can only do if we can feel happy with ourselves.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her @juderogers

For more useful information on antenatal depression, go to:

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Charlotte Raven

Valentine’s Day: The anniversary of my mother’s death

My first Valentine’s cards came from my mother. In retrospect this seems slightly odd – I don’t remember her ever sending one to my dad. Susan wasn’t the hearts and flowers type, but obviously made an exception.

I don’t think of her every day any more. But always on Valentine’s Day, when she died. I experimented with secular rituals to perform on the anniversary of her death but none of them stuck. She wouldn’t have cared whether we let off fireworks or released balloons with messages tied to the string. I used to visit her bookshelves in my recently deceased’s family home as they charted her evolution from shy activist to shy PhD student and beyond. People often mistook her shyness for haughtiness – I didn’t.

I have nothing tangible to remember her by – no gee jaws or heir loom jewelry. But the 30th anniversary of the year long miners’ strike in a month or so has precipitated a trip down memory lane. She was happiest in 1984 because we had all convinced ourselves that a revolution was imminent. No pictures exist of the nights we spent in the Park View listening to striking miners’ tales of derring do, but I will never forget them.

She wrote a lot of letters calling attention to miscarriages of justice, large and small. She was always fighting my corner, even when I didn’t need her to! Aged about twelve, I brought the 12 inch single version of Duran Duran’s Is There Something I Should Know? home, fearing Susan would remind me of that risible line, “you’re about as easy as a nuclear war”. In fact she was indignant when we realised that the four so called ‘remixes’ didn’t contain all the lyrics or a recognisable melody. They were riffs on the single, apparently, but how would young fans know?

I wish I had an archive of her correspondence; there were letters about dog shit on the pavement and the racist bakery on the high street. She got a reply from Duran Duran’s record company apologising for any confusion that the word ‘remix’ may have caused in the minds of the band’s young fans.

She was often right. The Guildford Four were framed by the police… When Paul Hill got out of prison he sent Susan a letter thanking her for the money and time she’d given to the campaign.

But sometimes she got it wrong. Joy Division weren’t fascists! If she was still here I’d still be trying to convince her of this fact.

In the years before her death, Susan was disillusioned and disappointed. Capitalism hadn’t crumbled and cool Britannia was a very inhospitable place for someone who hated bombast. She distrusted Tony Blair before it was fashionable – there was no honeymoon period.

She had always believed that receiving her doctorate would boost her self esteem – but it didn’t! Dr Raven didn’t want to teach or write academic books or any more letters of complaint, so for the first time in her life she had nothing to do but worry about me. She spent substantial chunks of her last years on earth playing Tomb Raider.

Susan died on Valentine’s Day 2001. I’m so sorry she didn’t live to see all the things that would have revivified her and restored her faith in humanity: her grandchildren, Occupy, New Labour discredited, and commentariat split between those who think Tony Blair had succumbed to Icarus syndrome while in power and those who think he had a pre-existing personality disorder.

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A Womb With A View: The anti-medicine brigade

Blissful, perfect, glorious pregnancy. A woman who is pregnant by choice, rather than chance, floats along like a princess on a cloud. Her child is the centre of everything, the reason for her existence. She is a happy, gracious vessel to the angel growing inside her.

That’s not the Daily Mail approach to childbearing, but the prevailing attitude to modern motherhood – or so it seems to me, experiencing it long-term for the first time. This is my second pregnancy after an early miscarriage a year ago and, 30 weeks in, I can reliably say it’s a messy whirlwind of emotions. There’s excitement and happiness, yes, but also terror and fear, and the people who exacerbate the latter, more than anyone else, are the ones who say they’re there to make it all better – the anti-medicine brigade.

To illustrate this, I’ll begin my first column with a personal, Dickensian story. This Christmas I got ill. A sniffle became a head cold, then a great, gurgly swamp in my chest. Every time I breathed I sounded like a human accordion, but with extra crackle and rattle at the end of each chord.

It being Christmas, and surgeries and chemists being shut, I scurried online for advice from various pregnancy forums. Most of it followed a theme: don’t take any drugs. Try steam inhalation. Concoct a hot drink from lemon, chilli and ginger. I did both, but still sounded like a French cafe busker every time I exhaled. Out of desperation one night, I doused a pillow with Olbas Oil, then looked online the next morning and dissolved into a wreck. Anything could harm your baby, went the chorus. Mum must suffer instead.

I ended up at an NHS walk-in clinic after my third night propped up on three pillows to open up my chest, my third night weeping in bed because I could barely draw breath. A week later, after a course of amoxycillin to treat my chest infection, I was right as rain… but judgement day arrived a few days after that. I made the mistake of telling my yoga teacher that I had been ill (yep, I’m not that un-alternative – my back’s always been dodgy and I’ll try anything to make it not hurt). “How did you treat yourself?” she asked. “Antibiotics,” I replied. Her facial expression suggested I’d said I’d been mainlining heroin.

“What about steam?” she railed. “Oils?” I wasn’t allowed an answer. My teacher moved on to another woman instead, who was anaemic and praised for treating her iron deficiency not through drugs but through diet (my iron’s low too, and you know what – I do both). The night continued from there. I carried on trying to make my dodgy back better while sneers wafted around me – not the most relaxing night ever for someone wanting to make her pregnancy better.

And that’s the rub. This isn’t just a rant about my yoga teacher and her irritation at me being desperate to, you know, simply breathe… but about the anti-medicine brigade and the effects they really have on other pregnant women. You’ll find them in newspapers, on chatboards, in antenatal classes, and constantly in your head. To me, the brigade seem more interested in policing women’s behaviour than improving their situations. Hey, don’t do that. Or do this. Your own needs? Forget them. Call me glib, but isn’t this basically the rhetoric of the right-wing press? Aren’t you, the woman carrying this baby, the one giving them life? As a consequence, shouldn’t you be allowed to exist as comfortably as possible?

I understand why some people don’t want to rely too heavily on conventional medicine, of course. Antibiotics shouldn’t be dished out for every little cold. Big pharmaceutical companies aren’t the greatest businesses on earth. The psychological legacy of the thalidomide has lingered long in our collective consciousness too – but that was half a century ago, and regulation has tightened and hardened like hell. Back then our mothers didn’t worry about every single sip of alcohol and pill they took, but we must. Is this progress?

These days, pregnant women are encouraged to deny decades of regulated, monitored science and behave like martyrs. I ask again: how exactly is it progress for women to deny progress? Because, you know, doctors are bad, girls. And we understand our own bodies, after all. But here’s the biggest thing I’ve discovered about pregnancy: we really, really don’t. Pregnancy is one long trek into the unknown. And the scariest thing about it, I’ve found, is the lack of control that you have – something I’ve experienced first-hand having gone through a miscarriage. Last time round, I ate healthily, rested and didn’t take drugs… in short, I did everything ‘right’, and still it went wrong. This time round, I’ve taken medicine that’s long been approved not to cause harm during pregnancy. It allowed me to breathe, rest and simply be – and surely that’s good for both me and my baby.

After all, before the progress of medicine changed the wellbeing of Western women forever, women ailed, women struggled, women died. This woman wants to be relieved, wants to prosper, wants to live life to the fullest – for both her precious baby, and for herself.

Jude Rogers is a writer, broadcaster, journalist, romantic, Welsh woman and geek. Follow her here @juderogers

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Young mums are Stratford’s biggest Olympic losers

Wherever there’s an Olympics happening, BBC’s Panorama send in their top corruption-uncoverer John Sweeney. Just last week Sochi was “Sweenied” when he reported the Russian Games was considered by some to be the most corrupt ever. Six years ago he did something very similar in China. However in 2012 there was a distinct lack of Sweeney in Stratford, East London. Two years later, there is a group of young mums in a hostel in E15 who might just want John to take a little look around, because their reality of the London Olympic legacy, and so-called regeneration, is social cleansing.

It’s so easy to level corruption charges at our former Cold War enemies with their human rights violations, low levels of democracy and the disappearance and imprisonment of dissidents. After all, while the Olympic Park’s nearby Tower Hamlet’s council is a staple of Private Eye‘s ‘Rotten Boroughs‘, I think I’d get away with performing a Punk Prayer in St John’s on Stratford High Street without too much impact on my freedom.

It’s so much harder to look in the mirror and see where our own games could have been more transparent – less generous to big billion pound business and kinder to the people who just happened to be born in Stratford, like the gorgeous little babies of the mums in Focus E15 Mothers. There’s no better way to explain their situation than letting the women speak for themselves.

Focus E15 Mothers’ statement:
We are a mix of mothers and mothers-to-be who have lived in the E15 hostel from a few months to 3 years. Having been told this would only be temporary accommodation, we are no closer to finding permanent housing and now Newham council has stopped funding the mothers and baby unit and those of us who have been in the hostel for over six months have been served with a possession order with a date of 20 October.

We have been told we will not be offered council housing but that we will be offered private rented accommodation from accredited landlords outside of London in places like Hastings, Birmingham and Manchester. If we refuse this offer, we will be classed as making ourselves intentionally homeless and face temporary accommodation with little protection from eviction and no guarantee of a long-term solution from the council. Also if we chose to rent privately we are not entitled to get sufficient help with deposits which we cannot afford ourselves.

We want secure and suitable housing for mothers in east London!

Every Saturday they take to the streets of Stratford in what they describe as ‘meetings’. They hang up banners with slogans that say “Fight Racism, Fight Imperialism”, “Caution, Social Cleansing in Progress” and “Don’t Make Our Babies Homeless”. On Facebook they share photos of ex-council housing in their area boarded up; ““no housing” my foot” says a commenter underneath the photo of a huge tower block.

And is that not the very essence of uncovering corruption? Being told one thing by the powers that be and then seeing evidence that proves it’s a lie. Being told there’s no housing while the Olympic village lays empty, no lights on. Being told there’s no council housing while estates are gradually boarded up and packaged up for redevelopment. Property prices rising high because Waitrose and John Lewis followed the IOC into town, all the while being told it will be easier to just go to Hastings, and if you don’t you’re purposefully making yourself homeless – that you, the single mum and your baby, deserve to be on the street.

I didn’t go to the Olympics when it came to London. I left and went to Camp Bestival instead, which has more of the sporting activities I excel at. Even hundreds of miles away in a Dorset valley, I and the thousands with me were moved by the Danny Boyle spectacular that was projected from the festival stage. The opening ceremony’s most touching part, the part that made me cry, was the Mary Poppins-style tribute to Great Ormond St Hospital and the NHS, with dancing nurses looking after children who were jumping on flying beds.

Reality is no magical fairy tale; there’s no super nannies blowing in on the wind to comfort the anxious mums of Focus E15 Mothers. They are the casualties of our Olympics and while Panorama waxes on about Sochi we must remember that our own backyard is not squeeky clean. The legacy of a transparent, caring Olympics should always be that local people will benefit, that their home town will be improved for them and their children to enjoy, but in Stratford those children are no longer welcome.

Photo: Lorraine Murphy

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Farage, it’s the system that needs changing – not biology

Earlier this month Nigel Farage memorably opined that women were “worth less” than men and do not face discrimination in the City. His comments joined the list of provocative UKIP statements which only the ‘daring’ purple and yellow party are willing to make and which are greeted as ‘refreshingly honest’ by a depressingly large number of people. They shed light on an entrenched attitude which is in fact insulting to both women with and women without children, as well as both mothers who work and those who don’t.

When Women’s Libbers demanded free, community-controlled (and 24 hour) childcare as one of their original seven demands in the 1970s they didn’t differentiate between work in the home and work outside of the home; they wanted the right to access to both. In the forty years between then and now the role of mothering has been diminished (as well as strangely fetishized) along with other caring roles; the cost of living has risen making two incomes almost essential for every family; market forces have been unleashed on childcare making it a low-skill, low-wage job; and state support for dual earner families, both fiscal and linguistic (“hardworking families”) far outweighs support for single earner households. This can’t have been what Second Wave women had in mind.

What Farage said in his speech was that women were not paid less because of discrimination by firms in the financial sector but instead because of the “lifestyle choice” some made by having a baby. He said that he does not believe that there is “any discrimination against women at all” in the City because women who are prepared to remain childless do “as well or better than men”. Not only is this inaccurate (figures released in August indicated a widening gender gap on bonus payments: in 2012, male managers received an average bonus of £6,442 compared with £3,029 for women, according to the Chartered Management Institute) but it is also the kind of lazy thinking shared by a huge number of people who think feminism has done its job because, on paper at least, women have equality. I’m inclined to believe that a society that thinks women should feel grateful to have achieved gender equality, on the proviso that we don’t procreate, is not one which is really listening to women and what they want.

This kind of ‘Choice Feminism’ is limited and limiting because it means that women are expected to suck up the consequences of the choices that they make on the basis that they made those choices ‘freely’. This is disingenuous when so many intersecting issues of gender, age, race and class dictate which choices are available to us and what the consequences of making them are. Once again, women are presented with a smorgasbord of ‘choice’ which has been carefully laid out by the patriarchy, and told to help themselves, but to keep quiet about any consequences they’re not satisfied with.

Changing the underlying structures which put women at a disadvantage when they take time out for their family is one of the tasks for 21st century feminism. Networking forum Citymothers’ survey revealed last year that only 12.5% of women in the City said their employer had taken a proactive role in supporting their maternity transition. Although 77% of respondents had a flexible working arrangement in place, 45% of these felt their path to career progress would be slower as a result, whilst 32% felt it would be unachievable as long as this arrangement was in place. Rather than smashing the glass ceiling only whilst simultaneously crossing our legs and forgoing motherhood, Citymothers say we need to normalise flexible working for women and men, change management perceptions that it is less productive than full time work, and eradicate a culture of presenteeism.

We also need to give proper respect to the work of mothering and recognise that it doesn’t result in complete atrophy of a woman’s brain. Beyond humorous posters which advertise motherhood as a ‘24/7 job with no holiday or pay, requiring the diplomatic skills of Ban Ki Moon’, there needs to be proper recognition that time taken out from employment does not represent a gaping hole which has to be justified or excused, particularly now many of us don’t anticipate retiring until we’re aged 70+; that women are as employable, if not more so, after time spent raising a family as they were before. Similarly, as well as asking women questions about whether the cost of childcare is a barrier to going back to work, we need to remember to also ask them if the high cost of living is a barrier to staying at home when their children are young. The results might be surprising.

Nigel Farage may quip that he “can’t change biology” and carry on swilling his pint while enjoying the workings of a system which favours men, but I say: “No, Nige, but we can change the system.”

Mel Tibbs is a freelance writer and maternal feminist, with 14 years spent at the sharp end of the politics of parenting. Find out more @CrunchyRedApple.

Photo: Euro Realist Newsletter

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What is Feminism? banner

Rebecca O’Connor: Feminism is…

Name: Rebecca O’Connor

Age: 47

Location: Maidenhead

Bio: Full-time manager at Channel 4. Two teenage children. Husband at home.

Sharing the stress and responsibility of bringing up children 50:50 with their father – all else follows from that.

Email your response to the question “what is feminism?” (in no more than 200 words) to editorial@feministtimes.com, with your name, age, location, a one-sentence bio and a photo of yourself.

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Charlotte Raven

All I want for Christmas… is a large measure of faux bonhomie

This Editorial is taken from the Charlotte’s speech at the Feminist Times Anti-Consumerist Christmas Party last Friday Night at Conway Hall, London.

Christmas is a terrible time for a depressive like me. The Pearly Queen singing carols at Angel tube seemed like an affront.

The worse thing about being depressed at Christmas is being mistaken for a Grumpy Old Woman. Unlike Helen Lederer and the other TV Grumpies, I like crap Christmas songs and the fact that Christmas gets earlier every year.

I don’t object to Christmas, just the lies we are susceptible to at this time of year. Santa is the biggest – parents still believe in him! My four-year-old son was visibly relieved to discover that his haul of presents isn’t dependent on good behaviour. Unlike Santa, my love for John is unconditional.

Like the Christians, I think the lie of consumerism has ruined Christmas. The lists of must-haves in the magazines at this time of year exert a particular kind of pressure that makes it hard to concentrate. And parents are under even more pressure. I’ve read about people trying to kill themselves because they can’t afford to get their kids any presents and totally empathise.

I can’t really afford to buy the kids a big present and lots of little ones, like I normally do, and have been wondering how to get round this. God knows what it’s like for people who can’t afford little ones either – if nothing else, my depression has helped me connect with those who feel as if they are on the outside looking in at Christmas.

What should Christmas be about if not God or stuff? My family Christmasses were about drinking, talking and telly. We never played consequences or charades. There was little physical activity; the novel idea of a walk on Christmas day was introduced years later by my in-laws. This break with tradition has been good for my health but does make me feel as if my identity and essential Ravenishness is imperilled during the festive season, now that my mum’s dead and my dad’s in a nursing home. The fact that I get Christmas cards addressed to Tom and Charlotte Sheahan doesn’t help.

One memorable year, when I was my daughter Anna’s age, I danced with my mother to the D:ream song, Things Can Only Get Better, before it became the anthem for new labour. We were both holding Dr Seuss string puppets with tufts on their heads that moved to the beat.

My favourite Christmas song is Fairy Tale of New York because of its realism. It’s more miserable than Slade by a country mile. Is it possible to be happy without lying to ourselves? I hope so. While I’m waiting to find out, I wish I could act festive and sport reindeer deely boppers like the receptionist at my doctors this morning. At this time of year, faux bonhomie is better than no bonhomie.

My psychiatrist says my black humour stops me from acting on my impulse to “do a jimmy” and chuck myself off Beachy Head. And the thought of being stopped on the cliff edge by the Christians who have been stationed there for the past few years is also a powerful deterrent.

Feminist Times has the same mordant wit, with the same redemptive purpose. We think modern life is crap but don’t moan about it like the grumpy old women.

I am a highly ambivalent consumer – in certain moods, I think scented candles are the key to happiness.

I left the Mumsnet blogfest with a massive goody bag and felt genuinely pampered and appreciated, until I ate too many New York Cupcakes and felt sick to the stomach about how easily I can be bought.

Working with Deborah and Sarah has made me realize that wonderful things can be conjured out of nothing. Deborah’s DIY ethic has rubbed off on me and I feel liberated from my belief that more is more.

You won’t leave this party laden with boob firming cream and beige nail varnish, because unlike Mumsnet we haven’t sold our souls. Our magical Christmas party was conjured by some amazing people with no commercial partners.

I wanted to take this opportunity to mention that Deborah is taking over as editor. It’s a relief to be able hand over the day-to-day management of Fem T to her and focus on writing, ideas and the big Feminist Times picture. Deborah’s the only positive person I’ve ever respected, mainly because she isn’t bland or deluded. And she respects my Ravenishness; she never tries to talk me out of my negativity, but I do always leave the office feeling better than when I arrived.

Deborah and Sarah have assured me that it isn’t a North Korean style purge, but I will be paying close attention to the pictures of past events to see whether I am photoshopped out…

Sarah is taking over as Deputy Editor – she’ll be brilliant. I never thank her enough. I just wanted to say publicly how proud and pleased I am with everything she’s done at Fem T, in fair winds and foul.

The party was an intimation of Christmasses yet to come. I hope to wake up one Christmas morning with no presents, feeling Sheahanish and up for life, because the depressed and depressing capitalist system has been replaced by comfort and joy.

Thank you to Gabriela Cala-Lesina, Ruth Barnes, Jenny Roper, Eleanor Westbrook, Carly Smallman, Sarah Campbell, Fari Bradley, Conway Hall, Tobias Amstall & 4th Floor Studios and all our other helpers on the day.

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Mothers who fight for Justice: Sheila Blanco

Baroness Doreen Lawrence, Dr Sara Payne MBE, Christine Lord, Kate McCann, Winnie Johnson. All these mothers have fought, and continue to fight, on behalf of their children who have passed away or disappeared in tragic circumstances. A mother demanding justice is a powerful force. She can embarrass establishments, shame perpetrators, change the law – but what is the personal cost of devoting one’s life to ‘justice’ and why do some mothers fight?

On the seventh anniversary of my friend Mark Blanco’s tragic death in suspicious circumstances, at a party attended by Pete Doherty, I asked his mother Sheila to tell us in her own words why she continues to do just that and if anyone has ever asked her to stop.

This is a case full of twists and turns.

Even some of the greatest journalists have misrepresented the facts.

Whatever I do will never bring Mark back.

Justice and Truth were central to Mark. He was a philosopher; he believed passionately in the individual, whoever he or she might be or from whatever walk of life they might come from.

I am determined to secure justice for Mark.

I hope that my persistence may, in some small way, pave the way for others in like circumstances. As the years pass, my resolve becomes greater and it is in equal measure to the outrageous manner in which Mark’s death has been treated.

Emotion should not determine justice or truth.

Though the bond between mother and child is all-embracing, I remain pragmatic and slightly detached in order to view things logically and as far as possible, dispassionately.

It reeked of corruption and cover up.

The fight is two-fold; against those, the perpetrators, and the gross negligence of the Metropolitan Police. From day one, the investigation was riddled with errors.

No one has ever suggested, to me personally, I stop my campaign.

I balance the hours I work on the case with another life. I have always taught piano and English and derive enormous joy from that though I am now semi-retired.

Police are institutionally homophobic, misogynistic and racist.

Also, they are accountable to no one. A lot of dead wood is still yet to be thrown out.

In a way, we have justice already.

It is only the Met police who cannot see or accept the true version of events that night and subsequently. I believe that if you work hard enough and believe in something enough, you can achieve anything.

Find out more about Justice for Mark Blanco here http://www.justiceformark.comFollow @justiceformark

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