Birth “choices”

I had my consultant appointment today. I was referred by my midwife because baby#1 was a very hefty 5.1kg (11lbs 4).

To those that don’t know much about sizes of babies, that is friendly-cashier-at-the-supermarket’s-eyes-popping-out-when-you-answer-their-question large. It is midwives-wincing large, it is random-grannies-exclaiming-bloody-hell-you-poor-woman large.

I have a twisted pride about it, I puff out my chest and say “he was 11lbs 4” when people ask, like a warrior back from battle, wounded and scarred, but alive.

It was a bit of a battle to be frank, and after trying to get baby out the usual route and seriously messing up my back, I had to have an emergency caesarean. If you want to know how bad it was, check out the slightly haunted look in my husband’s eyes when you ask him to remember it.

My community midwife told me in hindsight I probably had gestational (pregnancy) diabetes, which tends to produce big puffy babies amongst other symptoms. Thanks for the info, only about 9 months too late there, babes. It was never picked up on, unfortunately, as there was no sugar in my wee samples which is how they test for it routinely. It’s a marker, but not always present for those with GD.

All of this back story means I am ‘high risk’ for this current pregnancy, and therefore need a bit more medical attention paid to me and baby#2, just to make sure we’re good.

So birth choices.

I am traumatised from the birth of my lovely angel baby#1. I want an elective C-section this time, which means no faffing about with labour and going straight to the bright lights and the abdominal surgery.

It’s not a decision I took lightly but for my mental health and my physical health, it’s what I want. If I did have GD, it’s likely I’ll have it again. Even if I don’t and I just cook ‘em big, that didn’t exactly end well last time round. My post-natal depression was brutal too, and the birth was a big factor.

Paperwork and policy wise, the NICE guidelines back me up, as they say it is my choice how I birth my baby.

Shame my consultant had other ideas.

He hadn’t read my notes when I got in the room. He got me on the bed. He made slightly inappropriate small talk about my tattoos and how my husband was a lucky guy.

He asked me how I wanted to birth the baby. I said c-section and he acted all surprised.

He joked that my first baby was large because I ate too many Snickers bars. Hilarious (and also absolutely not how it works btw, if you eat loads, you get fatter. Your baby does not).

He then seriously told me my next baby wouldn’t be so large if QUOTE “you don’t eat so much this time”.

Floored. What on earth. I’m tall. I am not overweight. BEING OVERWEIGHT DOESN’T EVEN MAKE A DIFFERENCE ANYWAY.

He said he didn’t want me to decide until he got the GD test results back. He asked me why I ‘felt’ my last birth was traumatic. I told him, but stopped when I got all snotty because I didn’t want to do the crying thing.

I explained I wanted a C-section because I wanted a calm labour. He stopped me mid-sentence and said “not a labour of course”, which was patronising as hell because obviously I meant delivery but I was a nervous wreck and I’m also not a medical professional so gimme a break here.

The more patronised I felt, the more I clammed up and felt I couldn’t say what I wanted to say. I wasn’t expecting anything other than ‘ok sure’ as I had been told by at least three midwives that a C-section, if I wanted one, would be fine because of my history. So for it to be pretty obviously implied that I was making a big deal out of it and that it would be fine to try the normal route just made my jaw hit the floor and my brain turn to mush.

He made another appointment for late November and said we’d talk more about it then (I’m due late December). I left the room and cried. I walked back to my car and cried a bit on the way. I cried in Aldi car park as I passive-aggressively ate two calorie-laden chocolate eclairs, just a bit of a two fingers up to Mr Consultant.

So now I am in C-section limbo. Do you know what is most likely? That I work myself up loads, end up writing a load of stuff to take in with me that states the guidelines that say I can have a section if I want to and they’ll go “oh go on then”.

So all of this will be for nothing, just a part of the process for them and a box tick to say they tried to save the NHS some dosh. Part of the day job for him. Never mind the mental health of the women this happens to, who have fairly serious reasons for mindfully choosing an elective C-section in the first place.

Yes, I am cynical. No, this doesn’t discount the wonderful care I’ve had from the NHS from quite a few people. But I have also personally experienced and heard of so many experiences of women who have been ignored and not treated with respect during pregnancy, birth and postnatally.

Chief Executive of Birthrights, Rebecca Schiller said: “Maternal request caesareans are the the number one reason women contact the Birthrights advice service. The women we support have endured previously traumatic births, mental ill-health, childhood sexual abuse or have carefully examined the evidence available and made informed decisions that planned caesareans will give them and their baby the best chance of an emotionally and physically healthy start. It is clear that women requesting caesareans meet judgement, barriers and disrespect more often than they find compassion and support. We are concerned that this lack of respect for patient dignity could have profound negative consequences for the emotional and physical safety of women.”

Please check out BirthRights UK for more info on dignity in childbirth.


The marketisation of pregnancy and infancy has gone too far

I like going on facebook. Facebook ads are annoying at the best of times, but there’s this one advert I keep ‘hiding’ which keeps popping back up.

It’s for a cover of a sleep positioner for a small baby. A sleep positioner, I might add, that costs over £100. The cover itself is £75. It’s partially my fault. I clicked on the ad once, because the cover is patterned with a load of ferns and it’s pretty. It is not, however, £175 pretty – especially when I can create my own sleep positioner with a rolled-up towel and a fitted sheet…

But there is definitely something sinister about the way items for pregnancy and your kid are marketed at you, that preys on the vulnerability you feel embarking on a position of such hideous responsibility of keeping a baby alive, and hopefully happy.

A lot of women (and men) get sucked into ‘only wanting the best’ for their kid, which usually equates to some spangly item that is grossly overpriced. It helps the parents feel prepared, maybe feeling like they are proving to certain people or to wider society that they can do it, and they will do it well.

Or it’s used as a cure-all. I can’t tell you the amount of things that mothers ‘SWEAR BY’. It’s like those people on the internet who just suggest coconut oil for everything. Dry skin? Bad tummy? Born with 6 toes? Cancer? Coconut oil! I swear by it!

If your baby won’t sleep through the night it is definitely not because IT IS A BABY and that’s one of the things they’re not too hot on, no. It is most definitely because you don’t have a £100 sleep positioner, a sheep that sings harp music and heartbeat sounds and a cot that attaches to your bed and is made of organic hemp.

How the species ever survived without that bloody sheep I don’t know. (Disclaimer: yes, I have one… yes I am thinking about getting the updated one with a motion sensor for the new baby, stop judging me, ok?)

This is not to say that there haven’t been fantastic inventions, made by parents for parents to make everyone’s lives easier. Some of them are honestly ingenious! Like the breast pump which is just a silicone thing you stick on you and it pulls your milk out through suction alone. That was awesome, and about 20 quid.

But it’s the pushiness and the underhand tactics that get to me. You go to a ‘parents information evening’ at a store and come out with a bunch of stuff full price you could have got for TUPPENCE second hand.

The promise of loads of wonderful info and free things (looking at you Emma’s Diary and Bounty) when actually all that happens is your details are sold willy nilly for a lifetime of spam emails and leaflets. All for a 10 pack tester of Pamper’s wipes that gave your baby a bum rash anyway. Damn.

I think the most invasive and gross of everything is the Bounty ladies that come round after you’ve had your baby. Yes, that’s right, SALES REPS come into post-natal wards trying to sell you shit. I kid you not. This is not some dystopian nightmare.

No worries that a watermelon has just come out of your vagina, or through a hole cut into your tum. No worries that your hormones are going absolutely batshit as you try and navigate the first few hours or days of parenthood, and breastfeeding, and being responsible for something. No worries if you’re on antibiotics, need a blood transfusion or still have your catheter in.

Here they come, pressurising you to have photos of your newborn taken. What package would you like? Will daddy want a key ring? Do you want a bounty pack? There’s 10 free wipes in it, don’t you know!

Seriously, what on earth.

Mumsnet (before it became a hideous hive of transphobia) did some fantastic research and campaigning in 2012/13 on the issue, and of over 1000 women who gave birth, there were the following results:

  • Over half (56%) of new mothers felt a Bounty rep invaded their privacy
  • 60% were not specifically told their personal details would be passed on to other companies
  • 82% don’t think hospitals should allow sales reps access to wards at all

In 17% of cases, Bounty reps implied that parents could only fill in child benefit forms that were supplied in the packs. This actually happened to me.

When the Bounty lady came round the ward I told her I was not interested (my adrenalin was through the roof as I knew I would have to tell them to bugger off at some point and had been anxious and tense about it all day).

She seemed truly baffled that I didn’t want the pack, and asked me if I was sure. I said I was and she replied that if I wanted to claim child benefit, the forms were in the pack. Couldn’t believe it, honestly, and I swiftly replied that I would do it online (I did as well, easy peasy).

She seem affronted and genuinely confused that I didn’t want her useless goodies or a bunch of seriously overpriced pictures of my newborn who was so puffy his mouth didn’t fit properly on his face.

But I suppose as they work on commission, you can’t really blame them… I can however blame Bounty, who are evil.

After Mumsnet’s campaign, some trusts did terminate their contracts with Bounty, and Bounty tightened up some of it’s rules (but obviously not well enough as I had bub in 2017).

If you, like me, are suitably incensed on the issue still, there is currently a petition you can sign. And if you’re pregnant, feel free to #boycottbounty on the ward. I will be again this December.

You need to care more about the NHS, starting right now

The NHS is 70 years old today. Only after an atrocity such as World War II would any politician be able to push through an absolutely fabulous, radical policy such as a collective, free at the point of access health system. It would never happen now – not a chance in hell.

The NHS saved my life and that of my son… or at least kept us from being totally bankrupted for life after a quick succession of interventions to get baby delivered safely and to stop me from bleeding out.

We had loads of antibiotics, I had an epidural, a spinal tap, a C Section, a lot of oramorph (which is maybe my fave painkiller, at least top 3 anyway). We also stayed for 5 nights due to both of us coming out of it feverish and generally bashed about, so I also had delicious school dinner style puddings and bothered the midwives about 1567 times a day using my buzzer cos I’d pushed my back out and kept dropping my phone off the bed (sorry).

I can’t even comprehend how much that would cost privately. I don’t even want to know because I think my eyes would bleed and my blood-pressure rage would be dangerous.

But the fact that I am not dead isn’t even the best bit about the NHS, even though I am pretty great. The best part is that thousands – no MILLIONS – of people I have never met are also not dead.

By saying YES PLEASE to the NHS you are pointing to that person who just walked past you saying ‘hey dude, I don’t want you to die. I want you to be healthy’. That is so powerful! And it makes you a great person. So kind, so benevolent.

I am gonna spend today silently telling people with my eyes that I am super happy they are alive.

By paying our taxes we are collectively pooling our resources to make sure no one is left behind, that no one who is skint (for whatever reason, it doesn’t matter) has to choose between feeding their kids and getting better. Or going without food themselves so their kids can get better. Or enter 100 other harrowing situations here.

Because like it or not, that’s the reality of upfront health care. I have absolutely ZERO time for anyone who presents any sort of hybrid system where we pay a bit here or there. NO.

If you have no money, £30 to see the doctor or anything like that is a massive barrier to access. £10 sick notes are already a massive issue to people living in poverty, who are more likely to get sick and stay sick too, because *newsflash* living in poverty is totally shit.

What if you don’t go to get that niggling cough checked out because £30 just seems a lot for no real reason and you’re busy, and you’re prioritising everyone else in the great juggle of making ends meet? What if it turns out to be horribly serious and you could have caught it in time but you didn’t? So there you go, that’s you in big old trouble.

Upfront payment is a slippery, slippery slope. Occasionally I hear the complaints about the NHS which are fair enough – impossible to get an appointment, waiting for ages to be seen, lack of beds etc. I almost made a private appointment once because I was so done waiting after being bounced back and forth to incorrect departments for a specialist.

But every time we line the pockets of a Bupa, or a Nuffield Health, or tell people you wouldn’t mind paying extra to be seen quicker or anything like that, we are seriously undermining the most amazing thing about the NHS. You can’t pay to get to the front of the queue. Do you know why? BECAUSE THAT ISN’T FAIR. If you have more money it doesn’t mean you deserve to be healthier than poor people. “Illest people to the front” should be the new tagline, I will email the big boss and give them that one for free.

So I promise I’m not ignoring the problems, but we are at a crunch point now. It’s being seriously dismantled from the inside out and the Tories only give a fuck when public opinion gets so upset that it could affect their votes.

So please, give the NHS the best birthday present ever.

Start talking about how you love it. Tell tired, weary health workers you think they are AWESOME (and aaahhhh please don’t leave your jobs ).

Take some ACTION! Look up your local action group, give a few quid to a hospital charity.

Please do something. Save our beloved NHS.

The ‘Mental Load’ or why sexism means you are your partner’s PA

“Babe, I got your mum a Mother’s Day card, and don’t forget we’re meeting your parents for lunch next weekend… and I checked the calendar and it’s fine for you to go out that weekend with your mates, we aren’t doing anything… remind me I have to hoover tonight because the carpet is gross and that we’re out of bread…”

Ever find yourself being the calendar, the household manager and the PA to your partner?

You’ve got a lot going on in your head. You’re probably thinking about what bills need paying, what food needs to go on the shopping list, whose birthdays are coming up, what chores you can’t be bothered to do, what your kid needs for the never ending themed days at nursery/school.

Or your partner asks you what they can do to help, so you then need to think about what your partner could realistically do in the timeframe provided and delegate it to them. Maybe you write a list of chores every few days, perhaps it’s a rota that you made all fancy on Excel. Maybe you’re just a ‘nag’.

Thing is, you notice that things sort of just… don’t… happen… if you don’t delegate them. Maybe the obvious pile of dirty clothes doesn’t make it to the washing machine, or the dishes sit in the sink. Or the baby’s dirty bottles sit on the side so there’s none left for the next day. But you should’ve asked! Hmm.

It’s called the mental load. It’s project management and most of the time, the burden of this falls on women in heterosexual relationships.

The mental load is exhausting, it is always there and most women don’t realise they’re doing it, and a lot of men don’t realise it’s even happening.

They just assume you are just really GOOD at being organised. Women are SO ORGANISED aren’t they? Donna thinks of everything, she’s so amazing.

It happens quite a lot, because our sexist society sets us up for it.

Girls are encouraged to look after dolls, and play with kitchens, and tea sets. Boys are encouraged (even subconsciously) not to, and to play with cars and bricks or other err.. manly things, that don’t encourage these household management skills from the age of about one month of age. Thanks, historical traditions – I am especially looking at you, Industrial Revolution.

Luckily, during my first pregnancy, most of my short-term memory went out the window. Husband stopped asking me to add things to the calendar because I would forget, and I forgot his grandma’s birthday.

I also had excruciating hip pain and exhaustion and after the birth, I narrowly avoided a blood transfusion and had an emergency caesarean section.

All of which left me totally useless – in a household management sense. And my lovely husband, thank goodness, totally stepped up.

He adds things to our shared calendar now. If it’s not on there, it isn’t happening. He also just has a look about the house and does some chores! Sounds ridiculous that this would be amazing, it is actually terrifying and depressing that this is amazing, but it is.

So women of the world, if you are unhappy with your lot, I suggest you become ridiculously unreliable. I recommend it.

But seriously. If it’s too much and you aren’t happy – have the conversation.

Divide up the responsibility of home management.

Divide up chores and find something that works.

Change how you raise your kids so they don’t end up in the same stupid situation.

Yes it’s been worse, but couldn’t it be better?

Get in the sea, anti-vaxxers: Measles outbreak confirmed across England and Europe

I’m not going to be conciliatory here, sorry. Fuck you, anti-vaxxers.

The recent measles outbreak confirmed by government is largely due to teenagers whose parents refused them the MMR vaccine when they were babies.

The UK recently achieved the World Health Organisation measles elimination status. We had eliminated a disease that can cause death, vision loss, stillbirth or miscarriage in pregnant women, pneumonia and fits… and if you miss all these complications it is just a thoroughly unpleasant illness for anyone to have, let alone a baby.

Making the decision not to vaccinate is not a personal decision. You are affecting other people. You are telling the immuno-compromised (who can’t get vaccinations) and the vulnerable that you don’t give a flying monkey if you infect them with your petri dish kid.

So let’s talk about discredited physician-researcher Andrew Wakefield, and his frankly disgusting, false and fraudulent MMR research. The small study, published in 1998 caused a huge amount of trouble because it made a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, which is absurd.

The study was thoroughly debunked. The Lancet retracted the paper and Wakefield was stripped of his medical license. Autism researchers have shown decisively again and again that the developmental disorder is not caused by vaccines.

IT WASN’T EVEN GOOD GUYS, so stop already.

And honestly, I have a massive issue with people who see autism as something they would rather their kid die of measles than get. What?!

Having autism can be incredibly difficult for you and for those around you – but that’s more down to the way society treats neurodivergence (think: ew you are different what the hell do we do), rather than there being anything wrong with being autistic.

Vaccinations are a damn scientific miracle. In the past 50 years, it’s saved more lives worldwide than any other medical product or procedure.

I reckon anti-vaxxers would be a lot more pro if everyone around them was dying of highly contagious, voracious, painful diseases.

Must I remind everyone that the infant mortality rate used to be disgustingly low? If your kid got to 5 it was time to throw an amazing party because that little squishy was so vulnerable to everything around it.

History lesson for everyone. In 1956 the World Health Organisation decided it was gonna eradicate smallpox FROM THE WORLD. And you thought you had dreams. What a goal. And do you know what? They bloody did it. It was declared as eradicated in 1980. I am actually tearing up writing this because how amazing is that? Using vaccinations, a horrible disease that caused suffering and pain disappeared.

We can eliminate cervical cancer in women – did you know that? Through vaccination.

Professor Harald zur Hausen discovered that cervical cancer was caused by a virus, making it possible to develop a vaccine for the disease. He won a Nobel Prize for that in 2008. And now girls in school can get vaccinated against a type of cancer. My mind is blown by how awesome science is.

I have even less time for anti-vaxx conspiracy theorists. Minus amounts of time. RECLAIMING MY TIME from you, go think about something less dangerous.

The government is drugging us to make us more compliant, apparently. I am a pretty non-compliant person and I am up to date, so I tend to disagree. And you can’t fight the man if you are dead from a medieval disease, just saying.

We have a breastfeeding problem: Mental health, support and the stigma around bottle feeding

A huge part of my post-natal depression was the guilt and feeling of total failure for choosing to give up breastfeeding at 6 weeks.

Bub had a rather dramatic emergency exit through the sunroof to come into this world, which he wasn’t pleased about. Which is fair enough really, but a tad demoralising when he wouldn’t latch onto me and have a drink in recovery. The midwife sighed after trying to shove a livid Bub on my boobs for a bit, said ‘failure to latch’ and scribbled something on a clipboard.

I’d just been through major surgery, had a lifetime of responsibility placed on my chest and within 20 minutes – feverish, arms heavy and numb from the spinal tap – we had already failed? Shiiiiiiit man, this was harder than I thought.

Bub was also supplemented with formula from birth as he was so massive (11lbs4/5kg)  and everyone was a bit worried about his blood sugar dropping quickly which would have been dangerous. There was also a tongue tie (sigh) and even after that was sorted, he would rather scream at my boobs then latch on to them. Apparently he was a 0-60mph baby, according to my amazing and kind lactation consultant.

After 6 weeks of that, and 2 bouts of mastitis, and not finding the time to pump exclusively cos errrr… I had a baby to look after, I quit.

By then my mental health was in a bin somewhere and I had no idea how to dig it out.

“Breast being best” made me feel like total, total shit and there were people along the way that made me feel like a horrible mum for giving up. There were also a lot of people who were dead supportive, but it’s always the criticism that’s the most sticky, isn’t it?

The huge weight you feel of wanting to do the very best you can for your child is partly why ‘breast is best’ hits you so hard. So early on in your relationship with your baby you are already having to admit defeat. You can’t give them the ‘best’, you’ve settled. Will this be the shape of stuff to come?

I was a mess trying to breastfeed. Unbeknownst to me at the time I had Post Natal Depression. One of the main symptoms for me was that Bub’s cries would rip through me. I can’t explain it well but every time he cried it was like some hideous combination of air raid siren or nails down a chalkboard, plus the emotionally crushing feeling that every sad wail meant I was failing him all over again (which, in hindsight actually made me a fantastic mother. I barely let him cry for the first 9 months of his life, it made me SO ON THE BALL, ha).

I am massively supportive of breastfeeding (I have a boycott Nestlé poster framed in my kitchen, by the kettle for all and sundry to see), which is probably why it hit me so hard when I stopped.

I fed him his last bottle of my expressed milk in some sort of tiny random ceremonial way, crying all over him (pleasant) and explaining that this was the last of the good stuff. Actually, it wasn’t, as I had another bottle of expressed boob milk in the fridge so I did the ceremony again – take two for the drama queen, not ridiculous at all!

So what to do? The figures for prolonged breastfeeding in the UK are abysmal, but you’ve either got to invest the time and money in helping women (not expecting them to work miracles whilst also keeping the house tidy) or accept it and be nicer to people who bottle feed.

The countries that have really high breastfeeding rates have a number of factors that contribute to this. Norway, for example, has paid maternity leave for around 49 weeks and extended paternity leave too, allowing women to stay home and be available without getting super poor or having to tidy up all the time. They have a load of help in the hospital, there is a massive breastfeeding culture there.

It makes for interesting reading, but it would definitely be difficult to replicate here.

Bub is no worse off from being bottle fed, that I can tell. He’s vibrant, annoyingly active and only has the constant snots because he goes to nursery (aka the Petri Dish).  Formula is a modern miracle of science, no doubt about it.

I don’t know what the solutions are (or how we would fund them), but there has to be a meaningful and kind way to encourage and support women on their journey, that protects their mental health whatever happens.


The master manipulator

Hey, nice to chat with you. I’ve had a few boyfriends like you, thankfully in the past. My friends and other people I care about have dated people like you, gotten married to you. You seem like a good guy, but you just want your life to be easy! Don’t we all?

I have some advice for you, that you probably won’t take, but hey – if I want to get it off my chest, you’ll sit there and nod and agree to get it over with.

Do not call a woman crazy for being upset or angry. Ever. It is never appropriate and it is always unkind.

Do not act like a woman is overreacting when they call you out. Do not be patronising, do not tell her to calm down in some shitty tone, or try and shut it down asap by pretending to be sorry in the least genuine way ever “ok ok, I’m sorry, just drop it”.

It’s controlling behaviour and you do it (probably innocently) for an easier life but in doing so you’re slowly ruining someone’s self confidence, and women are so, so often the victims of this behaviour. Ever wondered why a woman you know has crippling confidence issues or is dead insecure? Seems neurotic? High maintenance or needy? Bet you, BET YOU she has been in a shitty relationship before.

So, shit guy, I am sorry that the patriarchy has left you ill equipped to deal with your emotions and leaves you often perplexed when it comes to other people’s.

You’ve been brought up, like a lot of men, to think it’s weak to cry, to hide your emotions (unless it’s anger, because that’s dead manly), to not talk about relationships, emotions and your worries to your friends because it’s a bit much and you’d rather whack each other on the back and make jokes instead.

It’s just easier to zone out and shut it down, I get it. I genuinely am sorry, and I know it’s one of the causes of the totally tragic male suicide rates (the single biggest cause of death for men under the age of 45 in the UK).

You’re not alone, but there are lots of men who are unlike you. I have a lovely husband. I have lots of lovely man friends who would never ever be this guy.

But nice men, you don’t get a shiny badge for not being a dick unfortunately – otherwise I would quickly run out of tinfoil.

Call it out when you see it or hear about it. That was easy to write, it’s hard to do but it’s critical if you actually want things to change. Raise your sons to be respectful and your daughters to believe in themselves.

Anything less is a contribution to the problem.