Archive for the 'I Bitch Therefore I Am' Category

Concernicisms

NS February 10th, 2011

There’s this mum at NG’s school who, on more than one occasion, has commented on how pale and/or tired I look. One time she even enquired as to the state of the dark circles under my eyes! Pardon me, ma’am, but the circles under my eyes are hereditary and no matter how much sleep I’ve had or how much concealer I’ve slapped on, they will always be there. As for how pale I am, again, this will not change. I do not fake n’ bake, nor do I care.

So, from the bottom of my heart, would you kindly bugger off and keep your opinions on how terrible I look to yourself? I don’t need criticisms disguised as concern, yo.

This is why I just keep my head down and rarely stop to chat to anyone at the school gates. I’m just waiting for the day when I snap at one of these suburban ninnies and am forever branded a Mean Mummy.

If I was 16, I would sulk in the corner and grunt whenever anyone tried to converse with me. Teenagers are onto something…

Yeah, I did get a medal for birth

NS October 1st, 2010

My son turned two a couple weeks ago. At various points in the day I thought of where I had been in labour and made sure to stop and mark the moment when he had been born, at 4.32pm. When I thought back to his birth, I smiled. I remembered it warmly and fondly and with more than a little joy.

His entrance into the world, in our home, went just as I had hoped. While it was obviously intense, I did not consider it horrendous, overly painful or traumatic. At many points and up until I was nearly ready to begin pushing him out, I was smiling and laughing, so excited to meet my little guy and in awe of my body’s intuitiveness and primal, biologically-designed power.

If I could recreate and live through that day again every year (without adding to my family each time!), I would. Every contraction, every push, every soul-shaking guttural groan, every everything. I want to feel it again because it made me feel so utterly alive, so connected to myself, so grounded and yet so light that I felt as if I could simultaneously meld into the earth with feet of stone and fly far away, up into the clouds.

But I didn’t write about it. I didn’t talk about it. I didn’t share those feelings of nostalgia and joy. I kept my mouth shut and my head down because that is what is expected of me.

Our modern cultural narrative of birth tells me that my experience, my story, does not exist. It’s either all in my head or a bunch of hippy claptrap designed to make other women feel inferior and guilty. Enjoying birth is a privilege I am not allowed to have because so many others have been denied it, through circumstance or luck or whatever forces are behind the story of how our children are born.

Last year, when Noble Boy turned one, I surveyed my view at the apex of the mountain. I know I’m lucky to have even climbed that mountain and that it wasn’t necessarily anything ‘special’ I did or was or knew to get there. I don’t presume to have special powers that other women do not possess or more knowledge than those who had disappointing, interventionist or traumatic births. My birth is in no way a condemnation of anyone else’s. It is simply and only what it actually is: mine.

As a doula, an advocate for mothers and vocal member of the online birth community, I fight tooth and fucking nail for women’s right to choose not to give birth at all, to choose caesareans, to choose hospital birth, to choose narcotic pain relief and as many bells and whistles as they want. I do this alongside my advocacy for those who don’t want drugs, don’t want interventions or don’t want to leave their homes to have their babies.

I am a birth advocate because I believe in women’s autonomy and in their personhood. I believe in mothers’ ability to make their own decisions, lead their own lives and have their own experiences, on their own terms. I respect them. I trust them. I want the best for them.

So when my own experience is sidelined, marginalised, silenced, criticised, dismissed and ridiculed, it hurts. It hurts a hell of a lot. I have to choose my words very carefully when relaying my son’s birth and be sure to throw in self-deprecating remarks and pay penance for not finding it horrible, lest I hurt anyone’s feelings or make them think I’m ‘smug’. The accusations of superiority and patronisation are sometimes implicit and, often times, outright explicit, said to my face with defiance and what appears to (sometimes) be glee.

I guess that’s because it’s socially acceptable to tell a woman she is crazy, ridiculous, smug, flaky, woo woo, arrogant or any other myriad of derogatory terms when she says childbirth was anything but a best forgotten ride to hell and back. Women who say they didn’t find it painful or even found it pleasant are told they are outright lying, the implication being that because the majority experience birth in one way, those who fall outside that ‘norm’ must be disbelieved, discredited or punished.

And no matter how this sounds to anyone, no matter how many accusations of insensitivity or insanity are thrown my way as a result, I think it’s completely ridiculous and more than a little sad that women having joyful, memorable, special (yes, sometimes even pain-free) births that changed them, moved them, empowered them — inexorably and unalterably for the better — are being silenced and shouted down lest anyone with a less-than-ideal birth get their feelings hurt.

How are we ever going to change that narrative and know of more women having positive stories if we don’t hear any or won’t allow them to be told?

I’ve spent months and years walking on eggshells, bending over backwards to make sure that I don’t offend or belittle or minimise other women’s experiences. I strive to face my own little creeping prejudices and biases and correct them before they turn into sweeping generalisations or proclamations of what is Best and True and Noble. I do my best to listen and learn and help when I can and only where I am wanted.

I have no interest in competing for gold in the Birth Olympics but I sure am sick and fucking tired of being told I’d better get off my high horse because there ain’t no medals in this here event, sweetie cakes.

Well you know what? I do have a medal. I have a medal of achievement around my neck and it hangs there, invisible, every day. When I want to feel good about myself or when I am doubting my capacity to cope with something life has thrown at me, I take it from where it hides beneath my heart and gather up all the strength from that place of calm and courage within me from which it came.

But no one else gave it to me, nor did I expect them to. I gave it to myself.

I mark my son’s birth as a victory not because I was competing against anyone else or because I needed to win, but because of how I felt about myself as I made that journey towards the finish line.

The thing is, birth doesn’t even have a finish line; it’s a starting point. So even if one woman’s didn’t go as she’d dreamed, even if that journey ended without the ‘medal’ she yearned for, she still finished the race and that, in itself, is pretty damn amazing. Us mothers are doing what billions of women have been doing for billions of years —  giving over their bodies and their lives so that another body and another life might grow and flourish.

Pretty fucking cool, right?

As Dr. Seuss says:

You have brains in your head

You have feet in your shoes

You can steer yourself

any direction you choose

I have no interest in marking out a path or prescribing a method or lifestyle of my choosing for others. Life’s not worth living if it’s under someone else’s thumb, in accordance with their wishes or in conjunction with their views. We’re all individuals and we’re all going to choose and experience things differently so it’s important that we extend respect to those whose life choices and experiences have taken them down paths divergent from our own.

I try my best to practice what I preach but damnit, I expect a little bit of that respect in return. Is that really too much to ask?

Raising children: it’s not rocket science, y’all!

NS July 13th, 2010

After writing about the devaluation of roles traditionally performed by women today over at Fertile Feminism and then reading Potty Mummy’s post about her attitude towards parents before she was one herself, I couldn’t help but smirk when I read this Daily Mail article (I know, I know but @boudledidge linked to it on Twitter) about women choosing housewifery and at-home motherhood over ‘high-flying’ (read: frivolous and/or selfish) careers. Commenter Zoe’s analysis of the differences in difficulty (or lack thereof) of caring for children as compared to office work stunned me with its utter failure to see the numerous similarities between the two. I’m guessing Zoe hasn’t raised any children herself so I’ll break it down for her.

Lets face it looking after a small child isn’t rocket science. It may be trying at times, even a tad monotonous but it’s hardly a stretch for the average graduate [and sitting in a cubicle or office performing monotonous, sometimes-trying tasks IS rocket science?]. Contrast that to the workplace where your performance, commitment and attitude is constantly monitored, measured and managed [you mean the same way that parents, especially mothers, are constantly monitored, criticised and managed by societal expectations, pressures and constraints?]. Tasks and targets are deliberately set to be barely achievable [much like being expected to keep every inch of flesh covered while breastfeeding in public and every toddler tantrum immediately controlled and silenced?], unpaid overtime is expected [both, simultaneously, are a given for at-home parents], salaries are frozen or even cut [divorce and benefits reductions, anyone?] and there is the omnipresent prospect of summary redundancy [30,000 women in the UK lose their jobs every year as a result of their pregnancies; many more lose the potential for pay rises and promotions due to their family commitments, not to mention those who must find a job after the children are in school or have left home]. Not only this but there is the endless efficiency initiatives, budget cuts, head count freezes and vicious office politics [we get parenting advice, studies telling us we're doing x, y and z wrong/not often enough/too much, budget cuts and vicious relationship politics in which we struggle to retain a shred of equality with our partners while performing a traditional role]. Compare this to sitting out the recession looking after little Johnny, who will be at school from the age of four anyway , while somebody else takes the flack and bank-roles your lifestyle [or, you could look at it as the at-home parent bank-rolling her partner by allowing them to avoid paying anyone to care for their children]. Personally I wouldn’t want to be reliant on one person ( call it experience ) so I’ll take my chances in the front line [oh Zoe, Zoe, Zoe; call it experience, but if you think working for The Man night and day puts you on the 'front line' of progressiveness and the cutting edge of modernity, I'm afraid nothing I say will make any difference to you -- you do read and comment on Daily Mail articles, after all].

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some bon bons to eat while I watch daytime television and my children sit silently and obediently at my feet.

Photo credit

Dear PR Person: an ongoing series

NS May 29th, 2010

Dear PR person,

You recently emailed me with the opening line, “Hello, Yummy Mummy!” excitedly presuming I would be thrilled to attend your event, which was fashion-related, and talked to me as if I was about five. I presume you hadn’t read this particular post of mine, then? Or this one?

RSVP: Not a chance

What’s missing in the ‘mummy wars’

NS March 29th, 2010

This article appeared in yesterday’s Observer magazine, about the so-called ‘mummy wars’ and why women are so critical of each others’ parenting choices. The journalist, Lucy Cavendish, makes the majority of us out to be guilt-ridden, shame-inducing, competitive bitches who stab each other in the back at any given opportunity in attempts at gross one-upmanship.

Mothers are each other’s nemeses, bickering among ourselves about our own particular style. Parenthood has become a fractured and fractious scene. Working mothers can’t stand stay-at-home mothers; older ones think their younger versions are too overindulgent. Those who choose not to have children are militant about those who end up having four or more. Hothousing mothers with their endless Kumon maths classes look down on the more laid-back ones who think children should do what they want, when they want.

Really? I can honestly say I’ve not seen this exhibited on a large scale. Sure, you get the odd control freak who has her kids enrolled in every class and activity under the sun and who loves to boast about their accomplishments, but I (and most of the other parents I know) just shrug it off as that mother’s particular brand of neurosis; after all, we all have one. Unless one’s self-confidence is so wrecked as to require the constant approval of every parent one comes into contact with, most mums just do the best we can and try to keep our noses out of other people’s business. Yes, there’s the odd twinge that says ‘Gee, am I doing it right?’ but that’s pressure we put on ourselves, not something that other mums made us feel. Can there really be that many women who feel like this?

Consequently, there’s a war out there. You may not see it, it may not kill you, but if you are a woman with children, you’ve had shots fired across your bows. I bet, like me, you’ve been questioned, taken apart, broken down, demoralised and criticised until you feel like crying.

If any ‘shots’ have been fired I either caught them and threw them right back at the offending person  so quickly that the dagger never pierced my armour of indifference or I’ve missed out on this ‘battlefield’ I’m meant to be dodging every day. I hate to break it to you Lucy, but using hunting references and telling us we’ve all been these predators’ prey won’t make it any more true for me. And the war clichés? Yawn. If I see one more bottle being wielded like a weapon by a woman wearing army fatigues, I may be induced to bash the unimaginative and collectively absurd media over the head with a weapon of my own choosing, though I suspect it will hurt a lot more than a rubber nipple would, and leave a much redder mark.

Justine Roberts, co-founder of Mumsnet (always held up as some magical portal into the ‘real world’ of parenting) is quoted extensively throughout the article and at one point she says:

“We are all trying to be ‘good mothers’ but sometimes we don’t feel we are doing very well at it. There is not a working mother alive who doesn’t feel pangs of guilt about leaving her children. There are probably very few stay-at-home mothers who don’t feel frustrated sometimes that they are not fulfilling themselves. It’s a culture of ‘having it all’ and yet very few of us can do this, which is why we get defensive about how we are seen as mothers.”

And then later, Lucy writes:

Every time I talk to another mother, they seem to be doing a better job of parenting. Their children play more sports than mine, they are academically more competent, they read books all the time, they are constantly on playdates, they are popular, witty, funny. Their mothers cook food from scratch, have coffee mornings with other mothers, help read in school, enrol them for extra tuition. I do none of this and it makes me feel useless.

At this point I would just like to say: Grow a pair! Stop feeling judged and just live your lives! It’s not that difficult to find judgment in every thing you do if you’re looking for it. Being hypersensitive to these slights and using them to ‘prove’ just how horrid and exclusive the other mummies are while you — dear, poor you! —  innocently attempt to peacefully co-exist with these pieces of work reeks a little of attention-seeking manipulation. Perhaps a big, fancy war in which two types of soldier (those on a mission to seek and destroy, and those there as peacekeepers) battle it out for the top accolade of Perfect Mum is a great way to keep one feeling important, hmm? Perhaps? Have a drink and think about it.

Finally, this nugget of information is imparted to us:

Why do we do this? Why do we criticise each other all the time? As Kate Figes points out: “When it comes to work-life balance, little has changed in 10 years. While the fact that many mothers want and need to continue working may be more accepted and talked about, practical support is thin on the ground. Few families can manage now without both parents earning a living. But it is the mothers who bear the brunt of this stress. Most would not want to have it any other way. They love being mothers to their children. But their expectations are still shaped by stereotypical notions of how ‘good’ mothers ought to behave and they strive to be perfect in both roles (as worker and mother), which in turn takes its toll on their sense of self and well-being.”

What kind of crap reporting is THAT? No follow-up, no further probing, not even a cursory investigation into why it might be that women have all this stress to be so ‘perfect’ and to ‘have it all’; no mention of the children’s fathers, social expectations, traditional gender roles or the capitalistic system that requires two incomes but few accommodations for childrearing. Absolutely no anger that, 40 years after the previous generation fought to get us some basic rights, we are still stuck at an infuriatingly unfulfilling crossroads of Self and Mother, where the only choices go off on divergent paths at right angles to one another instead of following a curve that can change and stretch and grow alongside our lives.

It amazes me, it really does. This is why feminism is not dead and why it can’t be laid aside. Can so many women truly not see how we have been pitted against each other by a patriarchy-constructed and media-peddled diversion that keeps us from paying attention to all of the ways in which the system and society still fail us? Have we been distracted that easily, lured in by breast-or-bottle debates and plastic toys vs. wooden?

We’re at war all right, but not with each other. So take that grenade of criticism you thought you just saw lobbed at the school gate by the mum who parents differently to you and throw it back where it really came from.

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