Wednesday, October 11, 2006

If you've just found this blog...

...then hello, welcome, and please do join me over at, which is where I blog these days. (However, if you want my archives from summer 2005 to early 2006, then you're in the right place right here.)

(Quick addendum for anyone who finds me from the comments on Raising My Boychick - Sorry about using this blog as a link rather than my regular blog. For some reason, I can't use the Typepad blog as a URL in comments on that particular blog. If anyone else has had that problem and come up with any solutions, I'm all ears and gratitude.)

Sunday, February 05, 2006

Onwards and sideways, Take Two

I do hope the ether found the first version of this post to be tasty and satisfying. Oh, well. I'm just glad it was only this post that mysteriously and completely disappeared after I wrote it, and not the last one - after three bloody months of writing that one, I would have been distinctly unamused if the internet had picked that one when it got the munchies.

Oh, well. Second attempt at writing this:

I was originally going to write a detailed version of the reasons why I used Blogger rather than Typepad to do my blogging, but fortunately I realised in time that it was actually extremely boring and it wouldn't have been fair of me to inflict it on you. (Of course, in retrospect, maybe it would have given the ether indigestion. Maybe if I posted that one it wouldn't have been eaten.) So I will skip directly to the salient point - Those days are now a thing of the past. I have now set up my new Typepad account, and I do hope you'll all join me over there for continued discussion.

Tuesday, January 31, 2006

In which I ramble on at some considerable length about Tricia Smith Vaughan's adoption article

Many moons ago, an online author named Tricia Smith Vaughan posted this article about adoption.

It offended large sections of the adoption blogging community to the point of spluttering incoherence - I'm tellin' ya, the Great Parking Spot Wars paled into insignificance beside this one. So, of course, I had to comment. I hadn't actually intended to be quite this late to the party, but this was not a simple post to write. Under the crust of objectionable views, high-handed tone, and implied homophobia, there lurked some crucial points on which I do actually agree with Tricia. And, as I tried to write a post that had originally been intended to be a few pithy comments pointing out her errors, I faced the fact that the areas on which we agreed were too important to be ignored.

Tricia Smith Vaughan is against adoption. She is against adoption in much the same way that the Pope is against condoms or Germaine Greer is against the patriarchy - with passion, with rhetoric, and with a conviction that brooks any chance of considering the feelings of the opposition. This is, in large part, for a poignant personal reason - she is herself the daughter of a woman who was pressured into giving her up for closed adoption, back in the 60s. It's a soul-tearing story, and one of the harshest things about it is the realisation of just how many other stories like it there are. As Tricia highlights, there are frightening numbers of women out there who yielded to pressure from adoption agencies or society's mores and relinquished babies that, given some support or even just the space to decide for themselves, they could have kept.

As important as it is for us to be aware of these abuses, I'm not sure discussing stories and statistics from several decades back was the best way to highlight them. There is too much of a temptation to dismiss such things as being examples of how terrible adoption used to be - but, hey, aren't we lucky that it's so much better now? I, too, would love to believe that no-one in these enlightened days would ever pressure a woman facing such an important decision. Unfortunately,that would be a naive denial of the evidence.

What irked me somewhat about the picture Tricia painted of helpless birthmothers exploited by the Evil Adoption Industry is not so much that I disagreed with it, but that it was far too simplistic. There was no acknowledgement of any other face of adoption. Quite apart from the fact that this doesn't allow for the equally thorny yet distinctly different ethical issues raised by other facets of adoption such as international adoption or adoption from foster care, it also doesn't acknowledge the existence of women who do decide for themselves, independently and unpressured, to place babies for adoption. There is something a little too patronising in this sweeping categorisation of birthmother-as-victim - I wasn't sure that it was ultimately much less demeaning than the more familiar birthmother-as-villain or birthmother-as-vessel stereotypes.

However, Tricia is concerned with the treatment of first mothers not just prior to the adoption, but also afterwards. Society's traditional view has been that a mother who has relinquished her baby for adoption stops being a mother. The damage that this belief does to both mothers and children is now much more widely recognised, but not nearly widely enough, and Tricia is quite right to highlight this. But her concerns are not just with the direct effects on the mothers and children whose most fundamental bond has been denied by society, but with the wider implications of believing that parenthood is revocable. "Today's mother may become tomorrow's non-mother. And who decides?" she asks rhetorically.

Tricia Smith Vaughan does, it would appear. Tricia, like so many would-be social reformers, falls into the trap of believing that the behaviour she denounces in others is quite acceptable for her. Tricia is more ready than any social worker or adoption agency to reclassify certain mothers as non-mothers. At least the label 'birthmother' allows a woman a qualified degree of motherhood: Tricia Smith Vaughan does not believe we should allow adoptive mothers even that much. Anyone not sharing that crucial genetic link with their child should, she believes, be promptly stripped of all claims to parenthood and demoted to the status of 'legal guardian'.

This, of course, is why she incensed adoptive mothers so. Tricia, for her part, seems to have taken the outrage as proof of the rightness of her cause. After all, why on earth would someone object to being told that they're not really a mother to their much-loved child? Clearly evidence of a guilty conscience, thinks Tricia.

Amidst all the furore, what seems to have gone largely unremarked upon is the premise behind Tricia's beliefs - her 'Highlander' philosophy of parenting. According to Tricia, there can be only one mother and only one father in a child's life. End of story. It's a view that, by its very nature, automatically sets birthmothers and adoptive mothers in competition with each other, such that the debate then becomes over who wins and who loses in the fight for the exclusive, and elusive, title. It's easy to see how, backed into an either-or choice by this belief, an adoptee might reject years of loving upbringing in favour of a few strands of matching DNA. After all, most of us value the things we feel we missed out on more highly than the things we had the luxury of being able to take for granted.

And that assumption of Tricia's is what doesn't seem to have been disputed. Why should we believe that a child can have only one mother and one father? Why does that make any more sense than believing that a mother can have only one child? Given that we easily accept that children can love two parents as much as one and that, all else being equal, they are better off for having the chance to do so, why do we have so much difficulty accepting that they might have room in their hearts and their lives for more than that? Why do we insist on thinking about the parent-child bond as though we were three-year-olds who can't believe that Mummy could love a new baby yet still keep loving the old one as well? Why do we act as though a child's love were a limited resource that we need to hoard?

And this is the deepest, most fundamental reason why I disagreed with Tricia's article. The reason I do not agree with her that 'adoptive mother' is an oxymoron is not because I believe that adoptive parents replace first parents, but because I believe they add to them. I believe that an adopted child does have more than one mother and more than one father, and that it is in the child's best interests if we can accept that and learn to celebrate it instead of denying it. And I find it a terrible shame that Tricia's view on this topic is so narrow, not to mention phrased so arrogantly, that she offended people too much to make herself heard even on those points where she had something to say worth hearing.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006


It would appear that Jamie's message at the end of my last post was, in fact, toddler language for "Mummy, you're forgetting hand cream containers! Honestly, after eight months of wrestling Vaseline bottles back from me, I'd expect you to remember that entry on the list of Things I Like!"

The peculiar thing is that it's not just Vaseline bottles, but any kind of hand cream container. You wouldn't think the small dark blue tubes that Dove comes in looked anything like the large white jars of E45 cream, would you? Without knowing the contents, how could you know that they both belonged to the same general category of objects? Jamie, apparently, does. All hand cream containers are Things To Be Lunged For.

They are also, unfortunately, Things Not Suitable For Babies, at least while they still contain hand cream. (All our empty ones are now recategorised as Jamie toys, which allows for some distraction.) This predilection of Jamie's has led to some fierce struggles and a certain amount of hand cream consumption on his part when we haven't managed to wrest the tubes away from him quickly enough. Oh, well, at least he's probably got the softest silkiest intestinal walls of any baby in town.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Button, button, who's got the button?

Well, in this house, it's probably Jamie.

Jamie loves buttons. Not the ones that do up clothes, but the ones that you can press that sometimes make interesting things like lights or noises happen. Of course, some buttons don't do anything obvious, but it's worth pressing them anyway - I mean, you just never know when it might have an exciting effect. Which is why, in recent months, his parents keep finding that the house is suddenly and unexpectedly roasting because the thermostat has mysteriously been turned up a few degrees, or that the television amplifier is on some strange new echoey setting that makes the dialogue impossible to follow, or that the printer is displaying instructions in Japanese.

In the past few days, I've decided that he might as well compensate for this by making himself useful. So Jamie now has the job of Official Light-Switcher. When I go from one room to another with him, I hold him up to the light switch and ask him please to switch it on. Or off, if we're leaving the room. And he does. For a while I think he was mainly understanding the context rather than the words themselves, but I do think now he may have learned what the words mean. The past couple of times I did this, I tried standing so that, although he could reach the switch from where I was holding him, he wasn't looking at it - and he promptly turned round when I asked him and worked the switch. Parenthood brings such amazing rewards, doesn't it? Just think of all those tedious milliseconds I would still be wasting on pressing switches for myself if I were childless!

Other things Jamie enjoys:

Opening and closing doors. Or drawers. This has therefore become included in the Official Light-Switcher's tasks. Thus I now move around the house with a steady commentary of "Open the microwave door, please, Jamie... Open the cupboard door, please, Jamie...." My husband is just waiting for his first sentences to be "I'm sorry, Mummy, I'm afraid I can't do that. I know that you and Daddy were planning to disconnect me."

Climbing. He can now climb onto the dining room table (via the chairs) and, as for mastering the stairs, that's old news. The number of places in the house where it's possible to leave anything that is either dangerous or breakable is shrinking faster than Jamie's common sense is growing.

Pulling books off the shelves. This is a pastime that he only discovered when we moved. Prior to that, we were in quite a small rented house and stored as much stuff as possible in the garage, still packed, so we only unpacked three boxes of books. (We were in the house for nearly five months! Thank goodness the town we were living in has a good library.) So, it wasn't hard to leave the bottom couple of shelves on the living room bookcase free, and Jamie just didn't get into the dining room much in that house. But when we started unpacking the books here, he was delighted at Mummy's obligingness in not only putting all those books on the shelf for him to pull off, but putting them back again so that he could pull them off again. And then again and again and again.

The Hat Game. This consists of Mummy putting an old bobble hat on her head and then taking it off again, to a hyper-enthused running commentary. Sometimes, Mummy puts the hat on Jamie's head instead. Mummy has also, in increasingly desperate attempts to inject a passing molecule of variety into this, tried putting the hat on her feet, but that just isn't the vintage Hat Game, it appears. Jamie regularly signifies his desire for the Hat Game by picking up the hat and crawling over to Mummy with a huge grin on his face. Oh, look! Guess what I found, Mummy! We can play the Hat Game again, Mummy! Isn't that exciting? Oh, well, Mummy can always knit extra padding into the hat, to protect her tiny brain when next she's driven to beating her head against the wall.

Ham, bananas, and peaches. He likes lots of other foods as well (rice cakes are the most recent discovery) but those are his top favourites. On one occasion, Barry was getting some ham slices ready for him to eat once he'd finished whatever was currently on the tray in front of him, and on seeing that ham was an imminent possibility he simply cleared his tray with a sweep of his arm and sat there expectantly waiting for the ham course to be put before him without further ado.

Being a shoulder baby. Since Jamie's getting quite heavy to carry around and Barry never had much interest in using slings, Barry carries him on his shoulders when we're in the supermarket (we do occasionally persuade him to sit in the trolley seat, but that isn't nearly as much fun as being carried by Mummy or Daddy). This is a much superior way to travel - not only does Jamie get to observe the world from a greater height than most babies that age ever achieve (even among other shoulder babies, there can't be that many with a father who's 6'4"), but he gets to grab Daddy's hair and nose as well when he gets bored. (When he's on Mummy's shoulders, it gets even more fun because he can grab glasses as well. Strangely enough, Mummy rarely puts him on her shoulders.) This is also the way we deal with the evenings when he refuses to go to sleep before dinner but is then exhausted and whingy during dinner. "You see, you must now forever bear the shame of being a shoulder baby," Barry tells him as he swings him up to his shoulders and proceeds to eat his dinner as best as possible one-handed.

Keys. Since he's a baby, this one goes without saying, and the main reason I mention it is to indulge in a brief moment of parental bragging about my child's genius - a few weeks back, while playing with an old bunch of keys which we have no use for and which thus has been redesignated a Jamie toy, he crawled over to the conservatory door and started trying to place the key next to the lock. While he still clearly has a few finer details in the process to work out, we are most impressed by the fact that he has figured this much out. (Since then, he has been seen to watch us very intently as we unlock the front door, clearly determined to figure out this whole unlocking deal.)

Remote controls. Lots of buttons for Jamie. Unfortunately, Mummy and Daddy insist on being unreasonable and restricting him to just the one (from a TV that died a few months back and thus left us with a spare) despite the fact that remote controls are so obviously meant to be a Jamie toy.

Things Jamie doesn't like:

Having his teeth brushed. (He has eight so far - a full set of front teeth, which were already present when he reached his first birthday but which have remained as yet unsupplemented by canines and molars.) He really enjoys brushing them for himself (as we shall charitably describe his fiddling around with and randomly chewing on the toothbrush) but screams his head off when it's time for Mummy to brush them properly.

Being prevented from exploring the many, many, many wonderful buttons and climbing opportunities and generally interesting things that Mummy and Daddy keep all round the house but won't let him look at.

Talking. He does use the occasional word - 'mih' for 'milk', 'Dada', possibly 'Mum' - but, by and large, he's not a very verbal baby.

Going to sleep. Though he is now a lot better at this, thanks in large part to Tracey Hogg's 'The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems' (good god, the woman is irritating, but she does have some helpful advice in amongst the rubbish, the patronising and the overflowing Englishness).

Um - not a lot else, really. Two months into the official toddler period, he's still very good-natured, on the whole. He will complain loudly about something, but forget it within a minute or two and get happily on with something else interesting.


That was Jamie's comment on the matter, since he woke up from his nap at this point and wished to join in. He is somewhat unhappy with my wish to a) reclaim my keyboard and b) put finishing touches to this instead of playing with him, so I must go and investigate the joys of Duplo blocks.

Friday, January 20, 2006

And if this is you, STOP IT

It has recently been brought back to my attention that people will say things to the non-doctor staff around here that they don't, apparently, feel able to say to the doctors.

By this, I do not mean "Oh, dear, I've really been wanting to get this off my chest, but I don't feel I can trouble the doctor - what do you think I should do, Nurse?" It's a fair bet that that happens as well, but it isn't what I am currently venting about. (Though, since I brought it up - if that's you, then DO come and trouble the doctor. What do you think we're here for, and whose taxes are paying our salaries anyway?)

What I mean is "I am not happy with the service I am receiving here/the service I have received at a hospital that has nothing to do with you/some random area in my sorry little life, but I am too chickenshit to discuss it with anyone who actually appears to be an authority figure, so I am going to take out my frustrations on people who are further down the food chain."

And hence I will get patients who are nice as pie to me (well, probably not as nice as Key Lime or lemon meringue or anything, but at least in the general league of apple and blackcurrant with slightly singed crust), and I will only find out by chance, later, that they've left an upset and stressed-out nursing assistant or receptionist in their wake.

Now, personally I would prefer that you do not indulge in this sort of behaviour towards any of our team. I'm certainly not in a mood to deal with it either. We are, by and large, doing the best we can with fairly inadequate resources. I can assure you that our lack of perfection is something that frustrates us greatly as well and is not an attribute we've adopted as part of our malicious plot to annoy you.

But if you really feel compelled to act like an arse, at least have the courage of your convictions about it. If you would not feel comfortable talking in this way to the doctor, ask yourself why the hell you feel comfortable talking this way to someone who doesn't even have the consolation of a decent salary in return. (The answer, in case you need a clue, would be "Because I am a jerk.") Take your issues out on me or shut the hell up about them. Me, I'm voting for the latter, but those two choices are the choices you get.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006


Well, honestly. Hmph. Everyone who uses Word at all regularly knows that Ctrl+S=Save. That it is, indeed, the appropriate shortcut for those who have no time to faff around with menu bars due to being subject to getting called away from the keyboard at short notice half way through their writing by, say, the needs of a dependent toddler, and who need to be able to hit a couple of keys by reflex and know that their mental labours will be preserved without the need of further thought on their part. It's obvious, isn't it? "S" stands for "Save". How much simpler could it be?

So why, I ask you, why does Blogger insist on making that the shortcut for "Publish! Publish and be damned. Fling this post to the tender mercies of the Internet without so much as a further consultation, are-you-sure-you-want-to pop-up window, or by-your-leave!"?

I mean, it's like the time they reversed the standard colours for the salt'n'vinegar and the cheese'n'onion crisp packets [1]. It's just wilfully confusing.

So, er, if any of you happen to have been cruising past my webpage during the hours of yesterday evening (GMT) and were confused by the appearance of an apparently half-finished post, followed by its hasty retirement from polite society a scant few hours later, then, um, whoops.

[1] I mean, not that that was Blogger. Well, not as far as I know, anyway. Maybe the people who run it were in the crisp business in their former life before the Internet got big. Who knows? But 'they' in that sentence wasn't meant to indicate Blogger specifically, it was meant in the generic 'those people out there who run things of this sort, whoever they may be' sense.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Happy Week-After-National-Delurking-Week!

Boy, you can't turn your back for a minute around here. Last week I went for a few days without reading my regular blogs, figuring I'd catch up on all the gossip in a bit, and what do I miss? National Delurking Week, that's what. All sorts of bloggers have been inviting me to delurk in their comments section. (Well, all right, not me personally. Me as a member of the lurking world in general. Hey, with my social life I'll take what invitations I can get.) I have missed invitations to introduce myself and let my favourite bloggers know about my life, hopes, dreams, and grandparent-decorating history. Looks like we missed the party over here.

Well, since we missed the party, maybe you can join me in the taxi queue home. Or maybe I could just improve my metaphors. Whatever. Look, the point is - if you're lurking on here, why not take this chance to delurk? Tell me who you are, how you found this blog, and what you think of it. Ask me probing questions about my life. Smile enigmatically. Make yourself known!

Sunday, January 15, 2006

Walkin' Dude

In the past few days, Jamie's walking has really taken off. (I am so glad I don't mean that literally. A mobile baby is hard enough to deal with. A flying baby? Let's not even go there.) He's been able to stagger a few steps by himself for the past couple of months (in fact, I can remember the precise date of his first independent steps - November 7th, a couple of weeks before his first birthday and the day before we moved house. I listened to his grandparents enthusing over him as I packed dishes into boxes across the hall.) But, although he's become slightly more willing to do so as time goes by, he's not been too keen on that method of locomotion and has much preferred crawling.

Barry has been urging him at every opportunity to try walking (an endeavour in which I did not join him - quite apart from the whole I-will-allow-my-child-to-achieve-at-his-own-unpressured-pace philosophy, I really couldn't see the point of being in a rush for him to increase the speed with which he can dash towards things he's not supposed to have), but it didn't make much difference. His standing improved gradually but noticeably over this time, to the point where he can now not only stand alone for several seconds but can actually bend down to pick something up and then straighten up again (I know all the baby books tell me that this is going to happen around now, but it seems so amazing when it's your own wobbly-legged infant doing it), but he hasn't really been walking beyond the occasional couple of steps. His former record was six steps on his birthday when encouraged by the collective cheering squad of both sides of his extended family, but he didn't show any immediate inclination to repeat that.

However, it now seems he's decided he's ready. He's still more of a crawler than a walker, but in the past few days he's shown much more inclination to practice his toddling, and he's been taking a lot more steps in one go. Good job we've got the walking reins that a neighbour of my in-laws passed on to us, because I really don't think it'll be too much longer before we need them.

The downside of this is that his sleeping pattern has been all over the place. One of the interesting things about babies that I didn't realise until I had one is that developmental milestones can send their sleep to hell in a handbasket. You know how it feels when you're involved in some kind of big project and all hyped up with working on it to the point that, at night, you can't switch off and fall asleep? Did you know that happened to babies as well? Uh-huh.

Even this has its silver lining - yesterday, he was tired enough after a couple of late nights and poor naps that he conked out for a totally unexpected morning nap, thus giving me a blissful and much-needed break and accounting for the appearance of my second blog post of the day. However, it does mean that not only is it difficult getting him to sleep right now, but he's also showing the effects of overtiredness during the day. So, he is now living up to the 'toddler' designation not only in the literal sense, but also by fulfilling the reputation for being a moody little so-and-so.

Ah, well. This too shall pass. Which is just as well, because to keep up with an increasingly mobile version of the child I already have, I think I'm going to need all the sleep I can get.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

I never wrote about Christmas, did I?

So, belatedly and for the records, a brief account of my Christmas:

We all got together. Barry's parents and brother travelled down to our house on Christmas Eve. Then, on Christmas morning, we all piled into our respective cars and drove down to my mother's house, where my mother and sister were frantically rushing round trying to get Christmas lunch on the go. And the eight of us had a huge late Christmas meal and then sat round and opened our presents and generally relaxed.

We stayed over Monday, all but my sister, who had to head back - Mom drove Barry's family around London to show them the sights, while Barry and I headed into town with Jamie to browse the stores. On Tuesday, we hugged goodbye and all headed our separate ways, ready to resume the daily grind on Wednesday.

Jamie's reaction to his presents:

He absolutely loves the Fisher Price Little People toys, because they have buttons that can be pressed to make noises and lights happen, and this is very exciting. Lots of electronic wails and screeches and noises that are meant to represent children laughing and playing at a park or a funfair but actually sound disturbingly like the background to a horror show. He also, for some reason, is utterly fascinated by the set of mamushka dolls my mother got him. He keeps picking them up and turning them over and over and just looking at them.

He also seems to like his ride-on, although he hasn't yet figured out how to use it as a ride-on - he doesn't sit on it to scoot about. But it has an open-and-shut bit (in the seat) and wheels to spin and a thing that goes squeak when you press it, and all of these are definite attractions, so all in all, it's a success.

The ride-on has a purple plastic phone receiver behind the wheel, for Baby to have his first car phone, but Jamie doesn't try to talk on it. (I'd be surprised if he did. In almost fourteen months of "Will you say 'Hi' to Nana, Jamie? Say 'Hi' to Nana!", he has never yet been willing to talk on a real phone. He will stare at them in fascination, he will grab them when not in use and enjoy the beeping sounds that the buttons make when you press them, but placing a handset in proximity to his head is a foolproof way of reducing him to silence.) What he does with it is to shove it against the side of a parent's head in traditional phone position, looking expectantly at said parent. Then, as soon as we pretend to talk into it, he grins hugely and grabs it back again with a satisfied look of "Well, that's that job done, then." It's interesting that he's so rapidly grasped the basic points that phones are for adults to place next to their heads and talk into, and that a baby's role in this, as in anything, is to try to grab whatever Mummy or Daddy is currently trying to use.

He seemed quite interested in his hammer-and-peg toy, as well, although all he's actually done is to tap the hammer against the bench a few times and then try to eat the pegs. When it comes to the ring-stacker, though, it appears that not only does he not wish to stack rings, he actually objects on principle to the whole idea of rings being stacked. When I stack the rings up (I'm not trying to get all educational with him - they're just a bit tidier that way, and, besides, I have an obsessive-compulsive disorder to satisfy), he carefully removes the wooden knob from the top, then removes the central rod (which isn't attached to the base, so can be pulled right out). Sometimes he uses his teeth to extract the rod. Then he scatters the rings hither and yon with a quick, decisive back-and-forth movement of his hand, and, with the satisfied expression of a job well done, turns his attention to something more worthy.

As for me, I got all the books I asked for for Christmas, apart from a few which appear to be out of print and one which is still on its way (but that one's only a recipe book, so I'm in no particular rush there). So I've had some happy minutes of reading, squeezed around work and babycare. All in all, I would say it was a good Christmas.

But the best moment of my Christmas was when my sister picked Jamie up and he objected "Mum-mum!". So she passed him to me, and he repeated with satisfaction "Mum-mum".

It might very easily have been a coincidence. He makes that sound a lot, and it usually either just means 'milk' (as a variation on mih-mih, which is his more usual choice) or is one of his random sounds. He's used it since then at times when it might have meant 'Mummy', but, all in all, it's entirely possible that he still is just using it as a random sound and just happened to use it at an appropriate moment right then. It could easily have been a coincidence.

But if so, it was a heartwarming coincidence. And it finds a place high on the list of 'Moments of Maternal Satisfaction'. It was an even better present than the books.

Why can't the medical profession teach their midwives how to teach breastfeeding?

That was, on the off-chance that you didn't get it, meant to be a take-off of "Why can't the English teach their children how to speak?", from My Fair Lady. I may have to work on the scansion.

Anyway, Joyus's experience, as described in the comments to my last post, is one I've heard of before, and it can be really off-putting for mothers who are just getting the hang of breastfeeding. And that is unnecessary enough and sad enough that it inspired me to post on the topic.

As I understand it - and I haven't had any formal training in breastfeeding counselling, so anyone who has is welcome to set me straight on this - helping a newly breastfeeding woman to get her baby latched on is like helping someone to park their car. Your role in the matter is to observe matters and offer the benefit of a vantage point that allows you to see things at a different angle. Which enables you to offer directions: "Put your hand behind her head. Now bring her in with her nose level... Right hand down...."

What you do not do, however, is grab the woman's breast and try to take over getting the baby latched on. In terms of establishing breastfeeding, this probably works about as well as jumping into the car and trying to wrest the wheel from the driver works in terms of parking.

Now, I knew this just from reading a book I found about breastfeeding on the shelves at the local library as part of my research prior to the baby's birth. So why are there still midwives who don't know it?

Joyus - good for you for persevering and for getting breastfeeding going anyway. Unfortunately, not all mothers are so patient. I do feel this lack of proper training is something that may be making quite a difference to breastfeeding rates in this country.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

On not knowing

I've been reading Kateri's post about a woman who developed breastfeeding problems because her doctors didn't know enough about breastfeeding and thus gave her poor advice.

That one sentence could describe so many, many, many stories that I've read out there. As soon as you start finding out anything about breastfeeding, you start to hear the horror stories about the sheer ignorance in the medical profession about anything breastfeeding-related. This particular woman had an unusual problem - there aren't many women trying to breastfeed after breast reductions. But there are thousands upon thousands of women who have been given equally poor advice about much more common problems, problems that anyone who has anything to do with lactating women should damn well know something about.
Kateri laments this ignorance, and quite rightly so. It is execrable. Do you know how much teaching I've had on the topic of breastfeeding I've had in my career? In five years in medical school, a year as a junior paediatrician, a year of more specialist general practice training? None. That's how much. And it wouldn't even take much, for God's sake. Just one lecture in medical school would cover enough of the basics for what we need to be aware of as doctors. We could easily have spared that much time from learning about Krebs' cycle and the nine causes of clubbing and all the other obscure things that you never need once qualified. But I doubt if it ever occurred to the people designing the syllabus. Same thing in the postgraduate training - we had a lot of say in what topics we got taught about as trainee doctors, but none of us asked for a talk on breastfeeding because it never occurred to any of us.

Kateri thinks that this is because it's seen as unimportant - if breastfeeding doesn't work out, what's the big deal? Just use formula. I have certainly heard stories of women encountering this attitude, which I will not recount here due to having insufficient time and tooth enamel to spare on them. But I also think that a lot of it is that people don't even know what they don't know. If you don't know anything about breastfeeding, it never occurs to you that it might prove difficult for some people, that there might be things that doctors need to know about it, even if it's just stuff like how to treat thrush and that nipple pain is not normal and indicates a problem. So, nobody thinks of putting it in the syllabus.

But there's a deeper issue here that Kateri didn't comment on, but that springs out at me because I've been through medical training. It's the fact that, as junior doctors, we are discouraged from admitting that we don't know something and trying to learn more.

At least - I put that in the present tense, and I would love to feel that I'm wrong in doing so. It'll be eleven years this year since I graduated, and that's actually quite a long time in the fast-moving field of medical education, so maybe attitudes are changing. Maybe, these days, students who ask their consultants questions are less likely to be met with a frown and a growl of "You should know that by now!" Maybe more consultants are finally catching on to the fact that students who ask about something know perfectly well that they should know it, and that's why they're taking the sensible step of asking the person who is, after all, meant to be teaching them. Maybe the people doing the teaching are realising that questions should be met with answers rather than accusations.

I hope that's happening, and I think that, little by little, it probably is. I think that the underlying culture - the attitude that lack of knowledge is something so embarrassing and shameful that hiding it must take priority over trying to correct it - is changing. But I do know that old habits die hard, and that it may take a while before that attitude disappears altogether among some of the older-school hospital consultants who teach students and junior doctors as part of their job. There are still too many doctors out there who have learned to guess, to bluff, to do what they can to hide any lack of knowledge rather than admitting it and approaching someone who can put it right.

And I think it's that attitude that is the root cause of the problems Kateri's acquaintance had. I do actually think that it's perfectly reasonable for your average doctor not to know anything about breastfeeding after reduction. It's an unusual and specialised problem that a doctor is not going to encounter very often, and believe you me, there is no shortage of more common things that we need to know about. But what is not reasonable is that none of the doctors that this woman saw felt able to say to her "You know, I actually don't have a clue about that. Let me read up on it, or find somebody who does and ask their advice about it, and I'll get back to you."

Wednesday, January 04, 2006


I don't usually make New Year's resolutions. However, this year, as I hurriedly scribbled out a pile of Christmas cards at some time after the last minute and thought back to all the Flylady e-mails I'd been getting for the past six weeks promising me that if I only followed Flylady's do-a-bit-at-a-time plan I could be ready comfortably in advance, I thought "That's it. Next year, I will actually do the whole Flylady Christmas thing and Cruise Comfortably Through The Holidays, as promised. In fact, I will make it my New Year's Resolution."

Thus inspired, I went ahead and made a few more.

2. To be a bit more assiduous about doing Flylady generally. I joined up on 24th August, and since then I've been a lacklustre maggot (I am not going to start describing myself as a Flybaby in writing on my own blog, so I'll go with 'maggot', which may mean the same thing but has much more character to it). I don't wear shoes in the house because being psychologically primed for maximum efficiency is less important to me than the longevity of my carpets and the comfort of my feet. When I first joined, I did the Super-Duper-Uber-Sink Shine to mark my official initiation into the Flylady Cult, but it's been pretty much an as-and-when thing since then. As has been the decluttering and the other things. It all depends on when I've got time, when I feel like it, and so on. Flylady would not be proud of me. (Which is not something that bothers me - I've still got a huge amount of decluttering done even with the bits and pieces of her regime that I've been doing, and that feels a bloody sight better than having a complete stranger be proud of me.)

What I mean by 'assiduous' here is something I had a bit of a hard time specifying to myself - to claim that I was going to stick perfectly to her system from now on would be both self-deceptive and ironic, considering how adamantly the Flycrew are against perfectionism. In practice, I know perfectly well that I'm still only going to be doing bits on an as-and-when basis according to when I have time and when I feel like it, so it was hard to see why I was bothering to put it on the list of resolutions at all. (I know that I'm defying all tradition by refusing to make any resolutions that I don't think I've got at least some remote chance of keeping, but that just isn't how I do things. You will, for example, observe the absence of any promises of reduced chocolate consumption from this list.)

Eventually, I realised that what I was after was the fresh start feeling that is the whole reason why we make New Year's Resolutions, instead of just, say, Random Wednesday Resolutions. Sure, I'll still only be doing Flylady on a when-I-feel-like-it basis. But, with the psychological boost of that seductive fresh start, I'll feel like it more often. Or so I can hope.

3. To do regular abdominal exercises. This is not because I am any longer harbouring the least illusion that I am ever going to look good in a bikini (even if I still believed my abdominal wall was ever going to be flat, there is still now the small matter of the stretch marks). It's slightly more complex than that.

In around about a year's time, Barry and I would like to start trying for Child The Second. I think we all know the chanciness of those sorts of plans. I'm very far from oblivious to the possibility that we won't even get far enough for this to be a worry, but... let's optimistically suppose that we're lucky enough to get that second line once more. I really, really won't want to announce that to the world until this hypothetical future fetus makes it through those first crucial three months, as confirmed by scan, and thus appears to have a reasonable probability of becoming an actual future child. There's many a slip 'twixt blastocyst and uterine wall, and all that. Maybe I'd feel differently if it came to the point - I know that a lot of people in such a situation find the sympathy of people around them is all that pulls them through. But it's a thought I've always found intensely off-putting. I really do feel that if I ever have a miscarriage, I will not really want to have to deal with everyone I speak to telling me how sorry they are.

So, I have strong feelings about not announcing pregnancies until over three months. However, my understanding from various anecdotal sources (Vicki Iovine and several of the people on the Internet pregnancy group I read) is that, in the case of second and subsequent pregnancies, your body tends not to allow you this option. Apparently, if you're pregnant for the second time, your belly will start appearing almost as soon as the second line does, because those abdominal muscles will be too weakened by being formerly stretched to accommodate a full-term baby.

So, if I want to keep this hypothetical hoped-for future pregnancy a secret, I've got around a year to be sure my stomach muscles are in a fit state to do it. And that, ladies and gentlebirds, is the reasoning behind that particular resolution.

4. To spend some time with my husband for a change. This is a much trickier one, because I have very limited time what with the job and the baby and everything and so I feared this resolution might actually involve me having to give up some of my Internet time. Fortunately, I have now surveyed my accounts and discovered that they look rosier than I'd expected (sorry - I know it's in very bad taste for me not only to post that but to do so straight after Christmas), and so it appears that I can afford a new laptop. This means that I'll be able to sit in the same room as him while doing my blogging, which will represent a quantum leap forward in social interaction. I do hope he appreciates these efforts on my part.

So, dear readers (a phrase I have wanted to use - it sounds so delightfully Miss Mannersish) - any good resolutions out there? C'mon, confess all. I promise I won't hold it against you on 31.12.06.

Saturday, December 31, 2005

A whole lot better than good enough

Actually, that could lead to confusion. To clarify - this post's title actually refers not to my blog title, but to the last sentence I wrote in my 2004 journal, this time last year. The full paragraph says:

"So where will I be this time next year? Hopefully in the South-West of England, since that's where we want to move to (there just aren't really any job prospects here for Barry if he ever wants to get back into design engineering, and what with the proximity to London sending house prices soaring and the poor quality of the houses you get for that money, it generally isn't a great place to live long-term). So, if things go the way we hope and want them to, we'll be spending next New Year's Eve in yet another new house, but this one will be ours. I'll have a new job, although since next New Year's Eve will be a Saturday I won't be working that day. And I'll be lucky if I have the time to write a similar bit of waffle for that New Year's Eve, because I'll be spending all my time chasing around after a mini chaos monster hell-bent on wrecking the place. And if that's where I am in my life by then, that'll be good enough for me. "

Check, check, check, check, and check.

Which I guess brings us to where I'll be next New Year's Eve. (In my life in general, that is. As far as where I'll be geographically - right here, I damn well hope. I haven't the least intention of moving again. Probably ever.)

Hmmm. You know what? Barring unforeseen disaster, I'll still be in this house, still be in this job, and still chasing a mini chaos monster, though hopefully one who's a bit more verbal and showing some faint glimmers of the approach of rationality. This has been a year of enormous changes - two new jobs, two new houses, one new blog, and one child developing from six-week-old bundle to thirteen-month-old toddler - and it has brought me to just where, literally and metaphorically, I want to be in my life.

Sure, there are things I'd like to have happen over the next year. By this time next year, I'd like to have a child who's learnt to a) talk, and b) sleep through the night. I'd like to get involved in some student teaching during the year. I'd like to get round to doing something for the proposed evidence-based-parenting website that somebody asked me to get involved with much earlier in the year and that then never came to anything as nobody else had any spare time either. And I'd like to meet Magpie and Evie.

But, on the whole - if I can sit here this time next year feeling as happy, as fulfilled, as satisfied with my life as I am now, it will have been a good and worthwhile year.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Some general Christmas-related ramblings

The answer to the question everyone keeps asking me is that, yes, I am ready for Christmas. "Somebody's organised, then," the receptionist commented when I gave her this answer on Thursday. "Yes," I agreed, "my husband." The dear man has done half my ordering/picking up of presents and nearly all of my wrapping, as well as the cleaning. I knew there was some reason I married him apart from his good looks, dazzling intelligence, sense of humour, warm-hearted compassion, sexual prowess and gorgeous arse.

The other question people keep asking me is whether this is my son's first Christmas. It isn't, of course, but it feels as if it is. Last Christmas he was just five weeks old - more of a permanently feeding little blob than a person. Even though everyone talked beforehand about how much he would enjoy Christmas, with all those amazing lights to look at, he really didn't give any sign of noticing that it was any different from any other day. There weren't many presents that he could enjoy, either - he was too young even for rattles. (Not that such considerations stopped my mother from buying him a train set and a set of alphabet blocks.) I fixed my eyes on the far-off Next Christmas when he would be a proper little person, a toddler running around the house and into everything, driving us crazy by trying to grab ornaments off the tree, but it all seemed so far-off and unreal.

And now, of course, it's real. Well, not the running round the house, not quite - for about six weeks now he's been able to wobble a few steps at a time, but it's still quite an endeavour for him and, although his standing is improving noticeably, he still prefers crawling when he wants to get anywhere. But the active-exploring-into-everything-driving-Mummy-and-Daddy-nuts bit - yup, that's happening, all right. He's been far better than we expected about not attacking the tree (Daddy's laptop and the television amplifier are much more interesting) but he is interested in the lights, and on one occasion tried banging two of the red ones together to see what would happen. It was quite a disappointment - really didn't prove to make the kind of satisfying noises that other things make when they're banged together.

He's also developed a liking for an ornament I bought last week on a whim when I saw it on a day out - a wooden mitten shape with a Santa Claus picture on it. He keeps crawling over and taking this one off the tree to look at, then trying to put it back (and getting rather bewildered and frustrated by its infuriating refusal to go back onto the branch and stay there). My advent calendar this year has tiny board books for each day which each tell a fragment of Dickens' "Christmas Carol" and which are designed to be hung on the tree, and he loves those as well. (They're books. Books are good. Board books aren't as good as books with proper pages, which he loves riffling, but board book pages are still good fun to turn.)

He had his first present this afternoon. (We're going to try the same plan that we did for his birthday, giving him his presents at intervals throughout the day rather than all in one overwhelming go.) I'd got him a ride-on, since Libby Purves says they're indispensable for the toddler period. He was quite interested in it, but since it wasn't dangerous or fragile the interest value was somewhat limited. However, he did like the squeaky thing in the steering wheel, and the plastic phone that came with it (though it was a disappointment that none of the buttons on the phone did anything. Not nearly as good as Mummy's radio alarm clock.) I've also got him a stacking toy and a hammer-and-peg toy, which were recommended in Nanny Knows Best as being very popular with this age group (yes, I am a complete sheep who cannot buy a present for her own child unless it's recommended in a book. Sue me.) I think he may well be bemused by the stacker, but he's really going to like the hammer-and-peg toy. I may live to regret that one. However, it turned out MIL had bought him the same toy, so one of them is going to live at Granny's house and one of them at home.

So what will he be like next Christmas? How much more will he have changed and grown? He'll be two years old then. He'll be walking properly, talking more, maybe even helping put the ornaments on the tree. We may well be struggling with potty training. Hell, he might even be sleeping at night. (I can hope....)

Talking of sleep, I'm in dire need of some, and will head off to bed before this degenerates into even more drivel. Merry Christmas, and may you all get what you wish for this Christmas. And for people like Magpie and Karen, who won't be getting what they most want this year - what I wish for you is that this will be the last year when that's so. I'm so looking forward to the things your blogs will say this time next year, the rushed postings you'll make when you can spare a few minutes from running after Evie and Maya, the postings about what motherhood is like and how amazing it is to have that first Christmas with your respective daughters. Just think - this time next year, you're going to be just as incoherent with exhaustion as I am right now. Happy Christmas to you all, and the very, very best of years to come.