Nicki Minaj’s Anaconda: Why I don’t want none, hun.

It may surprise some of you to learn that I am massive hip hop fan; so much so that I’ve been known forgive all manner of misogyny and general foolishness for banging beat and a lyrical flow. But I’ve heard that when you become a parent you suddenly become more sensitised to the world. You are more likely to cry at tragic news stories, rage against injustices and generally be affronted by the naughty shinnanegans that little our global media. 

Is this why, then, when I sat down to watch the new Nicki Minaj video, Anaconda,  (at the behest of a feminist friend) my jaw dropped further and further to the floor whilst the rest of my face gradually screwed up into the very picture of disgust? Is it something about my new maternal identity that made me cover my face with my hands and utter “what?” and “why?” in a sort of frenzy of shock and helplessness as a parade of expletives and buttocks were jiggled before me? Maybe. I’m pretty sure I would have found this video offensive 10 months ago but my indignation is reaching new levels of potency. Hence the following rant.

I feel that the parental advisory label is somewhat redundant.

I feel that, given the cover photo, this parental advisory label is somewhat redundant.

 

There is a lot of jiggling flesh on offer in this video. Like, A LOT. Various beautiful women lazily shake their ample behinds for the camera. In fact, if you’re not Nicki Minaj then your face is of little import, it seems, cos it’s all about that ass. Other cliched ‘sexiness’ includes an unoriginally provocative banana eating shot and the obligatory fake work out scene featuring a gravity defying pink thong. I’m too weary to get offended by the predictable steamy-girls-winding-together stuff. It’s all so outrageous tha I’m pretty sure Nicki is consciously parodying male rappers who surround themselves with equally faceless smooth-bodied women whilst listing their various sexual exploits. 

Just any idea, though, why couldn’t she have done that with a load of oiled-up men for a change? And what os the need for the – frankly creepy – lap dance scene at the end with her mate Drake? We shall never know friends, we shall never know.

Still, this is nothing more than the logical extension of every other pop video for the last 20 years. Katy Perry with her whipped-cream canister bra in California Girls; Britney in Toxic apparently wearing nothing but rhinestones; Rhianna engaged in some act of bandage or other in practically every video she ever makes nowadays (remember Pon de Replay? Ah, those were simpler times). And these are the videos by women, where they get to use actual words and appear to have some agency and everything! Don’t get me started on the offerings of Usher et al, or that video Satisfaction with the women using power tools from about 5 years ago *shudder*. (Though, incidentally, that does have a YouTube content warning if you try to watch it, which Minaj’s latest offering doesn’t.) 

But the wider point is that Minaj isn’t doing anything new here. She’s just doing it with bigger bums. Which, apparently should empower me. 

So maybe it was the lyrics that offended me. They are filthy, I mean filthy. And I’m no prude. I love a bit of hip-hop, and boasting about prowess in the bedroom is up there with drugs and guns when it comes to subject matter for this genre. But there are A LOT of swears. Dear Reader, I just wasn’t prepared. Too much In the Night Garden has desensitised me to the harsher ways of the world.

Then again, the filth is nothing new either, if anything it’s a reminder of how much misogynistic bullshit  we’ll happily imbibe.  The whole song is a sample of ‘Baby Got Back’, the 1992 Sir Mix-A-Lot hit that has oddly become a sort of family favourite. You know, despite that fact that  it containing lyrics such ‘my Anaconda don’t want none unless you got buns hun.’*; the charming rhyme that Minaj has adopted as her chorus. 

Maybe it was the heart-warming scenes of Ross and Rachel rapping the ditty to baby Emma to make her laugh, or the YouTube sensation caused by an all-American couple who did their hilarious surprise wedding dance to the classic tuuuuune. Had you, like me, forgotten how creepy this song actually was? Have a listen, and be appalled. In fact, Nicki, for giving us the wake-up call we all needed. Now go and wash your mouth out, young lady.

 

Incidentally, Sir Mix-A-Lot, this is an actual Anaconda and, you know, in your dreams mate. #justsaying

*Incidentally, Sir Mix-A-Lot, this is an actual Anaconda and, you know, in your dreams mate. #justsaying

There’s no doubt Ms Minaj enough knows exactly what she’s doing. You don’t get to be a female icon of the rap game without some serious smarts. Anaconda has gained the accolade of most YouTube watches in 24 hours, snatching the crown from the equally mind-boggling Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus, and little bloggers like me around the globe are giving her free publicity. She ain’t no fool! 

But even though I feel better for her that she has some sort of say in all of this and isn’t just desperately flaunting herself in an attempt to gain affection and/or attention (unlike Miley perhaps), that doesn’t make me like it any more. It doesn’t in any way make me feel empowered. Not even a little bit.

Minaj ‘hit back’ at criticism of her single’s ‘artwork’ (see above) by tweeting a Sports Illustrated cover. Yes indeed, Nicki, you are not the only woman whose bum has been flaunted in order to sell something. Good point, well made. And I’m sure that some people don’t like it because you’ve made this choice as a woman; an empowered black woman at that. Theyare, of course,silly little fools. But, mate, it’s still objectification. I don’t care who’s doing the objectification. I don’t care if you’re objectifying yourself in some postmodern beat-them-at-their-own-game endeavour. I certainly don’t think women doing it is better than men doing it for us. We are the worst at this crap. It scares me that in 10 years time my son will be able to peruse scantily clad women on magazine covers at this eye level. But I am not talking about Nuts and FHM (though boo to you); any women’s ‘fashion’ mag will show you far more perfected female body images. Bleurgh!

‘Perfected female images?’ I hear you cry! ‘Why that’s what she is subversively challenging with her in-your-face championing of the curvier figure!’ Really? Really??? If Nicki Minaj weighs more than me I will eat all of my hats. And my socks as well. She is as slim and artificially perfected as any pop star. Some of her pre-photoshop single cover images have been leaked on the internet. Google them if you like, I won’t put them on here because it’s should be a woman’s choice how and if she shows off her body. I recently bore my cellulite to the world in a postbut I wouldn’t impose that on another woman. Any way, however many ‘touch ups’ have been done post-shoot it is clear that this lady does not jiggle in any place that wasn’t designed to be appealing to the male gaze.

 

Minaj showing off her 'fuller figure'. No wonder she hates all those skinny ass b*tches.

Minaj showing off her ‘fuller figure’. No wonder she hates all those skinny ass b*tches.

All of this, however, I can forgive. I don’t like it, and I hate that this is the sort of imagery that will saturate my son’s mind in the far to near future. I wish I didn’t feel I had to conceal the existence of music channels from him. (Seriously, I want him to think that CBeebies shows and Pointless are all that TV has to offer for an long as possible).

All of the swears and unoriginal music and objectification add fuel to the fiery maternal rage I am experiencing, but it is none of those things that are keeping me up when I should be having my beauty sleep. It is this section of lyrics that I can’t seem to get out of my pretty little head:

Yeah, this one is for my b*tches with a fat ass in the f*cking club
I said, where my fat ass big b*tches in the club?
F*ck those skinny b*tches, f*ck those skinny b*tches in the club
I wanna see all the big fat ass b*tches in the motherf*cking club
F*ck you if you skinny b*tches WHAT?

WHAT? Are exactly my thoughts too, Nicki.

What the asterisk are you going on about? If this is a middle finger up at the white male establishment that has idealised the tall, slim, adolescent girly figure over all others in the past 40 years then it is a bloody well misplaced one. If you really want to challenge the homogenised images of women out there then perhaps you’d be better not to scream obscenities at your less posteriorly endowed counterparts.

I’ll put it this way: Replacing one fetishised, unattainable body image with another is not really progress. Neither is categorising women according to the size of their bottoms, in case you were wondering. *screams into a pillow*

I think my rage has less to do with me being a mother and more to do with  being a woman. A woman who struggles with her own body image and gets angry when new female cabinet ministers are analysed by their outfits more often than their politics. But there is a certain urgency to this anger now. A certain direction. It says, no, this is not bloody acceptable thank you very much. Because I have a precious person to bring up who is going to start learning lots of things beyond my control and I don’t want him to learn this crap. I really, really really don’t.

________________

What do you think? Am I missing the point? Do you feel differently since you had kids? Comment below or visit my Facebook page .

Mother’s Hierarchy of Needs: And the winner is…

A couple of weeks ago I took a poll on your needs. What do you prioritise above all else? If you want see what all of the options were  just click hereBut, of course, there can only be one winner. It was a close run race but, by just a single vote, your choice for the most accurate ‘mother’s hierarchy of needs’ is

 

*achingly long drum roll*

 

THE SLEEP ONE!

 

The Sleep One

The Sleep One

 

Yes, though it wasn’t my first choice (probably because it took me about 30 second to design and the others were labours of love, but whatevs, I, like, don’t even care) I think we can all agree that this is pretty darn accurate. Especially in the initial months. Actually, what am I talking about. It’s always accurate. We just came back from a two week holiday on which my delightful Bubs decided to go from sleep through to waking an unpredictable amount of times (always at least two). I’ve never returned from a holiday more tired than when I left. One is not amused.

So, there you have it. Sleep. Everything else. It’s as simple as that.

 

 

Thanks goes to @StephieDoug (sisterhoodandallthat.com) for her Twitter response:

Of swimming and Kegels: The postnatal exercise chat.

If you have had a baby in the UK then, at some point very soon after you gave birth a midwife, nurse, physio, health visitor or all of the above should have talked to you about exercise and recovery. It is very very very cool that this happens (I actually mean this, though I know sarcasm is what you’ve come to expect from me) but in my experience I have found that the subject of this chat tends to fall into two different categories: the essential bit and the optimistic bit.

The Essential Bit.

Now, Dear Reader if you take nothing else from this post, nay this entire blog, take this. Do. Your. Pelvic. Floor. Exercises.

And. Keep. Doing. Them.

Got that?

The midwives etc will probably have harangued you about this a few times. And if you went to a pregnancy/postnatal yoga classes you have probably experienced the ever so slightly awkward silence that happens when the instructor says something like

“And now we’ll do our pelvic floor exercises. And lift…”

No eye contact happens in that part of the class. Absolutely none. 

But as much as you may not want to hear another mention ‘making a motion as if to stop you passing water’ ever again in all of your days, there people are right!  Especially when they tell you to do them for the rest of your life and not just until you’re ‘back to normal’. As if that ever happens any way.

At first it’s not difficult to remember your Kegels (as American baby books seem to insists pelvic floor exercises are called) when you’ve just gone through labour. Because, let’s be honest, we have a few embarrassing reminders. If you don’t know what I’m talking about then I’m afraid you’ll be lost for the next little while. In fact, if you haven’t wet yourself at least once on the way to the loo shortly after giving birth (and beyond) I’m afraid we just can’t be friends. We just can’t.

(Pregnant ladies, sorry if that last paragraph has horrified you, but, sister, it’s happening.)

When things start to get a bit less Tena Lady, though, and you’re mind is on other things – or one very loud and pooey other thing – it’s easy to start slacking. DON’T. Don’t ask me how I know, just take it from me. Keep up the Kegels!

Therein lies the most useful part of the postnatal exercise chat. Shall we practise now ladies? And lift…

 

The More Than Slightly Optimistic Bit.

I think I got ‘the exercise talk ‘ in one form or another a total of three times. When being discharged from hospital, when being discharged from the community midwives and then again when I went into hospital for the crazies (around the 10 week mark). The first two times I was warned “No exercise other than walking for the first 6 weeks.” Um, yeah, that’s totally fine.

The first 6 weeks? Try 6 months! I hardly bloody exercised before I had kids, why am I going to start now that I’m being woken-up three times a night? If I have baby-free time it will be spent drinking wine and watching offensive television, or sleeping. Thank you very much.*

 

Incessant evening rocking was all the exercise I needed when my son was 6 weeks old.

Incessant evening rocking was all the exercise I needed when my son was 6 weeks old.

 

So, yes, the 6 weeks came and went, and the next six weeks came and went, without so much as a lunge in sight. After a while I did start to go to a delightfully laid back class called ‘Rock Your Baby’ where I could sit Bubs in his sling whilst feeling the burn to a soundtrack of ‘Radio Gaga’ and ‘Moves like Jagger’. Ideal.

Because, the thing is, when you have a baby pretty much the only way you can exercise is with your baby. Yes, okay, you could go out to an evening class that starts at 7.30pm and finishes at 9pm but until you’ve got the sleep thing down that is basically self-torture. And even after, when the magical, mythical ‘evening’ returns to your lives going spinning may not be the first thing you want to do with it. (See my previous wine and television comment).

This is why the next bit of repeated advice from health-professional seems a bit incongruous.

“Swimming is a great way to exercise for new mums.”

Is it? Is it? I mean, yes, I get logically why it is. Non weight-bearing, uses the whole body, calming to the mind etc. But there’s this other issue that sort of gets in the way here. It’s that I have a baby. And babies aren’t that good at swimming. Okay, yes they are, they’ve got the ‘dolphin reflex’ or something and if you pay £12 a week from the age of 3-days-old they’ll be  swimming like a fish before they’re weaned, blah blah blah. But I can’t very well strap Bubs to my back and start doing lengths now, can I?

And even if you can find childcare there are other issues. Like, do breastpads even work in the pool? I have this unshakable image of a new mum happily booming up and down unaware of the two white vapour trails following behind her like she’s a jumbo jet.

There’s also the swimming costume issue. I believe we should all be proud of our postnatal bodies (see previous post) but we’re not, are we? And catching yourself in one of those awful leisure centre mirrors the first time you that bravely don your tankini once more just isn’t great. But that’s nothing compared to suddenly being half naked infront of 50 strangers when you’re at your most physically vulnerable. In my local pool they have a cafe on the same level as the pool and people basically sit out on a terrace and watch the swimmers. Fully clothed. With a cup of tea. Whilst I’m aware that I will be very glad of this facility in later years when I can lazily play on my phone whilst the kids splash about, it currently makes me feel like a postnatal whale in an aquarium.

 

So, that’s it really. I don’t entirely hve a point with this post except to say, you know, go for a walk every now and again but I wouldn’t stress about exercise. Do it when you want to do it. Maybe trick you’re baby into thinking you’re playing a delightful game with them when really you’re using the little one in as human dumbbells. But don’t sweat. We’ve got enough to worry about.

 

 

 

 

*exercise is, like, really good for your mental health (and physical health, obvs). you should in no way take my nonsensical ranting as discouragement.

 

Bump to frump: the highs and lows of motherly body image.

There’s a lot of talk of women ‘feeling fat’ during pregnancy. All those movies where the size 6 Hollywood actress moans to her doting husband in a saccharine LA accent, “I just feel so bloated!” Yes love, that’s because there is an actual human in your womb, you know? It’s, like, growing and stuff. Still I can imagine there are lots women who genuinely do feel like that, especially in that early is-she-pregnant-or-getting-fat stage. But for many of us it’s liberating.

When you’re pregnant your stomach is supposed to protrude, Allelujah! Women who have spent years self-consciously sucking their belly buttons into their spines can let go. Finally our bodies have permission to look how they are actually supposed to look! I wore tight fitting dresses like nobody’s business when I was ‘with child’. I know a few women who did. Because suddenly all those lumps and bumps you are conscious of are just part of your fertile, womanly physique. Aw yeah.

I have never see a non-pregnant woman strike this pose in a photo. Ever.

I have never see a non-pregnant woman strike this pose in a photo. Ever.

Of course, I shouldn’t need to be pregnant to turn unselfconsciously to the side in a photo. OF COURSE I shouldn’t. But there you are, I did. And is it any wonder? I mean, have you ever read a women’s magazine that doesn’t have some sort of weight loss advice in it? No, you haven’t. (Oh, you have? No, feminist magazines don’t count my dear).

But even after my Bubs was born I had a good six months where I wasn’t body conscious. This period of grace was pretty empowering. I’d look in the mirror and think, I’ve had a baby, of course I look different. A little extra junk in the trunk is natural when you’ve had an extra human under the bonnet for a while! I could wear my slightly looser skin like a badge of pride! Eating a massive slice of cake every other day was fine; I bloody well deserved it, even if I wasn’t breast-feeding! Ah, those were the days.

Then, suddenly, something changed. Maybe it was that my friends started doing exercise again, or that less and less people seemed to be ordering ‘fries with that’. Or maybe it was just that I was slightly less sleep deprived and so had the energy to give a crap about my appearance again. You know, I would have been fine with just having the energy to do a bit of housework, write and/or socialise but, there you go, the brain prioritises in mysterious ways.

The baby-blue tinted glasses were off, and suddenly the mirror was not as kind. My midriff has always been the part of my body I am most self-conscious about. I do not purchase tops that won’t cover my hip bones and I am constantly ‘sucking it all in’, especially in photos. Now, Dear Reader, I am very much aware that there’s not a lot to suck in. I’m not fat, but I’m also not magically magazine-like and so these things get to me (ooh, ‘the air-brushing mirror’; now there’s an invention that would sell…)

Really, I blame three-way mirrors. I mean, why do they exist?? I’m sure shops sell less clothes because women suddenly see themselves from every angle and run, screaming from the store. It was in one of these monstrosities that I first notices my back rolls *shudder*. I’ve got very little flesh around my waist – it likes to congregate about 4 inches south – but what is there seems to have formed some untidy pleating either side of my spine. Nice one. Even though I am vividly aware that all that skin did stretch rather a lot, you know, around an actual human (think that’s becoming my catchphrase), I still don’t want it to be there. Instead of bearing the marks of child-bearing with pride I, like many women, would rather they disappeared!

Anyhoo, here I am, on my hols now in the South of France (daaaaaaarling). I’m wearing a bikini, because I bloody well want to. I’m swimming a lot. It’s all good. The other day my husband took some lovely photos of me and my son. I’d like to share one of them with you:

Aw, what a lovely photo!

Aw, what a lovely photo!

Dear Reader, when you look at this photo what’s the first thing you see? A very cute baby? A happy holiday snap? A contented mother? The most kickass paddling pool of all time? Well, I’ll tell you what the first thing I saw was.

Thigh!  Thigh! Thigh!

Thigh! Thigh! Thigh!

Yep, that’s the awful truth of the matter. My husband showed me the photos, saying how lovely there were, but as I scrolled through I found it hard concentrate on anything other than my cellulite. I told my husband this and he just said ‘aw, love, that’s so sad’. I agreed, tried to snap out of it and looked at the photo clearly detailing my amazing life.

The crazy thing is, I know my thighs are just pretty darn normal. They’re slightly wobbly and bobbly. They rub together a bit when I walk. They don’t have a weird triangular gap at the top, because that’s just not a real thing. They are significantly larger than my calves, because THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO BE. I also know the camera angle is not the best, and part of the reason my thigh protrudes so much in this pic is that I was bending over so that stomach wouldn’t be in view. Sigh.

So why share this all with you? I would like to state that I am emphatically not fishing for compliments! I am lucky enough that I have moments in my life where I feel good about how I look. Yes, those moments often involve make up etc, but they happen. I know some women don’t have them at all. I also want to share more than just a sense of common experience with you other body-conscious mums and dad out there. I want to share some indignation too.

So, on top of attending three ‘stimulating’ classes a week; giving my child fresh, health food at every meal; rejuvenating my social life so I don’t get isolated, keeping the house vaguely hygienic (clean is a bridge too far) AND going back to bloody work, we’re also supposed to to fit in exercise and say no to chips? Piss off!

Now, I do actually quite like doing exercise, and I know I feel better about myself when I do it, but I want to do it for those reasons. Not because I hate my body. In fact, I want it to be for quite the opposite reason; because I love my body.

Do you love your baby? Are you glad they’re in the world despite the ravaging, exhausting, devastating, heart-opening rollercoaster you’ve been thrust onto? Well, guess what? That baby is here because you grew them in your body! And even if your child is adopted, or you’re a dad (or both) your body may have changed because all of your time and energy is going into caring for someone else and you just eat a lot more frozen pizza than you used to. More power to ya I say!

When we have children we don’t expect anything to go back to the way it was, not really. So why should we expect our bodies to? Of course, we know the reason, it’s because every popstar worth her salt has done a post-pregnancy, how-I-got-back-to-six-stone-in-ten-minutes photo shoot. But I wonder how said pop star really feels about that. Perhaps she was so scared of being thrown out of The Saturdays/Atomic Kitten/Other Generic Girl Group that she lost weight in a crazy, unhealthy way. Or maybe she just hired a nanny and a personal trainer.

Either way, it shouldn’t be our job to imitate the fiction of postnatal banging-bods that the media wants us to. It’s bullshit. So let them eat cake!

What are your needs?? Time to vote!

In my last post I created a ‘hierarchy of needs’ for mums. Basically just to show that, whatever you’re going through, we all find it tough in one way or another. I also posted the #hierarchyofneeds on Twitter (come in people, it’s 2014, you gotta have a hashtag!)  Loads of people responded offering suggestions of what they would add. Two main themes, not totally unrelated if I may say, arose. The first, of course, was Gin! How could I have been so remiss as to miss out alcohol? Wine also came up a few times, naturally. The second was how much headspace was totally central to getting through this parenting lark. I’d put it at the top of the pyramid, but maybe it was really at the heart of it all. Cuddles, coffee, showers and puke-free clothes also came up.

So I got to thinking, downloaded some free apps (you gotta love free apps) and made a few more #hierarchyofneeds models. I have displayed them for you below. So, what do you think? Which do you feel best conveys your own needs? Have your say in the, frankly quite funky, poll below. I will announce the winner a week from now. Make your voice heard!

(Obvs this is a completely meaningless bloggy vote but, you know, humour me).

 

The Original One

The Original One

 

 

The Sleep One

The Sleep One

 

 

The Venn Diagram One

The Venn Diagram One

 

 

The Thorough One

The Thorough/Complicated One

 

 

 

 

‘Good’ Births, Weight Loss and Sleeping Through: why no mum wants to be told she’s ‘lucky’.

A conversation I had recently:

Me: Oh yeah, he’s just starting to get mobile now, so that’s a bit scary!

Nameless Mum of Two: How old is he now?

Me: Just about 8 months.

NMOT: Wow, 8 months and just starting to crawl. You’re lucky, mine both crawled at 6 months. You don’t want them crawling. *eye roll*

Me: (internally) OK, I’ll be quiet now then.

Dear reader, I’d like to tell you a little bit about why telling a mum she’s ‘lucky’ is one of those things that sounds like a compliment but makes you want to scream in someone’s face…

I, like many (most?) women I know found giving birth pretty traumatic. And why wouldn’t I? There was an actual person coming out of my actual body. Granted, I was aware that this was going to happen for over nine months previous to the event and you might think that the human brain, with all it’s vast capacities, would be capable of imagining something close to the experience. But you’d be wrong. It can’t. In fact, even the stuff I could imagine changed. I was induced so it all started in hospital; I had to have an assisted birth in theatre; and my Bubs was taken out of the room the minute he was born to be checked by a paediatrician (he was very healthy).

My friends’ births all happened in very different ways. From water births lasting less than 8 hours, to emergency c-sections, to labours lasting over 3 days. Bleurgh. Now given the choice, I’m sure most of us would choose a short water birth if we had to pick from that delightful menu. Hmm, actually, would I? You can’t have diamorphine when you have a water birth and that’s about the only thing I’m looking forward to about going through labour again. So maybe I’d choose a short, drug-addled birth. Mmm, diamorphine…

In reality, you are more likely to look like this.

But I digress! The interesting thing is that my friends’ reactions to these births didn’t necessarily match-up with what others’ ideas of a ‘good’ and ‘bad’ births are. When I began open up to my Health Visitor (who is amazing) about how I felt about my birth (crap crap crappedy crap, in case you were wondering) she told me that when she was a midwife she saw that any type of birth could be distressing. You could be in the hospital with a woman having no pain relief, keeping relatively calm and using a birthing pool. You might think what a lovely birth it was, as a midwife who’s seen it all. But that same birth could leave the mother in a state of shock and feeling very vulnerable. Because, you know, as I mentioned before. Actual person. Your actual body. Combined. Actually happening.

But any woman who had a relatively quick birth, or who have managed to not have any pain relief, or even whose baby just had a small head, will inevitably be told that their ‘lucky’ at some point. The problem with this, especially when it comes from the mouths of other birth-mothers is what it implies. Because your basically saying ‘my labour was harder/worse than your labour’ or ‘oh it wasn’t that bad dear, do pipe down’. While some of that might be physically true, it is just plain unhelpful. If a woman is continually told this she may end up feeling belittled. She might begin to feel she can’t talk about her birth in negative terms at all. She might even feel she is being weak and self-important for wanting to express her feelings of trauma. And that would be crappy, wouldn’t it?

Because my birth wasn’t ‘straight-forward’ I generally got the sympathy I desired, but I do have one example of this. Shortly after giving birth I spoke to an old friend on the phone. She, like most people, asked about the birth. I said it hadn’t been very good and that I didn’t really want to talk about it as I found it all quite upsetting. Her response was to ask if had been, like, a bad bad birth, or whether I just felt it was bad? I replied it was probably ‘in the middle’, already feeling quite belittled. Then she launched into a description of a really bad birth. Dear reader, I must confess, I just held the phone away from my ear until it was over.

Now, I’m not saying that there’s no such thing as a ‘bad’ birth. Of course there is! We all know of people who have gone through hell and, in a way, any of us who haven’t are lucky. I feel very lucky to live in a country where I wasn’t presented a bill at the end of my hospital stay and didn’t have to think about whether I could afford it when the doctors started talking about theatre. Come to think of it I’m bloody lucky to have been born in a country where there are enough hospitals to accommodate all births and two of them are 15 minutes from my house! So gratitude for your relative fortune is fantastic, but being told you should be grateful by some stranger who rolls their eyes as if to say ‘you just don’t get how hard it can be’? Well that’s just bloody annoying!

And it’s not just births that are surrounded by this kind of language. Take weight loss, for example. I am the first person to admit that I react with a curious mixture of jealousy and admiration when I see a fellow mum with a flat tummy. But there’s a weird thing in our society where people commenting, slightly bitterly, on someone’s (lack of) weight is totally socially acceptable. Thinner new mums are always being told they’re ‘lucky’ that the baby weight ‘just dropped off them’. But I’m pretty sure my retention of the extra stone around my middle is less to do with bad luck than with the amount of biscuits I eat.

What’s more, just because a woman’s thin we can’t assume she feels good about herself. Any celebrity mag can tell you that! Slimming down doesn’t mean her boobs haven’t gone all weird and changed shape. Or that the skin on her belly hasn’t turned from being all nice and smooth to resembling a loaf of tiger bread. And maybe, just maybe, the weight has ‘dropped off’ of her because she’s stressed and not eating properly. That doesn’t sound very lucky to me. (Look out for my new book The Anxiety Diet out in all good bookstores, spring 2015). Whatever the case, the effect is the same. ‘You’re lucky’ is usually taken to mean ‘you’re luckier than me’. And that can be interpreted as ‘count your blessings and shut up’.

It’s the same with everything. The mother whose baby sleeps well at night feels she shouldn’t talk about being tired. Now, I’m not saying go on about it to your friends who has twins who take it in turns to wake up six times a night, but I am saying that you probably are tired. Very tired. As far as I can make out, all parents exist on a spectrum of tiredness. Allow me to illustrate:

We're all bloody tired, ok?

We’re all bloody tired, ok?

In short, however ‘lucky’ a mum may seem, it’s still really really hard with a new born. So we all need to be able to express that.

Have you heard of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Well this dude Maslow was trying to explain why even when people live in safety and have all of their physical, and even intellectual, needs met they can still be unhappy. Basically, if you’re wondering whether your kids are going to be fed today you’re unlikely to have an existential crisis about the very meaning of your life. However, if you’re sitting with a hearty breakfast, having slept safely in your bed, about to go to your rewarding job, you’re more likely to think about people who have no food and wonder why you’re not content despite your riches. Huzzah, an existential crisis!

Well I’ve borrowed Maslow’s idea but adjusted it a little, for mums. What do you think?

An actual graph, what I made myself.

An actual graph, what I made myself.

Okay this isn’t going to make many ripples in the pond of postnatal psychology, but of the spirit of is true I think. Some of us will have it very physically rough. I know that my experience of postnatal depression was bad, but there are a lot worse things that could have happened. I am genuinely grateful for my lot. Even so, I also genuinely suffered. It is possible for any parent in any circumstance to find things unbelievably tough. This is sometimes hard to understand, even frustrating, especially when a mother is going on about how her baby sleeps so much she can barely leave the house (yes, that happened to me and no, I wasn’t totally understanding). But really, everyone needs a good moan. Especially a mum!

 

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This post is linked up to…

 

And then the fun began...

 

It’s Getting Hot in Here: Why has pregnancy turned me into a human Niagara Falls?

A glistening nose doth not a lady make.

A glistening nose doth not a lady make.

Yesterday my son vommed all over himself in his (new and pretty) stroller. Nice. Luckily we were about 2 minutes from home so I ran the measly distance back. Actually, ‘ran’ is putting it generously. I shuffled along in hurried sort of a way. When I got in I took him out of the pushchair and straight upstairs to remove his saturated clothing. That’s when perspiration stations really kicked in.

As I leant over the changing mat – armed with a mountain of baby wipes and holding my breath as much as possible – actual drops on sweat be began to trickle down the side of my face. Actual drops. I had been vaguely exerting myself for the sum total of 3 minutes and I was sweating. Vigorously. I know it’s been hot recently, but this is getting ridiculous!

Now, I must admit. I’ve always been a sweaty Betty. I am not one of those women who can wear make up to the gym and finish her workout with it still looking she’s in a Max Factor ad. In fact, who are those women? I don’t think I’ve ever actually met one, they just seem to float around, not sweating and looking unfeasibly immaculate. Maybe they’re models paid by the gym and strategically placed at various pieces of equipment to make normal looking, naturally perspiring women feel bad about themselves and, therefore, hire a personal trainer. #dullestconspiracytheoryever

No, I shall never make it to the end of even a light exercise session with concealer intact. I am the girl who gives up reapplying half way through a night out dancing, safe in the knowledge that she is fighting a losing battle (though my theory is that women who look perfect at the end of the night haven’t had enough fun). I know that if I ever got very overweight I’d be one of those people who have a perpetual moustache of perspiration decorating their upper lip. Oh, who am I kidding? I’m already one of those people half of the time. Not a good look. But since my son was born it has moved to a whole other level. Since when did sweat actual drip down people’s faces? I thought that kind of crap only happened when trekking through the Amazon!

I can understand why you get so sweaty during pregnancy. You are carrying around an actual person, for goodness sake. I also hear that with breast-feeding there’s all kinds of crazy milk hormones that cause your body temperature to be slightly higher. That sounds like it could be biological fact. But my son is almost 10 months old and it’s been over six months since I’ve breastfed. So could I please have my ability to walk hurriedly for a couple of minutes with turning into a human Niagara Falls back? When I do actual exercise it gets silly. My hair gets so wet I look like I’ve been swimming! Too much information? Well, tough luck my friends, it’s the truth.

Is this just me? Do other mums have this? Is there some kind of support group I can join? Can I get armpit Botox on the NHS?

So many questions. So much sweat.

“The Dreaded Weigh-in”: why the mere mention of percentiles strikes fear into the heart of many a mother.

"And this is when they told be you were worryingly underweight...and this is where you were clinically obese..."

“And this is when they told me you were worryingly underweight…and this is when you were clinically obese…”

*Disclaimer: This post contains anger and research. Research I tells ya!*

If you had an FAQs web page for your baby, what does she weigh now? surely would come second, following closely behind how is he sleeping? in the list of questions you wish you didn’t have to answer seven million times a day. And it’s a weird question, really, because most people have little frame of reference when it comes to the weight of a 3-month-old. What does 13lbs 6oz, or whatever, that actually mean to anyone? But seeing as we are a society obsessed with dieting, calories and obesity, it’s not surprising our children have been dragged into it too.

In my area (South Manchester) we are lucky enough to have well-baby clinics running almost every day of the week. It’s pretty fab to know that, if I want to, I can just rock up at a sure start centre and get some advice. I have had really good experiences with them. But over the past few months more and more mums I know have started avoiding clinics. In response to another post of mine on a friend referred to them as “the dreaded weigh-ins”.

Name have been changed to protect the identity of these mums. Obvs.

Aaaargh and Noooo aren’t their real names. Obvs.

When my son was very small he didn’t gain weight quickly enough and we were sent to hospital and I cried and all that crap. In the end I was grateful they checked everything was okay and since he’s been on formula (at the advice of my fantastic HV) he’s been following his 75th-80th percentile like a good little boy. Consequently I haven’t experienced much hassle at baby clinics. But I’m one of the lucky ones.

A lot of my friends haven’t been so lucky. Let me tell you about them.

We have Fab Mum A. Fab Mum A is a lovely lovely person who cares for her baby very well indeed. I have never seen her feed him anything out of a packet (which I do regularly) and he’s obviously a healthy, happy chappy. Oh, and she’s tall, like tall. So’s her husband. So’s her son. Funnily enough.

So, Fab Mum A successfully breastfed her son pretty much exclusively up to 6 months then she tried to introduce formula more, so that he would take a bottle when she went back to work. Around that time she started weaning him (at 6 months because she followed the guidelines) and she got him weighed so she could monitor his progress. All very commendable. Enter the dreaded weigh in! Her son’s weight had jumped up to the 98th percentile. Dun dun der! She was quizzed on what she fed him when, how she was weaning him etc. The health visitor reassured her that she was doing everything right but decided to add “If you weren’t still doing some breast-feeding I would have put him on weight management”. WHAT? If you’re not going to put someone’s baby on ‘weight management’ (whatever that means) don’t bloody say it at all! That’s all they will go away with; that and the dread of the next appointment with the scales.

Turns out that Fab Mum A’s baby has stayed on the 98% percentile. Because, guess what? That’s how percentiles work. Someone has to be at 1% and someone else at 99%. They can’t all be between 25% and 75%. Otherwise it’s not a percentile, it’s a ‘please fit your child between these brackets’ exercise. (we will return to that idea later). Also, in my area they don’t take the baby’s length into account. Arrrrrgh.

Now let’s turn to Wonderful Mum B. Wonderful Mum B is a kick ass single mum whose son is now 2-years-old and he’s a little marvel. At his 2-year health assessment Wonderful Mum B decided to open up to the health visitor about her low moods and got a bit tearful. How brilliant that she found a safe space to do that, right? Wrong! Because after that part of the meeting she went on to be told that her son was obese. OBESE. He’s two years old! Okay, I know there are parents out there who put cola in their baby’s bottle (no, really) and give them a packet of crisps for tea but if you know the child is getting a healthy diet then back off. Just. Back. Off. The health visitor wasn’t horrible about it or anything but she did make that infamous weight management referral. Incidentally my friend’s son grew 5 cm and remained the same weight so, you know, definitely worth getting upset about. Grrrrr.

Last but not least Briliant Mum C who had a very similar experience to me with breast-feeding. She was told her son wasn’t putting on weight quickly enough and that they were very concerned for his well-being. Not to worry her or anything. Of course she got tearful because, you know, worry, breast-feeding-guilt and all that. So then they kept asking her if she had support at home. She kept saying yes I imagine, so why did they keep asking? I’m sure there were good intentions but to her it seemed that they thought only someone without support would have a baby with slow weight gain. She felt awful. Anyway, more recently she was told her son is overweight. Good one. Bleurgh.

I’m no expert but maybe, just maybe, not all babies and children gain weight in ‘perfect curve’ sort of a way. Maybe they have growth spurts. Maybe some of them take a while to get going and then chub out. When I was little I definitely followed the ‘fill-and-stretch’ model of growth. I would fill out a bit then suddenly have a spurt and turn beanpole-esque, then I would chub up again and then, well you get the picture. All I’m saying is perhaps this percentile-obsession isn’t so healthy.

Now, here comes the research bit, concentrate:

So what are these percentiles based on anyway? I mean they can’t be based on the averages for the babies they are actually measuring because that would involve a crazy and expensive data collection and the constant reproduction of charts to ‘fit the curve’. So I assumed that they were just based on UK averages from a few years ago. A reasonable assumption. But I was wrong.

Until around 2009 the percentiles were based on 1980s data which documented the typical weights of babies in the UK. This covered a wide range of children; bottle and breast-fed. It didn’t make a distinction between healthy and unhealthy children either. So basically, it was a percentile. Obviously this data needed updating and I’m it had quite a few flaws but I’m confused by what it was replaced with.

The current World Health Organisation UK percentile charts are based on breast-fed, healthy babies. The data has been take from around 8,500 infants in 6 different countries. Does anyone else find this odd? Here’s the WHO explanation:

"How children should grow". Yeah, that seems like something you can regulate.

“How children should grow”. Yeah, that seems like something you can regulate.

So there you go. If anyone tells you that your child is on the 1st/100th percentile remember that this does not mean that they are the heaviest/lightest child in the country. It means that they are as heavy/light as the heaviest/lightest breastfed kid out of the 8,500 healthy Brazilian, Ghanaian, Norwegian, American, Omanian and Indian children whose weights make up the chart’s data.

Why didn’t we know this? Why didn’t anyone tell us? In a society that screams from the page of every other magazine ‘LOSE WEIGHT FATTY’ why didn’t anyone think about how this could deeply effect the anxiety levels of parents??

It’s common knowledge that formula-fed babies tend to be a bit heavier. Ok, the difference between the charts isn’t that much (see below) but does anyone else feel like they’ve been misled? Worried unnecessarily? Or just kept out of the loop?

Suddenly I understand why I know so many people who have been told their children are overweight.

Of course, this doesn’t answer the other questions about our children being expected to grow on an even trajectory, or why people won’t just let small babies be small babies. What it does show is that the information we receive is always based on what someone somewhere has decided. That someone may be pre-eminently intelligent and, in the long run, absolutely correct in their decisions. But I wonder if they ever considered how those decisions would make the parents who are trying their best (which is, like 98% I reckon) feel.

I don’t know, dear reader, I just don’t know. I mean, I really know nothing about this so please do ask those who do. Perhaps there are Health Visitors who question it too, or who can explain it to us (comments welcome).

What I do know is this; next time someone tells you that your baby’s percentile is all wrong when you know that your child is healthy and happy, you should just tell them to b*gger off! 

 

 

 

 Further info:

Lots information resources on WHO growth charts.

NHS research review: do bigger babies turn into obese kids.

Even percentiles are subjective, apparently.

Even percentiles are subjective, apparently.

 

The sport is over! Long live the drama/bake off/dancing season!

Dear Reader,
I must confess to infidelity. I’ve been guest posting on mumsnet when I should have been with you! Well, that and watching TV, cos, you know TV is awesome. And it’s all kicking off on the beeb this month. Good comfort TV is what every mum needs, in my humble opinion. Also, mumsnet let me preview In The Club. I like, got to watch it before anyone else. Cool, huh? Although birth scenes still give me shivers! Here’s what I wrote about it:
bit.ly/1zTj6sG (this one goes out to my NCT homegirls)

Also, can we get something straight Kay Mellor (the writer of In the Club)? The list of ‘pregnancy nos’ at the beginning of the show is scandalously OTT. No chocolate during pregnancy? No CHOCOLATE? What next? No.oxygen?? Pregnant women of the world, eat to your heart’s content!

That is all.

Don’t Worry Folks They Get Cuter! The weird and (sort of) wonderful world of newborns’ appearance.

Newborns. As you wake from the temporary unconsciousness that follows labour people begin to crowd around your bed. They take it in turns to coo over how gorgeous their new grandson/nephew/cousin is. It’s very lovely, but if you’re honest you actually expected your baby to be a bit cuter. Admit it, friends, many of us have been there.

OK, there are some smooth skinned, bright-eyed babes who enter this world ready to grace the front a pampers packet, but for the most part newborns are a bit odd looking. 

My son was born late. 13 days late to be precise (he needed a little coaxing). Consequently he came out looking, as the nurse who did his newborn check put it, ‘a bit overcooked’. His face was a swollen and puffy so you couldn’t see his eyes very well, and his skin was quite red. Actually, when I look back at day 1 photos now I find him more cute than I did then. I suppose I expected him to look at bit more like ‘newborn’ babies do in films, so I got a bit of a shock. (Yes, I do like to blame Hollywood as often as possible).

Of course, this is probably because babies in Hollywood films are actually newborn. Sometimes I watch a film and wince at the size of the infant who has apparently just been delivered. Ouch, I wouldn’t fancy giving birth to a two-month-old. And even within a few days with my boy the swollen face made way to reveal big blue eyes. By two months he was getting pretty darn adorable. And now? Well, take my word for it dear reader, he’s in off the charts!

But not on day one. Ooooh no. I had imagined his delicate pink hands, wrapped tightly around my little finger but the image I got wasn’t quite like that.

You know when you stay in the bath a bit too long and your fingertips go all wrinkled and pruny? Now imagine what would happen if you stayed in the bath an extra 13 DAYS! Add to this the fact that when babies are overdue they are often born with extra long nails. Enter, wizard hands:

 

These are my sons hands on the day of his birth. His actual hands.

These are my sons hands on the day of his birth. His actual hands.

No no, those aren’t the hands of a ninety-year-old woman who’s let herself go. They are the hands of someone literally hours old. As you can see, not quite what I’d expected. 

Other babies might have a swelling that makes their head look misshapen for the first few weeks. I hear that premature babies can still be a bit hairy and/or oily. Mmm, sweet. Some have sore skin that goes scabby. And, you know, I sort of knew all this before my Bubs was born. I suppose I just thought that was other people’s kids.

Of course, the mere act of typing this is enough to send my background-guilt levels sky-rocketing. But I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, so I want  you to know it too. I’m not someone who thinks ‘newborns are ugly’ or ‘they all look the same at first’, but I am someone who was slightly disconcerted to find she didn’t instantly think her little boy was the cutest thing on earth. It’s not a great thing to feel when you’re not expecting it. I do now. Because he is. Obvs.