Tuesday, 22 November 2011

A very private pregnancy

There is such a thing as privacy these days. Apparently. But you need to tell everyone about it, as Jess Ratty proved in this article in the Guardian.

Pregnant woman using a laptop
Did you tweet the first time you felt the baby kick? Photograph: Andreas Pollok/Getty

What I thought was rather ironic about this article was the fact that Ms Ratty (by nature as well as name?) thought that she was giving her unborn child Facebook anonymity but decided to tell readers from around the world. Granted, she's not giving hourly updates on her pregnancy but she's guaranteed a wider readership on the social networking site than on Facebook. Unless she has hundreds of thousands of followers. The nice pay cheque for writing the piece would have been a decent incentive too.

But Ms Ratty has raised a valuable point with regard privacy in pregnancy... and beyond. As soon as you have a bun in the oven everyone suddenly thinks you're public property. Forget Facebook - you have random people walking up to you in the street to ask if they can touch your bump. They ask about your due date. Do you know what you're having? What name will you give the child? Suddenly saying something about your pregnancy to a group of Facebook friends seems more normal than listening to a random person tell you you'll have a boy because of the way you are carrying or because your nose is a certain shape.

I must have looked fierce or smelt oddly or something because people generally kept away from me when I was pregnant. They'd ask how far gone I was but no one stroked my stomach, thankfully. Though a perverse side of me wondered why other people were pestered and I wasn't. Luck, I suppose.

The intrusiveness set in after I had given birth. These are some of the questions levelled at me:

1. 'Are you breastfeeding?'
Why - are you?

2. 'Why is your baby not wearing socks? Do you know what the temperature is outside?'
She's not wearing socks because she pulls them off the second they're put on her, and, yes, I do know it's five degrees out there.

3. Was it a natural birth?
No, I had her hanging upside down off a lamp post. Is that what you mean by natural? If you can ask such a personal question, surely you can ask me whether I had her vaginally or not. That's right - use the correct anatomical vocabulary.

4. When are you having your next?
First, you're assuming I'm having another. Second, do you really want me to inform you of the next time that I have unprotected sex? Because that IS what you're asking. There's not the possibility of an Immaculate Conception.

5. (Three years down the line) Why do you only have one? Surely you know how damaging being an only child is?
Look, I am an only child and I think I've done OK. And the reason why I haven't had more than one is... I'm infertile. (Queue tears on my part and a swift exit on theirs.)

Some people have thought me cruel to throw the infertility card at nosey-parkers but I don't see why. I do know women who struggled to conceive after their first child and the emotional torment they face when people asked these very personal questions. If someone has the gall to ask you why you haven't multiplied your brood after your first then they've got to roll with the punches. It's like when people pester me for either not drinking or only drinking a glass of wine. 'What's wrong with you?' I find 'I'm a recovering alcoholic' to be a useful reply in these circumstances.

Because it seems that people are happy enough to ask you questions that are extremely personal but they are not prepared for the embarrassment of an answer that doesn't fit with their idea of acceptable conversation.

Maybe a good way around is for women to have business-type cards with their Facebook account name on them so, when Joe Public accosts them in the street for the low-down, they can direct them to an appropriate social networking platform for the answer. Or maybe they should just get a big Tshirt with 'Mind your own business' blazened across their bump.


Friday, 18 November 2011

OMG! That IS my husband!

I was in Blackwell's in Oxford today, browsing the books, and came across this gem:

It was the first time that I became excited about this type of board book and I devoured it very quickly. You can check it out here.

The joke behind the book is, of course, that men never do anything remotely helpful around the house or with the children. It does bow to the stereotype that men suddenly become incompetent when faced with domestic duties. I am sure there are blokes out there like this but, as my previous post attests, I don't have this particular problem.

My husband was always happy to change the nappies and get up in the night, and was often awake long before I was. Doing the laundry? No problem. Before I have my eyes open on a Saturday morning, my husband trots down the stairs with a basketful of darks, enquiring 'Do you want a shower this morning?' before putting the load in (no, unfortunately he's not asking me to him in a romantic personal hygiene session; he's reminding me that the washing machine sends the shower up the creek).

Husband is also keen on cleaning. As soon as he's home in the evening, he's wiping counters down, washing lunchboxes out, sorting through the recycling bins. If I set a teaspoon down on the side after making a cup of tea, it is swiftly removed and the surface wiped before I can say 'sponge'. I sometimes wonder if he'd dress me in an antibacterial wipe if he could.

When I share this with my female friends, they sigh in envy and don't understand why I grumble. Well, I guess because I feel that my 'DH' is commenting on my (lack of) domestic skills. Even though I am liberated woman, I still feel that if my husband is driven to cleaning immediately upon his return that this is a comment on my slovenly ways. Talk about role reversal... who's the daddy - and the mummy - now?

Sometimes this insecurity has led to rows between us.

DH: 'Shall I cook the supper tonight?'

Me: 'It's only 5.45pm!'

DH: 'I know. I am just wondering if you'd like me to cook tonight?'

Me: 'No you're not. You're commenting on how lazy I am to have not started cooking by now.'

DH: 'Of course I'm not! I'm trying to be helpful! Why should you be the one who cooks all the time?'

Me: 'Because I'm the woman!'

And here's the crux. Even though, when I was growing up, I was determined not to be the stereotypical 1950s housewife, I feel my domain is threatened when my equally liberated husband comes home and offers to share the domestic tasks. And I am not alone. I have talked to other women who feel equally slighted when their well-meaning husbands come home and offer to take over. Here's how a typical exchange in our house might go:

Me: 'What - is the house not tidy enough for you?'

DH: 'It's just if I see something that needs doing, I do it.'

Me: 'Why can't you come home, grab a beer, and scratch your balls like other men do?'

My daughter and I occasionally try to persuade him that it's OK to relax when you step through the door. It's all rather Edwardian though, thanks to our DVD of Mary Poppins. My daughter grabs DH's slippers and dressing gown (through lack of smoking jacket, so DH has to sweat in fleece instead of languish in silk) and I hand him a glass of sherry. He smiles and perches on the sofa but I am sure his eyes are scanning the piles of books in danger of toppling over, the cushions scattered haphazardly on the futon.

It is difficult being a woman - and a man - these days. There are countless stories of women being pulled this way and that, expected to hold down a career as well as be a mother, a wife and superhumanly talented in some sort of art too. But the men are also cast adrift in a sea of confusion. They are the breadwinners - or are they? Should they offer to become househusbands so their wives can go out to work? Should they split the childcare evenly? Is scratching their balls and downing a beer acceptable these days?

I think what really drove it home for me was watching an exchange amongst families a couple of years back. The shattered mothers of the newborns were sat having a picnic, eyes glazed with sleep-deprivation, while the men chatted. The subject of their conversation? Breast-feeding.

Man 1: 'How long has Fliss been breastfeeding for?'

Man 2: 'Oh, for 9 months, since the birth. We don't want to move to formula if we can help it.'

Man 1: 'When do you think you will stop?'

Man 2: 'Well, statistics show that the longer a child breastfeeds, the greater their immunity against common colds so we are planning to wait until Titan reaches at least two years of age.'

See if you can spot at least TWO things wrong with this conversation.

The first? The use of the word 'we' when referring to breastfeeding. Does Man 2 slather cream onto cracked nipples? No. Does he have to suffer the embarrassment of straying breast pads? No. So where does the 'we' come in here? It's like the breasts have become some kind of joint venture - the property of both mother and father (and of course baby).

The second weird thing? That men are talking about breastfeeding and its benefits while the women zone out. Why are they doing this? What's wrong with football and Formula 1 (not Formula milk)?

It's becoming creepy. Women need to take their breasts back, and men need to find their cojones. There's too much oestrogen as it is in the water supply.

Friday, 4 November 2011

Now I know why it's called cross-stitch! Damn!

I am going to plagiarise myself here. A while back I created a blog called Little Ms Funshine in an attempt to write about the brighter side of life, to foster happiness and positivity. But basically I'm a bit of a grumpy bugger at heart so I didn't manage many entries. The good news on this (see, I am trying to find a silver lining) is that I can plunder a few of the posts and use them here. I hope you enjoy this gem...

Now I know why it's called cross stitch!
From http://walyou.com/img/cross-stitch-quilt-pacman-characters.jpg
Today is a more personal blog, coming from my own life. Hell, why not?

It all started with my mum and her upbringing. This was back in the 1940s, where a shorthand and typing course and knowledge in the domestic arts of cooking, sewing, knitting, etc were de rigeur. After all, she was told, she was going to meet a nice man who would marry her and look after her. Academic pursuits were not encouraged, despite her affinity with German and Latin, and languages in general, so she abandoned the idea of studying at university.

When she had me, in the bra-burning 1970s (she never burnt her bra but did go without one) she was determined to encourage my academic side so I could go out and get a good job and stand on my own two feet. I wouldn't be beholden to a man for security - financial or otherwise. So I read books, studied hard and got into Oxford University without lengthy sewing or cookery lessons (in fact, in school home economics, my attempts were often held up as what not to do). But I have no doubt that this freedom to concentrate on my studies was what got me a much-coveted place at the famous uni.

The only thing was ... at Oxford, the girls, apart from being much more intelligent than I was, could make clothes, bake cakes and probably were adept in the art of flower arranging to boot. I suddenly felt inferior. I couldn't even sew on a button. And I remember hiding a birthday cake I had baked for my boyfriend because I'd used the wrong type of sugar and it had come out looking like a flapjack. One of his female friends - graduated with a first too, so a really smart cookie - turned up with a magnificent layer cake that everyone cooed over, while my attempt was quietly and secretly stashed in the bin.

I'd go through these phases of guilt and anger over my status as an undomestic goddess but I never did anything about them. Living on my own helped me learn to cook and I can do OK (though I usually burn shop-bought desserts and my cakes never rise). My mum would occasionally pull my leg about my hopelessness with a needle but I'd say 'So why didn't you teach me?'

The final straw came when I had my daughter. When something needed mending she soon learnt that daddy was the sewer AND knitter in the family. Problem was she started telling the world this. Mothers smothered laughs when she said 'My daddy will fix this. He can sew. Mummy can't.' Again these were women who were fantastic in all areas so I had no excuse. I had to learn.

Two weekends ago my mum sat me down and taught me a running stitch. I did a few practices with it and it worked. I was delighted! She advised that I got one of those sewing magazines with freebies to keep on practising, using easy projects to experiment with. So I bought a copy of Cross Stitcher magazine, and brought it home enthusiastically to attempt to make a mini-mirror case.

I opened it up and saw to my horror that it had no detailed instructions on how to actually create this thing. And that a running stitch was only used in one small area. The rest required cross stitches, blanket stitches, French knots and backward stitches, none of which I knew how to do. And actually, I must admit, I didn't realise I was supposed to do all these different types until my husband examined the little birdie I'd desperately tried to stitch on the front and remarked 'So you decided not to use the cross stitch there then?'

'Cross stitch? Was I supposed to?'

'Er, yes. That's why it's called Cross Stitch magazine.'

So in my middle age, my brain is losing its ability too. Mon dieu.

All I can say is thank you to You Tube and other sources of video information. I managed to find short films on how to do the other stitches and have completed the project! OK, I have lots of holes in my fingers, a slightly frayed temper (cross stitcher - that's me!), and the end result looks like something my eight-year-old daughter would produce but it's done.

I feel happy. It's not validated me as a woman really but at least I have an idea how to mend a hem and my daughter is proud of me trying to learn something new. She doesn't have to be embarrassed when the teacher asks them to get their mums to help with sewing anymore. But maybe what she's also learning - in this third generation of women in my family - is that you can sew, knit and be your own woman. That's got to be a great message to carry.