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Archive for the ‘0-5s’ Category

It’s a girl thing?

My not quite 5 year old daughter has very excitedly gone on her first ever trip to the cinema this afternoon, to see the new Disney film “The Princess and the Frog”. Apparently it is notable for having a black heroine (although surely Mulan, Pocahontas and Jasmine are far from white). But living in multicultural London, my daughter is oblivious to such things and is much more interested in the plot. It’s the typical Disney thing – girl meets boy (or frog), they overcome the baddies, get married, she becomes a princess and they live happily ever after.

When I ask my daughter what she wants to do when she grows up, she tells me “get married”, “be a mummy” or “be a princess”. When her girl friends come over to visit, they always immediately dive into the dressing up box, pull out the frilliest costumes they can find, ignoring the doctor, police officer and builder outfits and embark on elaborate imaginative games involving weddings, princesses, fairies and babies. One guest was horrified to see pirate-themed Playmobil toys in her bedroom, exclaiming “Why have you got those? Pirates are for boys!” I’m proud that she responded that pirates are for everyone, not just boys. But just the other day she asked me to buy her some lipstick, claiming that all her friends have it, and threw a diva-like strop when I refused.

It wasn’t like this back in my day. Toy shops like the Early Learning Centre didn’t produce everything in blue and pink versions. We didn’t need Lego to be pink for us to play with it. And we aspired to more than becoming a footballer’s wife or girl band star. What happened?

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Purely anecdotal, of course, but my experience is not this. Instead I find that in the process of trying to tempt my granddaughter with tasty morsels most of them end up in my mouth.

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8 boys wanting a girl

Last night I watched “8 boys wanting a girl”, as a mum of 3 boys followed by a girl I thought perhaps the programme might carry thoughts I would resonate with and it did, but very few. How can any mother knowingly destroy perfectly healthy male embryos just because they aren’t female? I found this even harder to bear knowing she had four beautiful boys already, knowing that those 5 unwanted male embryos could have turned into wonderful, individual little beings – just like her sons, just like my sons, if given a chance. What is so different here to terminating a pregnancy at 12 weeks because the foetus is male? it all leaves a very sour taste in my mouth.

Then there was the mum of four boys pregnant with her fifth baby after attempting naturally. This lady I did feel empathy for. Growing up I had always presumed I would have a little girl. I am an only child and had a very close relationship with my mother, I always assumed I would have that bond with my own daughter one day, an assumption that was fuelled by the loss of my mother when I was only 21. I was and am still, very feminine and as a child adored playing with dolls – all female (my favourite I name Jennifer). Of course I would have a girl someday. I had spent years rehearsing for her arrival.

When that “someday” came I went mad and purchased a bag full of girl’s clothing, I truly hadn’t even considered the fact I might have a boy. At 20wks we asked at our ultrasound. “It’s a boy”. “”what did you say?”, I didn’t think I had heard correctly. Sure enough, there he was, my son, in all his full spread eagle turtle glory. I didn’t feel sad, more shocked – this wasn’t the plan! where was my baby Jennifer? what would I do with a BOY?! 22wks later he arrived and it was love at first sight. The only time my heart twanged for Jennifer was when the latest Mini Boden catalogue landed on my doormat. Boy’s clothing is so unattractive. I lusted after stripey tights and Mary Janes.

16 months later my second bundle arrived, another boy, just as gorgeous as the first and that’s when the comments started, mostly from friends and family with new “pigeon pair” families, they thought they were clever for having “one of each” and commented “I’ll bet you’ll go for a third, we’re stopping at two now we have the perfect family, a boy and a girl” with a gloating smile.

We did indeed try to conceive again – we always planned a large family. I have to confess to a brief dalliance with Chinese lunar calendars and reading up on the Shettles method. I spent a good proportion of my third pregnancy daydreaming of a perfect pink Cath Kidston nursery only my daydream baby turned out to have testicles, the first thing I touched after “catching” my son underwater with my own hands after the most beautiful home waterbirth. I spent the next few days on a high in babymoon bliss, head over heels in love with my new blue bundle and then the comments started in earnest, cards arrived with “better luck next time” “another boy – wow so much testosterone, poor you”. My new son received hardly any gifts, being another boy he didn’t seem worthy I guess. My elderly aunt even commented when I was pregnant “if you have a girl I’ll buy her a pretty dress”, baby boy number 3 arrived and she didn’t even send a card.

Now, for those of you reading who have less than three of the same gender you really have no idea what it is like to be on the constant receiving end of sympathy from strangers, the constant implication that your all blue team is inferior to a mixed, perfectly blended one. I defy any mother in this situation to not develop a twinge, a tug on her heartstrings when you hear of yet another “perfect pigeon pair” new baby arriving. Whilst I cannot and do not agree with PGD or the extreme feelings I saw in this documentary I will defy any of you with less than three of a kind to comment negatively having never walked in the shoes of a single gender mum. For some reason there seems to be a gulf of difference between just two of one gender and then three.

Eighteen months later we conceived our fourth child. The comments started immediately, I felt that if I did produce a fourth boy I would receive commiserations from everyone rather than congratulations. Upon learning that I was carrying a girl I decided to not share with anyone, mostly because I couldn’t handle the “well done, you must be so happy” comments I knew we would receive. Each one of those comments felt like a knock to my beautiful boys, somehow implying they weren’t good enough. I found myself fiercely protective of my boys and told the world I wanted another boy as mine were so beautiful. So when my daughter arrived – a girl after three boys, I could finally say “my daughter”. But it didn’t feel any better than saying “my son”. I much prefer to dress her in blue or yellow than pink and she hates wearing dresses. She is the biggest tomboy, loves Star Wars, Ben 10, climbing, lego, picking her nose. She is fiercely independent, will never hold my hand, doesn’t like hugs and would rather play with her brother’s action men than Barbies with me, certainly not the rose tinted mother/daughter relationship I expected or longed for when I just had boys. In years to come it is more likely to be one of my cuddly boys who takes me shopping or invites me to take a central role in their wedding preparations.

I just wish the women in the documentary could really see what they have already, how lucky they are, but maybe I am writing this with the benefit of hindsight. How must their sons feel knowing “mummy wants a girl?” or heaven forbid in years time they watch the documentary knowing they are only here because “mummy wanted one last try for a girl – I didn’t want 5 children” I wish they could give up on their dream of a girl, because that’s all it is really…..a dream…and we all know the reality is usually very different. They want the fantasy, the pink, the tutus….I don’t blame them, I did too, but that’s not the way it is and I blame society, I blame the stupid preconception held that the perfect family is “one of each”, because my perfect family is the one I have, MY children, each one of them special and unique, regardless of their x or y chromosomes. Hopefully one day the ladies on the programme will realise that too.

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When I had my first (and last) child three years ago, Lord Blahblah skipped off on paternity leave when I was admitted to hospital to be induced on Wednesday morning (he may or may not have harboured dreams of writing his first novel, a week-long bender wetting the baby’s head and 14 hours sleep a night – none of which came to fruition). Unfortunately, my daughter inherited the famously tardy gene from both parents and didn’t actually put in an appearance until the Saturday. By then his Lordship had already used three days of his paternity leave.

I ended up in hospital until the next Tuesday, so we only really had one week of getting used to our new family structure. After a traumatic birth, I was hardly able to sit down never mind make myself lunch with a crying baby, when he went back to work after his allocated two weeks.

I was naturally panic stricken. Ordinarily, I’d have been barely able to look after myself with such limited mobility, and here I was with full responsibility for another human being who needed breastfeeding (ouch) all the time, hated being out of our arms and rarely slept for longer than half an hour. I had to brush my teeth, have a shower, make drinks, tidy the flat, keep on top of the washing the ‘real’ nappies (OK, so I quickly learnt to lower my standards, but this was what was going through my mind!) – this really wasn’t what I thought maternity leave would be like!

Obviously, we got through it all, and soon enough I was getting my teeth brushed and getting dressed before my husband came home at 6pm, but my memories of paternity leave are that it all goes by in a flash! So it was with some surprise that I read today that according the Working Families, four in ten men don’t take any paternity leave at all. But then of course, his Lordship works in the public sector and got full pay while he took his two week sabbatical. Statutory Paternity Pay is just £123.06 a week, which even if you’re earning minimum wage is a significant drop in income. Yes, having a baby is an expensive time, and you should be prepared financially, but it’s bad enough one of you having a huge drop in income without the other one (who could technically go to work) giving up some of his too.

Working Families are campaigning for employers to encourage fathers to take paternity leave and Harriet Harman is arguing that parents should be able to share maternity/paternity leave between them. I can’t help thinking of all the babies who are missing out at the moment on the chance to bond with both parents, and the fathers who aren’t given the chance to get their heads around the new addition before being expected to perform as usual at work. And then there’s the mother who may have had a difficult birth experience, be struggling with breastfeeding or keeping on top of sterilising bottles and the torturous lack of sleep and question if it’s any wonder so many of us end up with Post Natal Depression when we get so little support. I have no idea at all how women manage when they have one or more other children to deal with too…

Looking after babies may well have been ‘Women’s work’ back in the day when it was WOMEN looking after them, but most new mothers don’t have an army of grandmothers, siblings and friends coming round to cook meals, hold the screaming baby while you have a shower, give you a hug when you can’t get your baby to stop crying but have run out of ways to calm them down; we don’t have communities raising children anymore.

Parenting takes more than one person and babies and men deserve the right to bond – which takes much longer than two measly weeks. Come on government, put your money where your mouth is, and moany employer, just be glad the average family has just 1.8 children in the UK, surely you can fund this for the future generation?

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This morning the papers & broadcast news were full of reports that ‘Labour spending has failed to improve child health’ and that a wave of policies were not offering ‘value for money’.

I was interested to see on what grounds these claims were being made, and if it was a fair summary of the Audit Commission report. The Audit Commission are an independent body, who examine what goes on in local organisations – your local council, local NHS trust etc. In this report they looked at government policy, and how it was implemented, monitored and paid for, between 1999 and 2009. Behind the headlines, was a very dry, and not altogether transparent report. The report claims over £10 billion has been spent of services for 0 – 5s. Most of this money has gone into Sure Start – but some has paid for health visitors and children’s centres.

Sure-start has cost what sounds like a fortune (but let’s face it, £7billion over 10 years is chicken feed really)  and if you believed this document has made very little impact. It’s had no impact on obesity. Or on the number of fillings children have. But this document makes no reference to mental health (and anecdotally sure-start volunteers have made a huge difference to mothers I know). It also makes no reference to educational outcomes – which is one of the missions of the sure-start programme.

Of course, a major problem with a report of this type is that children, as we mums know too well, grow up. By focusing only on 0 – 5s, this report doesn’t look at the impact of early spending on health-outcomes as children grow. Money spent on sure-start that helps a three year old, may not have a measurable impact until they are six.

I’m amazed more hasn’t been made in the media of some hidden gems within this document. For example, lone parents, BME parents, and teenage parents all feel unable to access health services because of the judgemental nature of health professionals. This is a scandal – and I can assure you that white, middle-class, middle-aged, married mothers have their problems with judgemental health professionals too.

The real criticisms in the document, which are not as widely reported in the media, are that local authorities simply aren’t doing anything particularly about 0 – 5s. Most government policy covers 0 – 19s. And local authorities find it easy to monitor children when they enter school, and so don’t do very much with 0 – 5s.The report recommends using targeted interventions to improve the health of under 5s, and evaluation of the effectiveness of those interventions. The danger though surely is that we already find health professionals judgemental – so do we want them monitoring the health of our children in order to meet government targets?

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