joni

My ten-month-old (as of tomorrow) baby is officially mobile. She’s learned to crawl and although she tends to give up quite quickly, becoming distracted by a piece of fluff rather than exerting herself and retrieving the fun toys that i’ve grabbed to lure her, she occasionly moves quite fast. Like in the bathroom earlier, when she spotted a toilet roll and lurched across the (albeit one-metre-squared) floorspace to unravel it before I could stop her. And so another chapter begins. No more axes (for wood-chopping) on the sitting room floor, the wood burner needs a guard, the Nurofen on my bedside table will be promoted to the ‘medical box’. (This is the first medical box i’ve ever had. Becoming a mum made me feel as if I should up my game in this department.)

I knew that Joni would crawl – a friend brought round his ‘cage’ a few months ago for this eventuality – but I didn’t realise how exciting it would be to watch her becoming increasingly independent. People photograph the first smile, film the first steps and record first words but there are other little milestones that I hadn’t – pre-Joni – given any thought to. And they matter too. Well, to immediate family and very generous friends they do, anyway. These are them… 

Rolling over 

This is a big deal in the baby world. Newborns spend their days being cradled or lying on their backs but then suddenly they learn to flip their little bodies over, ending up in a yogic seal pose: arched back; big eyes beaming up at you. It’s something of a triumph. For you both. 

First murmurs 

First words are wonderful but long before that happens the baby goes from a nearly non-verbal being to one who makes sweet cooing sounds, as if she’s singing. Until now, crying has been the only sound they’ve made so this is literally music to your ears. 

First time they reach for an object

We naively attached a brightly-coloured mobile to Joni’s car seat when she was a few days old. We thought she might like to play with it while we drove – alas, she wasn’t in the slightest bit interested, as all she wanted was to do was cry as loudly as possible until she was no longer in the car. But one day, she reached for the dragonfly dangling above her and started to find it fun. Watching her interact with a toy was very sweet. And an end to the constant crying was pretty sweet too. 

Holding a bottle 

Another distraction for car journeys was bottles of water or milk. But it meant me doing my ninja dive onto the back seat to feed her. So when she took it off me and began feeding herself I was both amazed and relieved. Another step towards independence. 

Sitting up 

After learning to roll over, babies learn to sit up. This changes your life immeasurably as they can now be dumped in the highchair, or popped on the floor anywhere; giving your arms and back a break. Joni seemed very pleased with herself when she learned this skill around Christmas.

So I guess the next recognised milestone is walking. But i’m looking forward to the little, less-acknowledged accomplishment that will precede it. Now excuse me while I grab Joni’s ankles to stop her from crawling out the front door.      

During pregnancy I relished the weekly emails I received from the NHS about the development of my baby. They were always spot-on; offering perfectly-timed information about both the baby and me. I also dipped into online forums for quick answers to any questions I had. But I avoided ‘how to’ books on pregnancy and parenting because I wanted to work it out for myself, at my own pace. 

Whenever i’ve had a practical question and haven’t wanted to go to the doctor or health visitor (which is always because I never want to go to either) i’ve gone to my mum. That’s probably why we started off feeding Joni puréed food rather than opting for the popular baby-led weaning. Basically, all the things I think my mum did really well for me when I was growing up, I want to repeat. 

For people who don’t have a network of mothers around them to answer their questions, ‘how to’ books (ie. how to breastfeed, sleep train – or not – co-sleep, feed your baby etc) may offer some reassurance. But I can’t help but wonder if – on the whole – they actually confuse, rather than help, new parents. 

When using forums, mum-friends, our own mothers/ aunts/ sisters for advice, there will be a variety of ideas about everything but then you can pick and choose. In contrast, a ‘how to’ book suggests that there is only one way. It acts as a bible and the fact that it has been scribed by a ‘professional’ makes it seem more legitimate, so people are being led to believe that these pages can actually transform them from a tired, emotional, confused, scared parent into a sleeping, head-strong, fearless parent with a clear vision. 

I may only be nine months into this parenting game but one thing I know for sure is that no parent feels that way all the time. What’s more, how can the author of a book offer you sage advice for rearing a baby s/he has likely never met? Your mum’s met your baby. And your friends have too. So when Joni, aged five and a half months, was up feeding for two hours during the night and my parents wondered if she was hungry for something more filling than breastmilk, they were looking at me and Joni and making a sensible suggestion. They waited for me to ask, which is important – ‘cos I don’t know any new mum who wants unsolicited advice – and then jumped at the chance to tell me that she was probably ready for proppa grub.

We mashed up some veg, gave it to her, she spat it out, we tried again the next day and eventually she started gobbling it down. She also stopped waking for those epic night feeds. Then we started to introduce lumps and to give her pieces of banana to feed herself. She loves it. So feeding = tick. With no book consulted. 

Next came sleeping. We wanted to be able to get Joni off without me nursing her to sleep (ie. feeding her from my breast until she dropped off into a milk-induced-coma) and to sleep through. This is where the books really fuck with your head. I know this because at 4am one morning, I ordered one from Amazon. I was desperate for sleep. Sleep book sales must peak at ungodly hours as blurry-eyed, sleep-deprived parents decide they can no longer cope and will pay for any help they can get. Only, it’s not help. Because it’s talking about a baby that doesn’t exist, or belongs to the author, or a sleep clinic trial – and how that baby learned to sleep.

So I read a few pages of this book, freaked out that Joni’s naps were all at the wrong time, decided that I was terribly disorganised and failing at motherhood and stopped reading. Then I realised that the book was the failure, not me. I talked to Rich and we decided to try our own techniques – after all, we know Joni better than anyone else. We soon found our own solution. She now gets herself to sleep and stays in her cot from 7pm until 7am. This might change, but we’ve had about four delightful months of it and can now cope with unsettled periods, as and when they arise, with the knowledge that all babies eventually get themselves to sleep and sleep through. Joni has done it before, she can do it again. You don’t need a book to tell you that. 

The ‘how to’ books instil fear and then offer solace. So the author might (as was the case with the one I read) say that your baby will never sleep through the night if they aren’t napping properly. That means three naps, at the same time each day, in the cot. Not in the buggy, or your arms, or the car. So if you stay in all day, everyday – and DO NOT nurse your baby to sleep, or leave them to cry – they’ll nap perfectly and then sleep through the night. Except that’s not telling me how to get my baby to sleep. The author can’t tell me that because there’s no one secret solution. It’s all trial and error. I walked for miles to get Joni off in the buggy, delighted when she snoozed in the car and used my breast to send her off every night. Until one night when I put her down awake and she went off in her own so I knew she could do it. Since then, she’s had her boob/ bath/ book routine and gone to bed awake, had a moan then dropped off. It comes with age (of baby), patience and not listening to the ‘experts’. But mostly, it comes from using your intuition and instinct – those invaluable things all parents have but that we’re taught, by the ‘gurus’, to ignore. 

I recently had a weaning conundrum. I have no idea how much milk Joni drinks each day so couldn’t work out how much formula she’ll need when I ease off breastfeeding. Google couldn’t give me a satisfactory answer to my simple – but important – question so I emailed a wise mother of two little ones whose advice I know I can trust. She instantly replied with the exact info I was after: follow-on milk, three small bottles a day – and with no ambiguity or judgement. Other mothers are a most valuable resource.

And lastly, my latest problem: Joni biting me when she breastfeeds. I read that your baby might bite you once but your reaction will be so strong that they’ll never do it again. Only, that’s not true. Joni bites me all the time when she’s teething. It isn’t excruciating but i’d prefer if it wasn’t happening. As this dilemma is relatively new, i’m yet to find a solution so answers on a postcard, please. But just don’t point me toward a bloody book.

Wendy Cope: After the Lunch

For anyone who has fallen in love in London – skipped through Covent Garden’s cobbled streets, run across Waterloo Bridge hand-in-hand, spent evenings getting drunk on wine in the candlelit basement of Gordon’s Wine Bar – this may resonate.

AFTER THE LUNCH

On Waterloo Bridge where we said our goodbyes,
the weather conditions bring tears to my eyes.
I wipe them away with a black woolly glove
And try not to notice I’ve fallen in love.

On Waterloo Bridge I am trying to think:
This is nothing. you’re high on the charm and the drink.
But the juke-box inside me is playing a song
That says something different. And when was it wrong?

On Waterloo Bridge with the wind in my hair
I am tempted to skip. You’re a fool. I don’t care.
The head does its best but the heart is the boss.
I admit it before I am halfway across.

Wendy Cope

No More Nipples on Page 3

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So, it seems Lucy-Anne Holmes’ ‘No More Page 3′ campaign has at last paid off – following three years of activism and 200,000+ signatures on the petition. The Sun, with its new feminist; women-loving hat on, has stopped printing images of topless babes on page three. They are instead printing a daily image of a woman in her underwear. Hurrah? Not quite.

However, Holmes’ hard work deserves recognition and this – albeit small – step should be celebrated as one that’s at least moving in the right direction. If a little step like this could be taken in other areas of sexual inequality it might look like this:

- The gender pay gap reducing from 19.7% to 10%, so that women earn £90 for every £100 earned by a man, rather than £80.30. For doing EXACTLY THE SAME JOB.

- Adopting the Swedish prostitution laws so that punters, not sex workers, are criminalised. Currently in the UK women can sell their bodies legally; the only illegal aspect is brothels, pimps and soliciting. It wouldn’t make prostitution illegal per se but it would shift society’s attitude from denigrating the prostitute to questioning the john.

- According to Women’s Aid, one incident of domestic violence is reported to the police every minute. So a baby-step forward might mean one report every two minutes. That would mean the suffering had halved – 720 women a day, rather than 1440. Or 262974.383 a year, rather than twice that very big number.

- Currently just over one in five Members of Parliament are women. Let’s work towards making this two in five initially, and eventually it might even go up to 2.5 in five. That would be half. Or, as there are slightly more women in the UK than men, maybe three in five would make it a more equal representation.

Who knows, maybe one day The Sun will stop posting images of scantily-clad women entirely. They may even post stories about women’s intellectual achievements. But it’s unlikely. So instead, let’s work on educating people – young and old – about the benefits and importance of sexual equality. That will lead to people becoming less tolerant of objectification, exploitation and all other forms of repression. And then they might just stop reading The Sun altogether. And that would deserve a ‘hurrah!’.

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Pop artist Allen Jones graduated from the Royal Academy in the 60s, along with Hockney and Patrick Caulfield, and has now returned for a retrospective – displaying his painting, sculptures and those ridiculous pieces of sculpted furniture that he claims are not sexist.

If his work is about so much more than just these sculptures, as Richard Dorment suggests in this article, why did the curator – Edith Devaney – decide to whack two of them in Room 1, so that the first view visitors have of Jones’s work is two female figures, bent over, arse cheeks parted, with a pane of glass on their backs acting as a table top?

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Both clad in lace-up knee high boots; one donning a lycra gimp suit and the other a corset, the female models have fake tits, peachy arses and tiny waists. Just like the women depicted in every other sculpture and painting in this exhibition. It’s not so much that I have a problem with the female form being presented in this way, it’s more the fact the Jones claims to be a feminist.

He defends his decision to dress the women like this by explaining that everyday clothes might have made them look like mannequins (because all us wimmin walking around in normal clothes are basically a bunch of walking mannequins, durrr.) Fetish clothing, on the other hand, ‘achieved his aim of accentuating the shape of the body’. Oh yes, of course! Now it makes sense.

I wonder why Jones also chooses to dress the female figures in his paintings and photographs in such a limited wardrobe of clothes and shoes – always painfully high heels, often in tight-fitting; restrictive materials and suspenders, sometimes actually trapped in a cast, like in this famous image of Kate Moss:

kate moss

Maybe it’s because he’s concerned that otherwise they might wind up looking like mannequins too?

A stab in the dark here. Perhaps despite his best efforts to persuade us otherwise, Jones is actually a sexist, misogynist artist who is desperate to provoke a reaction from the same people he is portraying as nothing more than objects: women. But he continues to defend his work, assuming that us walking mannequins won’t pipe up because our brains are made of fibreglass.

Another room displays a series of sculptures showing the curves of a woman and man as they dance together. It’s as if they blur into one; she becomes his to lead wherever and however he pleases. This is also apparent in his painting Sin-Derella, where the man’s belt is wrapped around both bodies; trapping the woman he is dancing with. Her leg pushes between his, seductively, because Jones sees women as inherently seductive and provocative, but the man still owns her body. Jones has taken the innocent fairytale slave Cinderella and made her a sinner:

sin-derella

It’s always inspiring to walk around an art exhibition that elicits such a strong reaction, as it gives you the opportunity to readdress your values and understanding of people, art and the relationship between the two. So i’m grateful for that. But when men pretend their art is presenting an existing social construct rather than being outright sexist, I do get a little peeved.

Mastitis: a pain in the tits

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Minutes after Joni was born she managed to locate my nipple and latch on for her first milk feed. She was a hungry baby and breastfeeding got off to a good start. Bar the usual early niggles (sore nipples, baby needing constant feeding), Joni took to it well and so did I. Then on about week three, a friend mentioned this infection called mastitis. She told me that when her son was a tiny baby she began to feel unwell, developed a fever and flu-like symptoms (achey, knackered) and had to go to bed. It was to do with a blocked milk duct. Gosh, that sounds terrible, I said.

A few days later I was having a lovely picnic with my mum and sister in Epping Forest. We sat on a rug in dappled shade cooing over Joni. When my back started to ache, unbearably, I put it down to carrying around a heavy baby. But when my right boob also started aching, I felt sick and left my dinner untouched so that I could go to bed, a little bell rang. I spent the night sweating and shivering, and the following morning at the emergency doctor’s surgery, waiting for three hours until they prescribed me antibiotics. I was worried about taking them, as I thought it might interfere with breastfeeding – which was now painful as it was inflamed from the mastitis – but the doctor said it wouldn’t clear up on its own.

I spent the next few days feeling like shit – trying to celebrate my birthday belatedly, as i’d spent it in labour. And then the infection left my breast and I was fine. (Antibiotics didn’t interfere with breastfeeding).

Around six weeks post partum, I got back into running. I left Joni with my mum and dashed around the park, feeling elated as endorphins rushed through my body. I waited a day then ran again – about two miles. But the next day I felt a familiar aching and tiredness. My boob hurt. Mastitis was back. I panicked, tried to get a doctor’s appointment but couldn’t and decided to treat it myself. A combination of cabbage leaves in my bra, hot compresses, baths, loads of rest and plenty of water cured it.

A couple of weeks later I began running again. A few days later mastitis returned. And this pattern repeated three more times until I (begrudgingly) stopped running. I found that running helped when I’d had a bad night’s sleep; the cold morning air woke me up and raising my heartbeat filled me with energy – but it wasn’t worth risking illness. My body was clearly saying: slow down, you’ve just given birth and you’re still breastfeeding a big baby on demand. I had tried three different sports bras but it didn’t make a difference. I also expressed before heading out. Apparently, it can be the arm motion blocking the ducts – but mostly, it’s the body rejecting over-exertion.

An unhelpful NCT breastfeeding counsellor sat watching me breastfeed when Joni was about five weeks old and our group met up. After hearing i’d had mastitis, she told me the latch wasn’t right, ie. I wasn’t feeding Joni properly. I told her i’d had three midwives check and they all thought it was fine. She then changed her mind and said it was good. I remember feeling pissed off that she was sat watching and judging me – new mums can be very self-conscious in those early weeks – and also that she had got it wrong. It didn’t feel helpful, it felt intrusive. The latch was fine – the mastitis was down to trying to do far too much too soon (exercise, cleaning the house, lifting heavy things).

And i’m writing this post for three reasons. 1. So that anyone reading who is breastfeeding and begins to feel the beginnings of mastitis will know what’s happening to them. 2. Because it’s so important to rest and recuperate after giving birth. Some women get back in to running but i’d say start really slowly and stop if your body isn’t coping and 3. because rather than taking antibiotics, which isn’t ideal for mum or baby, it’s possible to cure blocked ducts and mastitis naturally. Feed through it (it won’t hurt for long), stick cold cabbage leaves in your bra (Savoy is best, not sure why – but it worked for me), use hot compresses (a flannel soaked in hot water pressed against your breast, or a hot water bottle), drink loads of water and chill the fuck out. The last instruction is the most important. But if it’s not clearing up after this, best to check with the doctor because i’m not one.

I hope someone else can learn from my mistakes. And happy breastfeeding – it’s such a beautiful way to bond with your baby, even if it does take a while to get into the swing of it.

green party

Growing up, we had ‘Vote Labour’ posters blu-tacked to the sitting room window, so i’ve always known that to be my parents’ political party of choice. When I was of voting age and the general elections came round I decided that I would also vote Labour. Mostly because I thought my views were probably in line with my folks’. I didn’t read up on any policies.

Then I went to university and became very interested in feminism. This made me look at the parties from a female stance – but I wasn’t yet affected by unequal pay, or fewer women in boardrooms (well, so I thought). I cared about women in crisis – victims of domestic violence, rape survivors, those seeking abortions – and Labour seemed to be looking out for these women. This became particularly apparent when the coalition government was elected and funding that the Labour party had allocated to these services was cut so brutally. See here and here.

Just prior to the 2010 General Election, I went up to Cardiff to canvas with a friend’s mum who was running for MP. I think we successfully turned a few voters back to Labour, who’d been influenced by the Sun switching its allegiance from red to blue. We also went to her fundraising dinner and sat with Ed Miliband, who I liked a lot. I felt comfortable with Labour.

And then I had a conversation with my sister who’s a supporter of the Green Party and keen to recruit new members. She asked why I vote Labour and I told her it was because women’s rights and sexual equality were my biggest concerns and that I feel Labour tackles these issues in the right way. She told me she votes Green because she’s worried about the future of the planet and feels this is best dealt with by the Green Party. We concluded that i’m more concerned about the present and she’s more concerned about the future. But I also explained that sexual equality would improve the economy and reduce poverty, as well as meaning greater access to education – and this would all work towards a more environmentally-savvy society.

Anyway. After our conversation I started looking in to Green Party policies on women and was pleased with what I read here. I like their stance on access to abortion, funding for rape crisis centres and domestic violence centres and equal pay.

I also know how important it is to protect our planet and lead more environmentally-friendly lives but I wonder if, like me, too many people are put off by the name? ‘Green Party’ says to me: we care about the environment above all. It’s an issue that needs to continue to be addressed but – for me – it’s not the most pressing issue. I wonder if families living in poverty will see this as the biggest, most immediate priority? Although living a greener life is, in some respects, the cheaper way to live: reduce energy consumption in the home, travel by foot or bike, eat organic vegetables instead of meat, shop locally – when you can’t afford food, clothes or to heat your house, being kind to the planet might not be of paramount importance.

Another problem is that the green debate is often inaccessible and intellectual, so lots of people are left out. This leaves them unaware of what’s happening to the planet and where we’re headed if we don’t take better care of it. I know that schools teach children about caring for the planet, recycling, where our food comes from, healthy eating – and that’s great – but they aren’t voting. Yet. And so it’s the adults who need to be taught.

Articles like this one, which asks Russell Brand to reconsider his suggestion that we should all abstain from voting, as his ‘revolutionary’ ideas are actually encompassed in Green Party policies, do a lot of good for the greens. It highlights a load of the issues that you don’t otherwise hear much about (I don’t, anyway). So this could sway some voters – and it’s once they’ve been won over that they can start learning about the environmental side of things. That should come second. Because, in my opinion, the present needs to be improved before we can start working on a greener future.

My little ball of wool

I am the needle, with you as my thread;
separate beings but where I go, you’re led.
In those early days, when you were curled up small,
i’d wrap you up in blankets, or muslin to keep you cool.
You were complex and compact, like tightly wound yarn,
and each cry required fixing, so I learned to darn.
We were bonded – and bonding – every waking hour;
you’d wail for my body when I was in the shower
and you’d yearn for my milk as I closed my eyes to sleep
but when nestled near my breast, I wouldn’t hear a peep.
You could say we’re in a bubble – but it’s more a ball of wool
that will slowly be unravelled: you’re the thread and I’m your spool.
I will guide you like a needle, keep you grounded like a bobbin,
let you run, explore, be free –
but keep you safe and bound to me.

by Annie Ridout