A Belated New Year Post

17 Feb

I forgot to share my resolutions with anybody. As I usually share them with people and tumble off the wagon anyway, I’m not too worried. I’ve been doing well so far!

 

 

1. Follow WeightWatchers. I have been documenting my food intake religiously, and with the assistance of two bouts of winter vomiting (yay!) and a lot of running, I am 7.4 lbs down since new year. It’s slow, but it’s steady, and it feels manageable. I’ve also enjoyed some pretty awesome meals out, and at least four curries, so I’m certainly not being deprived.

 

 

2. Stick to the Jeff Galloway marathon training plan. I’ve been doing extremely well at this, having clocked up 66 running miles so far this year. The delightful stomach bugs have meant that I’ve skipped a few, but I’ve got back on course with relative ease. With only two more long runs to go before the Brighton Marathon, I’m really starting to feel like it’s real. On the day, I’m sure I’ll feel like a kid on the first day of school, not feeling like I should be there. I’ve never run with another person before, so I’m not really sure how that’s going to affect me. I know that I am slow (averaging a 17 minute mile on longer runs – don’t laugh!) so I don’t want to fall in line with someone else’s pace and then be exhausted by mile 3!

 

 

3. This one’s a little different, as it’s not as SMART as the other two. There’s no “you either are or you aren’t” about it. I’ve been figuring out the stuff that drags me back into the unhealthy rumination and dwelling upon things I simply cannot control. Racists and homophobes; Daily Mail comment threads; dimwits with no understanding of basic economics; masters of self-promotion; “the only way is my way” mothers and many members of the Republican Party.

 

The Serenity Prayer seems to sum it up – 

 

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

 

There’s just no use in getting stressed about things unless I’m going to get off my behind and do something to change them. And frankly, I don’t know what to do about them. I don’t really think words have the power to change anyone’s mind. Nor do statistics – we seem to accept the ones that confirm our beliefs and disregard those who don’t. The only think that can make a difference is experience combined with the employment of logic, and people who lack either of those things simply cannot hear.

 

I’ve taken a step back. I’ve unsubscribed from stuff that stresses me out. The TV remains off. I have to confess that it has been a delight. I have no problem with having my ideas challenged and taking the opportunity to learn, but I do not need to be preached at by people with an extremely narrow world-view. I’ve even become skeptical of journalists who appear to share my opinions, simply for the icky taste that reading any kind of one-sided article leaves. Are there no writers who explore both sides of an argument any more?

 

And if I need any help lowering my blood pressure, there’s always this little guy…

 

Image

 

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In Which Becca Discusses Boobs, Again

18 Dec

Breastfeeding – it’s a contentious topic, and rarely boils down to a simple choice of “breast or bottle?”. It’s an issue that can attract sneers; ultimate female bonding; and a good deal of humour. Here’s how it happened for us.

After Barney was born, I was just desperate to take him home, but needed to show that I could feed before I was allowed. The nurses just force your nipple into the baby’s mouth – a great way to encourage nipple rejection, but not particularly effective in encouraging feeding. Unfortunately, it seems to be a side effect of the government’s targets to increase the number of breastfed babies. Hmm… Someone needs to tell them about that!

Despite pursing his lips most of the time, he managed to get a 20 minute feed, and I manually expressed some milk and fed it to him using a syringe. We were free!

The first night, he was so quiet – we just figured he was exhausted from the ordeal of labour. We fed him small syringes of manually expressed colostrum and thought things were going fine. Then the midwife showed up for her surprise, unannounced check-up.

Unfortunately, my usual midwife had gone on holiday and the other one in the area came along. I’m sure that she’s a perfectly nice person, but I will always associate her with this time. She said that he was malnourished and dehydrated, and that the oh-so-cute hand shaking thing he was doing was actually a sign of low blood sugar.

Fuck. Talk about a punch in the throat. There are thousands of people who really shouldn’t have children, but who do. We became those people. We had failed to look after our baby. She said that if we didn’t get his weight up by the end of the week, he’d have to be readmitted. I felt so awful. We ended up heading to Tesco (eek!) to buy formula (double eek!). We broke out the bottles we had bought “just in case” and he started to feed like a dream. Poor, dear, hungry little boy. Thank God, by Friday he was just about in the safe weight zone.

I began pumping with the occasional-use electric Medela pump we had inherited from Patrick’s cousin’s wife, and feeding him using the bottle. I don’t remember very much about the frequency of my attempts at feeding, but every time I tried, he would either purse his lips and turn his head away or take it in his mouth and cause blinding pain from not being latched on correctly. I called the breastfeeding consultant from our antenatal classes, and the phrase “chocolate teapot” truly made sense to me. I almost feel like you shouldn’t be permitted to do that job unless you have been through some kind of personal connection to feeding issues. I felt like she had breastfed her own children perfectly easily, and then just taken a course on the issues. She wasn’t able to offer any advice except “keep trying”.

The breastpump simply wasn’t adequate for full time, and the morning after falling asleep while pumping and spilling milk all over one of the motors, I called my Dad. He had been waiting to hear what “new parent” gift to buy, and was slightly bemused but glad to learn that a good quality, daily-use breast pump would be extremely gratefully received. It certainly made the process more comfortable and efficient. I even treated myself to a Pumpease bra, so that I could easily work, do laundry, etc while pumping.

His feeding wasn’t perfect, and I still longed to breastfeed. The more I read and heard about tongue ties, the more it seemed to me that that was the problem. He dribbled his milk excessively from the bottle, he chewed me to pieces, and he suffered from trapped wind. I told the midwife, who said that she’d refer me to the tongue tie specialist. Nothing happened. I spoke to the doctor – still nothing. I attended the health visitor clinic in tears and she phoned the specialist then and there – he was seen the next day. This was early August by the time I was able to get the help I needed. The doctor was brilliant – the process was quick and easy – and like so many medical professionals I have spoken to, expressed her dismay at the bad science thrown around with regard to breastfeeding. She particularly noted that beyond the colostrum stage, there was very little additional benefit to the baby from breastfeeding, and that most of the statistics ignored the correlating factors that influence a person’s health, like parents smoking, later parenting choices and the baby being born with illnesses.

He latched on almost immediately after the procedure! It was incredible – I felt so happy and proud. Unfortunately, an ulcer formed on the snip site, and he began to chew my nipples again.

A few weeks after his tongue tie was snipped, I felt a blocked duct in the other breast. I began expressing religiously in order to clear it. I wound up with something pretty hideous – a nipple blister. It was truly one of those “how spectacular and yet gross is the human body?” moments. Thankfully, the qualities of breastmilk are such that anything awful that happens to your nipples heals itself pretty darn quickly.

We made the decision around this point that I would stop expressing. Barney had had only breast milk for the first three months of his life (except for those first days), and the time that I spent hooked up to a machine was time that I wasn’t cuddling and playing with him. We decided that I could be a “better mother” by feeding him formula and giving him those extra four hours a day of attention, face to face.

The lump didn’t shift. I was on the lookout for the next symptoms of mastitis – flu symptoms – but they didn’t come. I saw a nurse, who didn’t check me over, but gave me a course of antibiotics. Halfway through the course, Barney started latching on and feeding properly! It was a dream come true, but every time he punched me in the boob, I was in agony. A Friday night Google search led me to a site that compared blocked ducts, mastitis and breast abscesses, and all the detail pointed to the latter. We made the decision to go to A&E.

We were early enough to beat the Friday night drunks, so we were seen quickly. The doctor was blasé. He said that it was definitely an abscess, and that he would book me into see the surgical assessment team on Monday. He said that it would possibly burst, but that I could manage it with gauzes and dressings that he would give me to take away. I asked about scarring, and he said “well, none of us are going to be wearing bikinis any time soon”. In my hospital-induced befuddlement, I just took that. A more together me would have been furious! What right does he have to decide who needs to avoid scarring and who doesn’t? He then went to speak to the registrar, who told him to aspirate the abscess.

That was the single most painful experience of my life. I can only compare it to having an enormous, deep and painful spot being squeezed. I told Patrick not to look – I hated the idea of him seeing something so repulsive happening to his wife’s body! He didn’t listen, but thankfully as a proper grown-up, he can handle such things. I married extremely well.

I was then bandaged up and sent home until Monday. Over the weekend, it had refilled, and I saw someone at the emergency clinic. Unfortunately, he was a doctor, so he wasn’t particularly interested in cleaning me up or replacing my dressings. He reluctantly provided me with the things I needed, and just sat there as I changed them myself. I made what I now feel to be an error, and used an alcohol swab to clean the wound. More agony. I was thinking “disinfect”, when what I probably did was kill off more skin cells.

On Monday, I was taken to the breast centre, which is the most efficiently- and thoughtfully-run department I have ever encountered. They performed a scan to identify the depth of the abscess, and learnt that it was dumbbell-shaped – a pocket at the surface linked to a larger pocket of infection underneath. Because of this, it was necessary to operate under general anaesthetic to remove the abscess. The surgeon was female – I don’t know if that made a difference, but there was more of an understanding for my desire to preserve some aesthetic than there had been with the A&E doctor. It certainly shouldn’t be that way, but it was.

I stayed overnight, expressing to ensure that no further blockages arose. The wound, which was stitched up, opened. I haven’t encountered anything more scary than seeing a dark, open hole in my body. I am not a beautiful girl; certainly not bikini-ready, but the idea of looking like someone who has had botched plastic surgery was so upsetting. Once again, the breast clinic staff were incredible. The were reassuring and comforting, and I was referred to a tissue viability specialist, who confirmed that the cellulitis that had caused the surface damage was now clear. She worked out a programme involving surgical-grade honey and seaweed packing – and leaving the wound open – to try and minimise the damage. The reason that they left the wound open was so that any remnants of the infection (which had been thoroughly removed underneath) could get out. Apparently, this results in a smoother scar, while full closure could result in rippling of the stitch line. They also told me that I could come back to see a plastic surgeon if I felt unhappy with the scar.

My milk production had been hit hard by being ill and stressed – and, I should imagine, a section of breast tissue having died. I gradually began a process of building it up again. I couldn’t bear to go back to expressing. It wasn’t awful while I did it, but once I stopped, it became awful, if that makes sense.

Kellymom and just about every breastfeeding resource provides a good deal of advice on how to boost your supply. Pumping between feeds is one of them – something we had already decided was not beneficial to the family. Feeding regularly is another – this was something I was able to do during the day, but as Barney had started sleeping through the night from that Friday in A&E, it seemed absurd to wake him for a feed that had now seemed to become all about me and nothing about him.

Not supplementing with formula is a big rule of theirs. I will never understand how anyone who has tried this can – in their right non-prolactin-addled mind – recommend it. A hungry, crying baby is a soul-destroying thing, and to deny a baby food (yes, he’s at the breast, but nothing is coming out) just does not make sense, for the baby or for the rest of the family.

Over the course of a few weeks, I managed to get to the stage where I was feeding myself for 6/7 of the 8 feeds he had a day. I felt so proud – I was winning! – but I was exhausted. He was waking up two or three times in the night because he just wasn’t getting enough food during the day. He began to get more interested in his surroundings than feeding. The experts recommend feeding in a quiet space, but he seemed to be distracted by me more than anything. Some feeds would go “suck suck suck… Smile for ten seconds” on repeat. That was absolutely heart-melting, but not good for feeding. He would be hungry again thirty minutes later, but my boobs had been given the “no thanks, no milk needed here!” message and began to slow down.

It was at this stage I had a hormone-related brain fart. I convinced myself that I had just let pumping slip. I literally could not remember the reasons why we’d decided that I should stop! I became convinced that I was just lazy, that I couldn’t be bothered, and that my baby was going to die of cot death or some other formula-related risk, all because I was a shit mother.

I expressed my self-disgust at being so lazy to Patrick. He was flabbergasted! “Do you honestly not remember? We discussed it at length – we decided that him moving onto formula was the best thing so that you could spend more time with him! It was only after you discovered that he was latching on that you decided to try the breast again!” Oh. Right.

So, there we are. As of now, he is getting one breast feed in the mornings, and a couple in the day if the need arises – I’m engorged; he’s upset and needs comfort, etc. I know that this will result in my milk drying up, and I’m not quite ok with it. I don’t know if that’s because of the hormonal effect, or if it’s my crazy tendency to take mean things that people say online to heart, but I still feel like something has been stolen from me, or that I have thrown something away. I tried to explain it to Patrick – it’s like a vasectomy. I may know that it makes sense, but something important is gone, and once it’s gone, it won’t come back.

Essentially, my six-month-old son has had three months of pure breastmilk (minus days three to five). He had one and a half further months of 75% breastmilk. After that, he had at least two breastfeeds each day. By most people’s standards and the government’s tick-boxes, that’s a breastfed baby, and I believe that our care and attention have and will continue to minimise the risks that are associated with not being breastfed.

The majority of studies will agree with this – I am yet to see one that concludes that the “risks of formula feeding” (a misleading phrase used by every pro-breastfeeding website) are directly attributable to what is being fed. Most acknowledge that correlation does not mean causation, but every single pro-breastfeeding site still uses the statistics as if breastfeeding is some magical elixir that is solely responsible for the reduced incidences of SIDS, diabetes, gastro-intestinal disorders and obesity that breastfed babies encounter.

I hope to exclusively breastfeed any future children we might be lucky enough to have. I also hope to spread the word that just because something is natural does not mean that it is easy, and that you have to fight and stomp your feet to get the help that you need if you wish to continue. I support the work of the awesome community at Fearless Formula Feeder, who are all about helping families work out the best way to feed their babies. All any parent really wants is happy, healthy children, and it’s important that they are given the adequate support to try and make that happen.

Exactly*

18 Nov

I discovered a blog today, and I just had to share this one paragraph in particular of sheer awesomeness…

 

“Perhaps some people feel that those standing as candidates to represent us are only a limited selection, that everyone’s centered around a general acceptance of the way the world should be?  Well, that seems to be the guiding principle behind the Occupy protests, but within a democratic system, the proper way to secure change is to stand for election and get a popular mandate. Otherwise you are also just unelected, unrepresentative self-appointed people who believe you are right.”

 

*borrowing from A Practical Wedding 😉

Quotations – Inspired by Melie

2 Nov

This quotation has been bandied around a lot recently…

“You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.” ~ Steve Jobs
What utter nonsense. People with jobs that are repetitive, stinky, saddening or noisy… Do they love their work? I’m pretty sure I know the answer to that, having experienced a few. But does that make those jobs any less essential to the world? Of course not! To act as if those jobs and the people who do them are somehow less because they’re not the “funnest” ever is frankly offensive.

Not all of us are blessed with genius. We have to pick a job that is within our geographical, educational, physical and intellectual limits and derive satisfaction from a combination of the pay, the relationships we build with colleagues and associates, and the satisfaction that we have done a good job each day. And sure, a countdown until Christmas.

This is exactly the sort of crappy message that keeps people down. If you believe that you are meant to find a job that you “love”, then the pressure is so overwhelming for most people because it’s something that 99.9% of us will never achieve. So we give up. Or worse, we become contestants on X Factor.

Thanks, Melie 😉

 

Anyway, if only someone would pay me to research Walt Disney World trips…

 

Birth Story

11 Oct

I’m struggling to remember what it was like being pregnant, so I thought this had better get written before the rest of my brain slips away! Please be warned that while this is a positive story, I’m going to talk about things from the beginning that might not be for the squeamish. But if you’re a regular reader, you knew that already, right? There also might be some sensitive issues if you’re an expectant mum.

I knew that he was going to arrive early. People didn’t listen – Patrick even booked the two weeks of holiday he’d saved up for the fortnight after Barnaby’s due date. I had been three weeks early, and I was convinced that my first baby was going to be the same.

On Thursday, I had my usual check-up with the midwife planned. I’ve been really lucky – Clair is one of those people who is just so natural in her job – she makes you feel utterly reassured that everything you’re thinking and feeling is normal, and that you are strong enough to take on anything that can be thrown at you. She did the usual – measured the fundal height (the distance from the top of the bump to the pubic bone) to check the baby’s size, and had a good listen to his heartbeat.

The thing about pregnancy is that it’s a full-on assault on every part of your body. All kinds of weird things happen, and you’re waved away with “aah, it’ll be over once the baby has arrived”, after taking your blood pressure for the gazillionth time, of course. It’s a strange experience – everyone is reassuring and positive but not entirely helpful! The most bizarre experience was when Barney decided to stop kicking me for a day. The triage nurse told me to come straight in to the surgery, which of course terrified the life out of me. After a listen-in with a Doppler quickly revealed that he was just chilling out at the back of my abdomen, I apologised to the doctor for being *that* kind of mother. He responded with “no! Perfectly understandable if you’re worried there’s a dead baby inside you.” Um… Wha? Fair, but a little to the point.

Anyway, my random symptom of the day was, how do I put this? A little leakage. They warn you that some women think that their waters might have broken when really the extreme pressure on your pelvic floor is making you pee a little. Nice. Our NCT teacher said that was nonsense – that you can always tell the difference between wetting yourself and your waters breaking. So, I brought the matter up with the midwife, and she suggested that I see how it went, and go to the maternity ward if I continued to feel that my waters were leaking.

The next day, I can’t explain it, but I just felt that he was coming. I had a small list of essentials still to buy, and went out and bought them. That evening, we went to the maternity ward so that I could be checked out.

I was examined by a midwife, and she confirmed that my hind waters were indeed broken. I was keen to have as natural a birth as possible, and wanted to know the options available to me. I struggled to remember the BRAIN mnemonic taught to me by our NCT teacher – Benefits and Risks of the treatment offered; what Alternatives are available; what my Instincts were telling me, and what would happen if we did Nothing.

The registrar working that evening spoke, unfortunately, very broken English. She performed an ultrasound, and kept on referring to the “afterbirth” – a phrase we rarely use to describe the placenta before the baby is born. She told me that I was at risk of infection, and that I had to be induced. I asked her if there were any alternatives. She stared at me blankly and said that there was no alternative. I am usually a stronger person than this, but she honestly worried me into thinking that something terrible would happen if I did not go along with everything she was telling me to do.

The first stage of induction was a pessary containing the hormone prostaglandin. This is used to soften the cervix, and it was explained to me that this was in the hope that labour would start spontaneously. I was to have this pessary inserted, and if there was no development after 12 hours, another would be administered. If it were possible at that stage to break my waters fully, that would be the plan, and if not they would review the situation, with the possibility of a caesarean section should things not progress further.

This resulted in my first experience of gas and air. That stuff is incredible – it’s like being happy-drunk almost instantly. The feeling soon wore off. I had a series of long waits; no progress and – most memorably – a midwife who decided to tell me that the oxytocin drip, the next stage of the induction process, was incredibly painful. I got myself into a bit of a state at that stage – all my careful planning in my head about how I was going to avoid tearing by having a slow second stage was dashed. I spent late Saturday night in hysterical tears, convinced that I did not want the baby any more; that I just needed it out of me. I think the midwives who were working (Ms Helpful had since gone home) were a bit worried at that stage, as I was firmly stating that I would not be having the drip.

Sunday came, and what my family lovingly refers to as “Hospital Becca” had appeared. Please excuse my icky third person here, but Hospital Becca is insanely paranoid, borne out of too many “you’ll go home tomorrow” hospital situations, and convinced that the staff are conspiring to keep her there indefinitely. I was certain that I would be stuck there for three weeks, like my Granny had been when waiting to give birth to my uncle, 30-odd years ago. Sunday night brought more waiting, and one of my ward-mates went into unattended, established labour in the ward – it was more than ten minutes before we found someone who could help her.

Being told that you can’t go home because you need to be monitored, and then not seeing anyone for nine hours tipped me over – I rang Patrick and told him that I was coming home. I then proceeded to walk the hallways of the hospital for the next couple of hours. Stopping into the chaplaincy brought me back to earth with a bump. They have a book of remembrance on display, and seeing so many birth dates and dates of passing only days apart was a proverbial slap – stop whining and be grateful that you are healthy. I didn’t realise until the next day, but Patrick drove to the hospital and slept in the car park that night.

I managed to chill out and get some sleep. I had been placed on a waiting list to have my waters broken, but women who were in labour kept on coming in and needing the rooms (the bastards!), so I kept waiting. Patrick came in to visit, and as we were laughing at this video … Whoosh! Oh yeah, there’s a big difference between peeing and waters breaking! Thankfully, this moved me quickly into a delivery suite, where contractions quickly started. Because they had started to induce me, they wanted to keep monitoring the baby. My plan to stay upright as much as possible so that gravity could help baby come out? Out the window.

I started with gas and air, hoping that would be plenty, but with an open mind to more pain relief if required. After a few hours of contractions, the midwife kept saying that she would have to start me on the oxytocin drip soon, because the contractions were not strong enough. As she said this, I began to think that while I felt ok, if they got much stronger I’d definitely need an epidural. I changed into a hospital gown, and had to quench my thirst with swills of water – no swallowing. The anaesthetist was really old-school – fifty-something, super well-spoken and unbelievably laid-back. I don’t remember exactly how, but it didn’t work the first time. The contractions became stronger, and I started to struggle. The anaesthetist was called back and fixed things. I remember thinking that he needed to be immensely rewarded in some way, and said “take his name!” Patrick was worried that I was planning an official complaint! I guess I can sound a little scary when grunting like a warthog.

As soon as the epidural was in place, the midwife examined me and discovered that I was almost fully-dilated and ready to start pushing. I didn’t know before, but the pain relief is actually meant to be there for the first stage of labour, and so I had managed to get through almost all of that stage with simply gas and air. Plenty of women manage to do this with nothing at all, but for me, it felt like a mini triumph.

Pushing went on, and on, and on. The baby was being monitored using a device on the top of his head, so Patrick could see the end of this device as I pushed, but when I stopped, it would disappear again. The level of anaesthesia was perfect – I felt no pain, but I could feel what was going on and knew when to push. After a couple of hours, they called in a doctor to examine me, and established that the baby was not progressing any further. The decision was made to use a ventouse to help him out – a suction cap that attaches to the baby’s head. While it still involves an episiotomy – a small cut to the perineum to help avoid tearing – it definitely felt like a preferable option to forceps.

This was the point at which the epidural was the greatest gift – the episiotomy and the final pushes were painless, and my beautiful little boy was born. Immediately, they saw the reason that he had got stuck – the umbilical cord was wrapped twice around his neck. Seeing him so grey and so still was extremely upsetting for Patrick, but for some reason I felt that everything was ok. They checked him over, weighed him and brought him back to me, and I had my perfect son laid upon my chest, ready to feed for the first time.

I have mixed feelings about the birth experience. On the one hand, I am utterly grateful for how smoothly it went, that I didn’t have any scary moments. I do, however, feel like I missed out on the experience I had hoped for. I genuinely believed that if I did everything I was supposed to do, everything would go the way I wanted it to. I was religious about the “upward, forward and open” position throughout pregnancy, on the promise that it would get the baby into the optimum position for labour. I felt awfully clever because I had recognised that I might struggle with the pain, or I might not, so I was open to a variety of pain relief options. I felt that as an informed patient, I could stand up for myself and make my own choices about my healthcare. I didn’t consider that I would fail when faced with a doctor who refused to consider her patient’s wishes and concerns.

Going forward, I know that I would still love to have more children. My attitudes towards other things have changed immensely, though. I used to consider homebirth as more of a lifestyle choice (homebirth, extended breastfeed, co-sleep, babywear), that didn’t grant modern medicine the respect it deserved. I was incredibly wrong. A relaxed mother has value that cannot be measured, and, should the extremely unlikely worst happen, it takes longer to gather the right medical staff for surgery than it does to travel to my local hospital. No, an epidural would not be an option, but I feel confident now that I could’ve got through the whole labour without it, especially if I had been free to move and make use of water, rather than being forced to lie down for the days leading up to it.

I would also be keen to have a doula. Just knowing that someone who is knowledgeable and employed by you is there is an idea that fills me with confidence. I feel sure that having such a person would have made me more confident in the decision to start/refuse induction.

I suppose that’s it really. It wasn’t a bad experience, it wasn’t the smoothest-sailing. I think that’s how the majority are, but that doesn’t make for exciting watching on One Born Every Minute!

I’ve heard a lot in recent months about women feeling “robbed” of their positive childbirth experience, and I can understand that feeling. Because I was frightened into admitting myself to hospital; because I frightened myself into having an epidural that might not have been necessary, I may have missed out on elements of childbirth that are fulfilling and – dare I say? – enjoyable. But we will never know. The most important lessons I have learnt are that I have more strength than I possibly imagined, and that old favourite: want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans.

 

Mashtastic

19 Sep

Every once in a while, The Daily Mash gets it so spectacularly spot-on that they deserve an entire blog post devoted to their awesomeness.

Here, I give you their comment on the travellers’ site being evicted today… http://t.co/Vo44cKij

Boobies and Low Pay

17 Sep

I’ve been quiet for a while, and I am yet to write all sorts of exciting things about my new little man, but I have to get this off my chest. Badum-tsh. As a former wannabe-actuary, I am being driven slowly insane by the bad stats that are bandied around by “feminists” regarding the gender pay gap. “Women are paid less than men! That is just so unfair!”, they bleat, seeming to miss entirely the complexity of the issue. These are the factors that I think need to be considered before we start being outraged at simply comparing the average woman’s salary with the average man’s.

1. Are we comparing like with like, part 1.

According to the BBC, one in five women in the UK will not have children. We can therefore reasonably assume that four in five will have at least one child. According to Payroll World, the average length of maternity leave taken is nine months. According to this study, female junior executives are paid marginally more than their male counterparts.

Employing logic, this really looks like women are paid just as well as men, up until the point that they elect to take a nine-month career break. However you dress it up, there is no way that it can be considered fair that two identical candidates, one of whom has worked only ten days in nine months and the other who has worked the whole time, should be paid the same amount.

2. Are we comparing like with like, Part 2

Equality in the household is still developing. The majority of senior staff in any given company will have started their careers in the late 1970s and early 1980s, when the majority of women were expected to remain in the home. It doesn’t matter that the feminist movement was booming then – we, as intelligent human beings, know that attitudes take a long time to filter down. I don’t even feel that my own generation will have an equal split of men and women even considering going into the same industries, but it is certainly improving. We cannot place full weight on the statistics when we are still dealing with the remnants of inequalities of the past.

3. Type of work

Culturally-speaking, women appear more frequently in caring and creative professions, and those that involve less-marketable skill, while men feature more in managerial roles, or professions that involve physical strength or ongoing training. While I agree that there is still the stinky attitude that certain things are “women’s work”, there are plenty of valid reasons why such roles would be paid less that aren’t anything to do with misogyny. Demand and supply is a key reason – examples from nursing and childcare to hair and beauty are often kept low because they need to be affordable to many people in order for the industries to have any success. Cleaning and office administration work require a more readily-available skill set, and so will be lower-paid as there are more people vying for the same role. I’m not saying for a second that this is a good thing, but trying to pretend that it’s not the case is unhelpful.

Once we get past the reasons why the blind statements of the statistics bother me so much, we need to consider what’s actually useful. Whingeing about patriarchal society and glass ceilings is utterly pointless, and just makes the feminist position laughable. Enforcing quotas of women in certain roles is an ugly situation that will cause nothing but resentment and damage to the feminist cause. Breaking down the barriers themselves is what’s important, so here’s my “if I ruled the world” list, equal pay edition.

1. Increased flexibility in the workplace

Regardless of gender and parental status, working hours and locations need to be more flexible, insofar as the job itself allows. The number one argument I hear against this seems to relate to trust, but to employ someone whom you think will slack off if left to their own devices seems like pretty foolish business practice in the first place. Obviously some roles and industries require people to be in a certain place at a certain time, but building in whatever flexibility available is essential.

2. Equal sabbatical opportunities

Time off spent doing something productive is exceptionally valuable to human development, and potentially to an employer as well. The idea of opening up the opportunity to everyone to have periods of up to a year off with a guaranteed job at the end is not as far-fetched as you might think. This is exactly what was offered during the height of the recession to staff at large accountancy firms. It certainly makes sense in business terms, and would certainly make things fairer for those who cannot or chose not to have children.

3. Social expectations

When Ed Miliband’s son was born last year, the ridiculous notion that “real men don’t take paternity leave” was debated on Radio 4. I’ve already mentioned the types of jobs that men and women tend to lean towards, and that’s something else that needs to be changed. The way to do that is not through the aforementioned complaining and foot-stomping, nor is it by quotas, but, at the risk of sounding twee, by open dialogue amongst men and women, and by helping people become confident and knowledgeable enough to go after what they want from an early age – whether it’s a man who wants to be the primary caregiver or a woman who wants to manage the England football team through their next World Cup victory.

In conclusion, the way to level the playing field is to identify the actual issues, and level the playing field.

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