Category Archives: motherhood

Really, Stop It with the Breasts

formula: evil, evil, EVIL!

Ah, the breastfeeding debate!  No, not that one, which for the record, ends thus: yes, you can whip out a lactating boob anywhere and feed your baby with it; kill anyone who tries to stop you.

I mean the other breastfeeding debate, the humdinger of ‘breast versus bottle’.  The most divisive battle since Oliver Cromwell decided royalty wasn’t all that.  The new ‘civil war’ amongst mothers and others who stick their oars in for fun and/or profit. (Really, it’s a good comparison: Cromwell wasn’t content to just pummel Charlie into the ground militarily and leave it at that; no, he had to chop his head off as well.  Nothing says ‘I think you’re worthless and have no redeeming qualities whatsoever’ like decapitating somebody.)

Here at Boogieville, we have already signed off on all interest in ‘scientific’ studies about the relatives benefits of breast v. bottle unless, and I quote:

…they suddenly discover that breast milk is actually poisonous, or formula makes people vote Tory...’

Because failing such momentous impact:

…these studies are only useful for one thing: being rolled up and used to beat mothers around the head.’

No, ma’am, we do not like breast v. bottle ‘studies’.  Just put them down and back away.

Possibly something we don’t like even more however (though we allow love into our hearts while we’re not liking it), is the way women allow themselves to be sucked into this whole bag of crap that making a single choice about a single aspect of raising a child can somehow define you not only as a mother but as an evil she-whore hell-bag.  Or not.

The Guardian has a small piece every Saturday called ‘What I’m Really Thinking’, featuring a different ‘type’ person every week – you know, ‘the house cleaner’ (I don’t mind cleaning shit-filled toilets but I hate ironing), ‘the dinner party host’ (I have in the past shot guests who cut the nose off the brie), the ‘shy person’ (I’d really like to be less shy but, well, I’m not, really).  That type of thing.  Clearly, you can see it’s a ‘fluff’ piece at best.

This week’s is What I’m Really Thinking: the bottle feeding mother.  I knew I’d regret reading it, but a Saturday bath means The Guardian magazine cover-to-cover (especially after early dinner family Yo! Sushi, when I’m lying in the water so replete with raw fish the ‘beached whale’ analogy is entirely apt), so I read it.  It’s short, so you can read it, too:

I see the breastfeeding mothers watching me as I rummage in my changing bag for the ready-made carton of formula. Those looks speak a thousand words, most of which boil down to, “How could you? We’re doing the best for our baby, why aren’t you?”

I feel as if they’re judging me, looking at me as a lesser mother than they are just because I’m giving my baby formula. Do they feel superior to me? Certainly I feel that I have to defend my decision to bottle-feed, justify my choices so they’ll accept me.

They sit…with their beady eyes peeking over their breastfeeding aprons as my son gulps down his 5fl oz. But I can’t help noticing how their looks change – a bit of envy maybe? – when I start to bottle-feed. My guess is they’re thinking,”That looks a lot more efficient than breastfeeding.” You’re right, I want to tell them.

I can almost hear the deafening mental processing in those staid church halls: “She won’t have cracked nipples, mastitis, thrush or leaking milk. And her partner probably helps with the night feeds.”

But I don’t want to fall into the trap of judging them too harshly, either. I’d like to have tried breastfeeding, but medical complications took the choice out of my hands. Now that I bottle-feed, I see the advantages. I’d even choose it again next time. It’s really not so bad, I want to tell them, you should try it some time.’

Now, first off, I’m inclined to be sceptical of the piece because it seems simply to be an example of a person’s own feelings of inadequacy being transferred onto others.  The other mothers are firstly looking saying “How could you? We’re doing the best for our baby, why aren’t you?”, then miraculously, they look envious?  Really?  Wow, these women can really work a look or two, can’t they?  Transference, much?  Not that I judge her for that: what mother is unaware – in this country at least – of the pressure now put on women to breast-feed?  And if you can’t, it can make you feel like shit.

But christ alive, if I had a pound for every time, in those early baby days, when I heard a bottle-feeding mother explain to me or to an assembled throng of breast feeders  (at least half of whom at any given time would have a baby on the boob – I live in middle class North London* where breast feeding is positively viral) why she was bottle feeding I would be in for free flat whites for life.  And I have a serious coffee habit. Anonymous does it here; despite attesting to a high level of satisfaction with bottle feeding, she still feels the need to tell you why she didn’t breast feed.

And to every, single mother who explained to often virtual strangers why she was picking up a bottle rather than exposing a breast I just wanted to say: stop it.  Stop explaining to me why.  You have no obligation to tell me that your milk didn’t come in, that you got mastitis so bad you considered chopping your breast off, that your baby couldn’t latch on, that your boobs were too small, or too big, or too lop-sided, or that you suffer from tubular breasts, that you’re taking medication for mental illness, or your cat died and you were too sad to produce milk.

You do not owe me an explanation.

I’m of the view that, all things being equal, breast milk is probably superior to formula.  Knowing what I know (and trust me, I know more than I’d like to), that’s where I stand on the dividing line.  But when the fuck are all things equal?  When are any of our choices made in a vacuum? This is feminism 101, people, so it shouldn’t really need explaining, but it seems as if it does.

We make all kinds of choices as mothers that represent compromises between what we view as ‘perfect’ and what we recognise as ‘achievable’ and trust me when I say that you will make far more compromised decisions about your children as they grow than whether to feed breast or formula.

Fortunately for the confused amongst you, I can settle the whole Bottle-feeding: does it make you evil? debate with a few simple questions:

1. Do you love your baby?

2. Do you provide your baby with enough nutrition so that the scale needle goes up with time instead of down?

3. Is your feeding method of choice – discounting any feelings of inadequacy you may feel coerced into having – working for you?

If you answer yes to all three, then you have Bingo.  Collect your prize money and go out and celebrate.  Which of course, you can do in far more style if you’re not breast feeding.

Personally?  I breast fed both mine for two equally simple reasons: 1. neither of the little bastards would take a bottle, and 2. breast feeding – which I hadn’t seriously considered doing but was willing to give it a go – really worked for me; being naturally haphazard and a bit forgetful, I found it a real bonus that I could never go out and forget to take my breasts.  Rest assured, however, that if it hadn’t worked for me – for any reason whatsoever – I’d have dropped it like a hot one. I know, I have no shame.

And, so we arrive back at ‘scientific studies’.  Yes, they’ll try and guilt trip a bottle feeder.  They’ll tell you useless stuff like your child will have one less ear infection a year which, sure, is good, but is in no way better for your baby than having a happy mother.  Or they’ll tell you a breast fed baby will perform marginally better on IQ tests than bottlers, which will sound important until you score yourself some Stephen J. Gould, and realise IQ tests are for shit anyway.

And to round it all off (thank christ I hear you mutter), this came along sometime after I’d weaned L’il Boo:

Six months of breastmilk alone is too long and could harm babies, scientists now say

Six months was the recommended time when L’il Boo was a babba.  I had the what were then new-ish guidelines in mind when I was thinking about weaning him.  Did I worry when the new study came out?  Of course not: I said I had them in mind; I didn’t follow them slavishly.  I responded to my baby according to his needs.  As long as breast milk seemed to satisfy him, I didn’t introduce solids.  When it started to look like he needed something more, I gave him more.

In the event, he actually went 5.5 months before gnashing down on broccoli florets (we followed baby-led weaning principles).  And is he showing signs of food allergies or iron deficiency (both cited by the study as possible effects of delayed introduction of solids)?  Nope, not so far but you know if he does?  I will be satisfied that I did the best I could given what I knew at the time.

What more can you ask for?

*I don’t really, but near enough.

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Simplicity

Sometimes a thing can just be over-thought.  Y’know, like feminist mothering for example.  Yes, guilty as charged.  Oh, hush up.

But sometimes, there is simply a beautiful act of doing, of just getting on with it.

Like this from Made for Mums.

Just women who happen to be mothers doing the whole working thing, the whole life thing.

Like Katie Hislop, 32, from Wiltshire, a Major in the army;

‘I’ve seen active service in Iraq, and I may again. Even though I can’t deny it will be difficult leaving Sophie, I totally accept that responsibility.’

Like Sarah Hill, 38, from Wales;

‘I’ve volunteered for my local lifeboat since I was 23 years old, and I’ve never considered stepping down now just because I’m a mum.’

Like Sarah Solheim, 31, from Essex;

‘[Working with the Fire Service] I’ve dealt with house fires, road accidents and flooding. It’s hugely rewarding, and [my son] is especially proud of me!

As somebody who can get shoe-throwingly frustrated by ‘The Juggling’, I find these statements fall like drops of pure crystal triple-distilled-by-nature mountain stream water into the murky cesspool of my life.

And while I’m feeling cleansed by simplicity, I’m going to take a bath in this stunningly simple piece of sagesse from Musings of an Inappropriate Woman:

‘But most of the time, getting what you want – especially if “what you want” is something really juicy – means pulling out all stops. And for most people (for me, at least) pulling out all stops requires being honest about what you want.

‘It means standing up and acknowledging – at least to yourself, if not to other people – “hey, I really want that juicy thing and I’m not ashamed to admit it.”’

What do you really want?  I mean really, really want?

Me?  I don’t think ‘rule the fucking world’ really counts, so I’m taking some time out to think about it.


The Pressure, The Pressure!

Boogie had a play date the other day at our house.  The datee in question seems perfectly nice, or at least as nice as I can find 5 year olds (did I mention kids generally scare me?  Well, they do – they can be so…emphatic).

Well, if this kid queried Boogie’s and L’il Boo’s toys once…well, she did it a lot.  Talk about the gender police!  Who’s was the helicopter?  Why was it Boogie’s when it was a boy’s toy?  Why was L’il Boo playing with a doll?  Was it at least a boy doll?  Why did L’il Boo want to put the fairy wings on?  Fairies are girls!  Why did Boogie have a pirate ship?  Pirates are boys!  And on.  And on.

I was finding this fairly trying and was starting to well, get a bit annoyed.  Admittedly, I haven’t put a sign on the door saying ‘No Gender Police!’ but given the choice, I wouldn’t invite them in.

And then I faced facts.  I do invite them in.  About once a week on average, which is how often Boogie has a play date.  Once a week, we invite a series of Gender Detectives in to peruse our little piece of earth.  And, generally, they find something wanting.  And I let go of my anger towards this small child because I know it isn’t her fault, either that she’s been invited in or that’s she’s obsessed with gender.  They all are and they’re taught to be obsessed by everything and everyone around them (‘Good morning boys and girls’ anyone?).

This really hit me when I considered the look on her face when she was conducting her gender interview.  When each question came out of her mouth she was puzzled.  When she got my answer, puzzlement turned to real, genuine confusion, with a side order of fear.  She genuinely just didn’t understand what she saw as the gender discrepancies in my kids’ toys and, when I didn’t help her out of her confusion with some explanation as to why the discrepancies had arisen, instead saying (effectively) there were no discrepancies, she was all at sea.  I’m guessing that my answer to her first ‘gender’ question helped propel the others to come forward – in a ‘What do you mean, there’s no discrepancy, that all toys can be for either gender?  You’re kidding, right?  I’m just gonna check by asking you about another toy..’ kind of thing.

The other thing I had to face was Boogie’s reaction.  She said nothing to the first couple of queries, but looked squarely at me while I answered them.  Eventually, when the helicopter status as a boy’s toy was mentioned, she nonchalantly answered ‘It’s just a toy and toys are for anybody who likes them.’  Attagirl!  Unfortunately, this didn’t come until after, in response to the lead-in question of ‘Who’s toy is this?’ Boogie, aware no doubt of what was coming, had squarely disowned the helicopter by saying it was her brother’s.  Which was news to me.  ‘But it’s yours, isn’t it?’ I asked.  ‘Yeah, it was,’ she replied (in an oh-too-casual manner), ‘but I gave it to him because I don’t play with it anymore.’  Which again, was news to me.  I didn’t press her, though.  Tellingly, when asserting that ‘toys are for anybody’, Boogie’s eyes were firmly on mine; when she was busy disowning the toy, she resolutely refused to look at me when answering my query.  It doesn’t take a psychologist to see that in the former she was looking to check for my approval; in the latter, she wouldn’t look at me because she suspected I wouldn’t approve of what were, essentially, big, fat fibs.

Bless her, I could see her dilemma.  Oh, could I ever.  The poor kid was trying to tread the fine line between pleasing me and staying on-side with her friend’s clearly expressed ideas of gender.  A tricky line for a five year old.

I’m currently reading Cinderella Ate My Daughter, by Peggy Orenstein (which is being reviewed chapter by chapter over at maternalselves, if you’re interested) and the problem that keeps leaping out of the book (and attempting to kill me through brain fatigue), is: how do you raise a girl to be outside the girly-girl, appearance and consumerist-driven culture they’re being spoon-fed from every angle without making her an outsider to her own sex?  Ah, a classic double-think problem!  I did think I’d posted before about the endless double-think you have to do when raising a girl, but I probably dreamt it cos I can’t find anything.  Essentially (for present purposes only), it can be boiled down to: how can you teach a girl to not relate to the hyper ‘girly-girl’ model and yet still enable her to relate to, and fit in with, girls who do?

Because whilst I fervently want Boogie to step outside the increasingly limited model of femininity she’s presented with, I don’t want her to be, well, weird.  Are you feeling me here?  I’m trying to teach her to denigrate a model that the vast majority of her peers will believe in whole-heartedly, but I don’t want her to be the sad, lonely kid in the corner, amusing herself by putting her bogies on a passing ant.

And, sure, I can explain why her peers (and my peers) fall for all the gender shit that comes their way, but the fact remains that, on some level, the message must contain some implication that her peers are a bit stoopid.  I mean, essentially, it boils down to: they may fall for it, Boogie, but we won’t because we know better.

And then she has to go to school and relate to these stupid people that mummy has told her about.

Talk about fine fucking lines.


Biased, Moi?

One of my talents is I can sing.  I’m not Adele or anything, but I can warble away happily in tune.  I’ve often been complimented on my singing ability, and I’ve done a fair bit of singing in public so it’s not just me who thinks so.  The BoogieMeister on the other hand, can’t sing a note (unless he puts on a deep Gilbert & Sullivan bass in which case he can do a passable Pirate of Penzance), but has always desired to be able to sing.  The point of this obviously isn’t to tell you how talented I am in comparison to the BoogieMeister (though now I think about it…), but to talk about how our own desires and dreams influence how we view the world around us.  Because, tellingly, the BoogieMeister is of the opinion that my singing is on a slightly lower level of lovliness than Lee Marvin singing Wandering Star.

BoogieMeister wants to sing, can’t sing, is envious of those who can, so convinces himself others can’t.  See how that works?

I was only thinking about this because I was cribbing blue milk’s idea of recording, at certain moments in time, what I enjoyed most and least about my children (which was only for my private consumption; I wouldn’t be so crass as to openly copy her ideas, goodness me, no).  And it very quickly occured to me that the things appearing on my lists were things that indicated I was winning this battle of me v. the Patriarchy.  Or at least still in with a fighting chance.

So my list of ‘enjoy most’ about Boogie covered things like her complete lack of concern for the state of her hair, and her complete refusal to adorn it (even if just to keep the bloody thing out of her eyes), her practical, no-nonsense view of clothes (and her unceasing conviction that no clothes at all is better if at all possible), her pride in her lovely rounded belly and how big she can make it if she tries, her reliance on humour for cuteness rather than physical cuteness, her growing awareness that it’s perfectly acceptable to get angry when somebody is doing something to her that she doesn’t like and they don’t stop doing it when she asks them to and the fact that this is coming from a growing awareness that she owns her body, her frequently stated desire to be different to everybody else and the fact that she backs this up by often arriving at school looking – and moving – noticably different to the other girls in her class (a fact she cares about not one jot).

And at least part of the reason I love these things about her is because of what I feel they say about me.  Self-involved?  Moi?

But they paint a picture of a girl who is secure in her outward appearance, who doesn’t concern herself with physical attributes and isn’t worried about being ‘fat’,  who thinks being funny is a bigger concern than her hair, and who thrives from a position of being different.

I ask you – what feminist wouldn’t love her?


Food, Glorious Food

Food: you put it in your mouth and it helps you stay alive.  Simple.

If only.  Despite my best intentions, what goes into my children’s mouths is a constant source of anxiety.  Actually, I say anxiety, but that’s a lie.  I kinda let these things slide in a life’s-too-short way (as I do with so many things), but I do think about it a lot.

Food, and more importantly, attitudes to it, are so frickin’ important in my children’s over-abundant world how could I not?  And even more importantly, I do have an unfortunate tendency to regard my offspring simply as exciting opportunities for experimentation.  Not in a keep-’em-in-a-box-and-see-how-that-works-out kind of way, but more a let’s-ban-fruit-for-a-week-and-see-if-they-steal-kiwis-from-the-supermarket-by-the-weekend kind of way.  Y’know, the fun way.  I get all Daliy Male about this and lay the blame squarely on my feminism, raising feminist children being one huge experiment that just rubs off on you.

Anyway, the food stuff.

The worst of it is, it’s not even ungendered (go figure).  One of the most bizarre things I’ve ever heard uttered was by an acquaintance of mine who had a little girl and a baby boy.  Talking of the baby, she related how he ‘shovelled’ in vast amounts of food and then concluded ‘but you want that with a boy, don’t you?’

Huh?  I didn’t even know where to begin thinking about that one.  What did she mean?  You want your son to be fat?  You want your son to be able to prove his emerging masculinity by being able to win pie-eating contests?  You want your son to understand before he’s out of size 2 nappies that he can get as large as he likes and face no opprobrium from society whatsoever?  Or is it more like an unsaid negative expressed as a said positive?  Like, you don’t want that in a girl?  You want your daughter to remain cutely slim and slightly undernourished?  You want your daughter to be model-like?  You want your daughter to understand before puberty that she has to look good in small clothes or she’s worthless?

By this point, my brain resembled an electrical storm and I said nothing.  But it did at least get me thinking about whether my attitudes towards my children’s appetites were in any way gendered.  And, amazingly, I don’t think they are.  Yeah, take that unconscious gender stereotypes!  I will vanquish thee, one by fucking one!  I thunk and thunk, but I could find no evidence whatsoever that I in some way ‘police’ Boogie’s food intake more than her brother’s.  I may have a party.

What I actually want, food-wise, is the same for both my children.  I want them to eat and enjoy good food.  I want them to have a sensible attitude towards nutrition.  I want them to have no emotional ties to certain types of food.  And yes, I understand that my food problems are entirely middle-class.  Mea culpa, my friend, but we take our problems where we can find them.

But I’m really not sure how to achieve what I want.  I’m not even sure I have a huge amount of influence over it.  I base this on my own childhood, which was, largely, spent watching my mother diet.  She tried all kinds – I remember during the Slim Fast phase thinking that she was, quite plainly, just nuts.  She never, in my memory, ever just sat down with us for dinner, never just ate the food we ate.  She was always standing, hovering, saying she couldn’t eat X or Y because it was fattening, before turning round and eating half a loaf of bread instead.  Like I say, nuts.  She was ‘too fat’ for X, Y and Z, and A, B and C, too; too fat for anything, really.  Food was ‘the enemy’ something which captivated and repelled her in equal measure.  It also played its part in making me ‘the enemy’, too, because I had ‘done’ this to her by selfishly deciding to take up residence in her womb.  Be-yatch that I am.  Of course, I realise now that food and fat were merely two of many symptoms of something bigger, but I didn’t get that then, having never read Betty Friedan.

So with all of that, coupled, lest we forget, with numerous other childhood issues, how I never ended up with an eating disorder is a bit of a mystery to me.  I can only think that, even to the child me, my mother’s obsession with and attitude towards food was so obviously whacked that I just added it to all the other stuff about my mother that I popped in the box marked ‘Note to Adult Self: Never, Ever Go There: That Way Madness Lies’.  OK, so it wasn’t the snappiest titled box, but accuracy was more important than pithiness.

And now a report from the University of Surrey suggests that children who are given free access to Easter eggs actually eat less of them over-all than children who are given restricted access to them.

According to one of the researchers, “These results suggest that parents restricting a particular food results in it becoming more attractive and increasing the overall intake. This could mean that allowing children more control over their eating habits is more effective at developing long term healthier eating patterns.”

By all that’s unholy, I want to go with this report unreservedly.  How glorious would my days be if I could just open the supermarket doors, usher the kids inside and with a dramatic swoop of my hand intruct them to grab what they want for dinner before retiring to the pub for a swift one whilst they believed themselves to have been given the keys to the kingdom of heaven itself!  Well, at least Boogie would; L’il Boo would simply head straight for the oranges and start chucking them over his shoulder at unsuspecting passers-by before tearing open punnets of strawberries with his teeth.

Boogie, I fear, would arrive at the till with the following:

Pizza

Smarties

Chocolate buttons

28 Easter eggs

Pain au chocolate

Brioche (with added chocolate buttons)

Chocolate lollies

A bag of barbeque charcoal (which she would have mistaken for great big chunks of chocolate)

She would probably ditch the pizza at the till, having realised pepperoni wasn’t chocolate artistically run through with white chocolate.

Boogie is, in short, a chocolate monster.  And again, this doesn’t jibe with my own experiences.  Boogie is ‘allowed’ chocolate; I mean, I try to stop it before she actually throws up, but she gets to eat a fair amount of the stuff.  I, on the other, hand, never got to eat chocolate, or indeed anything remotely yum-tastic.  We weren’t allowed to have anything like that in the house because, according to my mother, ‘it’d just get eaten’, for which read ‘it’d just get eaten by her‘.  And I never had any money (we were boringly poor), so buying my own was out.  Chocolate for me was a real treat which I only got to indulge in when I visited my grandparents.

But for all the school lunchtimes when I sat faced with a sandwich, an apple and a carton of juice whilst children all around me scampered with delight and gay abandon holding aloft Penguin bars whilst praying to the Chocolate God, I never did crave chocolate.  Despite the unrelenting adverts which show chocolate causing teeth-baring orgasms in grown women, I still don’t.  I get my orgasms the old-fashioned way.

As with so many things about raising children, I don’t think there’s anything like a simple, single answer.  So we’re back to that wonderful and extremely unhelpful answer that children, bless ’em, have to be treated as individuals.  Doncha just hate it when that happens?


Christmas Is Coming: Say Hi to Jesus Everyone

As well as being a feminist, I’m also an atheist (oh, Dear Lord, how many crosses does one woman have to bear??), so whilst I love Christmas (I never reject a holiday on principle), the rise in religious clap-trap at this time of year is always mildly annoying, but hey, I’m always so busy indulging in eggnog and the odd sherry before 11am, that I kinda let it float right past me.

This year, however, Boogie is 5, and she’s at school.  Now, I admit, I didn’t look at the whole issue too closely, but I did send her to a non-denominational school and there was no mention of god-bothering on the syllabus, so it seemed fine.  How wrong I was.  Not only can Boogie identify the local vicar at 50 paces, she can now – because the school is holding a carol service complete with Nativity play – sing enough hymns to fill a songbook.

Now, again, I’m only mildly bothered by this (god, for an atheist I’m way too easy going); I tell Boogie that the whole thing is just a story like any other and, as stories go, it’s a pretty good one.  Gripping, some would say.  And kids love dressing up as donkeys.  And I, for my sins, loved singing hymns as a 3-times a week church-going child.  In fact, I pretty much only went for the songs and the chance to stick the body of Christ to the roof of my mouth (I liked the way you could keep it there for hours and then curl it off with your tongue).

What is bothering me is the sheer joy Boogie takes in winding me up.

A sly little grin spreads across her face as she asks, ‘Do you know what I learnt at school today?’ before breaking into yet another song about weary donkeys and the iddy biddy baby Jesus.  She gets two lines into the song before doubling over with laughter at my raised eyebrow.  She’s 5 and she’s actively taunting me.  Wasn’t this supposed to be the teenaged years?  Did I miss a meeting?

I say it bothers me but, of course, I’m actually a teensy bit proud.  She actually understands that my viewpoints don’t neccesarily match those of others; she understands that what some people tell her is true may in fact be false.  She’s thinking.  And I’m proud.


Frightening Feminism

I did it again. I casually dropped into the conversation that I am – gasp, wait for it – a feminist. The room stilled, time seemed to slow as my small audience took in a collective breath. And held it until the space-time continuum reasserted itself when somebody mentioned their child’s bowel habits.

Naturally, I’m used to such pronouncements wreaking havoc in a business environment (the feminist one, rather than the bowel habits, though I suspect that one would stop you getting invited to lunch pretty quickly). Announce you’re a feminist in an office and the space-time continuum will wobble like a weeble. But, I don’t know, call me naïve (and you will), I had thought that things would be different when you’re surrounded by women who have been – and are still – at the sharp end of a central feminist dilemma – i.e how to have kids and at least have a passing involvement with raising them without completely fucking up your career or, indeed, your head. If anything, the reaction is worse.

I can only explain it by citing the fear factor. When you’re happily trogging along, in your job and kids are but a distant possibility that you don’t bother to think about much, feminism is only scary in the abstract. There you are, earning your money and not thinking too long or hard about the pay gap between you and your male colleagues because these things tend to be well-hidden and a real fuss has to made if you want to do something about it. And, well, who wants to jeopardise their whole career for a few grand a year? And chances are, unless you are an active, committed feminist, the so-inherent-as-to-be-invisible-to-all-but-the-select-few patriarchal crap that surrounds you will go virtually unnoticed, save for a few twinges of unease perhaps when you notice the sheer numbers of naked breasts in a newsagent. So feminism is scary, but remote (or so you think) to your every day life. A bit like flesh-eating spiders – terrifying to meet, but what are the chances in these parts?

Then you actually have a baby which is, generally, a wonderful and, yes, life-changing event. But three months in, six months in, when your face hurts from smiling (because a depressive visog harms the little pumpkin, doncha know?), and you’ve expressed just about as much verbal glee as humanly possible at a successful clap or deftly executed roll-over, the reality of your life now becomes apparent. Because no matter how exhausted your smiling muscles, you will, as a mother, unless you’re incredibly lucky, experience a degree of panic at the thought of going back to work and leaving the most precious child the world has ever seen™ in the care of, well, of anybody else. And it is at this moment that if you’re lucky (or unlucky depending on your point of view) enough not to have an utterly compelling reason – say starvation, or eviction or income-supported poverty – to return to work, you start to think, ‘Weelll…’ and phrases like ‘career break’ suddenly start popping into your head. They did in mine anyway. And then, almost inevitable it seems, you suddenly find yourself with a second child, having completely forgotten to go back to work after the first one. And then you’re into a whole problem of wanting to treat your children the same by staying at home for the same extended period for your second child. Before you know it, your career break has become a whole Kit-Kat and the rest of your erstwhile colleagues have moved on to dinner and drinks and throwing shapes at the local discotheque. Honestly, what woman wouldn’t be a feminist when faced with the unattractive options having kids presents you with?

And what options they are. You could work full-time, living life as a constant juggling act not only between work and kids but between your own expectations and thoughts and those of the mother-hating world around you. Or work part-time around school hours for a wage roughly amounting to minimum in a job for which, often, you’re over-qualified. Or be a SAHM and find your brain slowly leaking out through your ears. Which is not to say that SAHM have no brain to leak out, far from it. That’s simply to say that those women who do stay at home and relish it have different desires and motivations to those that don’t (or those that do but aren’t particularly happy about it). And to be clear – those desires and motivations are equally valid; whilst I’m absolutely clear that staying at home with my kids is not intellectually stimulating to me, it is in most other respects infinitely harder than working in an office. That this is a fact has actually confused me for a long time, given that my kids aren’t particularly difficult or demanding (and are even, often, extremely entertaining, not something that I remember happening very often at work, very few colleagues being partial to attempting to breakdance with knickers on their head) so I’ve had to give it some thought, and I’ve come up with two main things: (i) the unrelenting sameyness of the bulk of each day and (ii) the complete lack of control over your own time-outs. At work, your job changes from day to day and if you need five minutes alone to just contemplate your navel you can generally chose the time to do so. These factors combine to keep things fresh and you sane. If you can cope with the downsides of being at home and still remain motivated and enthusiastic about it, then more power to you. You’re obviously better at playing the long game than I am. I need more immediate gratification than waiting 20-odd years to see all my hard work come to fruition in two well-adjusted, wonderful adults.  I also have a sneaking suspicion that it doesn’t help me that I can’t cook, don’t cook, hate cooking; so being responsible for two meals a day probably leaches a piece of my soul on a daily basis (hey, if ‘m hungry I want to eat, not make love to a Delia cook book for an hour).

But I digress. Where was I? Oh, yes. If you want a ‘career’ after you’ve had kids, your options are for shit in this patriarchal, built-for-men-with-a-wife-at-home world. And whether or not we understand the machinations of the patriarchy and whether or not we blanche at the word ‘feminist’, all us SAHMs know it. And it scares us to think that our options are so limited when we grew up thinking that we would, as adults, have limitless options. Or at least a couple of decent ones. And I understand that fear because, to be honest, it’s way scarier to be a committed radical feminist who understands intimately the workings of the patriarchy and to discover that even with the knowledge of these concepts sign-posting your way, you still can’t find your way out of the motherhood maze.