Adulting

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I am now the parent of an adult. And I don’t feel ready. I don’t feel worthy.

Ishthara Saoirse Larkin arrived into this world, ten weeks early, in a small town in India, 18 years ago. I’d like to say that I felt an overwhelming sense of adoration and love when I first held her. But I didn’t. I was shell-shocked. It was three days before I felt that powerful dam-burst of motherly love and – oh boy! – was it something else when it came. I’d always thought myself a pacifist but I was very shocked when I realised I would happily kill for this child.

Having spent so long waiting for her – and fighting with my own body over its refusal to get pregnant, I couldn’t quite believe it when I was, finally, holding my own child. When I was, finally, a mother! At last, nestled close to me was all I had ever wanted. For some reason I couldn’t quite understand, love didn’t flood through me the first time I held her. I was numb. It was almost as though I was in an altered state of consciousness. I couldn’t quite grasp that she was really mine, that I was really allowed to keep her. Years later, when studying psychology, I read Viktor Frankl, and the experience made sense.

In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Frankl details how he and others were liberated from a Nazi death camp. Instead of being joy-filled and jubilant, they found themselves mis-trusting their experience; not quite believing it. Frankl explains that they had spent so long dreaming of this very moment – and had their hopes and dreams dashed so many times – that now, they were not sure they could believe it. It took the men a few days to grasp the reality that their dream had come true, and was not about to be snatched from them. That’s what becoming a mother was like for me.  It took a few days for me to realise that my dream was not going to be snatched away from me.

Ishthara has taught me so much since 2002. She has taught me what unconditional love feels like – both to give, and to receive. She has taught me that I can make mistakes, and still be worthy of love. She has taught me that I am good enough. She has taught me to forgive myself. She has taught me that, sometimes, my standards for myself are too high, and I need to ‘chill Mama’ just a bit. She has taught me that I am good enough.

During the week, Ishthara’s younger sister, Kashmira, asked me how it felt to have an adult ‘child’. I told her I didn’t feel ready. She asked me why. I told her that I didn’t feel wise enough, or accomplished enough, to be the parent of an adult. I feel like I should know more, be more, have more, have done more, in order to be worthy to call myself the parent of an adult. I don’t think I’ve changed enough since Ishthara was born to be the fully-formed parent of an adult.

Kashmira (being Kashmira!) probed that.
I had to think.
‘I suppose, when Ishthara was born, I wanted the same for her then, as I do now. The fact that I haven’t evolved makes me wonder if I’m any good at this.’ I told her, truthfully.
‘What did you want for her 18 years ago?’ Kashmira asked.
‘I wanted her to be happy. And I wanted her to reach her potential. And that’s still all I want for her. It’s all I want for both of you – but we’re talking about Ishthara right now, so…’
‘And do you think we don’t know that?’

‘I think it’s wrong that you’ve grown up in consistent poverty. I think it’s wrong that you have had no support – financial, emotional, physical, or any other type – from your dad. That you have no family apart from me, and each other*.’

‘But do you not see that that has given us a unique perspective on life? That we are compassionate because we understand rather than because we have an academic, or intellectual, understanding of other people’s lived experiences?’ (Yes, she really does talk like this!!)
‘When we say to the people we work with, when we’re older, “I understand”,’ she continued. ‘They’ll know we mean it, because we will. We’ll have been there.’
‘But….’ I started again, as my inadequacy raised its head.
‘No,’ Kashmira said. ‘Just listen. We have always known that you loved us. We have always known you’ve had our backs. Even on the really bad days, we’ve always known that you would manage, that it would be okay. Even last year – when you nearly died,  THREE TIMES! in front of us – ‘nearly’ is the most important word in that sentence. We knew you wouldn’t leave us. That’s why you have an adult child.’

I was humbled into silence.

Earlier today, I spoke to my friend, Seán. Seán has known me since before I was 18, and his kids are all older than mine. I told him how I didn’t feel accomplished enough, to be the parent of an adult.

‘Don’t you get it?’ he asked. ‘The adult child is the accomplishment.’

He’s right.

Ishthara Saoirse Larkin is a wonderful young woman; she is compassionate beyond her years. She reads, and understands, people with an almost eerie awareness; she loves carefully, but completely; she radiates joy; she yearns to make the world a better place; she is intolerant of injustice; she is kind, thoughtful, generous and loving; she’s a great cook; she has a wonderful, droll sense of humour; and she saved my life (metaphorically – by being born into it – and literally – by performing first aid and calling an ambulance when I collapsed last September).  I am pleased, proud, privileged, and grateful to be her mother.

Happy 18th birthday, my Darling Girl. The world is a better place because you’re in it.

 

* My father, Christy Talbot, and my brothers, Nigel Talbot, and Cormac Talbot, sexually abused, and raped me for 15+ years between them. My brothers, Barry Talbot and Ross Talbot, support them in their abuse of me, as do their wives / partners. My sister, Tracey Talbot, who was also raped by Cormac Talbot, is in such deep denial that she actually carried files into the Four Courts for him when I sued him and his brother for their years of abuse. My mother, Philomena (Johnson) Talbot is a narcissist who – to this day – condones the abuse I suffered at the hands of her husband and sons.

Narcissistic Mothers

Image result for narcissistic mother"

Yesterday, I spoke with PJ Coogan, on Cork’s Opinion Line about what it’s like to be the daughter of a narcissistic mother. You can listen back (from 12.00) here.

Being the daughter of a narcissistic mother is hugely damaging; not least because our society tells us that a mother’s love is unconditional, all-encompassing, and never-ending. When your mother is a narcissist, however, you know that to be untrue, but you can’t articulate it because you feel strongly (and, usually, correctly) that you won’t be believed. You will be treated as though there is something wrong with you because your mother doesn’t love you – but the truth is that there’s nothing wrong with you but plenty wrong with her.

If any of this resonates with you, please feel free to get in touch.

Breastfeeding After CSA

Breastfeeding Awareness Month 2018

The first week of August was World Breastfeeding Awareness Month, but in the US, the United States Breastfeeding Committee has declared the whole month of August Breastfeeding Awareness Month. In honour of that (not in the least because I didn’t blog about the issue during the first seven days of August!), I wanted to share a few thoughts on breastfeeding after child sexual abuse (CSA).

While so many of us want to breastfeed, and spend our pregnancies imagining doing just that – and, indeed, preparing for it, it’s not always that easy. Aside, altogether, from the issues and difficulties that many women without a history of CSA encounter, there are additional difficulties that may manifest if the new mum such a history.  I’ve enumerated a few of them here:

  • If our breasts were a focal point of our abuse, we may be reluctant to offer, or share them, with anyone else – even our own babies. The physical contact may be just too much.
  • Dissociation is something I’ve discussed on this blog before – it’s often a huge part of our experiences when we are being abused. Dissociation, sadly, can also be part of our experiences when we’re breastfeeding – which can effect the mother-child bonding that is a much-mentioned positive element of breastfeeding. This, in turn, can lead to further shame and guilt around our bodies.
  • There are three kinds of touch that can be difficult for a woman with a history of CSA: self-touch, touch of another, and medical touch. Breastfeeding is, often, comprised of all three: The touch of the mother’s own hand on her breast – before, during, and after, a feed; the touch of the baby on the mother’s breasts; the manipulation of the mother’s breasts in order to assist with a latch etc.
  • Bodily fluids – even her own breastmilk – may be disgusting to the new mother who associates such fluids with abuse.
  • The shame that CSA visits on a woman, on her body, on her sense of self, can be mirrored in the shame that attaches to ‘bodies on display’ in many parts of the world. Then, there is the fact that  many societies visit shame on women who breastfeed in public, so this adds to the difficulty.
  • The mouth of her child on her breast can be triggering for the new mother with a history of CSA. It may remind her too much of her abuser/s slobbering all over her breasts.
  • If her birth didn’t go how she planned, the new mother may well have the old tape of ‘I can’t do anything right’ playing in her head. This may mean that she is convinced she can’t breastfeed her baby, either – so she may not even try.
  • If breastfeeding is difficult – or impossible – for the survivor of CSA, it can add to her feelings of guilt, and of the fact that her body is ‘failing’ her.

It’s not all bad, though. For many women with a history of CSA, managing to breastfeed successfully can be an hugely healing experience for women. It is a(nother) example of her body ‘behaving’ properly; of her body doing what it’s supposed to do.

If you are supporting a new mother who has a history of CSA, there are things you can do to help:

  • Reassure her that her choices are valid.
  • Reassure her that she is not being judged.
  • Reassure her that there are myriad other ways to love her baby.
  • If she really wants to breastfeed, discuss using a pump and expressing milk for her baby to exclusively feed breastmilk to her child.
  • Help her to see her milk as a ‘good’ / ‘useful’ fluid.
  • Remind her that she birthed beautifully, and that she can breastfeed beautifully, too – with help and support.
  • Encourage her to attend La Leche League, or Cuidiú meetings while she’s still pregnant.

The transition to motherhood is a monumental one for every woman, but it can be harder for those of us with a history of CSA. Ditto breastfeeding. Being sensitive to the possibilities can make the experience so much easier, and empowering, for these women.

The Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers

NarisscissI am delighted to report that Headstuff has published a piece I wrote about Narcissistic Mothers. You can read it here.

On foot of recognising the terrible damage my own narcissistic mother is responsible for, I set up a support group for daughters of narcissistic mothers. It’s a secret group on FB (so no one knows you’re there, except you and the other members).

Being the daughter of a narcissistic mother can be a very lonely place; Society would like us to be very quiet about the fact that our mothers don’t love us. Even people who didn’t have ideal childhoods, even people who were abused by their mothers, find it difficult to believe that there exist mothers who simply refuse to love their daughters. Those of us who have suffered – and those of us who continue to suffer – the terrible impact of narcissistic mothers, however ‘get it’.

In part, that’s why the FB group is such a wonderful place to hang out – it’s populated by wonderful women who completely understand how it feels to have a mother who doesn’t care about you; who pits your siblings against you; who lies about you; who refuses to celebrate your wins; who puts you down at every turn; who is jealous of your every success and attempts to take the good out of it; who cannot bear the idea that you might be happier than she; who is filled with rage at the idea that your standard of living might be better than hers etc. etc. Having somewhere to bring this hurt, where you will be understood, and not judged, is a huge relief.

If you’d like to join, this group, please contact me via this page, DM me on Twitter, or send me a few words on Messenger .

 

 

Birth Trauma Awareness Week

Traumatised Woman Eyes - Edited

Content Warning: Sexual Assault / Sexual Abuse / Incest

This week is Birth Trauma Awareness week.

For many women, the birth itself is traumatic because of how they are treated during labour and birth. For women who have been sexually abused as children, however, labour and birth can compound the trauma they have suffered.

While she was growing up, Orla’s* father ‘played’ with her by playing ‘tickling’ with her. He would chase her, catch her, and then hold her down tickle her, kiss her, and – as she hit puberty –  touch her breasts, buttocks, and genitals.

Like many people who are abused over a period of time, Orla started to recognise the ‘cues’ from her father that an abusive incident was coming. She would try, desperately, to get away from him, but she was never successful. Orla felt helpless, but still, when he tickled her, she laughed. This would result in him calling her ‘a little flirt’ and saying things like ‘you’re just pretending you don’t want me to do it.’

Orla couldn’t get away from her dad because he was too strong. Her laughter would give away to tears, and then to crying, and eventually to screaming. Finally, he would stop.

When Orla grew up, she did not look back on her father’s actions as abusive, because it was labelled as ‘play’, and she remembers laughing at the time.

Years afterwards, however, when she was in labour with her first child, she was hooked up to a foetal monitor, had a canula inserted, and a blood pressure cuff. She had a panic attack on account of the restrictions on her movements. Her reaction seemed disproportionate until later, when Orla connected the events during childbirth with being restrained while her father abused her.

Like Orla, many women are surprised by the degree of their distress over routine aspects of maternity care. For abuse survivors, distressing or traumatic events can bring up the same feelings of helplessness and fear that they felt with the original abuse. It can be difficult to understand, however, why seemingly innocuous or helpful interventions can also bring up feelings of helplessness and fear. If the trauma of the original abuse was never correctly addressed, they are at risk for re-traumatisation, and may end up  suffering from chronic post traumatic stress disorder (CPTSD).

Much of this distress can be alleviated for pregnant women survivors of CSA if, before labour, they have an opportunity to explore some of the features (events, procedures, and care policies) of childbirth that might bear similarities to their abuse, and to plan strategies for avoiding, or coping with, them.

Women often dread the prospect of deeply exploring the origins of abuse-related symptoms. Once they do take that step, with the support of understanding health-care practitioners / birthworkers, they usually feel relieved and unburdened of guilt and responsibility. Our capacity for healing is enormous, through it requires hard work perseverance, and courage. Finding the time, and the energy, for that is hard at any stage – harder again when you’re pregnant. A birthworker who brings compassion, and understanding of the trauma of CSA will make the biggest of differences to her client.

 

*Not her real name

‘Making’ Readers

Books (Drama)

I’ve been reading since before I was three, and books have always been sacred to me (then, Hinduism taught me that they really are sacred!). Books helped me to make sense of the world I knew I didn’t fit into (and often believed I didn’t belong in). They gave me new words, opened up new arenas, showed me things, taught me things, gave me different perspectives, nudged me towards decisions, instructed me, and even annoyed me.

I had books for my girls before they were born, and read to them several times a day. Reading was never ‘just’ about books – it was about signs, menus, cards, posters, advertisements, magazines, and timetables. Yet, I still managed to produce a non-reader. I couldn’t understand how she had no interest in reading and tried everything to get her  to love books. The library was (and is) a place we visit for pleasure. The Kindle is stuffed with books that might interest her, our home has shelves full of books, boxes full of books, bags of books, tables littered with books and yet – and yet – she doesn’t read.

I tried everything to interest her in books; I continued reading, and talking about books, and sharing bits in books I was reading. I presented a trip to the library as a treat (well, it is!); I got her books in different genres; I got her graphic novels; I borrowed audiobooks from the library, and played them in the car when we were all together. Believing that there is no difference between a reward and a punishment, I never tied reading into getting ‘treats’ (reading is a treat itself).

Niggling away at the back of my mind was a conviction that reading was difficult for her. But was reassured, on a number of occasions, that her eyesight was so good, she could nearly see around corners, and she definitely wasn’t dyslexic. A few years ago, however, she was diagnosed with Irlen Syndrome, and the difficulties I knew she had with reading were finally recognised.

It was too late, however. She hadn’t learnt to love reading; she’d learnt it was difficult and time consuming, and painful. She could read – she just didn’t choose to.

One day, I realised that the problem wasn’t hers, it was mine. Books had been such a relief for me – such a joy, such an escape, such a wonderful gift, that I wanted to give that gift to my children. A gift, however, is only a gift if it brings joy to the recipient. I was pushing something on my child that she really didn’t want. Unpacking what I wanted her to get from reading, I realised it boiled down to four things:

  1. Love of story.
  2. Storytelling skills.
  3. Increased vocabulary.
  4. Pleasure.
  5. Critical thinking skills.
  6. Critiquing abilities.

Then, I realised that she could get all these elements are available from things she does enjoy – films, television programmes, and live theatre. And I was reminded – one size does not fit all; there is more than one way to skin a cat; as a parent, I need to provide access to what my children need – not what I want them to need, or what I think they need; my children are ‘of me’, but they are not ‘mine’; not everyone is a ‘reader’ and that’s okay.

 

My daughter can read, she just chooses not to. If she needs information that can only be accessed via text, she can navigate that text. In much the same way as I can sew – I just choose not to. If I need to fix, create, or mend something, I will drag out the sewing machine and set to. I’d much rather, however, pull my knitting close, and enjoy that. Knitting does for me what sewing (or other crafting) does for other people. Theatre, films, and TV programmes do for my daughter what books do for me. And that’s okay – we have plenty of shared passions and interests to provide us with common ground and opportunities to strengthen our relationship. What’s far more important is that we already have the ability to read each other like books.

 

Fathers’ Day

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Here we are again, ‘celebrating’ another Hallmark holiday. My friend, Martin McMahon tweeted this morning that it might be a good idea to do away with the notion of separate parental celebration days. I’d go even further and suggest that is might be useful to do away with parental celebration days altogether.

Let’s face it – if you need a day set aside to remind you that you have parents that you should be kind to, then that day will not make you a ‘better’ son or daughter. If you don’t have a father or mother worth honouring, then these days have the  potential to be the source of much anguish for you. Many of us have neither a father nor a mother to celebrate, so annual reminders (on top of the daily reminders) are unhelpful, to say the least.

Spare a thought, too, for the children at school whose parents are absent. I’ve been an active member of SPARK for about three years now, and I am aware that some children are acutely hurt by their schools’ activities around making cards and gifts for parents  who are not part of their lives.  I remember my own daughter being very hurt by a teacher asking her, when she was only 7, if she had ever even met her father (the principal took her teacher’s side, so I started homeschooling).

 

What, really, is the point of ‘Mothers’ Day’ and ‘Fathers’ Day’? Like Valentine’s Day, they just seem like an excuse to encourage people to spend money (that they may or not be able to afford) on things like gifts, cards, and meals out. They can add pressure to already pressurised relationships.  They serve, as far as I can see, no useful purpose.

 

What are your thoughts?

The #SaveNonso Campaign

Image result for nonso Muojeke

Yesterday, this petition popped up on my timeline. It details the plight of a young man who is the same age as my youngest daughter (14). Please bear in mind that I know nothing about this family, save what I read on the petition page, and saw on an RTE news-clip.

 

From what I can glean from those sources, Nonso Muojeke has lived in Ireland since he was two years old. His mother was widowed, then ‘claimed by’ her dead husband’s brother. According to Mrs Muojeke, he – and the rest of her in-laws – treated her horrifically. She fled to Ireland, from Nigeria, with her two children, arriving in 2007.

 

The family was refused asylum in 2009, and has lived in a terrible legal limbo since. Nine years is a long time to live, with no security, with no idea whether or not you’ll be allowed to stay indefinitely. Not knowing if you might be taken from your home and sent back to a place of danger. I can only imagine what that does to a person’s mental health.

 

For me, though, the person at the centre of this tale is not Nonso himself, but his mother.  This is a woman who was treated horrifically by her in-laws after she was widowed and ‘taken’ by her dead husband’s brother, as his wife. She gathered the courage and the internal, and external, resources to leave the house, the village, the country, with her two young children. She arrived in Ireland – a place she knew little, or nothing, about and has stayed here, in spite of her case being fouled up by her solicitor (solicitors can pretty much do what they like in this country, by the way – without fear of censure). She has managed to provide for herself and her family without drawing from the public purse in terms of receiving a cent in social welfare payments, or getting healthcare for herself and her children.

 

She has held herself, and her family, together all this time. She has helped them to become part of the community where they live. She has kept her boys fed, warm, educated, housed, loved. And safe. She has kept them safe.

 

Now, however, the family is at risk of being returned to Nigeria. To a place where Mrs Muojeke was abused and degraded. To a place where the boys don’t feel a part of the society (because they never have been), to a place where the boys’ mental health would be at risk. None of this appears to matter to the Department of Justice, or the Minister for Justice. What this tells me is that returning a woman to a place where she is seen as nothing other than chattel – where she can be ‘inherited’ like a piece of furniture – is not something that this government objects to. This government is fine with the notion of a man ‘claiming’ his dead brother’s wife for himself (and then abusing her). This government is clearly absolutely fine with the idea of a man abusing a woman. But then, we know that already.

 

We may have voted to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution, but we haven’t yet managed to repeal patriarchy.

Dear Love Boaters

Repealed

So, the voters of Ireland have spoken, overwhelmingly. Last Friday, Irish people voted to repeal the 8th Amendment to the Irish Constitution.

More people voted in the referendum than have ever voted on a single day in the country before. It was that important. The vote was carried by nearly 70%. It was that important.

Of course, those who voted ‘No’ are very disappointed. They may be feeling hurt, and upset, and abandoned, and powerless. They fought hard for something that was important to them, and they feel let down by those who voted ‘Yes’, and who are responsible for the fact that the 8th Amendment will be repealed, and women will have bodily autonomy.

 

I would hate for those voters to feel powerless, so – based on a number of suggestions that the No voters mooted as ‘solutions’ to choice – I’d like to offer the following for their kind consideration:

  1. The No voters were very concerned about foetuses being aborted because they (the foetuses) had severe, life-limiting, life-constraining disabilities. Given their concern, I’m sure they’d love to help children and families who have disabled children. I know several such families who need respite, who need practical help with regard to buying nappies and specially-adapted vehicles and much more. My friend, Tracy McGinnis, has a GoFundMe page to raise money to buy an adapted house for her severely disabled son. You can donate here.
  2. They were also concerned that women and girls who were pregnant as a result of rape would not have abortions. Clearly, their concern for those of us who have been raped – and especially those of us who have been raped by our own fathers and brothers – is touching. I’d suggest donating funds to their local rape crisis centre, sexual assault treatment unit, or even training and volunteering to help women after they have been raped.
  3. There was much attention paid by the ‘No’ campaigners that even the threat of suicide, or other mental health difficulties, was not enough to offer support to women who wanted to make choices around their pregnancies. I’d suggest that they fund-raise for Pieta House, the Samaritans, or – better yet – to pay for more perinatal psychiatric services in Ireland. Currently, there are only three such specialised doctors, and they practice in Dublin.
  4.  As a lone parent – one who didn’t abort, in other words – I’d have loved their support when my children were younger. My family of origin is toxic and abusive, so I have no contact with them. Nor do I have support from the ex, so someone to have come around a few times a week to help with the housework; with child-minding; or even to make me a cup of coffee and chat with me when the kids were in bed, would have been fantastic. So – No Voters – find a lone mother in your locale, and find out what you can do to help her. Then help her.
  5. In a similar vein – find a man who was left raising his child/ren on his own because the 8th Amendment caused his wife’s death, and do what you can to help him, and them.
  6. No-ers had a great plan for women who didn’t want to continue their pregnancies: They figured these women should continue their pregnancies, and then have their babies adopted. Now, the problem with this ‘solution’ is that adoption is the solution to unwanted parenthood, not unwanted pregnancies. So, here’s what’ I’d suggest: People who think adoption is a great idea should roll up their sleeves and get stuck in to helping re-unite babies, who were sold by the religious orders, with their birth parents. They should campaign to have the files held by these religious orders opened wide, and information shared with those who want it.

 

These are just a few ideas off the top of my head. I’m sure you can think of more. Please feel free to share them. No voters – you’ve shown us your passion, you’ve shown us you can mobilise, you’ve shown us that you can be (dare I say it?) obstreperous; you’ve shown us how loud you can be when MSM ‘silences’ you; you’ve shown us that you can persuade people to fly in from all over (but especially from America) to help you. Put all that passion and expertise (and money!) to good use and help out the already-born.

Some Lone Parenting Realities

Euro in Hand

Yesterday, the Irish Times reported that the number of poor mothers dying by suicide is on the rise. 

Privately, a friend who works in an economically-deprived area in Dublin, told me that in the past year, three lone mothers have died by suicide in that area.

Mothers who parent alone get the shitty end of the stick in this country. Lone parent families have the highest rates of consistent poverty in Ireland, according to the most recent SILC report (which you can read here). The vast majority of lone parent families are headed by women. There are barriers to education and paid employment – and the work women do in the home is completely discounted; it’s expected that we will

*cook

*clean

*make appointments for the children

*take the children to those appointments

*do the laundry

*do the garden (if we’re lucky enough to have one)

*organise the handyman (if we can’t do the DIY ourselves)

*top up the leap cards

*keep the car on the road (if we’re lucky enough to have one)

*organise drop-offs and pick-ups

*do drop-offs and pick-ups

*pay attention to every sign and symptom of our babies, children, teens so we’re on top of their mental health and physical health

*provide healthy, nutritious meals for our children

*clothe our children

*provide appropriate shelter for our children

*ensure that they are doing well at school

*fight for everything they require if they have any sort of additional need

*pay all the bills

*organise birthday parties

*find the money for cards and gifts for our children’s friends’ birthdays

*make time to spend with each of our children on their own

*read to our children

*take care of their cultural, sporting, and academic requirements

*make sure they take their medication

*keep an eye on who they’re friends with

*get to know their friends

*forget that third drink on a weekend night, in case one of the kids gets sick and you need to take them to the doctor / hospital

*turn down invitations because you don’t have / can’t afford childcare

*monitor the kids’ internet usage

 

This list is not exhaustive. In fact, it barely touches the tip of the iceberg of the things that mothers parenting on their own are expected to do – and judged and vilified for if they don’t, or don’t do it to someone else’s ridiculously high standards.

Is it any wonder an increasing amount of us are suicidal?

* If you are affected by any of the issues raised, you can contact: Pieta House at 1800-247247, or Samaritans by telephoning 116123 for free, texting 087-2609090 or emailing jo@samaritans.ie or Aware: aware.ie; Tel: 1800-804848; Email: supportmail@aware.ie

Not All Mothers Love

Not all mothers love

Today is a tough day for many of my American friends. It’s Mothers’ Day over that side of the Atlantic, and that’s not all sweetness and light for everyone. Aside altogether, from women who have lost their mothers to illness, there are many who were never mothered to begin with.

I believe that the last social taboo surrounds abusive mothers. The dominant narrative is that mothers are all-loving, all-giving, self-sacrificing fonts of love for all their offspring. To challenge that account of mothers is, to many, worse than blasphemy. This has the effect of silencing so many of us who survived our mothers, and who want to share our experiences to find other survivors and develop a community that understands, and supports us.

I remember, about eight years ago, I decided to cut ties with my toxic, abusive family (my father and two eldest brothers sexually abused me my entire childhood, my other brothers, my sister – who was also raped by one of my brothers – and their partners, choose to support my eldest brothers), and a friend of mine said ‘Well, yes, cut ties with all of them. Except your mum. You can’t not talk to your mum. Because….well, she’s you mum.’  It’s so difficult for people who were raised by someone who loved them – however imperfectly – that those of us who never experienced maternal love actually exist.

In the month or so since I started my secret Facebook Page for Daughters of Narcissistic Mothers*, I have been amazed, horrified, and comforted by the amount of women who share my grief at having been raised by at least one narcissist.  The last time I spoke to my mother was at the end of 2016. It was a surreal conversation, in many ways, and if I hadn’t recorded it, it would be hard to believe some of the things that came out of her mouth actually did. Most notable was her response when I asked her why she had never told my sisters-in-law, that I had been raped by my brothers.

‘It’s not my place,’ she said.

‘Not even to protect your grandchildren?’ I asked.

‘It’s not my place,’ she repeated.

 

To reveal that I was telling the absolute, irrefutable, empirical, truth about my brothers was too much of a challenge to her view of herself. She couldn’t possibly be the person she wants the world to believe she is if she admitted that her sons raped her daughter, and she chose to support her boys instead of her girl.  Mind you, this is the same woman who refused to let me be taken into care as a teenager because she was ‘worried about what the neighbours would say.’ When I confronted her with this piece of information (gleaned as the result of an FOI request), she nodded and said categorically and with a tone of extreme rightousness ‘Yes, yes, I did say that.’ Only a narcissist could possibly utter such a response.

Philip Larkin (no relation!) famously wrote:

‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.’

 

In the case of narcissistic mothers, however, they don’t actually care about the ways in which they damage their children. They feel no remorse, accept no responsibility, offer no apologies, and care only about how they are perceived by people they don’t live with. If you suspect your mother might be a narcissist, this article provides a short list of things that others do, that narcissists will never do.

 

Finally,  this piece, from Dr Karyl McBride, offers ten tips for coping with Mothers’ Day for adult children of narcissistic mothers. Mind yourself.

 

 *If you’d like to join, please send me an email, a DM on Twitter, or drop a line in comments here. Comments are moderated before posting, so you won’t be revealing more than you’d care to share with the world at large.

Baby Boxes Won’t Raise Birth Rates

Special Delivery....!

(This is not a Finnish baby box!)

 

A week ago, Katherine Zappone announced baby boxes would be given to all new parents in an attempt to increase the birth rate in Ireland.

Baby boxes were first introduced in Finland in 1938, when infant mortality stood at 65 per 1,000. The boxes contained clothes, nappies, a mattress, picture books and a teething toy. With the mattress in the bottom, the box doubled as a bed. They were introduced as part of a drive to bring down Finland’s infant mortality rate.

In Ireland, in 2018, however, they’re, at best, cute, and at worst, a waste of money.  This government would be better serving their remit if they poured support into children who are already here. Here is an incomplete list of thing the government could better do with money to help the children who are already here:

  • Lone parents need better supports, and clearer pathways back to employment / education that won’t penalise them.
  • We need better supports for adults who were abused as children, so that they can parent better.
  • We need more midwives, so pregnant people can have continuity of care.
  • We need better mental health care for children.
  • Our education system needs a complete overhaul (including better sex and relationship education).
  • We need to provide permanent homes for the 3,000+ homeless children in Ireland at the moment.

 

We need to value the children we already have before we start spouting off about how to look like we’re making life better for children who aren’t even here yet. It is true that raising children is expensive. People are putting off having children, or having more children, if they are unsure that they will be able to mange to keep those children safe, healthy, housed, fed, and educated. A few nappies, and a couple of babygros in the bottom of a cardboard box are not going to encourage people to have more babies – but here are a few things that might:

  • Affordable housing and I don’t (necessarily) mean state-subsidised housing, but houses where mortgages are easy to pay on one salary.
  • Education that is aligned with the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child, which states that the education of the child ‘shall be directed to the development of the child’s personality, talents, and mental and physical abilities, to their fullest potential. Currently, such education is not available in Ireland.
  • An improved maternity system, with women at the centre of care. I have spoken with many women who – having been traumatised in Irish hospitals – are too afraid to have another child.
  • Valuing the caring work that parents do: Currently, parents on social welfare are receiving €31 per week per child. If those same children were in foster care, the government would happily hand over between €325 and €352 per child per week to the foster parents.

Fix the leaky roof, and crumbling walls, of the house you live in before you start planning a fancy garden shed.

Narcissistic Mothers

thinkaboutme_400w

Cartoon courtesy of Ian Sala sonsofnarcissisticmothers.org

A few days ago, I started a secret group, on Facebook, for daughters of narcissistic mothers.  One of the  last remaining social taboos is challenging the myth of the ‘perfect mother’. While it is perfectly acceptable to snark about other mothers online, revealing that your own mother was abusive is still frowned upon. The fact that mothers are still revered makes it difficult to discuss the failings of your own with others. But the only way to heal from anything is to acknowledge it – and acknowledgement starts with naming. Giving a name to our mothers’ behaviour is the beginning of dealing with, and accepting what we went through.

I am, of course, using ‘narcissistic’ in a clinical sense, rather than to just mean ‘self-centred’.

Characteristics of Mothers With Narcissistic Personality Disorder:

1.Everything she does is deniable. 

2. She violates your boundaries. 

3. She displays no respect  for you. 

4. She refuses to accept that you are a woman separate from her;  entitled to your own life, and experiences.

5. She plays favourites with her children.

6. She undermines you – your dreams, ideas, and successes.

7. She is jealous of you.

8. She demeans, criticises, and denigrates you.

9. If you don’t behave exactly how she would like / expects you to, she will treat you as though you are crazy.

10. She lies – by omission, and commission.

11. She reinvents the past to make herself look good – or least better.

12. She has to be the centre of attention all the time.

13. She manipulates your emotions in order to feed on your pain.

14. She’s selfish and wilful.

15. She’s self-absorbed.

16. She’s unable to accept criticism, and gets extremely defensive in the face of it.

17. She’s infantile and petty.

18. She’s aggressive / passive-aggressive.

19. She ‘parentifies’.

19. She’s manipulative.

20. She’s exploitative.

21. She projects.

22. She can never accept that she is wrong about anything.

23. She cannot accept that others have different ways of doing things.

24. She blames others for her mistakes.

25. She actively works to destroy your relationships.

Not every aspect on this list may apply to your mother; but it’s safe to say that if she presents with at least 15 of the 25, she’s a narcissist, and you’re having to deal with the effects of her personality disorder.

 

For me, one of the worst parts of growing up with a narcissistic mother was her total denial of my right to an emotional life. She never recognised my emotions, needs, or desires. She expected, and demanded that I share details of every experience I had outside the home with her. Depending on what it was, she would
(1) ignore me/it,
(2) counter it with a story of her own,
(3) use that particular need or desire against me, or
(4) using her passive-aggressive skills or outright manipulation to guilt trip me for having needs, desires, etc. that were separate, and different from, her own. 

This continued right throughout my childhood and into my adulthood, until I found the strength to escape from the toxic, abusive family I grew up.

One of the saddest things, for me, about the FB group*, is the fact that so many of the members have disclosed a history of child sexual abuse. It’s terribly sad that so many of us have both those things in common. Having grown up with a narcissistic mother can also impact on our own mothering.  A mother who didn’t love you makes loving your own children something you worry about: How can anyone possibly be expected to emulate a behaviour that has never been modelled for them?  (Dealing with narcissistic mothers, and their effect on pregnant women will be discussed at this workshop in May.)

 

Of course, I accept that my own mother had adversity in her own life. There is sexual abuse in her own background; she married young (as she says herself, to ‘spite’ her own mother); and her husband was abusive. She suffers with a food addiction, and was a secret eater throughout my childhood. She’s deeply unhappy, and feels the need to inflict that unhappiness on her own daughter. While I can have compassion for the fact that her life didn’t exactly go to plan, I can still hold her accountable for her behaviour – something she’s completely incapable of doing herself.

 

(*If you’d like to join the group, DM me on Twitter, or email me hazel@hazelkatherinelarkin.com)

Ranty McRant Face

(Celeste Erlach, Facebook)

Yesterday, Celeste Erlach’s Facebook rant to (about?) her husband went viral. It was picked up by media outlets across the globe, including our own Irish Independent. She was clearly upset and at the end of her tether, and she called her husband out on his lack of help with the kids – they have two, a baby and a toddler.

 

I must admit that my initial reaction was ‘Lady, try doing it all on your own, all the time – that’s hard.’ Regular readers will know that I have two daughters with just 26 months between them, and that I have been parenting alone for nigh on 15 years. Then, I caught myself on a bit. I might be all on my own, but Celeste Erlach isn’t. She is married, and has every right to expect that her husband will step up and help. Sure, he’s in an office all day while she’s at home all day – but they are both working. Why does his work stop when he gets home, and hers continues? If she’s married, then she can expect a partner who shares the workload.

 

I am cautiously aware that this rant only provides one side of the story – and it’s a snapshot of that one side as well. Ms Erlach gives specific examples of what she wishes her husband did better, but there is concern (which was addressed on PJ Coogan’s show on CorkFM this morning) that Facebook is not the place to air marital grievances. Part of me is inclined to agree, though another part of me is aware that only posting ‘the good stuff’ on FB can create anxiety in those who read our status updates – they compare their insides to the outsides presented. I’m all for posting the good with the bad. What I’m not all for, however, is using Facebook as a tool to shame people. Shame is a powerful tool of social control – just ask the Roman Catholic Church who used it to great effect in Ireland – and it’s also an emotion that we don’t talk about very much.

 

It would appear that there is a lack of communication between Celeste Erlach and her husband and it would also appear – if you look at her Facebook page – that she has used her rant as a vehicle for attention, and to raise her own profile publicly. I’m struck by the banner on her page, though, which reads ‘Ask Yourself: What kind of Mom do you want to be?’ Clearly, Celeste Erlach wants to be the kind of mom who shames and humiliates the father of her children in a very public way. I’m not sure that’s fair on them. Turning to social media to berate the other parent of your child/ren is, I would suggest, potentially damaging to their relationship with that parent, because it smacks of a lack of respect.

 

I’m not suggesting that this wife and mother doesn’t have legitimate gripes. I’m not suggesting that there multiple ways her husband and the father of her children could help. What I am suggesting, however, is that it might have been kinder, and more useful – to her own family, and to the thousands of people who have viewed, liked, shared, and discussed her rant – if she had shared her concerns privately, found a workable solution with her husband, and shared that publicly. If she had written this letter and given it to him, expressing her frustration, her physical, emotional, and psychological needs and found a workable solution with her husband, that might have been a better post to share to share with her friends and followers.

 

I think that approach would have been more valuable; no one would have been publicly shamed, humiliated or reprimanded, and her children would have had good conflict resolution modelled for them. I think that’s worth a lot more than a shed-load of ‘likes’ and ‘shares’.

The Lack of Provision for the Special Educational Needs of Children of Gifted Intelligence in the Republic of Ireland is a Breach of their Human Rights.

 

pexels-photo-256541.jpeg

I know, I know, it’s a mouthful.

It’s also the title of a paper I presented at the SLSA (Socio-Legal Studies Association) Conference in Lancaster in 2016. If you want to read it (with the added bonus of my slides attached!), you can do so here. 

Forgiveness (Part 2)

forgiveness-332x263

Last month, I wrote the first part of this ‘series’ in Forgiveness. If you’re interested, you can read that entry here.

I wrote about what I think forgiveness isn’t. I ended the piece talking about peace – and how those of use who have been hurt (and are generally called upon to forgive) need, and deserve peace.

Here’s what I have learnt about forgiveness in recent months, though – bearing in mind that I have researched this from an academic point of view, as well as engaging with people who work in law enforcement, and others who are dedicated to reform, here and abroad.

My ‘aha’ moment around forgiveness, though, came when I was talking to a financial coach, Karen McAllister.  Funny how the answers you’re looking for don’t necessarily come from the source you might expect them to. Anyway, talking to Karen about forgiveness, I realised that my version of forgiveness was not about exonerating the transgressor, but about reclaiming the power that I was settling on them. 

Let me unpack that, and explain what I mean. At this juncture, I’m going to go backwards for a little bit, and look at the etymology of the word ‘forgive’. To forgive means to grant a pardon, and a pardon is to ‘pass over an offence without punishment’. ‘Pardon’ has its roots in two Latin words: ‘Per’ (which means ‘forward’ or ‘hence’) and ‘Donare’ (which means ‘give as a gift’).  To forgive, then, is ‘the granting of the gift of, henceforth, not punishing an offence’. Forgiving, then, in the traditional sense, the way I wrote about it last month, essentially gives the forgiven a free pass, while not doing an awful lot for the forgivee.  To me, that reinforces something else I mentioned last month; that the only person we need to forgive, in that sense, is ourselves.

To come back, now,  to the idea of forgiveness as a reclamation of power, I think that is the manifestation of forgiveness of the self.  The person who has damaged you, who has trespassed against you, is not given a free pass, but you reclaim the  power that they have stolen from you.

Perhaps the easiest way to do that is to use a real-life example. My eldest brother, Nigel Talbot, sexually abused me for most of my childhood. He is not remorseful, and though he has said ‘sorry’ in person, he has continued to abuse me in other ways, and he has also continued to abuse other women – sexually, emotionally, and financially.  My forgiveness took the form of a letter to him. Initially, I was going to send it to him, but – thinking about it – I realised that, to do so, would still be giving him power. I would still be expressing a desire for him to do something / to be something that he could choose not to be. What I need to do, for myself, is to call back that energy that he holds while I don’t forgive. The forgiveness is about me, not about him.

In any event, I know that if I did send a letter to him, his wife would keep it from him.

If you would like to read that letter, you can do so here.

This was the first of many such letters I’m writing, and with the penning of every one, I am feeling stronger, and more self-reclaimed. It’s definitely something I’d recommend, and if you do it, too, I’d love to know if it works for you.

 

 

                                                                                                           

 

 

 


 

 

Twelve Tips For Maternity Care for Survivors of Sexual Abuse / Assault

Pregnant Belly

About a month ago, I posted on Twitter using the ‘Me Too’ and ‘Maternity Care’ hashtags. Quite a few people got in touch to say that they found the advice I offered useful. A number of women contacted me privately to say that they found my tweets validating and reassuring. A few fathers also sent me messages to let me know that they witnessed the mothers of their children experiencing issues around their treatment and they realised, having read my tweets, that these reactions and issues were directly related to the abuse they had suffered as children.

In the hopes that these words will reach – and help – more people, I’m posting them here, as well.

  1. Sexual abuse is endemic. Treat ALL women as survivors until they tell you otherwise. Err on the side of caution.
  2. Continuity of care is best for women in order to build trust. We are extra vulnerable when pregnant, birthing, and in the peri-natal period.
  3. Before labour, ask if we have special requests for during labour – places not to touch, words not to use, etc.
  4. Call us by our names. Not ‘Love’ or ‘Sweetheart’. Abusers rarely use our names. Don’t diminish our personhood.
  5. Never, ever use the phrase ‘good girl’. We’re not girls. We’re women. Most of us were abused by people who used the phrase ‘good girl’ while they were abusing us.
  6. Don’t use nursery / childish language around us. That can be triggering.
  7. Don’t tell us to do something, eg ‘pop up on the bed’. Ask if we’d like to – explain why.
  8. Accept ‘no’ as an answer – don’t try and cajole or persuade us to turn our ‘no’ to a ‘yes’.
  9. Never tell us you’re going to do something. Ask permission. Our bodies belong to us, even when we’re birthing.
  10. Never perform a VE unless it’s necessary (hint: it’s *never* necessary.
  11. Be aware that our physiological responses may be different. EG we often pause dilation at about 4cms. Don’t rush with interventions because we are taking ‘too long’. Trust us. Trust our bodies.
  12. After birth, breastfeeding – no matter how much we want to – may be extremely triggering. Have compassion.

I offer workshops based on trauma-informed care to birth workers, based on my own experiences, and my academic research, (and the fact that I was Ireland’s first practicing doula!). If you’d like details, please get in touch.

A Good Bad Day

Spiral

 

Today was Not A Good Day.

 

The seeds for today not being A Good Day were sown last night, just after 6pm. That’s when the first thing went wrong. This morning, we were up and had left the house before 7.30. By 9.00am, the second thing had gone wrong. Things kept going wrong until 9.41am. By 10am, seven things had gone wrong – including the first thing that went wrong last night. By 10.13am, we thought we were back on track. Then something else went wrong. This is Thing Number Eight. It was too much.

 

Panic.

 

I couldn’t. I repeated that about 14 or 15 times ‘I can’t! I can’t! I can’t!’

 

Tears. Sobbing. Overwhelm.

 

The kindness of strangers.

 

The unexpected kindness of strangers.

 

The compassion of those who chose not to look the other way.

 

The unexpected compassion of strangers who chose to help.

 

The ninth thing went wrong. The ninth thing going right had been contingent on at least the eighth thing going right.

I was upset that the ninth thing went wrong. I knew I’d let my eldest daughter down because the ninth thing went wrong. But nobody died. We were all safe.

Later, the day (sort of) got back on track. I reflected on The Bad Day and realised that it had, actually, been a Good Bad Day: It took eight things before I felt overwhelmed. Eight. A year ago, one of those things would have overwhelmed me.  A year ago, one of those thing would have incapacitated me. A year ago, I would still – twelve hours later  – not have recovered. Today, it took less than an hour.

Today, I listened to what the voice in my head was saying. As I cried in the car after dropping my girls to school, I heard it. It said ‘I feel like a failure. I hate feeling like a failure.’ For the first time ever, it was saying ‘I feel like a failure’ and not ‘I am a failure.’

For all that they are real and valid, feelings are feelings; feelings aren’t facts. I was able to hear that I was acknowledging how I felt, rather than telling myself an absolute. This is progress.

 

A year ago, I’d have spun down a spiral that is hugely difficult to spin back up. In fact, I’ve never spun back up – I’ve only ever managed to crawl back up; slowly, on my hands and knees. Today, I was able to talk myself back from the first step on the spiral.

I felt dispirited, I felt like I had not won Wednesday, I felt frustrated, I felt powerless, I felt I had let my kids down. But I also felt like I could recover.

And I did.

Small victories, but victories none the less – and I have learned to celebrate my wins where I find them. Or where they find me.

Several things went wrong for me today – but they didn’t defeat me, the way they would have a few months ago. I’m learning. I’m learning self-compassion. I’m learning that sometimes, things just happen, and they’re not my fault. I’m learning that I don’t have to beat myself up when life doesn’t go according to plan. That’s what made today a Good Bad Day.

 

 

Failure?

Failing-is-not-always-failure.

I haven’t been thinking about failure as much as I used to. I used to wake up every morning, and feel paralysed by – among other things – a sense of failure. I felt I’d failed my children by not giving them a better life.  I spent literally hours beating myself up for failing them. I felt they deserved more. Here’s a partial list of what I felt they deserved (and that I wasn’t giving them):

  • A better life. I couldn’t quite define what that ‘better life’ might look like, but I was sure it wasn’t the one they were living.
  • A country other than Ireland to live in. I had a horrible childhood in Ireland. I wanted better for my children. I felt awfully guilty for bringing them (under duress, but still) to Ireland instead of staying in Asia.
  • A bigger house. We could do with at least one extra room – I dream of a library / study / creative area. And bigger rooms. I’d like them to have bigger bedrooms. Preferably in the city centre. (Hey, if you’re going to beat yourself up – you might as well use the heaviest stick you can find!)
  • An extended family that wasn’t filled with abusive people, so they could have safe relationships.

Then, one day, when I was apologising to them for their lack, they gently disabused me of my notion of failure. You see, I was measuring what I thought they wanted against what I wanted for them, and believing I was right.  I was wrong. Dismantling my list above, the girls made the following points:

  • In much the same way as I was vague about what their ‘better’ life might look like, they couldn’t describe it, either. They are happy.
  • They actually like living in Ireland. This seemed like such an absurd idea, that it never occurred to me as a possibility. Their experiences are not mine – they are not living a duplication of my life, just because they are living in the same geographical area.  They have spent enough time in Asia to tell me that they don’t want to live there. They like visiting well enough, but they see Asia as ‘my’ place, rather than theirs (even though they are the ones with Indian blood!)
  • ‘I love our house!’ they both exclaimed when I suggested they might not be delighted living here. More to the point, we are all very, very grateful to have a roof over our heads. Especially when there is a desperate housing crisis in Ireland at the moment, and one-parent families are disproportionately reflected in the homeless figures. I’ve been homeless, and it’s not fun. And, sure, there are houses we pass, and areas we pass through that we exclaim over and that allow us to imagine what it would be like to live there.  It’s nice to have dreams. You don’t, however, have to realise every single one of them.
  • As they have gotten older, I have told my children more and more about my own history, as it is appropriate for them to know it, and as they have been able to assume the information. They don’t want to have anything to do with the people who abuse me. They have plenty of wonderful people in their lives – a richly diverse gang of men, women, and children from all backgrounds who share their lives.

I was astonished. I hadn’t realised that the girls were, and are, quite content to live in Ireland. We travel enough that they have experienced other places and cultures and aren’t insular and parochial in their outlook. They have travelled enough to know that they love travelling, but – equally – they love returning to this house, in this village, in this country. Unlike their mother, my children have a sense of ‘home’,

 

I’ve also beaten myself up, on a regular basis, for appearing to fail in so many other ways. Most obvious, is my failure to perform as this patriarchal, capitalist society insists I must in order to be a ‘success’.

Recently, however, I have realised a few things. I can make a living and be aligned with my own values. Crucial to this realisation have been three people: Meg Kissack, Karen McAllister, and Prudence Moneypenny.  I’ve added these women – and the people they connect me with – to my team.

I’ve also realised that the only person I can truly ‘fail’ is myself. I fail myself by acting in ways that are not aligned with my purpose, my beliefs, and my values. I fail myself by trying to fit into a box that was never meant to contain me. I fail myself by denying what I bring to the party – by not acknowledging the value I can add to this world and the experiences of those who live in it.

Failing, I have realised, is not not doing everything by myself. Failing is not seeking and / or accepting help. Recognising true help can be tricky – often, I have found, the people who say they have your best interests at heart, really only have their own best interests at heart.

Finally, I have realised that part of my purpose may well be to allow others to do what they do best. That means accepting help that is offered if it supports me, and is aligned with my own beliefs and values.

If you feel you’re failing, I’d respectfully suggest that you’re really not.

Me Time

What is ‘me time’, and when do I get it?

I became a mum at 28 – after nearly ten years of trying to start a family. My daughter lit my life up even more than I could have imagined (and I have a reasonable imagination). The love I felt for her was matched only by the arrival of her sister two years later. I was amazed by how much love was inside me. I still am.

By the time I was two weeks pregnant with my younger daughter, I was a single parent with a seventeen-month old, and another another on the way. I was very lucky, though; I had a fantastic live-in nanny with whom we had a great relationship, who was a great cook, and who adored my child (and, later, my children).

When I moved back to Ireland (worst mistake of my life, but complex and complicated – a whole other blog post!), I was completely on my own with the two girls. I started to hear about ‘me time’ from other women.  I started to hear about how I needed to make time for myself, how I needed to find time to get away from my children and indulge myself with kid-free time.

I was never really convinced. Until I had them, my entire life was – more or less – focused on trying to become a mother. Once I had realised that ambition, I wanted to revel in it. I wanted to enjoy every minute of it.

Here’s the thing; for me, ‘me time’ is time spent with my babies – who are now 13 and 15 – it’s where my joy is. Where my bliss is. Where I feel happiest. I don’t want to ‘escape’ from that; why would I? Why would anyone spend their lives trying to achieve something, and then spend the rest of their lives trying to get away from that same thing?

I adore my girls. I am very grateful for the relationships we have; I am delighted with the fact that they they have a wonderful relationship. They are best friends, as well as  being sisters.

 

Of course, I understand that it makes sense to spend time away from other people – even people you adore, people you love to spend time with. But if ‘me time’ is meant to be a reward, if ‘me time’ is meant to be something you do for yourself, then my ‘me time’ is the time I spend with my girls; enjoying their company, sharing experiences with them, encountering the world together. It took a long time for me to realise this: I felt like I was failing, somehow, by wanting to be with my girls as often as I could. I had my children because I wanted to. I had my children because I wanted their company – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Manufacturing time to be away from them is inauthentic, though of course, as they get older, they find themselves wanting to spend less time glued to me; which is perfectly age-appropriate. The thing is, though, that they are choosing to separate from me, rather then being pushed away. Rather than being told that I need to be away from them, they are telling me that they want to engage with the world on their terms, which often means I’m not invited. As my girls age, I will have more and more time without them. I’ll have more ‘me time’ than you could shake a stick at. I don’t need to find it – it will find me.

 

 

 

 

 

The Love That Grows

Ishthara & Kashmira Baking, October 2007

 

I love my kids. That should go without saying, but not everyone loves their kids (as I know from my personal experience of growing up in a house of horrors).  Every day, I go about doing what it is I have to do, and am aware of the fact that I love my girls. In much the same way as I am aware of the fact that I am white, Irish etc. It’s just there. It’s just a fact.

Every so often, however, I fall in love with them all over again. Or fall deeper in love with them. I suddenly get gripped and overwhelmed by how amazing they are, and how they are containers for so much goodness, and joy, and love, and understanding, and kindness, and gentleness. I am overwhelmed by how awesome (literally, not colloquially) they are. I am humbled by the fact that they have allowed me to parent them, that they are so patient with me, and allow me to bear witness to their unfolding into adulthood.

 

It reminds me of when they were babies, and all I could do was gaze at them with gratitude and admiration. Now that they’re teenagers, I love that feeling of heart-swell I get, that feeling that my heart has to grow to accommodate the love I have for them. I am delighted that my love for them continues to grow, that it doesn’t stagnate, that there is more, there is more, there is always more.

 

Pic: Ishthara and Kashmira baking, exactly ten years ago – I didn’t think I could love them more, but I do! 

Terrible Teenagers

Girls in Masks
My Tremendous Teens & Me

About an hour ago, I heard an advertisement for an article in tomorrow’s paper. The piece promises ‘experts to tell you how to deal with your terrible teens’ and it really annoyed me. Why would anyone talk about ‘terrible teens’? Why would anyone tell parents that their teenagers are ‘terrible’? More importantly, why would anyone tell their teens that they are ‘terrible’?

 

I was so cross. Why would anyone tell anyone that they are ‘terrible’ – unless it was in that jesting way of ‘oh stop! You’re tehhhrrrrible‘ ? And why, oh why, would anyone tell a sensitive teenager that they are terrible? Why are we so happy to shame teenagers? Could you imagine if the same language was applied to older people? Imagine if there was an advertisement on the radio for a piece in tomorrow’s paper that would tell you how to deal with your ‘Problematic Parents’, or your ‘Exasperating Elders’? would that be okay? I hardly think so. Why is it permissible – even expected – to tell our teenagers that they are difficult? I’d also question the credentials of any ‘expert’ who would suggest that teens are ‘terrible’.

 

Here’s the thing; teenagers will live up – or down – to the expectations placed on them. Given that, how about this for an idea; instead of popular culture telling our teens they’re ‘terrible’, how about telling them they’re ‘terrific’, or ‘tremendous’? Instead of writing articles about how to deal with ‘terrible’ teens, why don’t we have experts writing articles about ‘terrific’ teens?

 

I would also respectfully suggest that any parent who thinks their teen is ‘terrible’ might want to look at their parenting first.

Cut Child Benefit to Punish Parents?

So, I read this afternoon, that some GPs are in favour of reducing child benefit by half in cases where parents don’t have those children vaccinated.

I think this is an appalling idea. Child benefit is a monthly, non-means-tested payment made, by the Irish State, to ease the financial costs associated with raising children in Ireland. Many households here rely on Child Benefit to help pay recurring monthly bills; gas, electricity, insurance, mortgage etc. You can’t argue that children don’t benefit from those bills being paid; or that they aren’t necessary for the child’s well-being. In other households (like mine), that €140 per child, is ear-marked for educational purposes. Other people use it for shoes or clothes. A few, a very lucky few, save or invest in order to have a lump sum for that child on their 18th birthday, or to help with costs associated with third-level education. Whatever the money is spent on, the clue really is in the title – the money is for each child in the country to help defray costs associated with raising that child. Cutting the benefit will not punish the parents, it will punish the children.

To suggest that a financial payment for a child should be cut if that child is not vaccinated against childhood diseases is a display of angry, lazy thinking at its worst. If the desire is to increase the uptake of vaccinations, then surely a better approach is to educate parents, to address their fears and concerns around vaccinations? Then – and I know this might appear radical – how about allowing parents to, you know, parent? By that I mean provide them with information and then encourage them to decide for themselves what is right for their particular child, and their particular family, at that time.

The idea that child benefit should be halved for children whose parents don’t act in the way that a certain group of people think they should act is patronising, paternalistic, and arrogant. It indicates that the group calling for this diminishing of the benefit believes they are absolutely right. In this instance, a group of doctors think that they should be able to wield a financial stick at parents who don’t agree with them. Missing the point entirely, of course, that such action would impact more on the children than on their parents. It also further encourages the myth that child benefit is a boon to parents – that it can (and should) be rescinded for non-compliance with a particular directive. What next? A slashing of child benefit if they don’t go to school? A further cut if they’re not breastfed? Another if they’re obese?

I would point out to this group of GPs that to punish a child for the lack of action on the part of their parents – which you view as negligent in the first place – is, by your own logic, punishing the child twice. Don’t do that. Don’t suggest that your frustrations be taken out on an already vulnerable group.

 

‘Don’t Use Words I Don’t Want You To’ – Irish Minister

pregnant-belly

As if running the Department of Poverty wasn’t a big enough job for Leo Varadkar, he’s decided to elect himself Minister for Mansplaining, and give himself cabinet responsibility for correct terminology as well.

Leo has decided that for every person, everywhere, who is ever pregnant, the correct word to use to describe the contents of their womb is ‘baby’.

‘Foetus’ Leo mansplains to all of us who have ever, will ever, or might ever, be pregnant, is not a word that we should use. Nor is it a word that should be used in reference to our pregnancies by mere mortals without a medical degree. ‘Foetus’, according to Dr V, is a medical word. The implication being that those of us who don’t hold medical degrees should not use medical words. We should not refer to our fingers as ‘digits’, either, he cautions. Presumably in case we lose the run of ourselves entirely, and start having a go at performing craniotomies during our lunch-breaks.

I only wish Dr V had been around 13 or 14 years ago, when I started telling my daughter that her vulva was her vulva, rather than her ‘fanny’ or her ‘front bum’ or her ‘butterfly’. I hope she doesn’t get notions above her station as a result. Idly, I wonder if Leo referred to his penis as his ‘passion pencil’ until he was a fully qualified medical doctor. Or if he’d be chagrined if he heard me talking about a migraine, and explaining to my GP that it had started occipitally? Would he chastise me, do you think, and tell me I should talk about the back of my head, instead? Except, referring to the back of my head is not as precise as referring to my occipital bone; and sometimes it is necessary and useful to be precise.

Does Leo not understand that women are allowed to refer to the contents of their wombs however they please? If a woman wants to refer to the product of conception inside her as ‘foetus’, ‘baby’, ‘peanut’, ‘sprog’, ‘alien’ or any other word she likes (the last time I was pregnant, my daughters referred to the contents of my womb as ‘The Minion’), it is not my place to tell her that she is using the wrong word. I would respectfully suggest that Dr V adopt the same attitude.

I find his diktat that all women should refer to their foetuses as babies – and that their friends and families should, too – to be more than vaguely unsettling.  If women aren’t even allowed, by Leo, to use the language which feels most appropriate for them, at a given time, what else does he think they really shouldn’t have a choice about? Or that they should only have limited choice about?

There is an element of nuance involved in this naming business. For a lot of women, when a pregnancy is wanted, they talk about their ‘baby’ even though they know it is not, actually, a baby. Every woman who wants to be a mother, wants to have a baby; but knows that first, she will have a blastocyst, then a zygote, then an embryo, then a foetus, then – if she’s lucky – a baby. We project our hopes onto our wanted pregnancies. We imagine what we’ll have at the end. We invest in them.

Every woman who doesn’t want to be a mother, doesn’t want to have a baby. She knows that she is well within her rights – even if not well within the law in Ireland – to decide what happens to her body. She will refer to it as an embryo or a foetus when discussing it because she is using the correct terminology, whether Leo likes it or not.

Leo also mentioned asking his pregnant friend if she knew what sex her baby was going to be (thank God he used correct terminology and didn’t ask her what gender) and I’m a bit horrified by this, to be honest. It’s none of his business. If his friend wanted to tell him, he should have left it up to her to disclose, and not gone prying. Is it just me, or does this interrogation assume a level of entitlement that he doesn’t deserve?

I also find it interesting that Leo decided to speak for his friend and his sisters by telling the world that if he had used the word ‘foetus’ when referring to their pregnancies, they would have been offended. Why? Because he thinks it’s a ‘medical’ word. I find this deeply disturbing; that a man would assume a woman would take offence because he thinks their thoughts and feelings should match his own? Is this more evidence of entitlement? Or am I over-thinking this?

When I speak to friends who are pregnant, I never say ‘How’s the foetus?’ (I reserve that for when I’m gently joshing friends who are in May-December relationships). Equally, though, I never say ‘How’s the baby?’ Instead, I ask ‘How are you?’ The person I’m addressing is free to choose whether or not to interpret that as second person singular or second person plural (do you think Leo will object to my using such technical language?), and answer accordingly. I don’t decide for her what word should be used in this context. It’s not my place.

 Maybe I’m over-sensitive. Or maybe I just don’t like being mansplained at by a privileged male with an over-developed sense of entitlement.

Dear Ireland

Dear Ireland

I don’t have long this morning to make my point, so I will be brief (we all know I can bang on a bit, so I know you’ll be a bit relieved to read that.)

I seem to be in a perpetual state of annoyance with you, but if you’d keep your word on the important things, then maybe I wouldn’t be quite so cross.

What’s been really annoying me lately is your treatment of refugee children in the ‘Jungle’ in Calais. Actually, ‘annoying me’ is an understatement. I’m actually spitting fire.  Ireland, what is wrong with you? These are babies. And you are turning your back on them. These are young hearts and minds and souls that you are deliberately failing. The damage that abandonment and trauma does to young minds is irreversible. It is. I’ve studied this. I know what I’m talking about. (I’m also an adult who was traumatised as a child, and had that trauma compounded by the state, so I have lived experience, too.) You, Ireland, by refusing to act, are condemning these children to a lifetime of psychological pain. And many of those lives will be cut short because of your inaction.  A generation of little babies damaged beyond repair. On your head be it, Ireland, because you are standing idly by and doing nothing more than wringing your hands and – I’ll bet – counting your blessings that Calais is not just outside Cork or Dublin or Galway.

I am disgusted, ashamed, and appalled by your treatment of these children who need help, and need help now. Honestly, though, I’m not surprised because – let’s face it – your track record on looking after babies and children leaves a lot to be desired.  But I don’t have time to list your past failings, I think what’s most important today is to address your current one.

Ireland, I know your memory for certain things is a bit poor. (Except the potato famine and the 1916 Rising, of course.) So let me take this opportunity to remind you of a document you signed, and then ratified on September 28th, 1992. That’s a while ago I admit; 24 years, one month and four days ago now. Let me remind you what it was – a wee thing known as the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. You signed this, Ireland. You signed this as a solemn pledge to be bound by the contents of the document. You signed this, agreeing that it was right and proper and correct that children should be treated in accordance with the Convention.

Let me jog your memory a bit, Ireland, and remind you of your obligations under this Convention. Article 38.4, if you want to have a look at it, says that countries who sign up to the Convention

‘shall take all feasible measures to ensure protection and care of children who are affected by an armed conflict.’

Article 39 is a commitment to

‘take all appropriate measures to promote physical and psychological recovery and social reintegration of a child victim of: any form of neglect, exploitation, or abuse; torture or any other form of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; or armed conflicts. Such recovery and reintegration shall take place in an environment which fosters the health, self-respect and dignity of the child.’

Now, Ireland, can you honestly say that you are honouring your commitment to these children? And don’t start whining about ‘looking after our own’ first or any of that nonsense, because I don’t want to hear it. Not least because these children are our own. Every child is the responsibility of every adult. Really. If a child’s primary carers are unable to care for them, for whatever reason, then the rest of us need to step up and mind those babies and treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve. And, yes, love them. Love them fiercely and unconditionally and without reservation.

Do it now, Ireland. These children can’t wait any longer. Do it now and argue about it afterwards. Don’t be the country that saves banks, and sacrifices children. Step up, Ireland. Grow a pair. Open your doors and your heart and welcome these children. Hold them close, nourish them, help them to heal as much as they can.

I said I didn’t have long this morning to fire off letters to you, Ireland, but these children have even less time than I do. They need you to act now.

 

 

 

 

Leave It Out!

Yesterday, 58,466 students received the results of their Leaving Certificate Examinations in Ireland. Cue the usual messages and platitudes on all forms of media – social and mainstream – telling those who had received their results that  they are more than the pieces of paper sent to them by the Department of Education and Skills. Posts popped up on Facebook and Twitter reassuring those who had received their results that they (the posters) had not been asked how they did in their LC since nineteen-splat. People posted stories of their own devastation, and gave jolly, positive endings to those stories.

Experts were heard on the radio telling parents how to deal with their children’s stress, disappointment, and changes of heart. There were also other experts discussing how to ask for a paper to be marked again, as well as how to cope with the financial issues that stem from having children going to college.

Pat Kenny, in the lead-in to introducing a guest and discussing the differences in the Irish and UK systems,  boasted ‘Stress? We’ll show you stress!’ as though having more than 58,000 (mainly) young people stressed over exams, and their results was a good thing.

I was struck by how, in this instance, Irish society seems to be talking out of both sides of its mouth. We spend at least two years instilling in our young people that this exam is the most important thing they will ever do; it is the focal point of the final two years of school. They are prepared and primed and goaded and scolded and lectured and cajoled into thinking and feeling that the result of this examination defines them and their futures. Then, once the results are out, the tune is changed significantly and the song is ‘You are more than the sum of your points‘. If you’ll pardon me for saying so, I think it’s a case of ‘too little, too late’ if you’re giving kids this message at this point in time.

Those who defend the current system cite our points-system as a ‘leveller’ – that the only thing that will get you into a course is having enough points. I disagree, however; students who struggle and who don’t get the help they need in school have to pay for help. Only those who can afford to pay for this help can access it; so there is a distinct advantage to students from more affluent backgrounds and the idea of a ‘level playing field’ goes out the window.

Why would we want to put our children through this much stress, worry, anxiety, and fear? As parents, educators and concerned members of society, why are we doing this to our young people year after year? People who complain about the Irish education system – from ‘having’ to get their children christened in order to get them into the local school (because it’s Catholic-run), to ‘having’ to put up the system that stresses, upsets and worries their children (and them) – but I do wonder why. There are alternatives. Scoring well in the leaving certificate is not the only way to get in to college or university in Ireland. Mainstream school is not the only option. In fact, in Ireland, we are very lucky to have a constitutional right to educate our children whenever and however we see fit. It’s time, I think, that more people explored the different options; time that more people thought outside the strictures of the Irish curriculum (which discourages critical thinking, philosophy, and ignores the needs and rights of gifted and talented children); and time that more people they wanted more for their children.  More for them than the stress and anxiety and worry – and the poor standard of education – that the current system provides.

More on Poverty & Education

My piece yesterday on education and poverty struck a nerve with many of you. I received a slew of messages here, on Facebook, on Twitter, and on my phone, from women who found themselves in similar situations. Women who tried desperately hard to educate their way out of poverty. Women who tried to grab life by the scruff of the neck and gain an education for themselves so they could lift their families out of poverty.

Some of us end up pursuing more than one degree in an effort to improve our circumstances. Unfortunately, in Ireland, if you want to pursue a second degree that is not higher on the NFQ than one you already have, you will not receive state funding. That means that if you find the MA you have isn’t enough to secure employment – and you can’t, for whatever reason, pursue a PhD – you will have to self-fund. This is what I ended up doing. My intention was to use the money from a settlement for sexual abuse to pay my fees (and for the therapy I need as a result of the abuse to keep me mentally healthy).  The problem is that one of the brothers who raped and otherwise sexually abused me decided not to honour the settlement. In desperation, I launched a Go Fund Me campaign explicitly, exclusively and entirely to ensure that I stay fit enough to parent, and that I can finish my degree and graduate.  And, then, maybe – just maybe – get a job somewhere. Anywhere.

It struck me earlier today how gendered this all is. The men walk away from their financial obligations, and abuse the children they have decided not to support. They further abuse the women to whom they don’t pay child support because they know that (most) mothers will go hungry before they allow their child/ren to suffer.

The structures of our society and our legal system are patriarchal and allow men who do not wish to support their children, to walk away from their obligations. The women who are then responsible for every aspect of raising the children are then vilified by the society that does not men to account. This, in turn, enforces the belief that many of these men (and, to be honest, I am thinking of specific men; not necessarily men in general) hold; that women deserve to be abused. That women who stand up to the men who bully them need (in my ex-husband’s words) ‘to be taught a lesson’.

Even before I became a mother, I knew one thing; no woman creates a child on her own. Not even those who have virgin births or those who claim impregnation by entity. To continue to promulgate the myths around mothers who are forced to raise their children on their own shifts the focus from those who are doing nothing for their families to those who are doing everything they can for their families. Those who are doing all they can to make their lives, their children’s lives and, therefore society better.  Ironically, we are frustrated by the very society we are trying to improve as we are trying to improve it.

Ireland may no longer lock up lone mothers and sell their babies, but it has a long way to go before it can become in any way congratulatory over the way it does treat them.

 

 

Educated Poverty

Pic of Student Card number erased

Yesterday, I read this piece in the Journal. I didn’t write it – but I could have.

Those of us who parent alone – and the vast majority of us are female – experience the highest rates of deprivation: Nearly 60% of those in single-parent households live with the lack of basic necessities. And, according to the CSO, more than half a million people live in one parent families. That’s a lot of lack.

Like many poor people, lone parents are blamed for their circumstances and for their poverty. In spite of the fact that many women are married, or in stable relationships when they have their children, they are judged as feckless ‘young wans’ whose only desire is to ‘sponge off the state’. May of the comments on the piece I’ve linked to above demonstrate this. One of the things that bothers me about nasty comments and judgements aimed at single mothers is the fact that those who deride them are picking on the wrong parent. They are picking on the parent who is actually parenting. They are picking on the parent who didn’t abandon their child. They are picking on the parent who is doing their best, in spite of the odds, which are stacked against them.

For the longest time, the accepted narrative is that the only way out of poverty is education. Sadly, that’s only half the story. As a woman who has been parenting on my own in Ireland for nearly 12 years, I have direct, personal experience of this. I returned to education when my eldest was 3.5 years old, and my youngest was just 16 months old. Four years later and I was able to put the letters BA (Hons) after my name. Now I had a degree, I was sure I’d find (or make) work for myself.

Sadly, I was wrong. I graduated in 2009, when the Celtic Tiger was in its death throes. Few places were hiring. Even fewer were hiring new graduates. Even fewer would even acknowledge an application from a single parent of two young children. After a year of trying to secure gainful employment (and giving many, many hours for free to NGOs and charities and publications), I returned to education. In 2012, I added ‘MA’ to those letters after my name. Now, surely, someone would hire me.

Again, I was wrong in thinking that I would be offered a job by a company in Ireland. To add insult to injury, several of those employers who deigned to employ me had no difficulty accepting my services for free before they had ‘openings’ for which I applied. Repeatedly, when applying for jobs I was already doing for NGOs and other agencies for whom I had done volunteer work, I was told that I lacked the ‘law piece’. So I applied, and was accepted, to the Law School at Queen’s University in Belfast.

In between finishing my MA and starting my LLM, I was accepted on to a PhD programme at Trinity College, Dublin. I did the first year ‘off books’ (a term meaning that – while I was studying – I hadn’t paid fees, so I wasn’t technically registered, and my access to certain things was restricted). When it came time to start my second year at Trinity, I simply couldn’t do it. I couldn’t commit my kids to another three years of poverty. I opted to go to Queen’s instead, thinking that I was better off to spend a year studying intensely and get myself a degree at the end of it, than spend a year studying intensely and still only be part way through a degree. Even if that degree was a PhD. So far, the idea that a primary degree and two Master’s degrees will open up employment opportunities has proved unfounded – but I live in hope (because, frankly, I have little else).

Tertiary education, to me, means being hungry. I don’t mean that metaphorically, I mean it literally. When I’m studying, I can’t afford to eat three meals a day. So I don’t. I drink a lot of coffee (that I bring from home), and insist that it’s all in a good cause. And anyway, I can afford to lose a few kilos. Plus, I’ll get a job at the end of it, I tell myself on the days and nights when the gnawing in my stomach distracts me from the words on the page. That last, so far, has proved to be a lie.

No matter how highly educated you are in Ireland, you can’t be sure you’ll get a job. I think part of the reason for that is a lack of ability on the part of Irish employers to recognise, and understand, the value of transferable skills. The idea that the skills single mothers use on a daily basis – financial juggling, multi-tasking, fire-fighting, negotiating, prioritising, communicating with government departments, healthcare, etc. etc. – are useful in the workplace, completely escapes Irish employers. There is also a reluctance to acknowledge that people can retrain, change direction, and bring their previous experience with them. The Irish way is that you have a box that you have been put in, and you must stay in that box forever. Especially if you are a woman. And most especially if you are a woman raising children on your own.

Education, on its own, won’t help lone parents lift themselves out of poverty. It’s a start – but it’s not the complete solution. We need access to jobs once we’ve graduated – and access to quality childcare, and employers who understand that we are no less committed to our jobs than our childfree colleagues. In short, we need support from the state and the society we’re living in. We need the opportunity to put our expensive educations to good use.

 

In the Flesh

Last night, I became that mother. I became the mother who looked at her beautiful daughter and said ‘You’re not going out looking like that.’

Except I didn’t say those words, exactly. I said ‘Can you please find something else to wear? I’m not comfortable with you going out exposing so much flesh.’

She glowered at me in a way she started doing when she was about eighteen months old. Now, twelve-and-a-half years later, she has that glower perfected. What she’s feeling rolls off her and comes at you in waves. You always know how she’s feeling, even if you’re not exactly sure why. Last night, as she rifled through her drawers in search of something less revealing, I knew exactly why. She was not one bit happy at her frumpy old ma insisting she put on clothes that covered more flesh than she was currently exposing.

I wasn’t happy – and it wasn’t Ishthara I was unhappy with. It was myself I was unhappy with. I felt like a hypocrite. All her life, I’d been teaching my daughter about bodily autonomy, about how her body belongs to her, and her alone. I’m also of the belief that everyone should be allowed to wear what they like, when they like, where they like, and not be subject to abuse, intimidation, assault, or body-shaming of any description. I have mentioned this belief, several times, to my daughters. Yet here I was, telling my gorgeous 14 year-old that she needed to cover up before she went out.

I fumbled through my first attempt to explain myself to her.

‘It’s not that you should be ashamed of how you look,’ I started. Then I tried again.

‘You’re beautiful – because of how you are, more than because of how you look – and I don’t want you to feel that you should have to hide your beauty but…..’

I stopped. What the fuck was it I was trying to say? I couldn’t find the words, and I didn’t have time to dwell on finding them because I didn’t want her to be late for the disco. She’d been excited about it for weeks and her bestie was standing on the landing waiting. and I was making everything worse.

I took a deep breath and exhaled loudly.

‘You’re gorgeous and I love you more than my own life and…you are all that matters…and people judge, and I’m sorry that they do, but I don’t want people to judge you on what you’re wearing….’

I was close to tears at this stage because I knew I was bollocksing this up. And I knew it was important. And I knew it was important that I didn’t bollocks it up.

‘Teenage boys are bastards!’ burst out of me before I could stop it. I was horrified at myself. ‘I didn’t mean that. It was horribly sexist of me and a gross generalisation. What I mean is, some teenage boys are bastards and…some of think that they can touch anything they see, and the more of you they see, the more they think they can touch.’

That was no better. I was still making a complete pig’s ear of it.

‘I don’t want you to have to change what you wear because of what other people will think but that’s exactly what I’m asking you to do. I’m sorry…’ I was so conflicted, I was tormented by it. For a fleeting moment, I wished I was one of those parents who just lays down the law, and rules with a hard heart and an iron fist.

By now, Ishthara had found something else to wear and was keen to change and get going.

‘I don’t think you should have to hide yourself away, I just…’

She sighed. A deep, painful sigh.

‘Let’s just go.’

As we were heading out the door, I put my hand on her shoulder and turned her to face me. I didn’t want to make things more awkward for her than they already were. I didn’t want to make her uncomfortable around her best friend. But this was really important and I needed to get it right, no matter how many attempts it took.

‘Isha…’ I started again. ‘You are beautiful – and, of course I’m going to say that because I’m your mum, so that’s not empirical – but you are 14 and you look 20. You have the figure of an adult woman. And you have the poise of someone older than you as well. You look 20, but you’re not 20. You don’t have the life experience of a twenty-year-old. That’s nothing to do with being mature, or responsible, or anything other than the amount of years you have been on this planet.  What that means is that you don’t know how to react when people treat you like you’re a lot older, or a lot more worldly than you are. I don’t want you to go out exposing any more skin than you are now because I don’t want you to be in a position where someone else says or does something that makes you uncomfortable and you don’t know how to deal with it.’

Ishthara nodded.

‘Okay,’ she said, less sullen than she had been earlier.

‘D’you remember, last year, when the man on the bridge started hitting on you?’

She nodded again.

‘And do you remember how you felt? And how it wasn’t very pleasant?  And at least I was there, and I was able to deal with him?’

‘Yes.’ I could tell she was listening, taking it all in.

‘Well, when you’re older, you’ll be well able to cope with that kind of attention because you’ll have been around long enough to figure out how to deal with it. It’s the same with the kind of attention you’re going to get by dressing in a way that shows more skin, that is – for want of a better way to but it – sexier than what you’re wearing right now. I don’t want you to feel you have to change anything about yourself, not even your clothes in order for you to feel comfortable, but for now, until you learn how to cope with the attention, how to handle it, I’d prefer if we took care to avoid it.’

Another nod, and this time, a smile.

‘I get it,’ she said. ‘I really do. Now, come on, can we please go?’

Later, as we prepared hot drinks and snacks in the kitchen before bed (she’d been too excited to eat before going out), Ishthara told me she was glad she’d changed before going out.  Apparently, she felt more comfortable in a place with nearly 2,000 strangers when she was wearing more rather than less.

‘It’s okay, Mum. I know you love me,’ she finished.

As long as she remembers that, I think we’ll get through these teenage years intact. In spite of my propensity for foot-in-mouth disease.

 

World Prematurity Day

Yesterday was World Prematurity Day: A day to celebrate the babies born around the world well in advance of their ‘due’ dates. Technically, that means a baby born before 37 weeks’ gestation. The further out from 37 weeks a baby is, the slimmer their chance of survival.  Things are not as grim for these ‘early-borns’ as they were 20 or even 15 years ago.

My own early born came into this world 10 weeks early, and so many of the stories I read yesterday resonated with me. I’m not, however, going to reproduce a blow-by-blow account of her early hours and days. Instead, I’d like to offer hope to parents struggling with tiny babies. I was told my little girl wouldn’t last the night. I was told my little girl would have severe learning and developmental delays. I was told my little girl would never ‘look right’. I was told my little girl would always be small for her age.

Now, at thirteen and eight months old, Ishthara has defied the odds. She is narrow and fine-boned (like her sister) and she will always be petite. But she’s not tiny. Not any more.

Ishthara is a bright, confident, sweet young lady. She is kind and thoughtful and good to her sister. (She’s good to her mum, as well!). She is responsible and polite and loves her friends. She loves to cook and loves make-up and crime shows on Netflix. She is a normal thirteen year old girl. Because miracles do happen. They happen every day – and they happen every day in the lives of early-born babies and their families.

Girls World Premie Day

The End of the LPA

Today, like thousands of other parents – primarily other mothers – I lost my lone parent’s allowance. Well, that’s not strictly true; I didn’t lose it – it was taken from me. That money is the only guaranteed income for my children and I. It is all I have to count on and now it’s gone.

Minister Joan Burton – who has taken this money from me and those like me – either has no idea what she’s done, or she doesn’t care. She is throwing thousands of families into further uncertainty and worry. We’re already poor, and bearing the stigma that goes with that (particularly in Irish society), now we’re further stigmatised because any notion that we should be allowed to choose to stay at home with our children has been completely removed from us; the idea that there is something dignified about raising your children has been dismissed by the Minister for Social Protection (a misnomer if ever I read one!).

This removal of the LPA is a cynical move by this government. It implies that those of us who are living on the grand sum of €181, plus €33 for each dependent child, are content on that amount of money and make no true or meaningful effort to enter or obtain paid employment. Apart from anything else, I find that implication hugely offensive. I do not know one person who is content to live on €181 per week and raise a child on an allowance of €33. How can any child be fed, clothed, shod and educated on that amount?

Actually, it’s a misstatement to talk of ‘living’ on LPA. You can’t live on that amount, you can merely try to exist. Worry and fear and shame and failure sit inside you, mingling and curdling and paralysing you. The obvious effects of a constant, chronic lack of money – otherwise knows as consistent poverty – are things like essential bills going unpaid: Of your light, heat and home being at risk of being taken from you; of being unable to buy enough nourishing food for your family, of being unable to buy clothes for your children or yourself.  Long-term poverty means more than that. It brings social isolation for you and your child/ren. You can’t throw a birthday party for your child if you can’t afford it. You can’t send your child to a party without a gift for the birthday boy or girl, so more often than not your child has to refuse invitations. You can’t go to the movies, buy books, or enjoy a night out anywhere without funds. You can’t even go for a nice drive in the country and enjoy a picnic if you can’t afford the petrol or the bus-fare to do so. You can’t get the extra educational supports your children need if you can’t afford them.

In her wisdom, Minister Joan Bruton has decided that it would be far better for me and my family if I had a job. I have to say I agree with her. A job would not only bring income, it would bring social engagement, it would bring an increase in self-esteem, and it would bring hope – the hope that dreams could come true for me and my girls. But her suggestion that taking our only source of income away from us will somehow prompt and prod me to get a job is repugnant. As if I – or any lone parent – needs to be forced into work! The sad truth is that we would happily if there were work available with childcare options that would mean our children would be properly cared for in our absence. Every woman I know who is raising children alone would love an income – we are currently trying everything we can, running little businesses from home, educating ourselves so we’re better equipped and skilled for the workforce and many of us are wishing we could afford to emigrate.

The myth of the social welfare cheat and the single mother who is a feckless young wan spreading her legs for  any young fella who comes along so she can get a free house and live high on the hog is tiresome. But it’s easy to believe by those who want someone to blame for their increased income tax – a bit like people who still refuse to relinquish their belief that the MMR vaccine creates autism.

Taking Lone Parent Allowance away from parents who are raising children on their own is punishing the parent who stayed. It is punishing the parent who didn’t walk away from their child. It is punishing the parent who is trying their best. It is punishing the parent who has faced up to her (or, in the small minority of cases, his) responsibilities. It is punishing the parent who who is prepared to parent.

Our government should know better – and be better – than that.

The Booby Trap

Listen, can we just stop? Can we, please? Can we please stop pitting women against each other? It’s sad, it’s upsetting, and it achieves absolutely nothing.

Women are fabulous at supporting each other, at sharing good times and bad (and cake!). They are wonderful at encouraging each other, and listening to each other, and caring for each other. They think nothing of dropping what they are doing and going to be with another woman or family who needs them. Women are brilliant.

But they can also be complete fucking bitches. No one can tear a woman down quite as viciously as another woman. No one can hurt a woman quite as deeply as another woman. No one can shame and victim-blame a woman quite as effectively as another woman.

And do you know who knows this really well? Those clever folk who run advertising and PR agencies. They know this from their own lives, from a little bit of research, from focus groups and from watching what happens when you pit one group of woman against another. They have put this knowledge to good use by creating an arena where breastfeeding mothers and artificially-feeding mothers are conflated as adversaries. They are sitting back and watching the show while they and their clients (the formula companies) are making a fortune. Those who are baited by the arguments are falling into this specially-constructed booby trap. I won’t bang on about it here, but if you are interested in learning more about the business of breastfeeding, I recommend this book.

Ireland has the lowest rates of breastfeeding and – by inference – the highest rates of artificial feeding in the world. There are billions of dollars to be made from formula feeding; not just the dairy (or other) milk that is used in making the formula, but the bottles and teats and sterilisers etc.  By comparison, there is very little money to be made from breastfeeding – a few breast-pads if you need them, maybe a consultation or three with a lactation consultant, a family-sized bar of chocolate every night and a number of feeding bras in different sizes. That’s pretty much it – unless you want a pump and some bottles to store that milk in. Chances are you’ll save on menstrual products as well, because your periods won’t return for months after the birth (if you’re lucky).

But look, everyone knows that breast is best. This is not a blog post banging on about how I think other women should feed their babies. For the record, I breastfed both of mine. Except my eldest had no suck because she was born at 30 weeks so I expressed for her and fed her from a bottle. When she was ten months old, my ex-husband put pressure on me to stop breastfeeding (I was already supplementing with formula because I didn’t know then what I know now). I gave up, but re-lactated when I left him a few months later. She gave up breastfeeding at 19 months, when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second. My younger daughter was breastfed from the day she was born until she was five and a half years old. Primarily because I’m lazy and this suited me best. Also, it was effortless (I was lucky) and free.

But that’s me – those were my choices based on the information I had, what suited me best, and what best suited my family at that time. I don’t want to try and convert other women and judge them and tell them that they are doing wrong by not breastfeeding. Women who want to breastfeed, for the most part, will breastfeed. Women who don’t, won’t.  Sadly, there will always be a small minority of women who want to breastfeed but will be unable to, for a variety of reasons. I’d hazard a guess that, for most of those women, those reasons include a lack of information, a lack of support, and pressure from family to give up at the first sign of trouble.

So, this latest stick to beat breastfeeding women with – the backlash against ‘brelfies’ – is annoying me. For a start, if looking at a woman feeding her child bothers you, look away. When a woman breastfeeds her baby, you can’t see much breast at all – you’ll generally only see the back of the baby’s head – unless and until the baby unlatches. As it happens, all of the women I have discussed breastfeeding with are more worried about people seeing their wobbly bellies, than they are about people seeing their breasts being used for the primary purpose.

How's this for a 'brelfie'?  (Kashmira's first feed, aged about 5 minutes.)
How’s this for a ‘brelfie’?
(Kashmira’s first feed, aged about 5 minutes.)

Most women see breastfeeding their babies in public as something they have to do in order to ensure their babies don’t die of hunger and dehydration, they’re not doing it to be provocative or feminist or defiant. The same as mothers who bottlefeed their babies, really. People who think otherwise need to check where their prejudice and discomfort comes from and confront them rather than women who are busy feeding their children.

How I feed my babies is my business. How you feed your babies is your business. I do believe that with more support, more information and more easily accessible help, more women would choose to breastfeed – because choice, after all, is only really a choice when it’s fully informed and all options are presented honestly and in their entirety. In the meantime, though, let’s get busy supporting all mothers because all of us need support, no matter how we’re feeding our babies.

Lying Straight in Bed

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In all the years before I had children, I daydreamed about how I would raise them. I thought a lot about how much I would love them, how I would make sure they knew they were loved, how I would treat them. Before I was even a teenager, I decided that I would never lie to them. Not ever. Not even once. I had an idea that trust was an important element of parenting, that it was an important way to teach my children that I was a trustworthy person, and they would always be safe with me.

I have to admit, that policy has served me well. Even when I’m asked awkward questions, I answer them as honestly as I can. Sometimes, I give fuller answers than necessary, resulting in one or other (sometimes both!) of my girls beating a hasty retreat and saying ‘TMI, Mum! Okay, you can stop talking now!’

Until last night.

Kashmira is ten – she’ll be eleven next month – and she has a rich imagination. She also loves reading and counts among her favourite authors people like Ruth Long and John Connolly. In case you’re unaware, these authors don’t write about fluffy bunnies that get lost in the garden and go off on adventures with gentle fairies before being found by child owners who cuddle them happily. Oh no.

Last night, Kashmira came in to me some time after 11pm.

‘I just came in for a cuddle,’ she announced, arms out-stretched.

She popped into the bed beside me and snuggled in.

‘I might just sleep here tonight.’

‘That’s fine.’

‘Except…..am I not a bit old?’

‘No! It’s perfectly normal for human beings to seek other human beings – it’s very artificial to sleep in a room on your own. From an anthropological point of view, humans have….’

‘Mum!’ Kashmira’s tone was urgent. ‘I’m not here because I’m human, I’m here because I’m scared!’

‘Oh. Well that’s perfectly normal, too.’

‘I can’t get my imagination to stop. I can’t get the thoughts to leave me alone. It’s worse at night.’

I stop to think and pull something out of my repertoire for when I write and talk about mental health:

‘Well, who owns your brain, where your imagination lives?’ I ask.

‘I do,’ she responds and I nod.

‘Right. So you get to choose which thoughts you entertain. I imagine myself sitting on a park bench and my thoughts are passing in front of me – I can choose which ones I invite to sit on the bench beside me, or which ones I tell to walk on by.’

She considers this for a nanosecond.

‘Fine. But what if your thoughts don’t pass in front of you? What if they jump out from behind a tree and sneak up behind you and attack you before you even know they’re there?’

Emmmmm….no one in any of the seminars or workshops I’ve spoken at has ever asked me that.

‘I can’t control my imagination,’ Kashmira continued. ‘The thoughts just keep coming at me, I don’t even know where they come from.’

‘You’ve a fabulous imagination,’ I remind her. ‘It comes up with the most amazing ideas and ways of looking at things…’

‘Yes, and it has the ability to terrify me – especially at night! And then I don’t want to sleep on my own.’

‘But you don’t have to sleep on your own. You can always come in to me.’

‘I know, but…’ she hesitates and I am aware that we’re about to get to the crux of the matter. ‘Am I not too old to come in to my mum at night cos I’m scared?’

And that’s when it happens. The lie words tumble out of my mouth.

‘Absolutely not!’ I scoff. ‘I happen to know for a fact that John Connolly was still going in to his mum at night when he was a scared fifteen-year-old.’

Kashmira’s face lights up.

‘Really?’ she asks.

‘Yes!’ I sound so convincing, I have myself believing my own lie. ‘And look at the imagination he has. You can guess how scared he was at night. When he was fifteen. Going in to his mam.’

The relief rolled off the child and she settled down, reassured that she wasn’t a big baby, but rather a ten year-old with an imagination who sometimes needed the presence of another in the middle of the night to make sure that characters in her rich, vivid imagination didn’t ‘get her’ while she slept.

So, John, the next time you see Kashmira at a book signing, or any other event, or even just on the street, will you do me a solid? If she asks you about being fifteen and being scared and needing your mum in the middle of the night, will you just nod and confirm my version of events? Thanks a million.

Images: The covers of two of Kashmira’s favourite books, swiped from their respective authors’ web-sites. 

My Simon Cowell Moment

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I’m not going to win any friends with this post, but sometimes, some things need to be said.

There was a piece in yesterday’s Irish Times. I’m deliberately not going to link to it because if you really want to read it, you’ll go and find it yourself.

The piece I’m talking about was written by a very young person. The headline did its job and drew me in – excited to read what followed. The headline was, at best, slightly mis-leading. It suggested that the young author of the piece had written a novel. She hasn’t. Which is fine. No one would think she was a slacker for not writing a novel at such a young age. The young girl in question likes to read and she likes to write. She has started to write a book, which she hopes to finish and is wishful of getting a publisher for. A section of her book is reproduced at the end of the article and (here’s my Simon Cowell moment) it’s not very good. In fact, it’s pretty awful. I’d expect more of any 13 year old and I’d expect a lot more of a 13 year old who was published in a national newspaper.

I am delighted this child likes to read. She should be encouraged to read every spare moment she has. She should be given a torch to facilitate reading under the covers when she’s supposed to  be asleep. She should be given lovely stationery and taken to the pen shop to buy herself a fabulous writing instrument. She should be encouraged to read books about writing. She should be encouraged to love language and love manipulating it. She should be told to keep at it, that writing is a craft and benefits from daily practice. She should be sent on writing courses and workshops for children her age. She should be encouraged in her endeavours. She absolutely should.

I don’t think, however, her parents or the editor of the newspaper should have allowed her to publish a few hundred words of a book she has started writing, hopes to finish and hopes to publish. Especially when it’s not very good. I think it’s an awful thing to do to a child. She’s 13 and she has started to write a book. Newsflash! That’s not unusual. I’d say in an average class of 30 average 13 year olds in Ireland today, you’ll have at least five who harbour a desire to write a book. Most of them are probably scribbling away in journals and copybooks and on laptops. And they are quite right. But most of those books will be abandoned long before they are finished. New projects will be started and (perhaps) not finished either. If they are finished, they will be re-read and the writer will realise that they have better in them. They may start to write another book. Or they may not. This is all perfectly normal.

The difference is that all these children have the safety and security of writing away in their own homes until they have finished something they can be proud of, and are ready to show to the world. If they don’t end up, at 13, with something they are proud of and want to share with the world, that’s perfectly fine. The world is not waiting for them to.

Unlike the girl in yesterday’s paper. What kind of pressure – internal or external – will she be under now to produce a novel worthy of publication in five months’ time? What if she can’t? What if she changes her mind? Every school has bullies. Has this girl been encouraged to give the bullies in her school a stick to beat with her with? I hope not. I hope she finishes her book and that, as she edits and re-writes, it improves. I hope she finds herself a publisher and gets her book published and has a fabulous book launch and some famous people say lovely things and she’s fit to burst with pride. But I worry about what will happen to her and her self-esteem and sense of self if things don’t work out for her.

I am reminded of something a tutor told us when I was studying Theatre 110 years ago.

‘Never tell anyone what you’re doing until you’ve done it’.

There’s wisdom in that, and I just wish this enthusiastic girl with her love of reading and writing had been protected a bit better by her parents and the editor of the paper who published her.

On Selfies

My daughter, who will be 13 in March, has been taking photographs of her own face and using them as her profile pictures on her Gmail account, her Viber account and her Skype account – changing them on a nearly daily basis. Some days, they might change several times a day. I am treated to many of these pictures via email and they always make me smile. Well, apart from the duck face ones. (Who told teenagers and young women that making their lips appear as much like a duck’s bill as possible is attractive?).

I often tell her that, were I as gorgeous as she is, I’d never stop taking pictures of myself. The selfie is much criticised at the moment. It is seen as the epitome of all that is wrong with ‘young people’; self-centred, self-absorbed, self-obsessed. But I disagree. For a start, we as parents and carers encourage our babies and toddlers to fasten their gaze upon every mirror they pass: We hand them books with mirrored pages in them, safety mirrors to play with and delight when they realise that the person in the mirror is them.

I think that looking at themselves in the mirror is a healthy thing for children to do – and have always had mirrors in the house at child-height. I think it fosters self-acceptance and bolsters self-confidence: Children get used to appreciating what they see, I think.

As parents and carers, we are constantly taking pictures of our babies and children. We love them so much and want to capture every mood, every expression, every change and many, many moments on camera. Why should we be aghast when they learn to do that for themselves? We clap with delight when they learn to put on their own shoes, dress themselves, wash their hands and a thousand other things (up to and including using the washing machine and cleaning the bathroom) that mean we have one less job to do.  So why are we not equally delighted when they learn to take photographs of themselves?

Selfie

After all, it’s not as if this generation has invented the ‘selfie’. There are pictures taken by their subjects from decades ago. In fact, if you think about it, artists have been creating self-portraits for centuries. Possibly even millennia. Who is to say that some of the cave drawings that incite such wonder and awe in us aren’t, in fact, selfies?

Shure the Famine Was Great Craic, Begob!

I woke up this morning to news that Channel 4 is planning a situation comedy about the Irish Potato Famine or An Gorta Mór (The Great Hunger), as it is known in Irish.

 

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Briefly, potato blight got to the spuds which were the main source of food for the Irish peasants at the time. There were mass evictions, with people rendered homeless or in workhouses – many believe this is why the Irish have an attachment to owning their own homes –  and our population was halved through death and emigration. Please note that it was just the potato crop that failed. Plenty of other crops grew in abundance, but they were grown for export, not the dinner tables of grubby locals, so the Irish didn’t get to taste them.

 

I’m not sure where the humour in this is, to be honest. I’m also quick to say that I’m not in the camp that blames the famine and colonialism for every Irish ill going. I know plenty of people who firmly believe that our attitudes to many things – like food, and property ownership and emigration – stem from the famine. I tell these people to get over it. Enough decades and generations have passed for the Irish of today to have realised that we’re not being starved by the British any more (we’ve elected governments instead who are well capable of starving our children and making them homeless….but I digress).

 

Still, though, I can’t deny my discomfort with the notion of an Gorta Mór being turned into something to laugh at.

 

This evening, I had a brief conversation with my children about it. Ishthara is 12 and Kashmira is 10 and I think they – being the next generation – are even further removed again from the famine than I am.  They are well-travelled and certainly more aware of the world around them than I was when I was their age. All of which led me to think that they might be a bit more blasé about it.

 

I asked the girls what they thought about the idea of Channel 4 making a sitcom about the Famine. They were both shocked, although Ishthara was more moderate. She said that they should make a pilot first and have a focus group look at it and gauge their reactions. She didn’t reject the idea out of hand as a bad one.

‘It might be funny,’ she said. ‘If they do it properly.’

Kashmira was unequivocal:

‘A British channel can’t make a programme like that. If anyone is going to make a comedy about the famine then it has to be us.’

She was adamant that a sitcom about something so huge and horrendous in our history was not in good taste.

‘But if anyone was to make it, then it has to be an Irish company – an Irish station. Like, if you make a joke against yourself, then that’s fine. But if someone else makes a joke against you, then it’s wrong.’

Ishthara was sticking to her view that things could be funny if they were done properly and that she wouldn’t judge the idea until she’d seen a pilot. If the pilot was done well, then there would be no reason (in her view) not to make the rest of the series.

Kashmira had been thinking while Ishthara had been talking:

‘If a country makes a joke against another country, then it’s racism,’ she told us.

Really? Maybe a joke is just a joke and we should take a chill pill, I suggested. Kashmira wasn’t buying it.

‘Maybe,’ I continued. ‘An Gorta Mór was long ago enough that we have enough distance to poke fun at it?’

‘No,’ was her response. ‘There’s just nothing funny about it. And it’s even less funny that a British station is doing it.’

‘What if I told you that the writer is an Irishman? Because he is.’

‘No. That’s still not right. He’s doing it for a British station. They were responsible for all the people who died and they don’t have the right to decide it’s funny.’

I asked the girls if they thought that maybe it was time to make jokes about the famine to help us get over it once and for all. I reminded them that sometimes people laugh at horrible events because black humour helps us to process things.

Is there, I asked, anything that happened that was horrible, but that it would be okay to make a comedy about.

‘Actually, I don’t think so,’ Ishthara said. ‘You wouldn’t make a joke of the Holocaust, or 9/11 or the famine in Ethiopia…’

‘But people do write comedies about things that aren’t funny – like drug addiction or dysfunctional families.’

‘Ah!’ Kashmira piped up. ‘But they are just about one person, or one family – not a whole country. And they’re not being made fun of by the people who harmed them in the first place.’

 

With that, they took their hot chocolates and their hot water bottles and headed up the wooden hill – leaving me to type the conversation before I forgot it.

 

I have to admit, I was struck by their opinions on the matter. I honestly didn’t think they would care – and I really didn’t think that someone who was born in 2004 would be so firm in her opinion about how things that happened in the 1840s should be represented in popular culture.

 

 

 

Special Deliveries

Today’s post is part of the Moods of Motherhood blogging carnival celebrating the launch of the second edition of Moods of Motherhood: the inner journey of mothering by Amazon bestselling author, Lucy H. Pearce (published by Womancraft Publishing).

Today over 40 mothers around the world reflect on the internal journey of motherhood: raw, honest and uncut. To see a list of the other contributors and to win your own copy visit Dreaming Aloud.net

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I do not remember a time when I didn’t want to be a mother. It was a longing I was born with; not a desire to replicate my genes or a want to have a ‘mini-me’ that I could dress up in things I’d have liked to have been dressed up myself. No. I wanted to be a mother because I wanted to mother.  I wanted to raise children who would be loved and who would know it; children who would be happy and confident and encouraged to take their rightful places in the world.

I had always assumed I’d have at least seven or eight kids. (When I was between the ages of 4 and 12, my ideal number of offspring was fourteen – clearly I was raised Catholic!).  When I married, at 20, all I wanted was to have a baby to celebrate our first anniversary with.

Sadly, it wasn’t meant to be. It would be eight years, two husbands, three surgical operations, bucket-loads of pills, months of injections, invasive procedures and every ounce of my considerable determination before I held my baby.

The agony of being denied motherhood devoured me from the inside out. I ached, sometimes physically, for a child to call my own. My arms longed to hold a baby that they wouldn’t have to return to its rightful owner. My heart overflowed with un-shared love. Love for a child I was desperate to have, desperate to love, desperate to parent, desperate to raise. I read books on pregnancy, homebirth (having decided, by the time I was 18, that the only sensible, logical and safe option was to birth at home), breastfeeding, parenting and children. I dreamed of what it would be like when one of those infernal pregnancy tests eventually gave me the result I was looking for.

Sometimes, I would dream about holding my own baby and the dream would be so vivid that I would awake from it and still have the scent of a small baby lingering in my nostrils; would still be able to feel the silk of a tiny child’s hair on my cheek; the near-nothingness of a baby’s soft skin; the sweetness of a baby’s breath on my neck. I questioned the love of a God who could create such longing in my soul, and who could equip me with a certainty that I would be a great mother – and then deny me the fulfilment of my longing. It was analogous to creating a singer with a voice to rival that of Maria Callas, then ripping out their tongue and wiring their jaw shut. Every time I got my period – which was far from a regular occurrence – it was as though my womb was directly connected to my heart and, distressed by its own emptiness and failure, was shedding tears in synchrony with my eyes.

Poisoned by my desire I found it increasingly difficult to rejoice with people when they announced that they were expecting a baby. I got more and more resentful of others when they shared that they were pregnant – I  felt that I had been longer in the ‘conception queue’ than they had. I deserved that baby, not them. It was almost as though there was a finite number of souls who chose to incarnate in a particular year and somebody else, by getting pregnant, had snatched one of the souls that otherwise would have come to me. I could still smile to someone’s face and congratulate them. As soon as I was alone, however, I would cry tears of pain, sadness, jealousy, anger and fear. Fear that I would never fulfill my destiny to become a mother; that all the babies would be allocated to other people and I would be left without one. It felt as though my pain was bigger than I was. It was such a great thing that I was unable to contain it.

But it finally went away: On March 13th, 2002 in Pune, India, my beloved daughter, Ishthara was born. No words can express my joy when I held her in my arms for the first time. I couldn’t quite believe it. I was a mother! Finally, nestled close to me was all I had ever wanted. For some reason, love didn’t flood through me the first time I held her. I was numb. It was almost as though I was in an altered state of consciousness. I couldn’t quite grasp that she was really mine, that I was really allowed to keep her. Years later, when I was studying psychology, I read Viktor Frankl, and the experience made sense.

In his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ Frankl details how he and others were liberated from a Nazi death camp. Instead of being joy-filled and jubilant, they found themselves mis-trusting their experience; not quite believing it. Frankl explains that they had spent so long dreaming of this very moment – and had their hopes and dreams dashed so many times – that now, they were not sure they could believe it. It took the men a few days to grasp the reality that their dream had come true and was not about to be snatched from them.

On the third day, Ishthara reached her bony arm up and touched my cheek with her hand. She looked in to my eyes and I swear I saw all the knowledge of the Universe in hers. Love surged through me stronger and more overwhelming than anything I had ever known. I knew true happiness for the first time in my life. Finally, I knew what love was. I discovered a bottomless well of love that I had never thought could possibly exist – much less that it could exist inside me.

Everything about Ishthara sent joy and love surging through me – and nothing had prepared me for that. I knew I was prepared to be a parent but I wasn’t prepared for the love that being a mother brought me. I found that I instinctively knew what she needed and wanted. I found extreme joy in being with her, in responding to her needs – in pre-empting them, even. Holding her little body close to mine, keeping her body alive with mine, watching her flourish and grow and thrive filled me bliss and peace. For the first time in my life, I felt as though all was well in my world.

When I held Ishthara in my arms, and breathed in the scent of her, I felt as though I had come home to myself. It felt that I had spent my entire life preparing to hold a child I didn’t have to give back. This little splinter of God had made my biggest, greatest, grandest dream come true. She had turned me into a mother. 

Not long after Ishthara’s first birthday, I left my second husband. Then the unbelievable happened – I discovered I was pregnant. Without even trying!! How did that happen? I was shocked and delighted. I was also worried about how I would love the baby I was carrying. I had no doubt I would love her, but I loved Ishthara so much – she was the child I had always dreamt of, the child I had always longed for, and she and I had such a tremendously tight bond – that I was sure I wouldn’t possibly be able to love my second child as much. I felt sorry for her, coming into a family where she wouldn’t be loved as much as her elder sister. I couldn’t conceive that there could be enough love in the entire world – never mind in me – to love my second child the way I loved my first. 

Kashmira was born on the 18th of May, 2004. When I held her in my arms and told her I loved her for the first time – I was lying. I knew I should love her, but I felt the same way I had when I’d first held Ishthara – kind of shocked and numb and waiting; waiting for waves of love to wash over me. I fretted that this meant my fears were correct, that I would never love this child as much as I loved my other one. Three days later, however, I woke up and looked at Kashmira and a feeling of adoration for my child flooded through me. I was overcome with relief and profoundly grateful that this little person had chosen to turn me in to her mum. 

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Pic: Ishthara and Kashmira, aged 38 and 18 months, respectively

It’s a feeling I have felt, for both my special deliveries, and the privilege of being their mother, every day since.

Home Schooling Mother Sent to Prison

Ishthara &Kashmira ReadingLast night, when I should have been in bed, I saw a Facebook update from a friend of mine. The update was about my friend’s friend and a woman I have known about for nearly 20 years, a woman who – on the occasions I spoke with her – inspired me.

 

Monica O’Connor was very active in the HBA for many years and is a homeschooling mother of her own children and the children she fosters. So I was really taken aback to learn that she’s due to be ‘welcomed’ through the gates of Mountjoy this morning.

 

There is a petition here that people can sign to register their support for Monica and her husband Eddie.  I can only begin to imagine how she must feel – there isn’t a bad bone in her body, yet she’s about to be criminalised by this state. There’s something wrong with that.

 

And here, I hesitate, because – and, sure, it’s semantics and maybe I should just get over myself – the introduction to the petition states:

However, the Child and family Agency under the Education (Welfare Act) 2000 deems that parents have to ‘apply’ for their children to be placed on the national register of home educators. We argue that this is unconstitutional and families should not have to ‘apply’ for a ‘right’.

 

From my reading of the Act, that doesn’t appear to be the case at all. There is no mention of ‘homeschooling’ per se in the Act. Any place  ‘other than a recognised school’  is treated the same – whether that place is the child’s home or a school set up but not (yet) recognised by the State – in terms of children who attend it needing to be registered.  It’s not about ‘applying’ for a ‘right’. It’s about applying to be registered.

 

I have homeschooled (and would do so again). I have a child who attends a place ‘other than a recognised school’ (one of my girls attends the Rye Institute one day a week during term-time). And I think it’s only right and proper that we need to register the fact that our children are being educated.  There is an onus on the State to ensure that children are being educated, and children either need to be registered in a ‘recognised’ school, or registered as receiving their education somewhere else. What registration does is ensure that someone – whether that’s the principal of a state-recognised school or the principal of a non-state-registered school – takes responsibility for the education of the child. This does not undermine the right of the parent to choose where and how their children should be educated. There is no special mention of home-schooling in the law. There is only mention of places other than recognised schools. Homeschooling is lumped in with every other type of schooling that is not ‘recognised’ as a school. So, homeschooling is treated the same as a school set up by – for example – a particular religious sect, a school set up for children of exceptional intellectual ability, a school for children who have dyscalculia, a school for children who are emotionally disturbed, a school for exceptionally talented ballet-dancers or any other type of school or learning institute someone might like to set up.

 

 

Could you imagine the outrage if people set up (say) a special yoga school, but didn’t teach anything other than yoga? Imagine the amount of outrage if people got hold of the story that children were going to school and learning nothing but yoga? Imagine the finger-pointing that would take place if you had graduates of a yoga school who couldn’t read, write, research, add etc. ? People would ask why no one from Tusla investigated the place, people would ask why the children didn’t have to register as being schooled in that particular place. If people didn’t have to register, and didn’t have their teaching tools and methods open to scrutiny, there is a possibility that children would receive no education at all.  You could have a situation where people simply ignored their children’s needs and didn’t teach them anything at all.  At least we have the right to home-educate. Some people – like the Dutch – don’t have that right at all.

 

From my understanding, Monica and her husband Eddie registered their foster children as home-schooled, but didn’t register their own children as home-schooled. For not registering their own children, they were fined €2,000 thirteen months ago. They have refused to pay the fine. For that, Monica is being imprisoned this morning.  She’s not being jailed because she homeschooled her children, she’s being jailed because she refused to pay the fine.  For the record, I think it’s a terrible thing that anyone be jailed for non-payment of a fine. I find it very upsetting to think of Monica going in to Mountjoy.  At the same time, I don’t think it’s a bad that we have to register our children as home-schooled. I don’t think it undermines our right to educate our children in line with our own beliefs and values. I think I’d rather register than not be allowed to homeschool.

 

Photo: My children, busy being educated at home

Children First? Don’t Hold Your Breath.

Yesterday, the Department of Children and Youth Affairs was delighted to announce the publication of the Children First Bill.

There was much self-congratulation as Minister Frances Fitzgerald and her department tried to tell us how this would make life so much easier for children in Ireland.

Well…..I’m calling bullshit.

The new act is a toothless instrument of the law. It’s all very well to say that reporting is mandatory; but if there are no sanctions against those who choose not to report, then what good is such a mandate?

I would suggest that a change in the culture is what’s needed before we can hope for a law that actually makes a difference. Naively, you might question what kind of person would choose not to report a crime of abuse against a child? Surely, if a person- particularly a person in authority – knows (or even suspects) that  a child is being abused, that person would report it? Even without a law dictating that they should? You might think that, but I recently got sight of documents which blow that theory right out of the water.

I do think those involved should be named and shamed – but have been advised against so doing for the time being. (Patience was never my strong point. This is a hard lesson for me).

Without naming names, then, let me give you the broadstrokes:

In the early 1990s, a woman (let’s call her Deirdre, because that’s not her name) was in her mid-teens. She was being treated at a centre for the effects of sexual abuse. During this time, the psychiatrist under whose care she was (lets call her Dr C), asked Deirdre if she was still being sexually abused. Deirdre revealed that her father was still sexually abusing her.

What did this doctor do? Did she call the Gardai? No. What? Not even anonymously? No. What she did was seek a meeting with the paedophile in question. At this meeting (documented by the doctor herself), she confronted him with the information she had regarding the allegations Deirdre had made. Did he deny abusing her? No. Sure why would he? What he did, instead, was tell Dr C that ‘there (was) nothing sexual’ about his sexual abuse of this child. Instead, he averred, he was doing it ‘to comfort’ her because he was aware she had been sexually abused by other people as well. Doctor C’s response? She told him to ‘be more sensitive’.

I mean, seriously, what does that amount to? Isn’t that the same as saying ‘Rape her more gently’?!

Of course, you can say that this is a case of historic abuse, and no one would behave in such a way in this day and age. If you did say that, I would like to agree with you.  Unfortunately, I couldn’t. When these documents surfaced (as the result of an FOI request Deirdre made), Deirdre met with a representative of the centre where she had been ‘treated’ (Dr C was on holiday – though she still works in the centre).  Dr C’s colleague confirmed that, were the same set of circumstances to arrive in front of Dr C today, she would act in precisely the same way because that is the policy of the centre. To do otherwise would be a ‘breach of confidentiality’.

What does this tell you? It tells me what I already know:  Children don’t come first in this country. We do not have a culture (yet) that puts children at the top of the pile. We do not have a society that cherishes, protects and loves its children. Every time I say that, people (women, usually) respond indignantly telling me how much they love their children. Sure, individuals among us may cherish our own personal children – but what about the snotty child at the end of the road, whose parents are drug addicts? Do you love that child? Really? Would you step in to help that child if he or she were being hurt? Would you? Would you really?

We, in Ireland, do not have a culture that views children as precious. We really don’t.

No law will make any difference if there are no sanctions against those who do not obey it. It is ludicrous to suggest otherwise. And, unfortunately, no law will make any difference if the cultural attitudes of the nation enacting it are not in-step with the letter and the spirit of that law.

Being Gay and Breastfeeding

In recent weeks, I’ve had a few messages from people who follow this blog wondering – variously – if I’m dead, if I’m stuck for something to say, or if I’ve stopped writing.

I’m happy to report that I’m no deader than usual, I’m definitely not stuck for something to say and I certainly haven’t stopped writing. I have been writing – I’ve done (another) final edit of the book; started volume two; jotted down a few thousand words for a work of fiction as well as a few ideas for a radio play that’s been knocking around inside my skull for a few months. I’ve been writing for the Gifted Ireland website and I’ve been doing a bit of academic writing as well (oooh! Get me! 🙂 ). There are even several drafts of posts that I’ve started, but haven’t finished for various reasons….but enough of this ‘dog ate my homework’ stuff, let’s crack on.

For the past four weeks, Ireland has been having a national conversation about homophobia. For those of you who don’t live on this island, let me give you a brief outline:

Rory O’Neill has this wonderful, funny, alter-ego; the amazing Panti Bliss. On a (fairly awful) programme on Saturday night four weeks ago, Rory alluded to homophobes in the public eye. He was pushed to name names, and he did. Within days, RTE (the broadcaster responsible for the programme) had received solicitors’ letters and decided to pay eighty-five thousand euros to those named individuals. An apology was also issued (though, so far, Rory hasn’t received one).

Later, Panti Bliss was invited to The Abbey Theatre (the world’s first national theatre) to answer the Noble Call*. What she said was stunning:

Yesterday (February 9th), Rory spoke to Miriam O’Callaghan on the radio. He spoke about what it’s like to be a gay man in 21st Century Ireland.

‘The time that I’m most jealous of straight people,’ Rory told us. ‘Is when I am with a boyfriend and I am walking down the street and the most natural, ordinary thing in the world is to hold his hand, or put your arm around him. The way couples do….the way we see straight couples on the street every single day, so often that you don’t notice…’

Rory went on to explain how, even if you’re a very out, very proud, very confident gay man in the most comfortable arena possible for being gay – the Men’s Department in Brown Thomas’s – being affectionate can be difficult:

‘Even then, it is different for a gay couple.’ he says, because even then, it still feels like it is not a normal sign of affection.

‘It feels like you’re making a political statement,’ Rory continues. ‘You’re forced into it being this big gesture. It’s not just about you. It’s not a small private thing between you and your boyfriend. It becomes this political statement. And even nice people in BT’s, who want to say “oh isn’t that nice – look at the gay couple holding hands”, they’ve turned your private moment into this public moment because they’re being supportive and nice but it just means that your private moment isn’t a little private moment, it’s on display…’

Now, I am probably the furthest thing you could get from a gay man but suddenly I understood. I knew what Rory was talking about. I was no longer sympathising – I was empathising. Suddenly, I got it.

It might sound odd, to draw parallels between a gay couple kissing in public and breastfeeding in public – but I’ve had the same experience with a hungry (or tired or generally discombobulated) baby. I’ve had what should have been a private experience politicised and commented upon. I’ve had people sit not two metres away from me and discuss that I was feeding my child as though I was deaf, as though I didn’t understand English, and as though they had every right to discuss, and have an opinion on, what I was doing.

I’ve had people gawp in disbelief – not so much when the baby was only a few months old, but definitely when she was one or two or three (by the time she was four, we no longer breastfed in public). I’ve had people (young women, usually) make known their disgust that I was using my breasts for the precise job they were created for.

Like a kiss between lovers, breastfeeding your baby or child is more than a physical act – it is an expression of love. There’s an intimacy to it – even when it’s automatic.  I’ve had people smile warmly and even give me a thumbs up when I’ve been feeding my baby. I’ve had perfect strangers go out of their way to let me know that they ‘approve’. It feels a lot better than the disgust – and it’s lovely to have people’s support and to have them being nice – but it still feels like they need to make a point about how ‘accepting’ they are of your ‘oddness’.

I now have a much better understanding of how it feels to be a gay man in twenty-first century Ireland. It feels like being a breastfeeding mother in twenty-first century Ireland. Thanks, Rory, for sharing your gift of communication and helping me understand how you feel every time you feel you need to check yourself.

 

* In Ireland, at a party a noble call is when it’s your turn – to sing, recite or otherwise entertain. You can’t refuse. You can plead neither illness nor insanity. You must perform. The recent play at the Abbey ‘The Risen People’ (which dealt with the 1913 Lockout) had a Nobel Call performed by a different person whose own story bore relevance to the broad themes of the play.

Lock up Your Daughters (And Your Sons)

The Irish and international media has been reporting, in the past few days, on two cases this week where children were removed from their families and put into the ‘care’ of the Health Services Executive. Thousands of children are taken from their families in Ireland every year and put into care – and there is very little outcry from either the media or the general public.

These two cases, however, were different because the families were Roma and they children were blonde. Because of their colouring, it was assumed that their dark-haired parents could not possibly be their ‘biological’ parents. The Gardai became involved after a member of the public posted the following message on the Facebook page of a TV3 journalist:

According to reports, up to 20 Gardai arrived at the house to take the child into the ‘care’ of the HSE.

In an attempt to prove their child was, in fact, theirs, the parents of the  little girl in Tallaght offered her passport and her birth certificate. The Gardai weren’t satisfied with these documents: It is unclear why they doubted the veracity of the birth certificate, but the passport was on old one and the photograph was of a baby. We are told a member of An Garda  Siochana rang the Coombe Women’s and Children’s Hospital, where the couple claimed the baby had been born, but the hospital was unable to confirm holding any record of the birth. So the child was removed from the family home until DNA tests could prove whether she was, indeed, where she belonged (i.e. with her parents and siblings).

Every time I hear a story of a parent losing a child – whether through death, abduction or any other way – my imagination inserts me and my kids into the narrative. This story was no different. I wondered what would do if the Gardai arrived to take one, or both, of my kids from me.  It could happen.

Imagine if one of my neighbours or someone who knows me and knows where I live, decided to get the hump with me and reported me to the Gardai on similar grounds as the Roma family was reported: That I have children who are not of the same colouring as I.  This is a fact. My girls have Indian dads. In the event that the Gardai ‘acting on a tip-off’ arrived at my house (a house I haven’t been living in for as long as this Roma family has been living in theirs), I  could produce passports for my children:  But the passport I have for my eldest is 10 years old (she got one of the last ten-year passports issued to a child in 2003), and she’s not quite two years old in the photograph. My other daughter has a more recent passport, but you could debate whether or not it is she in the picture.

As for birth certificates – I have both of them in the house, but they are laminated (one was handed to me that way in Singapore when I registered the birth, the other, I was advised to have laminated ‘for safety’).  Now, it’s a little-known fact, but a laminated document is not, legally speaking, an original document in Ireland. So, on a technicality, a Garda could refuse to accept the veracity of the birth certificates I have for my children.

I suppose they could call the hospitals where the girls were born – except my girls weren’t born in hospitals. There is no dad for the authorities to call and check my version of events with, either. I don’t have contact details to provide and India is very big place if you’re looking for someone. Also, checking with the authorities where my girls were born (India and Singapore, respectively) could be time-consuming. There is a five-and-a-half-hour time difference between here and India, and an eight-hour time difference between here and Singapore. This means that in this nightmare scenario, if my children were taken after 9am, we’d be apart for at least 24 hours. By which stage, I’d be driven mad with grief and fear and worry. And I’m sure my kids wouldn’t be far behind me in the traumatised stakes.

If the word of a member of the public and the fact that your child has different colouring to you is enough to have your child taken from you by several members of the police force, then maybe I have every reason to be worried. Unless, of course, the lessons that Alan Shatter says ‘might’  be learnt from this frightful episode, are actually learnt.

No Clout

This morning, The Irish Examiner broke the story that The Children’s Rights Alliance is renewing its call on the Irish government to ban the smacking of children.Here’s the thing; such pressure should not be necessary. There should be no reason for the Children’s Rights Alliance – or anyone else – to write to the Minister for Children asking her to ban violence against our youngest citizens.

 

Ireland signed up to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992. I wrote about what that means – or should mean to us – here.

 

Remember the Children Referendum last November? Remember how I took the unpopular position of opposing it because it didn’t go far enough? Remember the points I made about Article 19?

Here’s a reminder:

Article 19 of the UNCRC says:

“States Parties shall take all appropriate legislative, administrative, social  and educational measures to protect the child from all forms of physical or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment, maltreatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.”

 

Maybe I’m just a bleeding-heart liberal (I don’t think so), but isn’t smacking a form of physical abuse? I think so. I very much think so. If you smacked another adult – you would deemed to have committed assault. So, why is it acceptable in Ireland today to hit a child? It was outlawed in schools before I even started primary school – so if it’s not okay for teachers to hit children, why is it okay for parents to?

th_wooden-spoon

 

 

 

 

The bottom-beater of choice of many Irish parents

If we signed up to the UNCRC 21 years ago, why have we done so little to change our laws to bring them in line with the Articles of the Convention? Why, in 2013, are we still debating whether or not it’s okay for big people to hit little people?

Photo Credit: Photobucket  http://i773.photobucket.com/albums/yy17/holidaypupexpress/12-wooden-spoon.jpg

More Kite Flying?

It’s that time of the year when the Irish government indulges in the sport of kite-flying. Unlike Makar Sankranti, however, there’s little pleasant about the sport as played in Ireland.

Charged with the unenviable task of shearing millions from their budgets, the ministers of various departments ‘leak’ money-saving ideas to the media.  Then – based on the reactions of citizens – they gauge whether or not the cuts they are proposing in these leaks will be easy to implement. If the public outcry is deafening, the minister will quietly shelve the ‘kite’.

Kite flying isn’t just for Ministers, though. Any TD can get in on the act by suggesting cost-cutting measures.

Today’s kite was even less well-thought out than they usually are. Independent TD Denis Naughten has suggested that the government could save millions by scrapping the Child Benefit Payment and, instead, introducing a ‘School Attendance Payment’.

On the face of it, it might seem like a good idea – put paid to truancy and stop the flow of money out of the country in the form of child benefit at the same time. The article in today’s Journal  suggested that the European Commission might have a problem with any tampering with CB in order to deprive migrant workers of the payment.

 

I see a bigger problem with it, though. If you only pay child benefit to parents of children who attend school, you’re ignoring the fact that children don’t have to be sent to school in order to be compliant with the law in Ireland. Parents have a constitutional right, under Article 42, to educate their children where they see fit.

 

Of course, that could be circumvented by ‘allowing’ parents who register to homeschool to keep their Child Benefit payment. But – it can take a while to register and be approved. What are parents who rely on the payment to assist with household bills to do in the intervening months?

 

Then, of course, there’s the fact that Child Benefit is payable from when the month after a baby’s born. If the payment is to be linked to school attendance, and children don’t legally have to be in formal education until they are 6 – what happens to payments for the first six years? Are they to be abandoned? Or is Mr Naughten proposing that the payment be made for the first six years and then parents must re-apply? Can you imagine the chaos? The disruption? The upset to families who rely on the payments? Not to mention the extra administraion required?

 

Linking the payment to school attendance also means that home-schooling parents would lose out on child benefit – the same way they currently lose out on dental, optical and other health check-ups that are administered through schools.

 

Paying Child Benefit only to parents whose children attend school is one kite that simply won’t fly – no matter how much money it might potentially save.

10 Lies Women Hear in Irish Maternity Hospitals

Women in Ireland are, finally, realising that they have – for the longest time – been sold a pup when it comes to how they are treated with regard to maternity care in this country.

For as long as I can remember, I have had an interest in mothering, maternity, babies and birth. Before I’d even turned 18, I was sure I would not give birth in a hospital. By the time I was 20 and trying to conceive a baby with my first husband, I was doing more and more research on the subject and learning more and more about ‘normal’, ‘natural’ and what they should look like.

Years later, after the birth of my second daughter, I became a doula and my outrage at the lies women were told increased to the point that I needed to watch my blood pressure.

I operate from a belief that birth and pregnancy are normal, everyday occurrences. In more than 80% of cases, there is no need for intervention and women can safely birth their babies without interference from outside forces. The problem is that birth has become medicalised.

Doctors are wonderful people.  They do tough jobs in difficult circumstances. The problem with doctors being involved in birth, though, is that they are trained in the abnormal. They come to your bedside believing that there is something wrong with you – and then they set about finding that problem. If there is no problem, they need to invent one.

Hospitals are designed around the medical model. They are set up to save the health and lives of people whose health and lives need saving. They are not set up to watch and wait – which is what normal birth requires. And normal birth is what most women will experience if they and their bodies are trusted.

In order to coerce women to submit to unnecessary medical intervention, they are routinely lied to. Here is a selection of those lies:

1. Your baby is too big to be born vaginally. (Women grow babies big enough for their own pelvises. A small woman can birth a big baby no problem).

2. Your baby is breech, so you must have a C-section. (Breech is just a variation of normal – there is no reason why you can’t have a vaginal birth).

3. Your waters have broken. You must give birth within 48 hours, or you will have a dry birth and that’s more painful & dangerous for you and the baby. (Amniotic fluid, like saliva, does not just ‘dry up’).

4. We have to ‘check’ you – i.e. perform (often painful) vaginal examinations – to see how you’re progressing. (A VE is not necessary and does not indicate how dilated a woman’s cervix is. The cervix – like the anus – is a sphincter muscle. It will contract involuntarily when touched.)

5. Once you go ‘over’, we’ll have to induce you. (Babies come when they’re ready. The ‘rule’ about pregnancy lasting 40 weeks is a load of nonsense. Women have different cycles and pregnancy length is affected by a number of variables. A normal pregnancy can last anywhere from 37-44 weeks if dated from the last menstrual period).

6. Normal progression is one centimetre an hour. You have 12 hours to produce this baby, or we’ll have to induce you. (Women are different. Babies are different. Many things affect the rate at which labour progresses. This 1cm per hour rule – known as the ‘Dublin Rule’ because it was invented in Holles Street – is a load of nonsense and does more harm than good).

7. If you don’t submit to X your baby will die! (women are routinely told that their babies will die if they are ‘careless’ enough to ignore doctors’ wishes.)

8. Your last baby was born by Caesarean section. Therefore, it is too dangerous for you to have a homebirth. (A previous c-section does not automatically preclude a homebirth or vaginal birth of any sort.)

9. Push when we tell you. (This practice – known as ‘purple pushing’ – is actually bad for you and your baby. It increases the likelihood of you bursting blood vessels in various parts of your body – including your eyes. It also affects oxygen getting to your baby and works against your body.)

10. You are lucky I did a Caesarean section. The cord was around the baby’s neck and it would have died if you’d tried to have it vaginally. (About 50% of babies – my own included – are born with their cords wrapped once or twice around their necks. This is not dangerous because an umbilical cord is not like a rope, but soft and squidgy like a full garden hose).

There are many, many more lies that women are told. Please feel free to add yours in the comments section below.

Our collective outrage is being collated under the hashtag #maternityire on Twitter and you can join in the conversation.

Austerity Bites – Jackfruit Curry

We descended upon our local Asian shop the day before yesterday and stocked up on some of the things we needed. Fortunately, there was a bit more in the coffers than usual, so I went a bit mad.

Actually, that’s not strictly true. I just decided to buy food rather than pay my phone bill.

Anyway, the main point is that stocks were replenished. I picked up  12 tins of tomatoes for €3.99 and paid €4.99 for a dozen cans of chickpeas. Chillies were €5.99 per kilo – I got about 30 of them for €0.24 – way cheaper than even the cheapest supermarket. Economies of scale, I think it’s called.

In the middle of all this cheapie-cheap stuff, I got us a treat: Jackfruit. If you have been to South East Asia, chances are you’ve come across durian. This is a large fruit (about the size of a basketball) that  very prickly on the outside and, when cut, smells similar to cat’s pee. In colour and texture, it is similar to custard and it’s an acquired taste. A taste, I hasten to add, I never acquired.

The reason I mention durian is because jackfruit is its Indian first-cousin. Less cat-pee, less prickly and less custard-y, though – I love jackfruit. It’s in season at the moment and we picked up 1.5kg for €5.

Jackfruit

After we’d had our fill of the fresh, raw fruit, I suddenly remembered that when I’d been pregnant with Kashmira (ten years ago!) our nanny used to make me a jackfruit curry. Normally, if you’re using a fruit in a curry, you use it when it’s slightly under-ripe. Jackfruit is an exception, though – you can use the under-ripe or the ripe fruit.

To the best of my recollection, this is the recipe Nishanthi used to cook for us:

Jackfruit Curry

150g Ripe Jackfruit

1/2 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Salt to Taste

100mls of Water

20g grated coconut (I use dried because I can’t get it fresh)

2 Fresh Green Chillies

1/2 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

1/2 Teaspoon of Mustard Seeds

1 Red Chilli

3-4 Curry Leaves

2 Teaspoons of Coconut Oil

Cut the jackfruit into bite-sized pieces.

Cut Jackfruit

Put jackfruit, salt, turmeric, chilli powder and water into a medium-sized saucepan.

Bring to the boil and then simmer for about ten minutes.

While the jackfruit is cooking, make a paste using the grated coconut, chillies and cumin seeds (grind with a blender, adding a little water as necessary).

When the jackfruit is done – it will be tender but not mushy and still holding its shape – add the paste to the fruit and bring the lot back to the boil.

Heat the coconut oil in a small pan, and add the chillies, curry leaves and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to sputter, remove from the heat and pour over the curry.

Jackfruit Curry

Cooking the fruit changes the texture completely.

The raw fruit is quite sweetly pungent – though not unpleasant – it hits the back of your throat rather than the tip of the tongue. It has a thick texture – similar to that of raw mushrooms. Cooked, it’s more like stewed apple before it gets pulpy.

If you can get your hands on a bit of jackfruit, it’s an interesting addition to the dinner table.

Austerity Bites – A Reflection on the Recipes

I posted my recipes this past week pretty much as I cook them, so I thought I’d add a few words here about things that go on in my kitchen that I didn’t address properly/at all in the recipes I posted.

 

First, a word on… salt: At the moment, I’m using Pink Himalayan Salt – because it’s pretty (!) and because it’s inexpensive – but otherwise I use Maldron Sea Salt.  That table salt stuff I buy to use for cleaning and for salting certain ‘squashy’ vegetables – courgettes, aubergines etc.

 

We need salt. We don’t need lots. The pink salt I use is very ‘salty’, so a pinch is enough. Otherwise, the average adult needs about 1.5g of sodium per day, and we all need more in the heat (when we’re perspiring more than usual).

 

Pink Salt

Himalayan Pink Salt

A word on…..portions: I’m a big fan of cooking once to eat twice. The recipes I used last week allowed us to do just that – and even have some left for sharing/freezing. Few things were finished. The exception being the masoor (red) lentil dish on Day 6.  You could easily halve the ingredients I listed and feed an adult and 2 kids with moderate appetites.

 

A word on…..utensils: We don’t use non-stick utensils in our house. For years, we kept pet birds. Teflon is not kind to little birds (in fact, it kills them) and Kashmira reasoned that if it’s not good for them, it can’t be much good for us, either.  In order to ensure things don’t stick, I don’t increase the amount of fat I use – I just cook a little more slowly, and add a bit of water if I need to.

 

A word on…..chilli: I don’t use buckets of chilli. I think that the purpose of chilli – and other spices – is to add flavour to dishes, not mask the flavours of the food you’re cooking. Being able to eat really hot food is not a sign that you are ‘hard’, ‘tough’, or ‘cool’. It means you need to find a new hobby. And possibly that you’re lacking in zinc.

 

Chillies

A mixture of dried and fresh chillies.

 

Finally, a word on…..spices: Spices are wonderful to add something special to your food. Don’t be too heavy-handed, though. While a little is good, more is not necessarily better. Again, you want the taste of the spices to enhance the taste of your cooking, not overwhelm it.

 

When it comes to buying spices, don’t forget that they are far more expensive in supermarkets than in Asian stores. In Asian stores, however, they can often come in larger quantities than you’d like. If you don’t use spices a lot in your cooking, why don’t you consider buying with a friend or two (or three)? For about a fiver each, you could buy a bag of each of the basics and divide them up between you.  That way, you can each get ‘starter’ packs of all the basics for way less than you’d get them in a shop with a well-recognised name.

 

Spices

 

Back left: Fenugreek Powder

Back Right:Turmeric Powder

Centre: Ground Cloves

Front Left: Cardamom Pods

Front Right: Coriander Seeds

Austerity Bites – A Reflection

Six Days of Austerity was a wonderful experience. I really enjoyed sharing my recipes with you – and I was delighted by all the support you gave me in my endeavours.

 

The first post in the series felt like the bravest post I’d ever published. Braver than talking honestly and openly about my own mental health issues; braver than talking about sexual abuse, spousal abuse or other family issues. Braver than taking an unpopular stance on political or parenting issues. Braver than anything else I ever wrote about because, in that first Austerity Bites post, I admitted to being financially insecure.  I have always felt that Ireland is a land of inveterate snobs, where people are judged by material possessions and looked down on when they are in financial difficulties. I’ve always felt that, in Ireland, there was nothing worse than being poor. So to come out and admit that I was trying to raise two kids on next-to-nothing felt like the bravest thing I’d ever written.

 

The kind, supportive reactions of people who read and commented on this blog turned that from ‘brave’ to ‘liberating’. So thank you all for your kindness and support.

 

Of course, after the social welfare cheque hit and I’d paid (a bit) off  (some of) the bills, I realised there’s  not much more this week than there was last week. The thing about this past week – which was particularly punishing – is that I used up much of my reserves. I went in to the six days knowning that there were still certain staples (lentils and tins of tomatoes, for example). They have been used up now. The cupboards are bare. Before heading into the next week, I have to sit down and think how on earth I will manage to replenish the stocks somewhat in order to provide nourishment for my girls.

 

Given all that,  I have a feeling there will be more Austerity Bites posts and recipes in the near future.  Stay tuned! 🙂

 

There will be reflections on the recipes to follow.

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 6

Pancakes

200g Plain White Flour

2 Teaspoons of Baking Powder

1/2 Teaspoon of Salt

3 Teaspoons of Sugar

400mls of Coconut Milk

1 (precious) Egg

Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl.

Add the salt and sugar.

Crack in the egg.

Mix in the coconut milk.

Stir the lot together, adding water by dribbles until you have a smooth (though not runny) batter of dropping consistency.

Heat a drop of oil in shallow frying pan.

Drop a soupspoon-full (or dessertspoon-full) of batter on the pan and spread it slightly with the back of the spoon.

Cook over a medium-high heat until bubbles appear on the surface, then turn them over and cook for another minute or two.

There is so much you can serve these with – yogurt, berries, fruit, ice-cream, cream, sugar & lemon, honey….. 🙂

Red Lentils

200g Red Lentils

1 Litre of Water (approximately)

1 Teaspoon of Turmeric

Pinch of salt

1 Tablespoon of Ghee

1 Onion

2 Teaspoons of Panch Phoran*

400g of Tinned Tomatoes

Rinse the lentils. Put them in a sieve and run cold water over them until the water runs clear – otherwise, the lentils will be scummy.

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with cold water.

Leave them to steep for about half an hour.

Drain the lentils and add about 1 of fresh cold water – really, you just want enough water to cover them and come about another 2 cms over the lentils.

Add turmeric and salt.

Bring to the boil.

Turn the heat down and simmer the lentils, covered,  for a half an hour or so – until they are soft, but not mushy.

If they are still too ‘soupy’, take the lid off the pot, raise the heat and boil rapidly for a few minutes. You’re looking for a more like ‘porridge’ than ‘soup’. A bit like this:

Cooked Dal

While the lentils are cooking, prepare your masala:

Peel and chop the onion.

Heat the ghee in a frying pan.

Add the onion and caramelise over a low heat.

Add the panch phoran and cook for another five minutes, until the spices release their fragrance.

Add the tomatoes and cook for 4-5 minutes.

For divilment – and so I can call it fusion (!) – I added a splash (about 1 teaspoon) of Balsamic vinegar.

Add the drained lentils and, stirring, cook for a further five minutes.

*There’s a recipe for this spice mix on Day Two of Austerity Bites 

Austerity Bites – Day 6

Well, we made it! Six days of budget meals has seen us all still in one piece and nary a hunger pang between us.

For breakfast on this final day of Austerity Bites, I used up our one remaining egg to make pancakes. As we had no cow’s milk, I used coconut milk instead. My one can had been in the freezer for a few days (I’d intended using it for ice-cream or something, then changed my mind) and spent another fortnight in the fridge, so it was still quite solid. This meant I had to use a bit of water to make my batter better.

Now, a word about coconut milk – the stuff found in cans in German supermarkets is every bit as good as the stuff in premium British supermarkets – and only half the price. It’s cheaper again in Asian supermarkets where you also have the option of dried coconut milk that you then reconstitute with water.  Even though it works out a bit pricier to buy the canned rather than the dried, it is worth the extra few cents. Reconstituted coconut milk has a more mucous-y consistency and lacks a little of the flavour. Finally, don’t use coconut cream instead of coconut milk because they’re not the same thing.

These pancakes are more substantial than crepes and are very filling (the girls had them with sugar and the last of our lemons, while I had mine plain). There’s enough batter left for tomorrow’s breakfast as well. 🙂

Pancakes, Breakfast, Day 6

I must confess, I didn’t cook lunch – Ishthara (my 11 year-old) did. She used up the last of our 500g bag of pasta (bought last week) and cooked it to perfection before adding in our last jar of olives (again bought last week) and the second of the two Mozzarella balls we bought last week as well as the second bag of rocket I bought a few days ago. The final dribble of olive oil in the bottle finished the dish off.

Pasta, Day6

Dinner was one of my favourite comfort foods; a lovely, easy way to cook red dhal (raw red dhal pictured below).

Raw Dhal Day 6

It takes very little to turn that to this:

Prepared Dhal

We had the dhal with rice and the 200g of frozen broccoli that I was holding on to for just this purpose.

I don’t have a proper bamboo steamer anymore – so I ‘steamed’ the broccoli by putting enough water to come half-way up the vegetables in the pot and brought it to the boil. I then simmered it for 6 minutes and took it off the heat and drained it.

Broccoli Day 6

The drained water I added to the remaining carrot & orange soup the girls weren’t fond of on Day 2. This will be watered down a little bit more with other ‘extra’ water from vegetables over the next few days. I will then add an onion, boil the whole lot up and call it ‘stock’. Then, I’ll freeze it in an ice-cube tray and have stock cubes for the next while. 🙂

A grating of nutmeg and a grinding of salt and pepper rendered this broccoli delicious. Also (would you believe it?) there was enough of the spiced molasses cake left for a slice each after dinner.

Ishthara and Kashmira managed to have fruit today as well – there was about 100g of frozen berries left in the end of the bag we bought last week and they polished the lot off (leaving it in a covered dish in the sun for about twenty minutes first so it defrosted). Also, in the middle of the afternoon, my friend and neighbour Susie dropped in a bunch of radishes – which the girls demolished as a snack.

As usual, recipes will follow…..

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 5

Hummus

1 Tin of Chickpeas

8 Tablespoons of Olive Oil

10 Tablespoons of Tahini

2 Cloves of Garlic

1/2 a lemon

2 Teaspoons of Ras-el-Hanout

Salt & Pepper to taste

100mls Water

 

Drain and rinse the chickpeas.

Peel the garlic (this is the only time I’m not heavy-handed with garlic; because it’s not cooked, the flavour really can overpower the dip).

Juice the lemon.

Pop all the ingredients into a bowl (again, I find 1kg yogurt pots excellent for this purpose) and blend with a stick blender, adding the water as needed until you have a smooth – but not runny – mixture.

 

Paprika is generally used in hummus, but I substituted ras-el-hanout because I happen to like it. A dash of chilli pepper will give a slightly spicier hummus if that’s your thing.

 

Rasa

2 Onions

400g Tin of  Tomatoes

60g Dessicated Coconut (unsweetened)

2 Teaspoons of Garlic-Ginger Paste

8 Whole Cloves

8 Whole Peppercorns

6 Dry Red Chillies

1 Teaspoon of Poppy Seeds

1 Teaspoon of Fennel Seeds

4 Tablespoons of Oil

1/2 Turmeric Powder

Salt to Taste

 

If you’re using eggs, hard boil one for each diner. Maybe you know this already, but a few years ago, I realised that boiling eggs works best if you start with cold water. (Even if you don’t keep your eggs in the fridge, boiling water can shock them into cracking. Using cold water means the water and the eggs rise in temperature at the same time) When the water comes to the boil, turn the heat down to a simmer and leave them for ten minutes. When they are done, take them off the heat and drain them. When they are cool (covering them in more cold water can speed the process up), peel and halve them. 

While the recipe calls for 2 onions, I only used one because I only have two left, and I want the other for tomorrow’s dhal.  

With regard to the oil, we are down to a dribble, so I used 3 tablespoons of mustard oil instead. It gave a lovely sharp taste to the mixture.  

I had two green bell peppers, so I added them to the pot as well. 

 

Drain and rinse the kidney beans.

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan and add the cloves, peppercorns, chillies, poppy seeds and fennel seeds. Sauté the mixture until the spices yield their fragrance.

Add the onion until it’s softening then turn the heat down and add the ginger-garlic paste. Fry until the vegetables are browned, but not burnt. Garlic burns really easily, so you’ll need to stir the mixture continuously.

Add the coconut and continue frying until it browns.

Add the tomatoes and continue frying for about five minutes.

Grind this mixture to a paste – adding in a little water if you need to.

Prepare the peppers – top and tail, then quarter and cut out the white membrane – and cut into chunks. Sear them in the wok/frying pan and then leave them to one side.

Transfer the paste back into the pan and add the salt and turmeric and a splash of water (if needed) to make your desired consistency.

Bring to the boil, then simmer for 5 minutes and add the peppers, after another 5 mintues, add the kidney beans.

Serve with boiled rice, chapatis, or baguettes.

Austerity Bites – Day 5

Well, we’re nearly there. Today is the second-last day of rationing in Larkin Lodge – well, until the next time, that is. 🙂

Today, we finished off our one sliced loaf of bread for breakfast – toast and cheese, supplemented with dry cereal. There’s still coffee in the pot for me, so all is well on that front.

I’m drinking tea during the day when I would otherwise have coffee. But when this is what you’re making tea with, it’s a greater pleasure:

Tea, Day 5

My tea set is a beautiful hand made set brought back from Korea by my lovely friend and former neighbour, Howard. It goes perfectly with the Oolong tea that he brought me back from China.

Lunch was hummus, carrot batons, olives and some of the lovely fresh rocket I bought last night,  and some more chapatis.

Lunch, Day 5

Later, when I was cleaning under the stairs (in times of plenty, I store extra tins, bottle of water and spices in the cupboard under the stairs) and I found a tin of tomatoes and two bottles of water. Result!

For dinner, I made an Indian dish that is typically associated with the state of Maharashtra – where my eldest daughter was born – and which always makes me nostalgic for Pune whenever I cook it. The dish is usually served with boiled eggs, but my girls don’t like boiled eggs – which is just as well because we only have one egg….. So I substituted a tin of kidney beans (bought with 21 cents from the €2 I found in my jeans).  We had two green bell peppers in the fridge from about two weeks ago, which were still in good shape, so I added them, too.

Rasa Dinner, Day 5

Fruit bowls were harder to assemble today. There was a nectarine and 20 cherries left (I thought they’d polished the lot off yesterday, but I was mistaken) and they had another orange each. I’d have preferred to have given them more, but it wasn’t there.

I’m hoping that their fruit bowls, carrots, olives, tomatoes, onion and chickpeas will all combine to make up their five-a-day.

Tomorrow will mark the end of our six days of “Austerity Bites”. I can’t say I’ll be sorry.

Recipes to follow…..

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 4

Kashmiri Aubergines

Vegetable for shallow frying (I’ve little  oil left, so used ghee)

1 large aubergine

4 green cardamom pods, bruised

1/2 tsp fennel powder

1/2 tsp tumeric powder

1/2 tsp dried ginger powder

Pinch of asafoetida (hing)

300g natural yoghurt

Salt

I salt aubergine before I use it (unless I’m roasting it). This is seen by some as ‘old-fashioned’, but I find that it removes excess moisture and ensures that the vegetable  crisps up nicely when fried, and doesn’t go ‘spongy’ when you cook it any other way. Often, people who don’t like aubergine find the texture objectionable, not the taste. Anyway – to salt the aubergine, top and tail it, cut it into discs and pop the disks into put it in a plastic sieve or colander (metal, salt and water not being the best combination). Shake a generous amount of salt over the eggplant (you can use cheap salt like Saxa for this job!). Leave it to drain over a bowl or in the sink for about half an hour. Then (and I know this seems counter-intuitive) rinse the salt off under running water and gently squeeze the discs against the sides of the sieve to get all the water out. If you like, you can pat the discs dry in kitchen paper or a tea towel. 

Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed frying pan until it is very hot.

Fry the aubergine on both sides until it’s golden brown in colour.

Drain on kitchen paper and keep to one side.

Discard all but 1 tablespoon of oil.

Drop the cardamoms, spice powders and asafoetida into the oil.

Add the yoghurt immediately.

Season with salt and heat through, stirring constantly, until the gravy is heated through.

Add the fried aubergine and serve immediately. If you have coriander, it’s nice to garnish the dish – I’ve none the moment, but we survived. 🙂

Urid Dhal 

There are two types of urid dhal. One is whole urid – which is black – and the other is split urid – which is white. For this recipe, I used the split urid, which doesn’t need much soaking. 

1.2 Litres of Water

150g Urid Dhal

1 Onion

1 Teaspoon of Ginger

2 Green Chillies

1 Teaspoon of Cumin Seeds

2 Bay Leaves

3 Cloves

1/2 Teaspoon of Turmeric Powder

Pinch of Garam Masala

Squeze of lemon juice (I’ve loads of lemons – they were on special 2 weeks ago!)

1/2 Tin of Tomatoes (I still had half a tin in the fridge from Day 2)

Wash the urid dhal – put it in a sieve and run cold water over it until the water runs clear.

Put the lentils in a pot with enough water to cover them and soak for about 15 minutes.

Change the water on the lentils and bring to the boil.

Simmer the lentils until they are soft, but not mushy – 30-40 minutes.

While the lentils are cooking, prepare the masala.

Peel and chop the onion.

Cut the chillies into small pieces  (I use a scissors).

Bash the ginger with a pestle in a mortar. If you don’t have those, bashing it on a chopping board with a rolling pin or wooden spoon works just fine.

When the dhal is nearly cooked, start the masala.

Heat the oil in a pan and add the cloves, bay leaves and cumin seeds.

When they start to splutter, add the onion and ginger and green chillies.

Fry for a few minutes then add the dhal, lemon juice and tomatoes. Stir gently over a medium heat for about 3 minutes.

Add in the garam masala and serve immediately.

Naan

I’m not sure I should post this seeing as I didn’t get it right, but I will anyway! 🙂 

300g Plain Flour

1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Soda

1/2 Teaspoon of Salt

1/2 Teaspoon of Baking Powder

150 mls Hot Milk

120 mls Hot Water

2 Teaspoons of Nigella (Onion) Seeds

Take the racks out of your oven and cover them with tin foil.

Turn the oven on to maximum.

Sift the flour, baking soda and salt together in a bowl.

Mix the baking powder into the hot milk and leave it for about a minute. When a few bubbles pop up on the surface of the milk, add it to the flour and mix well.

Knead the mixture, adding the water to make a soft dough. Keep kneading until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Keep it covered, in a warm place, for 3-4 hours, until it rises.

Divide the dough into 6-8 balls.  Shape them into oblongs and pop them in the oven for about 15 minutes. The bread is done when it rises slightly and brown spots appear.

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day Three

Carrot & Orange Soup

6 Carrots

1 Orange

10g Fresh Ginger

3 Spring Onions (or one onion)

Knob of Butter

1 Litre of Water (or stock, preferably)

Salt and pepper to season.

Peel and slice the carrots.

Juice the orange.

Pound or grate the ginger.

Melt the butter in a pot.

Snip in the spring onions and sauté them.

Add the ginger and stir for another minute.

Add the carrots, orange juice and water (or stock) and bring to the boil.

Simmer for ten minutes, until the carrots are al dente.

Blend the whole thing and serve. We had it with rice because there isn’t much bread left and because we tend to eat soup with rice.

Rogani Kumbh

1 Onion

3 Medium-sized tomatoes (I used canned because we have no fresh)

2 Green Chillies

5 Cloves of Garlic

10g Ginger

1.5 Tablespoons oil (I used ghee – stop laughing down the back!)

1 Teaspoon Coriander Powder

1 Teaspoon Cumin Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Chilli Powder

Pinch Turmeric Powder

1/2 Teaspoon Garam Masala

250g Mushrooms (I used chestnut mushrooms)

Salt to taste

3 Tablespoons of Natural or Greek Yogurt

Halve (or quarter, depending on size) the mushrooms.

Peel and quarter the onion and blend it with the tomatoes, chillies, ginger and  garlic.

Heat the oil over a medium heat and add the blended mixture and spice powders.

Stir – being careful not to let the masala stick or burn – until the oil begins to separate from the rest of the mixture.

Add the mushrooms and stir gently.

Season with salt and add a splash of warm water.

Cook for about ten minutes until the fungi are soft but not pulpy.

Take off the heat and stir in the yogurt.

Chapatis

450g Atta Flour (plain flour is fine)

2 Teaspoons of Melted Ghee (or oil)

Warm Water

We love chapatis and they are quick and easy to make. I have friends in India who pride themselves on how perfectly round their chapatis are. I don’t get it – I think they taste the same no matter what shape they are. 🙂 

Mix the ghee (or oil) into the flour and slowly add enough warm water to make a soft dough. (The amount of water you’ll need depends on the type of flour you’re using and how hard or soft your water is – so apologies for being vague!)

Now comes the fun bit – knead the dough for about 10 minutes. I know this sounds like a long time, but I normally only knead it for about 5 minutes. Last night, however, I lost the run of myself and kneaded it for at least 10 (could have been 15). The result? The best chapatis I’ve ever made.

You need a flat pan to cook these on. I’m lucky – I have a purpose-built tawa that I got in India which does the job perfectly.

Tawa

Separate your dough into between 12 and 15 lime-sized balls. Dust them with flour and then roll them out until they’re quite flat.

Dry fry these on your flat pan.

When they bubble/puff up, turn them over and use a clean tea-towel to gently press them down. Each one only takes about 3 minutes to cook.

Keep the chapatis warm in tinfoil and serve straight away. If you’re keeping them for later, re-heat quickly on the stove or in the microwave if you have one.

Dhal

There are many ways to cook lentils. This recipe is for a Red Lentil Curry

200g Red Lentils

1 Onion

2 Teaspoons of Oil

3 Teaspoons of Curry Paste

2 Teaspoons of Curry Powder*

1 Teaspoon of Ground Turmeric

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cumin

1 Teaspoon of Chilli Powder

Pinch of salt

3 Teaspoons of Ginger Garlic Paste**

200g Tomato Paste

Tip the lentils into a sieve and rinse them under cold running water, until the water runs clear, otherwise the lentils will get scummy).

Put the lentils in a saucepan and cover them with cold water. Bring to the boil over a high temperature.

Turn the heat down and simmer the lentils until they are soft but not mushy – about 40 minutes.

Combine the curry paste, all the spice powders (including the curry powder) and salt in a bowl.

While the lentils are cooking, caramelise the onions.

Add the spice paste and poweders to the onions and cook over a high heat for about 2 minutes.

Stir in the tomato paste and reduce the heat. Allow the curry base to simmer away while the lentils finish cooking.

There should be little or no water left on the dhal when it’s finished cooking. If  they are very watery, drain (most of) the water off – you don’t want the curry to be sloppy.

Tip the lentils into the curry sauce and mix well.

Serve with chopped coriander, if you have any.

*I make my own curry powder. It’s easy and cheap if you already have the spice powders

3 Tablespoons of Coriander

2 Tablespoon of Turmeric

1 Tablespoon of Ground Cumin

1 Tablespoon of Chilli Powder

1 TAblespoon of Fenugreek

2 Teaspoons of Amchoor (mango powder)

2 Teaspoons of Ground Cinnamon

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cloves

1 Teaspoon of Ground Ginger

1 Teaspoon of Ground Cardamom

Mix all the above together and store in an airtight container.

** Ginger garlic paste can be bought in any Asian shop, and in some supermarkets, but it’s easy to make your own. Just take equal amounts of ginger and garlic and pound them together in a mortar and pestle.

Austerity Bites – Day Three

This morning, Kashmira made the smoothies for breakfast. She added ground almonds to the mix we used yesterday.  I think she enjoyed it:

K with Smoothie on her face

 

 

I decided to make soup for lunch. We had a bag of carrots and plenty of oranges so it seemed obvious that I should make carrot and orange soup. Unfortunately, it wasn’t until I was serving it up that I remembered the last time I’d made carrot and orange soup, the girls hadn’t really liked it. Still, they were hungry, so it was eaten. But no one went back for seconds.

 

Soup, Day 3

 

 

Fruit in the afternoon was melon and pear with a good grinding of nutmeg.

 

Fruit Bowl Day 3

 

 

Dinner was dhal (lentils) with rogani kumbh (mushrooms in tomato & onion gravy) and chapatis.

 

Dinner, Day 3

 

 

During the day, there was chocolate and a slice of the molasses cake made on Day 1.

At this stage, no one is going to bed hungry, but I am a bit worried that there hasn’t been a green leafy vegetable eaten all week. I’m also aware that we don’t have nuts in the cupboard and “eating a rainbow” on a daily basis  is beyond our capabilities this week.

 

We’re also rationing – I want to make naan for Day 4, so I had to measure out milk from the one carton we could afford this week, and caution Ishthara that there’s not much left for her cereal.

 

Ishthara had wanted us to make pancakes later this week, and was disappointed we mightn’t have enough milk. But we have coconut milk so that will do beautifully. Also, we have one egg (again, not enough money to buy more this week),  so we’re trying to figure out the best way to use it! I had wanted to make an orange cake yesterday – but the recipe I use needs eggs. I can’t experiment because our resources are too scarce to flirt with the possibility of wasting ingredients.

 

We have precious little yogurt left, either. We go through about one and a half kilos of yogurt (natural or Greek) every week. Then I remembered how I used to make my own when we lived in Asia. So I made the decision to use a few drops of our remaining milk to revive that tradition.

 

I’m also a bit concerned that even with rationing, I’ll run out of coffee. I have a terrible coffee addiction and suffer awful withdrawal headaches (akin to migraines) if I don’t get my ‘fix’. I know that green tea contains enough caffeine to sort me out if I get desperate, but I love the taste of coffee and  I’d like not to get desperate.

 

Recipes from Day Three to follow….. 🙂

Austerity Bites – Day 2

Day two of Austerity Bites started with a breakfast of smoothies – made with frozen berries, Greek yogurt and honey – for Kashmira and I, while Ishthara had a bowl of cereal with a splash of milk.

Lunch saw us polishing off the left-overs from the night before (apart from the roasted tomatoes, there was a bit of everything) and supplementing that with toasted cheese sandwiches.

Even after we’d gorged on them twice, there was still plenty of the patatas bravas left. I dropped the remainder into my friend to supplement supper for herself, her partner and their two kids. Only fair, really, considering she gave me half a bottle of olive oil yesterday, when I ran out.

Lunch, Day Two

My girls had a chocolate bar each mid-morning, and in the afternoon, their fruit bowls contained a sliced fresh nectarine and 125g of cherries each (both on special offer in Aldi this week).

Dinner was puy lentils with feta and olives, served with pasta.  Apart from the pasta and the olives, everything else I needed for dinner was already in our cupboards.

Puy Lentils

Before bed, Ishthara had another bowl of cereal with milk. I managed to survive on just three mugs of coffee. I had several cups of Minty Moroccan tea, and one of peppermint to keep my mouth happy throughout the day.

Here are today’s recipes:

Berry Smoothie

9 Tablespoons of Greek Yogurt

200g Frozen Fruits of the Forest/Berries

3 Tablespoons milled linseed

1 Tablespoon Clear Honey

Put all ingredients in a bowl (I find the pot from a kilo of yogurt works well) and whizz with a stick blender. If you use the berries while they’re still frozen or semi-frozen, the whole thing ends up being deliciously chilled.

Puy Lentils With Olives and Feta (Serves 3)

125g Puy Lentils

90g Olives

100g Feta

1 Large, Dried, Chilli (optional)

For The Dressing:

1 1/2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1/2 Tablespoon Balsamic Vinegar

1 Teaspoon of Dijon Mustard

1/2 Teaspoon brown sugar

Salt & Pepper to season

Put the lentils in a pot with cold water and bring to the boil. Let them boil for a minute and whip them off the heat. Drain the lentils (I just pour them into a sieve and let the water run off). Put them back in the pot with the dried chilli and add just enough cold water to cover them.

Put the lentils back on the cooker and bring them to the boil.

Turn the heat down so the lentils are very gently simmering. Simmer for 30 minutes until soft but not mushy.

Meantime, make the dressing. Take all the ingredients and combine them in a screw-top jar. Shake well.

When the lentils are cooked, take them off the heat and drain if necessary. Tip them into a bowl.

Halve the olives and add them to the lentils.

Crumble the feta over the olives and lentils.

Pour the dressing over the dish. I used a spatula to make sure I got every last drop out of the jar!

Yesterday, I made mention of panch phoran and one of you queried what that might be. It’s a mixture of five spices (panch is five in Hindi) that are used to give flavour to many Indian dishes. You can buy it in Asian shops – or easily make your own by taking equal parts of cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, nigella seeds and fenugreek seeds, mixing them together and storing in an airtight container.

Panch Phoran

Austerity Bites – Recipes From Day 1

Grapefruit & Avocado Salad *

1 Pink Grapefruit

1 Avocado

1 Green Chilli

2 Spring Onions

Teaspoon of Fresh Ginger, grated

Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt & Pepper to taste

Holding your hand over a bowl to catch all the juice, peel the grapefruit and pop the segments out of the pith.

Peel the avocado and cut it in strips off the stone.

Chop in the spring onions and chilli.

Add the ginger, sprinkle salt and pepper over the fruit and drizzle the oil over the salad.

Honey & Garlic Roasted Tomatoes *

500g Cherry Tomatoes

5 Cloves of Garlic

1 Tablespoon of Honey

3 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Salt and Pepper

Preheat the oven to 180.

Cut the tomatoes and put them in an ovenproof dish, cut side up. They should be slightly squished in the dish, with little or no space between them.

Pound the garlic before adding the salt and pepper. Beat in the honey and olive oil. Spoon this lovely, icky-sticky mixture over the tomatoes. Don’t panic if you think there’s not going to be enough – there will be just enough to cover the fruit.  Roast them for about 30 minutes until they are soft and juicy. When you’ve finished eating the tomatoes, the oil and juices will be perfect for mopping up with bread.

Courgette & Mozzarella in Garlic Lemon Oil *

2 Courgettes

5 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

3 Garlic Cloves, slivered

Grated Zest of 1 Lemon

1 Ball of Mozzarella

Salt & Pepper

Trim the courgettes. Then, using a vegetable peeler, slice them thinly. Put the slices in a bowl with 2 tablespoons of the oil. Mix them up with your implement of choice (I used my hands) to ensure the strips are all oiled.

Heat a large frying-pan over a fairly high heat and sear the courgette (you may need to do this in batches). Transfer to a dish and take the pan off the heat.

Add the rest of the oil, the garlic and lemon zest to the pan. Heat gently for a few minutes. Pour the infused oil over the courgettes and season. Add a squeeze of lemon juice, the Mozzarella  and a few fresh mint leaves if you have them.

Toss together and leave to stand, at room temperature, for about an hour before serving.

Dry Roasted Chickpeas With Lemon Juice & Panch Phoran

1 Can of Chickpeas

Juice of half a lemon

2 Teaspoons of Panch Phoran

Drain and rinse the can of chickpeas.

Pop them in an ovenproof dish and sprinkle the lemon juice and panch phoran over them.

Stick them in the oven (which is already pre-heated to 180 for the tomatoes) and roast them for about half an hour.

Patatas Bravas *

1kg New Potatoes

5 Tablespoons of Oil

Sea Salt

For the Tomato Sauce:

2 Tablespoons of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

1 Onion

5 Garlic Cloves

2 Chillies

400g Tin of Tomatoes

2 Teaspoons of Ras El Hanout or paprika

1 Teaspoon Jaggery or Brown Sugar

Sea Salt & Pepper to Taste

Make the sauce first. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a saucepan over a medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook for about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chilli. Cook, stirring, for a minute

Add the tin of tomatoes, ras el hanout, sugar,  salt and pepper. Simmer for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally and breaking up the tomatoes with a wooden spoon.

Put the spuds in a large pot, cover with cold water, add salt and bring to the boil. When the potatoes are nearly done, but before they start to fall apart, drain them and tip them onto a clean tea-towel to absorb excess moisture before frying them.

I melted 5 teaspoons of  coconut oil in a large frying pan, and sautéd them for about 15 minutes, until they were lovely and crispy on the outside, and fluffy on the inside.

Drain the potatoes on some kitchen paper and  tip them into a bowl. Pour the sauce over them and serve warm.

Spiced Molasses Cake 

The oven was on for the tomatoes and the chickpeas, so I thought I’d make a cake. The molasses in this cake ups the nutritional value, so it nearly counts as healthy. 

2 Tablespoons of Butter (Softened)

50g Dark Brown Sugar

1 Egg

200g Molasses

150g Plain Flour

1 Teaspoon of Baking Soda

1/2 Teaspoon of Ground Ginger

1/4 Teaspoon Cinnamon

1/4 Teaspoon Ground Cloves

120mls Hot Water

Grease a loaf tin or 9″ cake pan.

Beat the butter and the sugar.

Add in the egg.

Stir in the molasses.

Sift the flour, baking soda and spices into a large bowl.

Add the egg and molsses mix and the water.

Stir the whole mixture together and pour the batter into the greased tin.

Put it in the oven (pre-heated for the tomatoes!) for about half an hour, or until a skewer comes out clean.

* These recipes were adapted from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall’s River Cottage Veg every day!

Austerity Bites – Day 1

I went grocery shopping shortly after I’d published my last post. Before leaving the house, though, I warned my daughters that there probably wouldn’t be any chocolate this week. My eldest ran upstairs and returned with the contents of her purse for me.

“I don’t want to take your money!” I told her.

“I don’t need it for anything right now,” she replied.  “And now you can get some chocolate. And maybe some ice-cream?”

The forecast was for weather in the mid-twenties for the next few days. Definitely ice-cream weather.

As I added her money to mine, I discovered another €2.70 in my own wallet, bringing the grand total at my disposal to €37.96.

Money

Putting my mental maths to the test, I went to the first supermarket and spent €19.72. In the second, I spent another €14.89 before stopping in the last place for chickpeas and ice-cream; a total spend of €37.84.

Lidl receiptLidl receipt

For breakfast, I had coffee and the girls had cereal.  Lunch was pasta and fresh pesto (which was already in the fridge).

Pasta

At 4pm, the girls had a bowl of ice-cream and some frozen berries each. I tried to soothe my coffee-craving with various types of teas and infusions.

Ice-cream & berries

Dinner was a mezze of sorts: I made a grapefruit and avacado salad, honey and garlic roasted cherry tomatoes, courgette & mozarella in garlic lemon oil, dry-roasted chickpeas with lemon & panch phoran and patatas bravas.  Pudding was spiced molasses cake.

Mezze

Grapefruit & avacadoMolasses Spice Cake

I’ll post up the recipes next in case you want to recreate the veggie-fest.

Austerity Bites

So, this morning I found myself with the grand total of E23.66 to live on until Thursday of next week. That’s twenty-three euros and sixty-six cents with which to provide 18 meals for myself and my two daughters. Time was, I’d have spent more on a round of sandwiches.

 

Most weeks, I do have more money to spend on food, but this week one of my daughters needed a medical procedure that Crumlin hospital expected her to wait a few years for.  I made the informed decision to have the procedure done privately and don’t regret it. But our gas bill and the house insurance went out today, resulting in the afore-mentioned scant few bob left in the bank.

 

I’m not daunted, though, we’re vegetarian and I love to cook – plus, we do have a few staples (lentils and spices mainly!) in the cupboard.

Vegetables

 

I’ve decided to blog our meals this week and let you know how we get on. Will we end up eating the furniture by Tuesday? Or will we eat like kings? Will our foray into austerity eating see us missing out on vital nutrients? Or will I be even more aware of our nutritional needs now there is so little to play with?

 

Stay with me and find out! 🙂

 

Photo credit: Photobucket http://i364.photobucket.com/albums/oo83/vannessave22/fruit/Vegetables.jpg

Time Out For The Naughty Step?

In April of 2011, Ireland was rapped over the knuckles (pardon the pun!) by the EU for not having legislation outlawing smacking. I think it’s probably fair to say that most parents in Ireland do not lash out at their children the way previous generations of parents did, but can find themselves at a loss for what else to do that’s effective. Many parents use the concept of ‘time out’ or ‘the naughty step’ to enforce discipline without violence. But is this effective? Or does the naughty step make the parent – but not the child – feel better?

Article 19 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (which Ireland has signed) states that children must be protected from all forms of violence. To me,this means that children should not be hit- and I don’t think that’s open to discussion or interpretation. If hitting an adult is assault, then hitting a child is, too – whether that child is your own or someone else’s. The concepts of ‘time out’ and taking to the ‘naughty step’ have gained popularity with parents in Ireland – and appear to be the tools of disciplinary tools of choice for TV’s Supernanny (who, it must be noted, has no children of her own).

I’ve got to be honest, I have no time for time out, and I wonder what the naughty step did to make it so. My feeling on these methods is that, at times when your child is feeling upset or frustrated or angry, the last thing they need is to be pushed away from you. When my children had ‘episodes’ I found it comforted both of us if I gave them ‘time in’ rather than ‘time out’ and hugged them or put them in their sling. If their misdemeanour was something that really annoyed me, and felt unable to be loving, I would give myself ‘time out’ and leave the room until I had regained control of myself.

These days, with my kids aged 9 and 11, we operate a system of ‘Time and Room’. Taken from the nautical call – whereby if two ships are on a collision course and one calls for ‘time and room’ the other vessel must give it to them. Even if the first ship is in the wrong. In terms of family life, what this means is that if there is a row brewing or happening, any party involved can call ‘Time and Room’ and just leave. The other party/ies then give the person who has left the time and room they need to calm down/recompose/chill out. It works exceedingly well – giving everyone the time they need to reassess and recalibrate. The important thing about this method, I feel, is that we view it as a form of self-care and family-care rather than a punishment. The person calling for time and room decides how long it lasts, so they hold their own power and remain in control.

We adults need to remember that children don’t mean to make their carers angry. The behaviour we dislike has come about because they want attention, or their concentration dipped, or they switched off, or they were frustrated or angry with a situation or another person – perhaps a sibling. What they need is kindness and loving guidance, not to be shamed and embarrassed and made to feel as though they are not good enough.

In my view, the naughty step tells children that they can only be around us when they are “being good”. It tells children that our love is conditional upon their behaviour.

I know it’s easy to get frazzled and it’s easy to get upset with a child who isn’t doing what you want them to do, but as the eminent child psychologist Haim Ginott reminds us, behaviour is motivated by emotion. So we need to look beyond the child’s behaviour and look at the feeling(s) inspiring it.

(Image Credit:  Photobucket http://media.photobucket.com/image/naughty%20%20chair/red_savage1/Children/naughtychairlo.gif

Mixed Messages? (Part One)

Tomorrow, the Irish state exams – the Junior Certificate (JC) and Leaving Certificate (LC) – will begin.  For much of the month of June, those aged 14-15 and 17-18 will be chewing their pencils and worrying about how these tests will affect the rest of their lives.

Pencil in Dictionary

 

Today, the media was all afire with older people (by that, I mean people in their 30s and older – we’re ancient as far as those teenagers are concerned) being very serious as they went on about how these exams aren’t the be all and end all.

“The results of your Leaving Cert won’t define you,” one Elder Lemon commented.

 

Psychologists, therapists, teachers and those in many different professions felt it necessary to state categorically that teenagers are more than the sum of their points. Several parents weighed in as well – some more maudlin than others.

 

Now, before you think I disagree with these people, let me quickly disabuse you of that notion. I agree. The Junior and Leaving Certificates don’t define who a person is. The results of the Leaving Certificate do, however, determine if a person can continue to college or university. The points achieved in the LC also determine whether or not one gets to study one’s first choice. These exams do have an immediate impact on the lives of the young people sitting them and there’s no getting away from that, though. Even if it’s only the few weeks of mortification after the results come out and you have to admit that you failed everything.

 

My difficulty – my irritation – with this wave of ‘the exams don’t really matter’, is that, for many of these teens, they have spent the past few years hearing the exact opposite. They have been told that unless they ace their exams they will amount to nothing. Oh! Those may not be the exact words, but that is the message. Believe me, these kids don’t invent the pressure out of thin air!

 

Of course, I’m not saying that the people who are giving advice today are speaking out of both sides of their mouths, just that…..well, it’s a bit late to be giving that message now. Can we try and be consistent and give the same message to our young people throughout their academic career. Perhaps a modicum of moderation. How about we decide that all we – and by “we” I mean teachers, parents and media professionals  – tell our teens is:

 

“You’re fabulous. These exams are unfair and out-dated, but at the moment, they’re all we have. Sorry about that. Please do yourself justice by trying your best; but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get the results you wanted/needed for the course you wanted/needed. You’re still fabulous.”

 

 

 

Through The Lens of Motherhood

In Ireland, we’re still talking about the Prime Time Special Investigative Report into child care and that’s a good thing. Childcare is an issue that needs examining. The sad thing is that it’s taken a crisis like this for the Irish public to take a look at where and how our children are treated when we’re away from them.

 

Dialogue is always good: People expressing their opinions and sharing their experiences, making suggestions and offering support is helpful. I am delighted that the conversation here has not resulted in women who work outside the home being pitted against women who don’t.

 

It’s disheartening, though, to note that this debate is happening now – when the damage has already been done to a number of children. As I have mentioned before, Ireland is a nation of reactionaries. We, as a nation, don’t sit down and plan things. We lurch from crisis to crisis and try to cobble remedies together instead of methodically looking at solutions to possible problems in the planning stages. Look, for example, at the current baby boom. Where are the babies born now  going to go to school in 4 or 5 years’ time?

 

One of the reactions to abuse in childcare is people asking for cameras to be installed to keep staff under surveillance. I have a few problems with this. Cameras don’t always work. They can be switched on and off with ease. Then there are issues around child protection – all parents would have to consent to all other parents having access to images of all the children. I might not want your husband watching my daughters. I might not want your wife commenting on our child’s speech to your wife.

 

My biggest concern with cameras is the message they sent to care-givers. If I put you under surveillance it means I don’t trust you. It means that I will allow you to do something but I won’t really trust you to do it or to do it properly. People who are constantly being watched are not necessarily going to do their jobs better. Certainly, care-givers aren’t going to express a more loving attitude because they know they are being filmed.

 

When I needed childcare, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful live-in nanny. Part of the reason that things worked so well for us was that Nishanthi knew she was a respected member of our household. When she’d only been with us a few days, she came to me to hand up her passport. Initially,  I thought she needed me to take it for safe keeping, but it transpired that Nishanthi assumed that (like her previous employers) I’d want to hang on to it so she couldn’t run away.   I told her I’d happily put it in the safe in my room for her, but that I certainly wasn’t demanding she surrender it.

“Nishanthi,” I told her. “I trust you with my baby. If I thought you were going to run away, then I have no business leaving my child with you.”

 

I think that basic premise applies no matter who you leave your children with. If you have an inkling that all is not as it should be, then act on that instinct. In Ireland, we defer too much to perceived authority figures. “Why” is largely academic at this moment. Whether it’s part of our colonial hangover or not is irrelevant.  What matters is that we fix it and think for ourselves.  I’m a great proponent of personal responsibility and recognise that, as a parent, my child’s welfare ultimately rests with me.

 

Baby zoos are impractical and not the best solution at all. Industrial solutions are fine for bags of cement or packets of biscuits, but for our babies? Definitely not the way to go. People say they like the idea of their children socialising with their peers. But how many other children do they think they need to ‘socialise’ with? If the were at home with Mammy, they’d only have one or two other kids to play with. So 30 or more children is not ideal. At a time when we are beginning to realise that large class sizes in schools are not conducive to either the social or academic excellence, why can’t we make the same realisation with regard to our babies.

 

There are many different solutions to the childcare issue. Each family needs to make the choice that is best for them, based on solid information and their own preferences. It is right that we are reeling. But when we’ve finished reeling, we need to do something real.

Time For a Culture Change With Regard to Abuse

Last night, RTE’s Prime Time broadcast an investigative piece on the state of childcare in a number of crèches in the greater Dublin area. I can’t link to the programme because (rightly, in my opinion) RTE has chosen not to make the piece available on iPlayer.

 

We were exposed to children who were yelled at, sworn at, pulled around, held down on mattresses with blankets over their heads to “make them sleep”, left in high-chairs for up to two hours with nothing to do (i.e. after mealtimes and when there were no table-top activities happening), left sitting in soiled clothes because the care worker in her own words “didn’t care” and was punishing the child. Crying babies were left on their own away from adults and other children. There was a basic lack of care or concern for the individual children, as well as a basic lack of any understanding of child development.

 

I completely accept that there are excellent childcare facilities in Ireland. I completely accept, also – that even in the crèches exposed – the fact that these incidences took place does not mean that every child was so treated all of the time. Or that all the women working in these crèches are careless.

 

Those of us who saw the programme, and those who heard about it, were outraged, upset, distressed and angry. I, for one, was not surprised. This, after all, is the culture in Ireland. Time and again we have seen that there is a terrible abuse of power in institutions in Ireland: The Industrial “Schools”; The Magdalene Laundries; Old People’s Homes;  Psychiatric Institutions;  Maternity Hospitals; Schools. Wherever there are vulnerable people, there are people ‘in charge’ to abuse their power.

 

We might not like to face or admit it, but Irish culture seems to be a culture of bullying and abuse. Those in a position of power abuse it. Of course, I don’t mean that every person in a position of power abuses it, but I do mean that it is not a surprising situation any more.

 

We can express all the outrage we like, we can make all the speeches we like, we can write all the laws we like, we can commission all the reports we like – but unless and until there is a cultural shift, nothing will change.

 

 

Let Sleeping Babies Wake

The other day, I was really saddened to hear the mother of a baby giving thanks for the fact that her child had slept for ten hours straight. She was delighted that – with a little bit of ‘professional’ help from a soi-disant sleep nanny – her baby hadn’t disturbed her all night. This woman was bemoaning that her life was different since her baby had arrived.

 

Well, newsflash! Babies are supposed to change your life. If they don’t, you’re doing it wrong.

 

I am fed up of hearing people talk about their babies as if they (the babies) were evil little demons trying to rob them of sleep or peace or ‘me’ time. If you have made the decision to have a baby, it is up to you to change your life to fit in with the baby – not the other way around. And that isn’t as hard as it might sound; most babies are extremely accommodating and won’t put too much of a stop to your gallop. I’ve brought mine to work; I’ve taken them for trips in trains,  planes and boats; taken them to the cinema, the doctor, the dentist, lunches, brunches, dinners, launches  and anywhere else I might have to go. They’re very portable, I find.

 

But let me get back to the sleeping thing because I actually meant this post more as a public service announcement than a rant. (No, really!). It’s actually dangerous to have your babies sleeping away from you. The fad for having babies sleep away from their mothers is a fairly recent – and a fairly Western – one.

 

With this separation of baby from parent/s, began the rise of SIDS.  In Africa and Asia, children sleep with their parent/s for at least the first two years (in some places, even the first five years) of life. Cot-death is unheard of.  There is more on that here and in Meredith Small’s book ‘Our Babies Ourselves’ .

 

But, quite apart from the science and the evidence – let’s be practical about this.  I am a great proponent of lazy parenting. I am far too lazy to get out of my bed in the middle of the night and wander around a dark house into another room to pluck a crying baby from her cot before feeding her (or comforting her if she doesn’t need a feed), putting her back in her cot and stumbling, bleary-eyed, back to my own bed. I love my sleep too much. So my babies slept with me and found the breast as and when they needed it. (That didn’t work so well with my eldest, who was early born and unable to suck.  I expressed and fed her every hour for the first few months, then every two hours. I kept her in the bed with me, though.  It was still easier to feed her that way.)

 

Apart from when they were sick, I never had a broken night’s sleep when my children were babies. I expect they’ll come – along with the ten-hour sleeps  – when they’re teenagers.

 

 

Encouraging Your Children To Read

This piece first appeared in the May, 2012 issue of  Easy Parenting 

Reading is the greatest gift you can give your child. Not only is it fun, it is vital. Reading opens up whole universes to children – and can help them make sense of the one they’re already living in.

Some children love reading and take to it like the proverbial duck to water, but others need coaxing.

Of course, some children do have difficulties with reading that have nothing to do with motivation or desire. If you are concerned, get your child tested for dyslexia, dyspraxia, myopia or other optical difficulties.

If you sense your child is just reluctant to read, however, there are a few things you can do:

Confidence

Books can be intimidating. Maybe your child isn’t progressing with their reading because they worry about getting it wrong. I know this was true for my eldest daughter. I despaired over her reading until I realised that it was a confidence issue. Rather than try to read something that might be difficult – and fail – she decided it was better for her not to even try.

Once I figured that out, I invested in a few workbooks that started at the very beginning and progressed. Ishthara knew she could read the alphabet and she knew she could do the simple exercises in the workbook. So she took great pride in zipping through them. Very quickly, she built on what she already knew and it wasn’t long before her confidence soared – along with her reading fluency.

Routine

For some families, bed-time is not conducive to story-time. If that’s true for you, is there a time that might work better? First thing in the morning, perhaps? Or – if you work at home – the middle of the afternoon? When dinner’s cooking? Immediately after dinner?

Reading isn’t just about books, though, and can be incorporated into every day – when you’re driving, ask your child to spot signs with the name of your destination on them. In a restaurant, offer your child a menu and ask them to select their own meal. Have them read the instructions to a board game you’re about to play. Hand them your shopping list and ask them to help when you’re in the supermarket.

Or imitate the Finnish, who have the highest literacy rates in the world. Part of this is because all television programmes are subtitled (in Finnish). This encourages children to read along when they’re watching T.V. Our government hasn’t adopted this practice yet, but there’s nothing to stop you putting on the subtitles every time you switch the telly on.

Genres

Finding the genre your child enjoys most is a great way to find the door into reading for them. One happy day, my eldest chanced upon a book by Karen McCombie and fell in love. Since then, she has read many of Karen’s books and joined her fan club online (more reading!).

We’ve also discovered that Ishthara devours books based on fact, and books that are more ‘real’ (like the Breadwinner trilogy); while Kashmira loves books about animals as well as books with elements of time travel and the odd ghost.

Don’t dismiss comics either. In other countries they are referred to as ‘graphic novels’ and are for all ages and reading levels. As the recently-deceased Maurice Sendak (author of ‘Where The Wild Things Are’) said: ‘Kids don’t know about bestsellers. They go for what they enjoy.’

Resources

Use your local library. Ask the children’s librarian for recommendations. Libraries often have writers visit them – and some have workshops for children. Getting your child involved can add a new dimension to reading.

Rather than feud with your child over screen time, incorporate reading into it. For instance, one hundred classics – including ‘A Little Princess’, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘Treasure Island’ – are all available on a single cartridge for Nintendo DS®. The Internet, too, can be used to your advantage in your quest to instil a love of reading in your child. Check out http://www.bookadventure.com to start with.

Finally, remember that you are your child’s biggest resource. Lead by example – discuss books, share facts you’ve discovered through reading, and let your child/ren see you reading whenever you get the chance. 

Ishthara &Kashmira Reading

Regrets? I Have But One…

This day – March 28th – was the first day I landed in my new home of Singapore many years ago. I was with my first husband and was convinced that this move – from one side of the world to the other – was the best thing I’d ever done.  I was convinced that it was the beginning of the rest of my life.

 

I was sure that my husband I were destined to live our lives out under the tropical sun, working hard, contributing to society, raising several children and generally living a ‘normal’ life.

 

It wasn’t to be.

 

He was abusive from the start, but eventually, there came a straw that broke the camel’s back and I left him. Not long afterwards, I met my second husband – who was equally abusive – but in slightly different ways, so it took me a while to see it.

 

Not long after I left my second husband, and just before I turned 30, I realised I was pregnant with my second daughter. The father of this child ‘suddenly remembered’ he was married the day after I discovered I was expecting.

 

I was a single mother, with two children and no support – emotional or financial – from the fathers of my children. I was desperately trying to be all things to both of them, do my best for both of them.  I was trying to do the impossible; work full time to earn enough to pay the bills and have a reasonable life-style and still be a full-time mother.

 

But I regret none of this.

 

My one regret is returning to Ireland at the end of 2004 with my children who were then two-and-a-half years old and five months old, respectively.  Persuaded by people who claimed to have my best interests at heart (be wary of people who claim to have your best interests at heart – they usually only have their own best interests at heart) to leave Asia and return to Ireland, I did.

 

It was the biggest mistake of my life and the only thing in my life that I regret at a deep soul-level.

 

Ireland was never kind to me. Not when I was growing up here, and not in the years I have lived here as an adult with children of my own. I wish I had never come back. I wish I had analysed my situation, in 2004, closer and found a way to stay out of this country and keep my children safe (part of my reason for leaving was that my second husband had threatened to kidnap my eldest daughter and take her back to India. I couldn’t afford to under-estimate him).

 

But I didn’t. I didn’t look hard enough. I beat myself up for that. I took flight and took my children back to a country where they were not welcome. A country that bewildered me. A country that did not enfold me to its bosom and welcome me ‘home’.

 

Part of my biggest difficulty with living here is that – in spite of seven years tertiary education and nearly 20 years of work experience in various sectors – I have not been able to find paid employment here. It’s not for the want of trying, I can assure you. I went back to education when my girls were still babies and earned a BA (Hons) in psycology. Two years later, I had an MA. Nearly six months after graduating, I am still unemployed and sick of hearing that I need to stay positive and keep looking that ‘something’ will turn up.

 

After eight and a half years of hearing that, it rings hollow. Anyway, all I want to do is find a job that will enable me to move abroad again – either by dint of a transfer or by saving up enough to leave.

 

All those years ago, when I awoke to  new life in a new world, nearly ten thousand miles away, I thought it was the first day of the rest of my life. My life certainly didn’t work out the way I expected it to.

 

But guess what? All these later, today is the first day of the rest of my life.

No Country For Pregnant Women

Yes, yes, I know…..you’re sick of hearing me banging on about pregnancy and the state of maternity “care” in Ireland.

But it’s getting worse, not better.  I heard from Jene Kelly at AIMSI (the Association for Improvements in Maternity Services, Ireland) today. She told me a shocking tale. Alas, I have to report that I am shocked, but not surprised. This is how women are treated in Ireland. We are still second class citizens, we are still treated as though we are incapable of making informed decisions for and about ourselves. We are still subjected to a patronizing, patriarchal maternity system that, crucially, is not evidence-based

This past weekend, as the nation celebrated International Women’s Day and Mother’s Day, an Irish Maternity Hospital initiated an invasive procedure on a pregnant woman against her will. ‘Mother A’ was denied patient autonomy and the right to informed refusal when the drastic and unprecedented measure of an emergency High Court sitting was called in order to compel her to undergo a Caesarian section. The risk of uterine rupture was cited as one of the main reasons for the urgency in this case but this risk is widely reported as being 0.1% or 1/1000. This is what Dr. Michael Turner, Obstetrician at the Coombe Hospital has called: “exaggerated, professional scaremongering…and it must stop” (VBAC Conference, 2012).

State-sanctioned coercion of medical procedures on pregnant women or any other competent adult is not only unacceptable but it is also unlawful in other jurisdictions, such as the USA and the UK (Re AC [1990] & Re S [1998]). ‘Informed consent’ and ‘informed refusal’ abuses are common issues reported to AIMS Ireland by women.

Imagine if ‘Mother A’ was your mother, or your sister, or your cousin, or your daughter, or your friend, or your partner or your wife, or you.

Jene Kelly, of AIMS Ireland, states: “there is an overwhelming acceptance by the public and some maternity service providers in Ireland that a pregnant woman’s right to informed consent, or informed refusal, is not reliable and that women who exert their rights are selfish. It is this mentality that has allowed atrocities such as symphysiotomies, miscarriage misdiagnoses, unnecessary hysterectomies by Dr Neary and all the other reported assaults against women by our maternity system to continue to go unanswered in Ireland for so long. This is no country for pregnant women. ”

 

AIMS Ireland reports that women who are bullied into consenting do not fulfill the principles of informed consent and therefore are entitled to sue the doctors for assault. For example, a woman who was forced to have a caesarean section against her wishes in the UK sued the doctors (Ms S v St George’s NHS Hospital Trust, 1998) and was awarded £36,000 damages. It is time that Irish women did the same. Threatening women, bringing women to the high court, removing women’s rights and choices – these bullyboy tactics do not promote trust between women and their care providers. How can you trust a system that doesn’t acknowledge your rights? Women are choosing to leave the system as a result.

Annette is one of these women. She is lobbying the HSE for a homebirth following a previous Caesarean section. The HSE currently does not recognize informed choice for homebirth for women who fall outside strict exclusion criteria in site of a European Court of Human Rights ruling recognizing a woman’s right to decide how and where she births. Annette does not meet criteria following her previous Caesarean, despite having subsequent successful vaginal births. Annette asks: “Is it HSE policy to use the High Court as a method of intimidation and coercion, when a patient tries to exercise her right to informed decision making, as laid out by the European Court of Human Rights (Ternovsky v Hungary, Under Article 8)? We are humans, with great intellect. We are capable of informed discussion and decisions regarding our pregnancies and births in the best interests of ourselves, our babies and our families. I feel anger, disappointment and bewilderment. Today as a woman and mother, I grieve.”

Why I’m Voting No

I’m not perfect. Nor am I a perfect parent. Though I do try. I want to be the best parent I can be. More than anything else, being the best mum I can for my children is the most important thing in my life.

In the 10 and a half years since I became a parent, every decision I have ever made has had the good of my children at its centre.  In fact, for the 10 years it took me to become a parent, I thought a lot about parenting and my values and what was important to me – and important to pass on to my children.

That, I believe, is how it should be.  Becoming a parent – no matter how one comes to it – is the most important thing a person will ever do.  How a parent treats a child will have profound reverberations and repercussions for generations to come. That’s not hyperbole. That’s fact.

Ireland is going to the polls a fortnight from tomorrow (November 10th) to vote on a proposed referendum to the Irish Constitution. This has not come about because our government is committed to children and because we, the Irish people, have clamoured for years to have the rights of children enshrined in our Constitution. No. This referendum is taking place because the Irish government has been shamed in to it by the UN.

Ireland signed the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child over 22 years ago, yet we have done nothing to ensure that our laws are in line with it .

This proposed referendum is a mealy-mouthed sop to the people of Ireland so that the government can say ‘See? We gave you a referendum on the Rights of the Child!’
Honestly, it’s like giving a barefoot child a pair of socks with holes in them – it’s better than nothing, but not a whole lot better.
The referendum should address all the articles of the CRC and it doesn’t. As one (small) example, Article 42 of the CRC states:

“States Parties undertake to make the principles and provisions of the Convention widely known, by appropriate and active means, to adults and children alike.”

And yet, I have never walked into a school or a Garda Station or a library or a church or any other place where children gather and seen the Rights of a Child displayed. (They are, however, displayed in my own home – UNICEF produced a beautiful, clear poster years ago which we have and which is stuck up – at child height – in our hall).
One of the other things that really bothers me about the proposed amendment is the way that the constitution is supposed to be flexible in order to accommodate the wording of any future law. Surely our constitution is supposed to be the instrument on which our laws are based, not a malleable document that should bend to accommodate our laws?! Shouldn’t our laws be based on our constitution and not vice-versa?
Another thing that bothers me about the proposed wording is this notion of ‘the best interests of the child’…..who gets to decide what the best interests of the child are? A panel of ‘experts’? People the child has never met before? People the child has known for all (or the majority) of his or her life? Or just one person? It’s not spelled out and it needs to be.
If I voted ‘Yes’ in this referendum, I would not be able to look my children in the eye – because I would know that I would not have done my best for them. My children deserve better than what this referendum is offering them. So do yours. So does every child on this island – and those who are yet to be.

Half a Loaf is NOT Better Than None

Monsoon Wedding (2002) is my favourite film. I can watch it again and again and again and my heart will still be caught by certain looks, gestures and lines. One of those lines is when Lalit Verma (played by the hugely talented Naseeruddin Shah) the patriarch, talking about his family, says – his voice thick with tears he is trying to check:

‘These are my children, and I will protect them from myself even if I have to.’

 

In spite of the fact that I have seen Monsoon Wedding several hundred times in the 10 years since it was made, the delivery of this line always chokes me up. I think it’s because I wish to God that I had meant enough to someone that they would have had the same thoughts and feelings about me. I’d love to think that I would ever have meant as much to even one of my parents. But I didn’t. I was abused and neglected by parents who should never have been allowed to keep dogs – never mind children.

 

The state knew. I have several documents in my possession that unequivocally mention that people in the (then) Eastern Health Board knew I was being verbally, physically, emotionally, mentally, psychologically and sexually tortured, and how my needs were being sorely neglected.  There are mentions over a number of  years of the ‘dangerously dysfunctional’ situation I was living in. There are references to how the Gardai needed to be involved and to how I needed to be removed from the situation for my own safety. Well, guess what? No one ever called the Gardai. No one removed me from that ‘dangerously dysfunctional’ situation and no one, not one single person – and there several who knew – lifted a finger to help.

 

At one stage, a member of the clergy (because, of course, members of the Catholic Church knew) told me that, while he would have a word with a few of the people who raping and otherwise abusing me several times a week, if they didn’t stop, I needed to remember that ‘Boys will be boys’.

 

As a little girl of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10  I used to dream of being kidnapped, stolen, taken away. Rescued. It was what I comforted myself with at night when I cried myself to sleep, my heart like a stone in my chest, my head wondering what I had done that was so bad that meant I deserved to be treated like this, and my vagina on fire from the treatment of rough and uncaring hands, mouths and pensies (yes, dear reader, plural).

 

By the time I was 10, however, I realised that I was never going to be rescued and I’d just be better off dead. So I tried ever-harder to kill myself and felt ashamed that I never managed to pull it off – imagine being such a failure that you couldn’t even kill yourself.

 

So, when I heard that Irish people were finally, finally, going to get the chance to vote on something that would make life better for little children on this island, I was delirious with excitement. Finally, little Irish babies and little Irish children and big Irish children and Irish young people – and even babies and children and young people who weren’t Irish but who lived here – would be cherished (isn’t that a lovely word?) and nurtured (another lovely word) and maybe even shown some love and kindness.

 

Then I read the proposed wording and my heart sank. This legislation doesn’t even begin to touch the hem of the skirt of child protection. It is a mealy-mouthed sop that will not prevent children from being abused, it will not rescue children who are being abused, and it will not confer on the state any more rights to intervene than the state already has. Crucially, it won’t demand that the state use the power it already has.

 

I know that a constitution is only a set of aspirations. It’s a wish list upon which we base our laws – a public declaration of what we would like most and best for the good of our people – not the actual  set of laws. It’s a reference point to remind us of what we want for our people. Given that, I believe we should aim for the moon and settle for the stars.

 

The proposed amendment is not an exercise in moon-reaching, it is an exercise in optics. In looking at the moon through a telescope, shrugging and saying ‘Shure, that’s too far away, we could never reach there at all, at all’.

 

We’re telling people – we’re telling little girls who are the little girl I was 30 years ago – that, really, they don’t matter.  It’s not enough for our children. It’s not enough for my children. I’d like to think that, were they ever in danger, they would be protected – even from myself if they had to be – but this proposed amendment won’t do that.

 

 

Breastfeeding Awareness Week

This week marks Breastfeeding Awareness Week – a week when we take stock of the rates of breastfeeding in our country and take stock of new research and evidence with regard to the benefits of breastfeeding.

 

 

Sadly, in Ireland, we have very low rates of breastfeeding our children. Only five out of ten babies will leave hospitals as breastfed, and fewer will be breastfed for very long. We really need to ask ourselves the hard questions with regard to feeding our babies ourselves in this country.

 

According to an article on the radio earlier this week, women in Ireland are more likely to breastfeed their babies if their husbands/partners are non-Irish. What does this tell us about Irish men’s attitudes to breasts and their being used for the reason they were invented? What does it also tell us about how easily Irish women are influenced by their men?

 

I struggle to understand why any woman who can – and that’s over 90% of women- does not breastfeed her baby. The short, medium and long term benefits far outweigh any initial discomfort. Whenever I hear a woman talk about how hard it is, I am reminded of a dear friend of mine who adopted a baby and induced lactation in order to breastfeed the infant. Her determination was fierce and it was not an easy road, but she was adamant that her child would not lack anything another child born to her might get.

 

From my own research, it would appear that Irish women believe the baby-formula hype (lies) that formula is as good for babies as breastmilk – especially after six months. This is complete nonsense as breasts are amazing things and will adapt the milk they produce to ‘fit’ the child they are feeding. Indeed, if a baby and a toddler are fed at the same time, the breasts will produce different milk for each child.

 

Apart from ignorance, I think lack of support – social, medical and familial – is a huge barrier to breastfeeding. As is mothers’ sad lack of comfort with their own bodies.

 

We need to stop pitting bottle-feeding mums against breast-feeding mums. We need to stop judging mothers who bottle-feed and make breast-feeding the unquestioned norm. If we could make child abuse normal in this country, surely we can do the same with child-nurturing?

A Section of Society…..

A fortnight ago, I heard about the latest ESRI report on the fertility of Irish women. It’s taken me a while to address the most disturbing statistic revealed in that document, but I’m finally getting around to it.

 

Caesarean section rates in Ireland have increased. They are steadily creeping up and now stand (or lie!) at almost 25%. Bearing in mind that the WHO recommends that the C-section rate should not be more than 15 percent in any country – least of all a developed one where difficulties associated with vaginal birth, like malnutrition and FGM resulting in damage to the birth canal are virtually non-existent.

 

The day after these figures were released, I heard Peter Boylan of the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street giving reasons why we are now more than ten percentage points above the recommendations of the WHO.  I was just going to tweet ‘There’s Peter Boylan talking bollocks’, but I decided instead that it might be more useful to deconstruct his argument.

 

Boylan’s main arguments for the rising increase revolved around the following:

1. We now have women who are ‘much older’ giving birth for the first time.

2. There are more IVF babies.

3. Breech presentations lead to more C-sections.

4. Women have a ‘natural tendancy’ to worry about their pregnancies and think that anything that can go wrong will go wrong.

 

Unfortunately, none of these ‘reasons’ is an evidence-based reason for cutting women’s abdomen’s open in order to extract their babies.

 

That Irish women are ‘much older’ giving birth for the first time, is an interesting piece of demographic research – not a reason to insist they undergo major surgery! In a search of scholarly articles, I could not find a single shred of evidence to suggest that being over 35 or even over 40 was in and of itself a contributing factor to risks that would necessitate a C-section. Not one.

 

As to Boylan’s assertion that IVF babies are more likely to ‘need’ to be brought into the world via surgery – there is no evidence to suggest that a pregnancy achieved through IVF does not proceed exactly the same way as every other pregnancy. Therefore, there is no evidence to suggest that any more than 15% of these births should be ending in Caesarean-sections.

 

Breech presentations, as any good midwife knows, are a variation of normal. A breech birth, therefore, is a ‘normal’ birth and should be treated as such. The problem is that the knowledge and skills necessary for attending a breech birth are being lost and ‘normal’ is regarded as ‘dangerous’.

 

I don’t think any of Peter Boylan’s ‘reasons’ for the rise in C-sections is quite as arrogant, condescending, patronising or stems from a more patriarchal place than his assertion that ‘women have a natural tendency to worry about their pregnancies and think that anything that can go wrong, will go wrong’.   Women don’t have a ‘natural tendency’ to assume that their pregnancy is doomed from the outset. We don’t need a doctor to pat our hands and tell us that they’ll take care of everything for us! Women, in fact, don’t worry about anything until it is suggested that there is anything to worry about. And who plants these seeds of doubt and worry? Why, the doctors, of course.

 

If, as Peter Boylan was suggesting, these natural worrying tendencies of women are responsible for the rise in C-sections, I wonder where he feels the responsibilities of doctors lie? Should they not be reassuring women with actual, cold, hard facts on the outcomes of pregnancy and childbirth? Should they not be reassuring women that pregnancy and birth are perfectly normal, everyday occurrences? Should they not be informing women that the outcomes for then and their children are better if they just allow nature to take her course?

 

In her piece in the Irish Times on June 26th, Dr. Jacky Jones reminds us that  ‘Fooling ourselves that the birthing process is safer for women when doctors are in charge is the ultimate example of group-think. The vast majority of women are able to give birth without surgical intervention so doctors are redundant except in about 10 to 15 per cent of cases. Obstetricians spent the 20th century inventing surgical and mechanical ways of interfering with a natural process to ensure they were not redundant.’

 

Unfortunately for women and their babies, Dr. Jones is right. I don’t want to vilify all doctors; they’re not operating from a place of greed many of them genuinely believe that they have women’s best interests at heart; but they forget that they are trained in the ‘abnormal’.  Their expertise is in intervention when things go wrong. As women have increasingly handed over their power to male doctors – and female doctors trained in a medical model that was invented by men – the amount of intervention in normal births has increased.

 

Dr. Marsden Wagner, who was formerly the WHO’s Director of Women’s and Children’s Health, wrote about this phenomenon in his seminal piece ‘Fish Can’t See Water’  which points out that because doctor’s don’t know any better, they can’t do any better.

 

It makes me very, very sad that women are continuing to hand over their power in this, the most feminine of arenas, to men. Until we stand up and wrest our power back from the patriarchal system that Birth is embedded in in this country, we can never truly expect the lot of women and children here to improve. As long as we are happy to be compliant, we will continue to be complicit in our own subjugation.

 

Who’s Your Daddy?

Yesterday, Joan Burton, the minister for Social Protection said that she was proposing a new law. This law would force single mothers to put their children’s father’s names on their children’s birth certificates. I was a bit nervous when I first heard this: In certain instances, not putting the father’s name on the birth certificate is the wisest option.Thankfully, Joan Burton seems to be aware of this, too, and has made mention of the fact that there will be provisions for mothers who feel it is in the child’s best interest if their father’s name is not on the birth certificate.

Putting the name of the father on the child’s birth certificate – according to the Irish government – is to ensure that children who are half-siblings do not have romantic/sexual relations. It’s also because every child has the right to know who both their parents are. I am broadly in agreement with this sentiment. It’s also in keeping with the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, Article 8 of which states that children have the right to preserve their identity, ‘including (…) family relations’.

Eight years ago today, I was in my bedroom in Singapore, labouring away with my second daughter. She was born – all four-point-three kilos and fifty-six centimetres of her – on the 18th of May, just after ten in the morning. Her father is called Arshad Iqbal Ahmed. He was born on the 11th of May, 1972 in Jabalpur in India. He knows it, I know it, she knows it and now, so do you. His name, however, isn’t on Kashmira’s birth certificate. Actually, now that I think of it, his name isn’t even on his own birth certificate! But I have very good reasons for not putting Arshad’s name on Kashmira’s birth certificate.

The day after I found out I was pregnant with her, he ‘suddenly remembered’ he was married. To his cousin. She was merrily living in India with her family, while he was merrily living in Singapore, with me. The day after his memory about his marital status came back, he fled the country and I haven’t seen him since.

Putting his name on my daughter’s birth certificate would mean that I would have to seek his permission every time I wanted to get her passport renewed; and for every other major decision pertaining to her wellbeing – from the kind of education she receives to what kind of medical care she receives. If (God forbid) she needed an operation, I’d have to ask his permission. Giving someone like him the power to make or veto decisions pertaining to my little girl was not something I was going to let happen.

Further, Arshad is Muslim, in accordance with which (in his and his Imam’s interpretation of Islam) on her last birthday Kashmira became his ‘property’ and he can swoop in and take her from me. He reminded me of this in one of his (many) abusive phone calls when I was pregnant; warning me that he could take ‘the child’ as soon as she was 7 and return to India with her. He had that right, he told me.

So, in my child’s best interest – which, happily, is also in her sister’s best interest and in mine – Arshad’s name is not on her birth certificate. But I can guarantee you that there is no possibility that she will marry her brother. Or even her cousin.

Seven Is Too Young

This past week has seen single parents (usually mothers) reacting to the budget cuts that have affected them so acutely. Vincent Brown gave the subject a good airing on his programme last Thursday.

One of the elements of the Irish government’s cut-backs is their proposal to phase out the payment of Lone Parents’ Allowance to parents of children over the age of 7.

 

What is the reasoning for this? That by the age of seven every child is expected to be in school and therefore, doesn’t need a mammy or daddy to come home to?

 

Clearly, this is an attempt to save costs. The idea is that mothers (for they are nearly all mothers) on LPA can stop this ‘mothering’ and ‘nurturing’ business and get the feck out the door and work for a change. This attitude is not only insulting – by implying that lone parents are feckless, lazy creatures who want to live and (try to) raise their kids on benefits – it’s also naive. Does this government think that by insisting that lone parents find paid employment as soon as their youngest child turns 7, jobs will automatically appear?

 

I’ve posed a lot of questions in this piece. But here’s my biggest question: Wouldn’t this proposed course of action require a referendum? I refer to Bunracht na hEireann, Article 41, 2.2:

‘The State shall, therefore, endeavour to ensure that mothers shall not be obliged by economic necessity to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home.’

 

To insist that mothers are obliged, by economic necessity, to engage in labour to the neglect of their duties in the home – of which child-rearing is the most important – is surely unconstitutional? Or am I missing something glaringly obvious?

 

The Attitude of Gratitude

During the week, I was listening to an interview on the radio. The interviewee was talking about motherhood. She spoke about how women ‘lose their identity’ when they have children –  my response to that is an entirely different post – and she also spoke about how children ‘aren’t grateful’.

 

This pronouncement stopped me in my tracks. Are children really not grateful? Why, if they’re not, do you think that might be? Children, after all, learn by example: If they see and hear gratitude around them, they can’t help but be grateful themselves.

 

It’s like complaining that children ‘have no manners’. Some children don’t say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ – but perhaps that’s because the people bringing them up don’t say ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ to the children?

 

‘Children have no gratitude,’ opined the woman on the radio. I beg to differ. In support of my argument,  I give you Exhibit A – a note my girls wrote for me when they were aged 5 and 7, respectively:

 

It reads: “To Mum thank you for the lovely food your such a good mum. Lots of love from I xxx Kashmira “.  I keep it taped to the inside of one of the food cupboards.

 

On the inside of another cupbaord, this is taped:

“I love you and Ishthara. Thank you so much mum for making me cum to life” is the message Kashmira painted for me in April of this year. (My heart does not see their grammar and spelling mistakes!)

 

These are not the only notes expressing gratitude that  my girls have given me over the years. Apart from the notes, they constantly tell me that they are grateful for our home, for each other, for Love, for hugs, for books, for food, for shoes, for clothes – for all sorts of things.

 

My children are grateful because they have been taught to be grateful. I cannot remember a time when I did not thank my children for coming into my life; for choosing me to be their mother. I thank them for being kind to each other, for being kind to me, for clearing up after themselves, for getting up in time for school (so I don’t get stressed).

 

I thank them for being well-behaved when we’re out – which means I can bring them to (certain) conferences and meetings and museums and art galleries and other places where people don’t always assume they can bring their kids.  I thank them for amusing themselves without ruining the house when I’m sick. I thank them for the lessons they teach me, for their patience with me when I get things wrong, for being on this journey with me. I thank them for the joy they bring to my life.

 

My children are grateful because they have seen and heard me express my gratitude. They have seen that I keep a Gratitude Journal, so they keep one each, as well.

 

It really is that simple; if you want your children to behave in a certain way, model that behaviour for them. If you want your children to be grateful, adopt an attitude of gratitude and parade it in front of them.