Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Family-Friendly Policies

At the Mothers Uncovered session last week (a project I've been taking part in which gives new mothers the opportunity to discuss the rewards and challenges of motherhood), a topic of discussion was Conservative MP David Cameron's new 'family-friendly' plan to bring maternity nurses into the homes of every new parent, for six hours a day during the first week of a baby's life. He apparently was impressed by the Dutch use of this system.

Looking into it further, I think this is typical of political strategies to divert attention away from the 'real' issues that make family life difficult. Cameron claims he wants to help 'struggling' middle-class families who apparently cannot take their babies 'out and about' due to the streets not being safe. I had to laugh aloud at this suggestion. It reminds me of other familiar 'fear-tactic' strategies, e.g. 'The War on Terror' that convince us the enemy is without, rather than within.

I'm more than a little uneasy at the prospect of some Gina-Ford style maternity nurse coming into parents' homes at the very time when they should be building a new relationship with their baby, and imposing her regimes and ideas on often impressionable new parents. I can't think of anything I'd have wanted less than someone funded by the state to do this job, foisted on me at this point. A cleaner and cook would perhaps have been welcome, but what makes the state think that they know better about how to look after babies? This remark was most telling: "To have those extra pair of hands around - and the advice of a real expert [own emphasis added]- could, I think, have a dramatic effect on the beginning of a baby's life and perhaps help in setting a positive path for the parents to follow."

How about focusing on helping mothers who want to be primary caretakers, so that they do not have to go back to work to support their families - instead of steering them back into low-paid jobs as soon as possible? How about working towards longer paid paternity leave for fathers (recent improvements are promising, but still only a few days paid leave)? Educating NHS hospital staff about attachment theory, which is amply supported by evidence, and eliminating the kind of experiences other mothers tell me about, where they were told not to hold or touch their babies more than strictly necessary? Or to ensure health visitors have up to date and extensive training on breastfeeding and, also, attachment theory, so that they do not advise abusive methods of care such as 'controlled crying' in the name of 'sleep training'?

This kind of proposal is a subtly dangerous way of encouraging parents to believe that they should listen to 'experts' over and above their instincts. Mothers have been mothering for millenia without maternity nurses. I appreciate that there are many families were children are at risk, due to poverty, substance abuse and other factors, but surely a blanket approach of state involvement is a little over the top? I think it's giving a whole new meaning to the 'nanny state' concept.

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

My Summer So Far In a Nutshell

Well, as you can see I've been having a busy summer. J has been developing at a rapid rate - he appears to have a language all of his own now, as well as a unique method of locomotion involving bum shuffles, backwards crawling and attempts at the 'downward dog' yoga pose. He doesn't seem to realise this doesn't equal crawling - but hey, it gets him around.

The O2 Festival in early July was a good experience - performing my poetry alongside poets I greatly respect, such as Louise Halvardsson, Bernadette Cremin, and Jacob Sam La Rose. Our audience was an interesting one: punters at the beer garden section, who weren't always that appreciative of poetry, but who did warm to it as the set went on. J loved his first festival and didn't seem bothered by the music or crowds.

A couple of weeks ago I had my first camping experience as a mother - a very different one indeed to my carefree colourful days of the psychedelic trance parties in South Africa. Sleeping in a tent with a wriggly, hot nine month old doesn't make for good quality sleep, but the daytimes were great - lots of drumming, dancing, music, and new friends for us both to enjoy. I realise that next year will be tougher in some ways as J will have a lot more ability to say what HE wants to do - which won't necessarily coincide with my wishes! At this festival he was still fine to go in the Ergo sling a lot of the time.

My yoga classes are slowly starting to pick up, and my first writing workshop for mothers was great, leaving me with renewed inspiration for my own writing too. The next one is this Friday. I'm reading a wonderful book called "The Tao of Motherhood" which makes me feel so honoured to be a mother, and so inspired to see it as my spiritual practice. As as yoga teacher and spiritual seeker I often get caught in frustration at not having time to meditate or study spiritual matters, but every now and then a book like this reminds me of the living path I am on. I recommend it to any mothers who need a bit of solace at the end of a long day.

I've also discovered the brilliant writer Emma Donoghue. Having read and loved Touchy Subjects, her highly original book of short stories, I went on to devour Slammerkin, a surprisingly gripping tale of an 18th Century prostitute who just can't quite reform her ways. Now I'm reading The Woman Who Gave Birth to Rabbits, a collection of short stories about strange moments of British history.

My novel has been a little neglected due to going away three weekends in a row in July, and J's tendency to wake up several times during my 'writing time' in the early evening but I'm now picking it up again, and reading The Weekend Novelist Redrafts the Novel, by Robert J. Ray in an effort to inject some life into my second drafting process. I'm excited about the book's approach to redrafting plot and character first, and then dealing with style. I've been plodding along getting caught up in style, and having to re-write whole scenes, which is why it's taking so long. I'm resigned now to it possibly being another year or so before it is complete.

More instant results have been seen in my non-fiction endeavours: one of my articles has been accepted for publication in the natural parenting Juno magazine, to appear in the Nov/Dec issue, subject to co-editor's approval. This is my first 'serious' freelance print publication, since the Trespass article. I have a lot of respect for the magazine, so feel great to have my work appear in it. The tips I got from Christina Katz's Writer Mama seem to have paid off: I followed her hints on cover letters and editing articles, to the 'T', and got an affirmative reply the very next day.

My Suite 101 articles have also taken a backseat but I'm back onto it now with a new article appearing yesterday, entitled 'Travelling with Food Allergies' - hopefully going towards my eventual promotion to Feature Writer (let's be hopeful!) in the Allergies section.

Other exciting news is the upcoming reunion of the Writing Sisters Collective, of which I am one third, is happening at Mad Hatter Cafe on Montpelier Road, Brighton, on Tuesday 26th August at 8pm. Me, Louise Halvardsson and Petra Creffield form an international 'band' of female poets who perform our work as well as other poets'. It's been a while since we all got together so it should be good!

Well, better get off the net and back to my novel. Luckily J seems to be having an uninterrupted stretch of sleep tonight...(so far)...think it was his first swimming lesson tiring him out!