The birthing experience: It is ok for it to be just ok, OK?

Given that it’s coming up on three years since I gave birth, you’d think I’d be well over the topic of pregnancy by now. For reasons I haven’t fully unpicked, I took a retrospective interest in the whole area in the months afterwards.

Maybe it was because I spent the bulk of my pregnancy laid up. Or maybe it was because the more I read, the more I found it hard to square my own experience with the prevailing online narrative adopted in the adjudication of the birthing experience. Was it positive or negative? It was neither. It just was. But if I didn’t stop reading birth stories, I was in danger of re-assessing it to file it away under one or the other. So I stopped.

The plethora of doubts women feel during pregnancy have found a sympathetic and informative collective ear in the web. The camaraderie and mutually beneficial support derived from websites is well-documented and cannot be underestimated. From normalising the reservoir of question marks thrown up by those starting out on the road to conception, through to those feeling around in the dark, literally, striving to nurture their children as best they can. And everything in between.

It’s not difficult to imagine future students of health policy and sociology citing the revolutionary influence of the web in enabling women to seize ownership of the discourse on maternity healthcare, and the right to the fight for informed choices consistent with their preferences and the ethics of bodily integrity. The net frequently creaks under the weight of discussions on the succession of legal cases that test medical and lay assumptions about the distribution of that power and control over it.

With the web at their disposal, women have learned the benefits of non-interventionist birthing options and the disadvantages of over-medicalised maternity care management. Reform moves forward at a glacial speed. Undeterred, women continue to assert their preferences and combat the threat of unnecessary intervention with advance preparation through hypo-birthing and birth plans. The domino effect from experiences shared by women passes confidence on to others coming up behind them towards the delivery suite. Pursuit of the positive birth experience is, understandably, one of the more popular topics on any given parenting website. One that has moved into the realm of a political movement. In the context of church and state control of maternity rights and care, the need for change is acutely felt by Irish women.

That said, I didn’t give much thought to what a positive birthing experience would look like for me. Experiencing birth for the first time while pushing 40 calibrated my thoughts in a way that left me focusing only on getting to 40 weeks. Birth preferences or birth plans didn’t penetrate my leftover energy too much. Apart from reading up on the essentials, I studiously avoided online messageboards and discussions.

Reading these discussions retrospectively, I wonder how I would’ve evaluated my birth experience had I approached it with preferences and expectations, loosely defined or firmed up, in the company of my peers cheerleading me along the way. Not for the first time, have I picked up on the need for women to be fully informed of their choices. It’s the responsible thing to do, right? I’ve had more than one eyebrow raised at my apparent casual attitude. Not for the last time, will I read entire discussions on birth experiences evaluated exclusively in terms of being either negative or positive. It sounds a reasonable way to judge them, right?

Three years on, I’m still happy with my birthing preference. Which was the ancient scientific method of going with the flow. Less wilful ignorance than having faith in myself, and in the system into which I was entrusting us both. I was fortunate to have a shoulder-shrugging birthing experience that is as valid and more common than the extremes of positive or negative analysis can capture. I don’t underestimate my luck in being able to interpret the birth experience that way. But it is another choice among many. And I’m OK with it.

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Formative ears

A quick Google search shows the number of column inches devoted to the subject of ‘only child’ is not about to dry up any time soon. Searches prompting predictive text reveal the extent of the chin stroke. That is, the frequency of similar queries so frequent, Google saves the searcher the bother by beating them to their own question mark. They’ve heard it all before. I await the day they insert a dramatic eye-roll graphic in their double O. You can still catch them out however. For instance, not enough people have searched “Aren’t Mumford and Sons just brilliant?” for it to make the predictive cut. Aw. Moving cheerfully on..

Type in ‘only child’ and various extended texts blink and sharp elbow their way into the search bar:

First up..

“Only child syndrome”

But of course. A pathology even. Immediately followed by..

“Only child syndrome Edinburgh”

I have heard it’s expensive all right.

“Only child expiring”

Oh dear, that’s not good. But not as alarming as..

“Only child funny”

Anxious parent getting their priorities right there, if not their logic.

“Only child quote by Isaac Newtown”

Which is.. ‘Contrary to popular belief, only children are not anti-gravity’

And my own personal favourite..

“Is Jesus an only child?”

So Jesus is still alive then. That’ll make the Second Coming a bit awkward.

It was with exalted joy and relief, I learned that only children like music, and some of them have gone on to be bona fide musicians. Sure. Aren’t they great altogether. But what about their musical influences in the absence of sibling collections to rouse their curiosity? Not an article or sign of frenzied Googling to be had.

Luckily our one’s parents are in possession of superior taste (buffs lapels). No doubt my parents thought the same, as they Chinese burned their vocals around Sweet Sixteen by The Fureys and Davey Arthur. Which they tended to do. A lot. My Husband didn’t fair much better. He still can’t listen to REO Speed Wagon without asking for a Liga.

Fortune favours the bold however, and I was permitted to flee these amazing feats of talent to get my mitts on the emergency antidote. I would rummage through the Brothers’ vinyl collections until I seized upon the relevant potion. As opponents in a thirty ten year game of ‘submit’, and other displays of family affection, owning up to appreciating my siblings’ music would have been the ultimate sign of weakness. And something else for them to keep out of my reach along with any influence over the TV, and gender equality on the makeshift football field out our backyard (I never graduated from goalkeeper). Getting caught having a sneaky listen to Thin Lizzy was up there with my first 32 As flapping on the clothes line. The shame. Remind me to Google ‘only girl trauma’ sometime.

And so it was, my early teenhood coincided with the bitter sixteenth of the youngest of them. The turntable gradually falling into my possession. The bedroom carpet reupholstered weekendly with album covers strewn about after intense scrunity. Cross-legged examinations consistent with the position of youthful seriousness. Or just youthfulness. It’d take me ten minutes to straighten up from that position these days.

The enlarged pupil followed me around the room (Bowie). Armpit hair never seemed so exotic (Patti Smith). Covers so stubborn and unwilling to reveal their content, the minimal clues demanded further investigation (Joy Division). The two pence coin delicately slid onto the needle, applying just the right pressure to navigate it over the occasional scratch. Needle back on its rest, records back in their sleeves, lights out, and back to my Paul Young adorned room before their owners returned.

I didn’t take those posters down for a long time. I quite liked his 54 pairs of eyes following me around the room like the secular equivalent of the stations of the cross. The uncut version. He was as valid a part of my musical awakening as the revered heavyweights. Plus Every Time You Go Away will always remind me of Zig and Zag (‘You take a piece of meat with you’).

paul young

Paul Young before he set off for Calvary

It is in this context I maintain confidence in our daughter’s future listening habits, as she defiantly bangs out Rock Me Mama Like A Wagon Wheel at top tonsil. I’ve little choice. It’s that, and getting her up dancing to She’s Lost Control again. And again. And again.

Oh!

We’re at my folks’ place for the weekend, putting up the usual limp resistance to fry-ups, The Late Late Show, and offers to baby-sit; nearing the end of a day I know will go down in the annals of our toddler history as one of the best.

It crept in with an early morning re-acquintance with daylight on the sofa, shaking off my dream before registering our two-year old was stuck in a Holby City trance in front of the TV. It rowed out with her snoring before I hit the bit in Little Bear Won’t Sleep where the main protagonist has fallen asleep. He’s all talk.

Nothing particularly out of the ordinary happened inbetween. We built sandcastles like we do every time we head beachwards; a troupe of orange bouys shimmying on the waves behind. We rolled our trousers up and disappeared up to near our knees in freezing water. Dogs were waved at, horses were pointed out and badly mimicked. We smashed the sandcastles before retiring to the same cafe table where we polished off crepes and coffee last time… to polish off crepes and coffee.

I’m not great at living in the moment. When I manage it, it’s like the emotional equivalent of an unexpected ear-pop. When you didn’t realise your ears were anyway blocked to begin with, or your hearing dulled. That instant oh! followed by the fleeting satisfaction from a noticeably sharper reception from World FM. It comes in somewhere on the hierachy of lesser celebrated bodily thrills between a lipwax and a bitten nail grown back.

These occasional heart-pops remind me of the hinderances posed by pre-occupations. How they threaten to rob the water of its turquoise. Add a drop of complacency, and the dramatic mountains get shoved into the background. Had I a camera with me, I’d have captured it all. Our girl high up on her Dad’s shoulders, delighted with her methodology of relocating washed-up seaweed back to the sea, ignoring the horse I was enthusiastically pointing at, and side-stepping the tiny crabs playing alive while dead on the sand.

Perhaps if I had a camera, there wouldn’t have been anything worth capturing. Like many of the best moments in life, they were uneventful, unhunted, and I had experienced them already. I’ll know for again. And I can Google images of crepes anytime.

 crepe

Non-photoshopped crepes (yeah, right)

 

A letter to Katie Hopkins

Dear Katie

Congratulations on your crusade to cure folk of their sugar addiction, and reverse their innate laziness that has them lounging extravagantly on their sofas comforting themselves with endless packets of Oreos. And, if they’re lucky, an entire box of snowballs. Ryan Tubridy would challenge the most disciplined of viewer not to follow suit. If anyone was going to inspire us to throw it all back up and avoid further calorie consumption , it could only have been you.

Of course, I mean that in the involuntary sense of the term ‘throw up’, lest this be interpreted as promoting bulimic type behaviour. A condition that can also be filed away under the eye-rolled, inverted-comma’d notion of “issues” you fleetingly alluded to during your enlightening “interview” (massive eye-roll) with Turbridy last night. Best ignore this end of the eating disorder spectrum anyway since the shame and self-loathing worn by its victims is conveniently less visible than that of the latest receptacles for your unique brand of activism. Which turns out to be not unlike the cheap ready-meals that have you recoiling in horror – takes roughly 5 minutes preparation , lacks any (moral) fibre, and leaves one craving something more substantial.

In ridding the world of the scourge of fat people, it is your express intention to stem the flow of funds pouring into the treatment of obesity related illnesses from the pockets of the tax payer. Most notably your own. Few would take umbrage with the exasperation felt by tax-payers at the questionable use of precious public funds.  Your anxiety is not unfounded.

As a graduate of economics, you will have a more rounded understanding of the generation and uneven distribution of national wealth and the corresponding inequalities that the trickle down fantasy of liberal capitalism has only served to widen.  You may even have awareness of the complex relationship between the unregulated sugar industry and the disproportionately higher consumption of low-cost products by those on lower incomes.  As a former employee of the British Army, even you will have raised an impeccably plucked brow at the annual defence bill. As a devout Tory supporter, you will have impaled yourself on various elite-friendly economic and social policies that maintain the status quo. As a privately educated, privileged, white woman, you will have little insight to the impact all of this has on the lives and survival psychology of those hovering on either side of the poverty line.

Perhaps inhabiting the life of a “dole scrounger” for a week in a run-down estate in Burnsley under the glare of TV cameras, in return for an immodest fee, could be your next altruistic action to save people from helping themselves to your tax contributions. That way you could crank the Raging Bull method acting up a gear and increase your chances of putting further strain on the NHS by taking up smoking. Why deny yourself the simple pleasures in life? That’s what they are for many. Fear not though, it’s highly unlikely a person will develop lung cancer from a week’s smoking.

Few would argue with the need to liberate children from the fatalistic consequences of obsesity with anything other than a sense of urgency. But in promoting responsible behaviours among parents and citizens, you might also look to your peers. Those bloated with income security, tying gastric bands around their privileges, feasting on the fat dripping from tax breaks, ill-gotten corporate gains, reckless gambling, and catastrophic bank bail-outs , all bouyed up by the taxes of the same fat people you seek to ridicule. Those presiding over the uneven protection of wealth that bankrupts citizens, puncturing the wheels of public services and diverting investment away from opportunities that can mobilise “the undisciplined” up off their “fat arses” towards the prospect of a more rewarding future. Those formulating government policies that will further exacerbate their plight. imagesBGE9HGEC

Disentangling the complexity of individual lives and responsibilities from those of society and economics, takes longer than five minutes in a mental microwave, or another irrelevant blog post. But unless the fight against obesity gives consideration to the causes of the causes of unhealthy behaviours, and the determinants of health in their entirety, all you’re serving up is the intellectual and moral equivalent of a Big Mac. I usually have fries with mine. And a strawberry milkshake on a bad day. Today I wouldn’t half mind dipping Tubridy in a vat of that gooey curry sauce but I doubt it’d leave me satisfied.

Looking forward to seeing how the project progresses on that obscure satellite TV Channel soon.

Regards

The life-cycle of one bride’s email relationship with her hairdresser

Hi there

Just got your info from the weddingsonline.ie site. I was wondering if you would be available for hair & make-up on Tuesday 20th September. I’m getting married in the registry office at 3:30pm. It’s just the pair of us without guests or glamour but I’d like to look half decent. We’re travelling to the city the previous evening so a trial in advance wouldn’t really be an option. Just to have my hair styled would be grand, and some light make-up would be great. You can advise me on cost, location etc. We’ll likely be staying in a city centre hotel. You’d be welcome to come there if need be. Hope to hear from you soon.

Many thanks

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Congratulations on your wedding,
Yes i am available for your date.

I would be able to do your hair and make up in your hotel,  e mail where you are staying when you have made a decision.
There would be no charge for travel as it’s in the city centre, for both hair and make up it would cost you €80.

If you have an idea on how you would like your hair and make up to look e mail me some pictures so I can have the relevant colours etc with me.

Take care and talk soon
—————————————————————————————————–

That’s great. Thanks for getting back so quickly.

I’ll let you know where we’re staying once we’ve booked, and what colour my dress is when I get it.

I don’t usually wear make-up, so I’m comfortable with a fairly light make-over when I do.

My hair is shortish but enough length to tie it up. It has a kink and I normally curl it with a diffuser and wrapping it round my fingers. Could probably do with defining the curls a bit and tidying it up at the back. I’m not overly fussed to honest. I’ll try to send you a photo nearer the time too.

Will be in touch again soon.

All the best

————————————————————————————————-

can i just have a contact number so i can hold the date for you?
looking forward to hearing from you with all your wedding plans.

kind regards

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hair

We are alike in so many ways. For instance, we both have eyes, and a nose.

Hi again

Just to let you know this is the dress I’ll be wearing [insert meringue here] I’ll be less than half as glamorous, and six months gone by then. I’ll probably wear black tights & shoes (though any suggestions to the contary would be welcome).

My hair is auburnish. Had a look through some upstyles. Tied up at the back (nape of neck) would be grand, but I’d prefer something more on the dishevelled side than a slick do.  Maybe not a million miles from Eva thingiemabob’s style in this picture.. http://www.weddingsonline.ie/discussion/viewtopic.php?f=13&t=294895&start=60  except I’ve a side-parting and a raggedy fringe.

Will be in contact nearer the date with hotel details.

Best wishes

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LOVE the dress it’s really beautiful, have you a black sash to tie round it? If so then I would go with the black shoes/tights combo.
If however your sash is the same colour as the dress how would you feel wearing nude colour shoes with either tan or natural tights this look would be lovely also.
The “Eva” style is gorgeous and will work very well with your dress,
If you have anymore questions ask away and I look forward to meeting you soon. Not long more now! 
Take care and talk soon
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Not so long now! We’re staying in Jury’s. I’m aiming to be ready by about 2:15pm, if that suits you ok, so you can let me know how much time you’ll need and I’ll get rid of the Groom. Also let me know if you want me to wash my hair in advance or whatever is handiest for you.
—————————————————————————————————–
It’ll take roughly 1 1/2 hours for your hair and make up to be done so if I came to you for 12.30pm this will give you time to change also.
You can wash your hair that morning and i will curl and style it when I arrive.
If you have any questions ask away.
Take care and talk soon
—————————————————————————————————–

That’s grand.. I’ll have him out of the way by 12:30.

Looking forward to meeting you then!

—————————————————————————————————–
Thanks,
Looking forward to meeting you too!!
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Just thought of you last week as I crossed the threshold of our one year anniversary. Hard to believe it’s a year since we were holed up in Jury’s. Does it get any more glam?

Hope your family and business are thriving. I had a wee girl, Penelope*, just after Christmas. Tis all good.

All the best

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Ahh so nice to hear from my past brides, yes a year hey how fast that year has gone..
Penelope is a lovely name I’m sure she’s keeping you busy girls are great fun.
Work is going well thank god I’m delighted and the family are well your very good to ask. :o)
Feel free to send me on a snap shot of yourselves that I could use for my portfolio if you’d like.
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*Not her real name. That was our 374th choice

Five reasons why winter is better than summer

1. Better telly, cinema, and album releases.

2. Rubber-necking drivers can rarely identify you when out walking of an evening. Does anyone under 80 go walking ‘of an evening’? I’m going later, once my new cane arrives.

3. January is freighted with pressure to radically change. No-one ever asks what your End of Year resolutions are. They’re yours to quietly implement from September and be rewarded for by Christmas. The Feast of St. Dysfunctional Families.

4. That’s it with the perpetual early Sunday morning pneumatic grass-cutting for another 6 months. Thank fuck.

5. So long salad. Healthy, non-labour intensive, weather appropriate etc. You’re no dinner though.

Just the one of us

In typically oxygen deprived fashion, I kamikaze into the box office, wheezing the name of the film in the vain hope I’ve made it on time. Even allowing for trailers, mobile phone warnings, reminders of obscenely priced snacks in the foyer, orders to eat with your mouth shut and avoid loud breathing, opening credits, and opening lines… it’s too late. The film started twenty minutes ago. Another waste of a graceless gallop through a car-park. I settle on my second choice showing an hour later and slope off to the adjoining pub to cool down and grab a bite to eat.

It’s not everyday you get your bill handed in a relic from the ’80s. No, not in a leg-warmer or on a butter voucher, but inventively slid into an empty cassette cover. I turn it over to find a young Martin McGuinness bow-tied Art Garfunkel gazing back at me. I tend to have that effect on album covers. The track list includes the title track and a bunch of unrecognisable songs. Paul Simon receives a backing vocal credit. A probe later on Wiki fills in some blanks. Released in 1981, it was the second of Garfunkel’s solo albums that failed to fly under the Top 40 radar. He dedicated it to actor/photographer, Laurie Bird, who died tragically by suicide in the home she shared with the singer at the tender age of 25. He became so reclusive following her death, he didn’t release another album until 1988.

We’ll have to take his word for it, and dismiss any suspicions that his hiatus had anything to do with the commercial flop or the bow tie, or indeed the numerous credits to cheese recorded on the album. Wikipedia was unable to furnish me with details on how a copy ended up in a Dublin pub. No-one will come forward to admit they own it. Sometimes I feel the same about my Paul Young LPs.

art

Garfunkel following his first split from Gerry Adams

A month after the album’s release, Garfunkel had reunited with Paul Simon for their famous benefit gig, The Concert in Central Park. The reunion was short-lived. Tensions between the duo continued to re-surface with subsequent live tours, and shelved attempts at studio recordings, punctuated by periods of estrangement. This mattered not a jot in terms of the enduring appeal of their albums.

Next year, Paul Simon will return to Dublin for a live show with… Sting. This tells us something about just how insufferable Garfunkel must’ve been. The show will kick off a series of gigs featuring unlikely musical  bedfellows. Other acts confirmed include Noel Gallagher with Mick Hucknall, Paul McCartney with Ronan Keating, followed by Sinead O’Connor with Nathan Carter. I just made that last sentence up. But the Simon-Sting show is confirmed, and will likely cost punters the equivalent of a vital internal organ for the pleasure. If their idea of pleasure is having an enema. I say that as an enthusiastic Paul Simon fan.

I slip back out, handing the cassette case to the waiter with a Euro note replacing the bill. Now That’s What I Call Service Vol 1 (sorry). It’s hard to beat a late afternoon pint alone in a quiet pub; but it’s harder to describe the superior therapeutic benefits of a solo run to the cinema. It all happens in the dark against the screen light. Escapism meets universal themes that lift lids on personal matters that occasionally answer back your own internal dialogue.

Looking at the hip-flask pouring, miserable, over-weight, underwhelmed character played by Philip Seymour Hoffman, it is tempting to intuit overlaps in the psychological condition of the actor and the man he portrayed in his final performance before his tragic death earlier this year. As ever, he is the most intriguing presence on the screen. A one-off. A Most Wanted Man – an eerily appropriate title to an otherwise mediocre tale of espionage.

Coincidentally, the film I really wanted to see was ‘Obvious Child’. Next time.