Breast Feeding Awareness Week

23rd to 27th of June was apparently breastfeeding awareness week. This is the kind of information you become party to in the Mumsnet Bloggers Network. (which on my personal blog- I’m in!: http://eccentricseal.blogspot.co.uk)  Some bloggers have used this as an opportunity to post about their own breastfeeding experiences- so I thought I’d have a go. A little late, but still….

 Jimmy was born by cesarean section: a little scrap of life, just 4lb 2oz, whisked away from me before I could hold him. I was bouncing off the walls from morphine, and shaky from some really dramatic blood loss when I was asked for permission for the nurses to “just give him his first feed” of formula.

 This I happily did, taking the “just” at face value. It wasn’t like that of course and Jimmy ended up spending a full 10 days on SCBU (Special Care Baby Unit).

 He wasn’t even drinking formula in the end.  He was so little that any kind of sustenance made his blood sugar jump about like a metronome in an earthquake. They fed him glucose through a drip in his arm. He was like a little humming bird.

 Visiting your own baby in SCBU is awkward. It’s your child and you have the right to be there, of course. But you’re also hanging around someone else’s workplace. You are allowed to help care for him, but it feels a little like playing with dollies. Your presence is not exactly necessary.

 On the other hand- being apart from your baby feels mildly but unmistakably wrong. The mildness decreasing with the amount of time spent away. For 10 days, I had the choice between sitting in a rather boring, overheated room feeling socially awkward; or sitting in the comfort of my own home feeling wrong.

 On top of that the social services investigation was still on-going (the whole lengthy sage is detailed here http://eccentricseal.blogspot.co.uk for those that are interested) so I felt like my visits were being scrutinised. In retrospect they almost certainly were.  I found myself doing things like unnecessarily bringing in little blankets from home, despite the perfectly adequate bedding he was already wrapped in- purely because bringing in blankets felt like something a loving mother might be expected to do.

 So, Jimmy took glucose through his drip. Then he took milk through a tube in nose. Then finally milk by mouth. The milk by mouth bit was important because it was a condition of him being able to leave hospital.

 There was a period where there was nothing medically wrong with him; he even known to be capable of sucking, because he’d been given a bottle for a night feed once.  But he wasn’t allowed to come home because I’d said I wanted to breastfeed, and he hadn’t done that yet.

He wasn’t going to either- the way things were going. Jimmy’s feeds were scheduled for once every 4 hours. I was managing to make maybe 2 or 3 of them per day. I would hold him up to the breast and he would look up at me sweetly and… do nothing. He’d never been hungry in his life and I think sucking simply didn’t occur to him.

We would just sit there together until the nurses got bored of it and then Jimmy would have a feed through his tube and then I would put him down. I knew we were never going to get started with these few, regulated minutes of practice per day. But I was never going to get him home until we’d got started.

Now- I’m a person who’s cautious with her optimism. I like contingency plans. I like to scope out the worst option ahead of time and make my peace with it. So I’d already decided that if I couldn’t manage to breast feed, i wouldn’t let it bother me. In my opinion, people got altogether too invested in this kind of thing. They placed too much pressure on themselves and then allowed their own expectations to spoil their happiness. I wouldn’t be making the same mistake. If it worked out for me, fine. If not- I’d move on.

 And this was not working out. It’s instinctual to want to be with your child. Everything in my being was telling me that he needed to be with me. Far, far more than he needed vitamins or immunity from diseases, or hormones or any of the other undoubted benefits of breast milk; he needed just to be with me.

 And yet, and yet…

 As I faced up to jettisoning the breastfeeding, I did worry. I wrung my hands over it. I even ended up phoning a very uninterested, childless friend for advice:

 “You want to give your baby a bottle?” He asked nonplussed “What’s in the bottle? Is it Buckfast?”

 Pro tip: Childless friends are great for perspective.

 In the end, it didn’t come to that. My ceaseless lobbying for a place in Transitional Care finally won out.

Despite professional concerns that I would “Go mad with post puerperal psychosis” if I were placed there “too early,” I was finally given a private room where I could just hang out with my baby in peace and take 15 minutes fiddling about with the latch if we needed to. Which we frequently did.

We were there for a weekend and it turned out to be the most idyllic two days of my life. Jimmy fed like a trouper, and then slept happily. I read books and phoned friends and wrote discussion pieces on the acrimonious breakup of a far left group I was involved with at the time.

I had a huge sunny window and a comfy hospital bed and my baby sleeping beside me, smelling of sweetness and peace.  I did not develop post puerperal psychosis. I was more deeply contented than I’ve ever been. Perhaps since I was a baby myself.

Jimmy is coming up to a year old now. He eats macaroni and bread crusts and cheese and chocolate cake. I’ve moved him onto formula during the day so I can return to work, but he still enjoys a good feed of breast milk first thing in the morning and last thing at night.

So my breastfeeding experience is a happy one and it all worked out.

 But for me, breastfeeding was also, as I suspect it is for a lot of people; a quick and dirty lesson in compromise. In the necessity of doing, not the “best” thing for your child; but the best thing in the circumstances. The death of that exacting pressure we are encouraged to place on ourselves.

And for that, I am also grateful.

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A Sorry Sort of Privilege

There’s a description in Carol Craig’s excellent book: The Tears that made the Clyde
of women and children hanging around the gates of factories and shipyards, or outside pubs. It was pay day and they were hoping to run into their men folk and shame them into giving them something from their pay to run the household, before everything was drunk away.
 At the time, it was common, accepted practice, for the man take all the money and spend it on his own pleasures. So much so, that trade unionists, recognising alcoholism as a problem, had a campaign to persuade landlords to refuse service once half of a man’s pay had been drunk.
 In other words, the most progressive, left wing men around at that time thought that it was reasonable for one member of a household, to spend half of the entire money for a family, for one week, on himself, in a single night.
 I read this, with a short lived sense of relief at how far we had come.
Short lived until I noticed the number of adult men coming into the advice centre, where I then worked, with raging substance issues and cheerfully tell me about the financial help they were getting from aged parents, from girlfriends, from ex partners even.
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Buffy in Scotland – Choice, Women’s Power and Independence

buff4x

About ten years have passed since the final episode of the series Buffy the Vampire Slayer aired on TV. Series creator Joss Whedon, who spoke in the Glasgow Film Theatre at this year’s Glasgow Film Festival, showed that pop culture can be non-sexist, a profound social commentary, deeply philosophical and entertaining at the same time. Buffy, Willow, and many other protagonists continue to be role models for generations of young women. Do we all need to become superheroes to change the world around us? With the economic downturn, climate change and biosphere decline threatening our livelihoods, it seems like that at times. But with the Scottish referendum comes a rare opportunity to envision change on a larger scale, by choosing a different path – a path which is not set on destruction, but on renewal, and on cherishing the things that matter to improve the quality of life for all. As a tribute to the ten year anniversary of the closing of the series, let’s imagine what Buffy would make of the Scottish Independence campaign…

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Only rights can stop the wrongs: sex workers organise in Scotland

We’re in the middle of Glasgow’s Sex Worker Open University event (5-10 April 2013). Unfortunately I was only able to attend yesterday’s panel sessions, much as I would have liked to attend other things. So, with yesterday fresh in my mind I’m going to write up a few thoughts right now. Follow the link above to find out more about upcoming events, or follow them on Twitter at hashtag #SWOU13 or the event’s Twitter feed @SexWorkerOU.

International Union of Sex Workers logo

If you are a feminist who is swithering about what the issues are and where you stand, maybe this post will help you. If you want women to be safe, sane, respected and valued, please fight with me for decriminalising sex work in Scotland.

Supporting Sex Workers in Scotland: Kill the Bill

We were fortunate to hear about some solid and grounded research into the effects of criminalisation, and conversely, of de-criminalisation of sex work at the event yesterday. It was pretty clear that the Private Member’s Bill ‘ The Criminalisation of the Purchase of Sex’, soon to be brought before the Scottish Parliament by Labour MSP Rhoda Grant, is ill-conceived at best, and callously indifferent to its likely consequences at worst.

Let me just note here: the evidence against any benefits to this type of legislation, as presented at the event yesterday, is extensive and convincing, and the evidence for the benefits of de-criminalisation likewise. I cannot do it justice here so please use links and references to do your own research.

Rhoda Don't Erode Our Rights banner from SWOU13 protest at STUC office, Glasgow.

SWOU13 protest at STUC office, Glasgow, 6 April 2013

When I first heard about this Bill, it was framed for me as ‘end demand’. I was pretty naive at that point about the current rhetoric and framing of sex work at the nexus of radical feminism and the religious right. I had fluffy thoughts about the concept of ‘end demand’ like “yes, it would be nice to live in a world where sex work wasn’t necessary”. I didn’t think it through. I genuinely believed that this ‘end demand’ thing was about bringing about an ideal society where noone wanted to buy access to sexual services, because everyone would be perfectly happy and fulfilled with the intimacy and sex in their lives. This is not what ‘end demand’ means.

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Maternity Allowance: A Benefit from Another Time

I’ve recently left work at the Citizens Advice Bureau to take maternity leave. My work is primarily in benefits advice and I am a huge benefits geek. It’s a combination of the intellectual exercise of manipulating regulations along with the pleasing sense of mastery over a system that appears all powerful and capricious when you are on the other end of it. I love it.

One interesting thing about the benefit system is that every government since its inception has tinkered with it to some degree and marked it with its own ideology, so that the regulations resemble rock strata, each layer reflecting the social narrative of its time; the prevalent views about unemployment, the social contract and the minimum standards of dignity which citizens should be afforded.
The majority of benefits claimants I come across at work are dealing with the most modern form of the system, the means tested benefits. Jobseekers Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance (the recent replacement for Incapacity Benefit) Housing Benefit and so on.
The internal logic of these benefits is brutal. Apart from being set at (no exaggeration) starvation level, they tend to be subject to draconian and vicious entitlement conditions. So if you are claiming on the basis of illness, you had better be so ill you can hardly function. If you are claiming on the basis of unemployment, you will be made to show exactly what you have been doing to look for work.
The level of interrogation set against the amount of help, is in itself, a humiliation and speaks volumes about the attitudes of those who set the system up.
You work with this system everyday and you get inured to it. You learn its internal logic to better help others and, god help you, you internalise parts of it yourself. You start thinking that perhaps someone with agoraphobia should be expected to do a bit of piece work from home. You start believing that even with back pain; perhaps you should struggle in to work. Everyone seems to have back pain and depression these days after all and people should just toughen up.
I get thoughts like that creeping into my head occasionally and then I get the flu and experience perhaps one tiny fraction of what someone with a chronic condition goes through every day and I call in sick with no problems at all, because I am not on benefits and the brutal logic of the system does not apply to me.
I try to hang onto this thought and use these occasions to remind myself that the logic of the system is wrong, wrong, wrong. People deserve dignity and comfort and some decent standard of living and no one should be pressured to work if they are not able to do so.
Going on maternity leave was like that writ large. I’m lucky enough to have built up enough National Insurance Contributions to receive Maternity Allowance. Remember the rock strata? Maternity Allowance is laid down in ancient times, representing a different version of the social contract altogether. An older version of the welfare state where everyone pays in and everyone draws out. When circumstances require them to, without shame and with no conditions attached, other than the condition of having paid the contributions in the first place.
(I’m not sure when Maternity Allowance was introduced, but as a contributions based benefit the legal principles governing it can be traced to the National Insurance Act 1911 and to the National Insurance Act 1946, following the Beveridge Report.)
I went off for maternity leave a little earlier than originally planned. I had been wildly over optimistic about the amount of time I would be able to keep going and found myself at 36 weeks, emotionally volatile, knackered and, in all fairness, not a great deal of use to my employer.
I turned up at the midwifes all red faced and puffy eyed because negotiating with (my own) housing association about a water tank had somehow led to a crying jag two hours long. I was firmly advised to stop work. This turned out to be excellent advice and I am now much better, thank you for asking. If you don’t want to be stressed, stop going to where the stress comes from. Works a treat.
The point is though, that even though my symptoms felt impossible for me and even though a health professional advised me to leave work, by modern benefits standards they were nothing. Take pregnancy out of the equation and what are you left with? Anxiety and Fatigue. Trust me that is not getting you anywhere at an Employment and Support Allowance tribunal. And a tribunal is where you will end up because really, no one is being awarded Employment and Support Allowance first time these days.
And yet I walked into work, stated that I was leaving early and met with no resistance. I filled out a form, sent it back and received £138 per week with some delay but no major difficulty. My need not to be at work was not questioned for an instant.
My point is that you still come across these bits of the welfare state sometimes. The bits that remain in the lower strata. The bits that are humanitarian and still work. You come these bits and you realise how low our expectations have become and how much has been lost.

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