Before I had children I thought women could be competitive. In the work place, with boyfriends. Wanting to be the prettiest in the room. Things settled down in my late twenties. My female friends became supportive, we could all attract our own boyfriends, and we didn’t need to pinch other women’s. All was lovely in the garden.
Then I got pregnant.
Something started to change, although in the late nineties things weren’t too tough. We’d lived through the battle of the formula bottle and we knew that smoking could harm our babies. But the odd glass of plonk was no problem, was it? Coffee and cocoa-cola? Sure. Sit on the sofa eating Jersey Caramels until your stomach sank and heart burn hit you in the chin. Perk of pregnancy. Cushty.
Then I got pregnant again.
The whole world changed. No coffee, alcohol, smoking or cocoa-cola. No nuts, no sugar, no having fun. Although you could go for a curry, have sex and talk about it openly. And now just off the press, no elective caesareans. Try as a might I was never going to pop one out to the sound of whale music. The inflatable birthing pool was only going to be used in the garden come the summer. Strictly for the kids. Drugs? I was in so much pain that had the baby been a girl I would have called her ‘Epidural’.
Then came breast feeding. Now despite being hopeless at the giving birth thing (failure to progress) this I could do. I really think the word failure should be removed from the notes of new mothers. They have a tendency to cry. Loudly. Breast feeding was easy for me but I have close friends who suffered at the hands of patient nurses, and well meaning relatives who should have just headed for the supermarket and loaded up the trolley with formula. Who said that? Was that me? I know that nature has us squatting in woodland chewing plants and feeding hungry babies with pendulous breasts, while doing a bit of light cottage gardening but sometimes, for some people, this does not work. Making them cry and endure cracked and bleeding nipples isn’t always best practice.
That lot out the way, it’s now time to roll our sleeves up and get down and dirty. Oh my. I was brought up in the 70s. Thanks Mum! There were no safety gates, childproof lids or those rubber things that stop jagged corners hitting baby’s head. The only safety advice I remember was, “Oi put that down or you’ll have your sister’s eye out.”
And yet we survived, albeit with uneven heads and battle scars. Now it’s different.
The childhood industry is a big one. Plastic locks on kitchen doors which mean not even adults can get in them. Toys sanitised in Dettol twice weekly. I confess I didn’t do this one. I figured my kids would build up a healthy immune system by salivating on anything that didn’t move. And we all know about helicopter parenting. Children being driven from play date to piano lesson. When I was growing up there were months when I only saw my parents when it was dark. The rest of the time I was out there, playing in fields which are now housing estates.
Having a child sent me a bit bonkers. A lot bonkers with the second one but that’s a whole other chapter. When No.1 son was a baby I insisted on all his toys being Lamaze. They were bright, soft and educational. Oh, and bloody expensive. When he reached the age of one and was sitting I scoured the earth for wooden blocks. I could only get them mail order and handmade in those halcyon days of the early 00s. But the point is the energy I put into this search.
I also introduced themed birthdays, to help rellos with their choice of presents for my child. How they must have seethed. For his first birthday it was musical instruments, his second; art. By his third I was eight and half months pregnant with his brother and as long as it wasn’t dead and starting to smell I was fine with it.
Was all this for my child’s benefit, after all he doesn’t remember any of it. I tell him now and he looks at me worriedly, wondering if there’s a support group for this sort of behaviour, scrolling through the contacts on his phone.
Or was it for me and my standing in the mother’s group? Those two words can strike fear in any woman’s heart. In my minds eye I can see myself reclining at a table of harassed women, cigarette in one hand (the stress of raising a child perfectly) and a neat gin in the other (same). “Well of course it’s Lamaze or nothing.” I blow a smoke ring and laugh a husky laugh, while the other mother’s jaws drop in blatant admiration.
That was nothing. You’ve got immunization (or not), organic or regular and are dummy’s dumbing our children down, to wade through. And we haven’t got on to the debate on going back to work and the effect of childcare on our precious Fredericks and Genevieves. Then the room divides like the parting of the Red Sea, with stay at home mothers slinging retorts of Tarquin suffering from lack of self-esteem because his mother works and mums in heels and jackets shouting from the boardroom about how uneducated and boring stay at home mothers are. Wearing baby puke rather than Prada.
I can’t help but wonder if a world where we celebrated our differences would support us better. I’d also like to stop the knee jerk reaction I have to smug and lofty comments from other mums. On facebook or in the schoolyard. On breastfeeding, inoculation and organic produce. You, with your high intentions, bring out the worst in me.
We have to remember that most of us only want the best for our children and we agonise over our choices. We don’t want to be judged. Smugness isn’t a good look but most of us have reveled in it at one time or another. By the way, does anyone want to buy a box of second hand Lamaze toys? Barely used.