Do you remember when you were a child, playing with your Barbie Doll and thinking about what life would be like when you were Grown Up?
Well, d’you know what? Real women don’t look like that.
What do women actually look like? Do we even know?
Like almost every other male painter in the last 500 years, when Titian painted breasts he took where the nipple is on the male torso (somewhere near the armpit) and he plonked a spherical mound behind it. Breasts don’t look like this. The nipples normally hang considerably further south. Really, I have to conclude that all these male painters never actually saw what women looked like without their corsets on, unless they were lying flat on their backs.
Of course, these days we have cameras. They give us a far more accurate image of the female physique. Not.
On the one hand, we see photos of giraffe-like supermodels, with their tiny, pointy breasts. Of course, you don’t look like them. You’ve just had a baby. Most of these women are too starved to ovulate. Then there are porn stars. These women have large, round breasts. They also have very short arms and legs, and long torsos. So, when they stick their bottoms out, hold their stomachs in, inflate their rib cages and throw their shoulders back, their breasts look high-slung and perky. You won’t look like them either because you have to breathe out as well as in, round your shoulders and walk around doing normal human tasks. You look like a normal human being.
My point is that well before women ever think about having a baby or growing older, most of us are concerned that our breasts are either Not Big Enough or Very Droopy.
With no realistic images of the natural female form, we’re all convinced that we’re freaks. And so girls go out and get themselves surgically remodelled, sliced open, stuffed with silicone and stitched up to meet some surgeon’s idea of aesthetic perfection. Think about it – how freaky is that? It’s such a shame, because no matter how small your breasts are, you’ll get your own natural breast enlargement when you fall pregnant. Three days after you’ve given birth, you’ll have the most fantastic breasts. They’ll be round, pert and disproportionately enormous. The reason why men find this attractive is that deep in their psyche they’ve clocked that this is the image of a fertile woman who can feed their offspring. Being sexy is meant to be linked to reproduction. (Of course, at this point, sex will be the last thing on your mind!) So many women struggle with their altered body image after they’ve given birth, because the ideal we have of womanhood just isn’t very womanly. We think we’re meant to be thin, angular, uplifted, tight, flat and tanned. Now our bodies have done this most INCREDIBLE thing that women’s bodies do, and we’re dimpled, streaky, wobbly, large, round and soft.
Why do we spend so much time being unhappy with the way that we look? Everyone does it. Those supermodels there feel too gawky, too tall and too flat chested. The glamour girls are fretting about their short legs. It’s time to start celebrating women in all the many shapes that we are. And to start valuing our bodies for more than the way that they look – for the amazing things they can do.
This is an edited extract from The Food of Love: your formula for successful breastfeeding, recycled into a more Upworthy format. Buy the book here!
The midwife in this chapter is a portrait of Mary Cronk.
(1) I am indebted to the work of Dr Sarah Buckley and her ebook Ecstatic Birth: Nature’s Hormonal Blueprint for Labor for this synopsis of the hormonal interactions of birth. I have simplified things slightly. High levels of beta-endorphin, produced in response to stress or severe pain, also has the ability to quell contractions. I couldn’t fit that bit in.
(2) The word ‘monkey’ has proved contentious with readers. Please see my post ‘The Monkey thing’ for an explanation of where I’m coming from.
(3) Mayes Midwifery, p 351
(4) See the work of Robbie Davis-Floyd who has reclaimed the phrase ‘the oldest profession’ for midwifery. (No, prostitution is not the oldest profession: it’s the oldest capitalist exploitation. Humanity predates capitalism, and will hopefully outlive it too.)
(5) Mayes Midwifery ibid. p 351
(6) ‘Maternal hormone protects baby’s brain during birth’ New Scientist 15 December 2006
(7) ‘Lunar cycles and birth rates: from a full Moon to a first quarter Moon effect’Arthur Charpentier, PhD France, CREM-Université Rennes
(8) “I learned what is simple with my very first experience of childbirth as a medical student in 1953. At that time, a midwife had nothing to do. She was spending her life knitting. So, she was knitting when she was waiting for the baby, knitting when waiting for the placenta, knitting when there was no woman in labor. She had nothing else to do. In that respect, I realized the value of this traditional attitude.
“Some scientists at Cambridge University in the UK explored the philological responses to a repetitive task. As an example of a repetitive task, they studied the task of knitting. When you are doing a repetitive task like knitting, you reduce your level of adrenaline. And that is the key to an easy birth – when the level of adrenaline of the midwife is low, because she is contagious. That helps the woman in labor to also be in a state of relaxation… and finally the birth is easier.” Michel Odent in interview Rediscovering the Best Environment for an Easy Birth
(9) ‘The purple line as a measure of labour progress: a longitudinal study’Ashley Shepherd et al. BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth Vol 10, p 54, 2010.
(10) The ‘rest and be thankful’ stage is described by Denis Walsh in the chapter ‘Rhythms in the second stage of labour’ in Evidence and Skills for Normal Labour and Birth, Routledge 2007.
(11) This phrase, and the description of the baby’s descent are inspired by Gloria LeMay’s article ‘Pushing for First-Time Moms’. This pattern of pushing could be typical of primagravida mothers – women who haven’t had a baby before. A subsequent birth is likely to be more rapid.
(13) This is a description of the fetus ejection reflex, as identified by Michel Odent. I’ve had two. They exist.
page 238 (14) This baby has a nuchal cord, (the umbilical cord wrapped around the neck). I was struck by the similiarity between the ‘somersault manouvre’ to free a nuchal cord and the movements that a mother would make to grasp her own baby at birth.
(15) ‘Effect of timing of umbilical cord clamping of term infants on maternal and neonatal outcomes’ McDonald, S and Middleton, P, Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews, Issue 2, 2008.
(16) Ecstatic Birth: Nature’s Hormonal Blueprint for Labor ibid.
(17) Breast Crawl: a scientific overview, breastcrawl.org, January 2013.
Two of my favourite concepts: ‘breastfeeding’ and ‘festival’. I’m opening the show on Saturday 17th of August, and I may have a sneak preview of my new book Bump! too. Plus the excellent Hollie McNish is doing a spoken word gig in the evening. Anyone who lives anywhere near Ulverston, Cumbria, see you there.
I received an enchantingly anonymous email from, let’s call them NannyBlog.org, this morning. (Some details have been changed slightly).
We spend a lot of time researching articles before we sit down to write them and as we are researching we take note of sites that we would like to share the article with when we are done. As we were writing “Ten Reasons We’ve Just Made Up About Why Kids Should Sleep in Their Own Beds That Have No Basis In Fact” and posted it here: (http://www.nannyblog.org/ten-reasons-we-made-up-why-kids-
Thank you for your time!
This annoyed me a lot, so I will share with you, my readers a completely different blog post.
This time, it’s personal.
I can take a freeze in tax credits. Somehow, I’ll manage to pay higher council tax bills. Although the bedroom tax is deeply unfair, since I’m in private rented accomodation, it doesn’t affect me. Universal Credit is going to make my life much harder, but I’ll adapt to it, and I also won’t be the first to be transferred onto it. Fortunately, I don’t have cancer, so ATOS can’t deem me fit for work, and thankfully, neither of my children are disabled so I’m not going to be struggling on without medium-rate disability benefit.
But take away my child’s nursery provision?
This makes me angry.
You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.
I can’t explain how much it means to me, that four mornings a week, my daughter gets superb childcare. They play with jelly. They play with shaving foam. They do paintings. They have far more toys than I can afford, or would ever want to tidy away. They do yoga. They do the hokey cokey, and she comes back singing. It’s not easy for a two-year-old to leave her mum – it’s not really natural, if you think about it – but the intelligent, involved, amazing women who care for her when I’m not there ensure that she has the best time she possibly can. They also have ninja reflexes, and appear to have eyes in the backs of their heads.
The Government have recently announced More Great Childcare, their mockingly, ironically-titled plans for nursery provision in England. It’s hard to penetrate through the double-speak. Most media reporting hasn’t really tried. But let’s unpick exactly how “the Government will achieve its vision of a dynamic childcare market”.
By increasing the workload of nursery workers. They will look after four babies, not three, or six toddlers, not four. In what other profession would workers, already paid near the minimum wage, be expected to endure a 50% increase in their workload? There will be no commensurate reduction in the ridiculous amount of paperwork, checkboxes and targets that they have to fill out on each child.
The Government has claimed that changing the ratios will result in higher wages for staff. It won’t. With more childcare workers chasing fewer jobs, market forces will drive wages down.
By decreasing the personal care attention that babies receive. All the recent developmental research reaffirms how vitally important it is for babies and very young children to have one-to-one attention. How is this possible when one worker has four babies to attend to? Any time one of them is getting their nappy changed, that leaves seven babies to one adult!
By cramming kids into buildings. There will be no minimum standards for space and layout in nurseries. At the moment, they have to have a private room for parents to talk to staff about sensitive issues. Children have a legally mandated minimum amount of space to play. Not any more. Welcome to battery-farmed babies!
By reducing the range of activities available to children. My daughter does supervised vegetable-chopping at nursery. They take her on walks to an arboretum. Activities like these will not be possible under the new regime. Even with a constricted ‘ultra-safe’ and less adventurous curriculum, fewer staff will still mean more upsets and more accidents for young children.
What about children suffering emotional neglect at home? At the moment, nursery care can really help them. But that’s only true when staff can devote current levels of care and attention. Park them in a McNursery, delivering minimal care for maximum profit, and you’ve just compounded the problem. All society suffers when the basic neurological needs of babies and very young children go unmet.
By pimping out childminders. At the moment, childminders are all self-employed, but the Tories have spotted a chance for large corporate ‘care’ providers to cream a profit off them. McChildminding agencies will be set up, that will take a cut of childminders’ wages. Only a ‘sample’ of agency McChildminders will be inspected by Ofsted, and that worries me. Ofsted are very strict in the safety requirements for childminders’ homes. Agencies will not have the same incentive to preserve safety standards; they will be interested in getting staff as quickly as possible, and maximising the number of children on the books.
Why would parents choose agency McChildminders over the individual, self-employed traditional arrangement? “Flexibility”. At the moment, when your childminder is sick, you have to take time off work. But now, an agency can substitute an alternative carer! Hang on a minute? How would that feel for a pre-verbal child, to be placed in the home of a complete stranger? It will provoke anxiety and distress. In this ‘flexible’ arrangement, it’s the baby that’s being stressed.
This will become the norm. Sure, childminders don’t have to join agencies, but they will all be in competition with them. And parents will find it very difficult to argue with an intransigent employer “I can’t come in today because I need to look after my baby – the childminder is ill,” when their boss can say “ring an agency”. How can they claim that this isn’t OK, when the Government says that it is?
Of course, to maximise profits in the McChildminding sector, you have to increase the child to staff ratios there too. They will now have four toddlers, not three, and two babies, not one. As though two babies are the same as one! As though the job is equivalent! These aren’t twins – childminders are already allowed to look after twins – they can be two unrelated babies, at completely different developmental stages, but both with the same overarching need for individual attention.
It shows how much the Government undervalues mothering. Childminders and nursery workers are paid to mother. The job is one of the hardest there is. And these ‘reforms’ (I use the word with complete disdain) will make it exponentially harder. I mean that ‘exponentially’. Looking after six children is not 50% harder than looking after four. It can be fifty times harder. I would like to see a Cabinet minister try it, for one day, for the hours that nursery workers work, and for the wages they earn.
There is a lot in the report about increasing the qualifications of nursery staff. They claimed in the press launch that a Maths and English GCSE would become a minimum requirement. This Guardian letter-writer sums up my feelings on this…
Are we going to sack dedicated and outstanding individuals for not having enough GCSEs? The qualities I look for in a childcare professional are patience, kindness, gentle boundaries, inventiveness and an ability to provide food, rest and cuddles as required. These qualities don’t necessarily come with a certificate, but no academic achievement on the planet would persuade me to leave my kids with someone who didn’t have them.
Having said that, it’s not necessarily even true. The ‘consultation’ paper carries a variety of suggestions for minimum qualifications for staff:
4 What qualifications do you think staff should have to allow them to operate with these more flexible arrangements? For instance, we could require settings to meet one of the following criteria in order to be able to operate higher ratios:
Please note these examples are not exhaustive and we would welcome other suggestions.
So nothing has actually been decided about minimum qualifications, and nothing will necessarily be mandated. This is a side issue. The ‘meat’ of the document is in the relaxation of ratios, and the abandoning of standards of space and layout. The qualifications issue is just hot pepper sauce – there to distract people from the true flavour of the proposals.
Supporting providers to develop their own national standards
As frontline professionals have more flexibility to respond to the needs of children in their care, so the onus for developing and maintaining professional standards in settings will increasingly shift to providers themselves. The providers that can demonstrate a strong commitment to quality will be the ones that flourish, as parents become ever more demanding consumers of their services.
We want to make it easier for the entrepreneurs running good and outstanding nurseries to move into new areas, where there is not sufficient high quality provision.
This is from the final paragraph of the More Great Nurseries document. Discovering sneaky end paragraphs like these always makes me glad that I’ve gone to the original Government document (not the media reports of it) and that I have paid attention all the way to the end.
It would appear that More Great Childcare actually mandates for a two-tier system, where large McNurseries can write their own regulations. Let’s read that again: “the onus for developing and maintaining professional standards… will increasingly shift to providers themselves.” And not just any providers, particularly those that “flourish”, for which read – ‘are highly profitable, enjoy economies of scale, and are in a position to move into new market areas’. (Not ones which, like my daughter’s nursery, plough all their profits back into creating an exciting, enjoyable and safe environment for the children in their care.) There is nothing about this in the consultation document, and it’s a very worrying concept to include in a throwaway paragraph at the end of a 40 page pdf. So, are the Government introducing complete deregulation for “providers that… flourish”, or not?
And what exactly are those “new areas, where there is not sufficient high quality provision.” Would those be the same areas where drastic cuts to Local Authority funding have led to state-funded nursery closures? Exit Sure Start. Enter McNursery.
We do need more great childcare. This is a vitally important issue, for working women, for single parents, for childcare workers themselves, who are woefully underpaid, and for babies. State provision of well-staffed, quality nurseries, is the most efficient way to deliver cheaper nursery care. The minimum wage should be increased to something that approaches the living wage, leaving parents with more money for childcare. And it is ridiculous that childcare is not tax-deductible – it is an employment expense. But there is nothing in this legislation that will reduce the cost of childcare to parents, and everything that will reduce the quality of care for children. Parents will end up paying extra for nursery care that meets the old staffing ratios. And it will end up costing us, as a society, in more ways than one.
Do you know what really gets me? That this legislation won’t really affect me personally. My daughter will be three in September, when the changes come in. She’ll move up into the pre-school class. She won’t need such close supervision. And she’s bright, she’s cute, she’s articulate – she won’t be starved of attention. Yet again, my family will have got away with something (like the bedroom tax, like the Universal credit, like the medium-rate disability allowance) that will hit other families hard. So I don’t have to get angry for her. I’m angry for the other kids, the quiet kids, the sad kids, the stressed kids, the kids with additional needs, the kids who really really need good quality childcare.
Please look out for them too.
This is a winnable campaign. The Government recently did a U-turn over GCSEs. They will drop these proposals too, if they get enough opposition. I set up a Facebook group More Great Childcare, to co-ordinate opposition, and I have made this leaflet, to publicise the issue. Please right-click it, download it, forward it, share it, repost it, print it out, hand it out, get your response in to the consultation, unionise, publicise, and stop McNurseries.
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