The Booby Trap

Listen, can we just stop? Can we, please? Can we please stop pitting women against each other? It’s sad, it’s upsetting, and it achieves absolutely nothing.

Women are fabulous at supporting each other, at sharing good times and bad (and cake!). They are wonderful at encouraging each other, and listening to each other, and caring for each other. They think nothing of dropping what they are doing and going to be with another woman or family who needs them. Women are brilliant.

But they can also be complete fucking bitches. No one can tear a woman down quite as viciously as another woman. No one can hurt a woman quite as deeply as another woman. No one can shame and victim-blame a woman quite as effectively as another woman.

And do you know who knows this really well? Those clever folk who run advertising and PR agencies. They know this from their own lives, from a little bit of research, from focus groups and from watching what happens when you pit one group of woman against another. They have put this knowledge to good use by creating an arena where breastfeeding mothers and artificially-feeding mothers are conflated as adversaries. They are sitting back and watching the show while they and their clients (the formula companies) are making a fortune. Those who are baited by the arguments are falling into this specially-constructed booby trap. I won’t bang on about it here, but if you are interested in learning more about the business of breastfeeding, I recommend this book.

Ireland has the lowest rates of breastfeeding and – by inference – the highest rates of artificial feeding in the world. There are billions of dollars to be made from formula feeding; not just the dairy (or other) milk that is used in making the formula, but the bottles and teats and sterilisers etc.  By comparison, there is very little money to be made from breastfeeding – a few breast-pads if you need them, maybe a consultation or three with a lactation consultant, a family-sized bar of chocolate every night and a number of feeding bras in different sizes. That’s pretty much it – unless you want a pump and some bottles to store that milk in. Chances are you’ll save on menstrual products as well, because your periods won’t return for months after the birth (if you’re lucky).

But look, everyone knows that breast is best. This is not a blog post banging on about how I think other women should feed their babies. For the record, I breastfed both of mine. Except my eldest had no suck because she was born at 30 weeks so I expressed for her and fed her from a bottle. When she was ten months old, my ex-husband put pressure on me to stop breastfeeding (I was already supplementing with formula because I didn’t know then what I know now). I gave up, but re-lactated when I left him a few months later. She gave up breastfeeding at 19 months, when I was 20 weeks pregnant with my second. My younger daughter was breastfed from the day she was born until she was five and a half years old. Primarily because I’m lazy and this suited me best. Also, it was effortless (I was lucky) and free.

But that’s me – those were my choices based on the information I had, what suited me best, and what best suited my family at that time. I don’t want to try and convert other women and judge them and tell them that they are doing wrong by not breastfeeding. Women who want to breastfeed, for the most part, will breastfeed. Women who don’t, won’t.  Sadly, there will always be a small minority of women who want to breastfeed but will be unable to, for a variety of reasons. I’d hazard a guess that, for most of those women, those reasons include a lack of information, a lack of support, and pressure from family to give up at the first sign of trouble.

So, this latest stick to beat breastfeeding women with – the backlash against ‘brelfies’ – is annoying me. For a start, if looking at a woman feeding her child bothers you, look away. When a woman breastfeeds her baby, you can’t see much breast at all – you’ll generally only see the back of the baby’s head – unless and until the baby unlatches. As it happens, all of the women I have discussed breastfeeding with are more worried about people seeing their wobbly bellies, than they are about people seeing their breasts being used for the primary purpose.

How's this for a 'brelfie'?  (Kashmira's first feed, aged about 5 minutes.)

How’s this for a ‘brelfie’?
(Kashmira’s first feed, aged about 5 minutes.)

Most women see breastfeeding their babies in public as something they have to do in order to ensure their babies don’t die of hunger and dehydration, they’re not doing it to be provocative or feminist or defiant. The same as mothers who bottlefeed their babies, really. People who think otherwise need to check where their prejudice and discomfort comes from and confront them rather than women who are busy feeding their children.

How I feed my babies is my business. How you feed your babies is your business. I do believe that with more support, more information and more easily accessible help, more women would choose to breastfeed – because choice, after all, is only really a choice when it’s fully informed and all options are presented honestly and in their entirety. In the meantime, though, let’s get busy supporting all mothers because all of us need support, no matter how we’re feeding our babies.


Spoil The Rod And Spare The Child

There’s a great national debate taking place in Ireland at the moment around the area of child abuse. Sorry, I mean slapping. Actually, scratch that, I do mean child abuse. Hitting is abuse, it’s physical abuse no matter how light, how hard, or who administers it.

As the teacher and child psychologist Haim G. Ginott put it:

‘When a child hits a child, we call it aggression. When a child hits an adult, we call it hostility. When an adult hits an adult, we call it assault. When an adult hits a child, we call it discipline.’

I understand, and have sympathy for, people who have nothing else in their toolboxes to deal with children. Rather than use tools that don’t work, however, they need to go and find tools that do. In order to find such tools, they need to go looking for them; and they won’t go looking for them unless they feel they need to. There is no argument for hitting children. I’ve heard people try to explain it over the past few days saying things like ‘you can’t reason with a toddler’ and the truly wonderfully  rationale ‘it never did me any harm’. With regard to the former, I think people who say that mean ‘you can’t bend a toddler’s will as easily as you might like’. It is possible to reason with toddlers, you just have to be willing to try. You just have to be willing to meet them where they are. You just have to be willing to see things from their point of view.

As for people who claim that being hit did them no harm and, therefore, they are quite right to hit their own children, I really do beg to differ.  If you were hit as a child and you hit your own child/ren, then all you are doing is perpetuating the cycle of abuse, which you can read more about here.

So much of our acceptance of child-hitting stems from our attitude to children as ‘belonging’ to us in a proprietary sense. We view them as our property and forget that it is a privilege – not a right – to be a parent. We also have a duty to do our best. I’ve heard a lot this week about how ‘all parents want what’s best for their children’, I simply don’t believe that. I have encountered too many children and adults whose parents clearly had no desire to do what was best for their children, but rather a desire to do what was was easiest for them (the parents).

It takes bravery to break a cycle; having broken the cycle of abuse in my own family, I know how hard it can be. I have heard people on vox pops on radio talking about how ‘everyone’ hits their children, and that it’s perfectly okay. But do you remember when ‘everyone’ used to drive without wearing a seat-belt? And how ‘everyone’ used to drive after a few drinks? And how ‘everyone’ used to drive and use their mobile phone at the same time? We’ve changed those attitudes, those habits and the laws around those issues, so there’s no reason we can’t do the same with this issue.

It takes a change in public perception and attitudes before a change in the law will be accepted by society. Last week’s marriage referendum in Ireland is indicative of this; the referendum would never have passed, opening the way for the laws to be changed, if Irish society had not changed thinking and attitude towards its non-heterosexual members.  It took a lot of campaigning, a lot of discussion, a lot of heartachingly honest conversations in public and in private to bring about this change.

I am hopeful that the current examination of our attitude towards hitting children is the next step in our journey towards respecting the rights of children – which is not something we have a habit of doing in this country.


The Referendum That Nobody Lost

Map of the Day

There were no losers in Friday’s referendum. Love won, and when love wins, nobody loses – not even those who voted no and did not want the amendment to be made.

This referendum was important and it really caught my kids’ attention. Ishthara, at 13, was a bit stumped that we would even have to vote on it in the first place. Why would a civil right be reserved for one ‘type’ of person? On Wednesday night, Kashmira sent me a text to let me know how many minutes were left before I could vote. On Thursday night, she set her alarm for 6.30am to make sure I was up in time to vote. (I explained that I wasn’t voting until 10.30am, so there was no need for her alarm!).

On Friday night, she was anxious – worried that, somehow, our electorate might not actually vote in favour of equality – so I was delighted to bring the news to her that the early reports were good. As we listened to the radio and I refreshed my Twitter feed every two seconds, we found sitting still difficult. Both my girls expressed a desire to be in the courtyard of Dublin Castle when the result was declared. They wanted to be there, they wanted to share the excitement and the joy and to celebrate.

We were lucky; getting to Dublin Castle just after 2pm, we managed to get right up the front, with just one line of people between us and the crush barrier. There was so much joy, so much celebration, so much love in the air that we wouldn’t have wanted to have been everywhere else.

Cheers of joy went up every time a constituency returned its numbers, and yet another area of the country turned green. Cork, for some reason, kept us waiting more than two hours. In the end, however, they were forgiven, because they voted ‘yes’, too.

‘Will this be in history books in the future?’ Kashmira asked.

‘Yes,’ I said.

She beamed.

‘And I can say I was there.’

There were so many beautiful moments – like when Katherine Zappone re-proposed to Ann Louise Gilligan; when David Norris took to the stage and he and Colm O’Gorman embraced. When Colm asked the crowd if anyone had seen Úna Mullally, and when Úna made her way on stage and was overwhelmed and Colm held her and let her cry on his shoulder. The young French woman at the end who was just standing, alone, crying tears of joy. I walked to her and hugged her and she explained that she was French but so proud of Ireland and so proud to be with us on the most day in our recent history. Personally, I was very proud of David Carroll and Grainne Healy with whom I studied in DCU, who were gracious in their victory.

One of the messages that rang out loud and clear yesterday was that Irish people are a generally decent lot and that we can be trusted to make decisions for ourselves; something our government would do well to remember when treating us like children and making decisions on our behalf that are not in our best interests.

Now that we have brought marriage equality to these shores, we have other issues to sort out – child poverty; the lack of abortion rights;  women’s rights; children’s rights, and our appalling suicide rates all need to be tackled. Let’s grab the momentum generated by the recent campaign and make it work for us on these other important issues, too.


Baby Maria’s Mum

Last Friday, Ireland’s listening ears were arrested by the news that a baby girl had been found in a bag in Rathcoole in Co. Dublin.

The usual appeal went up in the media for the mother of the baby to come forward. She was told, via news bulletins and articles in the papers, that she would be treated sensitively, and there were ‘concerns’ for her health. So far so inoffensive.

Then the speculation started. It was assumed by some that she was a single mother, perhaps one who couldn’t afford an abortion.

All the speculation reached screaming-at-the-radio levels today, when Pat Kenny spoke to the pompous psychologist David Carey in an ‘interview’ which consisted of two fatuous, upper middle-class, upper middle-aged white men indulging themselves with conjecture, speculation and discussion of the social, emotional and mental health of this woman. Calling their self-indulgent twaddle patronising is an understatement. It was unhelpful, at best, and damaging at worst. If you have low blood pressure, you can listen back here.

These two men, comfortably ensconced in their ivory towers, sounded very smug as they speculated on every aspect of this woman’s life: They decided she was poor, distressed, probably in need of medical attention and possibly on drugs. Look, I’m not saying that the media shouldn’t have reported that the baby was found, of course they should, even just in the hope that it would help to find her mother . But the media should stick to reporting facts and the facts in this case are that a baby girl was found in Rathcoole, she was less than 3 days old, she was healthy, removed to a hospital and her parents (as of today, not just her mother) is being sought. That is all we can know for sure and that should be the limit of what is reported and commented on.

What annoyed and vexed and upset me today was listening to all the supposition that is going on. The woman in question was patronised, pitied (comments like ‘the poor girl’ really set my teeth on edge) and blamed. Because if there’s one thing we’re really fantastic in this country, it’s victim blaming. For all these conjecture-merchants knew, the baby might have had a very abusive father and the mother felt that the safest place for the baby was where she was left. Lord knows that the HSE can’t be trusted: Maybe this woman had already had a baby (in spite of David Carey claiming it was most likely a first baby – he has no proof that that’s the case) in a hospital and was so brutalised by the system she couldn’t bear to return (this is not far-fetched, research for my PhD bears this out).

Maybe there was drug-taking, and the father was the one doing the drugs. Maybe this woman was in a relationship where the father decided the baby didn’t look enough like him and started saying it wasn’t his and threatening the mum and the baby. Maybe the woman gave birth and fed the baby and to punish her for loving someone else, the jealous father took the baby and abandoned it. This is me, speculating, painting possible scenarios. Wild and all as they are, they are just as likely, just as possible, just as credible as anything that Pat and David came up with this morning.

The only difference is that I haven’t patronised the woman in question. I haven’t decided I know anything about her and spouted it on the national airwaves with authority.

I know nothing about this woman, I don’t claim to, and I don’t need to. I just hope with all my heart that she is safe, she is well and that she finds peace sooner rather than later.


Make Grá The Law


The Rubber Bandits posted this on their Facebook page and I think it’s a fine example of an easy-to-understand graphic. They have distilled all that is essential about the upcoming marriage referendum into this pithy visual.

All the recent talk on the referendum and equality and gay rights has meant a few little surprises for me. I’ve found myself reading something on Twitter or Facebook and thinking ‘God! I never realised she was gay’ or ‘Is he gay? I never knew that.’ I have long since resigned myself to the fact that my gaydar malfunctions. If, that is, it even exists. But do you know what else? I’m not gay, so I don’t need a gaydar. I don’t actually need to know who is in your pants – whether you’re gay or straight – because it’s none of my business. The reason I can’t ‘spot’ gay people is they are exactly the same as straight people: They (generally) look the same – one head, four limbs, ears a back and a front. They think the same – being able to grasp concepts such as 1+1 =2 just as quickly as straights. They love the same – as deeply, passionately and completely – as everyone else.

I don’t care who other people fancy, who they love and who they want to marry. What I do care about is that people have the right, in law, to fancy, love and marry whomever they want. I do not want to marry a woman, but if you do, I think you should have the right to do so. Come to think of it, I don’t want to marry a man (thrice bitten and all that), but if you do, I think you should have the right to do so.

I’ll leave you with this, where you can see that passion and facts win over bluster and speciousness every time.