Monday, 25 June 2018

The Ish Mother Reads: 'The Essex Serpent' by Sarah Perry

It's a while since I wrote about the books I've been reading myself - I have been keeping up with my New Year's Resolution to read more, but just haven't been reading books I could easily review! And if I'm honest I'm not entirely sure how to review my most recent read, but I'll give it a go.

Last year when compiling my Christmas wish list I asked for book recommendations on Twitter, and at least a couple of people recommended 'The Essex Serpent'. Sure enough I got it for Christmas, but already had a few other books I needed to finish or read first, so it took me a while to get to it.

'The Essex Serpent' is set in 1893 and tells the story of Cora Seaborne, a wealthy widow who leaves her London home in pursuit of the legendary Essex Serpent, a Nessie-type figure which she believes could be a dinosaur that somehow escaped extinction. Her pursuit leads her to meet Will Ransome, parish priest of a small coastal village, and his family. The pair form an unusual friendship, often falling out over matters of faith and science, while the village is in the grip of the fabled monster they fear is waiting for them in the nearby sea.

I found it a really interesting and enjoyable read - not gripping exactly, I didn't find myself rushing to read it, but equally I looked forward to my reading time at the end of the day in a way that I haven't done for a while. I found Cora and Will's relationship interesting but at times strangely unsettling. Without wanting to give too much away, there were times I felt frustrated by them. One thing I loved about the novel is that Will isn't portrayed as dogmatic or simple because he is a Christian - his faith, and his struggles with it, are both portrayed sympathetically, which makes a refreshing change from a lot of novels. When Cora and Will argue, you feel that it is a meeting of equal minds, and there is no sense that one viewpoint is superior to the other.

I was also fascinated by the portrayal of Cora's son, Francis. It is never explicitly stated (for obvious historical reasons) but it is pretty clear that Francis is autistic. He has fixations, he carries small objects almost like talismans, he refuses affection and is perplexed by relationships. I'd have liked to see more of him in the novel, and more about Cora's difficulties relating to her son.

The novel covers a lot of ground - as well as the issues of religion and science, there is also a subplot regarding housing in the working-class areas of London, and another intermingled one about medical advances - and at times it all felt a bit muddled. I found it hard to see how all the pieces of the story fit together (although that is possibly down to me reading it over a course of a few weeks rather than more quickly) but it was interesting seeing historical references being woven into the overall narrative.

I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical novels or is interested in nineteenth-century life. It takes a little bit of time to get going, and you need to have a good mind for keeping track of interweaving plots, but it's definitely worth sticking with. And the last few chapters will have your heart in your mouth!

Linking up with #ReadWithMe hosted by Mama Mummy Mum.

Read With Me

Thursday, 14 June 2018

On Midwives, Media and Mothers

This week has seen another big story in the media about parenting, specifically infant feeding. The huge revelation? The Royal College of Midwives issued updated guidance.

What? How is that headline news? Well, the media decided to ignore the majority of the guidance and latch on (pun intended) to one specific line: that, "if, after being given appropriate information, advice and support on breastfeeding, a woman chooses not to do so, or to give formula as well as breastfeeding, her choice must be respected." This sentence, in a statement which still reiterates the importance of breastfeeding, and the need for support from both medical professionals and society as a whole, is what the Daily Mail chose to call the, "end of breastfeeding tyranny."

Photo courtesy of Pexels

My kneejerk reaction on seeing some of the responses to the news was one of frustration - once again, the media had found a way to bash breastfeeding and those who try to help mums to do it. But when I read the actual statement I was reminded of my breastfeeding peer supporter training and the key message we were given - listen to the mother and what she wants. And actually, that's all this guidance is recommending.

From what I see, midwives are charged with an impossible task. Breastfeeding rates in the UK are amongst the lowest in the world, and as the first point of contact with new mothers, midwives are under pressure to change that. They're also under pressure to deal with understaffing, too much paperwork, increasing numbers of complications in pregnancy and labour, and a culture in which breastfeeding has not been the norm for decades. They're not miracle workers, brilliant and dedicated as many of them are. And I do believe the majority of midwives were probably already following the guidance issued this week.

But in any profession there will be a few who overstep the mark. And it's important to listen to those mums who do feel their midwives did not support their choices, who felt pressured into breastfeeding and judged when they said they wanted to use formula. Equally, it's important to listen to those mums who desperately wanted to breastfeed but felt pressured to give formula. Both sets of voices are valid. (And both instances happen, although I notice there was less discussion of the latter instance in the media.)

One thing the statement said, which has changed very little since the previous guidance, is that mother who choose to give formula should be given advice on how to do it safely and responsively, and shown how to properly sterilise equipment and make up feeds. This is so vital. Several formula feeding mums I know have said that there's hardly any guidance given once a mother makes the decision to use formula. As a result there is a lot of misinformation out there about how to safely prepare formula. So there is clearly a need for this kind of support and I'm glad the RCM continue to highlight that. I hope the message gets out to those in a position to provide that guidance.

This is the crux of the issue: support. A lot of the messages I've seen on social media are from mothers who were not fully supported. Either they were made to feel guilty for choosing formula, or, as commonly if not more so, they weren't given the practical help they needed to get started with breastfeeding and overcome problems. We need to listen to these women, who feel hurt and judged and let down, and learn from them.

As for 'breastfeeding tyranny'? I hope that awful phrase doesn't tar all breastfeeding advocates with the same brush. Yes, some go too far and yes, that needs to change. But most of us just want to support the mothers who do want to breastfeed to do so for as long as they want. We're really not interested in bullying new mums into doing something they don't want to do. We just want them to have an informed choice and to be supported to feed how they want. At the end of the day, our low breastfeeding rates are not the responsibility of new mums. This is an issue that requires investment from the government and public health bodies and a change in how we view breastfeeding as a society. And the media scouring press releases to find any excuse to bash breastfeeding isn't helping with the latter.

So well done to the Royal College of Midwives for issuing a very sensible and well balanced statement. And well done to anyone who supports new mums in their feeding choices with accurate information and practical help. May you be allowed to get on with your job without being labelled a tyrant by the tabloids for doing so.

Monday, 4 June 2018

Things We've Done To Be Greener In ... May

Last month I started a new feature on the blog, talking about the new things (big and little) I did in the previous month to be more environmentally friendly. A few days late, here's my May update!

You may have noticed a slight change in wording - I realised after publishing the last post that actually most of the green things we do are a family effort and so to recognise that I changed 'I've' to 'We've'.

So here are the things our little family have been doing in an effort to be kinder to the planet ...

Doubled down on cloth nappy use

It's no secret that I love cloth nappies, but we always have disposables in for night time and emergencies. Except recently I'd been getting a bit lazy about what constitutes an emergency. Basically any outing of more than an hour was starting to warrant a disposable in my eyes. Our bin was filling up fast and our supplies dwindling. And it wasn't great for Toddler either - we went away for the May Day weekend and used disposables all weekend, which caused dreadful nappy rash. To the point where we actually decided to give cloth another go overnight to give him chance to heal. And now he's older, it works! This, and being a bit stricter with myself about using cloth when going out, means we've massively reduced our disposable usage. 

I'm also working on reducing the number of baby wipes we use. We've never used them loads because they're another thing Toddler is sensitive to, but I've found that reminding myself to use washable wipes, cotton wool or just tissue has made our 'emergency' packs last longer.

Dodged plastic packaging

This one has been massively helped by our local branch of Morrison's who have started using compostable paper bags for fruit and veg, and allowing customers to bring in tupperwares for fresh meat.

It's a small step at the moment - I do still feel like we're drowning in plastic packaging - but it's a start toward reducing the amount that ends up in our bin.

Took an EV road trip

I mentioned last month that we now have an electric car. We kept our old one mainly for longer journeys, as the battery life of the Leaf only covers around 90 miles. But when we went to the coast for the May Day weekend we used it as an opportunity to try out a longer journey in an EV. Admittedly I was skeptical but it did work out fairly well. It meant we had to break up our trips with a stop at a rapid charger (we coincided these with lunch) and my husband had to go on a quick trip to the next town to use the charger in Lidl, but we managed it! I'm still not sure about very long journeys though, the stopping to charge did make our travel time much longer. But it's good to know we can use it for medium-length journeys.

So that's some of what we've been up to - how about you? Have you made any changes recently to be greener? Let me know and I might nick your ideas for this month!!