Thursday, 25 October 2012

Little Girl is Growing Up!

Lets get this straight, she's still very little but it occurs to me that her third birthday is looming and I haven't blogged about her in a while!

The last three years have certainly flown by, I continually find myself gobsmacked that I am a mother to a very chatty inquisitive being who has a brain like a sponge.  The things she remembers astonish me and the way she reflects my personality back at me regularly makes me cringe!  She makes her toys talk to each other now and a few nights ago Captain Barnacles earnestly told Paso he was being a pain in the bum.  Ouch.

She also has a definite personality that is asserting itself and it is nothing like what I imagined it would be.  I had assumed that any daughter of mine would eschew the girly, run around in jeans, embrace mud and generally be a bit of a tomboy.  Instead I have been told that I should wear make up because it's really good (only something Meanderinggranny has said to me before), I have regular rows about whether or not she's going to wear a dress or jeans, or even whether the dress I want her to wear is acceptable.  I sometimes think the only one that is acceptable is the one with fairy wings on the back.  She can be incredibly stubborn too and on a daily basis will employ the tactic of completely ignoring us so she won't have to do what we want her to.  It's infuriating beyond belief and to my shame I have less patience with these things than I'd hoped.  Amazingly she's overwhelmingly forgiving of my outbursts and I know I'm living on borrowed time with this, it'll be all too soon before she starts thinking I'm unreasonable and holding grudges.  Probably quite rightly too.

In april next year there will be another meanderingbaby on the scene.  I'm feeling apprehensive about going through the whole thing again but mostly I'm worried that it'll drive a wedge between my daughter and I.  She seems very aware of what is going on and broke the news to her nursery for us which suggests she's excited about it.  Since she found out she's really started mothering some of her soft toys and regularly brings me her tiger to tell me "my baby is crying" or "my baby is tired".  Admittedly she usually then slings him halfway accross the room but I'm choosing to ignore that bit...

Anyway I will try to blog more about how we all get on as we expand as a family, watch this space!

Sunday, 24 June 2012

What a week for vaginas!

I know most of the readers of this blog will have heard me rant about this already but I thought I'd write a blog too!  Possibly so I can preserve my feelings on this for posterity.

This week saw an enormous fail for social media marketing, and I like to think I was there at the beginning of it all!  The company in question was femfresh and they are a company I have long been waging a very small personal war with.  Having worked in and around sexual health pretty much since I qualified I have never met a colleague who would recommend the use of femfresh, in fact when a women is diagnosed with bacterial vaginosis (BV) or thrush one of the first questions is "what do you wash with" and if the answer is femfresh the advice will be to stop using it.  It's a fragranced product and while it bangs on about being pH balanced and therefore appropriate for use on your "intimate area" the reality is that is upsets the balance of lactobacilli bacteria that are there to keep your vagina squeaky clean all on their own.

The fact that this stuff is on the market has long been something that irritated me and I was even more pissed off of late by seeing their new adverts around (their website version here), my irritation was partly caused because I hate seeing them spread the word about their noxious product and partly because of the language used, it's so infantile and most people would not use that sort of language over the age of five.  Their argument was that women call their vaginas all kinds of things and they were trying to make a light hearted play on that.  Now I know that advertisers have to be careful around their use of language but have we become so prudish as a society that we can't cope with the word vagina, which is definitely a word many women use?  I suspect not given the barrage of decidedly non prudish images we are exposed to on a daily basis so I suspect the problem goes deeper than that.

My feeling is that femfresh have managed to match up their advertising very well with their companies aims (although I suspect they may not actually realise what their aims are).  They want women to be ashamed of themselves and their vaginas.  They are creating insecurities and trying to make women believe that their vaginas shouldn't smell of anything, and while they shouldn't smell of anything we can't even use adult language to describe them.  They are creating these insecurities so they can create a problem and flog the cure, much as listerine did so many years ago, but unlike listerine which could be considered a fairly benign product, femfresh actually causes the problems it purports to prevent- one of the main symptoms of BV is a fishy smell from the vagina.

Anyway, I was lucky enough to find femfresh's relatively new facebook page which had picked up a number of negative comments around their adverts already, I added to these voicing my own concerns about the ad's language and my general view that their product was crap.  This was on thursday and as I wasn't working I left meanderingdaughter pretty much to her own devices and watched the shit storm unfold.  The page was gradually attracting more and more women and men voicing their opinions and it was incredible to see.  Eventually femfresh changed the cover photo on the page to add the word vagina but it was too little, too late.  They posted that they were listening to our feedback and pleaded with posters to keep it clean (because calling your vagina a nooni is celebrating it but calling it a cunt is a step too far) but still the comments kept rolling in.  Finally the facebook page and femfreshuk twitter account were removed and it the fun stopped.  I suspect the strength of the reaction partly came off the back of the broohaha caused by a politician in the USA using the word vagina in the Michigan House of Representatives.

Names for your genitalia, be you man or woman, is a tricky one.  As a nurse I would never use a euphemism while talking to a patient but I love the fact that our language is rich enough to provide us with so many different names and through all this I have learnt a fair few more.  I've even found an advertising campaign that has a very similar brief to the femfresh one but does it so much better, in fact, it's inspired!  I give you the mooncup Love Love Love Your Vagina song!

I think the reason this one works so much better is not just because it actually uses the word vagina but it's a bit naughty, it's grown up and it doesn't talk down to it's customers.  And obviously the fact that mooncups are a very useful and positive product which don't cause infections.

So there you go.  Embrace your vagina and its beautiful natural fragrance, call it whatever you want, wash it with water and aqueous cream if you want to use a cleanser and treat it to a mooncup.

Friday, 13 April 2012

Why Feminism is Still Needed

Of course this is such a huge subject so I'm not going to address the full myriad of reasons in one blog post but I have noticed a few things this morning which really struck me hard.

Part of my professional life involves providing women with contraception and this will often involve dispelling some of the huge amount of myths attached to contraception use. One in particular that stuck in my head from many years ago was a young woman (not yet 20) from a deprived area of East London attending for an abortion. She knew she had been at risk of pregnancy but had decided not to take the emergency pill because she thought it would leave her infertile. Because of this belief she was risking her fertility by having an abortion. Obviously the risk attached to having one abortion is low but it's still far greater than the non existent risk of taking the emergency pill. I'm aware that these ingrained beliefs do not allow women to fully take control of their own reproductive process, especially when pressure is put on them by husbands and boyfriends who readily buy into the idea that contraception is not worth the perceived side effects.

Dispelling these ideas around contraception sometime feels a bit like an uphill struggle but I have realised that they are nothing in comparison to what women in a number of other countries are facing. And I'm not even going to get started on Rush Limbaugh and the current situation in the US.

The first thing I do want to talk about is information I received in an email from Avaaz. Apparently in Honduras they are very close to voting through a law that would make providing the emergency pill illegal. Abortion is already illegal in Honduras and women seeking abortions or anyone providing an abortion risks a jail sentence. With the new law anyone caught with the emergency pill will be considered as attempting an abortion and treated accordingly.

This seriously impinges on women's reproductive rights. An abortion is effectively a forced miscarriage. And it's the wording here that is important. Without carriage, there can be no miscarriage and the way that the emergency pill works effectively means that it cannot cause an abortion or miscarriage. When a woman takes the emergency pill it delays her ovulation or prevents a fertilised egg from implanting. If an egg is fertilised she is still not pregnant until it implants. If the egg is implanted the emergency pill will do stuff all and won't have any effect on the pregnancy and will not cause miscarriage.

Obviously it is worrying that such a law is at risk of being enforced in this day and age but it also opens the door to other and even more restrictive laws. The emergency pill only works in similar ways to other methods of contraception, many of which prohibit ovulation or prevent implantation and if Honduras bans emergency contraception is theoretically opens the door to them banning other methods of contraception. This could lead to a slightly less amusing version of Monty Python's Catholic paradise.

Uzbekistan has apparently been taking a far more invasive and permanent attack on women's reproductive rights and in quite the opposite direction. Whereas Honduras wants women to be unable to stop themselves getting pregnant, Uzbekistan wishes to permanently prevent pregnancies. Women have been having forced hysterectomies after having c- sections. Doctors and health professionals are given quotas of how many sterilisations they need to perform. Sometimes they berate women into having the procedure, other times they just do it without consent whilst a woman is anaesthetised. And in a country where c- sections are at an unreported but possible 80% that's a lot of women at risk of having such forced sterilisations. This is just so awful it doesn't need me to go into it more.

I will only say that all you need to do to encourage women to use contraception is make it easily and cheaply available and provide education for both the men and women in your country. I know from my experiences of working in a country where education and health care are free and available for all there are still people who don't use contraception or who don't understand it but at least we can correct that in a less drastic manner. What is happening in both Honduras and Uzbekistan is a tragedy and could be another nail in the coffin of feminism if we let it.

Sign the Avaas Petition.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

PIP Implant Row

Along with many others I tuned into Newsnight last night for the opportunity to watch Katie Price talking to Jeremy Paxman about her breasts. I was intrigued by the whole concept and probably my inner Benny Hill was rearing it's ugly head.

This was the bit of the show dealing with breast implants supplied by the French company PIP which stopped trading in 2010 after it was found to be using industrial grade rather than medical grade silicon. The implants are thought to be more prone to rupture causing health problems for the women involved. I say women because that's all we really hear about in the news, I am fairly sure that I read somewhere that PIP also provided testicle implants etc that would have been implanted into men and presumably would cause the same problem. I'm not sure why we're just hearing about the women... Is it that the media has seized on the titillation value of being able to talk about women's breasts in the name of real news?

Which brings me back to Newsnight. Although let me just explain something first which should demonstrate why I was so angry with Paxman from the second he opened his mouth!

I'm a sexual health nurse and I spend my working life discussing with complete strangers the intimate details of their sex lives. One of the cornerstones of the way I go about this is to only ask questions that are relevant to the care I am trying to provide. I may need to know what kind of sex someone has had but I don't need to know if it was on the kitchen table or not. I am very well aware that there is a world of difference between being a journalist and being a clap nurse but I think there are certain situations where asking yourself "is this question relevant" can be applied to both professions. So last night I was quite surprised to hear Paxman welcome a group of women who have PIP implants to the studio and the first thing he asked of a couple of them was why they decided to have implants in the first place.

Why women decide to have implants (and other cosmetic surgery) is a very valid question to ask that says a lot about our society and it's obsession with youth but in this instance it had no meaning to it apart from to make Paxmen look slightly yet uncomfortably pervy. The issue here is that women have had implants given to them which give them a greater risk of related health problems than they were led to believe. Thousands of women in this country are now being left in limbo with no definite plan in place to let them have their implants replaced. This is made more worrying for them because other countries in Europe are doing so. I worry as well that we are inclined to see some women as more deserving of sympathy- if they had implants following a mastectomy rather than to improve the size, shape, bounce or whatever of their breasts. It's slightly gross the way we like to judge individuals in this way.

I won't even go into how appalling it is that many private clinics are liquidising then reforming under a new name to avoid their responsibility in replacing the faulty implants they inserted. The NHS is offering to remove implants found to be faulty but not to replace them and I'm not sure where I stand on this.

That faulty implants that are a risk to a women's health or possibly life should be removed on the NHS goes without saying. If you say not then we're back in the argument of do we treat illnesses caused by lifestyle options: the obese, diabetics, smokers, drug users, people who drive too fast and wrap their car round a tree, christ, we could even include pregnant women! But do we replace the implants? Can the over stretched NHS afford to mop up a problem they didn't cause? Can they really offer to remove a women's implants, stitch them up and leave them to it? Surely if they have an operating theatre already booked up, fully staffed and the women under anaesthetic with the right incisions already made the added cost of popping a couple of new implants in isn't going to be that great?

Caitlin Moran said, then quickly retracted, on twitter last night, that if a woman can afford implants for vanity reasons can she not fork out to have them replaced if it might save her life? Like her I initially agreed with this idea then changed my mind. I think what we can all agree on that this is an argument that could go on and on and I'm not sure where I stand, although I am leaning towards replacing on the NHS if the private clinics refuse. And some tougher measures for clinics who shirk their responsibilities to their patients, although can we really expect more from profit driven private health care?

In comparison to the clunky and awkward questioning from Paxman, Price was actually excellent and spoke about her experiences very well. I was appalled to hear that before she had her first breast operation The Sun held a poll to see if their readers thought she should have it done. Nice. But again, another kettle of fish altogether.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

David Lammy and My Increasing Disappointment in the Labour Party.

This one is as the title says really. I feel that another nail has been pounded into the over crowded coffin of the current Labour party. Even Diane Abbott has been disappointing me recently, and that's saying something.

Anyway, today there was an article in the Guardian quoting Tottenham MP David Lammy's interview with LBC where he outlines his support for slackening the current smacking laws (you are allowed to smack your child but nothing that causes a reddening or marking of the skin). He feels that parents should be allowed to be "sovereigns of their own homes" and able to use their own judgement when it comes to disciplining their children. He actually goes so far to suggest that the London riots could have been avoided if parents were allowed to discipline their children with as much force as they like. I don't even have a response to that, it's such a stupid comment I don't think it needs one.

He did actually make a couple of good points in the interview, firstly that the reddening of the skin distinction was a bit irrelevant for non-white parents and secondly that many parents are confused by changes in law around smacking and disciplining their children. Obviously skin comes in many different colours and shades and some reddens easier than others so therefore a law that makes this distinction is completely unworkable. And if laws are changed and different distinctions made then people will be confused. Hell, I'm confused by it!

Unlike David Lammy though, my resolution for these discrepancies and confusion is simple. Ban smacking. If there was a blanket ban on hitting children there would be no space for arguments of any kind.

I am actually one of those people who can stand up and say "I was smacked as a child and it didn't do me any harm". I was never smacked hard and I wouldn't say that the smacking was ever unmerited (I consider drawing on the carpet with felt tips would be enough to drive any parent to their limits), and it didn't do me any harm, I love my parents dearly and we're very close. It's not shaped me that much as an adult; I don't resort to physical violence to settle disputes and I wasn't out there looting JD Sports during the riots. But I was scared of this punishment as a child and I vividly remember being afraid of the possibility of a smack. I am therefore aware that there is a distinction to be made between what the majority of parents would consider reasonable chastisement and what is very blatantly unreasonable abuse. The loving and happy childhood (with very occasional smacking) I had is obviously not in any way comparable to the likes of what Victoria Climbie and Peter Connolley went through but the crucial point is where do we draw the line? If there is a blanket ban then fewer children will suffer and fall through the net.

I cannot understand how it is illegal to hit an adult who is annoying you but it's OK to hit a child. Shouldn't we be protecting the most vulnerable members of our society?

I'm also not going to pretend that I have all the answers when it comes to child discipline. I am blessed with a generally well behaved and easy going child whom we currently employ a variation on the naughty step for. We call it the "thinking step", bleeding heart liberals that we are! The idea is that meanderingdaughter sits on the step, is told why and we check she understands and apologises for her misdemeanours before she's allowed off. It is working well but I think that's because it hasn't really occurred to her that if she really wanted to, she could get up and walk off; at the moment she just sits there and looks sheepish... I know this approach is frowned upon by some and that's fair enough, I don't know if it's the right way to go but what I do know is that's it's not causing meanderingdaughter any harm and that's the most important thing.

I would like to add that I also do occasionally completely lose my rag with meanderingdaughter and have screamed at her and scared her in a way I would not do to an adult (except when they step in front of my bike). Consequently I can see how easy it would be to lose control and hit a child, especially in difficult circumstances (eg being a single parent of more than one child) and I personally wouldn't censure a parent for doing so occasionally. Saying that (and I know I'm vaguely contradicting myself here) I don't however think that physically disciplining your child should be legally acceptable behaviour.

So, unlike Lammy, I am all for a tightening up of our laws and attitudes to child discipline in this country. I think a little more respect for self and others all round would work better for preventing riots and hopefully create relationships based on understanding instead of fear.

As a last point it is a worry that Lammy is touting these views when he is an MP for part of Haringey, a borough with arguably a more troubled past than most when it comes to child abuse. What those cases should teach us is that children's safety and well being should be a priority and there is no excuse for hitting a child.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Evening Standard's Dispossessed Fund

I fear this blog may be about to make a comeback as a place for me to vent my irritations in more than 140 characters but I'll try to throw in some parenting posts as well!

This one is triggered by noticing an Evening Standard front page while on my way home today. I normally don't touch the Standard as I have a huge issue with the way its vile messages are handed out for free and seem to be absorbed without question by a large number of London's commuters. I don't even blame the commuters really, the paper is just there alongside the morning's Metro and they're so insiduous and easy to pick up and read without questioning the message within.

Anyway, I note that the Evening Standard is giving away £1.25 million to charity as part of their ongoing Dispossessed Fund. Very commendable, although I daresay they can easily afford it. My big problem were their three big quotes on the front page:

Prince William "I consider the Evening Standard's exposure of hidden poverty a call to arms for us all. This is a great city. However, the plight of the dispossessed in its many forms tarnishes it"

David Cameron "The Dispossessed Campaign has stirred London's conscience and will have a big impact in helping people climb their way out of poverty"

Boris Johnson "I am grateful to the Evening Standard for again highlighting the poverty and deprivation that shame this city while giving every Londoner the chance to help remedy the situation"

Um... excuse me?

Dearest Wills, once your family of scrounging throwbacks start supporting yourselves then you can have a say on poverty. Until then keep your mouth shut, you embarrass yourself.

David, Dave, Davey boy. You could single handedly have a much bigger impact on helping people out of poverty if you stopped destroying the job market, the welfare system and everything else that makes this country a great place to be. You are forcing huge numbers of individuals, families and children into poverty which they will have no chance to climb out of. Is your conscience not stirred? Oh, I forgot, you never had one.

And darling, bumbling, lovable Boris. You twat. You should be ashamed of what you have done to London and your role in helping keep people in poverty and deprivation.

Glad I got that off my chest.