And then there were five…

Baby Alexa

Baby Alexa

I don’t normally blog about parenting, specifically, but I’m a sucker for a juicy birth story and Emma at emmaandalfiesworld.co.uk is hosting a series of birth stories so I thought I’d chuck in my tuppence worth!

From the moment we discovered we were expecting Baby No. 3, I was determined to have a home birth. Both our sons had been born in hospital and neither experience had been great. Nothing particularly traumatic had happened and we all survived, but the loss of empowerment and control coupled with the wholly unnecessary and unpleasant interventions we endured were enough to make me absolutely certain of my decision.

So, after enduring the lengthy and tedious process of convincing the midwifery team that I meant business and wouldn’t take no for an answer (which involved refusing to attend a consultant clinic and ASK for permission to birth my baby at home!), it was all arranged. My babies seem to like to cook for longer than the suggested 40 weeks, so it was agreed that my midwives wouldn’t go on call until I was 39 weeks instead of the usual 38. This was not only practical, but meant I’d have them on call for longer on the other side of my due date. The kit arrived – there was so much stuff – and we waited. And we waited. And we waited.

It started to feel like Baby Pols had no intention of budging. A sweep at 41 weeks, and another at 41+4 seemed fruitless, and a trip to hospital after my waters appeared so have gone ended up with the midwife gently telling me I’d spontaneously peed on the floor. Even the Twitter hashtag #ComeOutLumpy dedicated to her arrival didn’t persuade baby to make an appearance! It was finally agreed that we’d tentatively book induction for 42+1. Looking back, I had no intention of allowing them to induce me on that day, but to have baby monitored and have general well being to be checked seemed wise. I felt much more relaxed after we’d arranged that induction date, because I felt like there was a Plan B if I was getting to tired to deal with Plan A.

Given that it was fairly certain we were going to be welcoming a new member of our family in the coming week, we packed the boys off to my dad for the afternoon on the Saturday before my possible induction the following Monday. Feeling hopeful, I sent them off with their overnight bags in the unlikely event of labour starting while they were away. Having got halfway back to my house with the boys in his car that evening, my dad decided to turn back and keep them overnight to give us a peaceful evening and some more time to relax…

Relaxation, as it turns out, is conducive to spontaneous labour! I woke at 00:59 on Sunday 25th March, at 42 weeks pregnant, desperate for a wee. I was a bit muddled when I got back to bed after my wee – which felt like it was of average duration – to discover I’d been in the loo for one hour and three minutes. It took me a minute to realise the clocks had gone forward and my phone had adjusted the time accordingly! I lay awake for a while with backache, with Dr Gregory House (yum!) on TV for company. At 3 am, I had a whopping great contraction out of the blue!

I woke my husband up just as contraction number 2 took hold. A quick look at the contraction timer app I’d downloaded told us my contractions were 90 seconds apart. After a brief panic that I hadn’t made the homemade soup or lemon cake that I’d planned to whip up for the midwives, and a conversation with my husband during which I insisted I couldn’t POSSIBLY be in labour, I rang the hospital. After a brief chat, I came off the phone and announced to my ashen-faced husband that I’d arranged to ring them back in 30 minutes. Fortunately, I was brought to my senses by another huge contraction and the midwives were promptly despatched. Looking back, I totally missed an opportunity to dramatically yell “Call the midwife!”

As it began to sank in that I really was in labour, and that this baby really wasn’t wasting any time, we frantically unpacked the medical supplies. Well, when I say “we”, I mean my husband. I plonked my giant, pregnant backside on the edge of the sofa and refused to move. Having made such a song and dance about active labour, I was so shell-shocked by the speed of it that I just wanted to sit in one spot and rock my hips in a pathetic attempt to ease the pain.

I vaguely remember at one point asking for paracetamol. The panicked and slightly puzzled look on my husband’s face was enough to tell me that he had no idea where the paracetamol actually was, and I very politely (with added swear words) told him not to bother. By this time, there was pretty impressive pressure in my derrière-region and not a midwife to be seen. I gave Mr P a quick briefing on how to deliver a baby, and we got ready for action.

A knock at the door at 3.40am signalled the arrival of reinforcements. The first midwife, one I’d gotten to know well during my pregnancy, had arrived and we were no longer going it alone. She set to work arranging her bits and pieces, and tried to check the baby and I out between those bad boy contractions. When she sent me off to the loo for a wee prior to examining me, I insisted on taking my husband in with me. I still have no idea why I did that, but he knew from the hysterical mess I descended into whilst in the bathroom that arrival of our baby was imminent. I begged him to ring an ambulance to take me to hospital for an epidural. I pleaded for drugs, and cried for a C-section. He steadfastly reminded me of how I’d carefully prepped him for this very situation, and off how desperately I wanted to have this baby at home.

Tears and snot cleaned up, and the second midwife now in attendance, I waddled back to the living room where I assumed the one position I always insisted I never wanted to be in – on all fours on the sofa. With that, the penultimate contraction hit and I yelled to the midwife that this baby was coming. I remember her laughing and telling me that’s why she was here, and I’ll never forget the panic in her voice when she saw baby’s head crowning and called to the other midwife for a delivery pack!

One more contraction and all 9lbs of our daughter, Alexa Hannah Catherine, came into the world at 4.02am… 62 minutes after my first contraction. The absence of amniotic fluid confirmed that my waters had indeed gone a few days earlier, and my bladder control was just fine! The midwives cleared up the mess (including the canisters of Entinox that I never even got to use!) in record time and by 6am they had gone back home to bed, leaving us to enjoy our newborn.

For me home birth was a wonderful experience, and truly one of the most empowering experiences of my life. Even during such a short, intense labour I felt completely in control. I knew that babies didn’t always read the handbook before they attempted entry into the world, but it felt that I’d made allowances in my plan for any unexpected changes. People (even strangers) would remark that I was brave by planning a home birth, a remark which suggested to me that I was somehow playing fast and loose with the safety of my baby, I wasn’t brave, I was just informed. My pregnancy was low risk, and statistically a home birth was less risky than a hospital birth. A healthy baby, a healthy mum, successfully established breast feeding and a lovely natural 3rd stage was everything I could have asked for… And it cost the NHS less, too!

This is my body…

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All this talk on my blog of the way women’s bodies are portrayed in the media got me thinking: what would a women’s magazine like Now! make of my shocking body?

Unfortunately (fortunately), I don’t have any bikini photos. Sorry about that, I’m sure you were most looking forward to feasting your eyes on my pasty flesh. A couple of ‘look at my new frock’ selfies will have to do instead.

So, let’s start at the top. My hair isn’t too bad, actually. Apart from the fact that I’m a bottle blonde, but that’s alright yes? The first giant red circle would probably be awarded to my chin. Or, more accurately, chins. I have what’s known in Glasgow as a ‘bawface’, and an abundance of chins is a feature of that. We’re talking “multiple” rather than double.

Moving down, the next bikini crime would be my boobs. If I’m honest, they’re not half bad when they’re trussed up to belie the effects that gravity and three babies and gravity have had on them. In a bikini, they’re like genetically modified spaniel’s ears.

Next up, it’s the bingo wings. If I wave to you, my arms will still be wobbling long after you’re out of sight. Those bad boys would be most deserving of a big, red circle of shame.

“Pols piles on the pounds” would be the screaming caption accompanying my waistline, or lack thereof. And the next feature of note would be my dimply arse, which has more orange peel than a Christmas cake.

Finally, my thunder thighs would be the final mail in my coffin of shame. I, blessed with typical Scottish ‘corned beef’ skin, which only emphasises the dimply wobbliness of my upper legs.

God, I sound like a real mess, don’t I? Except I’m not. Let’s look again…

My eyes. Everyone tells me I have beautiful eyes. You know what? They might just be right. Behind them lies the critical mind which processes the things I see around me in the world, and makes me speak out for what I believe in. I care about people, and I believe we’re all entitled to live our lives true to who we are without discrimination or shame. I use that brain of mine to earn a crust; I feed, clothe and shelter three children using that brain. My sense of humour comes from there too, and the strength of character that’s gotten me up when life has knocked me down.

My lips aren’t bad, and I smile all the time. I’d be a crap Londoner, because I smile at everyone. I’m told they’re pretty nice to kiss too…

Then there’s the saggy boobs. Those bad boys have nourished and comforted three babies, babies who were housed in that blancmange tummy I have.

My legs are long, and they look pretty good with a pair of heels.

I’m a wife and a mum, a sister, a daughter and a friend. I’ve achieved many, many things I’m proud of, and I’ve loved and laughed with so very many people.

You can make your own mind up about what my photos say about me, but this much is true: I’m greater than the sum of the parts that are so easy to criticise. There’s more to me than wobbly arms and a ginormous bum. You can choose not to look beneath the surface, but in doing so you create a legacy. A legacy of shame and angst for girls growing up around the body shaming attitudes you cultivate. We’re better than that.this

And so it begins…

Hello, lovely readers.

It’s been six weeks now since I angrily bashed out an open letter to the editor of Now! magazine after their infamous “21 Shocking Bodies” cover appeared on my Twitter timeline. I was typing on my iPad with one hand, and using the other to vacuum the lounge (I make a point of doing it at LEAST once a year), thinking a few people might read it and someone might even comment. You know the rest… lots of people read it, many of them took the time to tweet, email and comment their agreement, and the editor of Now! magazine invited me to meet with her to discuss my thoughts.

Tomorrow, I’ll do just that. Sally Eyden and her staff have been helpful, friendly and engaging in their various communications. Jess Spiring, Assistant Lifestyle Editor, has arranged an interesting afternoon and a diverse group of guests to take part in the discussion. I’m looking forward to it, and no doubt I’ll be made very welcome. Reading back, my letter was angry and confrontational… And I stand by every word I said about that cover.

The representation of body image in the media is an issue for all of us. It’s not just about equal rights for us plus-sized hotties (though we deserve that, too). In fact, last year Now! ran a “Oh no! Rise of the extreme skinnies!” cover, so the body shaming isnt limited to bigger women. It’s not even about the right of the women splashed across those covers to be left alone. It’s about the widespread and damaging effects that this culture of reducing women’s worth to their body size and shape, has on women and girls.

I asked today on Facebook and Twitter what message people would like to send to Now! on this subject. The responses were a resounding “leave our bodies out of it; we’re so much more than a dress size and wobble factor”. Mums told me stories of their slender eleven year old daughters refusing to wear certain clothes because they look “fat”, and of primary aged girls posting “hot or not?” photos of themselves and their classmates on social media. Worse still, I heard about parents encouraging this behaviour. Women asked why their dress size is considered the pinnacle of their achievements, and why the media equivalent of pointing and laughing is not only acceptable but lauded as great entertainment. Other women want to ask the Now! team what exactly it is they’re trying to achieve, and if they feel this relentless bitching about women’s appearances represents a positive role model.

We all love a great cliché, and the one that springs to mind here is “With great power comes great responsibility”. Now! magazine has a circulation of roughly 208,000. Add to that the circulations of similar magazine, the buyers of which will doubtlessly see the Now! cover when making their selection. Now consider the women and girls who’ll see these covers on shop shelves, hairdresser’s coffee tables and waiting room shelves. You can choose not to buy magazine which splash these irresponsible and belittling headlines across their pages, but you can’t avoid them completely. More to the point, the girls growing up in our society can’t avoid them.

I was really thrilled to see, among the list of panel members for tomorrow, the name of a prolific and successful campaigner for positive body image. As the founder and CEO of a charity which raises awareness of body disorders and celebrates individuality, I look forward to hearing her explain just how far-reaching the consequences of this sensationalist media can be.

There is no question that Now! magazine isn’t alone in this type of misogynistic, anti-women behaviour, but change has to start somewhere. Sally Eyden and her team have an opportunity to blaze the trail of change; to step up to the responsibility that their position in the media brings and to entertain, empower and celebrate all women for who they are.

And so it begins…

(Also joining the discussion tomorrow will be blogger Kate Taylor who, after reading my letter, was inspired to write this)

“Dear Pols…” A reply from Now magazine

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Lots of you read the letter I wrote to Now Magazine this week about their recent cover. In fact, more of you read it than I could ever have imagined… so far it’s had 35,127 views! You lot really are incredible, and I’ve been astounded by the response I’ve had. Thank you all. This is quite clearly an issue that many of you feel strongly about, and rightly so. In an unexpected turn of events, Sally Eyden (Editor of Now Magazine) replied. Below is a copy of that reply, followed by my own comments (because you didn’t REALLY think I’d have nothing else to say, did you…?)

“Dear Pols,

Thank you so much for getting in touch. I have read your blog and was moved to email you. I have also written a response to Kate Taylor, who wrote an incredibly frank and emotional open letter to me.

I am so sorry our cover offended and upset you. It absolutely wasn’t our intention. When we put together our 24 December Shocking Bodies cover it was actually with our readers’ feelings in mind. We wanted to say: ‘It’s normal to have lumps and bumps and wobbly bits’. Because, let’s face it, we all have.

At this time of year it’s usually customary for magazines to feature models with unattainable bodies on the cover telling you how you can look just like them. The fact of the matter is it’s impossible; as we all know, only a small percentage of the world’s population is blessed with a perfect body, and I certainly don’t want to make my readers feel bad about the fact they haven’t got one!

I, along with my heads of departments (women of all sizes), thought long and hard about using the word ‘normal’ on the cover but, after a LOT of debate (and believe me – there was a LOT), we felt our readers, many of whom look up to celebrities, would rather see pictures of stars looking less than perfect, therefore reassuring them about their own perfectly ‘normal’ bodies.

I don’t know about you, but after spending the Christmas holiday on the sofa eating roast potatoes and chocolate, the last thing I want to see in a magazine is pictures of perfectly toned women in bikinis making me feel bad about my cellulite and stretchmarks – of which I have myriad by the way!

The Now team comes in all shapes and sizes, from size 8 to size 18. We are normal women, with the same insecurities as everyone else. We are mothers, daughters, sisters, friends. We battle with our self-confidence and feel a trickle of dread each time we have to break out the bikini – and we know we shouldn’t eat the office biscuits, but do anyway! I completely understand your concerns as a mother. Which is why at Now we are proud of the fact we don’t airbrush our cover stars to make them look thinner and are one of the very few magazines to use plus-size models in our fashion shoots.

The same week we sent our Shocking Bodies issue to press, we also signed off the magazine that’s on the shelves right now, featuring reality stars Gemma Collins (a size 20) and Chanelle Hayes (a size 14), with the headline “Screw the diet”.

Their interviews are empowering, uplifting and send a strong message to our readers that sexy absolutely does NOT equal skinny. I know many people on Twitter have perceived this as a backtrack for the previous cover, but I can promise you they actually went to press at the same time because of our Christmas holiday deadlines.

As a magazine editor I am acutely aware of the responsibility I have when it comes to the messages we send our readers – and promoting a positive and realistic body image is something I believe in very strongly.

Your blog is passionate, well-written and oozes the sort of empowering attitude we always aspire to have in Now; I would love to invite you to our office to meet the team and share your thoughts. As mentioned, I have also invited Kate Taylor too.

If we’re getting it wrong or not representing our readers, I want to know. While I understand this cover has upset you, I hope that something positive can come out of the important conversation your blog has started this week.

Yours sincerely,

Sally”

So, the explanation from Now magazine is that they were keen to reassure their readers about their own perfectly ‘normal’ bodies. Surely that’s to be applauded? Maybe, but not if other women are shamed in the process. And shamed they were.

As Sally says in her letter, the latest Now cover proclaims  “Screw the diet!” and features celebrities of various sizes posing cheerfully for the camera, having apparently spent a fair whack of their visit to Now in hair and make up. In stark contrast, the photos featured on the cover in question mainly features seemingly oblivious women were snapped as they did their own thing on the beach. If they’re anything like me, their biggest concerns were how to unwedge their bikini bottoms from their bum or dust the sand from their cleavage without drawing the attention of everyone on the beach. These pictures weren’t of women who’d rocked up at the Now studios to feature in a piece about how comfortable they are with their size. There was no trip to hair and make up for these ladies, just a paparazzi-type shot of them relaxing by the sea oblivious to the judgement about to be unleashed upon them.

Then there was the language. If anyone said to me “Yikes! You’ve PILED on 8 stone. Look at your shocking body” then I wouldn’t be thanking them for their support and solidarity. I’d be pretty flipping gutted, if I’m honest. None of that language screams “Sisterly solidarity” to me, it screams “Ha! Look at the state of you, fatso!” Nor does it support Sally’s message that we’re all fine as we are, post-Christmas bodies and all. As a result, the “This will make you feel normal” comment reads as a snide and sarcastic dig.

If this really was an attempt to reassure women about their bodies, then it fell as flat as one of my sponge cakes. If it wasn’t, then I hope Sally and her team have taken on board what you’ve all told them about the effect of this kind of message on women and girls.

The prospect of a visit to the Now offices gives me some idea how Daniel felt when he was heading for the lions’ den. If I’m honest, having my bikini plucked with tweezers in the middle of Sainsbury’s seems a more appealing option, but visit them I will. I’m going to take my shocking body down there and tell them what you’ve all told me. I bloody hope they have cake…

Dear Now Magazine…

I haven’t blogged in a while. I was hoping to kick back off with something wonderfully witty or deeply interesting, but Now Magazine changed all that when I saw a Tweet containing an image of the vile bodyshaming cover from their 10th December issue. And so this was born…

Dear Now Magazine,

I’m writing to you for some advice. I’ve seen your 10th December cover, so I’m pretty sure you’ll feel qualified to offer some guidance here.

I have this daughter, you see. She’s 21 months old, and she’s quite possibly the most wonderful little girl I’ve ever met. She has enormous brown eyes and a wild mane of curly hair. She has a wicked sense of humour and a huge, loving heart. She has a squidgy little bum and an adorable little dimple in each thigh. And therein lies my problem.

I wondered if you could please advise me when would be a good time to stop telling her she is a beautiful human being, and start encouraging her to feel shame and worthlessness over the squidginess of her bottom and those adorable dimples in her thighs? Perhaps I should start now? Or maybe I should hang on until she starts school so she can benefit from your tried and tested method of measuring her self worth against the shape of her peers’ bodies? Or maybe I’m being silly. Maybe none of this is necessary until it’s time for her to bag herself a boy who’ll love her despite these hideous body flaws… I do hope she’ll be suitably grateful.

I’ve taken on board the message of the cover in question, but I’m still a little bit confused. Am I supposed to look at these women and feel smug that my body is nowhere NEAR as hideous as theirs? I hope not, because mine is worse. Perhaps I’m just supposed to look at it and be reassured that other women have such hideously normal bodies too? Phew. It’s so helpful of you to show me some other women whose achievements in life are also null and void because they have a wobble, dimple or love handle.

Here’s the thing. I’m carrying a few extra pounds. Curvy, cuddly, voluptuous… Whatever your choice of slightly condescending adjective is, I’m it.  You’d probably describe me in one of your horribly patronising articles as a “real woman”. Well, I identify as a woman so I guess that does make me a real woman. Yep, I’m all of those things and yet somehow, astonishingly, I’m actually not worthless. I made three actual human beings. Grew them, I did, inside my wobbly tummy. I’m surrounded by people who love me and whom I love. Can you believe that? I have cellulite and people actually love me?! Wow. Who’d have thought? I have a great job, nice hair and I’m happy. Is that even allowed?

Sure, I wouldn’t mind losing a few pounds. In the meantime though, I’m going to take myself off to the kitchen for another slice of the better-than-sex cake I baked, and leave you to obsess over other people’s bodies whilst they just enjoy being in them.

Love,

Pols

P.S. Don’t bother answering the question about my daughter. I figure it’s just easier to love her and teach her to love herself. It’s not a wobbly bottom or dimply thighs that stop you being beautiful, it’s making yourself feel good by publicly shaming other people’s bodies that’s truly ugly