This post was conceived as an impassioned plea on behalf of new fathers to receive more assistance from society (via the government) to allow them the time to bond with their children. But after an incident in a local hair salon* it has become a rant against women.
(*As a side note – any politician who wants to know what the pressing issues are for their female constituents needs to get their arse into a hair dressers or beautician’s chair. I don’t care if your hair is only an inch long and in perfect condition, this is where women talk to women, and where women chatter, issues are aired.)
Let me take a step back and set the scene. I was sitting in a hairdressers chair flicking thought the latest OK Magazine, gossiping about Kate Middleton’s maternity style (ok, sometimes when women chatter nothing meaningful is discussed, but stick with me) when the girl dying my hair told me she was pregnant. I was so excited for her I think I may have squealed aloud. I don’t know what it is about pregnancies and engagements – they just excite and delight everyone even if they are random strangers – or so I thought. However the girl (perhaps a little overwhelmed by my excitement wondering if I thought I was going to be made godmother or something) informed me that no, in fact not everyone was excited about pregnancies, and proceeded to tell me that she had told several of her regular clients that she was pregnant, and far from congratulating her, they were actually very put out. The manners their Mamma taught them made them grind out an ‘Oh how wonderful for you’ through gritted teeth and then straight away ask ‘when will you be gone and more importantly when will you be back’ – words which if said in an office would evoke the same sort of shocked silence a racist slur would arouse, so absolutely known is it that that is not the correct response to happy news.
But not here. Everyone surrounding waits for this young girls reply. She hesitantly admits (admits!) that she is due December 23rd, so she is finishing up December 8th, two weeks before her due date as set out in the legislation, (bearing in mind that her profession requires her to stand all day long, when I know that at 8 months it was a problem for me to sit all day long, so as far as I’m concerned she is cutting it fine, but there you have it.) ‘So you will be gone for Christmas? So I’ll need to find someone else to do my hair?’ is spat back at her with a scowl that could sour milk ‘Can you not work until Christmas, surely that would be better, a little cash for you going into Christmas.’
At this point I would like to interject with a little context. This is a conversation between two women, two women who know each other, albeit casually, for more than five years. One is an older lady with children, the client, and the other is a younger first time mother who relies on repeat regular clients for her livelihood. In essence this is a conversation between an employer and employee.
And I would like to take this one step further. Let’s take the words of the client and put them into a balding, sweating, middle-aged male business owner and replay the situation; girl tells boss that she is pregnant – boss aggressively questions her plans for leave during the busy season and implies there will be no job for her when she returns to work …. And let it percolate… And now let’s speculate how long (and I mean in terms of minutes) do you think it would take that girl to find a solicitor ready to sue that boss for unfair dismissal on grounds of pregnancy. Not only would the case not take long, and her success guaranteed, but so protected are pregnant women in employment law that I assume she would win big. Even if only a supervisor or colleague had said it I assume that there would be more than pregnancy weight filling out her back pocket.
Now let’s step back into the salon. Is the hairdresser able to sue? No, she is self-employed talking to a customer whose business she needs. Is she able to say she is unhappy with the client’s reaction and that it is upsetting to her? Again, no, because she is self-employed talking to a customer whose business she needs, who knows that she is about to lose a lot of regular customers because she dared have a personal life and a family life. So instead she has to try and laugh it off, pray that she doesn’t go into labour early and try to imply without committing that actually she will probably be only gone for a short period of time, and will probably be back to work on Saturdays really quickly, probably within the month.
The double standard at play here is mind boggling to me. How some women safe in regulated office jobs are treated so completely different to those who dared branch out on their own to be self-employed, not by the law, but by the women that surround them.
When I sat down to write this post I was thinking about the Dads. I was thinking how unfair it is that women get several months paid maternity leave and Dads are not even entitled to one day. I was looking to the Danish and Swedish models and thinking why can’t we be more like them? But actually, after the above incident, I have realised that we are actually much further apart than I could have realised. Far from supporting fathers (who are important and I’ll cover that again) we need to start supporting mothers.
Pregnancy, particularly unexpected pregnancies, can cause huge dramatic changes in a person’s life. We as a society need to be assuring young women that of all the things that will change, one thing that will remain secure is their employment. This is not something that a government can change or a law can change, we need to change. We need to stop being so selfish and self-centred and look beyond a minor inconvenience to see the bigger picture, a miracle growing before your eyes. There is going to be a new life, a new person in the world, who will fundamentally change all those around them. And although you might be only witnessing this as a stranger on the outside, the very least you can do is cause no harm. Don’t stress a young mother unnecessarily. Don’t be nasty and let her hear the branch creak below her. Support her. Say honestly and openly ‘Oh how wonderful for you’ – no strings attached. When she is gone, make other arrangements and when she is ready, and her child is ready, and her family are ready, for her to return to work, let her do so, in the same way as is afforded every other woman in the state.
What bothered me most about this incident is that it was woman to woman; mother to mother. As a society we have already decided that it is in our combined interest to protect women and allow them to have children and then return to the workplace. That is why we have such strong laws in the area. But as individuals we have somehow forgotten why our predecessors fought so hard for those laws. It’s not the male dominated culture of the board room, or the non-family-friendly policies of faceless big business, or any of the other excuses that are trotted out by HR journals, at work here. It’s just plain stupidity, ignorance and selfishness. Sometimes that’s more toxic.
Please note the details of this post have been altered to protect the identities of those involved.
The post-baby diet has begun.
My maternity wardrobe was too big (finally!) and my old wardrobe was too small. All I was left with was underwear even your granny would think was a bit prudish. I was in need of new clothes if I were to break out of this house and re-join civilisation.
I have to admit, post-baby clothes shopping was not the fun trip I was expecting.
Maternity clothes shopping had lulled me into a false sense of security. There is no such thing as fat when you are pregnant. You are supposed to ‘look big in this’, you’re pregnant and it’s a sign that you are growing a great big healthy baby, claps on the back all round. For almost a year it was like shopping for a school uniform again, you wanted to leave plenty of growing room, something that just fit would never do. And trying to squeeze into the smaller size was unheard of.
On the other side of the birth, things were looking a bit different again. I was expecting that once the baby was ejected a lot of the weight would leave with him. I had heard that once you gave birth you should be able to fit into the maternity clothes that you wore at four or five months. I could get these clothes over my mummy tummy, but not over my mummy thighs. Naively I put this down to water retention, so I waited patiently for the fluid to dissipate. And waited. A little did, but even two months later I still could not squeeze into the smaller maternity clothes. I had to face facts. If I wanted to leave the house wearing clothes, I needed to go shopping. I found solace in the fact that I was smaller than I was at nine months pregnant, put on a brave face and hoped for the best.
The outcome was not pretty. I wandered into changing rooms with clothes in one size, and several minutes of squeezing later, the fitting room’s assistant had to swap them for clothes four sizes up. My confidence was not at an all-time high. I decided to buy a cheap and cheerful temporary wardrobe from Penneys while I got my body back to its normal size.
If I am honest, I may have been unrealistic about my ‘before’ figure. In my mind, before this all began, I was a slender, slim, size 8. In some ways that is true: back when I was 16 before I met my husband and before we even started thinking about babies, I was a size 8. But in more ways, it is a complete lie. As soon as we decided that we were going to try for babies I started eating cake. And bread. And pasta. And just about anything else calorific I could get my grubby little hands on. I figured if I was going to get pregnant I was going to get fat so what was the point of watching what I was eating. I would lose the excess when I was losing the baby weight.
I am now on the other side of that thought process and I now realise that it is going to be no easy feat shifting all this additional weight.
My first step is to admit where I am. If you don’t know where you are, you can’t know how long it will take to get to your destination. I can safely say, I am definitely not a size 8 now. Nor am I a 10. I am much closer to a squeeze-into-it, thank-god-this-is-stretch-material, I-don’t think-all-the-buttons-are-supposed-to-be-able-to-close, is-it-a-Moo-Moo-if-you-buy-it-in-Brown-Thomas, I-have-seen-people-camp-in-tents-smaller-than-this size. Not big in the grand scale of things, but big for me.
My next step is to devise a plan. I’m a sucker for celebrity endorsed fitness products, so I have the Anna Richardson’s Body Blitz Diet and Jillian Michaels 30 Day Shred. I also have some strong advice from Ruth Whelan: don’t wait until Monday, start today. So here we go. Out with the take away in with the nutrients. I’ll keep you posted on how I do.
If there was such thing as Maternity Ward bingo* this would be the big winning square in the middle – that is, how soon a mother is asked “When are you having the next?” after giving birth.
The baby is almost fresh from the womb, being cleaned and the family notified, when some idiot pipes up “oh you can’t leave them on their own – you’ll have to get them a little brother or sister, a little friend.” As if you can pop down to Argos and order one over the counter.
Right now, I would rather buy my son friends than have to grow him one. I would rather spoil him rotten, buy him every crazy gimmick, every overpriced toy that comes along, so all the other kids with several siblings want to play with his new toys and hopefully by extension him (in this plan I’m hoping he won’t be that bright, so it might take him several years to figure out that these are not real friends).
I have a friend who has three under the age of five, and before I had mine I had no idea what a feat of human resilience she was exhibiting on a daily basis by not hiding under her bed and hoping they would all go away. Watching her with those kids is like watching someone walk a tightrope – it’s amazing, it’s death-defying and I am definitely not having a go.
Every so often I think, maybe we could have another when my son is out of nappies, or maybe when he starts school, or maybe after he does his communion or confirmation. And then I realise that I will be too old at that stage to be even worrying about it. Worrying about how I would survive if I got a second non-sleeper, or how would I keep track of an energetic toddler while lugging around a big pregnant belly, or how would I survive another mind-numbing maternity leave?
And then I look at my son, curled up asleep, and think ‘ahhhhh aren’t babies so cute …..’
*Maternity Ward Bingo – if it’s not a thing, I’m going to invent it – a million dollar idea if ever I’ve heard one!