Postnatal depression, music and me

A weird thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago and because we haven’t had any wi-fi, I haven’t been able to write about it (even though I really, really wanted to.)

Back in July, I was listening to Lauren Laverne on BBC6 Music; as part of the show, she has a weekly feature called ‘Memory Tapes’. I’d been listening to a girl talking about her life and listening to Sigur Ros as she flew over Iceland and I thought maybe I could email in my own memory tape. So I did- and promptly forgot all about it. Except about two weeks later, I got an email back asking if I would be free to be on the show on August 10th. OBVIOUSLY, I said yes.


Source: BBC6Music

My memory tape had been built around Benn and D, specifically songs that reminded me of key moments in my life with both- and I mentioned in my email (it’s on this page here) that I had struggled with PND. Although I’d never been explicit about my struggle with it online, I have been vocal about it away from social media and the blog. I knew that this element interested the producers of the show and I was determined to talk about it openly. So I did. (Despite the aforementioned lack of wi-fi making it bloody hard work to organise the whole thing.)

Now, I’m a massive fan of Lauren and have been for years, so I was dead nervous. Turns out, she’s absolutely lovely and encouraging. It was a bit weird hearing her do radio stuff before my call was cued in, but I tried hard to focus on what was being asked. I talked about how music was the anchor that threaded together my memories of D’s early months-I have huge swathes of stuff that’s forgotten or unknown to me and I can piece them together through a few songs. I spoke about how I knew I was lucky that I had had an excellent health visitor and GP, but that I knew not everyone was so fortunate. I guess I wanted people to know that you can get through it, but that we need to be more open and less dismissive when someone asks for help with their mental health. It took me months to admit that there was something wrong; when I was pregnant, I’d been assessed by a team as to how likely I was to get PND. They had been happy with my prognosis and I felt a bit of a failure when I realised something was up. In fact, I’d gone to the doctor about something else when it all came out. I am so, so grateful that she picked me up so quickly. It meant that it was nipped in the bud relatively early, although I would continue to be on medication until D was nearly three.

The aftermath of the call was slightly surreal; people sent lovely messages to the show which were read out on air and I had loads of supportive tweets. It felt good to talk about something that has been so important and shaped my life not so long ago. I’m fine now, but I know how it felt to not be fine. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Keep asking until you get it. Don’t be fobbed off.

After the call had gone out, I received an email asking if I minded if it went on the website- they’d had a huge response. Of course, I said it was fine. If you want to listen to it, it’s here. (Weirdly, I sound so much like my sister, it’s *creepy*.) I don’t know if it helped anyone, but hopefully it showed that PND is something that can be overcome with the right support. We need to talk about it more openly and make it less taboo to discuss it; to listen when someone asks for help and to notice maybe when they are unable to.

Happy birthday, Charlotte Bronte


Today it’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. As a Yorkshire woman (despite being born in Wales and currently living in Brighton, I have my county written in my bones like Scarborough through a stick of rock) and a literature fan- as well as simply a reader- it feels important to mark this anniversary.

Despite Charlotte not being my favourite of the Brontes- in her letters, I find her to be sometimes maddening and I imagine that she might have been a high maintenance friend- without her, we wouldn’t know anything about her extraordinary family. After all, she was the one who discovered Emily’s cache of poems and overrode both Emily’s furious indignity and Anne’s reluctance to have the work published. She may have been stubborn (and maybe slightly overbearing to her younger sisters?), but she opened up the world of these three isolated women to the rest of us.

It’s because of this anniversary that I’m working my way through all of the Bronte material I can lay my hands on, as part of my self-set Bronte Challenge. I’m currently reading- and enjoying- Jane Eyre, a book I’ve never got on with before. This time, something has clicked, and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because of Jane’s determination to make the best of her life, despite her shortcomings, or the fact that as a woman in my early 30s, I get the mindset that Charlotte herself felt as she wrote the novel aged 31. I used to despair at Jane’s repeated reiteration of her plainness, but having read about Charlotte’s preoccupation with her health (bordering on hypochondria at times, although with siblings perishing around her, not wholly unwarranted) shortness and her teeth, I get where that came from. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Jane Eyre when I was younger. Late to the party? Yes, I guess so. Most of my friends read the novel when they were younger. But I came to it with a more grown up view of the world and it worked for me.

So today, in honour of Miss Bronte, I’ll curl up somewhere with a cup of tea and my copy of Jane Eyre- and I’ll thank her for forcing her sisters to share their work with the world.




“‘Ave you seen ‘er?” On Victoria Wood

An Audience with Victoria Wood, Dec 1988

Growing up, I always knew about Victoria Wood. My mum had her videos and we had a couple of signed books, too. I remember feeling dead grown up, aged about 10, when I was allowed to watch some of her stand-up. Here was a lady, who wasn’t thin or glamorous- but she was funny. Even as a kid, I knew she was unusual.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that she’s had a huge effect on me. As a northern, working-class kid, she talked about things I understood. I even own an orange raincoat (although not a fetching yellow hat to go with it.) My sister and I have been known to say “I’m looking for my friend, Kimberly. ‘Ave you seen ‘er?” to each other. We don’t know any Kimberlys.

In restaurants with slow service, it won’t take long for Benn or I to whisper to the other “Two soups?”

I’ve always felt a bit suspicious about prawns too, thanks to this sketch:

And I remember seeing her programme about tea. Of course.

The thing is, Victoria Wood’s humour was funny and warm; it was grounded in real life and it was never cruel, either. I’ll miss her.



The inhabitant of a ‘post-baby body’ speaks

This last couple of weeks, I have been RAGING at the popular tabloid media. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the media. I studied it, I teach it, I even contribute to it from time to time. But seriously, Media, you have got to stop this obsession with a post-baby body.

When the Duchess of Cambridge came out of the hospital last Tuesday, the fragrant Kay Burley asked: “Why does she still have a bump?”

Kate Middleton Post-Baby Body

Image: The Hollywood Gossip

Um, because she spent nine months growing a baby? (I didn’t have a bump after D was born, incidentally because he was MASSIVE and my waters had broken earlier than my contractions had started, meaning I lost a load of fluid.)

On Wednesday, I saw that Marie Claire were tweeting triumphantly that Fearne Cotton was showing off her post-baby body that had ‘pinged’ back. Oh, how I loathe this phrase. Also, seriously considering a boycott of Marie Claire for promoting such vapid nonsense.

The thing is, it’s highly unlikely that 99% of mothers ‘ping’ back into shape. I know I haven’t. I did lose some weight after having D, but that’s because I live on a massive hill, walk everywhere and am in possession of a gigantic baby who weighs a ton. Of course I was going to lose weight. But once I went back to work and there was little chance of walking and more access to biscuits, I put some of that weight back on (I do, however, possess the most muscular upper arms this side of Jess Ennis.) It’s not rocket science. Those celebrities who ‘ping’ back into shape have money and access to a plastic surgeon, a personal trainer and/or oodles of time to bore themselves to death on a treadmill for the sake of a string bikini in the Maldives when their interestingly named child is two months old. I have neither the wherewithal, money or interest to go down this route. My flab is probably here for a while. Meh.

I thought Kate looked lovely as she left hospital; I couldn’t have managed to look so composed and be so charming 24 hours after giving birth, even with a personal hair stylist. I was torn between sobbing and pretending that I was compos mentis enough so that the nurse would give me codeine to take away the pain. Also, bravo to Kate to walking out of hospital with grace- I could barely hobble to the loo that was ten feet away from my bed.

Since having D, I am aware that my body has changed. I have loose skin, stretchmarks and during the pregnancy he caused havoc with my teeth. I suffered from postnatal depression. Do I regret any of it? Nope. I grew a human, which is pretty cool and that requires my body to change. I’m less hung up on how I look now, because I know there’s a reason for those changes (i.e. baby and chocolate.)


That Lush campaign

So. At the start of the week, I was intending to write a post about my recent experience of using Lush’s Cacao Henna on my hair. (Disclaimer in case anyone thinks I’m already a bad mother: you can dye your hair when pregnant with this stuff, as it’s plant based. I checked.) I had a really good experience with it and have had loads of compliments. I took some Dutch friends to the Brighton store to have a look and bought some bits and pieces for myself- I was all for Lush.

And then this happened. There is a massive trigger warning attached to watching the video, as it shows a female subject forcibly being  victimised and ‘tested on’ the way an animal is. If you don’t want to watch the video (and, having watched it myself, I don’t blame you), it’s basically that two male ‘scientists’ test products on the woman in the window of their flagship store in Regent’s Street, London.

There has been a whole (in my opinion, deserved, although your mileage may vary) hullabaloo about the stunt and Lush has responded with this statement. The questions, for me, that arise from it are:

1) Why did Lush feel it was “it was important, strong, well and thoroughly considered that the test subject was a woman. […]It would have been disingenuous at best to have pretended that a male subject could represent such systemic abuse”? Is this because women buy cosmetics? The thing that this point misses is that ‘cosmetics’ covers everything from toothpaste to shaving foam and I think that those are pretty much unisex products. Also, why was it vital to have a woman in the role of the abused? Why does Lush think that a man wouldn’t have had such an effect? (I’m pretty sure women are probably more informed about the testing that goes on for makeup than men, as we’ve been the target audience for campaigns against it for years.)

2) The campaign was going pretty well already in stores- every time I went in, I was asked to sign the petition and I saw that most customers did. This is a campaign that has been launched across all stores that many people had a lot of goodwill for. If it was as successful as it looked, why launch a PETA-style shock-tactic campaign? This to me just smacks of desperate publicity stunt. How many new signatures did Lush get on the street as a result of this? I bet it’s not that many.

3) Did you not consider the people in the street: for example, children. I’m very anti having anything forced upon me and this seemed hard to avoid. The imagery was violent and disturbing. A lot of feminist sites have pointed out that victims of abuse would also have been effected. So, you know, not everyone shares the views of the company and putting on such a protest that lasted TEN HOURS is kind of extreme.

4) Was it worth the ire that the whole circus has provoked? I’ve read a lot of comments and although some are very-pro what Lush did, an awful lot are against, for whatever reason. I think maybe it’s snowballed a bit out of where Lush thought it would go. There’s a lot of debate about the gender politics of the piece of ‘performance art’, whether all animal testing is bad (I was an ardent animal rights supporter in my teens, but still acknowledged that without animal tests, I wouldn’t be here, due to my mother’s diabetes, which would have killed her), or whether Lush has been naive/arrogant/preaching to the converted/smug. There’s also a LOT of talk about whether to boycott the company. I have to say, I’m torn. I love Lush products, but then again I can get cruelty free elsewhere. I live in Brighton, for goodness’ sake- everything has its vegan equivalent down here.

Overall, I’m sad. I’m sad that a company that had some good intentions has jumped on the odious women-as-campaign-meat bandwagon so adored by PETA. I’m sad that the ‘defence’ was not a defence, but seemed a bit smug. I’ll not be buying from Lush or featuring a Lush product on my blog until some kind of proper acknowledgement/apology is issued.

The problem with women in the media

I thought long and hard before invoking the name of a certain Daily Mail writer who caused a furore this week… I think that Hadley Freeman pretty much wrote the definitive piece on Ms Brick. But it got me thinking about the way women are portrayed in the media and thought that Samantha Brick was a good place to start.

Do I agree that Ms Brick is beautiful? I think she is probably attractive in person, although no more so than most ‘normal’ attractive people and that also she was misguided in a lot of the things she said. I also think that she over-exaggerated some of the things that have happened to her (for example, how does a man in front of her in a queue at a train station know where she’s going in order to buy her ticket?) Do I think the Mail sold her down the river? Absolutely. For example, in the pictures in the piece, the photographer seemed to want to project more Matalan than Milan. I also think that the Mail deliberately decided not to photoshop out various bits of normality from Brick’s body- the bits that are normal in a woman in her 40s. If this was an article about how normal middle aged women look, bravo. But not when the Mail wants people to comment on her relative unattractiveness to cause a story that will run for days and days. So,when it comes to the images used in the article, that’s the paper’s fault.

This is not to say that I think Brick is blameless. Saying that the ‘sisterhood hates attractive women’ is lazy and plays right into the Mail’s anti-woman agenda. She has spectacularly misunderstood that she has been done a number on. (Was anyone else surprised to learn that she made about £30,000 for the two articles that originally appeared?! That’s more than my yearly wage. Still wouldn’t write for them.) The whole thing has read like a parody- and the Mail is rubbing its hands together  in glee. 100 million hits. We’re fuelling its agenda by reading about a woman with self-esteem issues.

But I think the Brick debacle shows us something else about the general media reaction to women. We’re either “worryingly thin”, “dangerously curvy” or judged on the way we look. This is not just the Daily Mail, most media outlets do it every now and then to some degree.

For example, think back to the start of the hacking scandal at the News of the World. Whose appearance was commented on? Was Andy Coulson referred to as an odd-looking chap? Nope. The whispers and sniggers were aimed at Rebekah Brooks and, later, after pie-gate, Wendi Deng.

Brooks’ picture was used to illustrate the story more than the men involved. There were snide jokes, or off-the-cuff remarks about her hair (described by Vanity Fair as a “pile of red, ringleted hair”.But no-one breathlessly commented on James Murdoch’s hair. I bet he was gutted.) So why did Brooks attract attention? Because of her position in a mainly male dominated top flight career. She has also been described in masculine terms: ‘ruthless’ and ‘ambitious’ are words often used to describe her. Because we all know that if you want to get ahead, you need to act like a man. I don’t agree with what Brooks is alleged to have allowed to happen, but that doesn’t mean I agree with how the media has portrayed her. She’s the calculating bitch to Brick’s daft ditz.

Talking of ditzes, this leads nicely into one of the stories that really gets my goat at the minute. Jessica Simpson’s pregnancy. For some reason, Jessica Simpson is an easy target for the American media. She has said some stupid things (like on her reality show ‘Newlyweds’, when she asked whether tuna was really chicken…) She was also blamed for a then-boyfriend’s poor performance on the football field. Her weight is a constant issue and now she’s pregnant, it’s exploded.

The thing I really like about her is that she has a really great sense of humour and an awareness of the ridiculousness of the whole situation. Simpson is big, but says she’s carrying a lot of fluid. She’s also admitted to odd cravings (deep fried Oreos anyone?) But this has led to tabloid commentators saying she’s ‘too’ big and one doctor, who doesn’t treat Simpson labelling her as ‘an absolute porker’. So what gives this doctor the right to say this? The fact that the media is encouraging her to. Tracie Egan Morrissey over on Jezebel– a new mum herself- wrote why this is wrong. We live in a society where women are encouraged not to put too much weight on during pregnancy; this is initially dressed up as “oh, you don’t want to suffer health problems” (laudable) but in the media is reduced to “But think of the weight! How will you get back to your pre-baby weight in two weeks if you eat crisps?!” Simpson is already  in talks to be the new face of Weight Watchers after the baby is born. This just depresses the hell out of me, because she’ll be on a diet as soon as she’s out of the delivery room and surely that should be the last thing on your mind after giving birth?

To be honest, I’m bored of the constant media need to compare women. It’s a bullying tactic designed to make women feel insecure and undermined. The question is, how do we counteract it?

Oh, and don’t even get me started on the film critics who said Jennifer Lawrence was ‘too fat’ and ‘too womanly’ to play Katniss in The Hunger Games.

“I’m not a feminist, but…”

A pet peeve of mine is when someone (usually female) says, “Oh, I’m not a feminist but…” and then rails against some indignity. When did feminism become a dirty word? If you believe that human beings are equal regardless of gender, you’re pretty much a feminist. You may not be a feminist of the placard-carrying, writing to politicians variety, but you do hold feminist views. That is not a bad thing.

By decrying feminism, we are turning our backs on our mothers, grandmothers, great-grandmothers and anyone else who fought for such rights as the right for all to vote, the right to decide whether or not to have a family, the right to work and so on. As the writer Linda Grant wrote on her revealing International Women’s Day twitter feed, “Whatever rights you have are because feminists went out and grabbed them for you. Feminists, not shoe designers or chocolate manufacturers.” If you are a woman who works, has an education, takes the Pill and votes, you have feminists to thank.

Although I was brought up in a family with strong feminist leanings, I became a self-identifying feminist in my early twenties, oddly enough through knitting. I had just moved to Brighton and my aunt taught me to knit in the hope that I would make some friend (not that I’m anti-social, but I didn’t know anyone when I moved here.) Through learning to knit, I discovered Debbie Stoller, who not only wrote the beginner knitter’s bible, but also edits the feminist magazine Bust. My conscience was awakening and I devoured everything I could on what it meant to be a modern feminist and I’ve since gone on to write for feminist websites and magazines. Interestingly, when I wrote about crafting and feminism last year, I was roundly, viciously criticised by someone on my Facebook page for not writing about ‘serious’ issues relating to the treatment of women in Saudi Arabia… a bit random, considering that I had been asked to write a fun piece about something I knew lots about. Of course, there are serious issues in feminism which we should all work towards eradicating, but sometimes, even feminists have to have fun. Although, as the great Suzanne Moore said recently, “The thing about being a feminist is you never run out of people to disappoint.” I guess I disappointed someone on that day.

I am proud to be a feminist. I am a skirt-wearing, lipstick-applying, writing-to-my-MP feminist. I think that everyone, regardless of the genitalia they were born with, should be paid the same money for doing the same job. I think that men should have more rights when it comes to paternity leave. I think that women and girls around the world should be equal to their male counterparts. I wish we didn’t live in a society where the sexualisation of young girls is commonplace. There is still so much to do.

Happy International Women’s Day.