30 September 2009

Working mums are bad mums

Welcome to this week's first cautionary tale.

Headlines are blazing upon the announcement of data from a UK study declaring "Working mothers' children unfit". What do they mean? Oh well, that apparently women who work more than 20 hours per week end up with fat, lonely and basically maladjusted 5 year olds.

And they didn't even bother to look at the male partners because they decided that the women's working hours fluctuated more. Professor Catherine Law, who led the study, is careful to state that this study does not mean that women should not work, rather parents need to be better supported. But seriously. This is the same research group that found that children are more likely to be overweight by the age of 3 if their mothers work. These results will inevitably be used against women in some form or another.

Sally Russell, a spokesman for Netmums, said: "The stress and guilt associated with being a working mum is something we are all too well aware of. This report adds to that guilt.

"With many more mums having no choice but to work these days and with government policy actively encouraging it, it is difficult to know how mums can do better. "

We should be applauding mothers for returning to work and managing their households and not 1) not punishing them for working out of desire or necessity or 2) pitting women who work and women who do not work in paid employment against one another. This research, whether it was intented or not, only fuels already entrenched debates about motherhood and who is a 'good' mum and who is a 'bad' mum.

Jenna Jameson is not just a porn star.

You have been warned. Oh and she wants you to know that she's not just a porn star.

28 September 2009

News you can use

Monday news roundup:

The Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada says a C-section should not be offered to a pregnant woman unless there is a valid medical reason to perform one. But, a University of British Columbia study found that 2 per cent of obstetricians were in favour of a woman's right to choose a C-section for herself, even in the absence of a medical indication.

Speaking of caesars, Charlotte Church says giving birth naturally was pretty rough: "It's absolutely, disgustingly horrendous.It's shocking I tell you that. I had both babies at home, two home births, just with gas and air. It was horrendous. I mean it was amazing and awesome and crazily whatever, a completely different experience but you know, I might do it again because I'm a little bit of a sadist that way."

Over in supermodel preggo land, the maternity style wars were on as Heidi Klum and Gisele Bundchen tooled around town with their bumps in all their glory

In case you missed it, Shiloh Pitt, 3, lost her front tooth. This has prompted such heated internet discussion, forcing Brangelina to issue a press release answering questions about the obvious gap in Shiloh's smile. Most people think Shiloh is too young to start losing teeth, so most of the web is settled on the idea that Zahara either clocked her in the face or she has been eating skittles for breakfast.

Speaking of half-pint celebs, Suri Cruise is not only a style maven for other three year olds, her mother, Katie Holmes points to Suri as her inspiration for her new fashion line she is launching with her stylist Jeanne Yang: "
It has been my dream forever to be in fashion and I'm truly inspired by my daughter Suri. She just loves dressing up so I decided to launch this exciting venture with Jeanne." Um, let's just hope that her new line doesn't include sparkly shell shaped handbags or kitten heels.

Oh, and Nicole Richie has snapped back into her size zeros in just under 2 weeks. Ho Hum.

24 September 2009

Maternal mortality is not sexy enough for the media

Photo credit: Marco Vernaschi, Pulitzer Center

Sometimes being a feminist academic and living in a wealthy industrialised country can screw up your view of the world.

Seriously, hear me out.

I've spent the last few weeks, recovering from a hangover of media blitzing about homebirthing and thinking about where women's interests are really best served when it comes to birth in Australia. It's so easy for me to say (and trust me, I have been) that women should be encouraged to have alternative birthing plans outside of the hospital. At the same time, however, as I teach a university subject about a history of medicine (and I hate myself a little bit for saying this) medicine has done great things for women when it comes to birth.

Don't get me wrong. I've always harbored a healthy skepticism for biomedicine and particularly obstetrics/gynecology. But before I get inundated with a barrage of emails about how evil obstetricians are and what a bad feminist I am, I have to say that each day as I scan the daily news items looking for inspiration for the blank space in front of me, every single day I flick through stories about women dying in birth in the far reaches of the world. Sometimes I write about them and sometimes my mouse keeps moving because I have the luxury (and many of you do as well) to fast forward on from tragedy if I feel like it.

But not today.

Marco Vernaschi, an Italian photographer, started off photographing war but has since moved his focus to maternal health care, particularly in Guinea-Bissau, one of the world's most dangerous places in which to be pregnant. One in eight women die giving birth and babies often don't survive the first two days of their lives.

"Standing in the only operating room in the only medical hospital in all of Guinea-Bissau, Marco Vernaschi watched a nurse take an unsterile needle out of her pocket and, without anesthetic, suture a woman’s vagina after a difficult childbirth. The woman screamed. Mr. Vernaschi took a photograph. Moments later, she was required to walk out of the filthy room and go home."

Vernaschi is now trying to shed light on the absolutely heart wrenching stories of life and death, of both mothers and babies with his photos. As I looked through these images, of women waiting on a dirty floor to give birth, of seeing women on rusty gurneys, babies dead and waiting for burial, it makes me feel very lucky to have the opportunity to live in a country where, even though birthing options are not perfect, at least women have the hope for change.

Hospitals have never been the perfect solution to such a natural process, but living in Australia, we rarely worry about dying from unsterile needles or just from having to wait too long for medical care. Medicine still saves women from pain and death and suffering.

Look at these pictures and thank your lucky stars for your life.

23 September 2009

Suri Cruise: fashion maven

Spotted: Suri Cruise in kitten heels.

The Daily Mail is speculating that our little Suri with the fringe on top is 'growing up too fast'.

At the moment, 65 'news' articles have been written about the sartorial proclivities of the world's most famous (and by the looks of it, fashion-forward) 3 year old.

The style-wars have clearly migrated from realm of celebrity women to their pint-size doppelgangers. Oh, you think I'm kidding?

Child Style magazine has just been launched, and this month's edition features 'couture' Halloween costumes, way too much advertising, and lots of mothers with too much time on their hands.

LeeLee, little kid cravings and lots of exercise

Does anyone remember LeeLee Sobieski? Well, um, she's pregnant and according to Us, she's been having some 'little kid' food cravings:

"I eat less ice cream than I ever did because the baby takes up so much space. Ginger is really good. I kind of want ginger to settle the stomach sometimes and then macaroni and cheese. I kind of like little kid food. I think I like eating what little kids eat."

She's still working out with her trainer which, according to the recently published results of the Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study, is a good thing because the researchers found that first-time mothers who exercised at least three times a week during their pregnancy were less likely to give birth to a baby with excessive birth weight. Women who exercised during pregnancy were also found to decrease their risk of developing pre-eclampsia by 20%.

21 September 2009

Losing weight is a 'cinch': puke

Apparently, losing your baby weight is now a 'cinch' thanks to a modern-day corset thing by Anew that allows post-baby mums to 'look fit' without actually getting 'fit'. Sort of like another expensive version of Spanx so you can shrink your waist and your wallet without actually losing anything in between.

Not sure how I feel about this. The product website has this slogan 'Achieve your balance, Anew your life' sort of implying that if you can have a slimmer waist, somehow your life will be transformed. I think for most women, as 'empowering' as fitting into your pre-pregnancy clothes may be, what really needs to be addressed are the life-altering changes that come with motherhood. It's never really about the weight. The weight is just an easy place to focus your anxiety. A corset isn't going to solve your problems and hiding the extra weight is really only a temporary cure.

Heidi 'letting it all hang out'

"The great thing about being pregnant and going to these things is that I don’t have to suck my stomach in,” the supermodel and Project Runway host told PEOPLE at Los Angeles Confidential’s pre-Emmy party. “It’s fabulous! I can let it all out.”

And let it out she did...in a fabulous party frock just a few weeks out from the birth of her fourth child. I can imagine that being pregnant for a supermodel has to be pretty weird and also liberating. When everyone knows you for your washboard abs and tiny waist, on some level, for women like Klum that have jobs that require that they manage the size of their bodies constantly, it's easy to see why being pregnant would actually be a relief in a way that for most women it really isn't. I wrote about this same idea in an earlier post about Milla Jovovich.
Milla, as many of you know, gained quite a bit of weight during her first pregnancy (70lbs). She often cited her feelings of empowerment and liberation in being able to eat whatever she wanted after a lifetime of having to watch every morsel of food that passed her lips.

Heidi Klum said the other day that she wasn't sure that she would be able to lose her baby weight in time for the Victoria's Secret runway show in December. In her last pregnancy, she had her baby in September and was famously back on the catwalk in two months. For her own sake, I hope that Heidi doesn't push herself back into her knickers just for the satisfaction of her fans. Having a baby is a big deal. She needs to recover in her own time and not according to everyone else's timeline.

In other news, the BBP has been selected for preservation in PANDORA by the State Library of Victoria. PANDORA is an online archive in which selected Australian websites, deemed to be of 'national importance' are preserved and made permanently available to the public for research and reference. Personal sites, like this, are usually only selected if they provide information of significant research value unavailable elsewhere. PRETTY BLOODY EXCITING!

18 September 2009

Bec Hewitt bounces back

Bec Hewitt (wife of Lleyton Hewitt, tennis player) is upheld as the best in body after baby in the last issue of Ok! Australia . What enrages me the most about the article is not necessarily that some editor deemed Bec Hewitt, quite possibly the most uninteresting 'celebrity' ever, but that the magazine suggests that Bec has 'bounce back secrets' which upon reading said 'secrets' are really just weight loss as a consequence of being a busy mother of two children. In fact, when I was reading the article, it made me think of Miranda in SATC in the episode in season 6 where she fits back into her 'skinny jeans'. When the other gals ask her how she did it, she says that she had a baby and no longer had any time to eat. While Ok! seems to pitch Bec's eating/exercise as some kind of 'regimen', in fact, what Bec has done to lose her baby weight is eat healthfully and exercise moderately when she has the time and from appearances, it seems that she is fairly fully occupied with her children. She note that she has some kind of fancy trainer. Whether this admission (or perhaps lack thereof) plays right into the fancy of celebrity motherhood as easy and worry-free is up for debate but what also got me thinking was that her husband's role was pretty much non-existent in her quest to reclaim her body. She mentioned that her brother looked after the kids when she wanted to exercise but the the affective work of caregiving was primarily her own. Mr. Tennis rarely got a mention.

Friday news you can use

I have my finger on the pulse so you don't have to:

Katherine Heigl has a new baby girl she adopted from Korea

Nicole Richie has been spotted kicking around Bev Hills minus her new little bird, looking remarkably svelte just one week post-birth

Jenna Elfman is pregnant with her second in real life and on her show.

Halle Berry is allegedly covering up her second bump...

16 September 2009

This and that!

OMG. You are probably so cross with me for disappearing for a week without warning. Well, let me tell you, it's been one busy week for me and pretty slow week for pregnancy news. I'll save the details for another day and get on with what I do best. Here is a smattering of things on my radar:

So, I'm amused to see the US News and World Report's 7 Strategies for a Successful Maternity Leave. What I find particularly funny (or perhaps ironic?) is that strategising about your maternity leave is really only necessary when you actually have maternity leave. Even more amusing is the tip to 'Find Good Child Care' while you are on maternity leave. If any woman here in Melbourne actually waited until her baby was actually born to work on childcare, no one would have care until the kid was three. Ladies here get on the waiting lists at the first whiff of pregnancy.

And if this isn't a cautionary tale, I don't know what is, in spite of the researcher's warning that the research should not be used to prevent women from choosing to terminate their pregnancies. I can just see the pro-life lobby falling over themselves to find a way to use this new 'risk' to challenge choice.

Australian obs are pissed off with Health Minister Nicola Roxon after accusations that they have been raising their fees as much as 20% by taking advantage of the existing Medicare safety net. Come January, however, Roxon is cutting them off when Medicare refunds are capped. According to new reports, the increase in charges helped turn obstetricians into millionaires with the highest earning 10 per cent of obstetricians now earning $1.8 million a year - $1.1 million of which comes from Medicare. Perhaps another reason to go with a midwife!

And finally, while I'm happy that Kim Clijsters made such a spectacular 'comeback' to tennis this week winning the US Open, I'm annoyed (again) that the fact that she is a mother somehow makes this astonishing victory more astonishing. Clijsters is a great player; why are our expectations so low for women when they rebound from motherhood?

09 September 2009

Danger: Exploding thighs!

Heidi Klum opens up to Page Six about her pregnant body, saying the last month is the worst:

"The last month is unbelievable, how rapidly your stomach goes. It's huge. The thighs, the butt -- everything explodes in the end."

"It's bizarre. Just as it's a miracle that you can grow a human being in your belly, it's a miracle that your body goes back to normal again," she says. "I don't think you ever get back to exactly the way you were, but you do get close. And I'm happy with that. Especially when you see your kid for the first time."

And of course, Heidi isn't worried about regaining her pre-baby body.

07 September 2009

Moral panic Monday!

Oh yes, I love a good cautionary tale.

Once again, young women are being urged to procreate hot on the heels of the Relationships Australia survey that claims three-quarters of generation X (aged 30-39) and Y (18-29) women plan to have children, but only 16 per cent are thinking about having them now. Is it me or does this same moral panic about fertility creep up about every six months? I wrote a bit of a manifesto back in January of this year.

Is it any coincidence that a survey like this, essentially asking women to give up their career aspirations and dreams of a few good years of independence to throw it all in just to have babies at 22?

I think not.

As we approach the mother of all rallys in Canberra this week (yeah, homebirthing!) and all of this current fuss about popping out children, I've been thinking about where feminism fits in the puzzle.

In spite of hard-won changes to Australian women’s legal and political status over the last 30 years, anxieties about pregnancy and motherhood clearly continue to brew in popular culture. Ways of combining motherhood with other feminist aspirations are rarely discussed in the current Australian political climate but become particularly visible when it comes to actually having babies and the way that you have them. Sure, this stupid Relationships Australia survey can somewhat irresponsibly encourage younger women to have babies in theory but in reality, WHERE IS ALL OF THE NECESSARY INFRASTRUCTURE TO SUPPORT MOTHERS?! I mean come on, Australia is still lost in the woods when it comes to paid maternity leave, the maternity system itself is barely surviving and it is now almost impossible to get you kid into childcare within spitting distance of your house. So, I ask you, Relationship Australia, how do you expect young women to be mothers if we continue to live in a culture where motherhood is not valued? What makes me even more insane with rage is that instead of blaming the bloody government for not fulfilling it's obligation to support women as mothers, women often end up blaming 'feminism' (like she was a person) for failing to live up to it's promise that it's easy to 'have it all'. I tend to think that all of this moral panic about fertility may point to a ‘backlash’ against feminism(s) both by the Australian government and women themselves. The government absolves itself by telling women that they are getting to independent and they should be 'good' women and stay at home and have more babies and women complain to each other that climbing the corporate ladder is impossible with 2 kids and a lazy husband.


04 September 2009

The (Pregnant) Body Issue

To raise awareness for National Body Image Week, stars of all sizes celebrate their beautiful bodies by posing in their smalls for the latest issue of Who (on newsstands today), including former TV personality Toni Pearen, now 5.5 months pregnant.

"I've had all-day sickness and all-night sickness but when I get over all the difficulties it is an absolute miracle," Pearen says.

Nice to see pregnancy featured but perhaps a more realistic view would have been more progressive or would speak to the importance of body image on a deeper level. It kind of annoys me that we are supposed to feel really happy that magazines take the time to feature bodies of 'all shapes and sizes' but in reality, these are still celebrity bodies and Pearen is totally glammed up. I mean, seriously, Pearen admits she doesn't wake up in the morning feeling fantastic so it seems kind of strange to position her a la Demi Moore as though pregnancy hasn't changed the way she thinks about her body. And why does she have to be practically naked to be proud of being pregnant? How much do you want to bet she spent the last few weeks agonising over the photo shoot, ensuring her bump looked perfect? And how much photoshopping went into the final result?


03 September 2009

Coffee with a side of naked

What better way to say 'I'm a narcissist' than to release a coffee table book of yourself in various states of undress?

Well, leave it to 8 months preggo Heidi Klum to enhance her already overexposed profile with an ode to herself called (and you'll love this) HEIDILICIOUS.

Sorry, I'm trying to hold the vomit down.

Klum tells LA Confidential Mag: "It’s very naughty. I’ve been shooting with this photographer, Rankin, for seven years, and working with him is fun because he always makes me look different. And he always gets me to take my clothes off for some reason. We’ll do some job, and then he’ll say, “Why don’t we shoot some more things,” and I’ll wind up without anything on."

Wonder if any preggo shots are in here...From the cover, I'm guessing not.

My verdict? FAIL.

02 September 2009

Worrying trend: social inductions

Western Bulldog Brian Lake* has requested that his wife be induced 2 weeks before her due date so that he can 'focus on the finals'.

Since when did it become acceptable for football to trump the birth of your first child? And why on earth would his wife agree to such a preposterous and unnecessarily risky request?

When women are induced, there are given pitocin which is a synthetic form of oxytocin, the hormone that kicks off labour. With induction, there is no gradual build up with contractions become increasingly stronger and more frequent over an extended period of time. Induction essentially sticks women right into the second stage of labour so contractions are strong straight away. Some studies have shown that induction is linked caesareans because when you don't have a gradual build up to get your body used to being in pain, women often will have an epidural because the contractions are so strong straight away. As a result, for some women labour is slowed with the epidural, they can't push as effectively, the baby can become distressed and then needs to be born surgically. There are also considerable risks with induction including brain damage to the baby as a result of lack of oxygen if contractions are too strong or too frequent.

In my mind, unless induction is medically necessary, I can't conceive of how one could justify putting the lives of loved ones at risk. When Adam Gilchrist's** son Harrison had complications after being deprived of oxygen in his induced birth before the 2002 Boxing Day Test, he wondered if the induction was partly to blame. "Looking back, it seems stupid that I got myself into that position. I should have just walked away from cricket for the critical week or weeks, however long it took," Gilchrist wrote in his autobiography True Colours.

What is really worrying is that that having high profile people in the community participate in these sorts of things, it sets a precedent by which it becomes increasingly acceptable to have interventions in birth unnecessarily.

I am befuddled that his wife's obstetrician would consent to doing this. Considering we now live in an age in which patients have power as paying consumers of medicine, is an obstetrician breaching their duty of care to the patient by ceding to the patient's wishes for a scheduled birth (and of course the same argument can be made with regard to elective caesarean)?


*this is an Australian rules football player for those of you who are outside of Oz
**Australian cricket player

01 September 2009

Get paid for getting laid

First there were honeymoons. Then we had the babymoons. Now, we have the procreation vacation.

So, if you're planning to get a bun in the oven, why not get your baby jive on at an island resort?

Why? Because the Westin in Aruba is offering couples a $300 CONCEPTION CREDIT if they get pregnant while staying at the hotel between 1 Sept-19 Dec.

Let's hope the hotel is vigilant when it comes to changing the sheets.

P.S. Have you noticed the new bling on the blog? I'm a Top Health Blogger for Wellsphere.com!
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The Baby Bump Project by Meredith Nash is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.