Dear Anna


Dear Anna,

How are you? I hope this finds you well and you’ve not been caught too unawares by the social media storm your article in today’s Daily Mail has caused. I somehow suspect you haven’t.

I took a moment to google you after reading your piece and spent some times reading some blog posts on your website, and skimming your Twitter feed. All in the name of research, you see (and for the avoidance of doubt that is spelled R E S E A R C H and is defined as the systematic investigation into a study of materials and sources in order to establish facts and reach new conclusions, NOT take a couple of sentences completely out of context and use them to support lies and misinformation to further your own agenda).

It appears you enjoy Strictly Come Dancing, dislike Katy Hopkins and think Jeremy Hunt is a bellend – so far so good. But then you had to go and spoil it all.

To be honest I’m struggling to decide what motivated you to write the article – I suppose only you will really ever know but these are my best guesses:

  1. You really believe what you say and want to extend a comforting arm of support to those who are miserable because they absolutely love motherhood. They can’t figure out how to press unfollow on the social media feeds and blogs of the women you feature so you’ve written your piece as an act of solidarity.
  2. You made different choices to the women you featured, and feel threatened that they are doing things differently.
  3. You are jealous because they are more successful writers than you.
  4. The Daily Mail contacted you and paid you an incomprehensible sum of money to write the article and compromise your own believes – SO much money that you’d have been a mug to turn it down.
  5. You really need the £50 – £150 The Daily Mail usually pay for articles like this one.
  6. This is a cynical publicity stunt to market your book – by throwing these women under the wheels of the bus (go round and round) you can (this little) piggy-back (goes to market) on the outrage of their combined hundreds of thousands of social media followers and perhaps pick up a few sales.

As I’ve already said, only you will ever know the truth about why, but one thing I can say for certain is YOU’RE WRONG.

You’re wrong to call them “bordering on neglectful” and accuse them of “dimwit narcissism” . You’re wrong to call them deceitful, arrogant, and suggest that none of them have ever experienced or expressed “a sense of wonder about their baby”. You’re wrong simply when you say their target audience is “mostly new mothers”.

Either you really haven’t done your research, or you don’t care that these accusations are untrue. Neither of these scenarios suggest to me you have the right to any moral high ground.

But beyond the startling hypocrisy of telling women to “pause in their feverish mockery of motherhood” while you single out some brilliant mothers for verbal abuse that borders on slander, there is a more insidious narrative behind your words.

The narrative you suggest where “having a new baby is a gift” that some women never get to have, that is “precious” and “should be cherished” isn’t untrue but to suggest it should be the only narrative is dangerous.

It is irresponsible to suggest that a woman, who is not enjoying the early days, is suffering the psychological and physical impact of a traumatic birth; perhaps her relationship is under strain and she lives many miles away from her family; or maybe her baby has reflux and rarely sleeps longer than an hour at a time and is always crying when he/ she is awake, should put up and shut up, and be grateful for what she has.

Just a few days ago the tiny corner of the world wide web that I inhabit was awash with messages of solidarity and support about Maternal Mental Health. As a woman who suffered enormously with post-natal anxiety, flashbacks, dark thoughts and a general desire to escape my life following the birth of my daughter, your venomous dismissal of women who have done so much to open the closed doors behind which many a mother has sat and cried, is offensive.

And in response to your token defence of mothers who didn’t struggle like I did, the mothers you describe as feeling patronised by the alleged suggestion “that a home cooked meal, laundered baby clothes and clean nappies are beyond the wit of most mums”, consider this – they are not the ones trawling the internet at 3am desperately seeking reassurance that they are normal for wanting to scream FUUUUUCK OOOOOFF everytime their 2 week old baby’s gums clamp solidly round their bleeding, blistered, thrush-infected nipples.

They are happy with their lot. They have everything they “ever dreamed of”, as did you. So why the determination to pit those women against these?

Rule 1 of the sisterhood, Anna, is that you can’t defend one group of women by attacking another – it just doesn’t work like that.

So put your faux-concern aside, let’s lever those judgey pants right out of your crack and kick them off from around your ankles, I’m sure they must be keeping you up at night (and we all know how sleepless nights can make one a little nutty). Just give yourself and other women a break and even you Anna, are welcome to sit with us.

But should just one mother read your article and feel guilty and alone with any negative thoughts and feelings she is having then I sincerely hope your sleep is disrupted and your fanny feels on fire for eternity.

But that’s ok because you’re #grateful, right?

Yours faithfully flipping the middle fish finger,

Nicola Washington.

PS.

 

Do I really need to explain why?

Weddings are torture on the trotters. From 12pm onwards we women teeter on the front two inches of our feet waiting for the ceremony to begin. After the ceremony is the mingling, and then, several agonising hours later is the dancing. And for most female guests, all of this is done in that most debilitating stalwart of sartorial grace, high heels.

These days my feet are mainly found swathed in Nike’s finest and are definitely not high-heel-hardened. Predictably therefore, at last week’s family wedding I found my self sitting on a sofa in the corner of the marquee by 9.30pm.

There I was doing the jerky-head-nodding-full-body-jigging “dance” beloved of all those who have fallen foul of uncomfortable footwear but who don’t want to look like the only person not having fun at the fiesta – “I’m not the moody one,” your pathetic rhythmic patting of your knees says, “It’s just that my feet really fucking hurt” – when I struck up conversation with the couple next to me.

We exchanged the usual pleasantries, “How do you know the bride/ groom?… Have you travelled far?… Hasn’t the day been wonderful?” and when the pyjama-clad BSCB scampered over and began to clamber all over me, talk soon turned to our respective children.

The couple were accompanied by their 8 year old daughter and as we chatted, they said that they would be leaving soon as it “wasn’t fair” on their daughter to stay out much longer.

At this point I paused in my pitter-patter to reflect on what to say next as there, snoozing on the sofa next to mine, was The Eldest. She was sleeping off the catastrophic crash that had followed the heady heights of hyperactivity following extreme sugar-consumption at the Candy Bar. Meanwhile directly in front of where we sat, now dancing around like a punch-drunk Uncle Fester, was the Bat-Shit-Crazy-Boy in all his bat-shit-crazy glory. A belly full of contraband candy courtesy of The Eldest, and turbo-wired with over-tiredness, sleep was still another hour-and-a-half away for him and teetering on the brink of that disaster, it dawned on me that I was the unfair parent.

Until that point I had been perfectly happy with our plan to stay out until the kids crashed, and then have a drink and a dance while they slept. It was the first time we had attempted it and I had congratulated myself for moving so far past the anxious, crippling hyper-vigilance of my early days of parenthood. It hadn’t even occurred to me that other people might see our plan as unfair, selfish or even irresponsible.

That other people might judge.

To be completely fair, to judge is to be human. But what I was so in fear of at this moment was someone being judgemental – that horrible excessive criticism that positions one person as another’s superior. And this fear was surely justified because nowhere is this pattern of behaviour more prevalent than in the world of parenting.

Bottle vs boob; co-sleeping vs cot; sleep-training vs sleep-deprived-hallucinating; baby-led weaning vs choo-choo-spoon steaming, the fashion for pitting parents, and particularly mums, against one another has been around longer than Kate Moss’s favour for fringing.

And as soon as one mum reveals her position as a dedicated baby-wearer, another only-by-buggy-swearer feels an implicit criticism of her choices abides, and seeks to justify her decision. Unfortunately, perhaps because motherhood is so personal, it seems that once a woman becomes a mother her opinions only seem to become stronger, and like aging cheese, some start to whiff a little.

Before one mum can crack open an Ella’s Pouch and confirm that Four Bean Stew tastes like farts, she realises that over there at the Baby-Led-Weaning table they are ducking direct hits from fistfuls of falafal while casting sideways glances. These mums explain their respective choices in a pretence of genial acceptance, but instead of clearing murky waters the competing heartfelt justifications lead us ever closer to that bitchy-mean-girls-you-can’t-sit-with-us attitude, that was a bit rubbish when we were all in the playground and has now taken on a stink of municipal dump proportions.

But sometimes I just wonder if the strength of all this opinion actually comes from a place of insecurity. Despite all our self-assured proclamations, the truth is that even the most vocal amongst us know that we don’t have all the answers.

As such we constantly worry that we are getting it wrong and wonder if others making choices different to our’s are the ones who are getting it right. So when we chance upon someone choosing to feed their baby nothing but “clean” food, have them wearing nothing but ethically sourced 100% organic cotton clothing, or who has decided not to teach their child to say “please” and “thank you” until they know the full meaning of the words (feel free to insert whatever emoji you feel would be appropriate at this point), we feel all of the threat.

We end up wondering if other people are simply doing “it” better than us. Thus the resultant inner-monologue of questions and comparison provokes us to shout a little too loud, a little too forcefully, and a touch too fiercely in defence of our own decisions.

At the wedding, I’ll admit that my twitchy-bitchy-trigger-finger was quivering over an arsenal of ammunition to justify our choice – “Of course this is way past their usual bedtime… we don’t want to be too strict with their routine… routine is important, but so is flexibility… We’re making memories (cringe)”. But contained in these words were implicit judgements of my own – “You’re being too strict… you’re too restrictive… you need to lighten up… your daughter won’t be able to adapt…” and ultimately I realised, it’s all nonsense.

Whereas feeding a day-old baby Ribena, or blowing smoke in a newborn baby’s face while adjusting the car seat straps are both (real-life) examples of piss-poor-parenting that quite rightly should be (gently) challenged, too much of the noise around what we should or should not be doing is unwelcome interference blurring the bigger picture: that we are all just doing our best.

When Convenience-Food Carol* chooses to feed her children fish fingers for the third day in one week, Clean-Eating Chloe* from down the road does not need to know that she prefers to spend time outdoors rather than tethered to the Tefal, because the stimulation of carrying sticks around and posting mud into the under-buggy basket being in nature is so very important for the healthy development of the small people.

And Clean-Eating Chloe does not then need to counter that she chooses to cook from scratch because avoiding the chemicals contained in processed foods is so very important for the healthy development of the small people.

Do you see? Ultimately, they are both interested in the development of their small people and surely that is all that matters.

When I am asked by friends who are about to board the crazy bus of parenthood, what tips I have to divulge, my answer is always, don’t be fucking ridiculous, have you read my blog? don’t do things because someone has too you, you “should” – do the things that make sense to you. There is no one way to do this parenting thing “right”, there is no magic formula.

Instead there are only your priorities, your beliefs – there is only your way, and you don’t ever need to explain why.

 

*names were chosen purely for alliterative purposes. I am sure there are clean eaters called Carol, and there are plenty of Chloes who enjoy a dirty burger from the van in B&Q’s carpark. Please don’t be offended if your name is Chloe or Carol.