Monthly Archives: January 2007

So… what’s wrong with this conversation?

When Jamie reached the age of two with a spoken vocabulary of four words and the occasional letter, Barry took him along to the health visitor for advice.  She agreed with us that he was probably just a normal late developer, but referred him to the local nurse who assesses children with speech problems.  There was then quite a delay since the person he needed to see was off sick, but she finally rang us yesterday afternoon.  Barry answered the phone.

She said "Hello.  Can I speak to Mrs V__, please?"

He said "Yes.  Who is that, please?"

She introduced herself as "the nursery nurse".  Barry, a little bemused and wondering whether I’d booked Jamie into a nursery and omitted to tell him, passed the phone over to me, and I worked out straight away who it must be and made the appointment.

Which is fine by me, and I’m happy to have had the chance to speak to her, but… excuse me?  Why not discuss the child’s problems with the parent who answered the phone, regardless of gender?

I know that in the majority of cases it’s going to be the mother who brings the child to appointments, but that’s not true of all families by any means, and I don’t think it’s vanishingly rare for it to be the father.  Surely the appropriate thing to do would have been to check that she actually was speaking to a parent of the child in question and then explain who she was and let Barry decide whether or not this was something for which he wanted to pass the phone to me?  Why assume that just because it’s a child-related matter, it’s the mother’s job?

(Incidentally, one other advantage of this approach would be that it would avoid the errors that are inevitable when you try to guess someone’s correct form of address purely from knowing the name of their child.  She had no way of knowing that I’m actually Dr V. and not Mrs V., so I won’t hold that against her; but she also didn’t have any way of knowing that my surname is the same as my child’s, which is certainly not something you can take for granted in this day and age.  For this reason, when I’m making phone calls to parents whom I know only through having their child as my patient, my normal greeting format for any adult who answers the phone is "Hello, is that Freddy’s dad/mum?" rather than any attempts at guessing at a name.)

Anyway, that’s my stereotyping-in-a-biased-society mini-rant for the day.



Filed under Grr, argh, Here Be Offspring

Storm in a bottle

I’ve been asked for my views on an incident in which Cynthia Mosher, the discussion board administrator for the Mothering site, banned a woman from selling her formula bottles second-hand on the trading forum.  This decision was, Mosher stated, in accordance with the WHO code of practice on promotion and advertising of breastmilk alternatives (which, for those who don’t know, was set up in response to some decidedly
shady practices on the part of formula manufacturers aimed at trying
to get mothers who would be perfectly willing and able to breastfeed to
use formula instead).  The code also, I have now learned, covers containers designed for getting said breastmilk substitutes into babies. (Incidentally, it does not – despite what Mosher states – mention pacifiers.  Not that I could find, anyway.  That seems to be a rather liberal interpretation of ‘teats’ on the part of

This particular interpretation of the code was, apart from any other considerations, a touch ironic.  The bottles in question had in fact been used not to provide a breastmilk substitute but to provide breastmilk itself.  The blogger in question, faced with breastfeeding difficulties that would have had the majority of women reaching for the formula in a heartbeat, had instead become an EP-er – an exclusive pumper.  EP-ing is a near-heroic solution to the problem of wanting to breastfeed but having a baby who, for one reason or another, can’t physically nurse – these mothers actually pump the breastmilk for every feed and then feed it by bottle.  It’s a hell of a job and I am in awe of any woman who manages it, and I can easily see why, after going to these lengths to keep her baby on breastmilk, Estella felt Mosher’s decision to be a slap in the face.

In fairness, I do have to point out that Cynthia Mosher presumably didn’t know the precise history of these particular bottles and was unaware of Estella’s whole EP-ing history, and, thus, her response probably wasn’t intended to be the two-fingers-up-at-EP-ing that it effectively came out as.  I can also see where she’s coming from – we live in a society where, unfortunately, formula-feeding is seen very much as the norm rather than the exception, and this in itself, in a vicious circle, has an unstated but powerful influence on mothers’ decisions over breastfeeding.  I can see the importance of actively trying to counteract this, to change the messages and images permeating the culture.  Within this context, I can see why Mosher might want to keep the Mothering site as a place where breastfeeding is so much the norm that bottles just don’t even put in an appearance.

Having given due and careful thought to these points, I have reached the conclusion that she’s being a narrow-minded jobsworth.

After reading Estella’s post, I read the full Code and some explanatory comments, trying to clarify for myself as much as possible what the Code actually said.  While I recognise that precise interpretation of words like ‘advertising’ and ‘promotion’ in this context is up for debate, it does seem to me that the Code was intended to apply to circumstances where baby product companies are writing advertisements designed to imply that bottles have some sort of non-breastfeeding-related advantage for babies, disregarding possible consequences in the pursuit of their goal of maximising their own profits.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think it was intended to apply to simply making parents aware of a source from which bottles can be purchased.  I don’t think the World Health Organisation or the International Baby Food Action Network actually intended baby bottles to become a controlled substance only purchasable in shady backroom deals between buyers and sellers permitted to communicate with each other solely by exchanging furtive whispers on street corners.

And there’s also another point here that I find quite ironic – namely, the extent to which they’re preaching to the choir. is a powerfully AP-oriented site that bills itself as ‘a magazine of natural family living’.  In other words, it’s pro-breastfeeding in the way that Germaine Greer is pro-women’s-rights.  So what sort of readership can we expect such a magazine to have?  The sort of women who are passionately pro-breastfeeding, highly informed both about the disadvantages of formula and about the pitfalls that lie in wait to trap the unwary would-be-breastfeeder, and determined to continue breastfeeding even in the face of difficulties, that’s what sort of readership.  Precisely the sort of women, in short, whose resolve is not going to crumble purely because a passing advert reminds them of the existence of bottles.

It’s possible, of course, that Mosher seriously thinks that her readers are so incapable of making their own informed choices on the subject that they do indeed need to be shielded from any mention of Those Objects Not To Be Named, and that going along with this sort of nannying is ultimately in everyone’s best interests.  It’s a lot more likely that her thinking didn’t go much beyond a quick "formula Bad, WHO code Good" that left no room for the possibility that a code worked out in response to interactions between large professional companies and poorly-educated, vulnerable women living in poverty might possibly be somewhat less appropriate or applicable in different situations. 

But I also have to wonder how much of it was about snobbery.  Bottles?  Well, we don’t have any of those nasty artificial things here.  Not on our nice forum.  We are Not That Sort Of Mother.  Mosher may or may not have intended her caveat as an insult to EP-ers and to other women who’ve used bottles for any reason, but I agree with Estella on this one – that’s sure as hell the end result.


Filed under Grr, argh, Milky milky

OK, OK, I can take a hint

The other week, I was on the phone to an old friend whom I haven’t been in contact with for several months and who has, in the interim, completed much of a pregnancy that was as yet undiscovered at the time of our last meeting.  As you can imagine, we had quite a lot to talk about, and when I noticed an unmistakable odour wafting from my son’s nether regions I was in no great hurry to break off the conversation.

"I’ll have to go in a minute or two," I told her, "but we can talk for a bit longer.  He never seems to mind too much about having a pooey nappy, so I’m sure he’ll wait for a bit, and he’s running off to do something else anyway… waaaait a minute."

Jamie had in fact been running off not in order to explore some new and exciting bit of the world, as I’d initially assumed, but to grab the changing mat and drag it into position.

"I suppose I’d better go after all," I told my friend, said a rapid goodbye, and headed towards Jamie, who was now busy trying to get the nappy bin open.

I’ve been wondering how long I can get away with putting off the whole messy business of toilet training, and now I think I’ve got the answer; I’ll just train him to change his own nappies instead.

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Nostalgia’s not what it used to be

I’ve always been someone who gets nostalgic at the drop of a hat ("Ah, the memories that brought back of hats I have seen drop in the past!"), so New Year’s has always been an important date to me – the time when one is officially meant to reminisce about what’s happened since last year and the ways in which things have changed, along with musing on what the upcoming year might be hoped and/or expected to bring.  Oh, boy, do I do that.  Normally, I wallow in a level of introspective nostalgia that almost has me disappearing up my own dropped hat.

However, this year I was pleased to realise that I seem to be getting a tad more laid back about the whole thing.  Instead of obsessing about finishing all my musings in time to write a formal farewell to 2006 and get all worked up about leaving the year behind, my level of reaction was more like "Cool!  Midnight!  Time to watch the fireworks."  In fact, the part of the whole deal that stirred me by far the most was the four-day weekend.  (I don’t go into work on Tuesdays, which is highly pleasant on any week but particularly good on Bank Holiday weeks – I get the double bonus of four days off in a row and missing the worst of the post-Bank-Holiday rush back at work.)  So, I got four wonderful days off work, and I got caught up on sleep, and on the Journal Backlog Pile, and on some e-mailing and blogging, and got a couple of letters written that I’d been meaning to write, and a bit of my ironing dealt with, and some general relaxation time, and, oh, yes, somewhere in the middle of all this a new year started.  So, this was all pretty cool.

What was also pretty cool was that Barry’s parents came to visit for the weekend, thus meaning that we could enjoy having someone take the baby off our hands the pleasure of their company without having to drive for hours in order to do so.  We went to the park on New Year’s Eve morning, and watched Jamie running around and climbing and bouncing and jumping, and then on New Year’s Day the two of them went out for a walk in the nearby field and took Jamie with them.  The first thing he did, when we let him out in the back garden, was to get his little watering can and start trying to water the plants with it, busy and satisfied and absorbed in his work the way he always is. 

I watched him go as he toddled away with Nana and Granddad, in his Thomas the Tank Engine wellies he got for Christmas with the flashy lights he loves, and his khaki-green outdoor coat with that snuzzly-looking furry-edged hood.  I don’t know exactly what it is about the sight of him running round in that coat that makes my heart feel so full with contentment that one drop more would make it overflow; I think it’s the way he looks so big in that little-boy way.  I used to dress him up warmly because he was so little and helpless.  Now I dress him up warmly so that he can go out and explore the world.  It was one of those moments when of just standing there and savouring my overwhelming good luck in life.  My good luck in having such a wonderful son, and my good luck in having someone to take him off my hands for half an hour so that I could get a bit of a break.

A little later, after they’d got back and after I’d changed Jamie out of a very muddy pair of trousers, my mother appeared bearing food and gifts – the latter coming under attack by Jamie even before we’d brought them all through into the living room.  Jamie’s main present from my mother was an electronic piano keyboard – a present that she’d cleared with me in advance and that I’d happily agreed to, given his passionate love of anything with buttons and anything that he can make do something, such as make a noise.  What neither my mother nor I had realised was that, since this keyboard wasn’t designed for toddlers but, rather, for people who actually play keyboards, the default volume was at a setting that could best be described as "Large noisy hall", and, for a household living room, it was a bit much.  It could of course be turned down, but it took Jamie an astonishingly short space of time to realise that all he had to do was turn the keyboard off and then on again in order to put the volume back to the initial ultra-loud level.  By the next morning, the keyboard had been stowed behind the Christmas tree, a place from which it did not find its way out for some time.

Jamie also got a set of Little Bear books, which he absolutely loves, and I got some books which I’d asked for, and we gave my mother her presents – a National Trust gardening calendar, a crocus bulb in a pot for growing, and a set of super-duper fancy cookie cutters as a present from Jamie, to include, hopefully, many happy hours of grandmother-grandson time using them.  Then my mother cooked up a storm providing us all with a delicious lunch, and, after that had been eaten and Jamie settled down for his nap, she and I embarked on the next book in the Harry Potter series, which I’ve been reading her chapter by chapter for the past several years – an endeavour which has been a lot slower since Jamie has reached the actively mobile stage, since I don’t really think Harry Potter in the style of Joyce Grenfell would be the way I’d want to do things and thus we can only get the reading done in those extremely infrequent moments when not only are we visiting her or vice versa, but when Jamie’s asleep and we’re both awake.  Such a moment occurred on New Year’s Day, and we made the most of our chance to read the first chapter of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.  It was an excellent start to the New Year.

After all this, I got back to work on the Wednesday to discover that the reason we’d been so busy the previous week in the few days between Christmas and New Year wasn’t just, as I had thought, because this is always a busy time of year (the extra burden of illness due to winter, combined with the backlog from the extra days off), but because one of the doctors was off sick.  Two of the receptionists were off as well, including the one who normally handles the repeat prescription system – one of the others covered for her, but, since she hasn’t had the extra training to know that, for example, when someone orders Zoton it does actually mean the Lansoprazole listed on their repeat list, this meant that a lot more of the requests had to be printed out by us instead of just signed.  One more thing to add to the workload. 

All of which is why this post is so late to appear – I haven’t had any time to post at work, and when I get home in the evenings I’ve just been too tired.  Even though everyone has been back at work for a good couple of weeks now, and, even though the general workload has now dropped from ‘run ragged’ to ‘general winter busy-ness’, I’m still trying to catch up with the backlog that accumulated in that time.

But I did feel a lot better for having had an excellent New Year’s.  And to round it off, we went to my mother’s house the following weekend for Christmas, Installment 3, so that we could meet up with my sister for further exchange of presents and good wishes.  Jamie got even more books, and my sister got me a new bag that I’d needed for work, and I got her book tokens, as she’d finally given this as her heart’s desire after giving up on trying to think of anything else after I’d pestered her for a Christmas list for the half-dozenth time.  I got her Amazon gift vouchers, having been assured by Barry that if you buy vouchers from Amazon they would post a proper certificate that I could give to Ruth, and only discovered after 11 p.m. on the evening before we were due to set off to Mom’s that, in fact, what they send is a gift code in a standard e-mail that’s addressed to the recipient of the voucher.  This was slightly less snazzy than I’d been hoping for, so, since I wanted to give my sister something to unwrap that looked marginally more exciting than a printed-off e-mail to herself, some frantic last-minute searching of the Internet for appropriate certificate designs ensued.  However, I did manage to find rather a nice one, so I put her gift code on that with a message and printed it off to bring with us for her present.  And, although my mother and I didn’t manage any more Harry Potter, the cookie cutters did get a try-out (while I took full advantage of my mother entertaining Jamie in order to nap).


Looking back on 2006, my overriding impression is that it was a good year.  As soon as I look in more detail, I can see that a certain amount of parental amnesia seems to have gone into that conclusion; this was the year of Jamie’s most difficult toddler period, the time when the ratio of common sense to mobility is at its lowest, and most of what I remember about the details is a sort of blur of frustration and irritation and no-Jamie-don’t-do-that.  But, somehow, looking at it from this distance and taking the longer view, that’s not what I see.  What I see is a year in which my wonderful, healthy son made huge strides in growing up.  I’ve said it before, but somehow I can’t stop saying it again – Jamie has been turning into a proper little boy instead of a baby, the fledgling person emerging just that little bit more with every passing month until I find myself looking back and marvelling at how far we’ve come.  For that, it was an amazing year.

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Filed under Family values, Here Be Offspring