Tuesday, 2 May 2017

37 Weeks Pregnant And A Little In Denial

I've been pretty absent from the blog for a while for a combination of reasons. Some of these were simply practical. We've just finished a building project in our house, it's great but has meant every single room was in chaos. Combine sorting that out with two kids, a job and needing to go to bed at 8pm every night as I'm so tired and nothing much else has got a look in.

I think there may be another reason though, if I'm honest I've been a little in denial about this whole baby thing. Now I've passed the 37 week mark I should probably try to get over that.

When we started trying for number three, I'd expected to get pregnant very quickly as I had done with both MissE and MissM. But the months dragged on and I was beginning to resign myself to it not happening. Then, almost a year ago I found out I was finally pregnant only to have that excitement crushed by a miscarriage that dragged on for weeks.

When I got those two little lines again, only six weeks after the previous pregnancy was finally, surgically, ended. I didn't dare celebrate. This time an early scan shouted out good news. The little flicker of a forming heart appearing on the screen as soon as the ultrasound wand was placed on my belly. No searching around in a black void, no uncomfortable internal ultrasound. The twelve week scan showed everything to be just as it should be too but, unlike my first two pregnancies, I didn't feel like putting up a facebook post or writing about it all on here. It still felt too fragile, too risky.

We told close family and, because I work in a biohazard lab, my manager and health and safety team. But I held off spreading the news more widely until after the 20 week scan, by which point people would probably have guessed from looking at me anyway. As far as my poor abdominals are concerned, resistance is now futile.

Even now, I'm finding it hard to believe that I am full term pregnant, everything is going well and the C section is booked in less than two weeks from today. I've been pregnant for most of the last year, with two almost back to back first trimesters. Being pregnant is now my normal state, So it's strange that it will be ending so definitely and so soon.




But of course it will and today is the first time I have sat down with a cup of tea, no kids, no work and no massive to do list. I'm finding it hard to take on all the advice to relax but I probably should. It just took me almost forty minutes to walk a little over a mile and I'm waking up several times each night with the all too familiar hip pain I remember from before MissE and MissM were born. I should probably be making a concerted effort to get over that denial.

But then, although it has taken a long time to get this far, It's been even longer since I had an actual newborn to care for. MissM is almost four and half. Somewhere in the depths of my patchy memory I seem to think it's quite hard work, but maybe I'm just misremembering that.

I've done it all twice before. This baby is going to sleep and feed perfectly.

So it'll be easy this time right?

Right?

(No, it's not just a river in Egypt)

SBx





Monday, 6 March 2017

Thinking About Birth, Third Time Around


I've been awaiting the invention of fetal teleportation for more than seven years now. I mean seriously world, I can instantly access all of human knowledge, every pop song ever recorded and eleventy zillion cat videos all from this slab of metal on my lap. But when it comes to the seemingly minor task of moving a baby a few centimeters from the inside of my abdomen to the outside I have only two options, and I'm not a big fan of either.

But the baby is there (and making it's presence felt through the medium of enthusiastic capoeira as far as I can tell) so those crucial centimeters must be traversed somehow and THAT decision has to made again.

So here's a bit of a catch up, or a compare and contrast if you like, from my currently lofty view of hindsight and denial:

Birth thoughts, baby 1:

I will have a natural birth, with no drugs and no interventions. Unless it gets really really bad but seriously how likely is that right? I'm young, I'm healthy I'm six foot tall! I've done yoga class AND NCT AND hypnobirthing, I've totally got this. I'm so not one of those people who wimps out cause it hurts a bit and ends up with a C section or something.

Birth thoughts, baby 2:

So, that was horrific.

I don't want another C section. I don't want another long, long labour. I don't want to have to recover from both those things, at the same time, while also trying to look after a baby and a toddler. How the hell does that even work? Why the hell has the teleportation thing not happened yet? Can I just be put under general now and woken up with the baby is two?

I should have a VBAC and prove I can do it after all. But what are the odds it'll work? WHY ARE THERE NO GOOD STATS ON THIS? What if it doesn't work and it's all like last time, or worse than last time? The only way to avoid an emergency C section is to have a planned one right? Ok, Deep Breath.

Birth thoughts, baby 3:

This time THAT decision started out harder but ended up very straightforward. MissM's planned C section was a wonderful experience compared to the emergency finale to MissE's birth. It was both physically and psychologically healing, sorting out a lot of the scar tissue and adhesions that had left me weak and doubled over for my earliest weeks of motherhood first time around and leaving me, not just upright but able to actually enjoy having a new baby. I hadn't really thought that was possible for me.

But it wasn't easy. The recovery still hurt like hell and I spent several months fist clenchingly frustrated by my own lack of exercise but utterly physically exhausted if I did almost anything. I looked on in awe and envy as other mums were out in the park with their toddlers and babies only days, or weeks after the birth.

So, for a while I was tempted to give that whole natural, or at least vaginal, birth thing another go.

But then I had my first obstetricians appointment.

Right up front here this is not a story about a Doctor trying to scare a mum into a medical birth. When explained my thoughts this time the first thing the doctor did was say that they would absolutely support me to have a vaginal birth. But, there was a but.

It seems that, in addition to the known repairs I'd had last time, the area around the scar in my womb was very thin. The surgeon had only been able to put in one layer of stitches, rather than the two that is normal. So the resultant scar, the one that will have to stand up to months of pregnancy and hours, perhaps days, of labour is a bit flimsy. There is a risk that whole thing could come apart putting both me and the baby at considerable risk or, at the very least, resulting in major blood loss and very rapid surgery.

Of course it would probably all be fine and even if it wasn't I'd be in a bloody awesome hospital that could probably cope with it.

But it's an odd situation, there are, again, no good stats so all I have is those probablys and I've never been a big fan of probably.

So the decision became very easy, even though the doctor insisted they would still support a vaginal birth if I wanted.  I don't want to be worrying about the what if's of labour for the rest of this pregnancy, I don't want to be in labour, attached to monitors, unable to move and in constant fear of what the next contraction could bring. Even if it was all fine in the end and all that could buy me the easier recovery I'd love.

My last pregnancy ended at ten weeks with nothing to show for it put a few more pounds around my waist and a pile of anxiety held over for this time. So I'll have another planned C section, I'll put up with the pain and the immobility and, no doubt, the judgement. But, hopefully, I'll bring this baby home safe with me in a fit(ish) state to care for it. I'll never have a natural birth but, where once I would have grieved for that, now I find I'm actually ok with it. I'm in control of my body and my choices and I'm very grateful for that.

I'd still prefer the teleport though, seriously, she cannae take any more.




SBx

Friday, 20 January 2017

I will March With My Daughter


I will march with my daughter.
Because when I hold her hand, it's not so small as it used to be
and I can't hold it forever.

I will march with my daughter.
Because she can go to school and feed her fizzing mind
while so many can't, because they happen to be girls.

I will march with my daughter.
Because someday soon men will shout judgement on her body
and she will learn to ignore, placate, walk faster.
Pretend not to notice, "fucking bitch"

I will march with my daughter.
Because she may want to drink and dance with her friends one day. Just dance,
Not shrug and accept that there are prices for fun if you're female.

I will march with my daughter.
Because one day she may fall in love, and it shouldn't matter who that person is.
Only that she need never fear them.

I will march with my daughter.
Because she should do any job she chooses and works for, for the same money, for the same effort, as any man.
And not be passed over for a theoretical pregnancy.

I will march with my daughter.
Because she, and all women, must be able to choose when they become mothers,
and if.

I will march with my daughter.
Because one day she will be a middle aged woman, an old woman,
and the world shouldn't force her to fade.

I will march with my daughter.
For all the daughters, who's lives are changed or shaped or taken, by family and strangers, governments and traditions.
By those who do it just because they know they can.

I will march with my daughter.
Because she is seven years old and has no idea what worries her mother.
But her little hand is getting bigger.

I will march with my daughter.
Because she is seven years old and believes she is the equal of anyone.
I will march with my daughter because she is right.

#Womensmarch



SBx
This was written on my commute yesterday, tomorrow me and MissE will join the Women's March in London.

Monday, 9 January 2017

The Real Magic Of Pregnancy


I heard something wonderful last week. It came from a pregnancy* exercise teacher at a class I had just joined:

"This exercise might be good for the birth, I mean *knowing laugh* it won't stop it hurting of course, but it might be useful"



It seems like a pretty minor and obvious statement but it was actually a bit of a surprise. My previous forays into antenatal exercise classes (mainly yoga) have come with far greater promises: A gentle twist of my neck would nourish my immune system, lying down would put me in touch with the vibrations of the earth (this in a second floor studio btw) and breathing like Darth Vader would open my pelvis and and provide an easy birth, one where I'd barely notice any pain.

The problem is all of that is total BS. I love yoga. I love how at the end of a session I feel warm, relaxed and strong. I love that my usually unceasingly busy mind is stilled, just for a while.

That is the real magic, that is enough. I don't need to imbue the actions with miraculous powers of healing or pseudo-spiritual beliefs. It makes me feel good, it stretches out a little space for my already squashed lungs and if I can get through a class without humiliating myself by falling on my nose or farting then I feel pretty pleased with myself.

So hearing that simple statement that strength and flexibility are helpful for a physically arduous process like labour, but that they won't magically prevent the pain, was a relief. It went a long way towards loosening the little knot of apprehension I always get when starting this kind of class and wondering just how much nonsense I will have to accept into the bargain.



Of course yoga classes aren't the only part of pregnancy where this need to add extra magic exists.

There is a growing sea of products, services and philosophies that claim to make our pregnancies and births that bit more special. They often invoke empowerment, and goddesses, promising to make pregnancy and birth wondrous, easy and natural. Like there is some great, universal, secret truth to all this. That we somehow lost sight of when we started going to supermarkets and watching TV.

NHS resources are stretched so thin that women often have little time to ask questions. Let alone build relationships and actually feel cared for at probably the most important and worrying period of their lives to date. So it's no wonder many of us look elsewhere to fill the gaps in those long months. If you have the cash there are no end of people willing to take it off you help you. Some claim no more than to make you feel nice and relaxed, others promise the world with little more than anecdote and belief to back up those claims and price tags to exclude most.

At times these philosophers and practitioners stray into telling women to avoid conventional medical care all together. In the false belief that we are somehow the perfect end point of creation or evolution. That our bodies will all instinctively grow healthy babies, know when to give birth to them and do so with ease. If only we believe, do the class, buy the product and don't mess with nature's great plan.

But nature, as I've said so many times on here, doesn't work like that. She is complicated, messy, glorious and she doesn't give a damn about any single individual. But she is also far more wondrous and magical in her imperfections than in any of the beliefs to the contrary.

The fact that I am sitting here at all is a miracle of nature.

Over 1.5 billion years ago one little cell engulfed a different type of little cell. For the first (and last) time in history, those particular types of cell survived and formed a particular type of symbiotic relationship from which descended all multi cellular life on earth. The simple slimy sea creatures, the fish that crawled onto land, the first little furry things that hid from mighty dinosaurs and every monkey, ape and human that came before us. And the vast, vast, majority of all those lives ended before they could reproduce. We, all of us, are life's unlikely winners who beat ridiculous odds over and over again for millennia. The existence of the most ordinary, boring person on this earth is utterly wondrous.



That I have a baby growing in my belly now is just as amazing. The chances of any given sperm or egg making it to fertilization are tiny. But then there are the trials of genetic recombination, implantation, hormones and myriad other potential pitfalls. Yet somehow this little creature has jumped every hurdle it has so far encountered, without me doing anything other than take some vitamin pills to be on the safe side.

Her/His birth will be a wonder too. But not because I will channel my inner goddess or breath the baby out in a state of empowered, pain free bliss (or while doing that Darth Vader impression). If that works for you go for it, but I have other magic to conjure:

Nature gives different gifts to all her creations, she gave humans incredible brains. They let us thrive in environments that seem ridiculous for such clawless, furless, vulnerable creatures. The price for our brains is that childbirth isn't always easy or even survivable. Yet we amazing humans haven't just put up with that. We've used our astonishing gift to find ways to help nature or perhaps to cheat her. Those amazing, nature given brains decided to get women to help each other give birth, they invented tools to help labouring women into better positions or ease out a baby that had become stuck. They created drugs to ease pain and fight infections and eventually pieced together all the required components of complex surgery that could save the lives of women whose baby's own, brain filled, heads were just too big.


My first baby's head was one of those that was just too big, a C section saved us and will (if all goes to plan) bring this one into the world. I'm incredible lucky to be alive and to have that option.

Nature is full of wonder and full of flaws, she is complex way beyond our current imagining. Yet we can work with her, try to understand her and so do astonishing things ourselves.

I don't need to guild that wonder with extra magic. There is a tiny heart beating in my womb, tiny limbs kicking. One of the most complex brains that has ever existed is forming and refining itself while I sit here drinking decaf tea and wittering to the internet.

I don't need this to be more special, more mystical or somehow spiritual. It is already amazing beyond anything those ideas can create. It is science, it is magic and it is enough.

SBxx

* Yes I am pregnant! I was incredibly lucky after last years miscarriage to get pregnant again quite quickly and have so far made it to 21 weeks with everything seeming to be fine. I'm sure I'll have plenty more to say about that on here if only I can stay awake past the kids bedtime in order to write it down. In the mean time I'll leave you with one of the more curious images I found while looking for pictures for this post. Amazingly this is the first thing that comes up if you type "pregnancy nature" into Getty image search...

Tuesday, 6 December 2016

Caesareans May Be Altering Human Evolution. But Not Much, And I Don't Care.



According to reports on the BBC (and elsewhere) today, the number of women having C sections is causing our species to evolve bigger heads and / or smaller pelvises and so we are becoming less able to give birth without surgical help. 

The Miami Herald got particularly upset declaring: 

"C-Sections Are Increasing Because We're Messing With Evolution..."

I wrote last year about a similar idea from Obstetrician and (IMHO) slightly questionable old chap, Michael Odent. His opinion was based on, well, his opinion but these new stories actually come from a real life proper scientific journal. This month's PNAS.

So are the headlines all true this time?

Well, yes, maybe and no.

It all sounds very dramatic in the news reports, the idea that we are messing with nature and pushing evolution to make us ever more dependent on modern technology. It has a grippingly dystopian feel. It is true that women and babies now survive where once their respective small pelvises or large heads would have fatally removed them from our gene pool. I am one of those women. My genes only made it to my daughter and to her younger sister because cold hard modern medicine overruled nature.

So it is possible that children like mine will go on to need surgical births themselves, where in the past they would simply have never lived to give birth at all. With a few more women like us around the human population as a whole may need more C sections in future. We may evolve to, on average, do birth a little bit different.

But that's not in any way special.


Almost everything we do that keeps babies alive impacts on our evolution. Genes that confer all manner of slight disadvantage can make it from generation to generation because everything from clean water and plentiful food to vaccinations and childhood heart surgery mean that children who would once have died are living long enough to keep those genes in circulation. There may be a few more people around with heart conditions, or a tendency to get food poisoning but we assume that if we can treat those problems now, then we will continue to do so, and probably better, in the future. 

The need for a surgical birth is no different, and it is also a very very small change. 

Read on a bit beyond the scary sounding headlines and the photos of distressed looking mothers and it becomes clear that we are talking about a fairly small number births. The study estimates that the number of C sections for obstruction (where the baby's head is too big to fit through the mother's pelvis) was around 30 per 1000 births in the 1960's and has now "evolved" to be roughly 36 per 1000. A tiny proportion of the total C section rate of around 250-300 or more per 1000 in many developed countries. The evolutionary effect of women like me surviving childbirth isn't a big driver in the increase in CS rates, there are plenty of other culprits to look for there.

Messin' with the gene pool


But even that small influence may be overstated by the research. Genetics isn't as simple as - you get what your mum had. There are multiple genes and environmental factors at work. Dad's also have something to do with it. A small headed woman, with a normal pelvis, and a mother who popped babies out with no problems, could find herself in need of a C section because her baby's father passed on a whole bunch of big head genes (looking at no one in particular Mr SB...). Probably more significantly, a lot of women with perfectly average genes produce overly large babies because of factors that are becoming far more common such obesity or gestational diabetes or just through plain old chance. 

Big babies are usually an advantage. Evolution doesn't make perfect finished products, it goes for the best possible compromise and big heads with their big brains are so useful to the species as a whole that nature is prepared to accept a few individual casualties where things go too far. So even without any C section caused evolution, big babies will continue to happen.

Even very big babies can often be born vaginally if they are in the right position. Heads squish and pelvises stretch. My first child was a stonking 9lb 10oz (about 4.5kg) but plenty of people have babies that big. Perhaps my pelvis was too small for her or, more likely, the problem was her difficult position. Babies heads aren't perfect spheres and pelvises aren't round holes, try to stick one through the other the wrong way around and it just doesn't work (See this blog about the study for a lot more info on that). 

So, as is so often the case, what we have here is some academically interesting work about something that isn't very significant for the vast majority of people but which has, by virtue of being about women's bodies, been built into a futuristic horror story. Something to both chastise us for our supposed choices and terrify us about our most powerful, normal, female act. 

There may be a slight evolutionary shift in how we give birth because of the availability of a safe way to save some of us from death in childbirth but it won't spell the end for normal human reproduction. I for one will be sorry if I have passed on genes to my daughters that will make it harder for them should they ever choose to become mothers. I hope the many other factors at work will spare them surgery. I would myself have preferred normal births to the blood loss and grueling recoveries of my c sections. But without those c sections I would not be here, my daughters would not be here and if the price of their lives, and all the other babies like them, is yet another tiny tweek in our constantly tweeked gene pool then tweek away I don't care, bring on the evolution.

SBx

Monday, 21 November 2016

Silencing Negative Birth Stories


Silencing negative birth stories only helps to create more, robs women of their voice and treats us like delicate snowflakes who can't be trusted with the truth. Remind me again what century this is?


Keep
Quiet
and
Carry
On


That seemed to be the message on twitter recently, from a senior midwife to women who've had difficult experiences of childbirth. She wanted more women to share their positive stories so that midwives could learn from them. But warned against sharing anything negative with our daughters or pregnant friends.

I'm not going to go further into names or details because this opinion is hardly unique. It's one I heard a lot when I was a first time pregnant mum myself, now more than seven years ago. I had however hoped it was dying out because it's flat out wrong for a number of reasons.

Firstly - who gets to decide who can share their story?

We live in an age when everyone can choose to share as much or as little of their life as they like. The right to free speach is brandished like a sacred weapon, even when what is said brings offense or incites violence. In that context are the everyday stories of women's lives so very shocking that they must be silenced? Why should a mother who lost her baby be less entitled to a voice than those of us who took our newborns home safely?

To tell your story, be it positive or negative, isn't a judgement on others. It isn't a lesson in how to (or not to) give birth. But all too often that is exactly how these things are interpreted. Tell a "horror story" and you are clearly looking for sympathy, being dramatic and trying to scare other women. Tell a happy tale and you are smug and judgmental.

Women have been told to keep quiet about our lives for millennia, now that we are finding our voices, let's try to listen to each other. Just listen. And accept the value of differing experiences and insights. Without assuming they say anything about us. Where there are lessons to be learned (for midwives or anyone else) they need to come from the good stories and the bad. Flying is (supposedly) the safest way to travel, but it didn't get there by only investigating the planes that landed safely.

Silencing the negative can also cause real, individual harm. I know this from personal experience, and to tell my story involves a confession: I was willfully, arrogantly, naive about childbirth.

I had always known I wanted children and years before I was ever pregnant I knew I wanted to give birth to them as naturally as possible. I wanted to experience that great universal female act. So I sought out information to help me in that aim. I read the books and websites, I did the classes and I embraced their message: You are made to give birth,  you just need to have faith in your body.

I was told to ignore the negative stories. Women die in developing countries because they are too small, young and malnourished to give birth. In the western world problems come when women are ill, fat, old or just get scared, wimp out and let the doctors start on their malicious interventions.

I had just turned 30, was six foot tall and in great health. I went into labour calm and confident and utterly unprepared for a 34 hour labour with a 9lb 10 oz back to back baby who's head size was off the scale.

I'd given no thought to emergency caesareans other than to tell myself it would never happen to me. The thundering clash between expectation and reality left the experience repeating in my head for years afterwards, and woke me sweating and panicked in my bed long after the physical damage had healed. Ironically, avoiding other peoples negative stories only added to the negativity of my own.

I won't lie to my daughter and say she arrived calmly in a birthing pool just as I'd planned, it is her story as much as mine, she deserves the truth. But I may gloss over some of the details, some of the fear. I'll tell her, as I tell pregnant friends, that I just got unlucky, we were both ok in the end and she was worth every minute. I want her and her sister to know that childbirth can be wonderful, joyous and empowering. But sometimes things don't go to plan and when that happens, if you are lucky enough to live in a developed nation, then modern medicine will usually get you through it. That even if the very worst thing happens, the thing you push from your mind as you stroke your growing belly, then you are no less normal, no less deserving of a voice than anyone else.

Which should surely all be obvious? We live in a time where Women are supposed to be treated as intelligent human beings. Where we are supposed to be supported to make informed decisions about our own bodies. So how does this belief that we can not handle the harder truths and should be shielded from them for our own good still persist?

Being told to hide away our stories of difficult births lest they scare other women seems both patronising and, worryingly for a message that comes mostly from other women, patriarchal: mustn't scare the weaker sex, best pretend it's all candles and cute babies or they'll get in such a fluster they won't be able to give birth properly, or  *gasp* they'll start demanding pain relief or C sections!

Seriously??

Most first time pregnant Mums are grown ups. We know that TV dramas aren't real life and that newspapers pick the most sensational stories. We know that just because something happened to the woman at the end of the street, that doesn't mean it will happen to us. We know that life isn't risk free but we still get up in the morning and get on with it.

You don't empower women by treating them like scared children, by telling us that life is all rainbows and unicorns and hiding the monsters under the bed so we will behave in the way you think best. That is true whether the "you" in question in a husband, a government, a whole society or a senior Midwife.

We need facts and then we need the support to turn these into realistic expectations, choices and personal opinions. We need to be prepared for the wonderful births and the difficult, complicated ones. Then the stories will be created. They may not all be happy, but each one will be unique and each one will be worthy of telling.

SBx

I want the truth!
You can't handle the truth!
(no idea what the weird eyes are about on here)

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

The Unreal World Of The Academic Scientist


I'm an academic (more or less). Which is great because it means I don't live in the "real world". No, I was born into a magical land where all I've ever had to do is sit in nice places (mostly Gothic in style), and think. I've definitely never worked in dull, crappy jobs to pay my rent or had to shuffle embarrassed from the supermarket when all my cards were declined. And my ivory tower is free of "real" things like bills and weather, so I've never gone to bed with two coats on to keep warm or lived somewhere where the rain came in through the bathroom wall.

I'm doubly lucky to be not just an academic but an academic Scientist. This means I am untroubled by all those things scientists aren't interested in, like personal appearance, or any kind of art. Even better I never have to bother with those tiresome sounding human relationships. I've never had a broken heart, lost a loved one or tried to juggle all my important thinking with caring for sick children.

Heck no, the real world isn't for me. I just think pointless thoughts, the magic spirits of academia sort out everything else.

Yes, I am being sarcastic.

Yes, this has been known to happen before.

On this occasion it was prompted by Tory MP Glyn Davis:


I'll admit sarcasm isn't a very mature or even a very vehement response. But, like most scientists and academics, I have come across  similar sentiments over and over again. We are seen by some as somehow "other". Different from "normal" people in their "real" world.

Scientists, and academics more broadly, are supposed to be aloof from reality and either baffled by or disinterested in anything or anyone other than our narrow little fields of interest. Ok, I'd be lying if I said there was no one like that. I've certainly worked with a few people who didn't play nicely with others, or consistently turned up in back to front and inside out clothes. But they are memorable because of their rarity.

I have worked with far more scientists who have very full and very "real" lives. My job often involves long periods of time watching experiments with other people. If nothing is going wrong, we chat. Yes about their research, but also about their kids; the problems of picking a school or juggling work and childcare when the cells in your dish won't let you work 9-5, but nursery still shuts at 6. There are fears for elderly relatives living far away or worries about getting another job once the latest fixed term contract is up. These are very ordinary concerns, a PhD certificate doesn't wave them away.

Then there is the related idea that academics have no interest in anything else, that we are lodged firmly and solely in our cold, rational left brains. Well firstly that left brain right brain thing is total nonsense and historically great scientists were often also artists. Science requires creative thinking. Not just looking at something and thinking ooh, that's pretty, but wondering why it is, wrapping your imagination around the question and asking - could it possibly be because of .....?

I've worked with people who have played in chamber orchestras, west end shows and rock bands. People who can draw wickedly accurate (and wickedly funny) cartoons or spend their spare time painstakingly restoring antique clocks. I have colleagues who are fabulous cooks, ultra marathon runners or computer game masters. And lots of people who just like to crash out on the sofa and watch Game Of Thrones, play with their kids or take the dog for a long walk.


Typical academic, turning his back on the real world.

All of my colleagues are extraordinary scientists, some excel in other areas too, but all of them do all the normal stuff. They all have to somehow pay the rent or the mortgage, not an easy task on a post doc salary in central London. They all have to go to the supermarket and take out the bins. None of us were born university graduates. Our institutions don't manage every aspect of our lives for us and unless we are very very unusual our salaries won't run to a PA and team of household staff.

Yet according to Glyn Davies, we aren't "real" and so our opinions, opinions on subjects we have studied and wrestled with for years, can simply be ignored and, sadly, he's not the only one.

A few years ago I was in a minicab and the driver asked me what I did for a living. It's a question that always makes me pause for a moment. Should I tell the truth? "I'm a scientist and I work in Cancer research". It usually goes one of two ways: "ooh that's really...worthy...(silence)" which is understandable, though a little uncomfortable. The other way, the way the minicab driver went, is the accusation that we are all going to hell for denying God (FYI I have plenty of colleagues with strong and varied religious beliefs, we aren't all Dawkins) and that we are hiding the cure for cancer.

The threat of eternal damnation upsets me, the accusation that I'm hiding the cure for cancer makes me furious.

Scientist do live in the real world, a strange little corner of it perhaps, but a corner where some of us get sick with cancer, and some of us die from it. All of us have watched loved ones battle through Chemo and wished there was something better and kinder. All of us have lost people we care about and would have done anything to save. The idea that we would simply let them suffer and die for the sake of some grand conspiracy and our mediocre pay slips would be ridiculous if it weren't so offensive.

We seem to live in a time when politicians sitting in ornate debating chambers and billionaires bellowing at thousands in a stadium, see no need for experts. We are all experts now, just decide what you believe and do a quick Google to find someone who says you're right. Those with power and money can define who and what is real to suit their agenda or prejudices. That scares me.

I want my house to have been built by experts who knew what they were doing. When I buy it I want an expert solicitor who will check every detail and when the boiler goes wrong I want the Corgi registered, highly trained expert to deal with the gas in my home. If my kids are sick I want expert doctors who have spent years and years training and working in that disease and drugs developed by expert scientists who've tested them in every imaginable way.

Because I have no idea how to lay a brick, write a contract or cure a sick a child. I may be an academic scientist, a specialist in my own little field but I don't have time to learn all those other skills, not to the level that people who spend their lives on them do. I'm too busy getting my kids out of the house on time in the morning, ramming myself into the commuter train, trying to meet my deadlines and get through all the laundry before someone runs out of socks.

You know, that stuff people do in the "real world", that place I've never been.

SBx