Thursday, 24 October 2013

Gulp, I'm Going To BlogFest

Eeek. I'm going to a Mumsnet parent blogging event. Eeek.

Although this blog (or it's predecessor) have been going for almost five years now, I've never made much effort to put myself out there in the Mummy blogging world. Doing so seems to require a fair bit of time and there is only so much of that that I can devote to a hobby. My science rants in particular take a long time to research - so there goes my window.

OK, that is partly just an excuse and I could make more effort, but to be honest, self promotion terrifies me. SouthwarkBelle has just been an outlet for rants. A place where I can type them out and send them off into an infinite, digital world. Rather than have them all crashing about inside my one little skull. It's also a place where I can save up all these memories that my kids keep throwing out. The big things like holidays that I'd probably remember anyway and the silly/funny/infuriating every day stuff that I wouldn't. It's all here in my little personal treasure trove of massive over share.

But I would like more readers. I had one little moment of fame when Kirstie Allsopp promoted one of my posts on twitter but otherwise it could well just be my Mum and a few facebook friends reading this. So, I need to put in some effort. *Deep breath* I'm going to a blogging event.

I've always avoiding these things in the past. The idea of trotting about with a name badge on and "networking" fills me with a quiet, despairing resignation when it's work related. So paying to do it in my spare time has never really appealed. But the programme for this event has finally tempted me out of my safe little online cave. As well as a whole pile of successful bloggers there are authors such as Lionel Schriver (We Need To Talk About Kevin), campaingers, including Laura Bates of the Everyday Sexism Project and even a few science/techy types including Professor Tanya Byron. Oh and it's all topped off by my local Comedian Jo Brand (hmm wonder if she'd be up for sharing a cab home...)

So, *another deep breath* I'll be there! Even though I know almost no one else who is going. If you see a stupidly tall woman standing on her own, probably at the bar,* pretending to be engrossed in twitter do say hello. If I instantly say something nonsensical, forget who you are two seconds after you told me or fail to recognise the name of your mega successful blog, please forgive me. I'm a newbie (and have been for some time now).

* Is there a bar? There is a bar right? I don't get out some point there will be a bar???


Monday, 21 October 2013

Book Review: Expecting Better

Economics professor Emily Oster got pregnant, then she got very annoyed, and then she wrote a book about it. The result is Expecting Better. A pregnancy book which, refreshingly, expects it's reader to still have a functioning brain.

Society has (mostly) moved on from treating all women as stupid, or at least doing so openly is now non PC. However, it sometimes seems like this doesn't apply when the woman is pregnant. Official medical guidelines are frequently so over cautious that they seem to treat expectant mums as little more than irresponsible foetus carrying devices. While the natural birth lobby insists that these poor vulnerable females will plunge into a spiralling cascade of unwarranted medical interventions and "unnecaesareans" at the merest mention of a negative "birth story". (sorry excessive use of " " there, too many silly phrases!). So Oster's approach is very welcome in that it starts by assuming the reader still has a brain.

Rather than just trotting out the conventional pregnancy "facts" like a million other books. It aims firstly to give the reader a method for determining how reliable these facts actually are and secondly a means of using this knowledge to make decisions for their own specific situation. I'm right behind this idea. There is surprisingly little good data about many aspects of pregnancy and birth, but there is a heck of a lot of dodgy studies, made up stuff and outright woo. Even where high quality studies are available there is rarely a single right or wrong answer to any decision. Take epidurals for example. Should you choose to have one in labour or not? One woman may decide that she'd prefer to avoid it as they increase the likelihood of an instrumental delivery, the Mum in the next room might decide to have one because nothing very bad is likely to happen and they make the really really hurty thing stop hurting. When based on the best available evidence these are both perfectly logical decisions. Yet I have UK friends who have felt they had to apologise for having an epidural and justify the need for one beyond just wanting the pain to stop (such is the pressure to avoid one in certain circles here). For Ostler the opposite was true and not wanting one in the US was seen by some as wrong mostly just because it was unusual.

This conflict between the UK and US experience of birth brings me to a major concern with this book. Overall I really rate it. However, despite this being a UK edition, it is clearly based on Ostler's experience of having a baby in the USA. Standard policy is often very different between the two countries and anyone who has had a baby on the NHS is likely to be utterly horrified by some of what is in this book (not being ALLOWED to eat or drink anything when you've been in labour for days?? wow). There are a lot of examples of doctors insisting on policies which are at best overly cautious and at worst potentially harmful and many that are based on no good evidence at all. As someone who has already had two babies in the UK, these sections made me feel incredibly grateful for the NHS. But there is a risk that first timers reading this, perhaps before they've had any dealings with medical professionals (it's common not to see anyone before 12 weeks), will go into their first appointment needlessly spoiling for a fight. In the US perhaps this would be justified, but over here many of the major issues in the book just won't come up for a low risk pregnancy. In fact if everything is low risk and normal you may never see a doctor at all as midwife care is the standard.

Another problem is that, as I mentioned above, misinformation doesn't only come from doctors. Ostler touches on this but only barely. I've come across a lot of natural birth advocates who would gladly pump you up for a fight with the doctors, despite having no good evidence for their argument either. The dominance in this book of the problems with conventional medicine could potentially form yet another science bashing stick. I doubt this was the authors intention and the same methods of appraising data and making decisions could be applied to alternative advice, but I'd have liked a bit more balance.

Finally, most women, even the smart ones, won't have a professional background in analysing statistics. They won't have access to the many scientific papers that are published in subscription only journals and they probably won't have the time to analyse everything in this depth anyway. However, the principle that women should be able to question what they are told and make the decision that is best for them is an important one. Even if most only actually do it for the one or two things they really care about.

The good thing about this book is that it is a starting point. It says that it's not ok for pregnant women to be treated like idiots. This won't be the new pregnancy bible for first timers and a lot of what it says needs to be treated carefully in the UK. However, encouraging parents to take an active and informed role in decision making is important. Hopefully this book will be followed by others* which are more appropriate for the UK and which also cover alternative / natural birth advice and the post-birth minefield too. Hopefully it will also lead to more women knowing they can question those setting out the pregnancy rules, weather it's the obstetricians, the midwives, the NCT teachers or the know-it-all woman at the bus stop!

*I also recommend another recent book: Bumpolgy by Linda Geddes. Which uses scientific data to bust a whole bunch of pregnancy myths.

Disclaimer - I paid for my own copy of the book and as far a I know I have no connection to the author of anyone else involved with it.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My First Family Festival

More on our activities this summer - for the first time the Southwarkbelle family went to a music festival. We camped, got soaked, ate burgers and discovered that missing most of the headline acts is worth it, for a three day long look of wonder on your child's face.

This summer was an opportunity that had to be grabbed. F had most of the school holiday off and I'm still on maternity leave, we probably won't get this much time off together again until we retire. So we (or to be honest, I) decided we should try going to a festival as a family.

After considerable research I decided on Beautiful Days. Compared to the likes of  Glastonbury, Beautiful Days is pretty small. But it was touted as being very family friendly and had one major selling point for us - it's very close to the warm beds, flush toilets and babysitting services of my parents house. This also meant that we could leave the girls with them while we dragged everything from the carpark to the campsite and set up our new family sized tent. Actually that process was all pretty stress free. It turned out that, with the seat removed, our buggy makes a great festival trolley (it's an Uppababy vista btw)!

Pre-kids, my idea of a good festival would involve sitting in the sun with a pint of cider watching some bands I was vaguely interested in and maybe heading for the front if there weren't too many unpleasant things flying that way (anyone else who was at the infamous  Daphne and Celeste incident  of Reading 2000 knows what I mean). With the girls in tow our plan had been to try to see the headliners by letting E crash out in the buggy and M in a sling. We did manage a bit of this, but actually that wasn't the highlight.

The really good bit was seeing the amazement on E's face when a hoard of stilt walking, fairies came to say hello. Or the unblinking delight as she sat in a circle of huge Redwood trees every evening listening to stories about trolls and giants. Then there was the huge helter-skeleter, the kids shows in the circus tent, the fancy dress day and of course lots and lots of dancing.

Fancy dress day with my little Bees

Oh and the other really good bit - A long day in the fresh air and a late night watching the bands = very sleepy children!


PS here's a few top tips for other festival newbies:

Ear protectors are a great idea - Although M lost hers within hours of arriving

A big pack of glow sticks costs a few quid on ebay, they provide entertainment, help make kids visible in the dark and - if your tent ends up right next to a path - you can use them to mark your guy lines so no one falls over them in the night!

Battery powered fairy lights on the buggy stop anyone stumbling into that too.

Take TONS of clothes for the kids and more than one pair of wellies. It poured one day, E had full waterproofs and didn't mind a bit but she managed to (literally) fill her boots and we had to hurriedly buy some more.

Keep M away from your beer....