I am not sure if it is a function of my age or a by product of having children but I have noticed recently, how painfully aware I am of my own mortality.   I noticed it first when flying with a tiny child (on an aeroplane I hasten to add).   I sat rigid with fear as we took off, suddenly aware of all the things that could go wrong.   I have flown my whole life (I commuted by plane for six years from the States to my boarding school and home again six times a   year, for heaven’s sake) and always rather enjoyed it.   I even derived a small amount of pleasure in the overcooked food they serve in little tins to be eaten with a spork…   suddenly there I was with a small person in my arms imagining all the things that could go wrong.   The lurching as we took off, the speed, the clanging noises all filled me with fear.   The smell… could it be something gaseous and poisonous?   The people around me… were they shoes bombers masquerading as business men?   The pilot… did he know what he was doing.   No, REALLY?   I even went through in my head if it was better that we two would die together rather than me dying leaving her behind…   

At about the same time, I noticed that I could no longer handle roundabouts or amusement park rides with the same cavalier abandon I used to enjoy.   I can even imagine the worst when driving my car now, what if a lorry veers off the road?   A wheel comes off my car at high speed?   At home I am even suddenly aware of fires and floods and what if the wind blows the chimney through the roof?

This all came to a head this summer when my gorgeous (if slightly hyperactive) younger daughter shimmied up our front wall posts (either side of the path in the front garden) the night before we left on our family holiday; creating a human bridge, and demanded that I walk beneath her legs. ‘Get down.’ I said in a long suffering way. She refused, I was to go through or not get back in to the house. Much hilarity. ‘Get down.’ I said a little more crossly. She refused and finally I decided (as most mothers do) that it was easier to humour than to fight her. I started to walk under her legs when her wellies slipped on the wet bricks (it was raining, this is London after all and we have just had the worst August on record) and she swung down, her firm little skull smacking against my nose in a sideways slightly crushing action.

I heard a loud crunch. My knees buckled. The blood started to squirt. I saw funny colours, possibly stars. I sat on the wet pathway, my head spinning.

My husband took me to various emergency clinics until we ended up at St George’s which has a specialist ENT unit. Not, I am sad to say, open on a Saturday night. I telephoned the girls from the hospital to reassure my poor daughter that I was alive and not angry with her; telling her I loved her and understood it was an accident. She said ‘yeah, but I have to go and change clothes because we have a show with singing and dancing to show the babysitter, so bye’.   Heartless little hussy.

We waited and waited and eventually a nice lady explained that the thing with nose injuries was that you could ‘just’ push them back in the first half an hour (long past) or ‘manipulate them’ within the first week (but after the swelling reduces). After that, the injury sets and you are faced with rhinoplasty or a nose that is ‘not THAT disfigured’ (in her professional opinion). It was the night before the family left for a three week holiday in Hungary.   My husband said, rather sweetly “It’s not that bad…” but we both knew that I was going to have to stay behind and get my nose manipulated before I could join the family.

I have never been without my whole family for a week before.   It was a very strange thing, sort of like being without a limb, I imagine.   I wandered about the house looking for things to do.   I can’t remember the last time I saw the bottom of the laundry basket and the airing cupboard has never been empty before.   I ironed everything…   I even scrubbed the kitchen floor.  

Finally it was the day for me to have my MUA (Manipulation Under Anaesthetic).   I was sitting being a big brave girl in the day surgery unit – on my own…   my family were all away and it was the middle of August so even my (selfish) bezzie mate was off on holiday.   Now, I have to say that I am usually pretty matter of fact about these things (and had turned down kind friends and neighbours offers to take time off work and accompany me).   I am not one to lose my head or become hysterical…   but I was totally (and quite calmly) convinced I was going to die.   I admit I have never had a general anaesthetic before and perhaps this is all part of that, but I sat until my operation in a waiting room, listening to the nurses phoning for victims who had already been operated on to transfer them to ICUs because “things didn’t go quite as well as we’d hoped” thinking I was going to be sick.   I wrote a letter to my daughters telling them I loved them to be read on my almost certain demise.   I even emailed my oldest friend in Cyprus to instruct her about my memorial service (lots of laughing and dancing and champagne and singing – preferably culminating in a rendition of “slipping through my fingers” from Mamma Mia) and what to do with my body (donate to science once all the useable bits could be salvaged and reused) and who was to have my car.   I even convinced myself that during the op itself I may be knocked out, and unable to move, but still aware of everything they were doing to me (which I decided may even be worse than death and could result in my dying from the shock anyway…).

I contemplated making a run for it more than once, trying to figure out how far I would get in a gappy hospital gown on a London street, happily abandoning my clothes, before someone brought me back.   If this had been a case of pure vanity, I am sure I would have gotten used to looking slightly more Owen Wilson than Meryl Streep, but I was warned that a floppy septum may heal either way blocking a whole nostril which would cause problems in the long term. It also explained the strange and painful vibrating feeling when I sneezed and the vaguely irritating whistle I experienced when I breathed. I really had to go through with it.   In spite of the fact that I was GOING to die.  Leaving my children.  And my husband.  And the dog.

I didn’t die, you will be surprised to hear, but I wonder how common that conviction is?   Is it because we are now responsible for children and feel their need for us so acutely?   Is it because most of our grandparents have shuffled off this mortal coil and our parents are getting older and we suddenly see the in controversial inevitability of aging and death?   Are we one generation closer to the oldest and with our own kids beneath us see how the cycle of life continues regardless of our fear?

I am not sure, but I can tell you that I long for those carefree invincible days when I could face anything without a second thought.   And hope that I manage to give my children that same confidence in their immortality… to a point.   Perhaps with a little less climbing thrown in…




Posted on Wednesday, September 3, 2008 at 07:01PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | Comments1 Comment | References3 References

A friend in need…

When you find yourself pregnant and then with a new baby, you will also find that you have an enormous amount in common with other women in the same stage of their life as you.  As your baby gets older, you may find that the choices you make as parents either bring you closer to those women or cause you to drift further apart.  As your babies grow to toddlers, these differences become even more pronounced until you may find that you have little in common at all.

As your child starts playgroup or nursery or reception, again, you are thrown in with potentially another whole group of people at the same stage of their life as you, but not necessarily with that much in common except a child of the same age.  Add to this your maternal instinct to protect your own flesh and blood (and there is really nothing quite like it) and you can sometimes create a heady brew which can be quite volatile.

My best advice to you in relation to these friendships is to proceed with caution.  Of course you may find a PBF in the school yard, but equally you may find yourself in a situation where your child has not been invited to a party everyone else seems to be going to, or (worse) you are tempted to confront the mother of the bully who has made your child’s life a misery.  There is nothing like listening to your defenceless little darling weeping into his spaghetti bolognaise after a hard day at school when his life is being made miserable by another child to fire up even the most calm and rational mother.  

The best way to avoid the playground confrontation (and really, I do mean this) is to follow the following steps:  Take a big deep breath.  The end of the world is probably not heralded by your child being excluded from a party invitation.  How vital is this? No, really.  You are the adult, try to find a part of you which can behave that way.

Next, I would advise that you volunteer to help in the school if you can.  Sometimes what your child tells you about school (“No one plays with me!”  “I am always left out of things!”) is not entirely accurate.  They may be alone for brief moments, but basically join in to everything on offer, in which case you can set your mind at ease.  If you are helping in the classroom (and I mean literally sitting at the back sharpening pencils if that is of assistance to the school) you also get a really good sense of how the teacher works with the kids and how aware she is of what is going on (and most good teachers know exactly which kids to keep an eye on).  You also see where your child fits in with their peers.  Are they brighter or less able?  Sociable or shy? In a group or a loner?  And frequently you will reassure yourself that what your child brings home is a very selective view of the actual school experience…

However, if you are worried that something is not right, let’s say you have done the deep breathing, checking that you can behave like an adult and spent the day in the classroom, or several days in the classroom and there really is a problem with another child, do not speak to the child or the child’s parents, speak to the teacher.  You are entrusting your child in to the hands of the professionals and as such you must allow them to do their job.  Make an appointment to see the teacher and sit down with them calmly and explain your concerns.  See what the teacher has to say about it and give the teacher a chance to try to put things right. Explain to your child that the teacher is there to help and encourage your child to have faith in the school system and to speak to the teacher if they need to.  Try to keep things in perspective at home, not stressing the incident too much with your child – allow them to bring it up with you if they want to, be led by them.

If the teacher is unable to make a change in the situation, then I would suggest you find the head of year, or the head teacher and have a chat with them.  Under no circumstances should you ever speak to the other child, or the other parent about anything you are concerned about in the playground.  Even if you know them well and they are friends.  I cannot tell you how many fights I have seen in the playground between well meaning mothers misguidedly “protecting” their children.  I cannot tell you how unpleasant the resulting fall-out is… remember these are people you have to potentially stand in the playground with for the next 8 years, longer if you have other children as well.  

I made the mistake once of stepping in when another mother cornered my daughter in the playground and accused her of bullying, lying about and stealing from her daughter and have lived to regret it, even after her daughter admitted she made the whole thing up.  It took weeks for the teachers to resolve and our friendship, tentative and based on convenience though it was, never recovered.  She still refuses to speak to me in the playground when I offer her a cheery “hello” and it was three years ago.  If I had my time to live over again, I would have taken my daughter out of her firing line, smiled politely and walked away from her.  If she had confronted me, I would have changed the subject and made polite cocktail chat about the weather, suggesting that if she has an issue with my child to take it up with the teacher.  I would have instructed my daughter to walk away from her if she approached her, and then spoken to the teacher myself before it reached the point of no return.  These days, I am not the only person who enters the playground checking to see where it is safe to stand… some others I know have been confronted at their own front door by angry parents, telephoned and emailed, threatened and abused.  There was even a case when the police were called to a christening because of an argument over a game of football.  It is not worth it!  And these are nice, suburban, God fearing middle class parents.

Remember that not everyone is going to like you, or your child for that matter.  You are also not going to like everyone and nor is your child.  That is the way of the world.  Also remember that sometimes people are very odd – perhaps sometimes we are very odd – and that is also the way of the world.  Do not place too much importance on the parties, the relationships between the children (they frequently can survive spats in a way that their mothers can’t).  Perhaps do not ever place too much importance on any relationships you forge in the playground.  They are born out of necessity and function and as such they serve a valuable purpose, but really don’t place too much pressure on them.  Be very cautious extending any of these relationships beyond casual as it can be hard to find a way back again.  Play-dates for the kids are wonderful, the occasional dinner party with the other parents may be fine, but perhaps taking holidays together may be a recipe for disaster…

Posted on Tuesday, June 24, 2008 at 02:36PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment

Praying for an education

It’s that time of year again.  School places are being allocated and, in our area at least, there is a desperate shortage for primary school children (over 200 children more than reception places at last count).  Now it could be that you are reading this in your gorgeous farmhouse kitchen, with the cows gently lowing outside and chickens pecking in the yard and you have no choice of school but the lovely little village one at the end of the road, in which case, well done you!  Thank your lucky stars, because the rest of us are embarking on a hideous competition for places which makes most mothers seriously consider what lengths they would go to for the best interest of their child to be served.

Speaking as someone raised in a family with no religion, but having experienced church through school, I had no problems with a religious education for my children.  It has given me a good grounding in our society’s mores and values, it has taught me all the bible stories upon which a lot of fiction and theatre is based and it made me really consider my own beliefs (and decide that as far as organised religion goes, I have none).  My husband, who was raised as a strict catholic, rediscovered his faith once we got to this portion of parenthood, and felt quite strongly that the girls should go to a church school.  I didn’t mind one way or the other and so his will won out.  

Where we live in greater London, there are about eight really good primary schools within a few miles of our house and two really really bad ones.  I did a quick straw poll amongst the neighbours and got a good feel for which schools were better than others.  The only problem was that the church schools (the better schools) required a degree of commitment from the parents…  no one made any bones about it, and before too long it was explained to me that in order to be considered part of the religious community you had to go to church “more often than not”.  There was no requirement for your child to be christened, and no one expected you to believe in God… but if you could help out with Sunday school that got you onto a “list” which (rumour had it) assured you a place at the school.

I am not one to wrestle with my conscience too much and as I didn’t have to pretend to be anything I wasn’t, I happily embarked on church going.  I was respectful but I didn’t kneel, I didn’t say any of the prayers, I smiled and nodded as I got to know people and before too long the vicar realised that if he was stuck, I was quite reliable to read a lesson or two at short notice.  I loved the singing, I loved the sense of community, I wasn’t so sure about the pews of little old ladies in their hats who tutted at my baby, but as far as a box ticking exercise went it wasn’t too arduous.  It wasn’t long before the vicar’s wife asked me if I would mind teaching Sunday School.  “Ahhh…,” I said “I don’t actually believe in God.”  A momentary pause and then she patted my thigh and said “That’s all right dear!” and so I started hosting a small “Sunday school” where we sang a lot about baa baa black sheep and did some non denominational colouring in.  I understand that some mothers were outraged that a non-believer was looking after their children while they listened to the word of the Lord, but none of them stepped forward to do the job themselves so I kept doing it… for the sake of a school place.

Then we moved…  disaster.  We were now just out of catchment for that particular C of E school.  My husband did a quick bit of research and discovered that a Catholic school on the other side of town had no distance requirement or catchment area, but instead required that the children be baptised.  Fine.  Out came the frocks and off they went to be dunked.  Always up for a good party, we had a cake and drank lots of champagne and again, on the day itself, I said “Cod” instead of “God” and “Cheeses” instead of “Jesus” and never misrepresented myself (and tried to keep a straight face when asked to turn my face from the devil…).  Now husband was happy to take the girls to church every week and deal with the evil gaze of the little old ladies making their peace with the Almighty.  Girls%20summer%20school%20uni.JPGThey both got in to the school (which just got “outstanding” across the board for their Ofsted inspection) and still go to church every Sunday with their daddy while I religiously cycle around Richmond Park listening to The Archers on Radio 4 (does that count, I wonder?).

So… my advice is to think about what you want for your little darling.  If it is a decent State school, you really can’t start too early.  If the best local State school is a church school, find out what is required to get in.  Some have an attendance policy (and they are savvy to the families who pitch up at the church in February, a month before the applications are due… you need to be going at least a year before nursery applications are in.  There is a church role taken in the summer which is good to get on), some require baptismal or christening certificates, some need a letter from the vicar saying they actually know who you are (it’s worth offering to do the flowers, or take Sunday school, or at least to wear bright colours and be friendly!) some base their catchment purely on distance from the school (and it is the safest walking distance rather than a straight route, so being across the road, but without a zebra crossing means you have to walk up to the safest official crossing point and back down again).  Some schools have a very strict sibling or special needs policy.  Most schools have a combination of some or all of these things.  Do your homework and that should give your honey the best possible chance to get in to the school of your choice.

But how do you go about choosing a good school if you don’t know anything about them? I would always recommend you attend the school open day when the school is on show and they know they are being judged, but also make a separate appointment with the head teacher if you can, take your other half and ask any pertinent questions you can then.  Remember they are looking at you as well, so don’t let yourself down.  I would also highly recommend standing outside the school at drop off or chucking out time and get a sense of the type of family who goes there. Are the parents and children all chatting nicely with each other?  Do they look happy?  Does the head teacher stand by the gate and greet the kids by name? Are you allowed to go into the playground or do you have to post the children through a gate?  Or do the mothers all arrive late with fags hanging out of their mouths with dogs on strings, swearing?  The final test is the school fete.  Find out when it is and go.  You get a really good sense of what sort of a school it is from the fete, and don’t be shy.  Ask other parents what they think of the school while you are there.  

A lot of primary schools have a different number of children for nursery (perhaps two form entry for nursery) than reception (which may be just single form entry).  In which case you need to consider your chances.  If your child is settled and loves the school but fails to get a place for reception at the end of their first year will they be gutted… will you?  Will you have bought a uniform which is no longer any use to you?  It may be better to find a school which has the same number (or fewer) of nursery places as reception places to give your child a better chance of staying there.  Bear in mind that most schools weigh reception places in favour of the children who have already established themselves in the school during nursery, so don’t make the mistake of believing the hype that reception admission is completely separate from nursery admission.  These choices are made centrally, but the schools have a good say in who is offered a place.  

So:  Don’t give up.  If you don’t get the school of your first choice you will probably still get in.  In my experience it is very unusual for a child not to eventually be offered a place at their first choice school.  It may take a few years, but you will probably get in there in the end.  I have a few friends who were in this situation and the lesson learned is this:  immediately write a letter quoting form the school prospectus as to why that particular school is perfect for your child, let them know it is the only school you are interested in and you will wait for a place to come up and then phone or drop by once a week and be cheery as you ask where you are on the waiting list.  Cakes don’t hurt.  Remember, the school secretary has influence here.  I know of one child whose mother popped in one day with biscuits and said another in a long line of cheery “hello’s and the secretary said to her “Look, we haven’t heard back from the child we just offered the available place to, can your daughter start on Monday?” and that was it.  She was in.  Of course, the LEA doesn’t want you to think that it is all up to the schools, but trust me, they have a great deal more influence than we are lead to believe.

And my final piece of advice is: Don’t Panic.  You will sort it out even if it looks like the worst situation ever.  Trust that you will find a way through it.  Everyone is different and you will know what you are prepared to do for your child.  I know what I have done is something other mothers may find appalling, but to me, it was a simple choice:  to prove I was serious about the school of my choice, I had to go to church.  I could do that…  but only you know what you can live with.

Posted on Wednesday, May 14, 2008 at 12:28PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment

I’m not eating that!

I was at a picnic for the Babysitting Circle this week and one of the other mothers, S, was asking about food and children and when they start to eat everything.  It reminded me of a lesson I learnt when mine were small which I thought would be an interesting journal entry.

I have always used the logic that my children need to be able to eat everything that we as a family eat.  I am not desperately interested in having to cook “adult” food and “kids” food.  However, I was unclear as to exactly at what age that occurred, though, and like my friend S, slipped in to the habit of making a meal for the kids and one for the adults. Easy to do because in the beginning they are eating very different things from us.  I cannot imagine husband happily chowing down on a meal consisting of parsnip and pear puree for example.  

So somewhere between breast feeding (when I ate everything I would normally eat, and all those tastes and smells became normal to my children) and weaning when I was carefully crafting special combinations they could manage, via finger foods and then on to proper meals, I lost my way.  I found myself one evening watching my three year old throw her supper on the floor in disgust and with tears in my eyes I started to make her a second supper I thought she would eat.  My husband questioned me.  What was I doing?  I wasn’t sure, to be honest.  I think I was just so exhausted physically as well as emotionally I was taking the easier path of least resistance and hoping for a quiet life.  As soon as my husband asked me though, I saw the mistake I was making.  Who is in charge of our family meals?  The mummy who understands about basic nutrition or the stroppy three year old who is desperately trying to forge some independence and wrestle control?

So how do you find a balance between making sure they eat something and getting them to eat what you as a family eat, so you can enjoy family meals together?  I know the mother of a small orphaned Russian girl who was so desperate for her to eat anything that a steady diet of biscuits was preferable to another visit to the tutting health visitor who would ask why she wasn’t gaining weight.  S said her child, aged five, who had a repertoire of about ten meals she knew he could reliably eat was down to five now and the list seemed to be diminishing daily.  “You know that food I said was my favourite?  I don’t like it now…” he had told her.  

If you try to understand what is going on from the child’s point of view it is sometimes easier to overcome this seemingly insurmountable problem.  You want them to eat (you’re their mother and you know they need food) but they want to be in control and get a reaction (even a negative reaction) from you if at all possible.  Meal times make fabulous battle grounds, they learn quickly, because food can be such an emotive issue.  Your child soon realises that they have you over a barrel.  S acknowledged that even though she tries her hardest not to react when faced with a food issue that she must have let her face fall when her son dropped this latest bombshell.  “It’s just so hard!” she said to me.

mad%20party%20ii.JPGUnderstanding that a child must try something at least twenty times before they get used to the taste and also allowing for infant tastes being less sophisticated than their adult counterparts, how do you approach meals and retain your sanity?  Consistency is vital.  It is necessary for you and your partner and any one else who feeds your child to have the same rules in place.  My rules are very simple and seem to be effective.  At my house you have to try everything. This way you allow the child to taste things twenty times and say “Yuck” and still keep them open to the moment when they say “actually this isn’t so bad”. You must sit at the table until you have finished and if you get down without permission, I assume you have ended your meal and your food is removed after a warning. Using the logic that no child will starve itself to death, I also have a rule that if you eat everything on our plate, you are obviously still sufficiently hungry for pudding.  If you leave things on the plate, you don’t get pudding (pudding may be a yoghurt or fresh fruit).  If you don’t like anything on your plate having tried it, and refuse to eat it, you are served brown bread and butter.  With a smile.  This is not a fight, remember, this is just the way it is.

Children who start school and eat school dinners tend to eat more, different things  because of the peer pressure than the same child at your table.  The dinner ladies don’t give them such a good reaction if they refuse something either.  S said her son became noticibly more picky when he started reception at a new school and was at the childminders.  It could be that he wanted to feel in charge and the only place he could do that now was at home with mummy where he could have a good scream about something relatively unimportant to him, but vitally important to her.  I suggested that she sits down with him and his brother once a week and lists fifteen foods she knows he has eaten in the past and allows them to choose from her list something for supper every night.  Understanding that he cannot have the same meal more than once in a week.  Allowing him to set the menus with his brother (even in a controlled context like that) will get him to buy in to meals and given that vested interest, hopefully he will regain that sense of control which he is now missing.  In conjunction with the house rules, this tends to improve eating enormously.  I would also suggest that you introduce a new food every week on a day that you negotiate control over understanding that if the child really doesn’t like it, they can have brown bread and butter.

I also have strict rules about snacks in my house.  You can help yourself to the fruit bowl at any time of the day or night without permission (and top tip from the wonderful Sally, wash all the fruit when you buy it and first put it in the bowl).  If you have eaten all your meals for the day and are still hungry, you may ask for cereal or toast with butter.  This still gives you space for negotiation and treats can be meted out, but you don’t want to get into the habit of having kids who fill up on crisps and biscuits between meals and don’t have the hunger to try to eat what you cook them.  I try not to outlaw any foods, either, everything is fine in moderation, I believe, and although I would never feed my children processed food, if they are at a friend’s house or a party and served it, they will eat these things with relish.  

If you are the mother of an only child, you will have more of a struggle as it is harder to be consistent with on some of these rules, as the meals are completely in your singleton’s hands.  You don’t learn not to get down until everyone is finished unless someone else is at the table with you, and the negotiation of not having pudding is harder if there is no one else sitting there with a bowl of ice cream lording it over you, making luxurious yummy noises.  We have three only children locally who are routinely brought round for tea when they are going through a sticky patch, and it is amazing how much difference there is in their behaviour when they are at a shared table than when they are at home alone.

These rules have given me a sense of control as well.  I know what I am doing as a parent and am less emotional about meals now that it is clear in my own head what the structure is.  I still have moments of anguish when someone announces that they aren’t eating something, but the consequences are obvious and don’t need to be reiterated after a while, so I can afford to be more pragmatic.  My little one didn’t  have pudding for nearly three years during a particularly protracted awkward period, but she didn’t die of starvation and now she eats most things presented to her.  I can also take them pretty much anywhere confident that they won’t totally embarrass me, at least at the table.

I offer these suggestions as something that has worked for me. Try it.  You might like it.

Posted on Friday, April 11, 2008 at 10:44AM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment

You’re pregnant! Now What? Vital information and misinformation explained.

I was at a meeting at my local hospital last week and a topic was discussed that interests me greatly.  It seems from a recent national survey of recent “end users” (that’s you and me) that most pregnant women feel they don’t have enough information when they first find out they are pregnant and through their pregnancy.  The hospital experts in the room (I was the only lay person among the twenty or so professional women there, from obstetricians to midwives to health visitors to hospital and local PCT administrators) were baffled by the fact that most women questioned felt there had not been enough information given to them at the start of their pregnancy or available during their pregnancy and that they didn’t understand their healthcare “pathway” or choices.  One very sweet health visitor said she believed that the information was all given out, but pregnant women “just can’t take it in”.  Bless, you poor dumb things, too awash with hormones to think any more.Emily%20003.jpg

Another very learned obstetrician, who  I admire clinically, suggested that perhaps things be written down for us.  Implying that we poor ninnies are too stupid to listen properly.  The patronising tone was too much for me to bear and so at the end of the meeting when they asked if the lay person had anything to add, I couldn’t resist but let them know of one of my most recent client’s experience.

I explained that far from being incapable of absorbing vital information, my lady who is well educated and highly motivated on discovering she was pregnant, but had been thoroughly put off by her GP.         photograph by Annie Armitage 

The first question she was asked by the GP was whether or not she was happy about the pregnancy, implying that an abortion was up for discussion. The GP seemed slightly shocked that a pregnancy test had been taken 'so early' at just 4 weeks pregnant.  My lady was basically informed of nothing except the fact that Boots sold pregnancy tests (if she wanted her pregnancy confirmed) and that there was a photocopied piece of paper which she might benefit in seeing which was wafted in front of her briefly (but not passed to her as it was the "only copy").  She was given no information about her choices for having her baby:  home birth, birth centre, independent midwife, local hospital with midwifery led unit or local obstetric led unit.  She was just processed to go the local hospital. She was told nothing of growth scans, health scans or being assigned a consultant.  In fact the GP informed her that there was no point in giving her any more time, as she may, of course, miscarry as a third of all women do at this stage.  She should come back if and when she had made it to her second trimester to avoid wasting any more of the valuable GP’s time.

Hardly the lovely, dedicated, comforting, congratulatory experience you might hope for.

The maternity supervisor was nearly in tears by the end and said "But the first point of contact is SO important!" she said and then she added, "That poor lady!"

I pointed out that at least my client is clever enough to find all relevant information elsewhere and has the resources to hire a birth doula but what of the less able who are, well, less able!?  

The Maternity Services Liaison Committee genuinely had no idea that this poor practice was going on.  In my experience sadly, this is not unusual.  But I suppose to be fair to them, they have no way of knowing how rubbish the GPs are being if we don’t tell them!  Please, ladies, if you get less than perfect service, let someone know:  your GP, your local hospital, your local PCT or even me.  I will happily forward your comments to the powers that be.  We can’t expect this ridiculous disjointed practice to improve if we don’t make a loud noise, as we are being dismissed (by other women – we were all women in the meeting I was at) as being silly girls who are too stupid to take information in.

You should expect a level of information from the very first time you go to the GP when you are pregnant.  You should expect the following:

To have your pregnancy confirmed.  (It may be too much to expect congratulations, but it would be nice!)

To be given health advice:  about nutrition and supplements and what to avoid in the early days of pregnancy and throughout the next nine months.

To be given choices about where you receive your health care for your pregnancy and where you give birth.

To be told that you will be scheduled for two scans during your pregnancy, both of which are optional.  The first scan at 12 weeks is to date your baby’s age accurately, to see if you are carrying multiple babies or just one, and to check the fluid in the nuchal fold to give you an idea of the chance of the baby developing Down’s Syndrome.  You will need to make a decision at this scan, if you have a high chance of carrying a baby with Down’s Syndrome, as to whether or not you continue with the pregnancy, so have this discussion with your partner before you go.  It could be that you will carry your baby to term no matter what, so you may choose not to find out about any genetic abnormalities at this stage and so may prefer not to have the scan at all.  The second scan is to check for spina bifida and other possible abnormalities, look in detail at your baby's major organs and skeleton, check the health of your placenta and monitor your baby's growth.  You may also find out the sex of he baby at this stage, but it cannot be 100% determined without Amniocentesis or a CVS. Again, if you would carry your baby to term no matter what, you may wish to avoid this scan as well.

If you don’t have this basic information from your GP or if you find them off-hand or dismissive of what should be an amazing time in your life, please do something to complain.  We should be treated with respect and given all information that we require when we first contact our GPs about being pregnant and really, can’t expect anything to change unless we make a fuss.  It may be too late for me or even my lady for her pregnancy this time, but perhaps we can make it easier for the women who follow us on what should be a wonderful path to motherhood.

Posted on Saturday, March 15, 2008 at 12:09PM by Registered CommenterLucy Symons | CommentsPost a Comment