Pregnancy can be a very trying business. Your body feels like its one big science project. Every day brings some new wierdness or challenge. I won’t give details here (although please feel free to refer to my previous posts for some illustration) because I don’t want to scare those of you who are yet to embark on this biological rollercoaster. Suffice to say it can be quite tough to deal with at times despite the joy that also goes with it. You’d think that the last thing that friends, relatives and indeed complete strangers and the government would want to do is make things more difficult for you. But they do – and how.

It’s often the case that’s the strongest opinions on how you conduct yourself whilst incubating the next generation are proferred by those who have yet to become parents. Take for example the following comment directed at me by the man who unfortunately looks like he’s likely to marry my sister in law. As said sister in law and her intended arrived home for the weekend my very lovely father in law was doling out the gin and tonics and, at my request, had given me a glass of tonic water only accompanied by the usual ice and slice. When blokey saw my drink he immediately greeted me not with the traditional “Hello, how are you?” but with a “I hope there’s not gin in that.” Sadly he wasn’t kidding around. It took every ounce of self discipline I had not to respond with “Hell yeah, its my fourth. I’m just nipping out for a fag actually would you like to join me?” Because I love my husband dearly I avoided creating a scene but I’m sure you can see why I was tempted.

If it were just one sanctimonious prick that I had to deal with I’d be doing pretty well. Sadly there are plenty around and most of them seem to have found their vocation in government. Last week the UK government changed its advice that drinking one or two units once or twice a week in pregnancy was perfectly safe. It now wants to advise all pregnant women and all those trying for a baby to practice total abstinence from alcohol. Tellingly, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gyenacologists has refused to back this new line pointing out that not one new shred of evidence has come to light to justify the change in advice. According to the Deputy Chief Medical Officer women are “confused” about what constitutues one or two units a week. There was me believing that I was an adult capable of making my own decisions. Silly, fluffy headed, hormone addled me. Clearly the UK government believes me to be a simple minded little woman that can’t count. I would like to point out that I’m not a dipsomaniac. But if I choose to enjoy a small glass of wine once or twice a week as a treat I don’t expect to be accused of foetus abuse either.

Incidentally, the form that most people actually want state help during pregnancy to take is that of decent midwives and maternity services. This is lacking in many parts of the UK and the quality of care is hugely variable. Only today we hear that a report commissioned by the Department of Health has found that care assistants who are supposed to free up the time of qualified midwives by helping out with non clinical matters are taking on more and more patient care themselves. This is putting mothers and babies at risk. Strangely the Department of Health hasn’t been as quick to comment on this particular issue as it was to chastise mothers to be for imbibing the odd glass of Shiraz. Like Macavity and Gordon Brown, when there really is a problem, the state doesn’t seem to be available for comment.

The constant interfering, bossy boots mentality of the world at large doesn’t disappear when you have the baby either. On the contrary, this seems to be the point that it really ramps up. I am now being bombarded with advice and opinions about the birth of my baby. Only today a friend of mine was telling me how a former colleague of mine had bought her beautifully behaved baby into the office. The reason given for this 2 week old child acting in such a thoroughly angelic manner was that Mummy had a natural birth at home. According to my friend who has no children a natural birth traumatises the baby less and subsequently the “natural” baby is less prone to crying than its friend that is delivered with a little help from the epidural gods or, heaven forfend, comes out via the sunroof rather than the passenger door. Apparently natural baby cries only when she is hungry. She probably changes her own nappies as well and will always be “very advanced for her age”. The fact that my friend believes any of this is quite upsetting but the fact that a mother is peddling it is horrifying. The pressure to be a perfect parent is immense – there can be no other explanation for all these Mummies who claim that little Oscar has been sleeping though the night since he hit 6 weeks of age. There is also a very disturbing subtext to the spoutings of the natural birth brigade that women must suffer to be truly good mothers. If you want some help to deal with pain that must feel like you’re trying to pass Blackpool Tower sideways then you are somehow less worthy of motherhood and frankly, you’re letting the side down.

So it continues. You didn’t breastfeed for at least 6 months? Well, didn’t you know it’s the only way to bond properly and that babies who aren’t breastfed probably will turn out to be obese delinquents that mug grannies?? Tisk tisk. What do you mean that you struggled like hell but the baby just wouldn’t latch on so in order to prevent your baby starving you gave him the odd bottle of formula? You just weren’t trying hard enough. Shame on you.

You didn’t use reusable nappies? Don’t you KNOW about the landfill crisis and that research shows that its better for baby not be exposed to those nasty chemicals in disposables? What do you mean that you couldn’t wash and dry 10 nappies a day in mid winter in your 2 bedroom flat? You aren’t making the best use of your time obviously. Too much “Tricia” if you ask me. BAD Mummy.

What do you mean you haven’t bought a baby gym that requires 12 x AA batteries and 4 metres of floor space? Your childs education will be set back if you don’t invest in these educational toys. What do you mean by “all she wants to do is build towers out of the stacking cups that cost £3.99 from Woolies?” You aren’t interpreting your childs behaviour correctly. Perhaps you should attend a “baby signing” class in case you misinterpret their signals. They could be trying to tell you something important you know.

Who decided that parenting is way too important to be left to parents? The thing that baffles me is that my parents managed to bring me up just fine and I’m pretty sure they just figured it out as they went along. That’s what people used to do. No great tomes of advice from SuperNanny, Gina Ford or that bossy woman from “Honey We’re Killing the Kids”. No constantly changing government directives and dictats. People used to get by on common sense and instinct. My parents weren’t perfect, and looking round at my friends parents I’m pretty sure they weren’t either. But they were good enough and we all turned out ok, by and large. When pregnancy and child rearing turned into a competitive sport something was lost. That something was the confidence to actually trust our own instincts and experience and make a decision. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the more infantilised adults have become (and what does this nannying do if not make children out of all of us?) the more out of control a lot of children and teenagers seem to get. They probably sense that we’re too busy wetting ourselves over making the “correct” decision about discipline to actually issue discipline at all.

So I’m making a stand. I’m going to experiment with the future of my children and see if I can actually manage to bring them up as decent citizens without recourse to parenting manuals and television programs. I’m going to love them, try and teach them right from wrong and bring them up to be strong and independent and hopefully, just a little bit rebellious. I have no doubt that I risk censure from all the manual waving, environmentally friendly mummies but it won’t be the first time in my life that I’ve alienated a peer group. I’m a bit worried that I won’t know exactly how many times a day I should be cuddling my baby and that the wrong decision could have calamitous consequences but dammit I’m going to give it a try.

Penny, Berkshire, UK

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