Sunday, 23 February 2014

The Pregnancy Test Gender Gap

Whether you believe in nature, nurture or a combination of the two; whether you think that sex and gender are the same thing or whether gender, to you, is  socially constructed; whether you're a GI Jane or a Susie Homemaker; whether your male role model is Vin Diesel or Sheldon Cooper, it's safe to say that only biological women with fallopian tubes will pee on a stick any time soon and have it say anything other than "Not pregnant."  A conversation with Mat last night showed me just how fully the pregnancy test can emphasise the male/female divide.

Due to a wonderful coming together (or rather going away) of work schedules, bosses and internet connections, we had the opportunity for a rare Saturday night of doing not very much together.  Smoked salmon was placed onto gently toasted - OK, slightly cremated - bread, wine was poured and we settled down to watch a bit of Dara O'Briain.  

Some way into his set, Dara started talking about Clear Blue pregnancy tests.  This reminded me that I'd taken a (thankfully negative!) test that afternoon, so I shared this snippet of information with Mat.  As I prepared to settle into a litany of reasons I'd thought it was necessary to take a test, he turned to me and gently mentioned that not listening to 20 seconds of Dara O'Briain would mean having no clue of what the remaining hour of stand-up was about.  Fair point, thought I, assuming that he'd either pause the show or be dying to hear all about it the moment it was over.  Nope.  Apparently, the only word he needed to hear was "negative."  He didn't even need to see the test.  Weirdo.

Not my actual test.  Good job, because that faint line would worry me if it were.

Where's the fun in that?  Where's the interest in not hearing that I did the test because a common side effect of the mini pill is to stop ovulation, meaning that I no longer have a monthly "Not pregnant!  Woop woop!" moment?  Also, I've put weight on - sure, NOW I know that I've piled the beef on because I haven't stopped eating for three months, but there could have been a more complex reason.  (If I'm perfectly honest, despite not wanting another baby any time soon, there was a part of me that went, "Shit.  Suppose I'd better get off my arse and put the biscuits down, then.").  AND - and this was the clincher - my ribs hurt on Friday.  They've only ever hurt when I was having Dom, so obviously my brain put two and two together and came up with a little one.  Now see?  Wasn't that interesting?

I honestly cannot imagine sitting down with a woman - any woman I get on fairly well with and am pretty comfortable with - and telling them that I did a pregnancy test, it was negative, and moving on to another subject.  It just wouldn't happen.  There's too much to be discussed.  Why did I think I might be?  And I'm definitely not?  What would I have done if I was?  What would they do if they were, right now?  When do I think I'll want to be again?  What would Mat say (clearly not very much)?  How would Dom feel?  Do I want to be?  Do they want to be?  Is anyone else pregnant?  How do they feel about it?  There's hours of conversation to be had around an imaginary pregnancy, for God's sake!  Even some of my male friends would show more interest than Mat did. Come to think of it, only my very gay and squeamish friends would be less concerned about the inner workings of my reproductive system than Mat was.

Cheers, babe.  It's a good job he's generally fabulous, given his lack of interest in his non-existent second child.  And it's a good job that I'm pretty sure that he wasn't clutching at his hair demanding to see the test to be sure it was negative because he actually thinks another baby would be a great idea.  Which is sweet, if deluded.

Friday, 14 February 2014

The scooter upstairs

We moved into our new place in May last year.  As we settled in, we discovered that the two couples on the top floor of the building were expecting babies - one, a boy due in November, and the other, a little girl due in March.  The couple who were expecting the boy had a little scooter on their balcony ready for the day some 4 or 5 years ahead when their son would play on it.  We laughed with them about it, as we have almost the exact same one, and Dom is still too young to do more than sit on (and fall off) it.  We exchanged grins about the silly whims of parenthood, the toys bought with a heart full of hope and only a vague idea of who the person would be that would one day play with them.

Throughout the pregnancy, they knew that their son would have some heart problems, though they wouldn't know the full extent until he was born.  She wasn't scheduled for a caesarean, which seemed hopeful - after all, if the baby's fragile heart was expected to withstand the ravages that birth placed on it, it couldn't be too serious, right?  

The baby was born on schedule and they named him Max.  I thought my heart would break for the couple when they came home from the hospital without him - he wasn't as healthy as had been hoped and he had to stay in for treatment.  I could barely imagine how it must have felt for them to come home from the hospital to a house ready for a baby who wasn't with them.  I thought then that there could be no worse pain for a new parent.

I haven't seen them lately - we're not close and I haven't wanted to intrude.  I've kept an eye out for the scooter on their balcony, seeing its presence as a sort of talisman, a guarantee that one day a little boy would play on it.  Maybe he'd bring it downstairs to show my little boy, and they'd play together.   I checked yesterday morning and it was still there, still giving me hope that one day soon I'd get to tell Max how long we'd waited to meet him and how much we'd all worried about him, these people he didn't know.

Yesterday afternoon I bumped into the lady who lives in front of them, the one whose baby is due in just 3 weeks now, and she told me that Max wouldn't be coming home from the hospital at all.  He'd had two heart operations in the first two months of his life and his little body couldn't take any more.  He passed away two weeks ago .

It sounds trite and it's all been said before, but I have no idea how people survive this.  I feel like my heart is breaking for a baby I never met - for every baby who doesn't get to come home, or doesn't get to stay.  I don't know how the man who told me, every time I asked how the baby was doing, that "Cada día es una victoria" (every day is a victory), is going to deal with defeat.  I wouldn't know where to begin.  The woman whose smile never quite made it as far as her eyes, the eyes that tried and failed to mask too much pain even before her baby was born - I can't compute how she's going to contain the world of agony that losing her baby has left her with.  I don't think she'd have room for it.  I don't think I could do it.  

It seems so unfair on them that soon their next door neighbour will be bringing home her baby, that newborn cries will be heard through thin apartment walls that never got to protect the little boy who belonged there.  I don't know how they'll handle that.  I can't help crying for them at the realisation that for them, this wound will be stretched and torn even deeper, that they will be up at night listening to the sleepless wails of a baby who is not theirs.  And some of my tears are for their next door neighbour, who I spoke to yesterday and whose happiness is tethered a tiny bit by the knowledge that others who weren't so lucky are right next door with their grief and without their son.  

Most of my tears are for the little boy who never got to sleep in his own bed, never got to play in the sand on a summer's day.  The little boy whose short life spanned less than one winter, but who brought sunshine for such a short time.  

And there were so many tears this morning, after I thought I had none left, when I looked up out of habit and saw that the scooter was gone.  

Saturday, 8 February 2014

The Facebook Effect

I've noticed a curious occurrence recently after writing a blog post. Once it's done and posted, and I've looked at it from Google rather than from my own account, and I've either smiled fondly at it with a feeling of shy pride or, more likely, noticed a thousand typos and wanted to scratch off my own eyebrows in frustration (because the typos are only ever visible on my phone in a no-signal zone when I can't fix them), something odd happens.

A strange feeling settles over me, a disquieting air of waiting for something to happen. When I first noticed the feeling, I couldn't work out why it felt slightly familiar. After all, I couldn't quite put my finger on what the feeling actually was, so how did I know it was familiar? It would be like being discreetly eaten by moths and thinking, "Ah! This reminds me of the time when...". If you don't recognise the feeling, how can you claim to have felt it before?

The answer became apparent whenever I posted a status on Facebook that (I thought) was  hilarious. Waiting for people to click "like" or comment some inanity on my inanities, I realised that THIS was the feeling. I was waiting for someone to "like" my blog post! Also, I realised that I'm a skanky online attention whore who gets my validation from strangers on the internet, which probably isn't one of my more attractive character traits, but it is what it is. I like people to like what I write, because by extension, they then like me. Or something. I don't know, I'm not paying for Facebook therapy.

The only problem with this is, for someone to read what you've written, they have to know it exists. I'm probably the only blogger in the world who hides their output from pretty much everyone. Far too thin skinned to be in this game, I live in longing and terror that one day I'll log into my blog to see that someone has actually left a comment. Probably not something I should admit on the internet, notorious stomping ground of the criminally rude and malicious, but given that no one reads my ramblings anyway, I think I'm safe for now.

When a NO is a YES

A friend of mine wants to be a life coach.  Years ago, when we first met, he advised me to draw lines around a central point, one for each aspect of my life - money, career, relationship, home, social life, etc.  On a scale of 1 - 10 and assuming that 1 was closest to the central point and 10 was furthest away, he said to mark on each line where my happiness levels were.  Then, when the lines are joined up from the score marker, it's easier to see which areas of one's life need work.

Here's my graph.  It's pretty obvious what's not working for me right now.

You don't want to know how long I spent making this pretty.

It's not that I don't have a job, it's just that the one I'm doing is so not my thing.  I've been doing it now for 6 years and am surprisingly pretty good at it, but I'm under no illusions.  For me, it's a job, not a career.

With this in mind, I recently applied for another job.  It was a job I thought I'd be good at; a job I thought I'd enjoy.  A job that seemed so tailored for me, it didn't even seem like a real job.  The job spec went something like:

*  Looking for a pedantic, judgemental grammar nerd; 

*  Must be hypercritical and able to pick out the smallest of faults from half a mile away.  In the dark; 
*  Must be prepared to be paid a decent amount of money for something they'd do for free, given half the chance.

Yes, that's almost word for word, exactly what it said.  YES IT IS.  Well, that was what I took from it, anyway.

So, I applied despite them asking for a degree, which I don't have (no, dropping out twice is not almost the same as finishing once), and experience, which I also don't have.  I talked myself up to feeling like a real freelance writer with my little articles about DIY that I've written for an unknown website; and despite the fact that I don't think anyone ever reads the pages that I proofread, I made my input to them sound VERY IMPORTANT INDEED.    I managed to get past the HR interview, which I know is really just a filtering exercise to make sure you're not a complete dickhead and can string a sentence together in the correct language.  I was still pretty relieved that my lack of anything listed in the job specification didn't earn me a bollocking for wasting their time.  I handed in a localisation project for them to evaluate, and waited.  And waited.

I wanted this job so badly that I decided to try a visualisation technique that my friend talks about (surprisingly, not the life coach one.  Evidently I attract a certain, more alternative element of society).  He's bang into the "Law of Attraction" theory made famous and lucrative by Abraham Hicks, and says that you have to imagine yourself in the position you want to be in, as if it's already happened.  Convince yourself that you have got the job, or the boy/girlfriend, or the car, or whatever it is that's holding you back from complete fulfillment.  "Act as if" you're already there and you will put the right vibes out to the universe, which will respond by giving you what you want.

This approach makes me nervous, because I'm more of a pessimist than I realised until I started trying to actively change my thought processes.  I prefer the "hope for the best, prepare for the worst" approach which leaves little room for abject disappointment.  Anyway, I decided to give it a go and was so good at it that the first morning I tried, I convinced myself a little too well and couldn't sleep through excitement.  Oops.  On reflection, it might have been wise to wait until I wasn't on night shift.  

During the waiting period, which was almost a month in total due to Christmas getting in the way, a strange thing happened.  The job that I'd convinced myself I had, that I wanted desperately, that I NEEDED with every fibre of my being, started to seem less appealing.  Actually, that's not strictly true.  The job itself didn't become any less attractive, but the effect it would have on my family life made it seem less and less desirable.  I went from planning my "first day at the office" outfit to desperately trying to figure out how to make approximately 22 days of holiday stretch over the childcare black hole of sum
mer that lasts for two and a half months, to say nothing of Christmas, Easter and the multiple random days that Spain decides to close during the course of a year, just because.  I started telling myself at 6:30 pm every weekday evening that, were I to get the job, I'd just be coming in from work now and almost immediately starting the bath time/bedtime routine.  I started testing my feelings about losing time with my baby, going from 3 day working weeks where I'm out of the house while he's in bed and he goes to nursery Wed - Fri solely so I can sleep, to a full business week.  I worked out that, of the 168 available hours in a week, only 34 of them could feasibly be spent with my boy.  I worried about starting in a company which had no need or desire to be flexible with me for doctor's appointments, baby illness or inconveniently placed nursery holidays.  I realised that working 3 nights a week left 4 nights in which I could move shifts around if needed, but that expecting the rest of the world to adjust their working hours around my baby's teething when they, quite understandably, wanted to do business within the universally accepted time frame of Mon - Fri 9 - 6 probably wouldn't be quite so easy.  

With a heavy heart, I came to the conclusion that now probably wasn't the right time for this career move.  I fretted about what I would do if they offered me the job.  Turning it down would mean stagnating for longer in a job I had outgrown, but accepting it would mean saying goodbye to precious baby time, not being the person to teach Dom the rest of the animal noises, joining the millions of mums fighting through rush hour traffic or crowded public transport to get home just one minute sooner for just one more cuddle before saying goodbye an hour later at bedtime and again the next morning.  Doing that ALL WEEK.  Craving the scent of my baby, the time to just sit down and watch him figure out what the light switch does, the time to see him run around a park.  Despite my exasperation with so many aspects of my job (an entire post on its own), I couldn't deny the freedom it gave me to be a "full time mother" (GOD, I hate that phrase) 4 days out of the week rather than just two.  I had the balance, could I give that up to weight the scales in favour of work?  I know people do it every day, I know this is a normal life for most working mums, but I just wasn't ready for my graph to change so completely. I couldn't sacrifice all the lines for the sake of one. 

Evidently, the company I applied for felt the same way and turned down my application.  It was the most positive rejection I'd ever had - they liked my work, they thought I could do the job, but they ultimately received an application from somebody with more (read: any) experience.  

So now I'm back on the treadmill, keeping an eye out for the perfect job whilst continuing to drag myself through the working week where I am.  The short time that I had the other job (in my head) has given me an appreciation for my time with my family that can't be matched.  I've started turning off the data plan and wi-fi on my phone in the day so I'm not distracted from my time with Dom, because even if nothing in my working life ever changes, he changes every minute.  In no time, he'll be in school all week and I'll be free - free to get whatever job I want, or finally have a clean house, or go for a massage, or join a gym.  Free to give my all to looking for a job that will make me happy, without having to worry it'll simultaneously detract from the best part of my life and make me miserable.  Free to be more than a mama or a call centre agent.  But never, ever free of the craving for sweet baby skin, toddler knees, chubby arms around my neck, one more glimpse of the baby he was, the toddler he is, the boy he's becoming, the man he will one day be.  For the rest of my life, I'll never be free from loving him.  Never that.

*********     I first posted this back on  08/02/2014.  I had to take it down at the beginning of March when I went for a different job at the same company, as I'd stupidly mentioned I had a blog and the recruiter asked to see it.  I still wasn't sure that the time was right but I figured it's better to try anyway.  I didn't get the second job either, so now it can go back up without me having to worry it'll jeopardise my chances    **********