An Open Letter to Gina Ford – Author of The Contented Little Baby Book

Dear Gina,

I was interested to learn of your latest book “The Contented Mother’s Guide” (via this Daily Mail article: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2110738/Don-t-say-sex-ready-childcare-guru-Gina-Ford-tells-new-mothers.html). I haven’t read your book yet so am only commenting on what appears to be the press releases sent out by your publishers and the resulting interpretations of the media, but I do plan to read your book in full as soon as possible as I like to keep in touch with what is happening in the world of popular parenting literature.

For now though what I have read – what I believe may be comments from mothers in your book rather than yourself – has left that same sinking feeling in my heart that I was left with when I read your Contented Little Baby Book almost ten years ago as a nervous and naive new first time mother. Back then I wasn’t sure why your book made me feel so uncomfortable, particularly as all my other new mummy friends were raving about it, I did try your routines and your approaches to sleep, but I cried as much – if not more – than my baby did. In the end I think, after a wretched time that truly spoilt my enjoyment of my baby, I donated your book  to the local NCT branch’s library, something I regret regularly.

I know now of course why your first book made me so uncomfortable, it was because my maternal instinct was screaming at me to ignore your advice. I’m just so sorry I listened to the hype and not my inner voice. Now though I am older, stronger and wiser, I’m a seasoned mother of four and that same sinking feeling is no longer for me or my baby, now it is for the thousands (millions?) of new mothers who will read your newest book  and may feel as I did when I read your first. A lot has changed in ten years, it seems however the burden of expectation modern parenting manuals place on new parents has not.

I know you have not had children yourself, so including advice in your book from mothers to suggest resuming a sexual relationship as soon as possible after the birth (as per the Daily Mail article suggesting one mother advises in your book to “grin and bear it”) might not seem upsetting to you. Neither I suppose would you allowing the addition of a suggestion from a mother to your book who advises leaving a newborn with babysitters whilst the new parents enjoy a “date night.” I appreciate that for parenting experts who have not walked in the shoes of a new mother it must be hard to really understand what we go through and thus it must be incredibly hard to know what comments to include in your book in order to present a representative view of mothers. It saddens me that this advice made it in though, I remember how vulnerable and naive I was as a new mother and I think I would have worried about having to “grin and bear it” by having sex as soon as possible.

In my opinion, the reality of new motherhood is incredibly different and the advice in your book, however well meant or jovial – and whoever it comes from, I fear will do nothing more than make new mothers feel even more pressurised to be ‘perfect’ and make them doubt themselves and fuel the fires of guilt even more than your Contented Little Baby book made me feel (and actually ten years on STILL makes me feel a little). For me reading both in tandem I’m sure would have pushed me over the edge of the cliff into the cold and lonely waters of postnatal depression.

When you have just had a baby you experience so many unbelievable emotions, some wonderful, some less so as your body and your mind struggles to adapt to the change. Even if your birth has gone smoothly your vagina and perineum still feels as if it has done ten rounds with Mike Tyson for days, often weeks  after the pain of the contractions have been long forgotten. You bleed for weeks after the birth too. I have personally had three 2nd degree tears, each one obviously needing suturing.  Having stitches in perhaps your most intimate and sensitive body parts is not an experience to forget quickly. At first you are unable to sit down for any length of time, then comes the intense fear of the first poo, no matter how much lactulose you consume it is always far more terrifyng than birthing a baby – have you ever feared splitting in two – literally? and then the weeks it takes to recover from the indignity of having a stranger examine and insert their fingers into your private parts over and over again?

Then when you survive the first postnatal poo you have to endure days of said stitches itching and pulling as the skin heals and the stiches begin to break down – this remember is after a straightforward vaginal birth with a natural, fairly minor tear. For those women who suffer major tears or episiotomies their vaginas can feel bruised and  battered for months – even years and I haven’t even begun to think about what postnatal healing must

be like for those women who birthed by C-Section, major abdominal surgery that takes months to recover  from fully!

Then there is the all too constant reminder that we are “too attached” to our babies, for although we – as new mothers – feel they are the most important beings in the world, we are told we must not smother them, we must let them self settle in their own cot and now we are told we must go out without them. Not only that the suggestion, from another mother, published in your book that we must tear ourselves away from our newborns (we may as well be told to cut off a limb – such is the bereft feeling of emptiness when away from them) and “date” our partners, we must not talk of our baby – when that is the only thing in the world we want to talk about. We are boring and risking our relationship if we do otherwise though. Heaven forbid how did our species survive without these parenting tomes and advice?

Then there are the breasts that leak – or perhaps more embarrassingly squirt – milk whenever anybody comes near them,  the saggy crepe papery postnatal belly, the hair loss, the night sweats and the new levels of exhaustion you experience each day, just when you think the tiredness cannot get any worse and the sleep deprivation must surely reach a turning point soon. No amount of alcohol, massage oil, lubricant or dressing up helps your libido when you are an aching, tearful bundle of hormones who quite frankly could never possibly envision sex again (I was always amazed at my GPs responses at my 6wk checks when they asked me what contraception I was using? I always replied “abstinence – I’ve just had a baby” – as they discussed the merits of implants, pills and condoms with me).

….And then there  are the fathers. Are we partnered with such sexist primal cave men that unless we fulfil their carnal desires they will up and leave us for another? are they so shallow that they cannot possibly wait until we are physically and emotionally ready for sex again? must  we lie back and think of England? perhaps I should comb my hair, fix in a ribboned bow, clean the house from top to bottom and have his favourite three course meal prepared for his arrival home too? Do their babies mean so little to them that they want to return to normality and enjoy a social life as they did before – when they were free of the burdens of fatherhood? Really? Perhaps my husband is one of a kind then? because he fell head over heels as much as I did, I only feel guillty that he only had 2weeks paternity leave with each of our babies when I know he would have liked much longer. It is important that we do not undervalue new fathers.

kind regards

Sarah

About SarahOckwell-Smith

Sarah Ockwell-Smith, Parenting author and mother to four.
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