Today I did consider the Orlando mass shooting as a blog subject but whichever way I attempted to approach this awful event, I felt unqualified to write about it. Suffice to say, it was, and is, horrible seeing the details unfold and I send condolences to all.
Instead then, this weekend I finished reading The Hand That First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell. I am very late to this book - it won the Costa prize in 2010 - but since Maggie O'Farrell's seventh novel, This Must Be The Place, has just been released to very good reviews, I thought I should read some of her earlier work, in an attempt to look at her progression as a novelist (now doesn't that sounds grown up?!) when I read the new book.
I was not prepared for the effect The Hand That First Held Mine had on me. I gather from a recent profile in Writing magazine that Ms O'Farrell does have young children but her writing about the immediate aftermath of bringing a baby home touched me very deeply. One of the main characters has had an emergency caesarean section and is completely disorientated once at home alone with the baby. I found it very very poignant. In fact, as I was reading some passages, I felt as if I was once again standing in the dark hallway of the house to which we brought our eldest home. So sleepless I was basically hallucinating. No idea what I was doing but very aware of having to keep another human being alive (my only previous 'live responsibility' having been a hamster). It was like the author had delved into my head and taken my deepest, darkest thoughts. I remember, for example, being obsessed with hearing one of the emergency surgeons referring to it being the end of their shift while they were sewing me up. I became convinced I had been 'deprived' of a natural birth because they were in a hurry. Not because they were saving my child's life obviously.
What kept me going through those confusing months was friends, a plethora of 'what to do with babies' books and the then fledgling internet resources like Mumsnet. I am still close to some of the friends I made as I dragged my hugely pregnant and then just completely knackered self around our new home city. Looking back, Eldest was actually not that difficult a baby either...
And how on earth did women manage before NCT groups, playgroups, self-help books, Mumsnet, etc. As children, my brother and I used to laugh at my mother's reliance on her Dr Spock for diagnosing illnesses. Now I can see that there was very little else available. She did not live round the corner from either of our grandmothers and frankly, I am not sure what use they would have been anyway. We had a neighbour who actually saved my brother' life when he had convulsions. She also had older children so had been there, done that. But it was not exactly a meeting of minds for my mother, to say the least.
Parenting is the hardest job I have ever, without question, done. I have worked with politicians, TV people, investment bankers, all sorts. But I am into my thirteenth year of parenting now and although it changes constantly, it does not get easier. Yes, I am now one of those who looks at a new baby and hands it back saying 'just you wait, this is the easy part'.
However, in countries like the UK, when we look back over our family history, we can see, mostly, the progressions in ante- and post-natal health. In contraception. In life expectancy. There are still far too many countries in the world, though, where parenting of the type I have attempted to describe is a complete luxury. Daily survival, hand-to-mouth, is the priority in these places. If your child is lucky enough to survive to its teens, you will have been expecting them to have been paying their own way for a long time.
Of course, poverty, neglect etc can be found everywhere in the world. But as I read The Hand That First Held Mine and was transported back to my own personal battles - which still continue as far as depression is concerned - I wondered how so many parents but women especially manage to keep mind and body together in physical circumstances far beyond our imagining. From war zones and refugees to drug addictions and slavery to 'just' lack of what we consider basic resources. They are all amazing. And they deserve our help.
[If you would like to help with such issues, my suggested charity would be http://www.oxfam.org.uk/what-we-do/issues-we-work-on but there are many others if you google.]