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Elizabeth Baines, The Birth Machine: A personal perspective

People of a sensitive nature (mostly men, I’m guessing!): don’t go away when you see the words birth, cervix, pregnancy or contractions. Read on. There are big issues about power, common sense, human dignity, support, respect and knowledge here.

My story first:
Six years ago, at the age of thirty-five when heavily pregnant (stick with it!) with our third child. I went for my final scan. The consultant, who hadn’t seen me for my other appointments although he was supposed to be my consultant, did that breezing in importantly thing that people who have gone so far into being a doctor that they have come out the other side and become a Mr. again do. God, he was… well, he was God.
‘Now. I’ve done my research, I’ve looked at the map and if you’d lived any further away I wouldn’t be letting you have a home birth,’ he informed me and my husband.

Don’t stop reading. This isn’t about home births.

He then announced that if I hadn’t gone into labour by the following week that they would start little procedures to help me along.
I smiled a polite, foolish smile that probably supported his opinion that I was a silly little woman. Yet inside I was suddenly realising what a pompous twit he was.
Some important facts now:
We knew how far we were from the hospital, we’d taken the trip plenty of times and had made our own very well informed choices. We had been present at every appointment, every scan for every child we had, no one else had – especially not the consultant – and we knew that, yet again, everything was going well.
This was our third child, the other two births had been extremely straightforward, I was incredibly healthy, I knew my body better than anyone else and I had a better knowledge than anyone else about how my body had coped with previous experiences.
The consultant’s bit of paper informing him of my due date was based on an ultrasound head measurement. Both our previous children had large heads… was that in his notes? MY estimation of the baby’s due date, however, was later and was based on calculations, dates and twenty years’ experience of my monthly cycle.
Yes, he thought he had the right to force a birth to happen unnaturally based on a head measurement…

Are you male? Are you female and squeamish? Have you managed to stick with me until now?

Based on my previous experiences I had tentatively put out feelers for a home birth. I asked around, I spent time in Open University parenting and pregnancy social forums and absorbed other mothers’ knowledge and experiences, I ordered literature from a midwifery group, I read homebirth experiences from booklets, from the Internet and books by well-qualified pregnancy and birth experts. I became very well educated. Then I planned out how it would work for us. Finally I sat my husband down and told him I wanted a home birth and that I knew what I was doing.
(Remember this is about power and common sense. I could relate a lot of what I have written here to my experience with builders… ! )
I told my team of midwives of my plan and they were immediately supportive and said it would be fine.

I will spare you the details but child number three came into the world with zero pain relief and within half an hour I was having a cup of tea and a chocolate Hobnob in bed. Throughout the latter stages of labour I was asked where I wanted to be and how I wanted to do things. I had power, dignity and support and was shown huge amounts of respect. I felt warm, I felt safe and I felt comfortable. The midwife that came out to help grinned a big soppy grin and said that home births were her favourite. (Because things went so well, the routine second midwife – who was on her way – was told to turn around and go back.)

So here’s my point. (Hooray! Nearly out of cervix zone, folks!)
I would never tell anyone to have a home birth.
I know mothers who wanted to be in hospital – that’s where they felt safe. I know others that have had emergencies and needed to be in hospital. Women must be able to make choices and not feel bullied or controlled. Being scared and uncomfortable is not good for the birthing process. Other people have said that they couldn’t have gone through it without the drugs. But I knew I could and I also knew that I would have support at home and – importantly – we could be easily and quickly transferred to hospital if there was a problem.

But. This man who wasn’t armed with my knowledge of my location, my history or my extensive research; this “Mister” thought he could give me permission as to where and when to have my child.

And, by the way, she was born on the exact date I had calculated and weighed a healthy 8lb 5oz.

I had given myself the right to choice (even though when certain people heard about my plans for a home birth you would have thought I was planning to run off to remote frozen woods and have my baby in a hollowed out tree with only the wolves for company!). And unfortunately many women, for one reason or another, don’t feel they have the right to make and voice important decisions.

(Now do you want to hear about the builders???)

The Birth Machine by Elizabeth Baines

So when I read Elizabeth Baines’s The Birth Machine about a young, vulnerable woman completely stripped of power and dignity and Elizabeth’s comment that her book was a plea for logic I thought: ‘Yes.’

I don’t like book blurbs, reviews or introductions that give too much of a novel away. I recently had an experience of revelations in the opening chapters of a novel being tainted by too much being revealed in an introduction.
What I will say though, is that this is a short book that needs time and thought; not only to grasp the real behind the satire but also to appreciate the amazing talent that this author has to give you thoughts and feelings without telling you what to think or feel. If you think dilated cervix, waters breaking, contractions and pain are all too much for your sensitive disposition, you should try reading about Zelda. She didn’t get a choice. She had to grow up quickly when so-called powerful, educated men couldn’t apply their power or their education appropriately and I know a little of how she feels.
If you’re a woman who has ever had builders that will only talk to the man of the house you will know her frustration. If you have experience of powerful people who rule by title and charisma, bypassing logic or empathy, you will know her frustration.
And if you want to know how to write well, this book is for you.

Also by Elizabeth Baines and thoroughly readable (and no amniotic fluid!) are a collection of short stories: Balancing on the Edge of the World and short novel: Too many Magpies

Okay – so I did NaNoWriMo…

My back aches.

My backside is numb.

But I did it.

Boy, it feels good.

I have something that I can turn into a novel over the next few months and I now know that I can write 50,000 words in less than a month if I need to.
I had a whole week of not writing for NaNoWriMo because of completing a psychology course, so some days I had to write over 4,000 words to catch up.

Being bloody-minded, having older children that are at school and an understanding partner are what have made this possible.
I couldn’t have done it with small children around and I take my hat off to anyone that did.

Nuff said

National Novel Writing Month 2010: accomplished.


She drove to the town car park and sat a while.
Then she got out and walked up the high street against the November wind to the only remaining music store for miles around, wrapping her now oversized coat closely across her chest.
She was met by a pathetic blast of hot air hitting the top of her head in the doorway, but other than that the shop was cold and draughty. The carpet was worn and there were empty spaces in the racks that had once been crammed.
She was the only customer and the lad behind the till didn’t look up as she walked past.
She headed for the classical CDs. She had shopped here regularly, once upon a time, for presents for Peter and the children but rarely in the classical music section and rarely for herself.
There was a very old, faded poster of Charlotte Church as a child from her classical singing days in the 1990s. It had obviously come unstuck at the corner several years ago and one side of her head had curled over. Another poster showed a photo of a piano and advertised the complete Bach ‘Well-tempered Clavier’ on a “New” 4-CD set.
She looked down at the arrangement of the CDs. Vaguely alphabetical, slightly dusty and sparsely stocked. What composer was she looking for? she wondered.
The lad behind the till walked over with a CD cover to put back on the shelf.
She turned to him. ‘Do you think people will soon stop buying CDs altogether?’ she asked.
‘Dunno. ‘spec so. Dad’s determined to stick at it though. He doesn’t like change. But everything’s downloads now. Should move with the times if you ask me.’
‘Quite right.’ She smiled. She clearly wasn’t moving with the times and he clearly wasn’t bothered about his comment putting off a potential customer. She looked down, hoping she looked like a music buff, only to realise she had started at Z.
She tapped her fingers over the edges of the CDs and lifted them just enough to see the names, hoping for inspiration. Did any of these write cello music? If so, it wasn’t obvious.
Finally she came across a picture of a cello. Rachmaninoff & Prokoviev. She held it, looking at the photo: a man with a cello and a man at the piano. It wasn’t much help really. How did she know if she would like it? How wasteful spending… she looked at the price… £12.99 on something that she might only ever listen to once. Peter would have disapproved – in fact Peter would have refused to listen to it. If he had been stood next to her she would have had to put it back.
So she didn’t put it back. She would take it home and make up her own mind whether this was a bad buy or not.
‘Are you interested in a loyalty card?’ asked the lad indifferently.
‘I don’t live round here anymore, I’m afraid.’

She slipped the CD into the car’s CD player and drove out of the familiar car park. As she pulled out of the entrance a very slow low cello sound began to vibrate from the speakers. It was mournful, tragic and lonely. The melody was so not Western and so unfamiliar and when the piano joined in the harmony was so discordant that she reached for the off button. It was certainly no Johnny Cash. But before she had a chance the tune livened up. Not in a light happy way, but in a forceful, defensive way. It was if the music was shouting at her to give it a chance. She drove on absorbing the sounds, feeling pulled into the rolling thoughtful trickle of the piano, the sadness and the memories being tugged out of her. Then with a burst of fast clashes as the cellist struck unpredictable note combinations loudly she was thrown into sounds that fought, that ran, that wouldn’t rest. It was the cacophony in her head captured in a piece of music.

By the time she got back to the flat she was on the second playing of the CD and was beginning to pick out tunes familiar from the first listening. She had been taken to rivers, forests and castles, seen battles, deaths, spring time lambs and lovers all from the fairy tale quality of the music and she felt she had been treated to a comforting sanctuary of emotive experiences that she hadn’t experienced since she was a child with time and permission to get lost in her own imagination.

(This is a section from my current NaNoWriMo WIP. It may be changed beyond recognition or be lost altogether when I start editing…Who knows?…)


I smile at your hand; too big for your champagne glass, next to mine curving delicately – about the right size.

I love how your thumb joint is wider, squarer, stronger-looking.

I adore the veins standing proud like steel cables; running back and forth, joining hand to wrist; bold ridges so unlike my own smooth wrists.

I marvel at our differences: the thickness at your shoulder and your neck, your hand speckled with hairs – which I know thicken as they run up your sleeve.

I delight in the knowledge that I was the last one who mapped out your arms before they became hidden by shirt and by suit. No one but I saw those veins spreading life around your body on the morning of our wedding day.

I touch your left hand with my left hand, press my forefinger onto your wedding ring and feel the cool glass of the photo frame.

I stroke those veins now smoothed into a visual likeness and remember how heat touched my body and how we contrasted: soft and cool against hot and strong.

I see my own hands, now no longer smooth. The finger retracing its well-worn path has ridges and veins, freckles and liver spots.

I withdraw my hand in horror – an old woman touching a young man.

I pick up my duster and continue cleaning.

Shambelurkling & other stories

Today clever and hard-working Marit Meredith got the very lovely-looking Shambelurkling and Other Stories (and poems too) all wrapped up and ready for sale.

Shambelurkling and Other Stories

It’s an anthology of stories and poems aimed at 8-12 year-olds. Isn’t it gorgeous?

And the really good news is that she’s done this especially to raise money for the National Autistic Society’s Early Bird Plus Programme and it’s out in time for Christmas.

AND my first ever attempt at writing for children is in it – Hooray!

You can get a copy here and help raise money for charity:

Shambelurkling and Other Stories available at

Shambelurkling and Other Stories available at

(I’ve ordered fifteen 🙂 )

The Space Nut

The space nut was on a haphazard course to the only place life had ever been successful. Thrown by a final, shattering explosion from its planet of origin, the nut rebounded among the enormous moon clusters of The Giant Star of the Light World, singeing its outer-casing and only escaping when the force of the ferocious fires roaring from the spinning planets that burned and whizzed around the largest, hottest sun that ever existed spat it out of orbit until it finally slowed in the shadowier world beyond the huge planets that fought for space and light in an overcrowded, uninhabitable galaxy.
The space nut was sucked through colder greyer light until it came to rest in the cool dark dust of a tiny moon that borrowed second-hand light from the light reflecting off other moons. This darker moon took a hazardous orbit around its mighty neighbouring planet often thrown off course by the orbits of the bigger moons.
The nut cooled in the dark until, hit by space rocks, the precarious moon jerked, releasing the nut from its dry bed. The space nut was hurled once more into the speckled half-light and dragged away by a cold dark force. The energy in its kernel, still intact, slept and waited patiently.
The dark force pulled the nut though icy blackness that no other living creature could have survived.
The frozen wilderness quickly incased the space nut in an ice meteor and it hurtled seemingly in battle against other ice meteors in a violent clash that went on for an unknown time in space. Pieces of ice chipped away as it soared back and forth, from the force of each impact. Out of the blackness came sparks of energy from the violence of the crashes. Any human ear would have been deafened by the sound but no one heard or ever will. Thousands of crashes later the space nut within its meteor was thrown far enough out, and small enough by now, to slip past the giant meteors.
Distant stars became visible and as they appeared they decorated the blackness. There were more stars than any human had ever seen or ever will.

The space nut floated in its ice casing for more immeasurable passing of time. Scraps of space junk occasionally drifted near until eventually a pre-programmed exploratory spacecraft took it’s fiftieth – now pointless – annual course back to its place of origin, speared the ice meteor, taking the nut with it on its course though the darkness and eventually into the light towards a small blue planet.
As they neared the planet, the nut thawed and was pulled by the blue planet’s gravity down, down, down.

The soggy, battered space nut, with half its casing breaking loose, flumped into a sodden bed of rotten leaves and weeds in the shadow of a huge grey angular structure that jutted upwards from the ground – cracked and forsaken – pointing to the sky…
The nut softened in briny soil, felt the perfect pull of the earth keeping it in place and beckoning it to send roots. It warmed, swelled, absorbed energy, puffed itself and burst; splitting and surging into the ground below and the air above. Its natural energy to fight fought against gravity and sent shoots up into the light and salty air. Its natural instinct to be secure sent roots running eagerly into the damp humus-filled earth. What earth … what a lovely earth. The new plant’s growth followed the sun, learned a pattern of day and night that was new to its ancestral planet-hopping trees, all now long dead. The small tree sent leaves out to play in the wind, to store energy and pushed out great curvy branches that if anyone had seen would have said were smiling.
Old trees uprooted by floods and hurricanes lay at rest in the surrounding ground and the nut tree grew stronger and taller, curling its new roots on and on around the ancient bodies; feeding, supporting itself, adapting.
If any humans had seen the tree they would have picked its fruit, eaten its great seeds and marvelled at its strength, size and beauty and the nutritional powers of the great skull-sized energy-rich nuts. But they didn’t see, they couldn’t, they never would…

Fast Food

‘Aww. Hang on a minute, Kaz – I love this programme! Leave it on this channel.’

So now we see those chicken pieces going a lovely golden colour which means they are ready to turn. And remember this is just olive and oil and seasoning. Very low fat and healthy and still looks and smells gorrrrgeous…

‘Oh yeah. He’s great. You could actually eat some of the stuff he cooks.’

So in go all those thinly sliced veg we prepared just now and we keep stirring to get it hot all the way through and Bob’s yer uncle. Or in my case, Harry. My uncle’s called Harry. Haw haw!’

‘Funny too…’

Okay – so we’re ready to serve… Quick as that! Yum…

‘We could do that, Kaz.’
‘We could, Jakey. Dead simple. Looks really nice too.’
‘Bloody speedy. Be on the table in no time. We’ll do that one, one night shall we?’
‘Yeah, sure. Not tonight though…’
‘No, not tonight…’
‘I’ve had those hotdogs defrosting all day.’
‘Have you, Kaz? I like hotdogs. Nice and easy.’
‘Ya know what? I might just pop them in the microwave – just to make sure. And shall we send Tiny out for chips or do you not want to wait that long? Maybe I’ll defrost some extra rolls, shall I?’
‘Pop down the pub later and get our little princess a sorbet after, shall we? Gotta get some fruit inside her somehow?’
‘I’ve got some oranges from Denise-up-the-road’s 2-for-1 shop today?’
‘Awww no – oranges take too long. They’re all fiddly… Alright… Shush now. He’s doing the dessert…’

Welcome back. Here’s what you’ll need for my healthy 2-minute Greek orange pud…

‘We could do that, Jakey.’
‘We could, Kaz…’
‘Not tonight though…’
‘No. Not tonight…’

Perfect Toothpaste

Oh my God, he truly has changed, she thought, smiling as she stood in the bathroom, noticing that the bath mat was hung up, there was no thumb-sized dent halfway up the toothpaste tube, no hundreds & thousands eyebrow, nose or razor hairs decorating the basin, yesterday’s socks were not left in inside-out balls on the floor waiting for her to pick up and pull back to shape with a cringe before washing.

She walked across the landing to the top of the stairs. Mmm… Her nose sucked in invisible coffee twirls. Wow – not only had he got up first this time but he’d also made coffee even though he didn’t drink it!
Her hand slid down the well-polished banister; smooth, clean, continuous lines, right to the end. No jacket hung at the bottom. He’d finally got the message.

What’s this? No newspaper on the table? No TV on? He’d even got the bloody toast rack out.
‘Boiled or poached?’ He spun round brightly, wearing her apron and waving an egg at her with one hand and doing ‘jazz hands’ with the other.
Was that Radio 2 playing Liza Minelli over on the windowsill behind him?
‘Well, I prefer poached. Can you do poached?’
‘Anything for you!’ he sang.
Was that a Gloria Estefan song?
She wandered over to the sink to get a glass of water for her vitamins.
‘No, no! You sit down. It’s all on the table.’ He waved an arm as if announcing its arrival on a stage.
What a performance.
What, no demeaning arse-slap? No cheeky grope as she leaned into the fridge to make a note of anything that needed buying after work?
‘Madam’s toast and coffee are on the table, if one would care to begin,’ he offered.
She looked for the place clearly designated by the cup of coffee then sat at the table watching him.
‘What have you done with your hair?’
He tilted his head, mock model style. ‘Just some hair gel and a new parting. You’re always saying it’s a mess. You like?’
‘Umm.’ She chose not to answer.
He sat opposite, telling her his plans for the day. When he’d be home, how he was taking his mobile phone into the store to check a problem he was having. What he might have for lunch. Which work colleagues he might see at lunchtime. All in excessive, boring detail.
God it was tedious. She couldn’t get a word in edgeways. Why so much detail? Why so many words? She stopped listening and merely guessed at ‘yes’ or ‘no’ every time his pitch rose questioningly. She looked around for distractions. There was none. She looked at her watch.
Oh boy. It’s ages until I need to leave yet…
‘I’d better just do the kitchen.’ She hurried over to the sink with her plate and cup.
‘Leave it! I’ll do that! You won’t do it properly!’ he exclaimed.
‘Of course I will.’ She put her cutlery in the dishwasher.
‘Oh Michelle-uh!’ he protested as he arrived at her side, taking her cutlery back out to compartmentalise it.
‘”Michelle-uh”? Eew. Don’t say it like that. You sound like my little sister.’ Michelle shuddered, heading for the stairs to finish getting ready.

She didn’t know why she did what she did next.
She went to the coat rack, grabbed a coat and a jacket and slung them over the banister. Then she threw a pair of shoes and a handbag on the floor.

She ran upstairs, took the toilet paper off the holder, leaving it empty, grabbed a towel and a pair of knickers out of the laundry basket and left them in the middle of the floor.
She turned to walk out but he was standing in the bathroom doorway with his hands on his hips watching her.
She dropped her head, pouted and looked up though her fringe. Then she darted towards him and roughly ruffled his crispy-gelled monstrosity of a hairdo laughing hysterically as he stood completely still.
Unsettled by his lack of reaction and still trapped inside the bathroom she turned and took the lid off the toothpaste, then pushed her thumb firmly into the centre of the tube.
‘Now you’re in trouble,’ he said, removing his flowery apron and raising one eyebrow.
Oh good. I hope so …

NaNoWriMo? Who me? …

I’m not doing NaNoWriMo this year. I’ve told my husband that I understand that it wouldn’t be fair to make myself unavailable for a whole month, particularly as we have 3 kids, a home to run, our own business, I am doing 2 Open University courses, etc, etc…. I won’t bore you (any further). No, what I’ve decided to do instead is this:
I’m trying to find some time every day this month to write about two thousand words. No stress – just when I find time. I’m following on from where I got to the night before everyday and keeping it all in the same document – kind of like a novel really.
When I’ve finished writing for the day, I’m making a note of my daily word count and my overall wordcount and casually mentioning it on Twitter.
Oh – and I’m also popping the number into a little wordcount box kindly provided by the lovely NaNoWriMo people on their site. Just for fun, you understand…
I think if I get to the end of the month and I find I’ve written over 50,000 words I may just pop into the NaNoWriMo site to see how everyone else got on and then maybe I’ll spend a few months editing and rewriting to see what I’ve got…

For those people who are doing NaNoWriMo, there are these lovely little widgets, so you can share your wordcount. Aren’t they lovely? I’d love one of those
(the widgets are a bit slow to show up when the NaNoWriMo site is busy)

If only I was doing NaNoWriMo …


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