A self-fulfilling state

I watch a lot of television (really? whyever for? Well…) and therefore spend as much time as possible trying to avoid watching ads.

I’m not some sort of moron who thinks ads are pure evil (well I’m not too keen on children’s ads but that’s a whole other blog post) and I like to hear about new products and services. I think some ads are genuinely clever and entertaining. I think other ads are pure lazy and boring. Many ads are for products that I will never engage with, some are for products that may have been of interest or will be of interest in a particular period of my life.

But advertising execs of the world I am putting you on your first warning. Well apart from all the unheard shouting in my living room. I will no longer accept your made up nonsense about women and men and which of them does the shopping. I don’t care if that’s what the stats say; this doesn’t mean that it’s right. I challenge you to surprise me with an ad that tries to guilt men into buying products with dubious health benefits for their children. Y’see I just don’t think you will do it.

Two men in kitchen amazingI also think it’s dubious and downright offensive to run ads that imply that only women are intelligent enough or organised enough to run a household. If running a household requires that much intelligence (and i think it does require mental, physical and emotional resources not required by some other jobs) why is it so poorly rewarded in western society? You don’t meet many millionaire nannies.* I would buy the product of any manufacturer who convinced a government to also recognise that contribution to society by properly rewarding anyone who takes on these tasks. Work life balance needs a champion. It needs highlighting the way Jamie Oliver highlighted good food in Britain. Should we expect advertisers to spot this trend and act on it? Especially in a recession?

I just worry that using these lazy cultural shortcuts (women are put upon; men are stupid & lazy) that they will become self-fulfilling. People say to me and I hear myself saying how lucky I am to have a husband who pitches in. Every time I hear myself saying it I mentally kick myself. How insulting to both of us. In fact I sometimes think, as he puts on another load of washing, how unlucky he is to be lumped with me!

As I grow older I realise more and more as I see my friends hitching up in all manner of unexpected combinations that it is practically impossible to understand what makes couples tick. They will be as we say in Irish “thuas seal, thíos seal” and stereotypes and assumptions about roles in society just box us all in and remove opportunities.

*As a total aside I wonder are any of the creches built in the boom on government money now in NAMA?

Find your inner Ada

So my Ada Lovelace Day post is a lot late. Ironically it is because I was so busy looking after our own Ada! I have great hopes that in 30 years time I will be able to write about her on Ada Lovelace Day!

Today is Ada Lovelace Day and bloggers are encouraged to write about women in technology and science. As the holder of not one but two Masters (or Mistresses!) of Science I feel downright obliged to take up this challenge. However as one of those MScs has been described as a “MSc for drawing pictures” and the other is in the social sciences you will understand that my take on science and technology might be a little broader than most. Rather than writing about one woman in particular I have decided to write about all the women who have inspired scientific thoughts in my mind over the years.

  1. I’m going to kick off badly with an assumption and that assumption is that whoever decided to install two science labs (and only one Home Ec. room) in my secondary school was a woman. It was a convent run school with maybe 5 male teachers, none of whom taught science, so is it a fair assumption? These labs were large, bright and, I thought, well-equipped (although I had never been in any other science lab so…). They were probably very old-fashioned with their wooden worktops and rolly blackboards compared to the labs that many schools would have nowadays. But all the wood and the trees outside conjured up the kind of lab you could imagine Marie Curie hunkering down in for some serious experimentation.
  2. These labs would have been all for nothing if the nuns who ran the school hadn’t timetabled plenty of science. No matter what choice of subjects that was made for Inter or Leaving Cert you could always mix in some science subjects. Not only that but science was afforded the same hours as core subjects English, Irish, Maths & French.
  3. I was also lucky to have some great teachers. Ms. Stevenson taught me science to Inter Cert with a no-nonsense approach. She also went on to have the joy of teaching me Chemistry to Leaving Cert and I’m sorry to have let her down at the last hurdle with that D. Ms. Mee taught me Physics to Leaving Cert and taught us above all, especially in Science, it’s all about experimentation. Every week she would demonstrate an experiment in our single Physics before lunch and not one of her experiments ever worked.
  4. My lab partners in Physics and Chemistry to Leaving Cert kept me going through the more boring parts of Organic Chemistry. A big shout out to S & M, you know who you are! S, in particular said one of the nicest if nerdiest thing to me ever when we were in sixth year. Discussing electormagnetics she said, “I always remember cathodes are negative and Roseanodes are positive.” A description I have always tried to live up to ever since.
  5. My mother has always been a keen advocate of technology especially as a teaching aid. She purchased an IBM PC for the family when I was still in secondary school. Also some thanks must go to the eldest “girl” in my family who brought computers into our home when other families were just getting to grips with VCRs. My eldest brother Blaise won a ZX Spectrum in a Telecom Eireann Art Competition (weird I know) and the headline under the picture of him with his long hair and the two actually female runners up the next day ran, “Three schoolgirls win prizes…” My mother was and still is an early adopter when it comes to technology and was the first person to teach me how to use a PC. Mainly she just left us at it which is what it’s all about really. Except when the child is three (covering my own ass for giving out to Nipper 2.0 messing with my laptop.)
  6. Science and I then parted company for a while as I studied Drama Studies and Modern Irish. That said there was some study of semiotics, the science of signs, and linguistics, the science of language, but no noteworthy women popped up. However aforementioned S and I communicated by email throughout this time as her science career continued overseas. At the time students in TCD had to apply for an email account, with the blessing of a lecturer from their faculty, and it was very complicated because I had to explain to my tutor what email was. I also spent a year in Glasgow University who were a little ahead of TCD and this helped me really develop my use of computers and the internet for communication and research.
  7. My MSc in Multimedia Systems introduced me to plenty of inspirational women not least Ada Lovelace herself as part of our gallop through the history of computing at the very beginning of the course. Between my female classmates and some of our lecturers my love of popular technology developed and grew. However, try as they might, my actual technical abilities did not and the word Java still send shivers down my spine. It’s all coming out now. A particular shout out to my favourite physicist – you know who you are!
  8. Since then I’ve had numerous jobs but my ability to use computers and the internet has always been part of my success. When I read (online!) about a new online course in Social Research Skills I knew I could do it and that the online aspect would be a boon for me rather than an obstacle. I would like to thank the course director, Professor Síle O’Connor, for taking a leap of faith and allowing someone with no previous social science qualification to undertake the course. I hope the fact that I and two other women were the first to complete the MSc online proved her right. It was tough going at times as I had to learn a whole new way of thinking. I was particularly inspired by our qualitative research skills lecturer Wendy Saunderson who managed to communicate her passion for qualitative research methods across time and space. I was only sorry that when it came to my thesis I ran out of time to include a qualitative section to put some of her training to the test.
  9. Since I started working with the Irish Internet Association I have, of course, met many inspirational female technologists, innovators and early adopters. If I start naming names, I’ll leave someone out so I won’t. That said it has not escaped my notice that I tend to be one of only a handful of women at technology events in Ireland. (It also hasn’t escaped my attention that I feel like a bit of a techfaux at many of these events but everyone needs fans and hangers-on, right?) If I have been given the honour of speaking at a business event I will generally be the only female speaker. Coming from a completely different sector which, up to a certain level, is female dominated, it was very noticeable to me how few women were visible in the online/ internet/ technology sector. This is not a new topic but it is certainly one that deserves to be raised regularly. Of course, I don’t think women should only be asked to speak because they are women but I have been asked to participate in initiatives where the fact that I’m a woman is an added bonus. In other words I would not have been asked without my expertise but I am being asked rather than a man with the same expertise because I’m a woman and it’s essential that the initiative include the views of women. Honestly I don’t know how I feel about that. I know it’s wrong but generally I think the exclusion of women in hitherto male dominated sectors is still an issue that needs to be underlined.
  10. I mentioned that my take on science & technology might be somewhat broader than most. I am going to include two architects. Firstly Dublin-based Celie O’Connell designed our beautiful home which is full of light and space and is a joy to live in. Secondly Louise Sliney is an amazing architect based in Cork who has created a beautiful home for herself to which she welcomes our whole family at the drop of a hat. If you need an architect either of these women will treat you royally!

Good news for mums-to-be

The Coombe Women
Photo right owned by MarianF55 (ccOn a recent visit to the Coombe Women’s Hospital for an antenatal appointment with my midwife she shared some great news with me. We were chatting about this and that and she told me that she had done her training on the Domino Scheme in the National Maternity Hospital in Holles St. This is the scheme under which I had Nipper 1.0 and 2.0. Domino stands for Domiciliary/ In and Out. It means that mothers on the scheme can have their babies at home or go in, have their baby and then go home within 6 to 12 hours if everything checks out. These schemes are woman centred and open only to women with uncomplicated pregnancies (e.g. no first timers over 35, no multiple pregnancies, no previous caesarean etc.) Expectant mothers are looked after by a team of midwives but if required can always be referred to a specialist.

I found my experience on the Domino Scheme in Holles st. really empowering and the quality of care was top notch considering the Victorian-era hospital in which they work. I never had to wait for an appointment and in fact when I opted for a home birth in my second pregnancy I had all my appointments at home. Can you imagine if these schemes were available to women all over Ireland how much time would be saved? Surely the recent Swine Flu “epidemic” underlines the need to keep at risk groups from congregating? There will of course always be women who need specialist care and there will of course always be women who think they need special care but I feel the Domino scheme gave me very special care.

Anyway the good news is that the Coombe have finally got the go-ahead for their Domino Scheme and will start taking bookings soon for August/ September babies. So if you have just found out you are pregnant and you are outside the catchment for the Rotunda or Holles St. give the Coombe a ring and book yourself in. You won’t regret it!

(Oh and yes I have great plans for a post about the poor state of websites and the pathetic use of online services among health care services in Ireland.)

Rosie is riveted

Live action Rosie the RiveterPhoto owned by H.C. Williams (cc)

My attention was of course arrested by the cover of last week’s Economist with the iconic shot of Rosie the Riveter proclaiming that We Did It! The basic gist of the three articles in The Economist is that the number of women in the workforce now equals the number of men. Good news indeed. However the articles go on to underline that these women are not represented in management roles across all sectors (although there are some exceptions in some sectors) and that they don’t, on average, earn as much as men. Nothing new there sadly. The briefing (which doesn’t seem to be available online) concludes the same as I have been concluding since I began my own childbearing and rearing: equality in the workplace will never occur until there is mandatory paternity leave. If I was a father expecting my third child I wouldn’t be looking at a 50% pay cut because I’m creating more consumers/ workers/ pension scheme payees. Of course I earn on average less than men even if I continue working as a result. This is escalating into a post for another day.

I also think it’s very ironic that The Economist chose to celebrate women in the workforce not six months after they published an article about polymaths in their lifestyle magazine which included a list of 20 living fabulous, clever, wonderful polymaths. All of them are men. How about helping me compile a list of living female polymaths? Suggestions in the comments below. My big problem is that the women I can think of aren’t famous for any of their amazing talents. Hmmm.

No. 7 or Rosie the Cow

I had my first experience of the standard ante-natal care in Dublin yesterday. I nearly avoided it due to a recent change in the hospital’s system (reaction to recent news? Maybe…) that meant that women on the Coombe’s Midwife scheme (like me) are no longer obliged to see a consultant on their second visit. However the midwives were full up so I had to push on with my visit to the Ob/Gyn Specialist. Even though I did not want to, or as far as I could tell, need to.

Photo owned by Dan Phiffer (cc)

I was seventh in line for my consultant and the place was jammers. Post it notes have a lot to answer for in this world. A post it with the mysterious marking “BR 7” was affixed to my chart and I was told room 5 or 6. No explanation was given to me about what I should expect, how I would know when it was my turn. There seemed to be about 5 consultants working. Different midwives would emerge every once in a while and call a name and a number or a name or a number. There didn’t seem to be much logic but I trusted that I would hear either my name or my number. No such luck for the couples whose English wasn’t the mae west or whose names were completely garbled by the staff. When my number was called, up I lept after the woman who called it only to find her there, gone! by the time I had gathered all my stuff. Other women present helpfully pointed me behind a curtained off area where a clatter of midwives did all the standard urine & blood pressure checks first and then proceeded to marvel at my bicycle helmet. “I’m pregnant not disabled”, I said, smiling,  “This is my third pregnancy, I think I know what I’m doing.”

While I was waiting again another consultant arrived into his rooms, all-a-fluster. He was an older guy. He went in and out again a couple of times and generally fluted about. I had been there about half an hour and he was only arriving in. I didn’t pay much attention to him until he pops his head out the door and asks the assembled women (and men), “Right who’s first? What system are we using today?” Oooh way to inspire confidence in your patients.

Thankfully he wasn’t the consultant I was visiting. It turned out my consultant wasn’t in room 5 or 6 either. So far, so fail on the instructions, hospital staff. The consultant was very nice, obviously a warm and intelligent woman, but honestly did nothing for me that all the midwives that cared for me in previous pregnancies hadn’t been more than able to do. In fact she did less because the urine and blood pressure tests had been done already. All good and 20 minutes (at most) later off we went.

Only to have to queue for 10 minutes to hand our file back in and make another appointment. At least cows get to stand in a pleasant field. And the farmer and if required the vet comes to them so as not to interrupt their valubale eating and gestating and mooing work. Of course you can sell a cow and her calf so respect is due to them. Moo.

I was going to leave it at that: a non-plussed account of a visit to a Dublin maternity hospital. But honestly my feelings on this came between me and my sleep early this morning. (That and the urgent need to pee :)) The mind just boggles about the whole system for ante-natal care in Ireland. I have decided that it is a total racket, a money-making scam. I don’t think any individuals are to blame: I think the system is flawed and possibly even corrupt.

The system as it is at the moment means that 100s of women every day have to travel to a central point to have a 20 minute appointment with someone who is over qualified for the average consultation. I do not know how the system works but I presume that the hospital gets paid per woman and obviously they get paid more if that woman visits a consultant. No doubt they get a cut and if a consultant costs say EUR100/ hour and a midwife costs EUR50/hour it doesn’t take a genius to work out why it’s better for the system to force a healthy woman to see a specialist. Please correct me if I’m wrong on these assumptions. I want to understand this system.

Then of course there are also the facilities and their upkeep. The toll that 100 women a day and their partners take on a hospital is no doubt great, no matter how well designed. While I cannot fault the staff that I have met throughout my 3 pregnancies so far, their working conditions, in Holles St., in particular are far from salubrious. Holles St make no secret about this. Naturally it is to the HSE the hospital turn seeking grants to allow them to upgrade their facilities to cater for these 1000s of women a year who are in their care.

But let’s just say for the sake of argument that 50 of those 100 women never had to go to the hospital. What if they were told that from now on all their pregnancy needs would be looked after by a midwife in their community based in the local Health Centre or a local GP’s clinic? What if from now on all these women were told that the highly trained and qualified midwife could refer them to a specialist if specialised care was required? What if these midwives visited the women in their homes, especially in the final trimester, and encouraged them to give birth in their own comfortable surroundings rather than in an uncomfortable, anonymous delivery room?

Who would gain from this arrangement? The women obviously who could arrange to meet their midwife in their home or a local centre. The benefits during labour and childbirth of being in your home or at least a familiar environment with people you know are many. The hospital could retain its facilities and specialists for those who were in actual need. Employers, who are legally obliged to give pregnant women in their employ time off to attend antenatal appointments, would gain as pregnant women would not have to take half a day off work to attend a 20 minute appointment. Who would lose? The hospitals might lose some of the justification for their capital grants and the consultants might find that they have more time to concentrate on what they are really good at and trained for – gynaecology is not just about delivering babies. Surely there are enough women experiencing difficulties  even getting pregnant to keep them busy? Heaven forfend there might even be a need for less expensive consultants and more for highly trained midwives for antenatal care! Oh and of course the anaesthethists (sp?) needed to administer epidurals would lose a gig. But of course women need epidurals because childbirth is SO painful. I think that’s a blog post for another day but let me put it like this: When the inventions that most aided women’s liberation are being discussed  the washing machine, the pill are mentioned but I have never heard anyone saying the epidural. But like I said another day!

According to the Master’s report for 2008 the Caesarean rate in the National Maternity Hospital was 19.1% in 2008. They concede that this is below the national and international standards. Their corrected perintal mortality for that year was 4.8 per thousand. These figures are indicators (by no means definitive) of the number of pregnancies that might require specialised care before, during or after birth. Granted these figures don’t include data on issues experienced by the women themselves that would require immediate medical care. I’ve heard the horror stories. Show me a pregnant woman who hasn’t heard the horror stories and I’ll show you a Martian.

The most recently published 2007 annual report for the Coombe,(PDF) even with a higher rate of Caesarean, backs up my suggestion that up to 50 women could be moved out of the hospital environment for their antenatal care. Here are the figures for obstetric outcome in 2007:

“Spontaneous vaginal delivery 59.5%
“Forceps 9.5%
“Ventouse 9.2%
“Caesarean Section 22.1%
“Induction 25.9%”

If those 44.6% of women who experienced the ventouse, forceps and induction interventions had been allowed to labour in the comfort of their own home, who knows they may have managed their labours with no intervention. Who knows? They know in Britain where Domino (Domiciliary/ In and out) is the norm. They know in Holles St. and the Rotunda and Wexford General where women can opt for the Domino.