‘It’s all change for Thomas’

Yesterday, on the way over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for brunch, we picked up the ‘i weekend’ so that we could do the crossword (I realise how awfully middle class that sounds). After failing to complete said crossword I decided to read an article on page 10 that caught my eye; the front page spoiler was titled ‘New gender balanced Thomas the Tank Engine (with UN approval). Link to article –

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/thomas-tank-engine-gender-balanced-female-trains-characters-steam-team-revamp-multicultural-a8517981.html

The article discussed how this much-loved children’s franchise is getting a makeover with a gender balanced team of engines accompanying Thomas on his adventures. I read part of the piece to everyone and this facilitated a discussion about gender stereotypes in children’s books and television programmes. Our nephew, AJ, is nearly two and has started to watch programmes such as Postman Pat; this show has had a multicultural makeover but still has very clearly defined gender roles. My sister-in-law said that the wives of Pat and his colleagues stay at home wearing headscarves and baking whilst the men in the programme save the day. Fireman Sam has female colleagues, although they all have short hair. Now, there is nothing wrong with a woman who decides to stay at home nor a short haired female firefighter but, in most children’s television programmes, there is a lack of representation of choice and, more often that not, the creation of a hierarchy, often based on gender.

In the newspaper article Ann Widdecombe, an unsurprising critic of the more inclusive Thomas The Tank Engine, was quoted as saying ‘Children aren’t interested in these sort of issues’. Well, of course they aren’t! But, just to make sure, we asked my nephew what he thought of ethnic and gender representation in television programmes he watched… his response… ‘elephant’s ear’ – said whilst pointing at the puzzle he was looking at. Typically Widdecombe missed the point and made an utterly irrelevant comment. As a one off, having female carriages in subservient positions being pulled by male engines has no bearing on a child’s understanding of gender roles and balance. However, it is the accumulative that can have a long lasting impact. Of course children will not be ‘interested in these sort of issues’. They are being subconsciously shaped by the choices we make for them; we are moulding their developing perception of gender by the examples we expose them to. Forgive me for being a bit preachy, but this responsibility cannot be overstated, Ann.

Thank you is not enough

Precisely 3 months ago (if you are reading this at 02.31 on the 21st August 2018) Mrs GG gave birth to our wonderful son AD: in that moment, in the blink of an eye, our lives changed forever. For this we owe so much to a man we have never met and only know basic details about. This post is a letter of thanks to this mystery man who has given us everything we wanted.

Dear Sir,

This seems a rather formal way to start a letter to a man who is the biological other half of our son but I don’t know your name and “Dear Sperm Donor’ didn’t feel quite right.

On the 21st May 2018 at 2.31 in the morning, after an intense and somewhat complicated labour, my wife gave birth to our son by emergency forceps delivery. We didn’t know we were having a boy and, after the surgeon’s second ferocious tug, he held this wriggling baby in the air and said “So what do we have here?”. All I remember is seeing these huge red balls and thinking “Good God, are they normally that large?!”. What an adventure these last few months have been: dirty nappies; a sickness bug; midnight feeds; smiles, cuddles, gurgling. We have loved it all.

Becoming a parent can be a complicated process and, as a same-sex couple, the lack of an essential ingredient was our obvious problem. When we first stepped into the fertility clinic in September 2016, holding our baby in our arms felt like a moment far in the future. We were given the choice of two sperm donors and your profile was the one we were immediately drawn to; we were moved by the information you had chosen to include revealing your personal reasons for wanting to help people like us, plus your interest in sport was a bonus as my wife is hardly blessed in that area and we needed to give the poor kid a chance on sports day.

Donating sperm to allow a couple to start a family cannot be an easy decision. A simple process but one that has potential implications for your existing family. It is likely I will never meet you in person to look you in the eye and thank you, but we will be forever grateful to you for this selfless act.

We are excited for the what the future holds: the person he will be; the ambitions he will have; the paths he will travel down. We await the adventures of the coming years with gratitude and will never forget your part in AD’s creation.

From the eternally grateful,

Mrs and Mrs GG

Sexy shoes for toddlers are wrong

When discussing my blog with a friend, she showed me a picture of a pair of sparkly, red heeled shoes. Now my friend wasn’t giving me fashion advice or trying to subtly suggest that I needed to dress in a more feminine way: the shoes were actually aimed at babies between the age of 0-6 months.  Appalled, I decided to need to research this further.

After trawling the internet I came across several websites that are selling these shoes in a variety of colours and prints. The most notable, ‘Pee Wee Pumps’ (https://peeweepumps.com/), sells shoes with soft, collapsible heels and pointy toes that are designed for baby girls to wear before they can walk. Further investigation took me to the ‘about us’ section of the website which emphasised the shallow and arguably immoral branding of these products.  This section of the website opens with the statement:

“Fashion-forward moms love to dress up their little girls with the cutest bows and outfits, and are always looking for the perfect pair of shoes to complete any outfit.”

In this sentences lies the problem: these shoes are aimed at women who are extremely fashion conscious and self-indulgent. The women who would buy these shoes are almost treating their daughters like dolls: your child is not there to ‘dress up’.  There is a distinct different between a child who is old enough to choose their own clothes and shoes selecting sparkly, feminine products and a baby, with no choice, having this thrust upon them.  A baby between 0-6 months needs little more than baby grows and practical clothing.  The amount my four month old nephew dribbles, I see little point in spending money on expensive outfits! 

The ‘Pee Wee Pumps’ brand has received much negative media attention: the company has been blamed for fuelling the sexualisation of young children.  The shoes have been described as ‘horrid’ and ‘sick’ with many people calling for the brand to be banned. Founder of ‘Pee Wee Pump’, Michele Holbrook, has stated that the shoes were created to meet the “current and ever-growing popular demand for ‘high-fashion’ in infant apparel”. Demand from whom?

With society becoming more and more image conscious, the babies of today will grow up in a world of selfies, social media and filters.  Parents should be doing all they can to protect their children from becoming obsessed with the way they look rather than fuelling this from such a young age. 

The cost of becoming a parent

Many people dream of becoming a parent; there is no more important job in the world than raising a child.  Unfortunately many people struggle to conceive and have difficult decisions to make about fertility treatment.  For members of the LGBT community the quest to become a parent is a minefield.

My wife and I have always wanted to be parents and, in August 2016, we entered the process with a visit to our GP.  We knew that my wife would carry our first child; a referral to a fertility clinic, followed by blood tests and scans, showed that my wife should have no problems conceiving.  It was then that we were told that we would need to pay for our treatment.  The implication was that my wife could fall pregnant ‘naturally’ therefore it was at this point that NHS support ended and we entered into the world of private fertility treatment.

Our next appointment at the clinic ended with us taking home a range of forms and a price list which indicated what we would need to pay for different aspects of our treatment.  The NHS requires heterosexual couples to be trying for two years before they could be considered for fertility treatment; obviously same sex couples are unable to do this.  The National Institute of Clinical Excellence (NICE) have produced guidance which aims to create a comparable situation. They suggest that female same-sex couples try to conceive six times using artificial insemination, funded by themselves, before they would be considered for NHS-funded fertility treatment.

‘How much will it cost?’ I hear you ask.  Here is a complete breakdown of our costs:

Blood tests – £700 (a one off cost at the start of treatment)

Sperm reservation fee £1000 (this reserves us five vials of our donor sperm)

Intra-Uterine Insemination (IUI) package – £850 (per round of treatment)

Sperm preparation – £600 (per round of treatment)

IUI drugs package – £300 (per round of treatment)

It we have to have all six round of IUI treatment that will be a minimum spend of £12,200 before we are even considered for NHS support.

My wife and I are in the fortunate position where we are able to afford to take on the debt that could be associated with this.  However, this does not lessen the blow of the financial and emotional burden.  Any couple who decides to try for a child will go through a range of emotions during the process.  Adding a financial complication into that is extremely difficult.  A considerable amount of money rides on each go, coupled with the potential emotional strain and disappointment.  It seems unfair that many lesbian couples will have their chances of becoming parents determined by financial constraints.  For gay male couples it would be a far more difficult process.  Many same sex couples, who will make excellent parents, are having to make difficult decisions, forgo becoming a parent or undertake huge financial costs.