Not As I Do.

When I was 24 weeks pregnant I went to Jinemed (a private hospital)  here in Turkey and was told that I would be having a third boy. We decided he would be called Emil Francis, and I began to imagine Anton and Emil's progression through life together. In England, when I was 37 weeks pregnant, we went for another scan to check the position of the placenta and suddenly the sonographer was saying 'Have you bought lots of blue?' Having come to terms with never having a girl (I don't want to have any more children) and having started whispering to 'Emil', I felt some shock and shame at the sudden rush of hope that I was about to be told that our baby, now so close to being born, was a female of the species. The sonographer spent a long time looking before calling another doctor for a second opinion. Then she put a still of our daughters genitals on the screen, highlighted in a brighter white. There, in a strange moment of intimacy with the body of our unborn daughter we saw her perfect, minute vagina and labia.

Having spent weeks imagining Emil we felt a kind of loss that he didn't actually exist, but at the same time giddy that it seemed that we would, after all, be raising a daughter. This development came as no surprise to my Turkish neighbours who had for some weeks felt quite sure I was having a girl (even knitting a cardigan embroidered with flowers) because 'being pregnant with girl children makes the mother ugly'. (I forgot to tell the antenatal team that they should be determining sex with before and after pictures.)

Neve's birth feels quite odd in that it was so undramatic there doesn't seem much to report. It had the classic Cooke flavour of having lots of people around just getting on with their own stuff. Chris dozing on the sofa. Bethany and Brendan having their hearts listened to by the midwives. Me being left to my own instincts. Ville being gentle. The moment it all comes down to, and the one I won't forget is the one of perfect, silent, serenity when Neve's head was out and my wonderful midwife was gently stroking her. A couple of minutes later she was in my arms.

So now I am raising a girl and there suddenly seems that there is a lot to think about. Back when Ruskin was born I would have felt very strange about having a girl. How could I have begun to raise a girl to be strong, independent and stand up for herself when I could manage none of those things?  Now I have found the perfect man with whom to raise a daughter, and I have grown up a bit too. Still though, there are a few issues I am working out and one or two areas where I would prefer Neve to do as I say, not as I do!

I am sure that raising a child of your own gender can have a particular set of emotional complications. I want Neve to far exceed my small accomplishments, and to have no trouble celebrating her when she does. But I must not hope that she lives a life I wish I did, but get on with being the example for the person I want to enable her to be. I desperately want her to be proud of me, as I am of my Mum.

I think there is a difference in our attitude to Neve, because she is a girl that is totally to do with gender stereotypes. I am sure I am quicker to treat her dry skin. Ville and I describe her as just like Anton but with thinner, finer features. Is this actually true?

So Neve, as I am sure I can rest assured that when we reach the time to which this advice applies you will listen to none of it, and knowing that I could not fall out of love with you whatever you did (though when you are choosing isms please not fascism or racism), here are some of the things I wish I could have told my younger self. Feel free to ignore them, I would have.


Lacking confidence stands in the way of everything. You will soon notice that people who do well have an abundance of this (often because of a belief that wealth equals worth, or that it doesn't matter because you can get your way anyway). People are rarely judged on their quiet merits. There are huge amounts of idiots in top positions because they have more confidence than they should have. Never be afraid of having too much confidence, keep your modesty for your interior dialogue and walk tall. You will get much more done this way. Even as I write this something recoils in me, having been taught modesty above assertion.

Have confidence in your appearance. I have wasted countless moments on feeling that my imperfections were all that people could see. Now, at 39, I understand that I will never be more appealing than I was during those times, and I should have enjoyed them more. There is so much to be enjoyed in life, and your experience can be so vast. So try not to linger (as I may have done once or twice) on being a size bigger, or your hair not cascading, or your skin lacking that 'just-airbrushed' quality. I wish I could give you the gift of never comparing yourself to others, of knowing that you have the perfect nose, bum, chin and thighs for you. And I hope that you, unlike me, have a gap in-between spots and wrinkles.


I had thought vaguely about dressing you in a way that does not indulge the frills and embellishment that will later be used to make you attractive to men. However, I love clothes and will not do myself out of dressing you beautifully. Women dress at least as much for themselves and their friends, and looking fantastic does not stop someone being strong or feminist. I am very grateful I did not have to burn my bra. I picture you in your late teens knowing just the fabric, or piece of jewellery, to subtly enhance. The reality may well be far more dramatic. Living in Istanbul which, for reasons of history, has people looking far more homogeneous than they should, I will be delighted if you have the confidence to stand out. And equally so if you choose to pretend to fit in.


This is the area where I think I will have to actually walk the talk if you are to have any chance of avoiding the perpetual 'if only I was a bit slimmer'. How many days have I actually not given a moments consideration to my weight or eaten wholly without guilt? Not enough. Definitely not enough. I desperately want you to live enjoying food, enjoying your body, and never dwelling on this petty concern that has plagued me. I want to bring you all the best things that this world can offer to taste and enjoy. I want food to only be about nourishment and pleasure. And so I am doing my very best to live that way.

There is so much more to say but this is too long already, and I can hear you starting to wriggle....

Neve laughing.




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2 thoughts on “Not As I Do.

  1. This is so beautiful Julia, I think there really is something special about having a mother daughter relationship, which is also a bit scary, its inspiring that you are taking it on in this way, its such great advice (may have to steal some of it!)and Neve is looking just GORGEOUS!!!! xxx

  2. I love the post. It will be fantastic to raise Neve with you.


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