Momentary inspiration

I’m not really into football. Certainly not footballers, and wouldn’t know an ex-footballer if he went up my Cazaly.

So when my boss excitedly told me that they’d booked Sam Kekovich, an ex-footballer, as keynote speaker for an event, I think  looked something like this:

I had seen Kekovich years ago on The Fat, but wasn’t a regular viewer – what with it being a show about sport. Sport and me? Nup.

Yet, when he turned up to speak at our little event, there were a few things he said that I really needed to hear right now. I’m feeling a bit stuck – a bit torn as to whether I try to keep my hand in any theatre performing (don’t get excited, it’s just fringe), or whether I just keep my head down and work. Kekovich talked about the need to feel free to be ourselves – to inject our own personality into our work. He talked about maintaining the larrikin sense of humour within our Australian culture. Kekovich is known for speaking his mind, being  brash and obtuse. He’s one of those older men who believe political correctness has gone too far. He’s also surprisingly eloquent and used a helluva lot of big words that I’d only ever seen in Dickens novels.

Anyhoo, he’s right, to a point.

I know I tend to censor myself to check that I’m not ostracising/offending anyone, and that gets a bit tiring sometimes. Whether it’s writing about natural birth, breastfeeding (lawd, the breast v bottle – don’t get me started!) or a comedy skit (don’t ask), I’m always aware that some people will take things the wrong way. The problem these days, as opposed to Sam’s 70’s hey days, is that the internet allows everyone to publish their anonymous opposition without necessarily:

  • determining the actual issue (most comments contain responses saying ‘you didn’t discuss [insert irrelevant-but-slightly-connected-tangent-issue-here]’)
  • debating the issue (as opposed to simply insulting the author)
  • using their common sense to just go to another website

Yet we still need to hear the truth, and truthful thoughts, rather than hiding behind what you think other people want you to say. So, I guess from a blog perspective, I’ve realised that I don’t need to be so worried about getting it wrong or offending someone. I need to be braver to say what I think (once I’ve worked out what I think, of course).

The Australian sense of humour is traditionally self-deprecating (or self-defacating – an expression someone once used to describe an affable monk. I kid you not), while, at the same time, not being afraid to ruffle some of the tall poppies’  petals. I haven’t even opened my comedy files since my little boy was born, but I’m thinking it might be a good time to do that and see if I can inject some of that Kekovic larrikinism into it. I’m feeling the need to be a bit more creative – and I don’t mean with toilet rolls, glitter pens and animal stamps.

…then again, I might just check my facebook…

Post Natal Mind F#$k

My little 3 year old gets eczema on her cheek, and I think I’ve finally worked out what causes it. It’s not food allergies or hayfever or soap. It’s me.

I’m struggling at the moment.

I’m working more and the housework is  piling up. I’m still not getting a decent sleep at night because my 13mo is a wakeful little blighter. My ‘freakouts’ have been occurring a little too often and I feel anxious a lot. So the doctor upped my yippee pills, although it’s still a very low dose.

My little girl gets so stressed seeing me freak, that it seems to manifest in this intense rash on her face. It acts as a bit of a reminder for me, too, that my actions have a direct effect on her, that I need to stop, and make sure she understands that it isn’t her fault and that I still love her and her brother ever so much.  Kids take in and on everything.

I think the new dose kicked in properly today. Things are just starting to feel a bit more balanced. There seems to be  cross-over period where everything gets a bit chaotic for a couple of days: it happened when I first went on the medication, too. I had more freakouts, and was absolutely dog-tired.

The nature of the freak-outs has changed: before I started medication they would sneak up on me, wild, manic, almost primitive. Now they are more repressed, angry, but I am quicker to gain control and calm myself and I get a lot more warning, so I can try to step away from the kids so they don’t see me being scary. I do scare them. I know I can be very scary. And that makes me feel horrid.

I think I expected that the PND would clear up when my son turned one. Not sure why, or what the logic was. Probably because that was when I started to feel better the first time around, with my daughter – she turned one, I was finally getting sleep and things were much easier for me. You can’t rush these things, though.

I only hope I’m not f#$king up my kids too much.

The Snip

MLM (My Lovely Man) had ‘the snip’ last Tuesday.

Apparently the nurses gave all the blokes a pre-snipping  pat on the back and thanked them for agreeing to be fixed – it’s a safer, cheaper and easier operation than the equivalent tubal ligation for women. Plus, there was the death of the mother-of-four in Wonthaggi in 2011, just six months after giving birth. (Without wanting to be too judgmental, why did her hubby not volunteer for the snip? Sounds like she’d done her share of the work).

Anyway, MLM had the deed done, was very, very sore and bruised, but never complained once. I love him for that.

I’m also grateful that I don’t have to think about contraception. The idea of being on the Pill or having something foreign inserted under my skin for the remainder of my fertile days just doesn’t appeal to me. They’re taking ages with the male contraceptive pill, so MLM and I decided that a vasectomy was the go. My body (and certainly my mind) couldn’t handle another baby, no matter how many people suggest that I try for another (I used to smile politely, but now I just sneer at them).

You wanna rephrase that question?

Frankly, if we did decide sometime down the track that we absolutely needed another little kid we would be fine with adopting. As it is, we’re both happy with the two we’ve got (threats of selling them on ebay, aside).

Although, for a little while at least, we need to keep them away from Dad’s sore nuts – kids are just at the perfect height to cause pain, aren’t they?

Or maybe I should buy MLM one of these:

Not just lucky, I worked for it

Yeah, yeah, this is a bit of a rant.

Eventually, in all mothers groups, playgroups or vague group of mums, the conversation turns to birth stories. For some reason, the aim of this ritual is to be the mum who suffered the most – well, that’s how it seems sometimes.

When I say that I had wonderful experiences with two natural drug-free births I’m told “well, you’re just very lucky” and then, “I don’t believe people when they say it’s not painful”*.

Two points:

  • Yes, luck certainly played a part, but I also put a helluva lot of work and preparation into giving myself the best chance at a natural birth.
  • When the hell did I say it wasn’t painful?

Me and MLM calmly being lucky.

My high hopes for natural birth were countered by a realistic view, and I prepared myself as best I could – after all, birth is one of the most unpredictable events in the world. This is probably why it spooks so many people – mums-to-be, dads, obstetricians and insurance companies…

I grew up aware that my mother had a horrific experience having me. A 24-hour labour, hospital nuns who had taken a vow of rudeness and an emergency c-section when I refused to emerge – all without the support of her husband (who wasn’t allowed in the ward) and the antagonism of her own mother (who accused her of taking the ‘easy way out’ with a c-section). I had a fear of birth from as early as I remember, and when MLM suggested we have kids I really started to freak out.

Then logic kicked in – haven’t women been giving birth for generations? How did they cope before hospitals? I began researching different views of birth – midwife-lead care, homebirthing, and reading all sorts of viewpoints and counter-arguments. I enjoyed finding out that there were alternatives  – even though I knew I wasn’t going to have a homebirth, I certainly didn’t want a legs-in-stirrups experience.

Being a petite person, I was often told (never by a health professional, funnily enough) that I would probably need a c-section because my hips were small. I researched it myself to see what the facts and statistics were. The Spinning Babies website was an awesome resource for this and I recommend it to all my preggie friends. Basically, there’s a lot of misconceptions and misinformation out there about pelvis size and the obstetricians’ favourite line ‘failure to progress’.

The main problem birthing women face is fear.

Everyone drills it into us when we’re pregnant – the horror stories, the misinformation, the lack of trust we have in our bodies.

Plus, everyone’s labour is different. Some are textbook, most are not.

So, to get over my fear of birth, I hired a doula who taught Hypnobirthing. I don’t really know what I expected, but it all made so much sense to me that I went along with it and before I knew it, I was excited about the prospect of going into labour, and felt that I had the loveliest people backing me up: MLM, Rachael (doula), Ellen (sister-in-law) and the wonderful midwives at the Family Birth Centre.

We women need to find time to reclaim our birth experiences. I know that sounds airy-fairy, but it’s true. There’s a lot of pressure on women to eat the right foods, take certain supplements, and be well-behaved walking uteri. Birth is governed a lot by hospital policies, insurance requirements and textbook expectations. There are two individuals who need to be considered, though: mother and baby. Some babies are big, some are small, some are quiet, some are active. Some women have different menstrual cycles which will alter due dates, some women react badly to being induced, and all mums have different ways of coping during the birth. We are all individuals (“Yes, we are all individuals” shout the mob from Monty Python).

The women I know who have had positive birth experiences have had one thing in common: they have overcome their fears of the birth process.

Fear causes labour to stop progressing. It also takes decision-making out of our hands, if we’re panicked and not understanding what is going on. Fear causes muscle tension – which is not what you want in labour. Fear is not just psychological – we take it on in physical form – especially so in labour.

I believe birth is a feminist issue because most women seem to doubt that their bodies are capable of doing it. We’ve been told to doubt our capabilities, or lead to believe it. Yes, there are risks – that’s why hospitals are so good. Yes, there are complications – that’s why obstetricians exist. But we should be giving our bodies the benefit of the doubt before we’re made to feel that we can’t.

I understand that some women want elective c-sections, and that’s fine if they’ve been given enough information to make a truly informed decision.

I understand that c-sections can be life-saving – I’m not questioning individuals about their ‘choice’ in an emergency.

What I want is for women to be given confidence, knowledge and proper information so they can make their own birthing choices to suit their individual and family requirements:

If women want a natural birth, give them information about Calmbirth, Hypnobirthing, etc and get them to watch other births to get used to the idea of how different each birth can be. When I told a GP (not my usual one) that I was hoping to have a natural birth, he all but scoffed. He should have been letting me know where I could access further resources.

Ultimately, what I want is to hear more women telling more positive birthing stories. No matter whether it was natural, with forceps, c-section, it can still be a positive experience. We just need to get over our fears.

*  my second birth wasn’t all that painful – but it was a lot of hard, physical work. I was very proud of myself though – he was a 10 pound whopper!

Bending Gender

gender neutral toy catalogueI’m not really that into gender neutral parenting, in that I don’t set out to do it. I think I’m more into regardless-of-gender parenting. Is that a term?

Most people believe boys will be boys and girls will be girls – boys innately like trucks, girls will always end up playing with a doll.

However, having both a boy and a girl, I really don’t think that’s the case. There is just soooooo much influence over what they will play with from those around them, that I don’t think it is innate at all.

From early days, my son has been getting comments from grown-ups judging what he’s wearing and playing with. Some clothes are too pretty for him, apparently (he wears some of his sister’s hand-me-downs – don’t panic, not dresses), and if he carries a dollie around there are plenty of comments judging it to be a gay or girlie thing to do.

He’s one year old.

A one-year old kid can understand a lot, though. A mocking aside about his infatuation with his sister’s hairbrush compared to the smiles and encouragement from the same grown-ups when playing with trucks, balls and hammers. That sort of feedback must play a role in his choice of toys as he grows.

I have to admit, I’d previously subscribed to the school of thought that there were innate differences between the sexes. Which is weird, because I can read maps. When I read a few articles about Cordelia Fine’s research, I started to change my tune. I started noticing little things about the way my daughter was treated (Fine’s book came out before my son was born). The way people were so quick to comment on her prettiness, her clothes and they’d worry that she was getting dirty when playing (whereas I think a dirty kid = a kid having a good time), or that she was too young to play on certain playground equipment (she wasn’t and I was spotting her anyway).

The different toys they each received for their first birthdays is interesting to note:

  • daughter – lots of books, playdough set, kawasaki quad bike (from her awesome uncle who knows I used to ride a kwakka myself)
  • son – cars, trucks, noisy push-along toys.

Now, bear in mind that our friends aren’t in any way sexist, they tend to have the same parenting style as ourselves, and all the gifts were beautiful – in fact, many were quite gender-neutral, because those are the kind of friends we have. It’s just interesting to note that Miss got mostly quiet toys (besides the kwakka) and Master got mostly noisy ones.

Toys are only a small portion of the way we influence kids in gender roles, though. Mostly, they learn through our own roles, how we relate to other people, and what we convey directly to them.

My daughter knows I work, like Dad does, but she thinks that all bosses are men, because mine happens to be a man. She thinks that Dad is the better driver, because even though I ferry them around during the week, I often get MLM to drive on weekends because I’m so sleep-deprived.

I don’t know if I’m being paranoid or pedantic, but I do know that I don’t want my daughter’s options narrowed because she’s a girl. I know I can’t keep her away from the fairy dresses for much longer. I just want her to know that she doesn’t have to be a fairy just because everyone else expects her to be.

There are so many other people who influence her now: childcare, playgroup kids & mums, cousins, grandparents, strangers. Some of these influences are going to be fantastic, some questionable. I don’t really have much control over that anymore, and that’s fine. I know both my kids will turn out okay, and that if they do follow typical gender interests and roles, it’s not a failure on my part, or some innate path they’re following. It’s just the culture we are a part of, and there’s no way you can block that out, or should want to completely.

Mind your own beeswax, peoples

I think we can all agree that the internet is great. Can’t remember what we used to spend all our time on before the web (BW). Perhaps on activities that avoided obesity, poor posture and RSI.

It has made us ruder, though, hasn’t it?

You just need to read the comments below the opinion articles on The Age website (or on any feminist blogger sites) – lots of  name-calling, arrogant viewpoints and an unhealthy array of ninnies who obviously haven’t managed to read past the first paragraph, but feel qualified to leave their opinion (usually on a tangent issue), thus repeating the cycle of name-calling. Instead of discussing ideas, issues or actually debating, comments are restricted to ‘ you are shit and what you wrote is shit’, and variations on that. It’s as if the only people prepared to leave responses are the very people who didn’t want to read the article in the first place, hated the author already and are grumpy for even visiting the site that they’ve spent so much time & passion trashing.

Leaving aside trolling, even relatively normal people seem to feel quite  justified to openly and harshly criticise those that they don’t agree with, whether it be Yumi Stymes, Julia Gillard’s dress sense (she’s our freaking PRIME MINISTER, not a clothes horse), or the cover issue of Time Magazine.

Maybe I’m a bit old-fashioned, but I do believe that if you don’t have the guts to say something directly to a person’s face, then don’t bother writing it on the web.

Would it hurt to just be a little nicer? Or at least a tad more imaginative when it comes to insulting people anonymously? Don’t get me wrong – I think it’s important to have criticism and juxtaposed positions, but I think we should all be grown up enough to do that without resorting to pathetic name-calling. Most of the internet just feels like a highschool cafeteria with no teachers on yard duty.

Yippee Pills

I take a super-mild anti-depressant for PostNatal Depression.

It’s been surprisingly good for me.

I tried the psych approach – a long bout of appointments with a psychologist who made me feel like I was a bit of a mess because of various mother-issues,which I now realise was making mountains out of molehills. I’ve lived a sheltered life and, frankly, everyone has mother issues.

After a severe meltdown (where i sought the help of my mum, because she’s actually a really lovely person and I feel safe having a hysterical freakout in front of her) I saw a new psych who realised that all the talking in the world wasn’t going going to cure me.

The hard part was being diagnosed with PND. With my first baby, the maternal health nurse realised something wasn’t right, but obviously didn’t want to scare me, or label me with it. She suggested I see a GP and get a referral for a psychologist. The GP was a twit and said I was fine. I’m pretty sure he sneered, but maybe that was just his general countenance. I went and saw a counsellor off my own bat, anyway, because I knew I wasn’t functioning properly, and although she was helpful, I still struggled to curb my moodswings and temper.

That’s been the confusing thing with PND – for me, it’s not ‘depression’ as such, it’s a mood disorder. I get irrational, throw childish tantrums, throw scary adult tantrums. I roar like a cornered dragon because I can’t think of words. I sob like a grieving widow because I can’t work out where I’ve gone – the calm, reasonable, logical me leaves my body and inside I am empty and hollow. I get anxious about the tiniest things – an appointment time being changed, a friend’s comment on facebook, MLM not responding to a text message within an immediate timeframe.

Anyhoo, I finally found a GP who not only diagnosed me with PND after my second bub, but spent the time to really find out what was going on with me – and I’m so grateful she did.

I try to be as open as I can about these things. I’ve found that’s the way to connect on another level with people – and, particularly with motherhood, there’s a lot of “putting on a brave face” that goes on. Not one person has negatively judged me when I tell them I’m struggling, or that I have PND. I have a lovely, loose network of playgroup mums, old friends and beautiful relatives who have let me know that I’m not alone.

Plus, MLM and my kids who seem to love me no matter how horrible I’ve been.

My 87 year old grandma gave me a call to see how I was going. She was diagnosed with depression soon after undergoing a triple bypass 10 years ago – a huge personal upheaval that sent her physically and mentally to the edge. She calls her meds her ‘yippee pills’. Grandma tries to see the fun side of things.

I’m not sure how long I’ll need to stay on my yippee pills. Long enough so that I can be confident that I’m an active part of my kids lives again, rather than feeling like I’m watching everything from the outside. Long enough to know that I’m not going to revert to the mess I was.

I love my kids too much for that.

Postnatal Depression
by Aisling Longworth

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