Waiting for Agnes

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An unexpected career addition June 3, 2011

Now that the beloved has become a Sacred Vessel the time is ticking down on the clock of my part-time work (when I refer to ‘work’ in this post you can just assume I mean work-outside-the-home – I’m fully aware that staying home is work). Our arrangement is very simple: between us we need to earn the equivalent of one full-time wage. We work the same job, at the same place, so this is pretty easy to arrange. When small was new, I didn’t work at all and the beloved worked a lot. As small has got older, I’ve picked up my hours and the beloved has dropped hers. Income stays the same, one of us can always be with small and work is happy. The beloved has done a sterling job at being the primary wage earner for the past two years, with barely any complaint, and I’d love to imagine that, come the end of the year, I could just pick up my hours to full time and smoothly, uncomplainingly change places. But I just don’t think I can do it. It’s not that I don’t want to do actual work, although if both of us could just stay home with our babies and money magically appeared in our accounts I’m sure that would be great. It’s more that the idea of going back to being a full time, shift working, ward based, hospital midwife makes me want to cry. I love Midwifery with a grand passion and it will no doubt be my primary career for the rest of my working days. So if working in hospital only meant full time Midwifery, I would be as happy as a clam. But it doesn’t. Working in hospital means a little bit of Midwifery, mixed in with a whole lot of Obstetric Nursing, a whole lot of Crappy Hospital Politics, a fair bit of working with People That Make Me Want To Stick Pins In My Eyes and all too regular exposure to Seeing Women Being Ignored, Abused, Belittled and Mutilated. It’s not all awful, there are other excellent, skilled and compassionate midwives and doctors to join forces with in our efforts to Combat The System. But it’s an old, entrenched System and it’s exhausting to be in a near-permanent state of Combativeness.

Ah, woe is you, you may think in a sympathetic fashion. The following may temper that a little – a couple of months ago I did have the opportunity to go back to my caseload midwifery job, the one where I take on the care of five women per month and follow them through from early pregnancy to post birth, going on call for their labour and birth and working closely with a team of three other great midwives. Caseload is brilliant, far less soul-destroying than ward work, challenging in a positive way, better paid and overall deeply satisfying. But it is also exhausting. Being on call means a constant awareness of the women in your care who are nearing term, or who have particular issues earlier in pregnancy. It is an enormous emotional, mental and time commitment for yourself and the people close to you. You cannot plan to do things on your days on call, and if you do make plans you need to be able to drop them at the last minute. Your family has to tolerate you being called away in the middle of a meal or the middle of the night. Last year, when I found out that one of the LMFs was leaving her position in the caseload team to go on maternity leave, I was keen to fill her place. Then obstacles kept jumping up – life with small got more and more challenging, the caseload team manager drove me round the bend, the beloved became a Sacred Vessel and I slowly realised that I had things going on in my life that I wanted to be able to do on a regular, planned basis, commitments that I didn’t want to give up on.

One of these things was seeing my personal trainer, who is awesome in her energy and enthusiasm and commitment to her clients. Like most people, I’m basically lazy when it comes to exercise. I either need a project to work towards, or it needs to be something fun and difficult (which explains the ten years of circus arts being my primary exercise), or I need to be bullied into making a long-term financial commitment. It also needs to be nearby, not outrageously expensive, not lonely but not in a big impersonal group and mainly indoors. So that rules out joining a gym or running, thank god. This year the beloved started seeing the awesome personal trainer, who lives and works in the next street and whose enthusiasm stretches to being hugely encouraging without actually making you cry or vomit. Then the beloved talked me into going, too. At the time, I was driving a million miles every week to do hula hooping with my old trapeze coach. He’s great and also hugely encouraging, but mainly in a brutal, tell you to suck it up and run round the block wearing a bin bag under a jumper until you are much skinnier kind of way. Hula hooping was also getting challenging with a toddler on the move, who wanted to be closely involved. So on the whole, a personal trainer in the next street, who was cheaper and didn’t advocate any kind of bin bag wearing was quite appealing.

Never fear – I am slooooowly winding my way to the point. Other than being positively enthusiastic about training her clients, our personal trainer is always on the lookout for new and interesting classes to add to her group training program. So when she heard I was into hooping she decided I should teach classes for her. After the initial feeling of EeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeamInotvastlyunderqualified?eeeeeeeeeeeeee, I got excited and then I got Really Excited. Now I am five weeks into teaching an eight week course for beginner hoopers and I am Loving It. And now our lovely PT is planning some kind of hula hooping empire for me, so I continue to be Really Excited. Not only is teaching hooping fun (and often hilarious for all), it means I have an option for mixing Midwifery with Something Completely Different in my quest to both be the primary wage earner for our family and be emotionally and mentally satisfied at the same time. I don’t ask for much, do I?



*This is Not Me. This is Gypsy, the daughter of my lovely but slightly brutal trapeze coach…she is awesome.

Stay tuned for Chapter 4: an impulsive decision to Move House…


The creation of a whole new person June 1, 2011

Aside from the utter exhaustion of feeding our small person and the other tiresome and frustrating aspects of parenting any kid, there are also the really lovely and funny and generally awesome aspects of watching a growing person unfold in front of you day by day. It can be pretty interesting seeing it in your close friends’ kids, but it is absolutely fascinating in your own. I can’t speak for all parents, but I spend most days lurching from the proud delight of ‘Look! He can load the washing machine…he’s a genius! And see how he struggles to get those big towels in…so persistent, such a great problem solver! And so so so so beautiful!’ to the teeth-grinding frustration of ‘For christ sake Beloved, he’s on the dining table again. I’ve told him a hundred and eighty times. He’s so bloody stubborn and willful and unheeding of his personal safety. Poor kid, he’s just like me.’ And I love this feeling, the gratification of seeing parts of yourself appear, blended with the curiosity of discovering the other parts. This is not to say that any child is only the sum of their genetic parts; every attribute, every habit, every skill being ascribable to one or the other parent – one of the miraculous parts of personhood is the emergence of the completely new. But I think there is a desire in every parent, even extended family members, to search for themselves in the new generation, to tie them to their ancestry and feel part of something bigger. My family may not be the closest knit band of dysfunctional individuals, but even they will proudly attest to small’s behaviours being ‘A Family Trait’ with absolute conviction.

For the beloved and I this is a doubly fun exercise, as the small person is the product of conception with an anonymous donor. We know some things about the donor: his height and eye colour, his cat allergy, his detached earlobes, his lack of acne as a teenager, his self-assigned celebrity lookalike, and his motivations for being a donor, amongst other things. Before small was even conceived the profile seemed comprehensive, with three generations of medical history and little things like favourite books and music. But the more small grows, the scantness of this information becomes more obvious. What age did he walk? Did he have eating and speech issues, too? Did he have a fascination for laundry appliances? Who knows? And, in a sense, who cares? Small is, as the saying goes, his own person. He will continue to grow and learn and unfold before us, regardless of what we do or don’t know about the donor, or even about me. It isn’t with sadness or regret that I talk about this, but just with the growing realisation that the beloved and I have of what it means to be lesbian parents using an anonymous donor to have our children.

Yes, children, plural. Somewhere way back even more than a hundred years ago, last November, the beloved and I started to consider having another baby. Who knows? we thought, it may take ages to happen. So if we begin to think about starting to think about it and maybe plan a bit  and check out our options and whatnot then there will be at least two years between small and the new baby, maybe three years. In our typical style (as the LMFs can attest to), this vague idea turned to an actual initial appointment date within the space of about a week. Somehow the stars had aligned – the roster gave the beloved and I days off together, the airfares were cheap, the appointments were available, the money was miraculously there. Small was conceived at an interstate clinic, back when it was illegal in our home state of Victoria for single women or lesbian couples to access fertility treatment. Since then the law has changed. In fact, the bill addressing this issue was passed through parliament on the day I found out I was pregnant. And for about a minute we considered having treatment here, cutting out the hassle of flying interstate and juggling work and money and small. But it was a short minute. Going interstate to sunny Queensland meant being able to use the same donor and being treated by the same excellent and lovely staff. Queenslanders might be offended by this, but we thought it was pretty ironic that we had access to such great care in the great redneck state.

Anyway, off we trot in December for the initial round of appointments with the fertility specialist, his practice nurse, the other nurse, the counselor, the pathology nurses and the semen coordinator. As an aside, this fertility guy is hilarious – somehow he can say things like ‘yep yep, take that, then do the rooty rooty rooty every day until your next appointment’ (overheard phone conversation, clearly the rooty rooty isn’t going to help us so much) without seeming like a total bastard. After the forty-eight appointments and several hours of small galloping his crocodile all over the clinic, we’re all set – schedule of appointments, schedule of drugs, bag of drugs, letter to accompany drugs onto plane, pathology slips and ultrasound slips. Still it doesn’t really seem real that we will actually end up with another baby. Oh, it could take ages, we say. Hmm. Then, early this year, the stars of rostering and cashflow not so well aligned, the beloved returns to Queensland solo for her first attempt at being transformed into a Sacred Vessel (or Getting Knocked Up, whichever terminology takes your fancy). The next day she returns, unbeknownst to us all…. a Sacred Vessel (ie. pregnant, if you hadn’t already made that leap)!!

And so a whole new person has been created. Another growing being to love and marvel at, feed and clothe, wake with and snuggle with, carry about and entertain. Another combination of genetics to discover. According to the beloved this baby’s Polack tendencies are already showing – it’s already cheaper than the small person (hahahaha teehee teehee, fertility treatment humour). But really, how will small and new baby be alike? How will they differ? How will small cope, absorbing another person into his world, a person that shares the focus of his mamas? How will we cope? How will our mothering roles stay the same? Change? Blend and develop? What will it be like for the beloved to be the foggy, fuzzy breastfeeding mother? Will she still remember to pay all the bills for the household, like she does now? What will it be like for me to be the working-away-from-home-almost-full-time mother? Will I get sick of being the only one able to change the cat litter? And why, you may well ask, would the beloved being a Sacred Vessel have prevented me from blogging? Fair question. Although she is well and blossoming and glowing and such, she has been basically comatose for the first trimester of her pregnancy and sort of out of commission on the home front. She has also been Eating Healthily since the start of the brief pre-pregnancy planning period, which has sadly eliminated the baking of Sugary Delights from my day to day life, and no baking = no particularly interesting food to blog about. And perhaps most significantly, the knowledge that, at the end of the year, I will need to be the primary wage earner has got me plotting and scheming of ways to achieve this without working full time in the hospital. Which leads neatly into the story of: an unexpected Career Addition…


The revolving door November 9, 2010

Filed under: Midwifery — titchandboofer @ 12:17 pm
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Midwifery work often dances precariously along the line between professional distance and intimacy. Every shift, every scenario, every woman draws out, demands even, different degrees of personal exposure, disclosure and committment. I’ve looked after couples who’ve elicited nothing other than professional information and education from their first clinic visit of pregnancy, right through to the time they wave me goodbye from their doorstep, baby tucked tight in their arms. And then I’ve spent as little as a handful of hours with couples who have grilled me on every aspect of my personal life, education history, marital status, parenting choices, thoughts on reincarnation, favourite foreign languages, nothing off limits for the fierce interrogator.

I know that women and their partners do this for a few different reasons:

General curiosity – women are universally (slight generalisation, but stay with me) fascinated by other women’s birthing experiences, collecting them and filing them away as sources of inspiration, horror, joy, fear and justification. What’s the biggest baby, longest labour, shortest labour, loudest screamer, biggest pain in the arse whiner that you’ve seen?

Wanting to trust – amongst the technical negotiation and the general birthy chitchat, couples slip in little personal questions, subtly probing…Who is this woman? Does she see us? Does she hear us? Does she know our life? Who is she to touch me? Can I believe her? Will she keep us safe?

Distraction – 99% of people in the same space as a labouring woman will, at some point, seem to feel an overwhelming urge to fill the lulls of labour with conversation. And I get it, it can be an odd experience to be awaiting so much action and yet to be in the midst of so much seeming inaction. The woman labours, sometimes loudly, sometimes not, but always with pauses for rest. Her head is buried in a pillow, blocking out the world. The midwife sits, close but not intruding, maybe murmuring encouragement but not filling the room, not dragging the woman into her thinking brain. So there is quiet. People aren’t very practiced in being quiet, silent, still. They are there to support and silence challenges their ideas of what it means to be supportive, to be helpful. They don’t know the power of simply being present. Undistractedly, purposefully present. So, into this quiet they press questions – How many days a week do you work? Do you have kids? How many babies have you delivered? How much do you get paid? How old are you? And on and on and on. Quiet, brief answers and some people will get the hint – Shut Up. Some won’t.

The top three questions: Do you have kids? (ie Have You Suffered As I Do?). Are you married? What does your partner do?

So it is that I can be in the unusual position of having to decide whether to out myself every time I go to work. I know some couples won’t really care about the answers to their questions. They are filling space and time, making noise. Or they are curious, but not invested in the answer. Some are surprised. Some are interested, especially about how we came by the small person. Some are neutral.

And some are horrified, shrieky-clutch-their-pearls-horrified. It is these people that make me wary. It is the experiences of seeing someone shrink away, shielding their baby from the scary dyke midwife, that make me pause. Fair or not, I judge. I weigh up the likelihood of their trust in me hinging on my answer. Conservative, foreign couple, large tutting and tsking family in attendance? I’m straight as can be, married to a generic ‘health professional’. Kind of hippy, patchouli scented couple, with doula by their side? I’m out and marching. They’re the easy choices, but my there is a whole lot of grey in between. I know this flies in the face of ‘being true to one’s self’, that it shouldn’t matter to me what near-strangers think of their midwife’s sexuality. But it does matter. It isn’t about my hurt feelings, or my objection to being grilled about whether I’m gay because I was poorly parented. It’s about the fragile string of trust I hold with a woman and her family. She needs to feel safe. Don’t I have to be what she needs me to be?


Ten questions to stir the sleeping feminist August 19, 2010

Filed under: No baking today,Parenting — titchandboofer @ 7:54 am
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Almost three years ago blue milk posted “What does a feminist mother look like?”. She flung ten questions on feminist motherhood out into the blogosphere and ever since mothers have been answering. There is a mountain of answers, both short and long, impassioned and uncertain. So many little windows into the lives and minds of other mothers. On face value it seems a simple thing, ten questions, like a chain email that you can answer in a bored moment, or one of those magazine quizzes that slot you into one of three categories of girlfriend/shopper/lover/mental health diagnosis, and when I first read the post a couple of months ago I was all set to slap down my answers, fingers hovering over the keyboard, half-drunk mug of tea at the ready. But nothing came out. It wasn’t so simple. A great big jumble of words just sort of clumped up on the other side of the door to my mind. Like a huge and awkward social event where no-one really knows anyone else and there’s just a lot of milling around, people drinking cheap wine and the woman in the corner rearranging the contents of her handbag in order to look busy. So the questions sat on my desk and in my mind, poking at the jumble with little sticks until words got to meet other words that they liked and eventually they all got on so well that they formed an excitable line and came conga-ing out the door.

1. How would you describe your feminism in one sentence? When did you become a feminist? Was it before or after you became a mother?

I can’t remember not being a feminist. I didn’t have the experience of some women, of being born into a life of struggle and oppression, an experience that sparks off the urge to fight and speak up. I was born into the privilege of a white, middle-class family of Quakers. You can’t really be a Quaker and not be a feminist. Quakers are all about equality, peace, tolerance and social justice. With a few glaring exceptions, these values have percolated through my mother’s side of my family for generations. There is never an assumption that children, of either gender, born into the family will follow a set path or that a path would be unavailable on the basis of gender, just the assumption that they will work hard, be aware of the world around them and not expect to be handed anything on any kind of platter.

2. What has surprised you about motherhood?

Constantly being proved wrong. About everything. And not minding. My lovely midwife friends (the LMFs) have heard me declare many things with great certainty (‘teething’s a crock’, ‘of course he’ll take a bottle even if we don’t offer him one until he’s seven months old’ and so on) and have kindly refrained from saying ‘I told you so’ every single time.

3. How has your feminism changed over time? What is the impact of motherhood on your feminism?

My initial reaction to this is to think that my feminism hasn’t changed, that it’s just an immutable part of my personality, but this isn’t true. My reactions to the abuse and oppression of women have grown more and more fierce. Working as a midwife has exposed me to just a selection of the myriad ways that women are abused, even educated, privileged, middle-class white women. And every day I think that if they are subject to abuse because they are women, what the hell must it be like for the non-english speaking, the homeless, the illiterate, the substance-addicted and the young women that also walk through our doors to have their babies? I would also like to think that my feminism has become better informed, but the more I read and the more discussions I have, the more I find there is to know and the more revoltingly privileged I feel.

4. What makes your mothering feminist? How does your approach differ from a non-feminist mother’s? How does feminism impact upon your parenting?

Motherhood. Hmm. When I emerged from the fog of giving birth and absorbing the fact that I had borne a son I recall feeling lucky. Stupidly I thanked my lucky stars that I didn’t yet have to worry about helping a girl-child negotiate the modern hyper-sexualised world, teaching her how to find and keep her sense of self-worth. Then I realised that not only do I still have to do that for my son, but that I also have to teach him how to respect and love the girls and women in his life, how to be a better man than so many of the men in public life. I don’t focus on specifically parenting in a feminist way but I don’t see how I could separate the two. My parenting will always be coloured by my feminism. It’s not just about not saturating his world with trucks and blue t-shirts, it’s about striving to model the values I hold and about filling our world with other people that model these values. I feel blessed to have a partner who is also a woman – I think it’s very freeing for us as a family. There are no set roles for either of us, except that at the moment I’m the breastfeeding one, so our children will grow up seeing (hopefully!) that being a family is about sharing responsibility and negotiation to meet everyone’s needs, not about gendered parental roles or unequal expectations.

5. Do you ever feel compromised as a feminist mother? Do you ever feel you’ve failed as a feminist mother?

I haven’t yet felt compromised or a sense of failure as a feminist mother. Still, the small one is only one year old, so I’m sure there’s plenty of time for that.

6. Has identifying as a feminist mother ever been difficult? Why?

Yes. Being the type of mother I am and the type of person I am means that fitting in with other new mothers has been a challenge at times. My ‘wanting to be liked’ side conflicts with my ‘opinionated and judgemental’ side. Yes, I want to be tolerant and respect other people’s choices, but I also want to speak my mind without being pigeon-holed as the freaky-hippy-lesbian mum.

7. Motherhood involves sacrifice, how do you reconcile that with being a feminist?

Everything involves sacrifice. I don’t buy into the notion that anyone can have it all in any context. Being in a relationship involves sacrifice, being a child or a sibling or a friend involves sacrifice, just being a person involves sacrifice at some point. For me and my family, it’s a matter of trying to acknowledge and balance everyone’s needs and having a very long-term perspective. Yes, having a baby means life is all about the baby in the present. That doesn’t mean there won’t be more space for other people’s needs later. Perhaps another part of mothering as a feminist is teaching my children that everybody has needs, including mama.

8. If you have a partner, how does your partner feel about your feminist motherhood? What is the impact of your feminism on your partner?

As I said in Q4, my partner is a woman. She’s pretty on board with the whole feminist motherhood gig. She’d just rather I didn’t want to talk to her about it so much.

9. If you’re an attachment parenting mother, what challenges if any does this pose for your feminism and how have you resolved them?

We are attachment parents, plural. Yes I breastfeed our son, a lot, but there’s nothing else that my partner can’t do for him equally as well. I could make a great long list about all the things we share responsibility for, but it’s simpler to say we just share everything. My partner goes out to work more. I stay in to work more. When the small person is awake he’s not far from either of us.

10. Do you feel feminism has failed mothers and if so, how? Personally, what do you think feminism has given mothers?

Yes, I feel feminism has fed the unrealistic expectation that women can have it all (see Q7) and that hasn’t helped anyone, women or men, but I also feel it’s like any process – the pendulum swings from one extreme to another before it settles. As for what we have gained – I think feminism has made mothers feel better about wanting more than mothering. Mothering is great, but it’s not all that and a bag of chips for every woman. No one should have to feel that they are a bad mother, or a bad woman, because they want to go back to paid work or even because they want ten minutes a day to eat biscuits, alone, on the couch, uninterrupted.

So, there it is, a little window into the life and mind of this mother.


Unspeakable August 9, 2010

Filed under: Parenting,Politics — titchandboofer @ 1:48 pm
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I don’t know why I am so naive. Naive enough that I can still be shocked by people like Wendy Francis.

This politician is Family First’s lead senate candidate in Queensland and in her view:

“Children in homosexual relationships are subject to emotional abuse. Legitimising gay marriage is like legalising child abuse”.

She also described gay parents as ‘surrogates’; expressed her belief that the children of gay couples will be a ‘parentless’ generation; described gay couples having children as a ‘social experiment’; stated that Australia would ‘never recover’ from legalising gay marriage; that this ‘parentless’ generation will have uncontrollable problems with suicide and depression and no sense of right and wrong; and went on to align the children of gay couples with the stolen generation.

Then she said she isn’t homophobic.

I have never met Wendy Francis and am never likely to. I am still unspeakably hurt by her comments.

I held my son tonight, rocking him to sleep, hurting to think that there is even just one person who accuses me of abusing my child. I watched my partner kiss our son goodnight as she left for work tonight, knowing how much it makes her ache to leave him, and I bristle to think that Wendy Francis would accuse her of abuse.

This is not okay. This is not just an opinion to brush aside. It is an accusation. It is public vilification.

I am not just hurt. I am angry. I am lodging a complaint.