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Posts Tagged ‘birth’

There are things I would say if I had a voice.

I don’t, you see – have a voice. Not an individual voice that is mine and that matters and can be heard over the din. Because it is put down, or written off, or labelled in a way that makes it worth less. Not worthless maybe, just worth less. I am told I am a mummy blogger, and maybe I am – but I am also not a writer, I am a woman writer. A woman who writes, predicated on gender; an aside, behind the hand, good at what I do for a woman. ;

There are moments in every woman’s life when she is both confronted by her womanhood and reviled by it – when it beats on her like a hammer, a mantra, a reminder of all that she is, all that she is not, all that is expected of her and all that is not allowed of her. To be a woman is to be mired in contradictory social conditioning that both contains us and undermines us.

(I am 13, walking to a fete on a hot day in a singlet and shorts, and some hoon drives past slowly, leaning out the window, making a lewd gesture. I bloomed late – I have no breasts, no curves, no signs of womanhood other than I am taller than I used to be. This is a rite of passage all young women face – this moment, of being unsure if this is a compliment or an insult, or somehow both. Feeling raw and slick with disgust and heat and shame and yet somehow pleased too, because only attractive girls get leered at, right? Right?)

I am a mother now, and this is an extra caveat to womanhood, an extra characteristic that defines me as Other. I am a mother with that this pertains – the guilt, the boredom, the terror and fleeting moments of joy; joy so sharp and poignant it is more like a bandaid being torn off than any permanent emotion. Like a quick rip through the heart that leaves you blinking back tears, because this joy feels almost like grief too – I get this, yes I get this joy but the compromise is so great. There is so much I lose. The cost is so high. Motherhood is another way of losing one’s voice, after all.

I had no voice today in the shopping centre – the mother rocking a wretchedly sobbing infant in her arms – while in the pram, a toddler mimics the wails of the infant. An old man walked past, staring at me like I’d ruined his day, like I’d brought my children into his space and deliberately upset them, so the shrieks echoed through the vaulted mall in a way that is perfectly toned to make your ears itch. If I spoke then, my voice would have been lost in this old man’s judgement. Mothers are not supposed to inflict their children on public spaces, THEMSELVES on public spaces. Do not be a mother in a shopping centre doing her shopping for dinner, trying to get out of the house for an hour, to make the scenery change for a moment of a day otherwise filled with childish chatter. Do not be a mother whose children are not perfectly silent and still mannequin models of good behaviour. Do not be a mother who is trying her best, getting through the day, trying to cope. Do not be a mother, because mothers have no voice.

Mothers are in the home, most often, because it makes sense after a traumatic or exhausting birth, or a c-section, to be the one to stay home. It makes sense, being the one who breastfeeds, or even bottle feeds; it makes sense when doing the night wakings. It makes sense for me to stay home now with the second baby because I stayed home with the first one, and after several years of a slow domestic tilt where everything slides in my direction, it makes sense that it is my studies that stop, my career that grinds to a halt, my earning opportunities that pass by unnoticed because I am a mother, and this is what mothers do. I stay home and contemplate the scars on my body, the medicalisation of my genitalia, the baby on my breast. I stay home because it is easier, and anyway mothers who don’t stay home are judged too. ;

If I talk too loudly about my needs and wants, if I try to speak up about equality – for any woman who speaks up about equality – there are other ways of being silenced. There is the label of ‘feminist’ – not the meaning, just the word – the label that some say needs ‘re-branding’, as though it is an item for sale rather than a thought or a need. There’s the ubiquitous, ‘but I’m not a feminist’, as though it’s a club you sign up for a membership for rather than a way you live your life, a definition of your core beliefs. So this word, feminism-in-quote-marks, it comes to represent all of these things that it does not actually mean, it becomes an insult and a pejorative explanation, a political ideal and a movement that is picked over by those against is so they can say, ‘feminism has failed’, like it were a child, when really this is just another way of shutting us up. By saying ‘feminist’ as though we don’t matter. ‘Feminist’ as though our words have no import – after all, it is only a feminist who is speaking.

(It is 2009. I am in a relationship with a man, watching the slow wince form on his face when I speak too long and too loud on the gender pay gap, on domestic violence statistics, on cases of sexual assault. I am in a relationship with this man who professes to love me but at the same time, would prefer it if I didn’t talk about the things that matter to me, the life I live and the fear I face simply by being a woman. I am in a relationship with a man who wants to play ‘devil’s advocate’ and try and tear holes in the things I say or deny my experiences because he can. And one day I wake up and realise I don’t love him, I don’t want to be with him, I shouldn’t waste anymore of my time on him because someone who would rather I be silent is not someone I can trust. I end it, but he won’t ever understand.)

There are things I would say if I had a voice, but I don’t by virtue of being a woman. By virtue of being a mother, a feminist. I am categorised and allotted a certain space in this world, slightly over and above those who do not have the privileges that I have (the right skin colour, the right gender identity, the right sexuality, the right socioeconomic background, the right abled body, et cetera, et cetera), and I, like most women, am told I will be assigned someone to speak on my behalf, to choose my reproductive rights, my pay grade, my career opportunities – and when I look up to see whose voice will actually be heard, it is usually a man.

As it has always been men, a whole establishment of them. Calling us ‘feminazis’ with a sneer. Legislating our bodies. Marking us down on a list, splitting us into little categories, some with more privilege than others, deciding our rights and where we fit, writing us off as good at what we do ;for a woman. ;

Telling us where we fit. Mummy blogger. Woman writer. Just a stay at home mum. Just a woman. ;

Which might as well be nothing at all.

;

;

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Morgan

Morgan

This is my second son, Morgan. He was lifted out of my numbed body through a hole in my abdomen in the early hours of a Friday, three weeks ago. I heard a gurgled cry, and then the surgeon held him up for me to see – a slippery, crying doll-like baby covered in white vernix.

I didn’t labour for days to have him, because I had a c-section. This is a choice I feel really good about. He’s my last baby, and I’m glad I have something other than the memories of fear and trauma from the birth of my first son. I did have a bit of labour, because Morgan decided to arrive early, thus the middle of the night intervention rather than my lovely planned hospital appointment for birth.

His face wasn’t bruised from the squeeze of a vaginal birth, his features weren’t distorted by swelling. I didn’t lose loads of blood or scream with pain and fear as he was born. Although I lay on my back on an operating table, numb from the breasts down with a sheet blocking his view, his birth was beautiful to me. I chose it, I felt in control, and although I trembled with shock a little as I was wheeled into Recovery, I felt positive after the birth.

I held him to my breast and his mouth latched onto my nipple and I loved him immediately, just as I loved my first child immediately.

Now we are four. Four in the home and four in the heart. I have a partner whom I love passionately and two beautiful children. There won’t be any more babies for me, so I’m enjoying this time. Our family is complete. I’m whole.

morganandme

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This week has been hard for me. I’m having horrible stabby back pain that kicks in every time I try to move/walk/everything. I saw my chiropractor yesterday and while it does seem to have eased a little, it hasn’t been a huge change. And because I’m tired and in pain I’m more likely to snap at Sebastian for little things, which oh god makes me feel horrible and guilty – along with not being able to get down and play with him properly. But my mobility is pretty constrained right now too. This makes everything so much more frustrating because there’s so much stuff I have to do and yet I’m feeling very limited.

It’s now less than six weeks until the baby is due. That really, truly and properly occurred to me for the first time a few days and I’m feeling a bit panicky. The nursery isn’t done! I have no idea what baby clothes we have! There’s so many dirty dishes in my sink! I haven’t sorted my clothes to figure out what I can wear post-baby but can breastfeed in!

The last few weeks of pregnancy are always super hard because the end is in sight, and it is both too close and not close enough. I have moments of truly profound anxiety where I wonder if I can cope with a toddler and a baby. Alex has four weeks parental leave arranged, but I’ll be recovering from a c-section, so it probably won’t be all special fun super family time. More like me with a giant hole in my abdomen trying to shield it from a toddler who likes climbing me like I’m a tree AND nursing a tiny human who is bound to be big. I console myself with the fact that standard recovery time for a c-section is six weeks, whereas I remained in pain and not completely healed after a natural birth for three damn months.

I am huge, too. Look at this picture from just after Christmas:

30 weeks pregnant

30 weeks pregnant

Now imagine me even bigger. And waddling. With my hand in the middle of my back like some sort of archetype for pregnancy. And making that noise when I get out of chairs, IF I can get out without help.

I worry that after I have this baby I will get consumed by the sleep-deprived brain-blankness of new motherhood again. I want to keep writing – I’m writing for The Peach now and finding that incredibly satisfying, and writing this blog has done a lot for making me feel like I have a voice again and my skills haven’t disappeared in the last few years. There’s a lot I want to do with this blog, and none of it will happen if I’m not writing and posting regularly. But then I remember the lack of sleep, the night nursing, the nappies, the overwhelming feelings that come with giving birth and part of me thinks, how will I manage anything else?

It’s supposed to be easier, isn’t it? Transitioning from one child to two? I mean, at least this time I have a fairly solid idea of what to expect. Having baby number one is like getting a reality bomb dropped on you – you think you’re prepared but there’s just no way you can be. At least with baby number two I’ve already lived through it once and confirmed I will actually survive.

The next few weeks will be busy, if this horrid back pain ever gets better – sorting through our baby things to figure out what we need and don’t need; preparing the nursery for bringing the bubba home; arranging our lives a little better in preparation for the big life change that’s about to happen.

Meanwhile I’ll just be the one in the corner armchair, making that noise when I try to get up.

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I remember being 38 weeks pregnant and asking an obstetrician, ‘So I’m in labour, right?’ And the answer: ‘Kind of.’ Pregnancy books do not prepare you for this. In fact, there is a lot that pregnancy books don’t prepare you for. For example, being 38 weeks pregnant and in a labour a bit. The long answer to my questions was something like, ‘You’re having contractions and you’re 1cm dilated, but things are going too slowly. This is pre-labour, or light labour.’

Nothing I had read in preparation for giving birth had prepared me for pre-labour. I’d gone to hospital because I was having some infrequent, intense pains that did not match the description of labour I’d been given – the pain was too sharp and too localised, low in my pelvis – and some blood spotting. Eventually the doctors and I figured out it was the baby bumping my cervix repeatedly, which you’re not supposed to feel but oh boy, did I ever. However, this trip to hospital ended up with me undergoing some fetal monitoring and some increasing anxiety from the midwives and, later, the doctors attending me. I was having long surges of Braxton-Hicks contractions along with the pain, and fetal monitoring was turning out to be less than successful – every attempt to monitor the baby’s heartbeat showed that he would be normal for long periods of time, and then suddenly spike into a ridiculously, dangerously fast pulse. I was admitted and moved from ER to a maternity ward.

The monitoring went on for quite some time, and the obstetricians who attended me continued to hover somewhere between ‘mildly alarmed’ and ‘freaking the fuck out’ every time the baby’s heart rate spiked. He moved constantly too – I had a 4.6kg baby rolling around in my huge belly, constantly knocking the monitoring belt off and making it hard to get a clear reading. I remember this happening fairly clearly:

Doctor: We’d like to induce labour by perforating the amniotic sac. (She holds up a very long, thin needle with a hook on the end. Alex and I discuss briefly.)
Me: Uh. Okay? Now? I’m having the baby now?
Doctor: That would mean you’d have the baby fairly quickly, yes. (She starts arranging the terrifying needle with some gauze and absorbent pads all around me.)
Me: Okay. We’re having the baby. Okay!
Doctor: Okay, let me just go check with a senior colleague. (She wanders off while Alex and I deal with identical holy-shit, we’re-having-the-baby-right-now, we-didn’t-bring-the-hospital-bag reactions. The doctor returns with another doctor.) So I’ve consulted with my senior colleague here, and we’ve decided we won’t induce just yet. Instead we’re going to sedate you, in order to sedate the baby, to try and get a clear reading of his heart rate. Okay?
Me: Um. Okay then.

And that’s what happened. I got doped up, so the baby got doped up, and they finally got a clear reading of his heart rate and decided that everything was fine after all. I slept in the hospital bed and Alex slept on the floor beside me. Despite being in ‘light’ labour I was sent home (with the general consensus that things would pick up soon). That was four days before I actually gave birth. I remained in ‘light’ labour for that whole time.

Books about having babies do not tell you how quickly things can change, how one minute you can come within one long thin needle’s length of having your child a little early, and how much of that decision is based on your doctor, their opinion, and whoever’s opinion they happen to seek out. Books don’t tell you that the line between Braxton-Hicks and real contractions can sometimes be pretty damn blurry.

Here’s a quick list of other things I didn’t know anything about, but happened to me anyway during the birth of my child:

-The hospital can, and will, send you home, even if you’ve been labouring all night, because of ‘lack of progress’. I got sent home at 8am and was back at midday. What a waste of damn time.

-No matter how much I dreamed of an intervention and drug-free birth, and even bought into the Calm Birth ideal, I was not prepared for how horrendous labour can be when you haven’t slept for about 50 hours. Yes I wanted the drugs. I sucked down that gas like it was the cure to all ails. It made me feel sick and dizzy and disconnected from the world, and I hated the bath I was in, so I asked for an epidural.

-An epidural does not always work. Three epidurals do not always work. A senior anesthesiologist may be wiggling that tiny needle around in your spine, but she can’t guarantee pain relief. In which case, when they offered Fentanyl, a drug that had previously been on my No Not Ever list, I was delighted. Despite knowing it was on timed release, I hit that little drug release button over 100 times.

-Apparently your cervix can have a ‘lip’. I had never heard of this. It meant an injection of pitocin, to try and dissolve that lip. When suddenly I was really really REALLY ready to start pushing, the midwives kept telling me not to because of the lip. It was like trying to stop gravity.

-The sight of a group of midwives and doctors having a whispered conference in my room was a bit terrifying. When they finally, finally presented me with a form allowing intervention, I remember I didn’t actually read it, I just try to look coherent while I signed so it was legal.

-Those forms aren’t for specific intervention, they allow any sort of intervention. Which is why when I was moved to an operating theatre, I wasn’t terribly sure of what was going on most of the time. I mean, I didn’t end up having a C-section, although it was a near thing, but I did end up having an episiotomy – the doctor didn’t really ask me, he just told me I was having one, and while it and other maneuver actually saved Sebastian’s life when shoulder dystocia occurred, at the time it was just one big surprise to me.

The moral of this story is, I guess: things don’t go according to plan. There’s no way of knowing what will happen, no way of anticipating all the variables, and the process of labour isn’t as clear cut as it is in the books. And that’s fine. I think the best way to approach the matter is to be prepared for how unprepared you’ll feel when the time comes. I mean, ultimately, any birth that ends up with mother and baby alive at the end can be classified as ‘normal’, no matter if it’s vaginal, Cesarean or executed with laser gun.

Another thing the books don’t tell you is the massive endorphin high you get after giving birth, which is a major plus, and you feel it surge to life every time you look at your newborn.

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I fell pregnant unexpectedly when I was 25. Although I had known my partner, Alex, for years, we’d only recently started dating. I was naturally terrified. We both lived in shared houses (not together), I was a student and Alex had intended to go back to study the following year. He’d been working as a bartender and within a few weeks had taken a panic-job at a digital media company, where his role consisted of editing gay porn (as far as I could tell). It made him horrendously unhappy during the brief few months he was there.

Pregnancy and parenthood can be hard at any point in your life, but having an unplanned pregnancy can be downright traumatising. We were poor, and I smoked and took medication, and did not have private healthcare, and we ended up moving in together in the ‘burbs when I was five months pregnant and my pelvis began separating unevenly, causing horrible pain. Our furniture was (and still is) a mismatched combination of hand-me-downs, cheap Ikea units and op shop finds. While financially we did manage to scrape along by the skin of our teeth, we also had to prepare for a baby. It is ridiculous that the baby bonus is only paid after you have the baby, because most of the major purchases need to happen in the months before hand – we were lucky in that Alex’s brother had twins who were outgrowing their baby gear, so we were given a cot, high chair and change table, toys, clothes and other baby gear for free. Family members also contributed things like a swing, a bassinet, a car seat, first aid kit, clothes, blankets, electric thermometer, soft toys, newborn nappies, etc.

I will probably write more about my pregnancy and birth experience later, because it still sits in my mind as a thing I was completely unprepared for, in spite of all my diligent preparation. I did not enjoy pregnancy, or felt like I had some mythical glow or had found the meaning to life and was hiding it in my uterus. I felt guilty about that, but finally crystallised in my mind that loving my unborn baby and hating the process of growing him were two separate things.  And the birth was a nightmare of pain and failed epidurals that ended with me giving birth flat on my back with my legs in my air in an operating theatre with an audience of medical staff under fluro lights. It was not the beautiful scene of meaningful pain I triumphed over while angels sang in the background that I had been led to believe. Sebastian was born, and put on my chest for about 30 seconds while my hands were still too full of needles to hold him properly, and then he was taken away while my ordeal continued as I was stitched up.

I did not properly hold my son until about an hour after he was born, but when I did, it was exceptional. I was lucky enough to be one of those women who felt an instant bond with my child. I say ‘lucky’, because I know it is not always this way for women, and sometimes takes time and help for that bond to form, and some women finding that initial bond and some women not seems to be down to chance. We have a video my father took of me holding him, an enormous 10lbs 2oz (4.6kg) of fat, bloody, mewling baby. I held him to my chest, skin to skin with a blanket around both of us, rocking him as he made little baby noises, and I was in love.

We took him home a few days later, after a brief but stressful hospital stay. Being home with your newborn, I learned, is 90% panic and 10% furtive glee. We learned. Our whole lives had changed with the arrival of Sebastian, and money was still tight, and Alex had indeed gone back to study for a year, and I was being a stay-at-home mum. Within twelve months we had started dating, gotten pregnant, moved in together, nested, and had the baby. Sebastian was three months old when we went away together for our one year anniversary.

We still do not have a lot of money. Alex works full time, and I was working part time but that seems to have died off and I am job hunting again. We plan to get married, someday. We live in the country now, in a little cottage on my parents’ property in the Dandenong Ranges. Sebastian will be turning two in July (two!), and Alex and I will celebrate our third anniversary in September, and we are muddling along, making a life for ourselves, trying to keep a hold on what we love to do and how to make it work with a family.

The answer is yes, by the way. We do love each other.

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