Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘personal growth’

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

Read Full Post »

I have watched a lot of films lately that easily fail the Bechdel Test. If you’re not familiar with the Bechdel Test, then hit the link, it’s eye-opening. Basically it works like this: to pass the Bechdel Test, a film has to 1) Have at least two [named] women in it, 2) Who talk to each other, 3) About something other than a man.

The most recent example is The Hobbit, which fails on a catastrophic level. There’s one named female character. One. And people say to me, oh, but The Hobbit was written in a different era. This excuse doesn’t fly for me, because most contemporary films, based on material created roughly a century later, also fail. Think The Dark Knight Rises, or The Avengers, or what about Life of Pi. Some of the biggest films of the last 12 months fail.

This upsets me because I am a woman, and my reality is not represented in mainstream media. There are so many bromance films out there, but so few films about women, with solid women casts, who live complex lives where the film plot is not about romance, break ups or weddings. When I see a film with a largely male cast, with one or two supporting female characters, it doesn’t matter how kickass that female character is when she kind of seems like an accessory to the man.

Here is my reality: I have women friends, and I don’t call them ‘The Girls’, because that’s infantalizing and horrible. Sometimes we talk about our relationships, and for those of us who are heterosexual that means talking about men. With other mothers, we often talk about parenting, where the male partners (for those of us that have them), will come up too. Sometimes I talk to other women about feminist issues, and naturally men come up then, but kind of in a generalized, peripheral way. But a lot of the time, I mean over my whole lifetime, I have talked to other women about things that were nothing to do with men.

I have sat in a Muslim prayer room with Muslim women, who removed their headscarves and bared their arms because they were in a female space, and we talked about god and science as they hennaed my hands.

I have talked with women in their late teens and early twenties about teenage bullying and peer pressure. We discussed women’s magazines like Cleo and Cosmo that seemed to foster unrealistic ideals of femininity, sexuality and attractiveness. We talked about societal expectations of women, the hypersexualization of pre-teen girls and untenable atmosphere of competition that exists amongst young women. We also danced badly to Fergie.

I have had long, long conversations with other mothers I know about baby poo, spit up, sleep schedules and mother-guilt. I’ve talked about my fears and expectations for my child, how the love feels so raw and overwhelming, and which noisy toys annoy the hell out of me. As a stay-at-home parent I’ve talked about meal planning and grocery budgets and maternity clothes, about breastfeeding and stress and time out, about loving my child but sometimes feeling a need for physical and mental space; the paradox of loving your child, needing and wanting them but being overwhelmed by them too.

I have talked to many, many women over my life about mental illness. I’ve spoken at length with other women about having depression, managing it, trying drug after drug and shrink after shrink. I’ve talked about the shame I have felt, the stigma, the rejection and the anxiety. I’ve spoken of my fears and wants and needs, of the physical illness that accompanied the mental illness and made it worse – but I’ve also spoken about my small milestones, my achievements and breakthroughs, the struggles and ultimate successes. I’ve spoken about being sick, and the gratitude I have for being well.

I have lain on a picnic blanket at twilight in summer and talked with a woman about my dreams, my hopes for the future, the things I want to achieve in my life. I’ve spoken about writing, and creativity, and art; I’ve spoken about painters I like and poetry I love and plays I’ve seen and music I’m into.

I have worked hard, with other women, on theatre projects that consumed my life, and we have talked about everything from technical details to the greater meaning of the text. We’ve talked about words that I have written and what they mean, how they can be transformed and represented on the stage. I have had the great pleasure of sharing my writing about women with other women, and heard their thoughts and interpretations and felt that slow burn of satisfaction that what I write has meaning.

I have spoken to women about everything that is deep and meaningful, like religion and the soul and what happens after death, but I have also spoken to other women about clothes I like and shoes and craft projects and shiny things.

I have had conversations with women that were beautiful or tragic, awkward and light; conversations that have lasted hours or just a moment or two. I have emailed women on the other side of the world and chatted to women on the phone who were not very far away. I have sat in dark theatres with women as we’ve caught up on our lives, and asked after their families, or their work, or even their state of happiness. And sometimes, but not all the time, we have talked about men.

Only sometimes.

That’s my reality. That’s what I wish I could see in a film or a TV show with any regularity. I want to see all the parts of myself that belong only to myself, and not to a man.

smother

Read Full Post »

Often I write about the harder aspects of parenting – the tiredness, worry, logistical difficulties, blah blah blah yeah it’s hard. But really, it’s easy to write about these things – they’re what bugs me and makes me grind my teeth. However, it’s just as important to remember the wonderful things about parenting, the hilarious things, the sweet moments. Here’s a list of things I love.

1.- When you have a tiny helpless infant who just likes to gaze adoringly at your face, you can dress him up in cute outfits and pose him for hilarious photos. Exhibit A:

A baby monkey and his garden gnome friends!

2.- You have instantly joined a club that makes you share knowing smiles with strangers in public, because they have a kid and you have a kid and you all know how great it is and how tiring and how worth it.

3.- As your child grows up, you start seeing the world again for the first time – the brightness, the colours, the way a bird flying is pretty amazing when most things walk on the ground, the way a horse snuffling your hand is fantastic and tickly and a tiny lizard cupped in the palm of your hand seems like the weirdest creature on earth. Sebastian amazes me every day with what he finds fascinating – a light switch is frickin’ magic and learning to peel a banana is a huge accomplishment.

4.- Related to #3, you start rediscovering the joys of your childhood, like Christmas and birthdays and Easter egg hunts, Lego and cardboard forts and hiding in a castle and the wonder of trains. Your cynicism starts eroding and you begin to give a damn again, and experiencing a far simpler kind of joy that you thought was lost when you got your driver’s licence and right to vote.

5.- Big gummy fat-cheeked beautiful baby smiles.

Eating food is awesome.

6.- Family. Having a child brings your family closer together, your parents and grandparents and siblings and all of your partner’s family too – I gained a whole bunch of lovely in-laws and nieces and nephews. My parents are super-involved in Sebastian’s life, as is Alex’s mum, because it really does take a village to raise a child.

7.- I finally understand my parents. My mum was 19 when she had my older brother, and not quite 22 when she had me. Having a child yourself helps you to understand who your parents are – what they went through as young parents, the choices they made, and how amazing it was that you remember a wonderfully happy childhood and your parents never let on that it’s incredibly hard to have a family and work and study and your own interests. I feel closer to my parents now, because I only now do I truly understand who they are.

8.- Baby kisses. Sebastian’s started out as a weird lunge he’d do at my face, with mouth wide open and inevitably aiming for my chin or my eye instead of my cheek. And there was always tongue involved, and he wanted a good long pash, too. Now he makes proper kissing noises, and if he gets a little hurt on his hand or foot or arm, then he will present it to the nearest adult to be kissed. Nothing can go on until it has been kissed better.

For a while this was how Sebastian kissed. He’d latch on and things would get weird. I look forward to showing him this photo when he’s 16 and too cool for me.

9.- Sometimes when there’s a group of adults around talking, and someone says something funny and everybody laughs, Sebastian laughs too. Even though he doesn’t understand what the joke was, he laughs because he is joyful that other people are laughing. He’s a little social animal and delighted that he’s included in our world.

10.- My child challenges me to be thoughtful and creative, to think of new activities and new ways to learn. I’ve learned how to be patient, to stop myself from raising my voice, to explain things simply and how to teach by example. Basically, having a kid encourages you to examine who you are, the good and bad qualities you possess, the things in life that you love, and the values you want to pass on. It may be trite, but it’s true: being a parent makes you a better person.

He’s worth every minute.

Read Full Post »

I have never met a bad Centrelink employee. I think it is just bad policy that exists. I have met tired, impatient, bored Centrelink employees, but ultimately they are just doing their jobs. I have also met incredibly kind, helpful and concerned Centrelink employees, either over the phone or in person.

Because I earned enough money at age 18, I was declared financially emancipated from my parents – this allowed me to receive benefits when studying and living in shared housing or by myself. It also assured my benefits at times when I was sick or injured. But having a legal right to benefits doesn’t make them easy to get.

For years, I had to justify my illness to a governmental body that does not particularly like it when you present a medical certificate for a problem that isn’t visible, like a broken leg. At least when I broke my spine and was unable to work, I could show up wearing my back brace and walking with a cane. My injury was pretty obvious, even if the crushed vertebrae in my spine was not.

Explaining why your invisible illness, mental or physical, cripples you to the point of being unable to study or work to a stranger at Centrelink is uniquely humiliating. Only the kindness of those employees makes it bearable. I once had a meeting with a social worker to explain that, while my back was relatively healed, the inactivity of my recuperation had caused a Chronic Fatigue Syndrome relapse, and I’d had to leave my job as a roulette dealer with the casino. I could not work, I could not study – I lived in a share house with a lovely friend who didn’t mind that I mostly sat around all day. The point of this meeting was to decide if I was eligible for temporary disability benefits for another 12 months while I tried to get my life back together.

The man was very nice. We sat in a tiny office at Centrelink in Preston. I had to explain my life to him – the physical pain that was at times unbearable, the numbing exhaustion, the relentless insomnia and the depression that resulted of all of this. I had to go into great detail about the medical treatment I was seeking – both what I tried before, and found did not work so would not pursue again, and the new theories on treatment I had heard about but could not afford. I explained that I needed to be classed as disabled (temporarily), because the only thing that could heal me was time. Time to eat well and try to sleep and gradually increase my strength, time to try new medications for depression and pain, time to organise my life and try to feel useful again. I confessed to him that I often felt despair, and although the medication I took for depression and illness didn’t work particularly well, I was scared of changing the drugs because the period of wash out between an old drug and a new one had, in the past, led to suicide attempts.

The drugs do not work, I told him, but I do not work right without the drugs. There is something wrong with me. Without medication I try to hurt myself. I don’t want to die. I don’t know what to do.

I think I cried, in that room, with that strange man who told me I was brave when I felt weak. He signed off on a certificate of temporary disability. This meant that I did not have to keep presenting medical certificates to Centrelink; they would just pay me each fortnight without me needing to contact them. That certificate was for twelve months. It was supposed to provide security of some kind.

In that time, Centrelink cut off my payments around three times, for what essentially came down to computer error. Getting those payments reinstated was exhausting.

I don’t know how Centrelink works internally – I have an idea of the processes, but I’ve never worked there myself. But the impression I get is that the computers run on a set of rules and regulations, and anything even slightly outside the norm can create a tumble of paperwork and error that, in immediate response, cuts off your payment until the problem is resolved. This has been my experience, anyway. The Centrelink employees I speak to regarding these problems are almost universally bewildered by how such errors occur in the first place, and frustrated that it is so difficult to fix. They do not run the system with computers. The computers run the system using humans as conduits.

Now I receive fortnightly payments as part of the Family Assistance program. This is because we have a small child and the government likes to help. They say. However, I’ve had a lot of problems with these payments – when I was pregnant I was receiving Newstart (the job hunting payment), with a medical certificate to say I did not have to look for work because my problematic pregnancy crippled me. However, I somehow incurred a $500 debt for being paid money in July of 2010 without reporting what activity I had done to find work. It took almost a year to retrieve that money (which Centrelink automatically garnished from my parenting payments).

The reason I didn’t hunt for a job that week, or report my lack of activity, was because I was in hospital giving birth.

Some glitch had happened, and the computer had decided they shouldn’t have paid me as though I were medically unfit (when I was in the damned hospital bleeding on the operating table and full of drugs and stitches), and the computer took that money back. The Centrelink employees I spoke to about this were damn near helpless to reverse that situation. Eventually, I found out I could reverse the debt by handing in some obscure paperwork that outlined my activity and lack of job hunting for that period. I think I wrote ‘GIVING BIRTH TO MY CHILD, COULDN’T ACCESS JOB SEEKING WEBSITES’ angrily. But finally, I got the money back.

Recently I’ve been furious all over again because a minor mistake was made with Sebastian’s immunisation records, and our child care benefit was cut off, and it looked like I might have to pay his daycare $850 for the care already given (almost all of that should have been covered by Centrelink). If the problem wasn’t fixed that sum wouldn’t go down. If the sum didn’t go down then I could no longer put Sebastian in daycare, which would mean I couldn’t work, which would mean I wouldn’t have the money to pay the daycare. A horrible cycle of crap. It took three weeks just to find out what the problem was and get it fixed, including phone call after phone call to Centrelink and Medicare.

I get angry at Centrelink because I try so hard to do the right thing so these payments will run smoothly, and in return some computer blinks a few times and I’m told I owe them money, or they will not pay me, or pay daycare. I am angry that I have to talk endlessly to strangers about the minute details of my daily life. I am angry that this is a system designed to catch fraud, not help people. I am angry that I cried in front of that strange man in that tiny room because I had an illness that was invisible. I am angry that my financial stability depends on a system that fails at every turn.

I wish I could blame Centrelink employees. But they’re just people. It’s the machines that make the mistakes. I like to imagine their central database is called Skynet.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts

%d bloggers like this: