26 August 2011
"Are you ready for the baby?", I'm forever being asked. Well of course I am. I've bought several presents for Xander so he has something to distract him from the new baby; we've planned and made careful changes so Xander's routine has the absolute minimum of interruption; asked visitors coming to see the baby to make a fuss of Xander, so he doesn't get too jealous. No baby was ever coming to a more well-prepared house. When I tell people this though they usually mutter "weirdo" under their breaths and shuffle away. I don't get it. Is there such a thing as being too prepared?

I guess there is. I'm now a week overdue, in a society which doesn't seem to allow for that occurrence. We like to control everything in our lives these days, and a baby that doesn't show up by it's due date is seen to be, you know, a little bit hippy, a little odd. As Eddy told Saffy, at term with her own child in Absolutely Fabulous, "No one goes to forty weeks. Pay extra, get the express delivery". Why suffer through the very late, very uncomfortable weeks of pregnancy? Get a (these days) straightforward elective caesarean at 39 weeks and have done with it.

I'd like to say that I'm overdue because of a determination not to rush my child, to let nature take it's course, to refuse to live my life according to a socially acceptable timetable. At least, that's what I would have said before I was pregnant. A couple of years back I fell in with a crowd of hardened home birthers, who convinced me that everything the medical establishment do to pregnant women is a giant scheme to make money from unnecessary interventions. No way was I going to fall for that, I thought smugly as I organised my planned waterbirth. I was going to 43 weeks if need be! My kid would set their own timetable for entry into the world and doctors could shove it!

That was before the anaemia; the symphis pubis dysfunction (aka pelvic instability) which made it impossible for me who would normally cover over 5km a day to walk more than a few hundred metres at a time; the carpal tunnel syndrome which has left me without much feel in or use of my hands. Then there's the usual, boring stuff - the sleeplessness, reflux, inability to sit comfortably, the fact I haven't had prawns or wine since last year. So I would kill for some intervention now, but of course it's too late to hire an obstetrician on three days' notice. I've got to tough this out.

It's hard killing time when I can't go anywhere and I can't hold a pencil and I can't string a coherent thought together. Baby brain may be an anti-feminist lie, but any scan of my brain at the moment would look like this:

For I can assure you, the world is such a source of irritation at the moment it is not to be borne. Let's see...I ordered a cot net from a website last week and was assured it would be delivered Wednesday. They call me on Thursday to inform me they no longer stock the product. Why did it take a week to tell me? Yet another trip out I'm going to have to make. I don't expect special consideration in public just for being knocked up, but I do think it would be nice if people could at least try to stop ramming into my stomach. My husband keeps asking what I want. If I knew that, I could get it myself. I can barely follow any of the columnists in the SMH. My attempt to read the whole Harry Potter series stalled at The Chamber of Secrets, when I kept wondering why Harry and Draco Malfoy couldn't just get on.

Lest anyone think I'm giving birth in a goat pond with Enya music playing, I am actually getting medical care from a team of midwives. And they keep assuring me this is all completely normal; the average first baby born naturally arrives eight days after their due date. Really? You wouldn't know it from popular culture. Pregnancy books switch to motherhood mode at 41 weeks. All the pregnancy apps on my iPhone have stopped updating apart from incessant reminders to purchase their babyhood options (or worse - they have a cute little graphic saying "baby should be here by now!"). Before my encounter with the homebirthers, I'd never heard of babies being late, and thought it was a weird and risky thing. It's a common perception - certainly everyone I know feels the same way, and is worriedly calling looking for updates. (As if they'd call asking if the baby was born yet and we'd reply "Dammit, I knew there was something we meant to tell you". Just kidding everyone; we do appreciate that you care.).

The nesting instinct hasn't kicked in either, though I have had the urge to dye my hair. Our freezer lacks a supply of casseroles ready for cactus hour, but I am sporting a fetching head of Manic Panic red. And yes, I was first assured it was okay from a medical point of view, as birth defects aren't exactly a concern at this stage unless an already-grown foot drops off, or something. My hair required bleaching first, then to settle for a couple of days before being dyed, and if you want to attract attention let me suggest waddling around forty weeks pregnant with crunchy orange-and-yellow hair; Lady Gaga would weep with envy. My hair does look rather smashing now, though I wonder if in years to come my kid will look at their mother in their baby photos and think it's normal for mothers to have vividly coloured hair and drawings on their skin, and those who don't are the weird ones. Gosh I hope so.

Can We Add Right Wing Nuts to the DSM?

23 August 2011
Watching the Convoy Of No Confidence roll into Canberra this week - very quickly, considering the tiny size of the protest - one thinks that these people are nuts. They're not sure what they want, there's no coherent narrative, other than demands for an election which should apparently be a referendum of the grab bag of issues they're screeching about. To call these protesters nuts seems a throwaway line, but I've been observing the state of the hysterical right in this country lately, and wondering...is there some form of collective mental illness going on here? All contact with rational thought seems to have been lost. Consider these symptoms:

Delusions - the right are determined to believe things that are demonstrably untrue; like that the country is being run by Labor in close alliance with the Greens. How I wish this were the case. And how far it is from being true. Does the Malaysian solution sound like something Bob Brown thought up? How about 5% emissions reductions targets, maintaining troops in Afghanistan, the ban on same-sex marriage...nope, not Greens policies. If the Greens are running the country, they're doing so in an odd roundabout kind of way that completely contradicts everything they stand for.

Black and White Thinking - you'll never hear a right-winger say "you may have a point there, but I still hold my original belief based on...". No, that would be logical and fair. The right never concede anything. They refuse to admit any Labor or Greens initiative is ever worthwhile, or that the Liberal party ever makes mistakes. There are no nuances. One side is all good and the other side is all bad. But completely good or bad isn't the behaviour of people, but silent movie stereotypes. I'll admit John Howard performed well on the gun control issue. Tony Abbott encourages volunteerism through his own examples. You'd never see such concessions from the right. It's all heroes and villains.

Lack of Empathy - live animal exports? Mistreatment at Indonesian abattoirs? Not important. Animals are for meat, they say; the service of humans. Better that thousands of cattle suffer than a few cattle ranchers have to find alternative livelihoods. Even if you enjoy steak and sleep well at night, their lack of compassion can still shock. The plight of desperate people who have fled war zones and risked their lives to come here on rickety overcrowded boats seeking asylum is dismissed; those people are illegals, queue jumpers, and if they are locked up for years, transferred to countries with terrible human rights records, or drown on the way, well they should have thought of that before they came here.

Catastrophising - This is the worst government we've ever had. Australia has lost its way. We're in terrible shape. The cost of living has spiralled out of control, we've never been so badly off, no wonder crime is out of control and we're all poor and terrified. It doesn't matter that we came through the GFC largely unscathed, that CPI is not spiralling anywhere and all types of violent crime are down - Australia is rooned and Joolyar rooned it. If by any chance things aren't so bad, well that's thanks to John Howard setting us up so well.

Faulty Logic - once it would have been a pretty serious thing to make death threats against members of parliament. Not anymore. One of the country's most prominent shock jocks declares that the Prime Minister and the leader of the Greens should be drowned in sacks. Joe Hockey listens to an attendee at a town hall meeting declare that he wants to shoot the federal cabinet, and responds not that he understands but violence isn't acceptable, but just that he understands. He understands, you see, because people are angry. When the right are angry, it's apparently okay to threaten to carry on like violent psychopaths.

Taken together, I'm not sure if it's enough to be classified as a mental illness. But it's not a pretty picture. The first step in getting help is admitting you've got a problem, but as we've seen that's beyond the capabilities of those on the shrieking far right. They'll never admit they're wrong. We could ignore them, but they are having a ridiculously disproportionate influence on the political narrative - ordinary people are coming to share their distorted beliefs. What can we do? I fear we may be in real trouble here.

Whatever You Say

19 August 2011
It's been a week of the very direst stupidity in Australian politics. In just one day, we had the sight of carbon tax protesters standing on the lawn outside our freely elected Parliament House, demanding an election as they refuse to accept the result of the last one, all the while proclaiming "Democracy is Dead". Meanwhile inside the august building Barnaby Joyce was proclaiming to an anti-same sex marriage gathering that legalising gay marriage would imperil his daughters: "We know that the best protection for those girls is that they get themselves into a secure relationship with a loving husband, and I want that to happen for them. I don't want any legislator to take that right away from me." He didn't say what they needed protection from - a future as ageing spinsters if their pool of potential husbands doesn't include closeted gay men, perhaps? Nor did he eludicate just what rights a father should have in relation to the marriages of his adult daughters, but in a free society in Australia it's generally accepted to be very little "right" at all. I'm sure Mr Joyce's daughters are very nice young women, and I feel sorry for them suffering such embarrassment. There seems to be a running theme here of conservative politicians regarding their daughters as possessions to be guarded.

Miranda Devine wasn't in Canberra for all this - too far from Manly - but she was adding to the national stupidity index nonetheless. Last weekend, she churned out a nasty little piece denigrating same sex parenthood, airily linking the London riots to single mothers. When she got the reaction she was no doubt hoping for, she threw her hands in the air in the manner of a toddler caught doing something naughty and proclaimed "what?" Her twitter stream was something to see. At first she seemed bewildered by all the nasty lefties picking on her li'l old column, but by the time she posted her follow up later in the week she'd figured it all out; the backlash was part of the conspiracy to silence free speech in this country. And to destroy the institution of marriage, of course.

Conservatives love to trumpet their "right to free speech" whenever they say something bigoted, of course, even as they argue against a bill of rights for Australia. It gives them something to do when they're not demanding an election over the carbon tax - we have to have an election, they say, as polls show most people are against the tax. Undemocratic not to. Although polls show most people are in favour of gay marriage, and a bill of rights, and can we get some consistency here?

Let's just put everything to a poll. We'll take conservatives at their word. Make Tony Abbott happy (although I doubt the man ever would truly stop whinging). If they want what they erroneously believe to be "democracy", we'll give it to them and screw the expense. Nothing gets done or banned without a poll. Let's start with same sex marriage, live animal exports and a bill of rights - all issues where despite their best efforts, the right can't seem to get mainstream Australia on board with their opinion. Then we can move on to carbon tax, the war in Afghanistan and offshore processing of asylum seekers. Why not? Conservatives don't understand representative democracy anyway so let's trash it and replace it with mob rule. Maybe then they'll be happy.

The New "Right To Life"

09 August 2011
Amidst all the doom and gloom this morning, some nice news for a change; Federal Finance Minister Penny Wong and her partner, Sophie Allouache, are expecting their first child (surely showing some confidence in the economy). Whilst it's no one's damn business how any child is conceived, unless the parents choose to say so, in this case Ms Wong has; thanking the IVF clinic and donor who have helped the couple to achieve their pregnancy.

Well, most people would think it lovely news anyway. But I'm sure talkback radio and the Murdoch press are soon to go into overdrive (edit: they already have) about the whole thing - two women having a baby together? Oh how icky, how unnatural. The more enlightened of them won't directly say such things, though - they'll dress it up in concern for the child. Such views aren't rare; take this piece from social activist Maggie Millar published in the Fairfax press last week. In writing that "Recent talk about the rights of gay and infertile couples, and some single women, to 'donor' conception and adoption emphasises adult entitlements at the expense of infants", Ms Millar confuses legal access to donor sperm and eggs with the horrific trade in human foetuses and live children. The heartbreaking trade in humans is something no one can condone, but Ms Millar and others like her apply the same moral standard to children conceived using donor eggs and sperm in this country. The rights of these children, Ms Millar declares, are overridden by the rights of the adults who wish to access donor reproductive technology.

It's a complicated legal issue, but not one that is helped by simplistic "won't somebody think of the children?" pleas. To quote again from the article, "According to Australian ethicist Professor Margaret Somerville, no procedure should be embarked upon unless we can be absolutely certain that children conceived by various medical interventions will approve of what was done to them as infants when they reach adulthood." Normally I agree that no medical intervention should take place unless it is to the benefit of the child (I've written extensively over the years of my horror of circumcision). But in this case, lack of intervention wouldn't result in a different outcome for the child - but no child at all. Should we weigh up whether every child will deem their existence worthwhile before deciding if they should be born? I think many people deep down can't quite shake the idea that the souls of unborn children are floating around, ready to attach themselves to live babies; in this case, we are condemning these kids to a less-than-perfect family situation, and if things had just been a bit different, they could have gone to a loving house with a Mum, Dad and huge mortgage in the suburbs.

But it's simply the case that without such reproductive technology, they would never have been born; without the particular combination of DNA their existence, such as it may be, would not have commenced. It is heartbreaking to read the stories of young adults, frustrated in attempts to learn of their genetic heritage, feeling rejected by their biological parents. But when Ms Millar writes "To force any human being to forfeit their own reality...in order that someone else can live out their dream of parenthood is highly questionable", she fails to realise that for many of these children, without donor reproductive technology there simply would be no reality. They would never have existed.

So what is the answer here? We have to balance the rights of the young people using donor technologies, with yes the rights of adults to access the technology...and an acknowledgement that for most people in this country, being born is better than the alternative. Should young people be born at all cots? Of course not, otherwise we'd be going down the uncomfortable path of banning abortions. But on the other hand, children born through natural conception also do not get a say in whether they feel their existence has been worthwhile - and nor do we have social commentators huffing about whether they really should have been born. Is this all a smokescreen for saying not only that if you're not lucky enough to be straight and fertile you don't deserve to have kids, but that some children - the offspring of the fertile and monogamous - have more of a right to life than others? God I hope not, but it's hard to escape that conclusion.

The Quest For Better Blogging and a Born Baby

07 August 2011
I love reading the words of bloggers who turn the trials of everyday life into whimsy; their families' everyday lives writ large as meaningful warm humour. I wish I had that knack. You'd think it would be easy. DH and I both resemble huge nerds, though without the technical skill; DH is very witty; we're gestating a new life form, have a cat who is so crazy attached to me he hurls himself at the door if I dare try for some privacy in the bathroom, and have a goldfish with dysthymia and another with anger management issues. You'd think the comedy would write itself.

Sadly for my purposes, no one is funny on cue. When I look to my household in need of inspiration, everyone acts like I've just told them there'll be no more grocery shopping till all the leftovers are gone. I sit down next to DH with a notebook, but all he says his "stop...bloody...staring at me! Go find something to do" (as if I can go jogging or put up shelves at this stage). Xander refuses to be cute to order. And goldfish have their reputation for a reason. I think I'm dragging everyone down.

Have you ever been heading on your way out the door at a party only to think "what the hell...one more drink" and head back for more? That's what my unborn child has done. After several weeks of being engaged - locked, loaded and ready for birth, head burrowed down in the exit tunnel - Pinky has apparently decided it wants a last look around, bounced up, and is taking a tour all around the abdomen, harpooning organs on the way.

There are some situations in life when everyone has advice (if you've ever wanted "suggestions", try announcing at the office you've got insomnia). An overdue or stubborn baby is one of these. Normally I hate unsolicited advice, but by now I'm willing to try anything. I watch TV with my butt in the air and chin on the coffee table. I've spent a fortune on homeopathic remedies (and normally I disdain bottled water). I've had sex with a curry. I've no idea if any of this stuff will work. How do you measure it? According to one study I read, acupuncture is 88% effective for inducing labour in term pregnancies - what does that mean? The other 12% of women never have their babies at all? However, I'm determined to get this baby out of me by hook or by crook, without involving a scalpel if possible, so I'm going to keep trying all the bizarre methods to be found on Google. Eel tea - I never thought my life would come to this.

UPDATE: After my latest midwife appointment, things are actually worse. Pinky is "free", meaning if it was any less ready to be born it would be coming out of my ears. So I've resorted to more serious natural induction methods. Though I'm not sure waving a teddy between my legs and cooing "come on darling" will help...

Debunking Facebook Statuses, #1

02 August 2011
Sadly, one of the many things idiots often lack is originality. They love copying Facebook statuses complaining about the state of the world, but rarely take the time to check the accuracy of what they've posted. Many of the bordering-on-offensive copied statuses they post are loosely based on American statistics twisted by right wingers; a "Washington" gets replaced by "Canberra" and then it's reposted in all it's inaccurate glory. Take this gem:

"They sent my census form back! Again!!! In response to the question: "Do you have any dependents?"
I replied - "2 million illegal immigrants, 1 million crack heads, 1 million unemployable people, 1/2 million people in over 100 prisons, half of Afghanistan and 535 politicians in Canberra.
Apparently, this was NOT an acceptable answer. Re-post if you agree.

How wrong are these "facts" for Australia? In the first of what may become a regular series, let me count the ways:

2 million illegal immigrants
In 2009, Australia received around 2750 unauthorised arrivals by boat (source). There were another 15,800 visa over stayers (source).

1 million crack heads
One in twenty people are crack addicts?! Well they must not live in inner Sydney; I've never seen them. Truth is an estimated 1.3% of people have used cocaine - at all - in the past twelve months; crack cocaine is "rarely seen in Australia" (source).

1 million unemployable people
In June 2011 there were 589,100 registered unemployed people in Australia (source). Most unemployed people are on benefits for a period of less than six months before finding employment.

1/2 million people in over 100 prisons
In 2009, the Australian prison population was 29,300 (source).

[H]alf of Afghanistan
Over the last ten years Australia has provided $700 million in civilian aid to Afghanistan (source). Given to half the population, that's about $4.69 per person, per year. Not really enough to cover the "you break it, you bought it" policy of the good guests I hope we've been in their country.

535 politicians in Canberra
There are 150 members of the House of Representatives and 76 Senators in the Australian Federal Parliament in Canberra (source). This one's my favourite because it's so easy to quantify; there are 535 members of the U.S. Congress. (What? You didn't know that off the top of your head?)

And lastly of course, Census night isn't until the 9th of August, so of course the form would be sent back if it was filled in now, but if one has accepted all the above statements as a work of latter-day genius I doubt they're quibbling over these semantics. It's been fun debunking all this; I'm sure I'll get a chance to do it again soon (what's that status doing the rounds about drug testing...).

The Unholy Babble

01 August 2011
It makes a change from hearing about the carbon tax, but it seems like religion is everywhere in politics and the media these days. Whether it's religious education classes in public schools, same sex marriage, or marking "no religion" on the census, religion is exerting an influence on the public debate far out of proportion to the level of devotion seen in the populace. Our atheist Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, is vehemently against gay marriage, which means she is either pandering to the Christian lobby, or she finds the whole thing, you know, a bit icky - I'm not sure which is more distasteful. Meanwhile, Fred Nile - elected to the NSW Upper House in 2007 with a vote of 4.4%, in our strange electoral system - threatened the NSW government that unless they banned ethics classes in schools (public schools!) in favour of religious education, he would withdraw support for their IR reforms. With the Australian census coming up, atheists have been campaigning to have people tick no religion on the census. It doesn't seem to make much sense to call yourself an Anglican say, just because your mother was, if you haven't opened a bible or set foot in a church in years. What it does do is allow the likes of Abbott and Akerman to claim Australia is a majority Christian nation. Seems an odd thing to say. Whilst religious belief is hard to quantify, less than 50% of Australian funerals are now held in churches. If you can't be bothered getting to church even when you're dead - you can lie down and everything! - it would seem your faith isn't that strong.

Why do we accept our politicians believing things which are demonstrably untrue? Abbott, Gillard et al make ridiculous claims about asylum seekers, climate change, what is tasteful humour, and they are eventually, hopefully, called out on it. But we accept a politician's right to believe religious nonsense. Not only believe it, but to let it inform their policies and decisions. Even in the case of atheist Gillard, she allows the religious views of others to sway her attitudes to such things as same-sex marriage which are otherwise only the business of the couple who wish to get married. If this is really a secular country, we shouldn't allow things to be run this way.

What I'm proposing is that people of religious faith should not be allowed to hold political office unless they undertake that their religious views will never affect their political decisions. It's one thing for people to believe that the world was literally created in seven days, but should that be an influence on our national discourse? This isn't restricting freedom of religion - people unable to divorce their personal religious beliefs from their political stance are free to live their lives as private citizens. But those who strongly believe in a deity that informs their views - well, that's very sweet but I don't want them running the country.

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