Tuesday, December 28, 2010

My body, my birth, my choice, so butt out!

Everyone has a damn opinion on how I should push my baby out of my vagina. I don't see how it is anyone else's business except mine. I don't really see how aiming for intervention free labour and birth makes me a martyr if I never tell anybody that's what I'm aiming for. I didn't bring it up for gods sake! You did, and then you pushed and pushed until I told you what I was planning, and then you told me I was a fool - and you don't even have any children! And you know shit all about labour and birth. Never mind that I've spent the last year researching, reading, talking to people about this, no you've seen Greys Anatomy so that makes you the fucking expert on how I should push my baby out. I'll remember to criticise and shit on your choices when your time comes shall I? I'll do my best to make you feel insecure and scared and foolish, cos that's really the best thing women can do for each other.

I wrote the above when I was pregnant. It has been sitting in draft form ever since, I guess at some point I was going to make it into a proper post. But it pretty well sums up the frustration I felt when talking to people about the impending birth. I think I'll just publish it as is, for posterity :-)

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Thoughts on CalmBirth - Trusting your treacherous body

'Trust your body' is the goal.
It's hard to trust your body when you've been told your whole life that your body is unacceptable - too big, too awkward, too saggy, not feminine enough.
It's hard to trust your body when you've been told your whole life that your body is unattractive, and being attractive is the only way for a female body to be valued.
It's hard to trust your body when you've been told your whole life that your body is unhealthy and functioning sub-optimally because it is too fat, and fat is unhealthy and THE DEATHFATZ ARE RUINING SOCIETY AND WILL KILL US ALL!!!!
It's hard to trust your hips to birth a baby when you've been told your whole life to wish your hips were smaller.
It's hard to trust your breasts to feed a baby when you've been told your whole life that your breasts are too big or too saggy or just plain gross.
It's hard to trust yourself to be a mother, when all the issues outlined above come from your own mother, and despite years of good self talk and feminist intellectualising, at 27 you still can't get the fuck over it.

It's hard to trust your body.

The CalmBirth people think there is too much fear associated with childbirth. They postulate that this fear largely comes from the narratives around birth in our culture - representations of women screaming and begging for drugs, and a medical system that sees birth as an emergency that needs to be 'managed' by doctors who can't seem to stop themselves from inferring. All this, they suggest, results in women who are full of fear about childbirth and don't trust their bodies to be able to birth their babies.

I wonder if there is another element going on too. I wonder if the way we value women's bodies impacts their ability to trust their bodies. What we value in women's bodies, in fact what we value in women generally, is how they fit an ideal of feminine beauty. It is powerfully disempowering and profoundly passive. You are there to be quiet and look good. Fearless childbirth is probably the exact opposite of using your body to passively be admired!

It's hard to trust your body when the only way you know to value it is when it looks pretty, and it never looks pretty enough! There is always something to improve on. It's bloody well quintessential to the experience of the modern woman that we hate on ourselves, objectify ourselves into good bits and bad bits, fuss and lament, and judge ourselves and others. "You're so pretty." "No no no, I'm hideous, you're the pretty one!"..."OMG look at what she's wearing, with those thighs!?" This is way we are socialised into being female, by learning to be preoccupied by perceived physical imperfections. It is hard to access your inner female power in conjunction with trusting your body, when virtually all you know about your female body is that it is inadequate. Kind of ironic.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why are chicks such bitches?

We've all heard men lamenting that women are rude/mean/dismissive of them when they're just being nice and trying to have a chat. "Why oh why are women such bitches?! I'm one of the nice guys!" (That's usually Nice Guy (TM)). Have you ever wondered why women in bars and clubs and at sporting events and at the tram stop and in the lunch room don't want to talk to you? Here's a few reasons:

1. Just because a woman is there, and you find her attractive, doesn't mean she is obliged to have a friendly, smiley chatette with you. She does not exist for your entertainment. This does not make her a mean bitch, it does not make all women bitches; it makes that woman a person who doesn't want to talk to you, get the hint.

2. Women are taught from a very young age that if we are sexually assaulted, it will probably be considered our own fault because we were wearing a short skirt, or flirting with a guy, having a drink with a guy, showing interest in a guy. "It's not my fault Your Honour, she was smiling and being friendly to me, I thought she wanted sex! And when she was too drunk to say no and my dick just fell into her, well I thought she was enjoying it. And besides, just look at all the character witnesses telling you that I'm really a Nice Guy!" Living with this day in, day out, kind of puts one's guard up. You might not be a rapist, but how does she know that? Is being nice to you worth the risk that if you are, everyone will say she was asking for it?

3. Even if it never comes to the point of sexual assault, many women are pretty sick and tired of men who just don't get the frickin' hint. You share one friendly chat and they're all over you like a rash for the rest of the night, regardless of whether you want them there or not. And they do this because they feel entitled to it. They believe that because you were friendly once, you might have sex with them, and they're not giving up until they get their God-given right! Sometimes its for a man's own good that women are bitches in the first place. Heaven forbid we be accused of leading a bloke on.

3. Maybe the bitchy chick is sick and tired of being treated like crap by men who leer and drool if they find her good looking, and disregard her completely if they don't. How does she know you're not just another pig?

These are just some of the reasons why women might be mean to you, when you're just trying to start up a friendly conversation. I'm not saying it's ok for women to be rude or nasty to men just because inequality exists. What I'm saying is that there is a lot of learned experience that goes into being a woman that men are often blissfully unaware of. This is some of that learned experience, and sometimes it results in chicks being bitches. In case you were wondering.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

I'm not a racist, but...

"I'm not a racist, but..." is a line that when uttered alerts the listener or reader to the plain fact that the speaker is, in fact, racist. I am having my own "I'm not a racist, but..." moment right now. I'm not a racist, but I don't want an Indian (male) doctor. It's an issue that I find quite a challenge, and here's why:

Our story is about a hellish and (with hindsight) hilarious train ride from Chennai to Delhi, taken by a friend and I a few years ago. My dear friend Sally had bought the wrong tickets - instead of buying tickets for the nice sleeper class, she bought tickets for what I shall call cattle class. It was Sally, me, and 100,000 impovrished Indian men on their way to Delhi to search for work. There certainly weren't enough wooden benches to go around; we were crammed in like all those stereotypical pictures of India would have you believe. A couple of times I made it to the fouler than foul toilets I found elderly ladies sitting in there, in the stench and the filth, because there was nowhere else to go.

Despite attempting to carve out some space, eventually Sally and I had to share our bit of wooden bench with as many men as was humanly possible. We had to be aggressive, if one of them groped me I would shove my elbow into him so hard for so long he'd eventually move. The groping was something I was pretty used to by then. Groping on the street, groping on the train, groping at the market, groping at the children's sports event. Unlike the cows, no part of my body was sacred - bum, boobs and vagina were all fair game for the gropers. And no, I wasn't dressed like a wanton western slut.

During those 40 hours on that train, my sit bones in agony against the hard wood of the bench, everybody was trying to do the impossible - get comfortable and try to sleep. At one point, exhausted beyond comprehension, I reached blissful unconsciousness for a few moments (I have no idea how long, time lost all meaning, we were never getting off that train). However my sleep was interrupted when I woke to find that the man opposite me had wrangled his foot up between my legs, and through my thin cotton pants and underwear, was rhythmically ramming his big toe, complete with sharp toenail, into my vagina.

I grabbed his foot and started to twist. I twisted his ankle with all the strength I had until he started yelling. I kicked him in the shins. Somebody told him he deserved it and should leave the white girl alone.

It's not an experience I cherish reminiscing about. I felt violated and scared, and I could do nothing to remove myself from the situation. I felt somewhat pleased that I had had the courage to hurt him back, and that another man had had the courage to tell him off publicly.

Writing it down now has been difficult, because since it happened I have expended a fair amount of energy into not thinking about it. I loved India, I even went back. That train trip, while awful, was an amazing experience. India all over was an amazing experience, however this incident, coupled with the constant sexual harassment and groping (in one city I was groped 10 times in one day) during both of my trips there, has really soured my perception of the place and its people...well, its men actually.

I know well and good that it was men who did those things to me; sometimes I feel that my response would be more "genuine" if I had a problem with all men, not just Indian ones. But that's not the case, I only have a problem with Indian men. My initial reaction to all men of South Asian appearance is distrust and distaste (note this doesn't seem to apply as much if they present as Westernized ie if they grew up here, and in no way applies to South Asian women). I am trying hard to work though these feelings and get past them. Just because there are some pigs in the world doesn't mean all South Asian men should be tarred with the same brush. There are men everywhere who harass and assault women, we've got plenty of white Aussie ones too. Becoming good friends with some gorgeous, gentle, respectful and downright honorable Pakistani and Bangladeshi men during uni has helped remind me of this.

Well I thought I was working past these feelings; but now the prospect of my first obstetrician appointment at the hospital is approaching. As I looked at my dairy to check what time the appointment is a tingle of fear rose in me - what if the doctor is an Indian man, putting his hands all over my belly...and what if he needs to do a vaginal exam? I know Mr T will be with me, I am sure the doctor will be nothing but caring and professional....but...

I feel highly uncomfortable at the thought, my pulse quickens and I want to cry. I don't want to feel this way, I don't want to be a racist. What should I do? Do I try to get past my feelings? I know intellectually that they're wrong and I would prefer it if they weren't there. But then again this whole pregnancy thing is making me feel vulnerable and emotional enough as it is, is this really the time to be forcing myself to confront this? But then, what actual action could I take? Call up and ask if the OB is a South Asian male? How fucking racist and disgusting does that sound? Just go to the appointment and burst into tears if they do turn out to be one? Just hope for the best...?

Friday, September 3, 2010

The torrent of unsolicited advice has begun

Everyone has an opinion on pregnancy, pregnant women and babies. Everyone seems entitled to said opinions, everyone except the woman growing the damn baby that is. Or so it seems. Woe is me! Waaahhhhhh!

I catch some of my friends looking at me with suspicion in their eyes when I eat "I heard you shouldn't eat preservatives when pregnant, its bad for the baby." Still others roll their eyes and tell me I shouldn't be so paranoid when I decline the ham that's been sitting in the food court for god knows how many hours. Mr T frets every time I take a minute sip of beer. My parents have told me my abstinence from alcohol is over the top paranoia.

I finally let myself get excited about a cot that I found the other day. I told my Mum about it when she was around. She told me it was a terrible idea (its a side car cot) because I wouldn't be able to get out of bed (what the?) and that I should have the cot on the other side of the room. Thanks for the support. Mum has also purchased bottles. I asked her what I'd need those for, and she said sometimes you don't have enough milk and you need to top up. Ok fine, sigh, let's just set me up for a breastfeeding failure shall we?

I just don't feel like I can counter any of what she says because I've never had a baby before. And she had one 27 years ago, so she gets to roll her eyes and give me the 'you're just a naive new mother' talk every damn time I express an opinion different to hers. I'm finding myself shutting down already. I don't want to share any of my ideas, and every time she says something I just smile and nod now.

She said today she saw some of those "new fangled cloth nappies" and that they looked stupid and terry toweling is better. So that's another battle I'm going to have to avoid by just ignoring everything she says and doing what I want to anyway. I know what she's doing is coming from a place of love, and support, and I am so grateful for that. I just wish I didn't feel like I have no right to an opinion on what I think is right for my body, my baby and my life.

Wow, what an insanely boring and whiny post! What is this a diary or something? Well, nobody's reading it, so I might as well use it as my own personal venting board!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Being pregnant is like getting high. There, I said it.

My youth wasn't misspent. I achieved a lot at uni, work wise, friends, relationship etc. Doesn't mean I didn't indulge, like an increasing proportion of young Australians, in a little illegal fun now and then. Are our society's legal drugs really any different from our illegal ones? Apart from production standards (which are a concern) I'd suggest that on some levels, they're not. But that's a different debate.

So I went to parties and took ecstasy. I got into the 'scene' when it was still cool to get messy and spend the evening curled in the ecstatic embrace of friends and strangers, talking about our childhoods. I got loved up having my arm stroked; I listened with passionate intent as someone described how it felt to know they were gay; I told my deepest yearnings to friends and strangers alike, and had them listen with sincere and non-judgmental interest; I entangled my limbs with friends and held them firmly and lovingly as we grinned stupidly at each other, cigarette in shaking hand, gum churning between our teeth.

And in the immortal words of Bill Hicks - I had a damn good time. Anyway, maturity and the need to be functional on Sundays slowly led me away from all that, which is probably good for my long term mental health.

Since I've become pregnant, I've been having lots of flash backs to those times. I find myself stroking the inside of my arm and blissing out on the feelings. I find myself with almost uncontrollable needs to rub my skin against Mr T's, just cos it feels so amazing. I find myself intensely interested in the inner workings of people's hearts, and at the same time particularly disinterested in goepolitics (something that has always interested me). I sometimes feel...well...gacked out - so loved up it kinda hurts.

I was reading in a pregnancy book that oxytocin levels rise during pregnancy, and I think this could explain a lot of it. I'm starting to feel very earth mothery, the sunshine is just so damn beautiful, and I want to talk about feelings. And I don't feel like these things are coming from an existential part of myself. I'm not feeling like this because I know, intellectually, that I'm pregnant and that is what I think pregnant woman should feel like. It feels like these feelings are intuitive, quite aside from what my conscious brain is thinking.

So while its lovely for me to bliss out on these feelings, and heck there's gotta be some benefits to the nausea and exhaustion I've been experiencing, I think it raises interesting challenges to my understanding of the world...

I've always railed against people (not mentioning Tony Abbott's name) who believe that women and men are intrinsically different. When this opinion comes from the patriarchy it seems to imply that women are weaker in many ways than men, and only stronger in ways that don't matter in our society. Yet right now my body chemistry seems to be wiring up for me to be particularly nurturing, and intuitively skilled at responding to the needs of others. And this is due specifically to the fact that I'm a women who is pregnant.

Anyway, this was just a thought I had, that I thought was interesting. I wonder if its kind of perverse to draw a parallel between getting high and being pregnant...

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

I take it all back, intuitive eating is a joke

I used to believe in, and try to follow, intuitive eating. Partly for my health, and partly to try to counter the destructive effects of our food-obsessed culture. It worked really well for me because whenever I was hungry and looked deep down inside myself, and said "you can eat whatever you want" I would almost always crave something good for me - steamed fish and salad, vegetable curry on brown rice, an apple, a kiwifruit, celery sticks for fucks sake.

And then I got pregnant.

Now when I look deep inside myself and say "you can eat whatever you want", my body screams "Huge serving of wedges with sour cream!" or "CHIPS CHIPS CHIPS CHIPS CHIPS" or sometimes "White chocolate with almonds, STAT!".