Give Peace A Chance

Breastfeeding in public is not a war zone.

Dear new mothers and expectant new mothers,

By now, you have probably been bombarded by the ‘breastfeeding in public’ debate. Facebook and their clever (evil?) algorithms will ensure you see these arguments because you are their target audience. You’re going to witness an online shit-fight (complete with staged ‘candid video evidence’) between well-meaning folk who want to EMPOWER you to breastfeed in public, and ignorant folk who want you to HAVE SOME DECORUM. It’s going to get messy. The ideologies, the flawed logic (“hot boobs are OK”) and the spelling may confound and possibly amuse you. You’d be forgiven for thinking that the 21st Century is a surprisingly hostile place to breastfeed. You’d be forgiven for thinking that to breastfeed in public is a political statement; an act of civil disobedience. Which is peculiar because it’s been a woman’s legal right to breastfeed publicly in Australia for over 30 years. Your mother may have actually breastfed you publicly. THAT’S how post-war we are on this topic. Maybe feeling like a rebel floats your boat and if so – rage on warrior, and all power to you, this post is not for you. But maybe (and I suspect this is many of us) you’re not a fan of conflict or political statements or disobedience. Particularly where your kids are concerned. Maybe seeing this online shit-fight will make you anxious or even refrain entirely from breastfeeding in public. I know it scared me and significantly hindered my experience in the early days.

So here’s a little nugget of truth for you.

Brace yourself.

Deep breath.

Here it is:

An overwhelming majority of people don’t care or even notice you breastfeeding in public. You’d be lucky if they look up from their smartphones or see you at all. There’s a moment at the beginning of a feed when, depending on your attire or posture, you may feel exposed because you are literally ‘exposed’ and if someone catches a glimpse of nipple in that moment, they generally look away or comically avoid eye contact. I breastfed both my babies in public, in all kinds of places, and these were the only three responses I ever got, in order of most common:

1. Didn’t even look/notice/register what I was doing.
2. Saw me breastfeeding, registered I was breastfeeding and did nothing to indicate whether they were for or against the situation.
3. Copped an eyeful and a) looked away embarrassed or b) smiled at me. Option b) were women who ‘knew’. Option a) were prudes and dudes.

The three things that never happened to me:

1. I was never asked by wait staff to breastfeed in the toilet.
2. I was never stared at with disgust.
3. I was never approached by a stranger and told that what I was doing was wrong or disgusting.

Do I think that vilifying public breastfeeding doesn’t exist at all? Hell no. There are douchecanoes hiding in all corners of the globe. But the truth is that these people are statistically insignificant cowards, afraid to say anything to your face and, chances are, they won’t. I’m not trying to minimise the real-life stories of women who have been personally shamed, but please know that these stories represent an incredibly tiny minority of the overall public breastfeeding experience. Don’t let the Facebook echo chamber hinder your efforts in those fragile early days of new motherhood.

Forget the fight exists, because in the real world it doesn’t. Don’t waste your energy thinking about it and definitely don’t be afraid of encountering detractors because it’s highly unlikely that you will. The boob-haters are far more comfortable airing their views on Facebook. Facebook is not where you are breastfeeding in public.

If you’re so inclined, get your tits out and don’t be scared. The overwhelmingly likely outcome is that nobody will notice, but those who notice won’t care, those who care won’t complain and those who complain are morons.

🍥🍥

Images courtesy of What Does Breastfeeding Look Like? An incredible Tumblr project by photographer Suzie Blake.

The Irresponsible Asshattery of the AFR

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There isn’t much one can meaningfully add to the shit storm of an argument surrounding Mark Latham’s latest opinion piece in the Australian Financial Review. But with a headline like “Why left feminists don’t like kids”, the agenda was clear: break the Internet, no matter the human cost.

Look, I could most certainly take Latham out in straight sets with logical rebuttal. I’d gain his trust by telling him I live in the suburbs rather than his purported inner-city hotbed of parental neglect. Then I’d call BS on his so-called idyllic parenting life – with its gourmet cooking (yawn) and native garden tending (ugh), it sounds like just the kind of mindless bullshit that would have me reaching for the Xanax. Luckily, unlike Mark, I’m not afflicted with the self-serving belief that how I choose to spend my days is how everyone should spend theirs. Next I’d point out that it’s pretty clear he’s never spent any time with women suffering post-natal depression. Indeed, I’m not entirely sure he even understands the dictionary definition. If he did, he may have discovered the cruel irony that post-natal depression highlights: in their pursuit to be good mothers, falling short is devastating. Then I’d go for the jugular by detailing my own personal experience in the matter; suffering depression and anxiety as a result of a miscarriage which, if anything, proves the actual opposite of Latham’s point. Far from the over-simplified accusation that depression somehow means that mothers don’t want the children they chose to have, mine came about as a result of losing a child that I wanted and had already begun to love. Further, my decision to seek help in the form of anti-depressants (which didn’t work for me, but are a perfectly viable option for others) was because of a ferocious maternal need to protect my 18 month old daughter. As her primary carer her welfare depended on me, an utterly terrifying notion while my mind faltered. Not bad for a left feminist, eh Mark?

But I won’t bother. Because Mark isn’t the problem. Don’t get me wrong, he’s a problem. But he’s not my problem, and he shouldn’t be yours. Although he was serious about his opinion piece, it wasn’t published to be taken seriously, but rather to present readers with a head-scratching rendition of What The Actual Fuck on WTF.fm. It flies so firmly in the face of common sense, and is so devoid of research that it verges on comedy. In fact, were it copied and pasted onto The Onion, no doubt we’d all be laughing about it. THAT’S how nonsensical it is. There have been many excellent and meaningful responses, but I think Em Rusciano puts it best when she says his argument is a ‘clusterfuck of asshattery’. And I’m inclined to agree, adding my clear definition of asshat to mean:

  • One who confuses their ‘opinions’ with ‘facts’ (a common complaint of those with an inflated sense of self-importance, but a underdeveloped sense of self-awareness);
  • One who is pathologically lacking in empathy;
  • One who is impervious to logical rebuttal; and
  • Will argue their point long after it has been proven moot.

So. Asshat he most certainly is. Based on the above, I’m sure you’ll find you know a few. To argue with them is pointless (see points 3 and 4). Latham will go to his grave believing the things he says are true and, this is the most important part, it should never affect any of us. Ever.

Because if you were to walk down your street and vox pop your neighbours, asking them about hot button issues like post-natal depression, feminism, refugees or the environment, you will discover that asshats exist. Ditto the Internet and most notably social media where they are commonly known as ‘Trolls’. Unlike Latham, most of them have never been in contention to govern Australia, and aren’t given a national stage on which to spurt their asshattery, but they exist. They wouldn’t go so far as to lobby for the banning of anti-depressants or for women to get back to their ironing boards. In fact, very few act upon their bizarre convictions except through meaningless vitriolic chit-chat. They vote – yes. But they can only vote for what’s presented to them. And though they exist in the world, they are flaccid and ineffectual when it comes to real action. Except when the media chooses to shine a torch on one of them for the purpose of being controversial.

Which brings me to the true villain of this entire debacle: The Australian Financial Review.

While Mark is arguing that feminists should do us all a favour and choose not to have children, and feminists are arguing that Mark should do us all a favour and choose to go to hell, one entity was faced with a very real, black and white choice: to publish an article of such offensive bile as to potentially alienate an already vulnerable group of people. Or to hand it back and say “Mark, you’ve been drinking the Kool-Aid.”

No doubt when Latham’s piece crossed the many desks it crossed, it was met with the salivating mouths of media wolves, desperate to make the masses click. It was the Fairfax equivalent of an oiled Kardashian derrière and its purpose was the same: to incite a virtual riot and make some very real cash.

And so rather than do the decent thing, and toss this piece of (albeit hilarious) ignorant trash in the reject pile, they hurled Mark Latham to the lionesses. And waited. On every left-leaning or just halfway decent internet media outlet, he was cut down. Does he care? No. Will he change? Absolutely not. So who wins, and more importantly, who loses?

The Australian Financial Review wins, of course. Considering online access to the article required subscriber sign-up, I’m sure subscriptions by the curious masses surged. Clicks are currency for online advertisers and they are worth their virtual weight in real gold. The AFR then washes their hands of all responsibility by blaming Mark in a follow-up opinion piece arguing how irresponsible his column was. If it was so irresponsible, where the hell were your editors whose actual job it is to take responsibility for content? Please don’t mistake this as sympathy for Latham (God no), but it’s a classic case of the puppeteer blaming the puppet. And getting squarely away with it.

Meanwhile, Mark gets his thick head pounded by a bunch of feminists but is probably right now working on his next column filled with even more privileged ignorant trash. The feminists get worked up for a few weeks before resuming their regular scheduled programming of fighting the good fight. And the real loser in this is the vulnerable sufferers of depression, and the already under-funded, overworked mental health organisations whose mission it is to eradicate attitudes like Latham’s. We won’t ever know whether there was a true human cost in this act of media terror, but I can say with certainty that PND is a grave issue that can, at its worst, end in suicide. Sometimes murder-suicide. Hey AFR, I’m not sure I’d be intentionally firing up a game of link-bait roulette when the cost might be the loss of innocent lives. But then, I’m just a selfish leftie feminist who doesn’t like kids so what the hell do I know?

So while the AFR is off collecting its winnings and Mark Latham is enjoying the sensation of his own head up his own ass, a mother somewhere throws her hands in the air and says “enough.”

*slow clap*

In Search of Silence

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I’m a nitpicker from way back.

Don’t get into a semantic argument with me. I love them more than I care to admit. Don’t use the word ‘literally’ if you really mean ‘metaphorically’. Unless you’re being ironic. And good Lord, don’t get started on ironic. I was so disappointed in my first musical obsession, Alanis Morisette, for writing a song about a bunch of unfortunate coincidences and calling them ironic. But I digress (yes, yes I do. And often.)

One of the things getting me all hot under the collar recently is the whole introvert/extrovert definition. Ten years ago, I would have called myself an extrovert: I enjoy people, socialising, talking. I’m not shy or reserved. Ten years ago, that’s what I thought an extrovert was. But ten years ago I didn’t have children, so ten years ago I ran my own show. And ten years ago I was always able to come home after a busy day of work, or a crazy weekend of socialising, and relax. Alone. I could choose to socialise or, if I didn’t have the energy, to stay in and read or write. Being alone with my own thoughts gave me the energy to go out and be social. Which, it turns out, is the exact definition of an introvert. Being shy isn’t necessarily being an introvert. It’s just… being shy.

So becoming a parent has been inexplicably hard to manage at times. My kids are awake from around 5am and for the next 12-14 hours, there is no silence and I am never alone. 7 days of the week. I remember when Freddie was about 3 months old and I spent a day working for the first time since before he was born. The 30 minute drive to my studio was euphoric. With nobody talking, crying, asking, demanding, wanting. Listening to my own choice of music! Being alone. Being silent.

This weekend I had to have it, I had to have silence. After spending the morning at the Vic Market as a family (which I love!), we were driving home. John was asking what else we need to get at the supermarket. I was trying to formulate a shopping list while reading recipes on my iPhone which, for anyone who knows me well, is about as effortless as trying to read something in a foreign language. There was an interesting but semi-infuriating segment happening on the radio that my brain just would not tune-out to. And Hazel was demanding, ad nauseum, to listen to the Frozen soundtrack. Which was really just the choice between listening to one thing ad nauseum or another.

I felt the panic attack creeping up. I know it’s coming when I try to take a deep breath, but the breath seems to only make it half way to my lungs. The deeper I try to breathe, the shallower the breath seems to go until I’m almost panting and gasping. My logical side was saying “what the hell is wrong with you?” and my emotional side was screaming “jump out of the car!” We were on the freeway so… lucky I’m not a slave to my emotions.

“Let me out at the supermarket. I’ll do the rest on my own.” I said.

So they did. I stood inside the entrance to the supermarket, for what felt like an eternity, just trying to unscramble my thoughts. Slowly, I began making my way around. And at the end, with shoulder bag filled to the brim with groceries (including plenty of heavy cans and bottles) and a jumbo-pack of nappies slung over one arm, I walked home in spite of the looming storm clouds.

It’s about two kilometres of undulating urban hills, or a half hour walk without 10 kilos of groceries. I’ll admit, it wasn’t physically pleasant. But it was mentally and emotionally necessary. A re-set button I used to be able to press on a daily basis that hadn’t been pressed for months.

So, to all you introverted parents out there (not just the shy, socially awkward or agoraphobic ones – but hugs to you guys, too), we all need silence more than we realise, so make sure you take some much needed silent time today.

And not just on the toilet. If you’re lucky enough not to be followed in there, anyway.

Why the WAF needs Feminism

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I’ll be honest with you WAF, when I first visited your tumblr with all those haughty opinions of yours, I kinda scoffed. I mean, really. A bunch of women making the ultimately feminist choice to express their opinion by making largely feminist statements under the banner of not needing feminism. If I could have located just one woman holding a sign that said ‘I don’t need feminism because I believe that men are superior to me and that my opinions don’t matter’ then maybe you would have made your point. Instead, it’s just a bunch of feminists deniers dissing on feminism. Some of the best ones are:

I don’t need feminism because I made a choice to be a stay at home mother.

I don’t need feminism because I don’t need a pack of angry vaginas to fight my battles.

I don’t need feminism because having sex with a stranger is irresponsible, not rape.

I haven’t needed feminism since the 1920s.

LOL.

I promptly forgot about WAF. Their issue isn’t with feminism but with their skewed perception of feminism. And, it seemed, the underlining fear that aligning themselves with feminism might make them seem angry or unattractive. Far be it for me to tell them otherwise. They’re big girls (so they keep insisting). They can work this stuff out for themselves.

Then just yesterday I read a really, really, really sad article about real life marital counselling in the 1950s and 60s. It’s a long read, but you can check it out here.

It uncovered an epidemic in 20th Century social culture to blame women for any kind of discord present in an unhappy marriage. Even violence against them. The ‘Can This Marriage Be Saved?’ column was published in a widely read and very popular women’s magazine. And I imagine the published cases only represent the very tip of the iceberg.

Take ‘Elsa’ and ‘Josh’. Elsa was beaten and humiliated publicly by Josh on a number of occasions. After giving birth to a baby girl, Josh ignored Elsa and their daughter showing his disappointment in the fact it wasn’t a boy. When he had to make his own breakfast one morning shortly following the birth, he flew into a rage. The counsellor’s comment, as published in this national magazine:

“If she wanted a serene family life, she would have to learn to give Josh what he wanted from their marriage and thereby help him control his temper.” In other words “This wife needed to be convinced out of her own self-righteous understanding of the situation.”

In response to more and more women writing in to discuss domestic abuse, he comments: ‘it was interesting to find how bitterly the average man resents a sloppy and slovenly wife.’

Still think you don’t need feminism? Still think you haven’t needed it since the 1920s?

Find me one woman on the WAF tumblr that thinks this is OK. Not just the abuse, but the justification of it.

Find me one woman on the WAF willing to put on a placard ‘I don’t need feminism because in cases of domestic violence it is my duty as a wife to help my husband control his temper.’

Find me one woman on the WAF who wouldn’t fight tooth and nail if Elsa were her sister or her friend.

Let me tell you something WAF: you’re here, expressing your opinion on a global scale, because of feminism. And let me tell you something else, if you ever find yourself married to a ‘Josh’, that ‘bunch of angry vaginas’ you hate so much will not rest until you are safe.

I’m gonna level with you, WAF: there are some angry feminists and there are some peaceable ones, too. Lucky for you, you can ignore the angry ones if you find them so displeasing – believe me, it will never be illegal to shave your legs, like men or wear short skirts. But all in all, this developing global community of ours hasn’t reached a point where all women out here have the choices that you seem to think you have. You think you don’t need feminism, but your mother probably did and your sister might, your daughter might, your neighbour might. I’d love nothing more than to say, with all honestly, that we don’t need feminism anymore. But we still do.

So when you say your prayers tonight, and find yourself grateful to live in an imperfect but improving society, feel free to give your thanks. To feminism.

Remember ‘Elsa’. Not her real name, but she was a real person. A woman who was told, publicly and not so long ago, that her husband might beat her if she finds herself unable to tend to her prescribed household duties. Remember her and the many women like her who still live in the same fear. Lest we effing forget.

The God Spotlight

Throughout my life, I have experienced moments that I have come to refer to as ‘God’s Spotlight’.

It’s a little hypocritical of me. I don’t really believe in God. Not in any traditional sense, anyway. I guess I would call my morals and values non-denominational Christian but, if I’m honest, that’s simply because Christianity is mainstream in my environment so it’s the religion I know the most about. I’m fairly certain that these same values that I live my life by are the backbone of most religions. And, um, the law.

Don’t kill. Don’t steal. Be kind. Love one another. Ya know?

I also support a lot of things that most religious denominations, in practice anyway, typically don’t. I’m Pro Choice. I’m Pro Marriage Equality. I’m a feminist, too which isn’t sacrilegious as such. It just gets under their fingernails a little bit. I rather reluctantly went to a Catholic School and was an argumentative little hellraiser in mandatory RE class. “But Miss, how can you believe that God loves you when he drowned EVERYONE!? Even the ANIMALS!? I’m sorry, but that guy can’t be trusted.” But when all’s said and done, I guess I believe in a ‘God’ (poor ‘God’. He will always be an inverted commas kind of thing for me). Maybe it’s not a him or a person at all that I believe in but a force, that’s both within me and also everywhere. I don’t know. Whatever. I like it. It suits me fine.

So anyway. In my life, typically my childhood, I often had moments whereupon my experience of a situation was inexplicably heightened. They would be moments of little or no spectacle, forgotten quickly by the others right there sharing the same experience. But for me, it was as though a spotlight was shining and the moment would be recorded by my mind with such precision so to never forget. I have a catalogue of them, many of which I’ve never truly analysed for their potential meaning. I’d like to go through that catalogue one day and try to figure out exactly what it was they (or He or It) were teaching me at that moment. But my favourite and most important one was this:

It was 1992 or 1993. So I would have been 11 or 12. I had gone with my aunt and uncle and cousins to a holiday house on a river at a tiny little place called Tunnel Bend on the Howqua River. The house was a shack deep in the bush. There were blackberries everywhere. And a really cool badminton court. And a river with a fairly strong current that travelled around in a circle through a man-made tunnel that had been cut from the earth during the Gold Rush. The shack backed onto a small stony beach where we’d paddle downstream to the tunnel on lilos, drag them up through the dark tunnel over rocks and rockpools, and then resume paddling on the other side, arriving right back where we started.

We had all set out one mild morning – not hot, I remember that – to a spot further up the river that had a nice stretch of stony beach, where the current wasn’t too strong for kids to swim. We didn’t drive or walk, we got on lilos and floated up to the spot. I shared a lilo with my cousin. My uncle kayaked.

We splashed around for a while, but I felt a bit cold so I jumped out of the water and sat on the stony beach wrapped up in a towel next to my sister and my aunt who wasn’t there to swim, so she was wearing jeans, shoes and a jumper. My cousins and uncle were still out in the water. I turned away for a split second and before I knew what was happening my aunt was in the water – in her jeans and her shoes and her jumper. I heard her yell something beforehand, but I didn’t hear what. I looked out into the water at her four boys swimming, but for a moment I couldn’t see my uncle… and then, within seconds, his kayak flipped up out of the water and he was there again. My aunt was still swimming out to him, fully clothed. She must have looked up and realised he was OK and stopped, treading water, for one electric moment while we all looked on a little confused. Then she waded back to the shore and my uncle followed her.

“I saw you go under,” she said. “I thought you were drowning.”

He looked at her with a proud smile and said something along the lines of ‘you silly sausage’, gave her a kiss and a hug. She was drenched, her jeans and her shoes and her jumper. And she was magnificent. A woman who had leapt to save her husband, without thinking of the consequences. Without a care that it wasn’t a particularly warm day and she had no other clothes. Without a care that she might look silly. She jumped in the river! In her jeans! In her shoes! In her jumper! She didn’t waste a moment to consider whether he was perfectly OK, perhaps not drowning at all. It didn’t matter.

THIS. Said ‘God’. Pay attention to THIS.

I was 11 or 12. I didn’t know anything about love. I knew I loved my family and they loved me. But I didn’t understand this kind of love, or this kind of fear of loss. I had no context with which to process this moment but my naive little mind, yet to experience love or hurt, opened up and swallowed it all.

That little spotlight film has played and re-played in my head for many years. Throughout my teens, when love was confusing, it taunted me like a puzzle I couldn’t solve. It would be years before I began to see its relevance. That spotlight has helped me to recognise when someone loved me. And it has helped me recognise when someone maybe didn’t. It taught me to leap without fear of being wrong or looking silly. That even when you are wrong or look silly, you are still magnificent and brave. It taught me that the magazines, with all their advice on playing it cool and keeping your cards close to your chest, are wrong. Most importantly, it taught me that women are not just the objects of love; we are capable of loving with the same ferociousness and foolishness as men. Simply put, that moment taught me how to love.

And so I credit this funny little moment with so much of the love that I have in my life. So thanks ‘God’. If that really was you, it was a darn cool trick.

You Make Me Feel Like An Average Woman

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Dear Bec,

You don’t know me. At least, I’m pretty sure you don’t. And if you do, then you might know what I’m writing to you about. Yeeeeahhh, about that post of yours….

So, I’m a mum too. It’s both a rewarding and challenging gig, all at the same time. It can be tougher for some, definitely, and there’s a whole generation of mums that are now more exposed than ever, with judgement being thrown about like comical cream pies.

Back in the days without the interwebs (srsly, I was alive for that, it isn’t that long ago), it was our immediate family, friends and neighbours that were free to cast aspersions on our parenting prowess, not people we didn’t know. Magazines had ideals and most of these were based on trying to sell us something, but generally, everyone just got on with it without fear of what someone across the country might think about it. So I agree with you in lamenting the phenomena of mummy shaming.

I know you meant well, but I think perhaps being Rebecca Judd got in the way. I’m one of those ‘average women’ you refer to, whom the Miranda Kerr’s and Giselle’s of the world are “duh”, naturally hotter than. I know that in your world, you are judged by your looks and size. But let’s all just agree to stop bringing this into the real world, where mum’s come in all shapes and sizes and our main focus isn’t to “bounce-back” to our pre-baby bodies. Puh-lease.

Can we also just stop a second and think about why we want to look like we’ve never HAD children? Like we’ve never grown a whole human (in some cases, a third of our actual size – I’m looking at you Amy) and carried it around for 9 months? These bodies should be worn proudly, like badges of honour and those hot scars that women love. I stand by my belief that my friends who have either aged gracefully or had children and are happy (tired, but happy) are looking better than they ever have in their whole life. Yes, that’s INCLUDING their early 20s.

Let’s all keep fighting the good fight, but perhaps pause for a second to make sure we’re not actually contributing to the cause. Cause we’ve all got so much more to do (like dancing, eating vanilla slices, taking photos of our kids and writing letters to celebrities)

Srsly,
Caroline

//————-//

Dear Bec,

Oh hey, I’m Amy the one Caroline referred to earlier. Small lady, big baby? Yeah, that’s me.

First up, I know what you were aiming for with the whole ‘let’s quit shaming each other’ article. I get it. We’re all mums. We’re all doing our best. Let’s hug it out.

But I’m going to point out a glaring omission in your piece. Because, dude, it needs to be said. It’s the proverbial elephant in the room. No pun.

First of all, a basic recap:

Mums who breastfeed are great! | Mums who can’t breastfeed so they formula feed are also great!*

Mums who birth naturally are great! | Mums who know their limits and take the damn epidural are also great!

Mums who partake in pre- and post-natal fitness are great! | GLARING SILENCE.

I’ve heard you say in the past that you’re just ‘lucky’ that you look the way you do and it’s always kinda jarred me a little. Because… I don’t look the way you do. In fact, I was born looking quite different to you. I’m 5 foot tall for a start. I have red hair and freckly skin. And while I’m of a petite and (relatively) proportionate build, I’m no supermodel. By your definition that somehow makes me, um, unlucky. Me and a vast majority of women on the planet. I know, I know – don’t hate you ’cause you’re beautiful. But maybe don’t ignore me ’cause I’m not.

Did I get into physical fitness while I was pregnant with my babies? Nup.

Did I get into it after I had my babies? Ah, not particularly.

Do I feel exasperated by all those beautiful celebrity mums popping up on my Facebook newsfeed with their tales of how they got their pre-baby bodies back? ‘Lil bit.

I live a vaguely active lifestyle and I’m not overweight. I view exercise as a way of being physically and mentally healthy and because of those pesky ‘unlucky’ genes of mine, if I wanted to look like you and Miranda and Giselle and be ‘celebrated’ (or noticed at all) I would need to spend a lot more time working on my body and a lot less time doing other perfectly healthy things I love – like reading, writing, letterpress printing and watching cat videos on YouTube. And here’s the kicker: there’s a lot of money to be made by making the unlucky ones feel like they could look lucky if only they worked a little harder. I think you may even be making a bit of that money.

Just to be clear: I’m not talking about unhealthy behaviours or obesity here. I’m talking about regular folk.

When my body started changing during my first pregnancy I was faced with a choice: I could obsess over my appearance and approach the coming months with fear and dread. Or I could keep living my life. I chose the latter. By your omission, I shouldn’t be celebrated for that fact and I wholeheartedly disagree. That choice was the best decision I ever made. It’s not only great for me, but a great example to set for my daughter who, I hope, will live by my example and not grow up feeling ‘unlucky’. Because she’s a quirky little redhead, too. And she’s FABULOUS.

So, all you ordinary mums of the world, I’m just gonna put it out there – you are great. Maybe you got the lucky genes, maybe you didn’t. Maybe who gives a shit, you are ace. You know that there are only so many hours in a new mum’s hectic day and you’d rather spend your downtime reading all the books on the Booker Prize shortlist than punishing your body to look lucky. You know that you make a mean lasagne. You don’t need to buy into this post-baby body crap because you know that the people who love you don’t give a hoot if your tummy sags a bit after having those beautiful babes of yours. And you are setting an excellent example for them that they are so much more than just their appearance. Your eyes sparkle when you watch your friends having their babies, and it never occurs to you to check out how quickly they snapped back into shape. Or didn’t.

Ordinary mums, let’s get together over a cup of tea, a green smoothie, a full-fat, full-caffeine latte or a straight up martini. And let’s talk about things more interesting than our thighs. Which is, let’s face it, pretty much everything.

With ya not against ya (mostly),
Amy

* I’m gonna add mums who formula feed by choice in here. Because, you know, free will and all.

Stranger Danger

 

Stranger Danger

Yesterday I went out and about with the kids to a shopping centre. Standard.

I was pushing Freddie in the pram while Hazel walked/skipped/ran/slouched along next to me. I passed a pop-up stall with some really cute kitten slippers so, naturally, I picked them up, asked for a size and chatted with the stallholder. Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder and turned around to see a middle-aged lady with a concerned look on her face who said: “I don’t want to tell you how to be a mum, but you should be careful turning your back on your baby. You heard about the baby kidnapped… from…” she tapered off, probably trying to recall which baby horror story she was referring to, perhaps realising she was actually thinking of an episode of Law and Order. I stood looking at her a bit dumbfounded. I couldn’t have been more than 15 centimetres from Freddie, the pram was practically touching my coat. The brake was on. Random clothing and other bits and pieces were hanging from the handles and shopping was messily and precariously piled in the basket underneath. Freddie was fast asleep and strapped into the capsule. And the exits were a fair way off. And there were a lot of people around. Hazel was standing in the way of any clear path out of there. And my pram is kinda hard to push when you first take the brake off… and I could probably go on and on and on about how awkward it would be for any would-be kidnapper to steal this particular baby right now, whichever way I was facing. But I’ll stop there.

(Deep breath)

We new parents have a lot to deal with.

There’s the baby, for one. They’re a handful. What with the crying and the pooping and the sleeping (or not sleeping) and the feeding (or not feeding). Who designed them to be so difficult?

Then there’s the rest of the family. Your spouse, perhaps another kid, your extended family. Lots of people need to be thought about when a new baby comes along. Relationships can change. Kids definitely change. Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes it’s really challenging.

Then there’s your body. And that… I can’t even…

And then there are the Complete Strangers. On a list of ‘Things Not To Concern Yourself With When You’ve Just Had A Baby’, I’d say that ‘Complete Strangers’ comes in at number 1. Incidentally ‘The Dishes’ comes in at number 2. I just wish the Complete Strangers in question knew just how redundant they are.

You see, it isn’t the point they’re trying to make (I don’t doubt that someone somewhere sometime had their baby stolen from a shopping centre and that it was awful). It’s that these vigilante do-gooders don’t realise that their input is utterly irrelevant, out of context and potentially damaging. If pressed, my nosy stranger would have claimed good intentions; that she was saying it for my own good. But this simply isn’t  true. She was saying it for the feeling of being right, being validated, being important, being wise. She was expressing her own deep-set fears and anxieties, her own agenda. But it is misdirected: there are far fewer babies being kidnapped in shopping centres than there are brand new mums falling into the despair of post-natal anxiety, convinced they’re doing everything wrong. If she really wanted to do something for my own good, maybe just… don’t.

What makes it all so incredibly ironic is that in 2014, we have found ourselves living in an empathetically disconnected world. Where people rarely look up from their iPhones on public transport to offer their seats to the elderly. If someone starts a racist rant on the street, people desperately look the other way rather than speak up. But a frazzled mum gives her screaming toddler a lollipop in the supermarket and hell hath no fury like a complete stranger who just read I Quit Sugar.

So, vigilante strangers everywhere, I say this on behalf of every new parent:

Please shut up.

It actually doesn’t matter what you say. We’re not going to listen to you. We’re not going to like it. We’re sure as hell not going to act on it. (I have never once known a person to say to me “A lovely stranger told me off for taking my baby out in public today and I’m so glad she did! I’ll be sure to stay indoors for the next few months because random strangers on the street are universally known to be right.”) We’re not going to thank you. At best, we’re going to ignore you and if you see us playing with our phone afterwards then we are most DEFINITELY ranting about you on Facebook. So why bother? Resist the urge to scold and just shut up.

I don’t ask you to shut up because whatever it is you’re pedalling isn’t sage advice. I ask you to shut up for the plain and simple reason that you are a complete stranger, with zero knowledge of the baby or parent or situation in front of you and you should therefore please just shut up.

So the next time you’re out and you spy a parent ‘doing it wrong’ and you’re just itching to be helpful, take a deep breath and say the following:

“Your baby is beautiful.”

Believe me, you don’t know what kind of day that parent is having and saying that WILL help, if only in a small way.

And if you just can’t bring yourself to do that, go for the Do No Harm approach and please shut up.

I say this for your own good.

(This whole scenario ended with me turning my back on the nosy stranger in the hope that someone would kidnap her.)

An Open Letter To Those Who Have Gone Before Us: Addressed to Parents of the Past

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Dear All

First up: sorry for not writing more often. And by more often, I mean never. But look, this is a start, and I’m rather ashamed of my tardiness, so let’s not dwell on it in case the baby wakes up before I finish.

I want to say something before I delve into this letter, something that should have been said, and should continue to be said to you more often:

You did a great job.

You guys all did what we new parents are learning to do right now: Raise a child in the best way you know how. You did it with love and with all the tools at your disposal at the time. You did it with cloth nappies, horse and carts, polio, war and depression. You did it without formula, central heating, vaccinations, research and Kaz Cook baby books. And we all turned out alright (sure, some of us might be card-carrying narcissists from too much love – but who knew that would be the outcome?).

The reason I want to say this, and say it loud, is that just as you did your very best – so are we newbies. It would be naive to assume there isn’t quite the gap between parenting in 2014, and the parenting of generations before us. In the baby-rearing arena, when continual research can mean that recommendations change almost yearly – a generation is a long time between drinks. And don’t even get me started on drinking!

So I guess I’m writing to clear up a couple of things:

Sharing is caring, but unsolicited advice is kinda annoying.

We would be nowhere today if knowledge wasn’t passed down through the ages, across the board. Science, literature, cooking  – where would we be without Nonna’s instructions or Great Uncle Kev’s fishing tips. But when new Mums are constantly barraged by conflicting information on how to look after a baby, a gentle suggestion can go a long way, instead of making an assumption that what is being done is wrong. You’d be amazed at what complete strangers have “advised” me so far. “He’s hungry” being a favourite.

I know that there is a fine line between helping and being a pain, but perhaps think about the way you provide any advice you’re giving to new parents. You want to help, not hinder, and statements are a whole different ballgame than a suggestion.

If you’ve had kids more than 4 years ago, and you’re going to be around a new parent a whole lot – do some reading

Just as we’ve had books, blogs and baby forums shoved down our throats, you too might benefit from a little updating of your new baby knowledge. Perhaps things have changed since you were a tired, hormonal mum, or a pensive new dad, and it would be a huge benefit for you to combine your past experience with current recommendations and regulations. Then maybe you can skip the whisky-on-the-gums suggestion and spare us the eye-rolling.

Just because some things might have changed, doesn’t mean we’re saying you did anything wrong

This is a biggie. When a new parent in 2014 disputes your advice about the position baby should sleep in, or the best swaddling method, this is not because they think you are wrong or have done wrong. It’s simply that what we’re being advised now is different to the advice of yesteryear, and we have to follow the safety stats. Please don’t take it personally, and please don’t infer that what you had done (tummy sleeping etc) was something terrible. You were doing exactly the same as we were – following recommendations from the health professionals. You’ll find you’re far less defensive if you do a little reading as suggested above, since then we’ll all be on the same page.

Lastly – don’t stop helping

I don’t know how frazzled I would be now if someone hadn’t showed me some fantastic positions for de-gassing baby, or the body language babies show when they’re in the early stages of tiredness. This stuff doesn’t change. It’s really the things surrounding our babies that change. So keep sharing your homespun advice, but with the new-found knowledge of 2014. We’d love your help.

 

My kid is a jerk, please don’t judge

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Exactly one year ago, I was a pretty smug biatch. I had a two-and-a-half year old daughter exhibiting absolutely no signs of the much maligned ‘Terrible Twos’ and I put it all down to the fact that I was the best mum in the goddam world. Obviously.

She said her pleases and thank-yous unprompted. She was kind and gentle with smaller children. She spoke politely, albeit eccentrically, to her elders. She never ran off – in fact, I often complained of having the opposite problem of her incessant dawdling.

The parents and their rude and rowdy tantrum-throwing toddlers, looking tired and defeated, were doing something wrong. I never said anything aloud to suggest it, but I judged them. And pitied them. And I went and got myself knocked up a second time because I was obviously so bloody good at raising angels.

A lot can change in a year.

Yesterday, my daughter yelled at a friend of mine, who was being so kind as to draw her a picture, that she DOESN’T LIKE GREEN! Not only untrue – she changes her favourite colour as often as her underwear and green has featured heavily – but incredibly rude.

Knowing she was adjusting to life with a new little brother, last week I took her out for a hot chocolate and some quality time with Mama while he slept in the pram. I even threw in a cupcake. Halfway through her drink she LOST HER MIND because she decided she wanted a juice instead.

She pushed a girl’s bike over at the park. She climbed every Ikea display she passed. While dressing her one morning she told me I stink.

She demands treats for breakfast EVERY MORNING. Getting her around the supermarket is a gauntlet of unreasonable demands from lollies to baby socks. She refuses to say goodbye when guests leave our house, instead opting to stomp her foot and make grunty noises. And forget unprompted manners – I’m lucky if I can pry a thank-you out of her.

Impervious to bribes, threats and reason (no you can’t have an apple because we’re fresh out of apples), this kid has no concept of time except RIGHT NOW.

Like all good parents, we took to Google to tell us what’s what and we found A LOT of people in the same boat. Mostly they blamed Day Care, but I knew better; this had nothing to do with being around other badly behaved kids. The simple fact of the matter is this: my kid is a jerk right now.

We’ve labelled her ‘The Threenager’ and we know it’s probably going to get worse before it gets better. I know it’s temporary. I know it’s not some long-term personality indicator. But man, it’s rough. My days with Hazel used to be filled with hilarious anecdotes, now they’re filled with power struggles. Sometimes, putting her in Time Out actually makes me glad. I make a cup of tea and get nostalgic about the two-and-a-half year old I once knew.

But there’s always a silver lining, right? Well mine is this: if I see a parent with a rude and rambunctious child, tearing up all kinds of hell, I no longer judge.

I give them that tired and defeated smile of parental solidarity and shrug as if to say ‘Kids, who needs ’em?” Then quickly get my kid out of their way before she tells them they stink or demands their milkshake.

I’m a Feminist and I’m OK

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Whether it’s my bestie or Beyonce, I get really sad when I hear a woman say she isn’t a feminist. Like, really sad. Not because I think she’s probably sitting at home doing her husband’s ironing and foregoing all her girlhood dreams, but because I think it shows just how misunderstood the big, bad ‘F’ Word is in 2014. And I’m sick of it being shamed.

I’m a feminist. And I’m neither ashamed nor afraid to say so. And I think so many women (and men) actually are feminists at the heart of it but they are either unaware or ashamed to say so because they think being a feminist comes with a whole score of seemingly unattractive traits. And that’s sad to me. Sad that women feel their attractiveness trumps their own social freedom. Sad that men feel their masculinity is undermined by supporting women towards that goal.

And so I would like to clarify a few things. There is no singular feminist manifesto written by some mythical bra burner – feminism means different things to different people – but here are a few things that being a feminist definitely DOESN’T mean:

Being a feminist doesn’t mean I don’t shave my legs.
I don’t shave my legs because I’m lazy and the hair on my legs is blonde and I genuinely don’t give a rats.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean I don’t wear lipstick.
Right now I’m wearing Nars Heat Wave paired elegantly with trackies.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean I don’t like bras.
Because, dude, I’m breastfeeding right now and OMG just… no.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean I hate men.
I quite like most of the ones I know personally, and really admire many I don’t know personally – particularly this guy and this guy.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean I think all men are out to get me.
That would just be weird and paranoid.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean that I don’t think men have their own battles to fight.
They do. And I will fight gladly alongside them because it’s all the one battle, really.

Being a feminist doesn’t mean I’m a lesbian*.
In the words of Jerry Seinfeld “not that there’s anything wrong with that”.

Being a feminist means I believe in gender equality. And I believe that right now, in 2014, gender inequality still exists to the detriment of women, particularly in the workforce. I know this because I am a woman who once worked a job that demanded so much of me that becoming a mother rendered me useless to that profession. I had no choice but to forge my own path and it occurred to me, about 18 months ago, that my own path better work out because if it didn’t then I would have been screwed. A great many women are faced with that same dilemma, and very few men are. It is one of the most difficult and diverse challenges to gender equality because it requires nothing short of a complete overhaul to workplace policy and domestic culture.

Being a feminist means I believe that we need to consciously move away from the objectification of women. And we need to empower our daughters to know that they have absolute ownership over the body they inhabit; whatever it looks like, and however they choose to clothe it.

Being a feminist means that I believe we need to stand up and speak out when little acts of sexism and misogyny occur. You might say that Tony Abbott’s wink was harmless. You might say that the Nova FM prank on Samantha Armytage was all in fun. You might say that these little acts, perpetrated by men who are not necessarily bad men (insert hilarious comment about our dear Minister for Women here), are not the same as overt acts of sexism such as rape and domestic violence, but these small and seemingly inconsequential acts of sexism creates a culture that enables and normalises misogyny. And we must be brave enough to challenge the little acts, even amongst our friends, without fear of being labelled precious or aggressive. From little things big things grow so I’ve drawn a big fat line in the sand and I’ll be standing my ground.

Being a feminist means I am committed to being part of the solution to an equal society. I refuse to sit on my hands and say ‘that’s just how it is’; how it is now is not how it was 20 years ago, and it is not how it will be in 20 years time. I will be part of the momentum that propels this inevitable change, not the dead weight holding it back.

I am part of the solution by sending positive messages to my daughter and leading by example:

I do what I love with my life so that my daughter may grow up feeling that it is her right to do what she loves with her life, whatever that may be. I never underestimate my privilege in being able to do this.

I cherish my body so that my daughter will learn to cherish her own.

I stand up to sexism so that she will stand up for herself and others.

Being a feminist needn’t be such a provocative thing to be. In fact, I think that raising two future feminists is probably the most radical and honourable thing I can do.

* this is a reference to an episode of Geordie Shore where two of the girls debated whether they were feminists and came to the conclusion that they weren’t because you had to be a lesbian to be a feminist. *slaps forehead*