No More

I don’t want to have another child.

It just isn’t a possibility I can even consider.

I can’t face the thought of another pregnancy; nine long months. And then what at the end?

Oh I’m sure everyone will tell me – a beautiful baby!

But there is another hurdle to face first. Another birth. And what should I do then. Push the baby out and try not to panic that I’m going to deliver my womb as well? A cesarean? Find myself tied down under those lights again? I know a planned surgical procedure would be different. But heck, I’m nervous about how I would cope at a dentists now. So.

So I don’t want another child.

So my heart is heavy for the young mother in Queensland who is asking to be sterilised and is being refused.

My heart is heavy because since when can women who have carried three children not be trusted to make this decision for themselves. Since forever.

And my heart is heavy because the Royal Aust and NZ College of Obstetricians & Gynocologists think it is too risky, because she might change her mind, when she is older. Because ‘less permanent options should be explored’.

Contraception has already failed these parents three times. What happens if it fails again? What sort of decisions are we forcing them into then?

This woman has reportedly had pregnancies complicated by Gestational Diabetes, and difficult deliveries. Getting through a first pregnancy can be tough for some women. Getting through a second pregnancy while caring for a small child can be really tough. I imagine getting through a third difficult pregnancy with two young children would be really, really tough. I can understand she can’t face the thought of a fourth pregnancy with three children to care for. So what exactly is supposed to happen to make this woman change her mind?

It is sometimes suggested to women that if one child dies, you might want another. Contrary to what some fogeys think, the current generation of young parents don’t view their children as replaceable accessories. I know for generations this is one reason why families were large, the heir and a spare. But the world has changed and now we invest in the children we do have.

Perhaps as their children grow older they will miss the baby stage so much they’ll wish they could go back and have another. I’m not going to pretend I expect never to gush over newborns again, to have a moment of imagining. But I know the second the implications of what that would entail occurred to me the wishing would stop. And sometimes we just have to make our peace with the facts. And the facts are four children is very expensive these days. A car big enough for all those car seats. A house big enough. The food bill. Most people can’t afford four children. And let’s not forget the slating large families get in the media if they need tax-payer help to make ends meet. Easier to slate them, than to help them control their fertility. So I can understand wondering and wishing, but I think many women are rational enough to let the facts win.

Or perhaps she should just be grateful for her fertility, when so many women struggle? But other women’s fertility should have no bearing on her individual case.

The real reason my heart is heavy is this. I think this family love their children. The children they already have, the one that is on the way. I think like all parents they want the best for the children they have, and they should not be denied this for the sake of the children they could possibly have. Sterilisation would remove stress from their lives.

Life with young children can be stressful. It is hard for parents to find time for themselves. This can in turn put stress on relationships. And yes, these parents are young, so let’s support them in having a strong relationship by recognising their joint decision that their childbearing days are done.  A sex life, intimacy is an important part of a relationship. If they are constantly worrying about conceiving a child how is that supposed to happen?

There is another option, if they do conceive a child through failed contraception again. But I thought we were supposed to be against abortion as contraception? Remember too that in Queensland abortion is only legal if performed for the mother’s physical or mental health.

So because this woman cannot be trusted to be rational enough to decide at 22 she doesn’t want her fourth child she may instead find herself asking her doctors to sign paperwork saying she is not physically or mentally capable of continuing with another pregnancy, after a fetus has been conceived.

And they say feminism is dead.

Holly Maitland’s online petition to Malcom Turnball to allow women control of their own fertility is here

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filled with the gladness/ of love for one another

A few weeks ago, as we left my sons daycare, another boy approached my 14 month old daughter and abruptly shoved her, knocking her onto her back. My husband and I were shocked, and our Danish is never quick so neither of us stumbled out anything more than ‘Nej. Nej.’ But I saw my son move in front of the boy ‘That is my little sister’ M said in Danish, hands on hips ‘ You must not push her’

I was impressed. Not just with his big brotherly instincts, but also to see his non-violent conflict resolution skills were better than I had expected.

At home we have the usual amount of sibling arguments for their age. M loves to build elaborate duplo constructions. So does A, but her contributions tend to be bashed onto the top, bringing the whole structure tumbling down. We do an odd shuffle around the floor, me trying to keep A away and distract her with her toy, only for M to decide whatever we have looks interesting and so, to come grab it. What I never expected is how when they do play together the game gets very physical. They really are like two puppies, nipping at each others’ tails.

The other week they invented a game where A lay on the bed and M jumped over her or, at least, mostly over her. Knees into chest seemed to be ok, as they were both shrieking with laughter. That is until the inevitable head clash; I held one sobbing child on each knee until the tears stopped and no sooner did that happen than my daughter threw herself down on the bed, looking at her brother with a big grin. He bounced back to his feet.

* * *

I’m the youngest of three so I don’t remember what we were like at this age. I only remember us as older children. My oldest sister always seemed so grown-up. No matter how much I grew I couldn’t catch up. Starting high school I felt like I was in her shadow. But I idolised her too, choosing subjects she had studied when she had started. My middle sister had that ability to play part of the older wiser sibling unit, only to flip and play annoying younger sibling with me. And we were annoying. Especially that time we watched Lady and the Tramp and we imitated the actually quite racist cats ‘We are Siamese if you please, purrrr’ . I say ‘that time’ but it was many times. Heck I can hear her finishing that sentence as I type.

giphy

I’ve always felt lucky to have grown up with my two sisters. So I did want my son to have that. Perhaps a pregnancy barely a month after my mother died was less than ideal timing. But, for all the difficulties of the last few years of our life, I know this is one way my family is very blessed.

The Christmas before my mother died my sisters and I re-staged some of our childhood photos. The photo with my sisters dressed as clowns, me standing proudly next to them in a onesie and gumboots. My sister reading with great concentration an upside down picture book. My other sister with ham on her head – at a wedding! The time I thought lifting my skirt to cover my face while I sat on a chair would be less embarrassing than a photo of me sitting in a chair . My mother loved it, she laughed and laughed.

I wonder, did I know what we were giving her then? Not just a laugh, or a trip down memory lane, not just a thanks for the good times. It was also an affirmation that all that work, every sibling squabble she had soothed, every frustrating afternoon, had been worth it. Here were her three children, together, with bonds that hold them close still.

* * *

My children love to bounce on our bed. They turn the radio on, A bouncing her knees while M jumps around. A few days ago M reached out suddenly and pushed A. I started to intervene, but then I realised she was laughing. Laughing and laughing as she fell through the air and then landing -whumpf- on the soft bed. Then -whumpf- M lands next to her. Their eyes are sparkling as they turn towards each other.

This. This is the start of something wonderful.

Because you’re worth it

I’m celebrating a very important milestone.

Uh, no not my 10th wedding anniversary. Although that is very important. Or my son’s fourth birthday. Or my upcoming birthday. No, I’m not talking about those.

I’m celebrating going a whole year without washing my hair.

I mean, a whole without washing it with shampoo I mean. I’m not that gross.

Or maybe I am that gross, as that is basically how I managed to start.

Look, when you have two kids, and one is a tiny screamy baby, and you are still very sick so you never go anywhere, and when the baby naps you just kind of fall into a catatonic state, it is hard to find the energy to actually wash your hair. And so I would leave it for days when my husband was home, which basically meant washing it once a week. I’d heard of people who gave up shampoo and I knew that there is a period like a ‘withdrawal’ where you try to cut down your shampoo, and your hair and scalp react to having less soap, less frequently, and I’m like ‘hey, that’s basically what I’m doing anyway’. So I decided to give not-shampooing a try.

Before I get to the methods and results (I’ll leave you hanging as to whether I look amazing, or whether I look like a freaky birds nest nightmare just a bit longer) I think it is worth going into the whys. I’ve been following Lucy at Lulastic and the Hippyshake for a while, and had read about her No-Poo (as some people delightfully call it) life for a while. There are lots of reasons that people have for going No-Poo, environmental factors like reducing waste being a major drawcard for me. I’m no chemo-phobe, ok? But it does seem to me we don’t need to be pouring all these industrially manufactured chemicals into our waterways all the time. Some of these are having really nasty effects, like microbeads. Also, everything I use comes in either cardboard or glass, unlike plastic shampoo bottles. Finally I really dislike the beauty industries marketing to women that we need to be more. We need to be shinier, thinner, whiter, smoother. And it is an industry based on lies. I can’t fight this huge industry, but I can choose not to buy into it.

But I didn’t want to be, you know, smellier.

This is where the aforementioned blog really came into use. Along with continuing my, ahem, minimalist regime I started to use a combination of baking soda and apple-cider vinegar on my hair when I did wash it. And you know what? It was good. Like, it looked clean. The basic principle is baking soda massaged into hair and scalp for a clean, and then the vinegar works as a conditioner. A note of caution, you do have to be careful not to do this too frequently. For every blog about giving up shampoo there is one about why baking soda is terrible for hair, and how over time it will damage your hair. And it is true. That is actually the beauty of this routine for me. I wash my hair much less often. I only use baking soda and vinegar on the weekend. And instead of being a not so hot mess by the time Friday rolls around, mostly I look just fine.

I’ve always had very very fine hair that is prone to looking limp. I’ve always needed to wash frequently. No matter what shampoo I used – if I used a really good one I could go two days looking ok; with a supermarket cheapie, I’m looking lank after one day. Not having to wash my hair when I shower has worked out really well for me.

These days tiny screamy baby is not so tiny. It might come as a shock to some people, but it is still tricky to find time for a decent shower. I do make time. I haven’t completely given up on personal hygiene. My basic weekday routine is to hop in our shower with the bathroom door open and I have as long as it takes her to find me to wash myself.

I’ve got some great ways to extend the washing time. Like place the most interesting, noisy button pushing toys strategically on the pathway from lounge to shower so she stops to play with them en-route. Like a mini obstacle course. Or to play peek-a-boo around the shower curtain. The days her brother is home, or sometimes when I need to even if he is not, the TV can distract her a bit. But ultimately a full hair wash is risky and prone to interruption.

Now I admit, if I was working I would have to make more time. But I’m not. If it looks a little limp I’m probably not seeing anyone important enough to worry. But what about those days when even I need a mid-week pick me up? I’ve already mentioned you shouldn’t over use baking soda and vinegar. Turns out they are only the start of your pantry solutions for hair care. Careful though, contrary to what my kids think you shouldn’t just pick up any old food and smear it on your hair. So to help you all out I thought I should taste-test test wash my hair using some of the online solutions. Here goes:

Honey
Sounds sticky right? But the trick is to mix the honey with hot water, allow to cool and then massage through hair and scalp. It feels (and smells) sugary, and a bit viscous, but not sticky. My hair feels soft afterwards, and looks clean. Over the last year this has become my favourite alternative wash. Honestly, it is the best thing I’ve done with honey since toast.

Cocoa Powder
This was a recent trial, after seeing the suggestion on Lucy’s latest haircare blog. Obviously I’m not making a nourishing chocolate drink for my hair. The idea is to use this as a dry shampoo, kinda like how the professional kitchens I’ve worked in throw salt on the floor to soak up grease. Why cocoa? Well I have dark hair. If you are blonde use something that matches eg cornflour, or a redhead could try cinnamon.

So that’s her theory, how did it go? I probably used a bit too much powder, you really only need a teaspoon or so. And brushing it out, which I did bent over my sink left it quite messy. But, it wasn’t so messy I couldn’t do it with a toddler hanging out at my knees, and when she wandered off I could go after her and come back to the sink after a couple of minutes without leaving a dust trail behind me. My hair did look less greasy afterwards, and it was quick. On the whole I’d do it again, it looked fine. Well, fine enough that I took my new passport photo that afternoon. However, there was a slight chocolaty aroma when I showered the following day. So perhaps not a great one pre job interview on a rainy day. Although there are worse things to smell of, right?

Egg
Speaking of smelling, that was probably the number one thing that put me off trying this. Even though I remember reading about egg-masks for hair way, way back in high school. Well, the smell and the mess. But again thanks to Lucy’s suggestion to whip the egg white I was able to get over my fear of the last one at least. I’m not going to lie, this is my least favourite of the washes I’ve tried so far. I’m not sure if it was just because I felt a bit too much like a walking pavlova – actually I’m pretty sure that is part of it – but it is also the most expensive alternative, and the most time consuming which negates my whole reasoning for getting into this situation in the first place.

On the other hand, nobody has said since ‘what happened to your hair?!’ In fact nobody has said anything like that to me all year while I’ve been secretly not washing. I don’t go to fancy hair salons, so it is pretty normal for me to get a haircut without a wash, but none of the hairdressers have batted an eyelid over the cleanliness of my hair. Even when I’d most recently washed with honey. My husband claims to not have noticed the cocoa or egg or honey until I confessed just the other day. And maybe he is unobservant. Or maybe it is because my hair looks great.

Or maybe that is wisdom learnt from ten years of marriage.

Breast vs Bottle

A mother’s group I am part of has had a few ‘debates’ recently about formula vs breastfeeding. I say ‘debate’ in inverted commas, because I really don’t think it is a debate. Ever.

I think that if you have ever had a hungry baby in front of you, at that point there is no ‘debate’ to be had. It is not a ‘choice’, because the alternative is a slow death from dehydration and starvation. How can we portray that as ‘choice’?

I breastfed both of my children, but not exclusively. Breastfeeding is hard. It takes work, and I’m not saying the solution to every problem is to just throw your hands in the air and say ‘oh well. Here’s a bottle.’ But see how thorny this issue is that I feel the need to clarify myself so much?

What I want to say is this: breastfeeding is like a ladder. It always takes work to climb it. But everyone’s ladder is different. Some are steeper. Some have rungs further apart. Some are slippery. Some have broken rungs. So we all need to think about how someone’s ladder differs from our own.

As part of that ‘debate’ I got a little piece of knowledge shared with me. That you never need to offer formula straight away, because you only know you aren’t producing enough milk once you’ve tried. Here is what my own personal experience tells me that is – it’s bullshit.

When my daughter was born I experienced a uterine inversion. That means my uterus came out with the placenta. It is a very serious medical emergency, for many reasons, one of which is that it is typically accompanied with severe haemorrhaging. I lost 3.7L of blood in a very short space of time. Post-partum haemorrhage is directly linked to delays in producing breastmilk. I faced a number of barriers to starting milk production. I was separated from my daughter immediately following birth, I was anaemic, and my body was so short of fluid following the haemorrhage that it didn’t have any to spare for her. Lastly hormone changes after birth that trigger milk production can’t occur because there literally was not blood flowing through my body.

My daughter was hungry and eager to attempt breastfeeding, in fact she latched perfectly. But when my body could not even produce colostrum until day three (really) it was no surprise. We began supplementing early on, and despite this at her first weigh-in at two days old she had already lost 9% of her bodyweight. We increased the amount of formula, as 10% loss is considered a danger zone. Tell me, what would have been gained by waiting and seeing? With me that sick in a hospital bed, listening to my daughter screaming with hunger, unable to produce milk to feed her, and starving her to the point we risked her health. Why should we have sat there thinking that milk would come eventually, when given the specifics of my case, things were going exactly as medical professionals expected. We can all speak in generalities, and discuss WHO guidelines, but guidelines cannot be written that cover every individual case. And, as Monty Python said, we are all individuals.

For me, there was no debate to be had. No choice. No regrets. I will never regret that my daughter was fed formula for her first meals. I am grateful to the nurses who bought it to her. I am grateful I gave birth in a hospital where formula could be supplied by hospital staff.

So that is why when people say ‘oh I’m sure you made an informed choice’ it comes across as patronising. It literally doesn’t matter whether you have read a million studies comparing benefits of formula vs breastfeeding (which frankly aren’t as one-sided as many people seem to think, because any study like that is inherently fraught with difficulties). And that is why people object when people say ‘it needs to be considered carefully, like any medicine’. Formula is not medicine. It is consumed like food, and metabolised like food – because it is food. Someone might have an allergic reaction or intolerance, but that can happen with breastmilk. It is regulated to make sure it meets nutritional standards, but it is not, and should not be, restricted like a medicine.

I am glad I was able to establish breastfeeding eventually. Not because I think my daughter will be healthier for it, but because bottle-feeding is a pain. Seriously: sterilising, getting the right temperature, and most importantly, you need one hand to hold the baby and one for the bottle, so unless you have three hands you can’t use the TV remote at the same time. Rubbish!

Even at the time ‘resorting’ to formula was the least of my concerns, so I’m pretty thick-skinned about my experiences and what someone else might think of them.  But I’m not writing this to defend or explain myself. I just want people to remember that nothing in life goes as planned. A lot of people are absolutely convinced they will breastfeed and then they can’t. And it is devastating for them. Careless words can really add to that pain. Especially when you are in those first weeks of newborn life and just trying to cope. There are some people who seem to think it is just a matter of trying harder (not just feeding – conception and birth seem to bring this out too), but it is much, much more complicated than that. There is a portion of all of this that is just luck.

So if you won in the biology lottery, remember the ladders. Remember that if the bottom rung is missing, like mine was, no amount of oatmeal or fenugreek or pumping or lactation cookies is going to be the answer. And remember some people can do everything right, and find they just can’t get to the top.

I write a lot about not judging others on their parenting journey. But, I’ll admit this – when I see someone standing on their non-slip safety step-ladder, giving themselves a clap and saying ‘it’s so easy. See how I did it!’ while the rest of us wobble around on rickety splintery wood that stretches into the clouds…

That is when I feel a bit judge-y.