Monthly Archives: July 2012

My chance encounter with Offspring …

Parents-to-be Patrick and Nina

Monday nights are usually pretty blah for me.

With the kids in bed, I’m often working.  Half-watching Q&A. Making myself cups of tea. Forgetting to drink them. Making myself more cups of tea.

You know.

But last Monday night was rather extraordinary.  I spent an hour talking on the phone to Debra Oswald who is the creator and head writer of Offspring.

I know.

No, seriously. I KNOW.

It was awesome. Even if the topic of our conversation was unbearably sad.

Deb and her writers are in the process of plotting out the storylines for season four of the show. A season that sees Nina and Patrick grappling with parenthood.

Offspring fans will know that such a pregnancy isn’t necessarily going to be all rainbows and ponies for Patrick whose first baby – a little boy named Gus – was stillborn.

And so it was that Debra Oswald (DEBRA OSWALD!!) wanted to talk to me to about Brad and my experiences losing Georgie. And then being pregnant with Fin. You see my husband Brad is an obstetrician.  And there’s a whole other layer of trauma involved with experiencing a stillbirth when delivering babies (or in Patrick’s case being the anaesthetist in an obstetrics unit) is your job. Every day.

Part of the reason why Offspring is just so, so good is that the writers (led by Debra) work hard to get their storylines  right.

And so Debra and I talked. About how I lost Georgie. About getting pregnant with Fin. About the waves of anxiety that washed over both Brad and me throughout that pregnancy.  The feelings of guilt (it felt strangely disloyal at times to be excited about a new baby).  The attempts to be brave.  The loss of control Brad felt. All of it.

I don’t know how much Deb will use of what I gave her. I’m not even sure if they’ve decided if Nina’s pregnancy will stick. On top of that, Patrick is not Brad.  And we all handle trauma differently. But what I do know in my heart is that a little bit of Georgie’s life – somehow – is going to make it into that series.  And that floods my heart simultaneously with joy and tears.

Two weeks after Georgie died, I had the strangest, strongest feeling that she was going to turn the light in my life UP. Not down. That she may be gone but that somehow she planned to stick close to her mama. Like a muse. Or a guardian angel.  A lucky charm. While I don’t ‘feel’ her around me, I feel her in my life.  No question.  As though she has a torch and continually shines it down on new paths for me to take. New experiences for me to have. New people for me to meet. It’s like she has taken me by the hand and is leading me to my destiny.

And even though I would give anything, do anything, to have her back – here – for her to just be alive long enough to open her eyes and see me, and see how much I miss her and want her and love her … I’m happy.  I am. I’m happy.  My heart is fractured. Permanently. That’s just my new reality.  But that girl of mine is in my life and I am doing things, experiencing things,  I never thought possible.

Like having a tiny, little part in the making of Offspring. And helping to bring truth to the storylines next season.

And for that I am so grateful to my daughter, Georgia Grace. And to Debra Oswald for caring enough to get that pregnancy-after-stillbirth storyline just right.

Why I won’t read ‘Mummy Blogs’

In April 2003 I was a little bit smug.

My first novel had been published to universally glowing reviews and I took great delight in telling anyone who would listen that I was an author. (A fact that my chemist seemed somewhat non-plussed about frankly…)

My days were spent loitering around bookstores trying desperately hard to look like my author photo and indulging in brief stints of author espionage (read:  putting copies of my book in front of The Da Vinci Code. And in a sheer moment of desperation The South Beach Diet).

It was an incredibly thrilling time in my life and I didn’t think anything could possibly burst my author bubble of happiness.

Until something did.

You see, I thought, when I wrote The Girl Most Likely that I’d written a comedy.  A comedy about a twenty-seven year old woman trying to find her place in the world.  A story inspired by my very own quarter-life crisis that involved plenty of humour but also (I hoped) plenty of heart. A story about career expectations. Self-identity. Friendships. Loss. And yes, love.

But that’s not what I wrote, apparently.

Nope. What I actually wrote was ‘chick-lit’. The cutesy name of a new genre encompassing any work of fiction written by women about the contemporary lives of young women.  A genre, which quickly became a derisive slur.

What became crystal clear to me that month and in the 10 years since, is that actually ANY stories written by women that explore the hopes, desires, fears and challenges of women are frequently dismissed off-hand. No matter the quality of the writing. No matter that in years to come these stories will provide a window into the feminist leanings, sexuality and self-identity of women of that time.  Just ask Jane Austen.

Nope. Terms like ‘Chick-lit‘ and ‘Women’s Fiction’ (remind me again how women’s fiction is different to, you know, FICTION?)  infer that narratives centred around the lives of  women lack value and intelligence  and they exist as yet another way in which women’s lives are trivialised.

And now I’m watching the same level of disdain being dished out to women who blog. Specifically mothers.

To me, ‘Mummy Blogger’  is a patronising term slapped on any woman who regularly or even occasionally dares to write online about motherhood. It’s a term that academic and author Dr Karen Brooks says simultaneously diminishes and positions a woman in a reductive way.

“The term ‘mummy blogger’ manages to keep these women on the margins of culture and forces them to be viewed as non-threatening to mainstream opinion makers. It erects boundaries and keeps them on the outside, as ‘mummies’ who gossip and play where the big boys and girls dare to tread.”

Kate Eltham, CEO of the Queensland Writers Centre agrees.

“If you’re a male writer who blogs, then you’re a social commentator. If you’re a woman writer who blogs, you’re a “mummy blogger” (whether mother or not). And if you are a woman who writes about motherhood (whether in a blog or anywhere else), applying the term “mummy blogger” to what you do undermines all the significance of your artistic and intellectual contribution.

‘Nobody who reads Eglantine’s Cake (the blog of Australian writer Penni Russon), for example could perceive Penni’s writing to be anything other than a serious contribution to the Australian canon of creative non-fiction literature. It’s nuanced and perceptive, not to mention fucking brilliant writing. But because her subject matter is often motherhood, Penni is a “mummy blogger” and the writing on her blog does not receive any serious regard.”

Whether a woman chooses to write about contemporary domestic life and all it encompasses or broader issues outside the home – what does it matter?  Why is the former unworthy? And why hasn’t the term ‘Daddy Blogger’ entered the lexicon?  Sam de Brito, you know I’m looking at you.

Last week when it was revealed Fairfax was being wheeled into ICU, one TV journo smugly warned viewers that – if we weren’t careful – good journalism would be gone and we’d be left with Mummy Blogs.  That’s right, buddy.  Give those ‘Mummy Bloggers’ half a chance and they’ll have your front pages filled with inane stories about washing the dishes and getting rid of Timmy’s nits.

Please.

A few months after The Girl Most Likely came out, I went to my publisher and asked her how she felt about the term ‘chick lit’.

“Labels, genres don’t matter,’ she said. “There’s just good writing. It’s as simple as that.”

Good writing. Not chick-lit. Not women’s fiction.  Not ‘mummy blogs’ or even ‘mummy porn’.

Just good writing.

So when you ask me if I follow any Mummy Bloggers my answer will always be ‘no’. But do I eat up the works of a series of incredibly talented bloggers who just happen to be female and have kids? You bloody betcha.

(This post first appeared on Mamamia)

Lindy Chamberlain grieved the ‘wrong’ way …

Me with Ava (and about 30 weeks pregnant with Georgie).

It was 1980, I was eight years old and sitting on the lounge room floor leaning back onto my mum’s lean tanned legs when I heard someone – I’m not sure who – say it.

“Look at her. She hardly looks like a mother whose baby has just died.”

I looked up at the TV screen.

Looking back at me was Lindy Chamberlain with her Beatles haircut and her saucer sized sunglasses. Her face stony, her manner matter-of-fact as she spoke to a heaving, jostling mob of journalists about the disappearance of her newborn daughter Azaria at Uluru.

She blamed a dingo.

The entire nation blamed her.

Lindy Chamberlain, you see, didn’t grieve the way we wanted her to. She was too serious. Too stoic. Heartless. Where were her tears? Where was her grief? How could she be so together? She was the mother for gods sake.

Thirty years later and the exact same sentiments were being whispered about British backpacker Joanne Lees whose failure to publicly emote over the disappearance of her boyfriend Peter Falconio led the public to mistrust her. She looks cold and distant, we murmured from our lounge room chairs. I bet she was involved.

In a roundabout way I was reminded of those two women following a recent Mamamia post (which you can read here). Three months ago Janelle Moran lost her unborn baby son at 24 weeks. No doubt as a way of working through her anguish, Janelle chose to write an incredibly brave piece on some of the darker moments of her despair. The bits of grief that nobody talks about. The bitterness, the fleeting hateful feelings. The moments that go from ‘Why Me?’ to “Why not her?” Oh yes, that deep-seated wish that what had happened to you had actually happened to someone else.

To say she was criticised is an understatement. Many readers didn’t like the way Janelle was grieving. Like Lindy, she wasn’t grieving the way she was supposed to.

But the truth is unless you have experienced the loss of a loved one – especially a child – it’s hard to understand that grief isn’t always as tidy and polite and pretty as it is when played out on A Very Special Episode of Home and Away. What I know from personal experience is that when a parent loses a child the grief is often raw. Ugly. Messy. Dark.

When my daughter Georgie was stillborn 18months ago I behaved in ways I never would have expected.

On a Monday night in September 2010, I held my perfectly healthy, 36 week old dead daughter in my arms and kissed her forehead and sang to her a song I had long ago made up about how very much her mummy loved her. One week later Brad and I had people to our house to watch the NRL grand final. Is that jarring? It jars me, even now. I mean who does that? All I remember is that I wanted Brad to be with his mates for a few hours. And that when they came over I smiled. And passed around bowls of pretzels. And sat outside with my friend Kyley and drank wine and even laughed at some jokes. And then when everyone went home, and the last plate was stacked in the dishwasher I collapsed in the shower and became hysterical screaming for my daughter. Brad had to put me to bed.

From hospital I typed long, calm emails to my friends about my feelings about Georgie’s death and yet refused to take many of their calls. Or see them in person. For the most part, I had no desire to be around people. To hear how sorry or sad they were. Instead I ate their doorstep lasagnes and spent hours making a tribute video on my laptop of a little girl who died before I ever got to see her smile. Or for her to see mine.

I made small pledges to Georgie. Became anchored by tiny rituals that connected me to her. I wouldn’t hold another baby until I had another one of my own. I had to say bless you whenever Ava sneezed. I couldn’t go to bed at night until I had kissed Ava’s forehead and told her Georgie was watching over her.

And I spent those early days, or was it months?, on this very site. It became my salvation. Filled in my hours. Filled up my headspace as I tried to find ways to not think about the nightmare I was living. I read every post and left comments on stories like a normal person, like someone whose much-cherished second daughter hadn’t just died.

I filled in a gratitude journal. I thought about getting a tattoo. Or shaving my head. I craved to look different so that I could wordlessly say to the world, “I am forever altered”.

And like Janelle I struggled with feelings of envy and, yes, at times resentment towards others. Friends who were pregnant. Friends who had had healthy babies at the same time Georgie died. Friends who announced their second pregnancies. The feelings never lasted long. They came and went like a shiver but they were there nonetheless. Because inside me I couldn’t understand how this had happened to us. To me. To her. And now I was behind. Had to start from scratch. Like a game of Snakes and Ladders, I’d been so close to holding a second baby in my arms and suddenly found myself sliding down to the start. Back to the beginning while I watched everyone else move on with their families.

Would I ever, ever wish that someone else’s baby had died rather than Georgie. No. Because having lived through the grief of a stillbirth, I can honestly say I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

But that doesn’t make it easy.

On her website, Lindy writes “She grew within my body and when she died, part of me died, and nothing will ever alter that fact.”

We all sort of forgot that Lindy Chamberlain lost her baby.  Her daughter. She still misses her little girl. Just the same way I miss mine.

(This post first appeared on Mamamia)

 

If you’re the perfect parent, please stand up.

Six days ago, a really, really weird thing happened.  It appears that the entire Australian population turned into Carol and Mike Brady.

We went to bed on Tuesday night as normal and woke up as our favourite perfect TV parents.

Don’t be coy – you know I’m right. Think about it. In the past week none of our kids watched more than 30 minutes of C-classification TV a day.  We didn’t utter a single swear word in front of them. Haven’t argued or bickered with our partner in their presence.  And we most certainly didn’t flip the bird at that taxi driver who cut us off in the traffic.

At all times we have been attentive to our kids needs. Never speaking to them in harsh tones. And joyfully playing ‘shops’ with our toddler even though their shop is a rip-off and charges us $50 for a single apple. We don’t mind. We suck it up with joy. JOY.

And did I mention that our kids have eaten nutritious food the entire time this week?  Fish fingers? Pah.  It’s been home cooked meals and snacks all week. And don’t get me started on the volunteering they did on Sunday afternoon.

Yep. That’s what the last week has been like.

At least I assume it has.

Because what other reason could there be for the mind-boggling amount of venom that has been directed at Chrissie Swan and her parenting skills since last Wednesday when photos of Chrissie and her kids appeared in the Australian Women’s Weekly (you can read about that here)?

The entire country – including a twentyone-year-old Neighbours actress – has felt the need to tell Chrissie that she’s a shit mum because her three-year-old son Leo is over-weight.

How very, very helpful of us. No really. Hi-fives all round!

I have watched in horror over the past few days as people have written the most insulting and cruel things about Chrissie and her beautiful sons Leo and Kit.

Chrissie is a friend of mine.  A dear friend.  And aside from the fact that she’s hilarious and warm and compassionate and whip-smart, she’s also a terrific mum.  The type of mum whose face lights up when her boys enter the room.  The type of mum who bombards her Facebook feed with photos of them (sorry Chrissie but you do … seriously, you’re like the paparazzi to your own kids). The type of mum who is raising her sons to be compassionate, gentle, generous, hilarious, kind, curious kids.

But none of that matters apparently. Because Leo is over-weight.

Writing in the newspaper yesterday, Chrissie was painfully honest in talking about her denial over Leo’s weight and the role she has played:

I was put on my first diet at the age of 11. This involved turning up to group meetings with grown women in a church hall, slipping off my shoes and being publicly weighed. I was counting kilojoules and whipping skim milk into fluff, as a snack, before I had left primary school. I didn’t want anything like this for my son. But in my desire to avoid the demonisation of food and the low self-esteem it inevitably creates, I had unwittingly set my beautiful son on a rocky path.

It wasn’t until I took him to his first day of creche that I saw how different he was. The other kids seemed so small compared to my little sweetheart, whose shoes and pants were at least two sizes bigger. Mild panic set in. What happens if someone is mean to him? What happens when, after three years of being told he is magnificent, someone tells him otherwise, based on his weight? I could barely breathe.

Now not that it’s ANY of our business but is Chrissie doing something about Leo’s weight?  Of course.  The article goes on to say that Chrissie has since taken her little boy to a paediatric dietician and that the issue wasn’t that Leo was eating garbage food but that he was eating far too much healthy food (so, for example, Chrissie has had to learn portion sizes for fruit and that four bananas a day isn’t healthy.) Leo is now on the path to more appropriate meal sizes and healthy eating.

The end.  No really – THE END. Except it’s not because now strangers are piling on to abuse Chrissie and her son Leo. Who is three-years-old. How much do you think Chrissie and her partner are beating themselves up about this? A lot.

None of us are perfect parents.  We stuff up. We make bad judgement calls.  We think we’re doing the right thing by our kids and yet despite the best of intentions, we veer off course.  We sometimes influence them in the worst ways rather than the best.

It’s called parenting.  And we’re all just in it together trying our best.

Me included. Last week I realised that I could turn ABC for Kids on at any time of the day and my three-year-old Ava could immediately name the show AND the main characters.  Yes, even Rastamouse.  How did that happen?  I let things slip, that’s how.  So we’re back to strictly limiting her TV viewing time.  And Rastafarian mice are no longer on the viewing schedule.

I’m not perfect. But, like Chrissie, I love my children and I’ll make sure I keep reassessing things along the way so that when we inevitably fall off track, we hop back on.

As for Mike and Carol Brady, well I’ll remind you that not even they got it right all the time.  Greg stole a goat.  Peter routinely told lies. Cindy was a total snitch.   And Jan had such low self-esteem she started wearing a black curly wig just so she’d stand out.

Talk about bad parenting …

 

(This post first appeared on Mamamia)

Germaine? You lost me at ‘big arse’ …

At 9.47 pm last night while I was feeding my six-week-old son, checking my emails and wondering at what point my three-year-old daughter had decided I was on her payroll … my head exploded.

You see I was watching Germaine Greer on Q and A.

An Australian feminist icon, a woman who is rightly described as an academic, an intellectual, a trail-blazer, a woman who has spent decades fighting and arguing and agitating for the rights of women goes on national TV and mocks the size of our Prime Minister’s arse.

Oh yes she did.

Are you X&*$%# kidding me?

The fact that Greer had some interesting points to make about Gillard and the media’s role in the dumbing down (and fabrication of) news in this country before she went on to criticise the weight and size of our Prime Minister is irrelevant.

Why? Because that one comment, that one cheap shot, that one moment when Greer decided that it was okay to criticise a woman based on her size, saw everything Greer has fought for over the past thirty years unravel like the yarn of an ill-fated scarf. [ She has spent decades pointing out that a woman’s physicality is irrelevant. Her comment last night essentially gave everyone permission to bring ‘arse size’ back into the conversation.]

Germaine Greer

Last night, Greer took the easy pot shot and feminism paid the price.

And now I’m left wondering what the hell Greer stands for?  That’s not rhetorical, I’m asking you. Because clearly supporting and nurturing other women isn’t in Greer’s feminism hand book.

It pains me in part to write this post. Germaine Greer has done much for which I can be grateful.  But the truth is that, for me anyway, she is now officially irrelevant. She’s like this crazy aunt who needs to say shocking things in order to get media attention.  She’s verging on being all sound bite and no substance.  And the Germaine Greer that I have known  (through the media and her writings) in recent years has frequently spoken with a nastiness that doesn’t sit well with me.

It just doesn’t.

Not last night. Not when she showed such a lack of compassion in criticising Steve Irwin just days after his death in 2006.  Not when she so openly mocks and ridicules those around her.

We get that you’re smart, Germaine.  We get it.  So stop trying so hard to remind us of your superiority.

To me feminism is all about the fact that women don’t have to behave like Carol Brady (if we don’t want to). That we should feel free to be bold and opinionated and argumentative.  That ruffling feathers and standing strong and voicing opinions (even if unpopular) is our right. And thank God for that.

But feminism is also about judging a woman on her ideas, beliefs and behaviours. Not the size of her arse. Isn’t it? ISN’T IT? As for behaving with decency, integrity and compassion … well that’s not feminist. That’s called being a decent human being.

I’d like to say that what unfolded last night saw me handing in my Germaine Greer Fan Club badge. But it didn’t. That’s because I tossed my badge away years ago.

This post first appeared on Mamamia.

I sent a work email just hours after giving birth to Fin …

It was one of those delicious rumours that spread through my hometown twenty years ago; propelled along because of its irresistibly juicy mix of perceived bad behaviour and motherhood. It was one of those rumours that many of us love: one that allows us to tut-tut another woman’s choices.

You see a very well known PR woman in town (I’ll call her Susie) had just given birth to her second child. Rumour had it that she was reading faxes as they wheeled her into delivery.  And that she was annoying hospital staff by attempting to work from her hospital bed after her child was born.  Think Alexis Carrington in labour and you get the picture.

Can you imagine?  The nineteen-year-old me (a Communications student at the time) was horrified and appalled.  What Type Of Woman can’t just be in the moment of having a baby?  What Type of Mother is so obsessed with work that she’s writing media releases from her hospital bed?

What type of mother indeed.

And then two weeks ago I had a baby. And I sent a work-related email from my Smartphone just hours after my beautiful son Fin was born.  Oh yes, yes I did. And then a few days later I sent some work-related tweets.

I know.  HOW COULD I?

And Lord did it make people feel uncomfortable.

“Why are you working? Stop working!”  said one friend.

“What is she doing? WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” said another in a group email.

“Just enjoy your son!!!!”

“Tell me you’re NOT working!”

“Shouldn’t you be watching TV or reading or – hello? – sleeping?”

Of course, in my case, unlike Susie’s, my friends had my best interests at heart. They weren’t judging me. More concerned.  A certain Sass & Bide loving woman we all know just wanted to move into my house, make me cups of tea and do my washing.

But still. Their reactions got me thinking.

It seems that when it comes to having a baby the judgement doesn’t end with how we have the baby (drugs or no drugs, Caesar or natural). Nor how we feed the baby (breast or bottle or both). Or who or how we care for our baby (Stay at home? Work full time?  Daycare?).  There’s also a certain way we’re expected to behave straight after the birth.

My divine son Fin was born at 36 weeks. Healthy but sleepy with jaundice. And so in my room he slept. And slept. And slept. For the week we were in hospital (as doctors monitored his jaundice) it was like living with the Purple Wiggle.  As for me, I was BORED. BORED. There, I said it.  While Fin snuffled and snoozed in his crib next to my bed for four-hour stretches, I channel surfed on the TV; read a few chapters of a fab novel (The Boys’ Club by Wendy Squires); and then – with Fin still asleep – I picked up my phone and checked my emails. And when a group work email came through – asking a question, I could easily answer off the top of my head – I answered it.

My bad.

I promise you, Fin didn’t even notice. Didn’t feel neglected. I wasn’t madly writing emails while my son wailed beside me. Nope. He was out like grout – in the Land of Nod dreaming of well, who knows what babies dream about. Boobs, probably.

But the reaction to my “type and click” had surprised me. And for a moment, made me question my mothering skills. What kind of mother sends an email just hours after her son is born?  This one apparently.

Two weeks later, I wonder if it’s weird that I’m even writing this post.  It’s 7.30am. Fin’s asleep. So is Ava.  Even the dog is curled up on a cushion.  And I’m sitting here with a cup of tea and some peanut butter toast and I’m doing what I love: writing.  And thinking about the books we’re planning to publish this year via Mamamia Publishing. And frankly I’d rather leave the bed unmade and the dishwasher un-packed if it means I can write for 30 minutes. Okay 40.

As for Susie, I wish I could apologise to her.  Did she really send faxes and write reports from hospital? Who knows. The point is, it doesn’t matter. And frankly, it was none of my business.

(This post originally appeared on Mamamia)