Sunday, November 27

little friends



At least once a day I show Leonard my collection of animal salt-and-pepper shakers. He loves looking at them and seems to find them even more hilariously amusing than all the other things in the house that are funny. I call them the Little Friends. Look at the little friends, bubbie, look at those crazy little baby friends!

It's not clear to me whose friends they are, exactly. Are they his? Mine? Ours together? Each others'? Lenny loves his life but he hasn't really got any friends. I feel sad for him when I think about that. He'll get some when he's a bit older, though. I hope.

The friends are sitting on a shelf set into the fireplace stone surrounds about a metre off the floor. He used to just stare at them delightedly but lately he reaches out for them with the same urgent gesture that he reaches for everything that interests him; coffee cups, milk cartons, mobiles, lamps, and above all, iphones. But alas, Leonard's hands and these little porcelain figures can never ever meet. So I don't know why I keep showing him them. I guess it's probably going to end badly, like Hamlet.

Sunday, October 9

back to Sills Bend...?

Hello, it's been a while. Nearly six months, actually. Lenny is nearly six months old - most of it's been a blur for me, which to be honest is a good thing in a lot of ways. It hasn't been a walk in the park (although I've done my share of park-walking, like all new mothers).

I don't think it was entirely a matter of chance that I broke off writing about my life just at the point when I was going to have to write about having my stomach cut open and my life turned upside down and vigorously shaken. The cut has completely healed now but I still lie in bed almost every night and have a moment of complete horror at the thought of having that big hole in the middle of my body. It's only a moment, however, and who knows - maybe one intense but brief immersion each night just before falling asleep is not such an awful way of working through something that scares you.

It's never too late to mend.

Speaking of things it's never too late for, I have had a number of extremely kind and supportive emails, at different moments of crisis, from people I only know via the internet. I didn't manage to answer most of these, but believe me, they've helped a lot - both in terms of practical suggestions offered and as gestures of solidarity and recognition that other people have been through the hard moments, and survived them.

I also had an email not long ago from a person who's been a friend of this blog for years and who said that even though the blog now appeared to be over, it had been good to read. That was terrific to receive, so thank you for bothering to write and send it. I don't know whether the blog is finished or not. I suspect not? We'll see.

Thursday, May 19

A few photos...





I promise this blog isn't going to be consumed with baby baby baby forever after. Just bear with me for a little while though...

Head High and Mobile

How Leonard was born is a story that begins two days before his birth date on the 30th of April. It was a Thursday and my last planned appointment with my obstetrician: I was 39 weeks and 4 days pregnant, and thus rapidly approaching the date when they do not let a diabetic pregnancy continue (because the placenta ages and ceases to do its job).

I was scheduled for induction on the Friday night, but the baby's head still hadn't moved down anywhere into my pelvis, which we'd been waiting anxiously for him to do for several weeks. A baby with a high and mobile head - not 'engaged' - can't be delivered by induction as there is a strong risk of the umbilical cord prolapsing. So my obstetrician sent me up the street for a pelvic x-ray to see what might be happening to keep him from engaging. What the x-ray showed her was that the bottom of my pelvis was was small and the baby might not fit through, so taking a risk on the placenta and waiting another week for engagement might not be worth it in the end - but it did produce this image - that arc in front of the spine is Leonard's skull:



So she left the decision to me and I decided a c-section would be safest, all things considered. The induction was cancelled and I was booked in for the following Friday, which was the earliest date the hospital could take me. But a plan was also formed, which I need to be a bit vague about the details of, for the birth to take place sooner, on the coming Saturday. So we went home with the knowledge and expectation that Leonard would be born on 30 April, though we didn't know exactly when.

The next day, Friday 29 April, I pottered around the house rearranging the baby's room and planting radish and snow pea seeds; I was eagerly looking forward to watching the Royal Wedding on TV that night to take my mind off the next day. And I did watch it, which turned out to be a good thing as you will learn later on. But it didn't really distract me as much as I'd hoped, and I didn't get a lot of sleep. The next morning we were on the road for the hospital before seven, cat fed and house spotlessly clean, all our bags packed and ready, I was feeling almost crazed with fear, nervousness and excitement, I asked Dorian if he felt nervous at all and he said he just felt excited. So that was good. The sun shone as we drove into the city through the early morning. I didn't know it at the time, but this was effectively the end of a glorious Autumn for me, as I would not leave the hospital building for five days and when I came out the season had changed to bitterly cold Winter.

We arrived at the delivery suite and I was hooked up to a foetal monitor, I had a bung put into my arm for a saline drip and for IV anti-nausea and pain medications. My blood was tested to ensure that if I needed a transfusion, there would be blood of the right type ready for use. My stomach was shaved - not very neatly, as I saw later - that part of my stomach hadn't been visible to me for months. I met and talked to the anethsetist and the obstetrician who would be assisting my own OB. I was put into a gown and cap and laid down on a trolley. After doing these things and waiting around for a couple of hours I was wheeled out and into the lift and taken up to the floor with the operating theatres, still feeling in a state of dazed wonder that this was all really happening.

I should say at this point that the next post will have illustrations, so just be prepared for a bit of gore.....

Monday, May 9

Leonard Elvis Jones


Leonard E. Jones was born at 11.54 am on Saturday 30 April 2011.



Here he is coming home from the hospital. I'm afraid that in all the photos I have of him so far, he's either asleep or covered in gore. He's lovely to me in whatever condition, though.





Basil was pleased to see us. He's coping well with the changes.

My next post might also be a while coming; I'm going to write about his birth and will need to do it in small instalments.

Thursday, April 28

Update

Hello blog. I am afraid we used up all our Internet for the month several days ago ( I'm laboriously typing this on my phone) so I can't really blog until May which is poo; Mel's suggestion on the last post that we talk about the Sookie Stackhouse novels is a good one. I am now 39 werks and 2 days pregnant and haven't had the baby on my own so I will be going into hospital on Friday evening to start the induction process, clashing with the Royal Wedding, with actual action most likely to take place on Saturday morning. Last night in bed I was thinking it felt like the biggest run up to Chtistmas ever (if Santa beat you up first before handing over the most exciting present you could ever receive, I suppose.) Anyway if you kindly want to hear when I've had the baby I think Twitter will have the earliest intelligence. If you're not on there, theres a link to my twitter feed in the sidebar of the blog. Wish me luck.

Thursday, April 21

the Miles Franklin syndrome

Five of the last six novels I've read have been installments in the Southern Vampire Mysteries series. Since going on leave I've been indulging my readerly whims in a way I haven't had the luxury of doing for many years, and am both amused and a bit alarmed by what the results seem to say about what I opt for when left to my own devices. So the world of literary prizes, merit, representation and intense debate over these, of the kind that erupted a day or two ago on the announcement of the second woman-free Miles Frankin shortlist in three years, seems quite remote. Also, I haven't read any of the three shortlisted novels, nor actually any novel on the longlist of nine, which may actually be a more important omission given that the judges are on record as being very critical of the general quality of the other longlisted books. (If you think this general ignorance is a shameful admission from somebody who teaches and researches literature, you are entirely correct and you also aren't allowing for the effects of teaching about thirty different literary texts each semester. It used to freak me out, as an undergrad, that the tutors I had for Cinema Studies never seemed to go to the movies, instead watching La R├Ęgle du jeu over and over again. Now I know why.)

So I know basically nothing about the specific books involved and that makes it impossible to form an opinion about what's actually happened in this instance of what is, as Alison Croggon pointed out yesterday, an all-too-familiar pattern. (Don't read the comments on that piece, by the way.) And Kerryn Goldsworthy's comment on the ALR blog clearly and succinctly says all that needs to be said about the fundamental issue underlying the problem: it's a symptom of what the dominant culture holds to be valuable and what it regards as lesser.
No doubt they are the ‘best books’, but it goes deeper than that. The question is, as it always is when these issues come up, what the criteria are for literary value, and where those criteria come from. The answer is (and it’s the basis of all useful discussion about gender and literature) that they derive from the values of the dominant culture —which circumscribes what women, as well as men, can be, think, believe and say—and the dominant culture is still, well, a sausage fest.
I really mean it; that's all that needs to be said, and if it could be repeated as often as necessary, in this brief way, perhaps the message would eventually begin to sink in. But perhaps it wouldn't; after all, Virginia Woolf said the same thing eighty years ago:
But it is obvious that the values of women differ very often from the values which have been made by the other sex; naturally, this is so. Yet it is the masculine values that prevail. Speaking crudely, football and sport are ‘important’; the worship of fashion, the buying of clothes ‘trivial’. And these values are inevitably transferred from life to fiction. This is an important book, the critic assumes, because it deals with war. This is an insignificant book because it deals with the feelings of women in a drawing-room. A scene in a battle-field is more important than a scene in a shop — everywhere and much more subtly the difference of value persists.

What I do want to write about then is not the specifics of the MF, or even the issue of women's writing and literary value at large, but the very strong feelings of mingled dread and passion that inform & propel my teaching of writing by women, and which come out in full flight whenever this messy issue surfaces.

A couple of weeks before I went on leave it became clear that the subject I teach called Women Writing is under threat of being cancelled due to low enrolments this year. That is partly my fault for offering the subject on a yearly basis instead of biennially, but it's also a reflection of the fact that a subject with that name is perceived by many students as a niche or special interest course; male students don't take it, and a very intelligent woman student I encountered in another subject spoke for many others when she explained to me that it wasn't for her because she didn't really like literature that was 'all from one perspective or all about one thing.' I think Women Writing will escape the axe this year because it's being taught at a regional campus as well as at the metropolitan one, thus it will have to go ahead so the country students have an English subject, but if that wasn't the case I'd be very upset: that subject is the thing I'm proudest of, in my pretty unstellar academic career so far, and it's also the thing I do professionally that makes the most important contribution to people's lives. Why can be summed up by a remark a student made last year at the end of the semester, to the effect that this subject had occupied her thoughts more than anything else she'd ever studied, once she noticed that almost every day there was something in the news that related to something going on in one of the books we had been reading.

I inherited the concept of a subject devoted to women's writing; if I have it right, a subject of that name has been offered in my department continuously since 1987. (I think the first convenor was Lucy Frost.) It's an anomaly. It assumes that there is a discernible thing that can be called women's writing, that it's different from writing by men in significant and meaningful ways, and that it's worth studying - a set of assumptions viewed as naive at best by many, since the entire notion that the category 'women' exists in any meaningful way is not one that academics should now persist with. I don't feel, with so many books out there urgently needing to be read, we have the time to debate this in the subject. We take 'woman' at face value and look to see what the books themselves have to say about what that actually means.

There is a structural parallel with the perennial debate about the 'Australian life in any of its phases' criterion of the Miles Franklin; one side regards that as an unfixably problematic relic of the discredited belief that Australianness is an idea with content, and another side thinks we can tell well enough whether any given instance fits the description without needing to state in the abstract and in advance what does and doesn't qualify as Australian. There is a distinct tang of the 1950s about the terms Franklin specified; studying, talking about and thinking about women's writing is likewise an idea that is decades old now. I don't quite know why this is taken to mean they're outdated notions. We haven't gotten past them. Au contraire, they are ideas that are durable; yes, mainstream literary culture is (still? or increasingly?) a sausage fest, and put simply, the steady, camouflaged masculine bias momentarily revealed in incidents like the Miles Franklin shortlists just goes to show why we still need to ask what women's writing is and how it is to be valued. I am in the second, muddle-on-with-our-messy-terms camp on these parallel debates, and I think Australian writing (like women's writing), in the actual and as an idea, does continue to matter and should continue to be thought about in an organised way, despite the problems and conundrums it raises.

What I do have very strong doubts about is the continued value of doing this sort of thinking within the very narrow framework provided by literary prizes. Honestly, I don't think I have this opinion just because I would prefer it if all the people who wanted to think about such questions did it by enrolling in one of my subjects rather than through methods like reading their way through (say) the annual Orange Prize shortlist and deciding which novel they thought should win. Actually it's an argument of Virginia Woolf's again, this time from that bleak bleak book Three Guineas, which I think my way towards at times like this: the idea that the only viable response to self-reinforcing patriarchal value systems - whether ones that glorify war or glorify books about manly concerns - is to refuse to participate in them, which also means refusing to take them seriously.
It appears that we can ask them to do nothing; they must follow the old road to the old end; our own influence as outsiders can only be of the most indirect sort. If we are asked to teach, we can examine very carefully into the aim of such teaching, and refuse to teach any art or science that encourages war. Further, we can pour mild scorn upon chapels, upon degrees, and upon the value of examinations. We can intimate that a prize poem can still have merit in spite of the fact that it has won a prize; and maintain that a book may still be worth reading in spite of the fact that its author took a first class with honours in the English tripos. If we are asked to lecture we can refuse to bolster up the vain and vicious system of lecturing by refusing to lecture.* And, of course, if we are offered offices and honours for ourselves we can refuse them — how, indeed, in view of the facts, could we possibly do otherwise?
Woolf acknowledges this is a 'lame and depressing' strategy, and doesn't pretend that it comes without costs - followed literally, this advice would see women writers refusing to accept the money that goes with winning a major literary prize, and that is ridiculous. But I think the point is more that we all need to reconsider the type and quantity of attention we mete out to contests and to prizewinning books, and to be much more aware of the very shallow media and marketing events that famous literary prizes have degenerated into.

I have more to say about this, but that'll do for now.

*awesome.

Wednesday, April 6

The Rules

I have now had a full nine months to brood upon how I would like to bring up my son (who will be liberated from his aquatic pod in two or three weeks, so I had better hurry up and finish washing the inside of the linen closet) and I've more or less settled upon a core set of principles. These are as follows:

FORBIDDEN
  • plastic toys, brightly coloured ones in particular
  • voting Liberal
  • tv in bed
  • going to church (at the first sign of teenage experimentation in this direction I will say "here is $500, have a party with your friends instead.")
  • joining any sport which doesn't allow girls to play in the same contests as boys
  • especially, going anywhere near the local football club

NOT FORBIDDEN, BUT NOT ENCOURAGED EITHER
  • eating meat
  • drinking Coke
  • getting a dog
  • working at McDonald's
  • finding anything remotely amusing about Charlie Sheen
  • doing after-school activities (music lessons etc) which require me to drive him to the place of the activities or do anything else organisational

REQUIRED
  • table manners, including the ability to recognise implements of cutlery and use them for the purposes for which they are designed
  • not writing or saying singular 'they' indiscriminately

I am quite confident he will master all of these within a few days of being born: on Monday we had lunch in Daylesford and the lady who brought our food said the baby will be a Taurean Rabbit, which I knew already but hadn't considered the implications of, and will therefore be very creative and intensely good-looking, which as you may guess I was pleased to hear, since I've been trying to imagine what he'll look like and I never get any further than picturing a sort of Photoshop Disaster mashup of Dorian and myself. This despite having 'seen' him very regularly via ultrasound - I have now had seven of these, I think - at the most recent one yesterday there wasn't a lot to see because he's all curled up in a ball now, but he doesn't appear to be so monstrously huge any more. The ultrasonographer said he's in the 65th centile round the gut now, which sounds a lot better than 95th last time, and gives me a bit of hope that I will be able to avoid a Caesarian, which would be nice as getting better from a big cut in the belly is no picnic. I know the measurements and estimates arrived at by the scans are unreliable as predictors but if this is the info my obstetrician will be working from then she might be happier about letting me try to push him out. I'll find out what she thinks on Friday.

I have thought so very much about what sort of birth might happen, and about how I'll feel about what does happen. It is a fraught subject. I think women are encouraged to set very difficult goals for themselves, in terms of planning what sort of birth they'll have, and when things don't go to plan it seems to make recovery a great deal harder psychologically. On the huge pregnancy and baby forums there are sub-forums devoted to debriefing from disappointing birth experiences.

I am sad to say I think this over-planning is mostly instigated by people with the very best intentions aimed at returning some agency to women who are routinely divested of their autonomy by the medical system. Clearly there is a lot of evidence that a great many more women could very well be allowed to get on with it than are currently doing so. The hospital I am going into has a 40% Caesarian birth rate - a product of obstetrician-led care, plus the demographic of the mothers, their more advanced age and generally higher than average incidence of high-risk pregnancies - but even allowing for that this rate is much higher than it needs to be.

In my own case the decision to be looked after by an obstetrician privately rather than a team of midwives in the public system (where there are not so many interventions) has turned out to be absolutely the best one - my diabetes has been looked after so effectively because this one doctor has overseen my care all along, personalised it, and hasn't hesitated to move fast to fix problems as soon as they begin to appear. I like her, I feel very confident in her judgement and her experience, and this is why I grow impatient with sweeping dismissals of obstetrician-led pregnancy care on the grounds that it's taking too much control away from the mother. I know that it's also possible to assert or exert your authority over yourself by putting yourself completely into the hands of another. I haven't abdicated anything by deciding to do what my doctor recommends and not to make a birth plan. On the contrary I've decided to be consciously trusting in her ability to do what's best, and no less, to trust my ability to rise to the occasion, whatever it shall turn out to be.

The push to have mothers take control over birth within a context of increasing intervention doesn't seem good to me partly because alarm bells go off when I hear of women feeling emotionally devastated because they feel they've 'failed' at giving birth 'naturally', but also because it appears to be resulting in some extremely grotesque innovations which seem designed to get the mother playing an assertive role in proceedings at all costs. There is a procedure called a maternal-assisted Caesarean, available at at least one Australian hospital (PDF), where the cut in the abdomen is made by the delivering surgeon, and then the mother lifts the baby out herself. Does this sound like something you'd want to do? I don't find the prospect of putting my hands into my own belly all that enticing, in fact, it sounds like a nightmare scenario, and not a context in which I'd like to meet my child. But then, I will not be 'mourning the loss of being able to have a vaginal birth', and I think it's worrying that women for whom vaginal birth is dangerous or impossible are coming to feel that a c-section is anything but a blessed alternative we're extremely lucky to have.

Anyway, I said I would put a picture of the curtains I made so here it is, a bit dark sorry.

Friday, April 1

Somebody just isn't prepared to let this go



Saw this in Target yesterday. Literate this time, but that doesn't make it right.

8 3/4 months




Here I am sporting my huge lump. It is getting in the way a bit now, especially when I want to turn over at night, which is often. On one of the last days I spent at La Trobe I saw a colleague I hadn't seen for a while; by way of greeting he pointed at my stomach and said "Big." Yes, well observed - big.

Well, in the event, it didn't take me all that long to switch tracks from work to leave mode. Perhaps that is a trifle unfortunate since I still have three medium to large sized jobs that need doing. I'm now ignoring my work email, however, which is a very good thing.

I figure I've got about three weeks till the baby arrives and I can't wait, although at the same time I wish I had a bit longer to get ready. One thing I must make myself do is somehow acquire a couple of maternity bras. I attempted this yesterday at Northland Myer and didn't even get as far as the changing room thanks to a combination of a store policy which says you can't get help fitting a bra unless you've made an appointment in advance, combined with two staff members who thought it was a good idea to ignore the hugely pregnant woman standing on the other side of the counter for five minutes wanting to ask a question while they leisurely debated how to make the cash register do some administrative function. I wanted to know how you're meant to figure out how to allow for size changes when the milk comes in - do you just get a bra that fits around the ribcage with some space in the cup? At about $50 a pop I didn't feel like taking a chance and probably getting it wrong. In the end I just put the bras I'd picked out back on the rack and went away. It was a bit upsetting for a while but honestly it is going to take more than that to really disturb the very happy mood I'm in right now.