Stephanie Rodgers is a campaigner, communicator, and commentator on New Zealand politics.
She provides advice on messaging and communications strategy, media and social media, organisational culture and crisis management for progressive and community organisations.
I definitely didn’t plan it this way, but here we are carrying on with the anniversaries: because it was a year ago today that I found myself wandering down Victoria Street carrying five thousands dollars’ worth of the less fun kind of drugs.
The first big piece of the IVF puzzle is the eggs. You need to stimulate the ovaries to produce as many as possible, then collect them so they can be fertilised in the lab. And that means playing with hormones – which is exactly what you need on top of all the emotional and psychological pressure of nearly a decade of trying and failing to have a baby.
Put it this way: I needed to start taking the first set of jabs on day 1 of my menstrual cycle. And as everyone with a period tracking app knows, day 1 is counted from when you get full or “normal” flow – for your typical cycle – before noon.
So when my period started at 12:30 on a Saturday, I naturally had a minor breakdown about how to count days, and also time. Did that count? Was it day one??? How heavy was a normal period for me anyway????
J gave me a very firm look and said “It’s full flow before noon. That means day one is tomorrow.”
On the plus side, I impressed the Fertility Associates nurse with my quick command of popping a needle onto the drug pen and jabbing it into a weird beige eight-by-five centimetre piece of demonstration “belly” skin. It felt like a weird magical ritual, and also too easy, but also the most difficult thing in the world. At least I knew that my feelings were very normal, based on how many times the nurse reassured me that I definitely wasn’t going to screw it all up.
I didn’t. My hands didn’t even shake. But that didn’t stop at least some part of my brain from freaking out anyway; I spent the rest of the evening walking around with incredibly tensed posture, like my belly was made of porcelain and any movement might shatter it. Porcelain with a very very sharp little mosquito bite in it.
My medication plan involved taking the injection (Gonal-F) for a week, and on day 6 adding another one (which hurt like hell) to make my ovaries hold on tight to all those precious eggs they were (hopefully) prepping.
When it came to it, I once again forgot what counted as day 1 of my cycle, and/or how to count to 6, and ended up calling the clinic just to double-triple check the very clear instructions I had already been given verbally and in writing.
They are very, very accustomed to those kinds of phone calls and were very, very kind about it. It didn’t stop me feeling bloody silly. How on earth was I qualified to have a baby if I couldn’t manage something this simple?
You’d think that by day seven it becomes old hat, nothing to worry about, you’ve nailed this process. You’ve got your little prep ritual ready, with a comfortable place to sit and a cup of peppermint tea at the ready to stave off the nausea.
But with IVF there’s always the next step in the process to worry about. And the next step was an ultrasound scan to see if my ovaries were cooperating. Something I could not see or control or have any sense about until it happened.
My first post about our ~parenting journey~ is here.
Mother’s Day has never been the most problematic artificially-hyped-to-sell-stuff-parental-celebration holiday for me. I grew up ~without a father~ (he bailed; his loss) so it was always the unthinking way we/marketing departments assume that everyone has A Dad to celebrate, and the consequent erasure of dudes who play an amazing role in kids’ lives, which irked me on an annual basis.
But once we’d started trying to have a baby, and the years of it just-not-happening ticked over, Mother’s Day took on a more personal impact. I wanted to be a mum, and it felt further and further away every year, which was only added to by the doom-and-gloom messages that are constantly around about Women’s Fertility Crashing And Burning Further And Further Every Day You Age Past 35272318 your own birth.
(This cropped up again last week when TVNZ Breakfast were doing a series of stories on infertility, which were really important but also managed to screen each morning at exactly the time I was feeding the baby and trying to find something to watch on TV. Here’s the thing: the “at 35 your fertility dies” trope is not exactly scientific and we need to have way better conversations about why people actually delay having kids – even if you don’t have to pay tens of thousands of dollars for fertility treatment.)
A part of me assumed I would just never be a mother. Even once we had the resources to do IVF, the odds felt too great. If the grand narrative of my life was going to go one way, it just felt far more likely I’d end up with She Desperately Wanted Children But Could Not Conceive than the Hallmark/Lifetime/TLC movie After Years And Against All Odds, A Miracle.
I’ve had anxiety and depression all of my adult life, so the horrible little voices at the back of my brain telling me I’m doomed are so familiar it’s almost comfortable. And they just got louder every time the TV filled with images of blissful mums-and-bubs and saccharine time lapses of The Most Important Relationship You’ll Ever Have.
(Shout out to the current Pandora jewellery campaign for casting a mother and daughter so close in age appearance that I still can’t quite parse the timeline of your ads!)
Often it felt like a grand signal from the universe to just give up. Because the odds are so against you. Because the obstacles are so real and so high. Because if it doesn’t happen – especially after putting yourself through the ordeal of IVF – haven’t you just wasted years, and money, that could have gone to something better, something more productive?
(I still haven’t even begun to unpack the way my brain obsesses about “productivity”.)
I have many friends who did exactly this. Drew the line in the sand and said, enough. But always with a huge amount of sorrow. That was why we struck that deal with ourselves: three rounds. Enough to say we tried, we gave it our best shot, but it wasn’t meant to be and let’s now focus on what the rest of our lives look like without children.
I honestly don’t know right now if I would have been able to stick to it, or how long it would have taken me to let go, if I could even let go. I didn’t have to find out. We got very, very lucky.
So this year, I celebrate my first Mother’s Day. But not just that: it’s my mother’s first Mother’s Day as a grandmother. My grandmother’s first Mother’s Day as a great-grandmother. As horribly commercial and transparent as it is, that feels very important. At the same time, it brings up everything I’ve been through not just over the past year, but all the years of trying before that, and all the years of wanting and hoping before we could even try. I’m an only child: if I didn’t have a baby, my mother would never be a grandmother. I’m the eldest of my cousins and none of them seem to be interested in having kids any time soon: would we ever have gotten that gorgeous four-generations-in-one-photo?
(And again: let’s talk about how saddling young people with hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt, in order to get jobs with no long-term security or career path, while housing prices skyrocket, might have the teensiest impact on why millennials and zoomers keep Putting Off Having Children, yeah?)
It should feel like a happy ending. It does. But at the same time I don’t know when I’ll ever stop being just a little bit in mourning for all the grief and stress and painful, painful absence that this day represented for me for so long.
So this one goes to all the people who are still there. Who want to be mums, and can’t for whatever reason, and have to deal with the unthinking assumptions of our culture not just on this day but every other day of the year. It sucks. It doesn’t necessarily get better. I know there’s nothing that can really soothe that hurt because even holding onto hope feels like self-harm sometimes. Look after yourself.
It was probably a mistake to read that on my phone, with baby in arms, right after a feed.
Like I said on Twitter: everyone involved in this – the officers in the room, their direct supervisors, their direct supervisors, and anyone else who had knowledge of this and did nothing to stop it – needs to be fired, possibly into the sun.
It is simply unacceptable that we keep getting these stories coming out of Corrections. It is simply unacceptable that Corrections, and its Minister depending on where we are in the media cycle of any given scandal, thinks they can treat the public like marks who’ll swallow any horror if it has the phrase “security concerns” slapped on it.
This practice is against Corrections’ own stated policy and yet, AND YET,
Children’s Commissioner OPCAT inspectors found prison officers had varying interpretations of when prisoners were “pregnant” or “giving birth”.
ARE YOU KIDDING ME?
The officers involved in these situations are either ignorant of the basics of their own jobs, or know they’re doing the wrong thing. Either way, they have no place holding those jobs. And their senior leaders, including Kelvin Davis as the Minister responsible, need to stop pretending there’s some third option where oopsie, well-meaning people with the best of intentions just accidentally did a human rights violation oh well let’s commission another review to tell us what we already know: Corrections is not fit for purpose. It is not keeping New Zealanders safe by repeatedly and deliberately brutalising prisoners and lying about it to the public. It is not delivering care to the people it laughably euphemises as such. When pregnant, labouring people are shackled like animals and bullied in their most sensitive moments, Corrections is actively undermining any chance for those people and their families to rehabilitate, to build positive relationships, to feel like they can be a part of our communities.
This cannot be reformed without drastic and immediate action. Call it some kind of transformation rooted in kindness and strengthening the Māori-Crown partnership.
Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis was not available for an interview.
A year ago today, my partner and I “properly” began the journey to become parents. We’d been on the path for a very long time: first trying, and trying, and trying, and failing, then trying to get help, and facing some pretty gross obstacles to that; and finally being in a position to overcome those (with money, which tells you how unnecessary those obstacles were in the first place) and then having incredible good luck and at long last, after wanting and hoping and waiting and longing, just over a month ago, she arrived. Our baby. The tiny helpless bean who has completely turned our lives upside down. (Sorry, spoiler alert: this one has a happy ending.)
Of course, I wrote it all down. Even the bits I don’t even want to look at, myself, because they’re too raw. But there are parts I do want to share, and thus my blog is getting resurrected because I’m too much of an old school millennial to do Substack even if they weren’t currently tanking as a platform after pandering to transphobes.
(Yes, even in the posts about how much I love my baby, there will always be politics. You know where you are, right?)
As for the timing: I couldn’t bring myself to post this stuff earlier, unlike my good mate Dave who had the incredible courage-slash-lack-of-filter to write about his and Kim’s journey as it was happening. On top of all the other layers of anxiety we were going through, it just felt like it would be unlucky; or at the very least, it might force us to reveal things we weren’t ready to, even if just by the lack of posting at a critical moment.
But she’s here now, and she’s as close to perfect as she needs to be, and even though I still have that fretful voice in the back of my mind telling me not to count my baby chicken even though she’s already hatched, I think it’s the right time to start pulling all these scattered drafts and notes together – not to mention an essential outlet for my brain as I’m at home on paid parental leave, desperately trying to work out what my life looks like now I’m a mother, and feel almost incapable of considering myself having any other role in the world.
So here’s (most of) what I wrote after that first “proper” consultation – the one where you go to Fertility Associates with a lot of money and say “help us make a baby”. With a few editorial comments from Stephanie-Of-The-Future.
The first consultation is like an infomercial which demands your most intimate details. But wait, if you throw in even MORE money we can take time-lapse photos of the embryo to make sure its legs are on properly. And there are lots of options for freezing the eggs we HARVEST OUT OF YOUR BODY after an unspecified course of drugs and scans that get right up ya.
And all of that costs more money on top of the money you’re already putting in. And will it increase your chances of success? Those chances which are already worse than a coin flip? I could see the value for people who know they have specific genetic conditions, who have already tried and failed a few times – but when it’s your first turn on the carousel it feels like cynical upselling, and in a way, it hurts that early relationship with your doctor, because they’re not just there for you, y’know?
J hates every bit of it and I can’t really blame him. He’s “the problem”. The reason we couldn’t just make a baby the fun way.
And this never stopped being incredibly difficult for both of us.
And the money. Everyone says oh there’ll never be a good time to spend all this money – whether you have to have All The Medical Assistance or even if it just pops out of its own accord, babies are expensive – but it’s so difficult to pull the trigger when maybe if we just wait until THIS contract renews or THIS job offer arrives or THIS chunk of the mortgage is paid off … and of course the Clock Is Ticking and that stupid dotted line on that stupid fucking Probability Of Success Based On Age of Woman graph keeps edging down and down and down.
I will always wish we’d been able to do this sooner. I will always wish that we were in a situation to do it again, to consider having a second baby. What I can tell myself – now, in 2021, with my actual baby coma’d out in the living room after a healthy feed – is that things happen for a reason and if things had happened differently maybe we wouldn’t be here at all.
I’m the problem too, of course. The Aging Woman who didn’t chop her leg off five years ago to qualify for public funding – because that would have been fine, you see. It’s not actually relevant how big my belly is, it makes no difference to the chances of success. BMI is literally just picking one variable – fatness – out of the hat in order to “ration” public healthcare. The best bit is it’s completely fucking racist but our society is so comfortable with openly hating fat people we can get away with pretending it’s not a hatred fundamentally rooted in racism, classism, and body-hating white supremacy.
I could have lost a limb in a terrible accident and the health system would say oh okay, you’re obviously Healthy Enough to have a baby on us.
I could have starved myself, vomited every meal, taken amphetamines, and it would have meant we could have a baby, sooner, and cheaper, and without anyone questioning how it happened – because losing weight when you’re fat is Always A Good Thing.
Jarrod interrupted the doctor to say that I’m a pole dance teacher. I was annoyed. I don’t need to fucking prove my fitness to her. It wouldn’t matter if I’d just won a marathon. Fertility Associates are getting the money one way or the other.
So this is going to be a pretty major theme. Our health system, wonderful and public as it is (except for GP appointments and many prescriptions and don’t start me on access to contraception and abortion services even AFTER we supposedly decriminalized) uses the unscientific quackery that is BMI to ration access to fertility services, which is baseless, harmful and transparently racist. This was not our first visit to Fertility Associates, not even the fifth – this was just the first one where we were allowed to progress past the basic tests into actually doing something towards making a baby.
Because despite being the picture of health – perfect blood pressure, non-smoker, and, yes, being literally paid to perform and teach pole dancing and being able to bust out twelve burpees in a minute at one particularly energetic cardio class – my weight, alone, divorced of context or nuance was the reason we couldn’t get public assistance for our infertility. The only advice? Lose weight.
But how? It’s a post for another day, but let me simply assert a simple fact at this point: diets don’t work. Not predictably, not sustainably, not healthily. And not if you call them “lifestyle changes” or pretend that counting “points” isn’t the same as counting “calories”. And even if they did, I want to be really clear: no one at the District Health Board (adios) or the Ministry of Health was going to check how I lost the weight, if I did.
And that’s why I wrote that, a year ago: I could have lost a limb and as far as a health system, using BMI to ration services, is concerned, that would have been enough to get public fundingfor our IVF. The numbers have nothing to do with health or probability of success or anything except using our society’s hatred of fat people as an excuse to cut costs.
That was a whole extra mindf*ck to take going into a process which already carried so much emotional and psychological baggage. With such low odds of success regardless of my dress size. And we knew so many people who had gone through it, and failed, and failed again and again, and seen the toll it took. So I just had to keep reminding myself, as we left the clinic that day filled with a mixture of hope and dread:
Three rounds. That’s the deal. Even though we probably can’t get the lootbox deal (pay for three rounds now, and get a refund if they all fail – or lose it all if you succeed first time). I can’t do this for the rest of my life. I don’t even want to be doing it now.
And that’s why I waited a year to write this. Because there’s been a lot of strife and plenty of tears but at the end of the road, we got her.
… wow that’s a mouthful. Also, hi from my very defunct personal blog!
There are only a few days left to make a submission on Statistics New Zealand’s consultation on (see above long title!). This represents a really important step for recognising the very real diversity of gender, including people with no gender, and giving everyone the option to see themselves reflected in government data and decision-making – while ensuring that data is only collected when necessary (gender: not really relevant to my bank account).
I’m not going to lie, it’s a technical document with a lot more nuance than a simple, “Stats NZ are going to put a gender question in the census, what do you reckon?” Which is why it’s awesome that Gender Minorities Aotearoa have put together a really comprehensive guide to the questions and considerations you might want to include in your comments.
You can be as short and sweet as you want, of course! But frequently in these kinds of consultations, especially when there’s a lot of submissions (casts a sidelong glance in the vague direction of the United Kingdom of Great Britain, Northern Ireland and Rampant Transphobia) the responses get summarised or boiled down into “themes” that are common, so being really clear about why you support the standards, or why you think they should be changed, could make a difference.
And a cautionary note! It may be randomized, but at least when I filled in the submission my tick-boxes went from “strongly disagree” on the left to “strongly agree” on the right – and I’d clicked a few wrong before I realised! Thankfully you can go back and correct those if you need to, without losing the comments you’ve added.
I’m also quite proud of what I wrote in the final comment box, so I thought I’d reproduce it here in case it inspires anyone to make sure their voice is heard in support of our diverse whānau and robust data-collection. (And for my own personal edification when I look back on this in five years and think wow, I can actually write kinda well! #ImpostorSyndrome)
I support the submission of Gender Minorities Aotearoa. Stats NZ should ensure its expert advisory group be expanded to include Gender Minorities Aotearoa, ensure more participation of trans women and takatāpui. There needs to be meaningful integration of te Tiriti o Waitangi in all statistical standards, and in this instance, better recognition that the divisions of sex, gender and sexuality they codify take a very Pākehā lens.
I also wish to raise my concerns about a coordinated campaign to oppose these standards, and any inclusion or recognition of trans, intersex and nonbinary people, which has likely resulted in this consultation being overrun with submissions by anti-trans campaigners from outside Aotearoa New Zealand. These campaigners present a strict binary idea of sex and gender entirely rooted in sex assigned at birth and archaic ideas of womanhood.
As a cisgender heterosexual woman, I cannot state strongly enough that my womanhood is not threatened nor diminished by acknowledging that I am fortunate to have a gender identity and way of expressing my gender which aligns with what a doctor saw when I was born and had recorded on my birth certificate. My rights and my ability to fight for those rights is neither threatened nor undermined by allowing trans men and women, nonbinary and intersex people, to accurately describe themselves and see themselves reflected in the data used by government to make decisions which affect all our lives.
The Human Rights Commission’s PRISM report of June 2020 states “A human rights-based approach to data collection requires data to be collected for each specific population.” Though there are areas for improvement, Statistics New Zealand has developed a strong set of standards which allow for accurate data collection for everyone, regardless of sex or gender, and I urge SNZ to disregard the voices of those who are motivated by a desire to erase all gender diversity and deny the reality of our takatāpui, trans, intersex and nonbinary whānau.