Mother’s Day

(Content note: infertility, mental health, motherhood)

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 35 27 23 18 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.


I wrote the above a few days ago. Today, Michelle Duff published an incredibly important article about the Corrections department’s practice of shackling and handcuffing prisoners as they are giving birth, or breastfeeding.

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.

So, Kelvin?

Corrections Minister Kelvin Davis was not available for an interview.

Oh.

A year ago today

Read the full Baby Talk series

(Content note: infertility, IVF, fatphobia)

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 funding for 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.

So.

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.

If you like this post, feel free to spot me a virtual coffee.

What I need from you

Eagle-eyed readers will already know where this is going.

In my New Year’s Day post I wrote about my hopes and dreams and, dare I say, vision for 2018 and my work. And a lot of it was about this website, and how I’m going to make a living doing what I love: writing and advising on political strategy and messaging.

Here’s the thing. I’ve been blogging for a long time now. It’s always been free. We all tend to look at blogging as a bit of a nothing – just some words thrown out on a webpage, a side hobby, a distraction.

But this blog is labour. It is a product of my time and expertise. And it changes things – not in the most dramatic, final-uplifting-speech-of-an-episode-of-The-West-Wing way, but in shifting how politicians talk and what we think progressive politics looks like. Challenging the leftwing status quo and offering ways for us to be better and do better.

And to keep doing this – to post regularly and devote the resources I need to keep it current and interesting – I need it to be more than a hobby.

In 2018 the old ways of making a living aren’t relevant.

Especially, as I noted in my 2017 sign-off, when you’re an opinionated sheila who rocks the boat. We need boat-rockers. And boat-rockers need you.

So here’s the value proposition. If you get enjoyment my work, and want to see it continue – and fancy getting an inside look on what’s coming next – I’m asking you to support me with a monthly pledge through Patreon.

Patreon is a platform for creative people to get direct support from their fans. You can set how much you want to contribute – from $1 per month to $10+.

In return, you get early access to most of my posts (the ones that are planned ahead and have a bit more work put into them), the ability to vote in polls about the future of Boots Theory, and even a Christmas card at the end of the year.

Look at the alternatives.

Other NZ politics bloggers charge up to $15/month for subscriptions and put their content behind a paywall. For $35/month you can get all the rightwing propaganda you like at NBR (and occasionally me cackling at Nick Leggett). Cameron Slater even tries to charge $2,000 per annum for his “Platinum Annual” INCITE subscription (really, Cam?)

$10 per month to keep Boots Theory fresh and free for all to share sounds like a pretty good deal.

So head over to my Patreon page and sign up. You’ll need to set up a Patron account to access your rewards and manage your pledge. Currently Patreon uses PayPal to manage payments.

And thank you.

Afraid of commitment?

If a monthly contribution is a bit scary, there’s another option! Whenever you see a post you like on Boots Theory, you can make a one-off tip through Ko-Fi – another online platform helping people reward the creators whose work they enjoy. (And many, many socialist bouquets to those of you who already have!)

The year of living recklessly

That was the year that was.

2017 ended up being a bit quiet around here, but we had some good times, and it’s really important to remember what you’ve achieved even when things turned a bit shit.

So I’m kicking January off by revisiting the ten most-read posts of the past year. There’s some damn fine writing in there and some critical subjects which I know will come up again over the first term of our new government.

I think they also show what this place can become with a little more elbow grease and support from people like you – but more about that next week.

In the meantime, here’s to 2018, which I’m dubbing the year of living recklessly.

What does that mean? Well, I’ve got a mortgage and no full-time employment. That’s not how you get a front-page article on nzherald.co.nz about how sensible millennials can build a successful property portfolio through sheer hard work and massive parental subsidies. That’s pretty reckless.

But more importantly, 2018 will be the year in which, if I earn any new regrets, none will be “why didn’t I …?”

So here at Boots Theory, I’m going to write. I’m going to write the truth – my truth, my understanding of the world: how it is and how it should be. How we can and must bridge the gap. How we might be failing and how we can do better.

Some people won’t like it, but I’m taking my own comms advice: they aren’t the audience, and I can’t keep biting my tongue in the hopes of reaching those who cannot be persuaded.

Some will think I should keep my opinions to myself, or proper, private channels. Don’t air disagreements in public! Well, I think we’re better than that. We’re strong enough in our principles not to flinch when our opponents try to turn them into weaknesses. We have to be.

Some people will love seeing a dissenting leftwing voice because they think it can be used to undermine the left. And you can bugger right off back to your sham of a “union”, Jordy.

I’m writing for the people who want the world to be better but think they’re alone, or there’s no space to talk about what change looks like. (Don’t air your disagreements in public!) If not for the people who can be persuaded to join the good fight – they’re not really reading political nerd blogs – then the people who will do the persuading, but need some extra tools.

There’s a broader objective: we – the left, the progressive movement – need to be able to question and discuss and make political debate something anyone can be part of. As I said on NYE, in some quarters anything short of 100% enthusiastic support for everything the progressive parliamentary parties do is tantamount to voting ACT.

But we’re progressives. It is core to who we are to debate and discuss and not simply accept whatever authority tells us to do. And when we’re in government, especially when we’re in government, we need all those voices pushing the limits of debate, rebutting the right’s propaganda, creating the space for change. Continued change.

I know I can be one of those voices, speaking from the leftwing, feminist, campaigning side of things. I don’t cover all the bases by any means, and the left will also need the voices of people who are Māori and working-class and queer and trans and who have disability. Parents and grandparents and aunties and young folk, students and retirees. It will take all of us because leftwing politics is about all of us.

I have my voice, and I know change happens when I use it. So that’s what I’m going to do. And I will need your support – but more of that in a bit.

I have to believe real, significant change is achievable, and not in ten or twenty years’ time – now.

I have to believe there’s a place for my voice and voices like mine – and unlike mine.

I have to believe there are people out there willing to listen, and act.

I’m doing this.

Why I’m Quitting Tobacco

2017 was really a bit of a shit year, friends. So sorry-not-sorry in advance for closing it off with a maudlin little piece.

In season four of Mad Men, Don’s concerned about the future of his agency after losing the contract for Lucky Strike cigarettes. He pens an open letter in the New York Times spinning the whole thing as a relief, a clean break, a way for the firm to start doing good, nice advertising. Everyone’s horrified. What company will work with a firm that trashes its former clients so publicly?

It turns out for the best, because all Don’s big dramatic flounces do. He’s Don Draper. He’s a fictional white guy in 1960s New York with great hair and an army of competent women sacrificing their own happiness daily to keep his legend going.

But we all know the real world doesn’t work like that. You have to pick your battles. Keep on smiling. Don’t burn bridges – New Zealand’s way too small. Everyone knows each other!

And besides, Stephanie (yep, this is segueing into the personal narrative) you’re smart and an amazing writer and so good at what you do. Labour and the Greens are in government! They’d be mad not to hire you (have said at least three different people who know about these things). Bite your tongue. Something will come up. It always does!

Well, nothing came up.

And I am ja so müde of biting my tongue. Because New Zealand is that small and the Wellington left and union movement is even smaller and once you’re an outspoken political commentator that’s the public sector pretty much locked off for all time.

What do you think the paucity of recent posting here has been, if not biting my tongue? Hoping the big boys would notice how good I’d been, how quiet and compliant and definitely a constructive, useful person you want inside the tent?

No one wanted to hear what Labour and the Greens could do better when we were in Opposition. Christ, Stephanie, isn’t it hard enough fighting National without Our Own People attacking us? Just get in behind and help us win. Now we’re in government … can’t you just be happy?

No one wanted to ask why it’s seen as a joke that unions are the worst employers in the country, LOL ironic or what we could do to change that. Just keeping doing what you can, it’s the cause that matters, not whether we’re actually doing the job well, never mind your own health.

It’s never about picking your battles. It’s about picking no battles at all. But I did.

And boy, when I did, I picked them good and hard. Publicly calling out important men for their sexism and bullying, questioning the anointing of Willie Jackson, defending Metiria Turei at a time when actually, Stephanie, what we needed to do was Look Like A Government In Waiting.

And in private – well. You get found out as the girl who (after a year of crying in the toilets on a daily basis) won’t accept bullying any more? Who tells the (union) boss that his micro-management and disciplinary threats breach the (union) collective agreement? You take part in in-house democratic processes against the will of the factions in charge?

Might as well have arrayed myself in purple and scarlet and written BABYLON THE GREAT ‘pon my brow.

I’m damn good at what I do. I write blisteringly sharp prose (wait, can you get blisters from sharp things? – ed.) I run campaigns that get the last guy on the Labour list elected leader and overturn government legislation in an election year. I’m at the bleeding edge of values-based narrative and framing, something which frightens the hell out of the right because they know if we get this going strong, they will never see power again. I’m the multi-talented strategic/operational media/online/print comms/PR witch of your dreams.

And yet it feels like I just can’t get a job in this town. Because I picked battles. I tried to do good instead of making insecure important people comfortable. I questioned the party line. Hell, I questioned the Party line.

Perhaps I should’ve listened to all those men who supported me and talked me up just so long as I was useful for their projects. Who promised we’d change the world but always had one reason after another to not do it today. They’ve got highly-paid jobs now, and I don’t, and if capitalism has taught me one thing, it’s that people with highly-paid jobs are the smart ones.

Besides, we did win, and that proves their strategy and policies were right all along, and has nothing to do with Jacinda Ardern being a uniquely charismatic person on whom dissatisfied voters projected a huge volume of principle and progressiveness the Labour Party had generally failed to demonstrate for nine years.

… but that’s a post for another time.

I wish, like Don Draper, I could say I’m relieved. That I now have a chance to really do my own thing and break out of the mould. But I don’t have Don’s writers, and only the roughest idea of what I’ll do with myself in 2018.

I’ll keep writing. I’ll keep having opinions. Maybe pitch that novel I’ve been working on for years. I’ll need the support of readers like you – and you can buy me a virtual coffee if the holiday spirit takes you.

I guess something will come up. It always does.