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 we do

With the horrible, tragic case of Grace Millane in the news, we’ve been talking a lot about what women do – and what we shouldn’t have to – to be safe in our country. So I wrote on Twitter:

My mum wants me to text her when I’ve gotten on the bus. My coworker says she’ll stay up until I let her know I’m home safe when we share a taxi. I message my partner to say where I am and what time I expect to be home when I go out.

I make eye contact with security cameras. I still carry my keys between my fingers and find excuses to turn my head when someone’s walking behind me so they don’t realise I’m looking at them and listen to hear if they speed up when I speed up.

I’m nearly 35 and I’ve spent my life knowing that these things are, at the same time, what I must do to keep safe, yet will not keep me safe. That I’m considered ~crazy~ for doing them and yet will be asked why I didn’t when something happens.

I have no pithy call to action tonight, just a lot of sadness.

And many people responded, women and men. I wanted to record those responses here.

I did this just two nights ago texting my husband to tell him I had to walk 5 minutes alone to my car after an event. Held my keys in my hand. Let him know when I’d made it safely.

I do all of these things regularly.

My daughter rings me and talks to me as she walks to her car.

I always ring my husband and he talks to me until I am in the car.

Currently awake waiting for wifes next location update. Tautoko.

I do exactly the same things.

It’s better to hold your keys like you would a knife than have them between your fingers. Its what I do

I’m 60 and the streets are no safer for women than they were when I was in my teens and the police still tell women how to stay safe and to watch out for each other, rather than direct a campaign at the men who attack women, and tell their mates to watch out and stop them.

I still do these things. I was taught them in my late teens . I am over 60 . I should feel safe. I still think zbout where and how I park the car. So it is lit at night . That I am not trapped between the car and a wall or fence when I open the door .

That the house is completely locked at night. That the curtains are drawn

Same here, always phone hubby when I leave work on a late shift, speak to him until I get on the bus and always have my phone ready and my keys out! Hate it! I’d love the freedom to go running after work in the dark but it’s just not safe…how is that right or fair?

These things are so ingrained that I didn’t actually even realise I do them, but I do. And you’re right, these actions are unlikely to stop me being hurt by someone with intent. I’m over it not being understood that women experience this world in a different way to men. It sucks.

I do this with my mum as well – no matter what time of night it is, she’ll always answer too.

There’s an effect on freedom. My wife calls when she’s waiting at the bus stop late at night… I worry about my female flat mate who works late in the city centre and walks home. They’ve very different lenses to experiencing public life than mine and it ain’t right.

How fucking sick is this. Our intimate partners know we will call but it isn’t something we discuss.

Boots Theory top 5 for January

It’s no great surprise that three of my top five posts in January were the Big News ones:

Why I’m Quitting Tobacco

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.

The year of living recklessly

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.

What I need from you

… 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.

But I did also talk about some current events and big political ideas, starting with:

What did she expect?

It would still be assault if she’d been dressed “properly”. “Properly dressed” women are assaulted every day. Because there’s always another reason why he couldn’t stop himself, and another thing she should have done to stop him.

The person responsible for assault is the person who commits assault. And this guy committed assault. And he could have stopped himself. And it is our job, as members of the society he lives in, to send that message.

And stop treating walking garbage heaps like Gable Tostee as celebrities.

And [updated – we had a late contender!] a quick and clean exit:

We’re persistently fed this myth by rightwing politicians and lobbyists: the market knows best, businesses are more efficient than the public service, the profit motive encourages good, clean, efficient, smart behaviour.

Yet again and again we see businesses which are only able to be “successful” by shafting ordinary workers. By relying on poverty wages or tax loopholes to make the books look good. By making short-term cuts and bailing before the long-term effects are realised. By literally putting themselves out of business to make a quick cut-and-run to a more central, “slicker” venue.

~

Given the above it’s a little redundant to remind you that I’m now on Patreon – and asking readers (who can) to support me on a monthly basis and keep the good fight (or at least the good writing) going.

Or if you like what I wrote this past month, buy me a virtual coffee or two. You know how Wellingtonians are about coffee.

500 posts!

Bit of a milestone around these parts. Boots Theory kicked off in February 2014 with a post explaining the Pratchett reference in the name for all you heathens who haven’t read any of the Discworld saga. Go! Now! Start with Guards! Guards! or maybe Witches Abroad or Hogfather (though that’s best enjoyed at Christmas) and get your kids onto The Wee Free Men while you’re at it.

Here’s another great quotation from A Hat Full of Sky. It describes Tiffany leaving home to live with Miss Level and learn how to be a witch.

Tiffany couldn’t quite work out how Miss Level got paid. Certainly the basket she carried filled up more than it emptied. They’d walk past a cottage and a woman would come scurrying out with a fresh-baked loaf or a jar of pickles, even though Miss Level hadn’t stopped there. But they’d spend an hour somewhere else, stitching up the leg of a farmer who’d been careless with an axe, and get a cup of tea and a stale biscuit. It didn’t seem fair.

“Oh, it evens out,” said Miss Level, as they walked on through the woods. “You do what you can. People give what they can, when they can. Old Slapwick there, with the leg, he’s mean as a cat, but there’ll be a big cut of beef on my doorstep before the week’s end, you can bet on it. His wife will see to it. And pretty soon people will be killing their pigs for the winter, and I’ll get more brawn, ham, bacon and sausages turning up than a family could eat in a year.”

“You do? What do you do with all that food?”

“Store it,” said Miss Level.

“But you -”

“I store it in other people. It’s amazing what you can store in other people.” Miss Level laughed at Tiffany’s expression. “I mean, I take what I don’t need round to those who don’t have a pig, or who’re going through a bad patch, or who don’t have anyone to remember them.”

“But that means they’ll owe you a favour!”

“Right! And so it just keeps on going round. It all works out.”

“I bet some people are too mean to pay -”

“Not pay,” said Miss Level, severely. “A witch never expects payment and never asks for it and just hopes she never needs to. But, sadly, you are right.”

“And then what happens?”

“What do you mean?”

“You stop helping them, do you?”

“Oh, no,” said Miss Level, genuinely shocked. “You can’t not help people just because they’re stupid or forgetful or unpleasant. Everyone’s poor round here. If I don’t help them, who will?”

I think Helen Kelly would have been a damn fine Discworld witch. Kindness, but steel principles and no tolerance for injustice. Something we definitely need more of.

~

And now for something a little different – signing off with a song.

Sie wollen mein Herz am rechten Fleck / doch seh ich dann nach unten weg / da schlägt es links
They want my heart on the right, yet I look down at it; there it beats left