The love blog: for Haakon

When Haak and I were first together, I woke up one morning, rolled over and pretended to be surprised to see him.

“You again???!!!” I asked and we dissolved into giggles, drunk on the idea that for the first time, there was someone there who we were happy to see again… and again.

This weekend, we celebrate twelve years of waking up together.

2007Melbourne, 2007. 

Twelve years of comfort, twelve years of chatting late into the night, of tea in bed [which is my favorite thing and which you participate in even though it’s not yours]

Twelve years of stomach bugs and those late night fights where you still sleep side by side but try not to even brush against each other.

Twelve years of one or the other of us crawling into bed late and cold, maybe a little beery, to nestle up against the warm skin of our bedmate.

And seven years of late night and early morning adventures in parenting. Sitting up by the light of a lamp, befuddled, exhausted, fuzzily deciding who would change the nappy, you always there for me to hand the screaming baby to while I took respite in the toilet for a minute.

We were together for the long, hungover days following a wakeful night with a baby. Tired, we snapped at each other and argued over small details.

I accused you of trying to cook the babies when you put piles of blankets on them.

And I discovered new things about you as a parent. Like when you are REALLY tired, you sleep with your lips puckered. Sometimes you do it when you are driving, which worries me.

You are harsh with the kids sometimes – but I’ve never caught you being unfair. You teach them things – thank fuck! because I’ve realized I’m not a great teacher. I’ve learned a lot about the benefits of an explanation from you.

You create a solid world for the kids. A  world that they understand.

I love the way whenever we’re alone you always have some small confession to whisper in my ear [“WHO was that who I was just talking to?”].

And every time we do the moving across the world thing, I’m blown away by the fact that you’d do that, with me.

That you’d live in Australia for years at a time, away from your family and the woods and rivers you love.

I really never thought we’d end up here – our marriage was so tentative and did not include any of the traditional marriage promises.

We just wanted to keep spending time together.

I didn’t know then the detail of the challenges that an across-the-world romance would bring, but I knew that the big picture was doubtful – not just looking at the stats of marriage in general, but with the addition of deciding which country to live in and the strain of someone always being away from their home.

Also, we’ve both been skeptical of having a monogamous, committed relationship, scared about the isolation and about doing all the intimacy with one person.

All our intimacy eggs in one basket.

It wakes me up at night sometimes – the worry that we’ve melted together so much, we’re becoming one person. The further in we go, the deeper the risk of loss.

If we left each other, who would we be?

So I don’t assume for one second that you’ll be with me forever. I try not to take your presence for granted.

If you did leave, I’d spend half my income on plumbers and I’d really miss all the things you just whip up – computer stand, a house, baby bike seat, a tap just where I need it in the garden.

But I know I’d get along alright. I know you’d get along without me too.

This week, you’re passionately into making baskets out of willow. This morning you laughed and said, “I’m going to make you a house out of willow, lady.”

As we come out of the early parenting years and start to reclaim ourselves and our time, I’m delighted to realize that you’re still someone I want to spend time with.

This morning I rolled over and there you were – again! I bit your shoulder gently and said it: you again.

I love waking up with your warm body and your kooky surprised face so close.

Each year we spend together is a triumph. Each year convinces me more that this is worth working for and fighting for.

This morning you suggested I use a coaster to put my tea cup on. I said I spill so much tea I need a bucket. You laughed at me and said, “I love you.”

I love you too Karuzas.

I’m still in it for the giggles.

 

 

 

 

 

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More cake! – how we can support each other as parents.

We’ve all been there, as parents.

You tell your child that they have had enough chocolate cake and then, while you are distracted by good company and a second coffee, your toddler climbs onto your lap and starts eating cake from your plate, carefully at first, watchful of your reaction, and then with more confidence.

One of the biggest surprises, to me, in becoming a parent, is how exhausting the constant decision making is. Especially so since all the decisions can seem equally important in a harried world – does your child need to wear a hat today? can they have another cookie? watch another episode of PJ Masks? should you vaccinate/send them to kinder at age five?

So many of the decisions we make every day and every minute mean nothing in isolation but can have a huge impact on how simple our parenting lives are in the future. I don’t care if my child has another cookie today, or skips toothbrushing once a week, but I think that when I’m consistent, it works out in my favour later.

Just as I’ve found myself in the toddler-sneakily-eating-cake zone, I’ve found it painful to watch other parents in similar situations. The firmest “No,” turns into “maybe later,” and finally ‘OK then, just a bit,” all in the space of five minutes.

I must admit, I notice this mostly in women parents [partly because I mostly hang out with mums] and I think it’s probably a really important point to address in terms of bigger issues around women and assault.

Getting clear and committing – even to something as small as “we’re leaving the playground,” or “no more cake,” helps women set up boundaries and tune out social pressure, which provides an example to all kids that women are to be listened to and respected.

I’ve long tried to figure out ways we can help each other stick to our words, especially in social situations when we are distracted and want to enjoy being with our friends.

One way is to physically back each other’s decisions. Say the parent has said no more cake. If the child reaches for the cake, you can, as a supportive co-parent would, reach out and move the cake out of the child’s reach, saying in a friendly way “I’m going to make it easier for you to listen to your mum.”

Maybe you think the child should have more cake. Maybe you don’t care about the cake. It’s not the point. The point is to back each other up, no matter what the issue.

When you know someone really well, or if you are co-parenting, you could offer to remove the child or hold the child so the parent can focus on the goal [eg. getting the car ready to leave]. In this situation, the child may cry and scream. [Read more about listening to kids feelings here].

So often, parents back out of hard decisions in social situations, not wanting to face judgement or be the one dragging a screaming child down the street. We make split-second decisions according to what’s easiest at the moment, but having back up can help us follow through with what we know will pay off in the end.

Strong physical responses in parenting can be seen, beautifully, by watching animals parent.

My darling husband and father to my children has a charmingly animalistic approach to parenting – when our daughter decided to protest walking even short distances by dragging on our arms as we held her hand, he decided that if she dragged, he would let go of her hand. After explaining it to her, they began walking.

Every time she dragged, whack! her tiny two-year-old body would hit the snowpack. I had to look away – no one enjoys seeing their child upset. But she only did it a handful of times before deciding it wasn’t worth it to drag on his hand.

We parents tend to feel that we can’t do anything right. We sometimes fold guilt away into little pockets that remain in the fabric of how we identify as parents.

Having another adult or another parent make it clear that they will back anything we do as parents [obviously if it is safe for the child] is a huge relief.

It confirms what we know in our hearts – that we love our kids and that we’re doing our best.

 

 

 

Why having kids or not is the hardest decision you’ll ever make.

I’m at that age [34] where some of my friends have teenagers, some have newborns and some haven’t arrived at the question: should I have kids?

And then everything in between – friends who are decidedly no, friends who tried to conceive but couldn’t [how can I tell you, tenderly, how sorry I am that there won’t be a piece of you, more of you in this world], friends who have lost infants and small children and friends who are in communication with their partner or a fertility clinic about how and when they’ll try to conceive.

It’s an age where many of us end up doing a lot of explaining our choices. I’ve seen one end of this in the subtle reactions to my friend Kat, who is 37 and visiting us with her youngest child, 15-year-old Luka.

Kat is graceful at introducing herself and alleviating the quick, curious glances between mother and daughter. “My son is nineteen,” she’ll explain, “one of the benefits of teen pregnancy is that my kids will both be out of home when I’m 40.”

Although I’m grateful that we live in an age when people in the western world mostly get to choose when to conceive [you can read my post about that here: Contraceptives: the real measure of inequality]  – or not to bear children at all, I also think that such a wide window leaves many people reeling.

Kat and I met a couple in their early thirties with no kids last week that I knew a little and she had never met before. After Kat had said her above introduction, the woman cast a pointed, sideways glance at her boyfriend and said firmly “I think 32 is the perfect age to have kids.”

When I asked her why she thought that, she answered that she has really good health insurance right now with her job.

So this is America, where people base when and whether to have kids on how good their health insurance is.

But this woman had a point – when it comes to a big life decision like having kids, the idea that we are making a reasonable, calculated choice is a facade because we can never know what it’s really like to be a parent until we are deep, deep into the swan dive.

So we cling to some vaguely pragmatic reason like “I’m 32” or “I have good health insurance.”

When I asked him later if he wanted kids, on a blue inflatable raft floating lazily down the Kootenai River, the woman’s boyfriend looked around him and said  “I’m not sure. My life is pretty good.”

Five years ago, I would have said something encouraging about having kids but lately I take pause in this conversation: I work hard at saying nothing. Because this guy and everyone who is looking at kids realistically deserves to be listened to: their message is clear.

Why would we have kids?

The next generation of fertile people in the USA is not stupid – according to figures from the CDC in 2017, birth rates have hit an all-time low of 62.0 births per 1000 women aged 15-44.

Americans already work so much, too much, and one thing you can say about having kids is it is work.

Our friend and housemate, Laura, has lived in our basement for the last two years. Laura moved in pretty certain she wanted kids one day, but has since has referred to living below two kids as “excellent birth control.”

Sometimes the contrast between our lives is comically different: while Laura uses her superpower of rolling out of bed five minutes before she has to be at work, I am up and working instantly: called to wipe a bum before I’ve made it to the bathroom myself.

I don’t say this with any bitterness or regret but have kids if you love to work from the minute you get up to the minute you fall asleep.

carry

Parenting work isn’t just the physical labor of hauling our children around and doing the housework and work to bring in money to look after them. It’s also the hundreds of tiny decisions we make about our children every day, which start well before our kids can ask these questions:

Can I watch a show? can I watch another show? can I sleep over with a friend? can I have an apple? can I have an ice cream?

Parents need to become excellent at delegating because a huge part of parenting is taking care of yourself so you can function, which means outsourcing childcare and housework as much as you can.

I’ve noticed there are two camps when it comes to advice about having kids – the 50-60-year-old women who tell you to “cherish every moment” and “relish the little angels” [how did they forget so fast??!] and the realists, of which Kat definitely is.

Kat, a parent herself for 12 years then, told me before I got pregnant: “having kids is like being the designated driver. Your kids are off their faces. You have to guide them across roads and make sure they don’t stop to look at shiny things for hours in the alley. When they throw up, you clean it up and make them food. Then you put them to bed while they cry.”

Asking people whether or not they plan to have kids, and if so, when, is one of those questions that falls into the category of it ain’t my business –  at times I’ve started my enquiries, genuinely interested and Haakon has melted away in a way that tells me “you are being nosy and overstepping the mark.”

I’m convinced asking people about their reproduction plans can be helpful – I want people to know that it is a choice, and they can get out of the riptide of societal expectation that children have to be part of the plan.

That it’s OK to not want to add work to an already full life.

The hard part about parenting is that we don’t get to jump into it fresh every day- our kids may well be angels from heaven but we can’t treat them like that because we are so.damn.tired and emotionally wrung out.

I do see the moments of glee and love between the endless bowls of uneaten oatmeal and tiny decisions and barrages of guilt.

But when you have kids, at some point the exhaustion will catch up and your responsibilities will hit you like a speeding train. The train is coming whether you are 18, 28 or 38.

The train will change your plans, as it did for me last week when a quick dip in the creek on a hot day turned into a counselling session for Atticus, who is six and worried about moving to Australia next week.

As Atty shrieked and kicked the water and trains screeched over our heads in the pool under the railroad trestle, I tried to find a minute to dunk under the water and cool off as planned.

Kids don’t wait until you are in a good mind frame to break down – they do it when everyone is stressed and we have to step up and be there for them, which sometimes feels like the hardest thing in the world.

After three long days of random screaming and being irritable and argumentative, Atticus said to me as we were driving: “I’m just scared.”

“Of what?” I asked.

“I don’t know, just scared,” he replied.

Those three days were rough – thank goodness for Kat, who laughed at me gently while I cried, so confused as to why my kid seemed so angry.

As we work towards our big move back to my hometown [Bega,Australia] next week, we’re doing it with our kids –

Serious, scientific Atticus wants a book about Australian insects as soon as we arrive and Calllie is mildly worried we’ll fall out of the plane and narrates everything with song.

And Haakon, who I loved so much I wanted there to be more of us. I remember vividly telling Haak in bed in the dark that I was pregnant with Atticus and the words hanging in the silence for awhile.

While I waited for his response, I told myself I could do it by myself.

And I heard a slow smile spread across his face and he said “well, that’s exciting.”

Phewwwww.

I wanted to have kids so we could have those moments of exchanging glances because our kids are so cute/infuriating/amazing/hilarious.

We do get those moments, but I never knew how hard we’d work for them.

Maybe if I’d really known I would’ve opted for no kids and weekends in bed with frothy coffee followed by long hikes and hours of uninterrupted netflix.

But the decision is behind us and I’m so very glad because it’s one that humans have not yet been well equipped to make.

It’s just so big.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s 2018 – why is female sterilization still performed more than vasectomy?

 

Sterilization [either male or female] is the most widely used birth control in the US [36%], followed closely by female hormone treatments such as the pill [30.6%].

But permanent birth control – sterilization – is vastly different for men and women in terms of cost, risk, and recovery for the patient.

According to come quick research via the Mayo clinic website, the risks of female sterilization [tubal ligation] include: Damage to the bowel, bladder or major blood vessels, reaction to anesthesia, improper wound healing or infection and continued pelvic or abdominal pain.

According to the same website, the risks of vasectomy are very low, and none are potentially life-threatening, unlike damage to the bowel or reaction to anesthesia.

So why is female sterilization [tubal ligation] still performed in the US two thirds more than male sterilization [vasectomy]?

Our family has benefited so much from Haakon’s 2015 vasectomy that I wanted to tell our story as a way to look at some of the reasons vasectomy may not be as popular as it should be.

I can’t remember how the idea that Haakon would have a vasectomy after our second child was born came up, but I know it seemed like a natural progression to me:  I’ve had two babies and lots of genital involvement around birthing [not to mention years of periods and pap tests before the babies, and after], and a vasectomy was an opportunity for something medical to happen in his body.

Although I was mildly concerned about Haakon’s vasectomy – I don’t like the idea of someone cutting into anyone’s junk any more than most people, and there is the risk of permanent complications with vasectomy – I never considered that I would, instead, have tubal ligation.

From Haak’s perspective, as a man who is pragmatic to a fault, his initial research about vasectomy made it clear that to suggest I would have the surgery instead of him would be “foolish,” he told me.

But here in Montana, I hear this all the time from women: “I was in there anyway [hospital, to have a baby] so I told them, just go on and tie my tubes. I wish Tom/Mike etc would get a vasectomy, but he would never do it.”

[About half of female sterilizations occur within 8 hours of giving birth, according to the national center for biotechnology information]

My assessment of how often female sterilization is performed over vasectomy is backed by figures provided by the national center for biotechnology information in 2008. According to their website, 27 per cent of sexually active women in the US rely on female sterilization as birth control, while 9.2 per cent rely on vasectomy.

Although the information I found online is dated, all the US-based reports I found drew from the same study, which also notes that “Overall, the sterilization rates for men and women have remained constant over the past 40 years [since 2008].”

Why is this, I wondered?

The fact that the numbers of female sterilizations are higher than male is probably influenced by the number of babies born via cesarean section – the US center of disease control and prevention website says that in 2017, 31% of all births were cesareans.

When a woman is already having major abdominal surgery and wants a permanent form of birth control, having a tubal ligation performed at the same time makes some sense.

But where sterilization is sought in stand-alone cases, vasectomy is not only faster and cheaper [“best $300 we ever spent,” says Haakon!] than tubal ligation, it is much safer for the person being operated on.

One of Haak’s co worker’s, Shannon, recently had tubal ligation surgery. I spoke to her on the phone 11 days after her surgery, and she was still using a back brace to protect her bruised stomach muscles.

She had also developed anemia and a blood clot near the surgery area which is not life-threatening but is hard and painful.

“I’m still in pain,” Shannon said, “I keep asking the doctor if this is a normal recovery because they told me I would only have to take it easy for a week afterwards.”

Shannon and her husband had been talking about permanent birth control for years, she said, and he had wanted to have a vasectomy but a history of hernia surgery made them both concerned about how suitable vasectomy would be in his case.

“Now that he’s seen me go through this,” Shannon told me, “he wishes he’d gone ahead with the vasectomy.”

Although Shannon and her husband were well informed and made the best choice for them, its clear that in most cases, tubal ligation carries higher risks than vasectomy.

Despite this fact, I do not want to minimize the risk of chronic pain or long-term implications for a person’s sex life, which is associated with vasectomy in rare cases.

Shannon’s youngest child is now 10, and despite her long and continuing recovery from the surgery, Shannon told me her only regret is that she didn’t do it sooner.

Having access to permanent, relatively safe birth control is indeed a treat – after muddling through ten years of using various temporary contraceptives, like condoms and the pill, Haak and I were both 100% ready to say goodbye to the possibility of pregnancy scares and all the organization required to avoid them.

And so it came to be that one sunny winter’s day in Moruya, NSW, I was waiting at a coffee shop across the street from the doctor’s office where Haak was having his vasectomy done. Callie was almost six months old, and I ordered and sat in the courtyard breastfeeding her.

My parents happened to be passing through, and they arrived at that moment.

“Should I order Haakon coffee?” Dad asked.

I paused to answer, and looked up from my half-finished flat white:

And saw Haakon, bounding down the steps of the doctor’s office. A similar image to my very first memory of him, when he was tanned and 20, and bouncing across a lawn to meet me.

“Couldn’t they do it?” I asked sympathetically, imagining that the doctor was called away or held up in some way.

“It’s done,” he answered, beaming.

And that, my friends, is the kind of after-effect of a life-changing surgery you will almost never get. Haak wasn’t even in the chair for 15 minutes and was enjoying a coffee in the sun 5 minutes later.

He still likes to tell people that the worst part about having a vasectomy was shaving his testicles in preparation for the surgery.

“The chafing from the stubble growing back was intense,” he told me this morning when I asked what he remembered most.

Haakon was “sore for a couple of days,” he recalled. He took no painkillers and was back at work three days later.

Although it’s hard for me to say if Shannon and Haakon’s recoveries are typical of the surgeries they had, it’s clear to me that something deeper than a pragmatic weighing up of the costs and benefits is in effect when heterosexual couples begin to research sterilization – something that culminates in many making the decision for the woman to undergo surgery rather than the man.

Hearing versions of the “I wish Carlos would get a vasectomy, but he would never do it,” conversation over the years has made me realize how our society ensures that the only genital sensations men have are pleasurable – and that women support this idea as much as men do.

It’s certainly been said before, but I’ll say it again – we seem to be stuck, as a society, in a pattern of accepting at face value a woman’s responsibility for all things reproductive, from unintended pregnancies and childcare to buying the condoms.

But it’s 2018 and vasectomy just might be the way forward – a way to revolutionize our relationships and sex lives.

Haak

 

I found information for this post from these sources:

CDC website, stats about cesarean rates: https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/delivery.htm

NCBI website, articles about rates of sterilization: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2492586/

Mayo Clinic, basic info about vasectomy and tubal ligation: https://www.mayoclinic.org/tests-procedures/vasectomy/about/pac-20384580

 

Thanks for reading!

All we have to do is nothing

Last night, at about 4:45 am, I woke to the sound of a child crying and calling out.

It took a minute to realize it wasn’t one of my children, who slept in a tangled pile of sheets and limbs.

‘Haak? do you hear that child crying?” I asked and we both got up to stare blearily out of the open window.

A family with two young boys recently moved in across the street. The kids are about five and six years old, and the older one is in Atticus’ class.

It was one of those boys crying for his mom in the very early morning, and there was clearly nothing we could do to help.

As I settled back to sleep I had a strange thought about parenting, and kid’s emotions:

It’s gonna get ya in the end.

It sounds ominous, but I don’t feel ominous about it, really.

It is a truth that is still sinking in for me, though: that on some level, we, as parents, will be exposed to our kid’s emotional lives for the rest of their lives in a way we’re not with anyone else.

If our kids feel safe with us, they will show us how they feel. And when they are little, it’s very much a show.

It’s a powerful kick, a high pitched scream, a frantic fit.

Both of my kids, when they are really upset, often yell at the top of their lungs “you’re hurting me! Oweeeee! get off! I hate you!.

We can put a lot of energy into stopping their feelings – we can, if necessary, put a sucker [lollipop] or pacifier, or breast, into their tiny screaming mouths.

We can coax, cajole, bribe or beg our kids to please stop, not now, not here.

We can make it so our feelings are bigger than their’s, and our anger quietens them.

There are times I’ve done everything I possibly can to stop my kids having strong emotional expression – at the dentist, or during the vows of a wedding, and sometimes, a fact I’m not proud of, because I just couldn’t listen.

I think it’s fine to let our kids know, especially as they get older, that sometimes they have to hold it in.

But giving up the fight is sweet relief. I try to find a comfortable place to sit with them, take their boots off [weapons!] and surrender to minutes, even hours, of being there.

All we have to do is nothing.

When I hold my three year old daughter while she screams it feels like forever. Sometimes it’s 45 minutes, but mostly it’s seven, or three.

When I hold my six year old son, he is pure muscle. It takes more engagement to be with him as he gets older, and it happens less and less. Sometimes he flips me. Sometimes he comes in and out of fury and a little smile creeps across his face and we laugh and then he lashes out again, not wanting to indicate it’s over before it really is.

Lately, an image of a card some friends have always had on their fridge pops into my mind while the kids are screaming. It is a small white, business style card that has written on it, in red typewriter print: LOVE IS ALWAYS THE APPROPRIATE REACTION.

So I try to meet fury with love, and hard, fighting little bodies with softness. But I do not let them hurt me.

Here is Callie, really, really really wanting to wear a different dress, and carry the bag, and not wear a hat right before we left the house this morning.

I did not give in to her demands. But I did let her cry.

 

crop 2crop

When it is over, it’s as clear as the sun coming out from behind storm clouds.

My daughter, red and sweaty from fighting so hard, will snuggle in, her wet face on my chest.

And then, as if nothing had happened, she will say “can my baby come to the post office?” and we get on with the day.

Sometimes it takes me awhile to get to that sunny place. I’m irritated that the need to cry interrupted my plans and I feel drained.

Ideally, I would be able to do what they do so well, but in the absence, I try to be gentle with myself for the rest of that day.

If you put off listening to your kids, they will fight for the right to be heard. When they are young, if there is no time in the day, they will, like our neighbor’s child, cry through the night.

The repercussions in adult relationships can be much more devastating, and long lasting – I saw an acquaintance’s mom in the parking lot across the street, who said she had not heard from her daughter for three months and has no idea why. Her daughter has a family.

If we cannot hear the ways we are doing our children wrong and if we cannot tolerate their deepest feelings when the feelings are about not getting to take a toy on a bike ride, how will we hear their adult concerns? how can we remain impartial while they fuck up?

A woman with two daughters’s in their 50’s, who has good relationships with them both, was telling me a story and ended with “I’d prefer if they didn’t feel that way [her daughter’s] but, you know, as parents, we just have to cop it sometimes, don’t we? we just have to say nothing.”

As I watch my adult friend’s struggle with parental relationships, I’m ever grateful for the times I’ve watched my parents close their mouths, a conscious physical act to protect our relationship.

I hope like heck that as my children grow, and ‘do nothing’ turns into ‘say nothing’, that I have the power to follow through and be a good listener when the words may be more cutting than a generic and humorous “I hate you!”

 

 

 

Many of my thoughts expressed in this post spring from the theory of  Re-Evaluation Co-Counseling

 

 

 

Contraceptives: the real measure of inequality

Aside from having my basic human needs met, what is the greatest freedom I have?

Since 2011, when I had my first child, my first thought when I see my belly is always gratitude.

Belly crop

I’m grateful that I was able to grow two healthy babies. I’m humbled that I got to choose when I conceived [roughly!] and with whom.

I’m so, so grateful to my mum for being into homebirth so I knew that was a possibility, and so honored that Anki was our midwife, and both kids born into water at home.

And I’m delighted that I have chosen to close that chapter, and that Haakon has a vasectomy, leaving us completely free and easy with regards to contraception [I’ll talk about the merits of vasectomy in a later blog].

No more wondering when a period is later than usual if a baby is the reason.

No more hypothetical moral grappling – if I were pregnant, would I abort?

I see this access and the ability to control when, and if, to have kids, as the ultimate luxury, and one humans have not been enjoying for very long.

I don’t care how many babies people have, when they have them, or if they don’t, or if they have them with many different partners, or a same sex partner, or raise them alone.

But now that we have such amazing options for contraception, I care very much about people only having babies that they want.

According to the US census website, the world population is 7.6 billion as of May 2018, and growing by about 180,000 per day.

And the United Nations Word Population fund says that 214 million women in the developing world who want to prevent pregnancy don’t have access to contraceptives.

We should want to fix that, because parenting is not for the faint of heart – a friend’s toddler once threw her head back and broke her mother’s nose during a tantrum. Most of us parents have cleaned a log of poop out of a pair of pants at least once.

Having and raising a child takes resources – food, clothing, money or bartering power. But it also requires support, a community, social capital.

If you have no resources, especially social resources, having a baby will not magically make them appear. And we need those resources – every one of us has felt squeezed dry at some point by the emotional demands of parenting.

Knowing this, sexually active women everywhere spend hours, weeks and months of their lives caught up with trying not to get pregnant.

More and more men are taking responsibility for not making babies, but since the evidence is written on a woman’s body she is often the most invested in preventing pregnancy.

In both of my homes, the US and Australia, people generally have pretty good access to contraceptives, whether drugstore condoms or an IUD, implant or vasectomy.

But access doesn’t necessarily trump culture. Although contraceptives are technically available in white, rural America, where I live, they often remain just out of reach of those who really need them – young people.

A conservation, religious undertone means sex ed leans towards teaching abstinence.

I just got back from a walk to the park, where I bumped into Tyran, who is not quite 21 and has two sons – a  four year old and an eighteen month old.

I asked her about her first pregnancy, and how that came about, how she felt about it.

“I was 14 when I got pregnant, and I had Lovell when I was 15,” Tyran said.

But Tyran wasn’t naive about getting pregnant:

“Oh, I knew how it [sex] worked, my mom told me, and we had sex ed at school,” she said “they didn’t give us condoms though, I think that would be good, if there was a clinic you could get free condoms, if they put them in our hands.”

Thinking back to being 14 myself, and remembering not being able to see past a week, I asked her if she just didn’t care.

“Yeah, I think that was it. In that moment I just didn’t care, I thought I loved him.”

Tyran, with help from her mom, the grandparents of her kids, and her youngest son’s dad, who pays some child support and has custody of both kids whenever he can, has fulfilled the American dream.

Work hard, fight adversity, not get an abortion.

Of her youngest child, Tyran said:

“His dad is really cool. A nice guy. We got married after 3 months because everyone said to me ‘why not, he loves Lovell,’ and I thought maybe god was giving me this, a family,”

She gestured to her youngest son, in his stroller, as we walked.

“But he [god] was really just giving me another kid,” she said, and smiled and stopped to adjust her son’s visor “he was conceived on a pull out couch. That’s kind of ironic, isn’t it?”

Tyran plainly loves her kids.. She sent me this picture of her sons, Lovell and Kale:

lovell and kale

Although Tyran was close to getting the contraceptives she needed, and turned a hard situation into a positive one, in some places, getting and using contraceptives effectively is an even bigger hurdle.

A family friend and doctor of sociology, Richard Barcham, told me a bit about the availability of contraceptives in Papua New Guinea, where he has worked on and off since 2000.

According to Richard, people in PNG are generally not shy about talking about sex and contraception, and tend towards being “pretty promiscuous.”

The biggest hurdle in getting contraception to those who want it, he said, is the power men have over women.

“The status of women is very low,” Richard wrote in an e mail “a large family is a big loyal workforce for a man to build prosperity, so men sometimes have multiple wives.”

Richard has heard women say they carry condoms in case of rape: he said rape is “gut-churningly and bizarrely common.”

Although the PNG government offers what it can by way of health services, most people have never seen a doctor, Richard wrote.

Churches and other aid groups provide better and more healthcare than local services, and because of religious conflicts, these groups often don’t offer contraceptives.

If a woman is offered long term contraceptive options, like an injection or implant of hormone birth control, often her husband must give permission, and “this can be a problem,” Richard said.

Richard told a story about working with a non profit group called Touching the Untouchables, who aim to bring health care to people in the highlands of PNG, only accessible by one road, which is “a bit dangerous,” because of road accidents and highway robbers.
“We often traveled in a District ‘ambulance’,” Richard said  “really a Toyota troop carrier and not anything like an ambulance at all. I recall on one occasion travelling in the front of such a vehicle,  with a health worker and the driver, while a group of village volunteers, NGO staff and their cargoes bounced around in the back. The health worker had boxes of stuff on her lap, and every time we passed a group of people standing by the road she would pass handfuls across to the driver. Behind us, people scrambled in our dust to pick up these tossed treats. On closer inspection, the contents of the boxes turned out to be condoms.”
A rising awareness in PNG of using condoms to prevent HIV, as well as to control pregnancy has made their use more popular. Richard sent me this link about a recent donation of 120,000 condoms to PNG.
The best part? every one of those condoms is strawberry scented!

 

If you appreciate your freedom with family planning, and want to gift that to another person, some organizations that provide contraceptive aid in the US and internationally are:

The United Nations Population Fund 

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

Planned Parenthood

Pathfinder International

 

 

 

 

Food memories

My mum is quietly obsessed with food. Mostly just the having of it, not particularly the quality, although she is also an artist of simple, amazing home cooking.

I often got home from school and found soup on the wood stove, red from her tomatoes with tiny cut up pieces of sweet carrot and zucchini and round slivers of leek.

Mum’s obsession stems at least partly from her mothers’ experience of food shortages during the second world war in the Netherlands. That anxiety about food has traveled through generations, morphing along the way.

Now it’s something we give her shit about because she always remembers events based on what we ate. She’ll say to dad: “remember, I made the lamb roast and Sandy made the cheesecake,” or “no, it wasn’t that weekend, it was the trip we took when we stopped at the fish and chip place and you had steak,” and he will smile at her blankly.

I have my own host of food memories, not just from childhood, but from the process of coming into myself as a cook.

I’m grateful to all those who cooked for me and with me and made me slowly aware of the power of being able to create good food first for myself [thin salty slivers of toasted sourdough bread with sesame seeds topped with pools of melting butter and chunks of avocado] and then for others.

There were hits, and there were definitely misses. I remember passing bowls of melting vanilla ice cream and stringy, overcooked rhubarb at midnight after the kind of house party where everyone sits around on the carpet drinking beer out of bottles and loudly taking politics.

I ate my first pomegranate around the same era while chatting to a friend on the phone for hours. When I stood up, I saw the white wall around my head was splattered with blood-red juice.

The kidney beans I did not soak, which I later threw up [kidney beans are mildly poisonous until properly cooked]. The dear friend who kindly requested I cut the onions finer for the pea risotto.

The discovery of salt and olive oil glugged in quantity over pumpkin for roasting when I lived in Melbourne and had access to cheap bulk oil.

When I was twelve, a friend’s dad took us out to lunch in Canberra and we had laksa – it was so, so fiery hot to my palate and I loved every painful slurp.

There is so much still to discover and learn. Now, in early spring, I’m watching the first tips of white asparagus emerge from the soil in my first ever asparagus bed. I know the spears will be so sweet we’ll eat them raw at first.

DSCF3297

I’m longing to eat from my garden – tiny Lebanese cucumbers tossed with cherry tomatoes, basil, oil, red onion and feta in a quasi Greek salad. After a long winter of cabbage and bitter store bought carrots, it will taste even more amazing!

I spend a lot of time making food and growing food for our family – I want my kids to be passionate about food and able to make themselves good food.

Last night I was calmly making dinner [crispy roast potatoes, salad and three rainbow trout Atticus had caught on the weekend] and suddenly the floor was alive with wet, fighting, screaming children, straight out of the bath.

As I flung wet towels and children out of my way, I thought but did not say:

“Get out of my kitchen, you fuckers! I’m making you food memories.”