Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Cossie Conundrum

It's coming.

That terrifying, breath-sapping, bum-trembling moment of truth when I must trek across the sand dunes and drop my sarong to stand exposed in nothing but my cossies, untanned skin and crippling lack of self-confidence.

It happens every summer, sandwiched in between trying to cram the Christmas wrapping paper into the recycling bin and fighting over the last honeycomb chocolate square on the family dining table.

Out of nowhere, the mercury suddenly soars, the seagulls wilt in the sky, and I am forced to choose between melting into oblivion on the couch or blinding the locals at the nearest beach in my tummy covering one-piece and security sarong.

It is exceptionally safe to say that, even after life long love affair with the ocean and nearly thirty years living up and down the Eastern Australian coastline, my body is never 'beach ready' for my annual sandy debut.

Despite my very best intentions, a long list of bookmarked beauty blogs
and several drunken New Years resolutions shouted with celebratory conviction, I am the permanent antithesis of a summery beach queen.

I have an impressive lack of exfoliation skills, an empty space in my mind where beauty knowledge should reside, and a blatant disregard for all things tan and product that would make even the most compassionate beauty magazine editor hang their head in shame.

Living in this perpetual unreadiness, the annual road from couch to beach is a tough one, designed to challenge my tentative grip on positive self-perception and rapidly fuel my seasonal desire to consume cocktails - immediately, rapidly, in bulk.

The starting hurdle is always the hardest: in a state of sheer despondency, I wriggle into my swimmers, stopping frequently to curse the ample portions of Christmas trifle I've tucked away over the silly season and suffocating heat of the Australian summer.

I slather myself in sunscreen, once and then twice, acutely aware of my ghostly Melbournian pallor and the unavoidable realities and consequences of sun exposure and burn.

Covered from head to toe and back and with no more lotion to play with, I sink into procrastination, fiddling with the strap of my hat, the positioning of my pony tail, the lid of my water bottle, anything in sight, to delay the inevitable ...

The trek through the dunes is scorchingly blissful, toes frying in the grit and the whack of wind distracting my senses from the challenge ahead - where there is nothing but sand and water and my own imagined inadequacies, competing for priority on my rainbow striped beach towel of truth.

Convinced that the handful of occupied swimmers and bored sun-bakers are staring and ready to laugh in mocking judgement, I dredge up some imagined bravery: top off, shorts down, bum up, legs out, hyperventilate, breathe, swim.


The swim is the ultimate summer prize, sparking up my confidence like an unexpected Christmas present on Boxing Day. As soon as I'm in the water, it takes just three short seconds and a mouthful of salt to forget what the fuss was all about.

There's something deeply refreshing about duck-diving under the breakers and getting dunked like a bobbing bottle cork that wipes out my self-doubt. Being in the water takes me straight back to being a beach kid, keen for an afternoon on the board and a lemonade ice-block.

So if you see me on the water's edge this summer, trembling with trepidation and lighting up the horizon with my permanently pale pins, just push me in - a bit of salt fixes everything.

Do you dread getting in your cossies too?

M x

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Photo credit: Victor Bezrukov via photopin cc

Friday, December 13, 2013

All I Want for Christmas is Queue

Greetings Santa,

I know it's been a long time since I last penned a letter to the North Pole, and I'm far too old to be putting in requests for my Christmas stocking, but I have a few things on my mind that I would like to share with you.

As you know, I popped in to your local headquarters the other day to see you for the first time in nearly twenty years (shhh, please don't repeat that too loudly) to chew the proverbial fat, and to introduce you to my little girl on the eve of her first silly season.

While it was lovely to catch up on old times, I couldn't help but notice that there have been some significant changes in your department since we last smiled in front of the magical Christmas camera together.

As I stepped through the snow covered gate that separates the white goods from your enchanted woods this year, the stripes on my observational candy cane of change started zinging out of control.

First up, I noticed that your normal contingent of elves was missing from the action -
not a single pointed shoe or elfin ear in sight. Your beloved elfin friends appear to have been replaced by a small army of helpers of an unidentifiable magical creature origin, wearing perfectly average human ears and sensible polo shirts.

Mrs Claus was also conspicuously absent from the fanciful festive proceedings, although I can extrapolate that's probably because she has a sweet empire of her own, and has far more pressing things to do than watch you fulfill your merry commitments in suburban shopping malls each December.

While pondering Mrs Claus' possible whereabouts, I noticed that your personal letter box has been switched out for a computer covered in fake snow, where children can take advantage of your free Wi-Fi and email you a Christmas wish list, complete with model numbers and instructional graphics to seal the deal.

Just watching the little wizards clicking away on the track pad and selecting holly covered template backgrounds made me feel like a relic from the Land before Time - and that reference probably consolidates my ancient status.

It's not just the mail box though. The traditional film camera that snapped our mugs years ago has been carted off to the museum, replaced by a sleek digital number with a suite of impressive options and an attached viewing screen.

I'm all for converting over to the the digital photo medium, but I was shocked to discover that the rushed one-shot-one-expression has disappeared into the back paddock and made way for an impromptu professional portrait shoot.

The non-elfin-helpers now snap, resnap, and snap photos again, allowing mums to rule out unfortunate facial freeze frames and smooth down wayward cowlicks before they are immortalised in the yellowed recesses of family photo land. 

Another seismic shift in proceedings is that your photos are now available for immediate collection from the magical photograph kiosk outside the gates, with online packages and USB copies available to complement the physical prints.

There is no more agonising wait for the postman or the expensive twenty-four hour express pick up option to see if you have conquered or destroyed the annual family photo, and no more being sent to your room for spilling juice on the only enlarged copy (sorry, Mum).

The miniature candy canes and milk bottle lollies have also been retired to the back paddock - and while I know there are plenty of dental concerns and food allergy issues and food safety and handling procedures in play, my nostalgic taste buds want to throw a tantrum of naughty list proportions. 

Your big plush seat surrounded by empty gift-wrapped boxes and life size candy canes has disappeared, and the proscenium arch style centre stage concept has been thrown out with the reindeer water.

Instead of sitting in the middle of your kingdom sharing belly laughs and big-hearted waves with all the true believers, you now spend your late November and early December days tucked away out of sight in a cubicle with a large prohibitive door and a handful of protective helpers.

The icing on the change cake, though, is that you now take official appointments as well as casual visitors seeking a spontaneous chat and photograph (pending availability, within the allocated casual visiting hours, on certain days of the week). 

When one of your efficient helpers asked if I had an appointment, I almost slipped on the imaginary reindeer poo in shock. An appointment. To see you. For a two minute chinwag and catch up.

Seriously, what gives Santa?

I get that you're a popular guy, and that I'm just one (really overgrown) kid out of oodles and noodles of excited kids across the globe wanting to catch a moment of your time, and I understand you need to protect your regular toilet and meal break entitlements with stringent work hours - but did it really have to come to this? 

A significant chunk of your charm has always been your accessibility - anyone and everyone could approach your awesome velvet covered shopping centre chair and have a catch up, a happy snap and a quick run through the wish list.

Sure, there were queues, and sometimes there were really really long queues, where you would almost melt down into your rubber thongs and overdose on Mintie freshness and Fantale stickiness waiting to get through the wooden gate and to the front of the line.

The wait was just part of the tradition though, and even though it seemed a little incongruous to the occasion - much like leaving out a saucer of milk in Australian summer heat to refresh the reindeer or roasting a turkey in a heatwave - it was worth every calve muscle cramp and frustrated parent sigh.

Of course, you and I both know that these changes are not universal across your famous chain. I am (well and truly) old enough to understand logistical purposes require you to have different magical headquarters in shopping centres across the world, and that each Santa HQ hotspot has a unique set of helpers and daily operating procedures.

Chances are that if I had a sleigh of my own and visited you in all your different enchanted setups this year, Santa, I'd find Mrs Claus and some pointy elfin ears and even a lifetime supply of free candy canes in every flavour of the rainbow.

I get that there are variations on the standard theme, just as I get that big changes can happen in the lofty space of twenty years - goodness only knows I've lived from childhood to parenthood and every other stop in between over the course of the two decades just gone.

But when Santa moves to streamline his shopping centre operations and boost efficiency, well, the warning bells really should start ringing at high volume from the tip of the North Pole to the bottom of the South.

The world seems to have lost it's funny bone since I was kid, and replaced it with an increased push to streamline efficiency and maximise productivity while following a complex web of regulations and posing for obligatory duck face selfies.

The last thing I want for Christmas is the see the magic of the season and the dreams of my childhood drowning under the weight of appointment times, online booking regulations and the pressure of taking the perfect Santa photo.

If my name does chance to appear on the nice list this year, Santa, please just give me a miniature candy cane, a hilariously bad photo and a twenty to thirty-five minute wait to hang out with you in person.

I'll be the happiest big kid in town.

M x

P.S Best regards to Mrs Claus and the elves 

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Saturday, December 7, 2013

The Symbiotic Breastfeeding Memo

The classes made it look like cake -
a picnic down on mothering street;
but we did not match the diagram,
you, me,

with milk to mouth our greatest feat.

Tedious crept the early weeks,
latch refused and dropping weight.
We missed the symbiotic memo,
you, me,

as we stumbled around the starting gate.

Awash in shields and pumping parts
we slowly worked the puzzle through,
and like Archimedes we hit Eureka,
you, me,

and proved the unnaturally natural true.

Head craned back and latch achieved
we entered hazy feeding on demand;
ensconced with the boomerang pillow,
you, me,
in our twenty-four-seven milk bar land.

We peeled the layers of cause and effect,
added more oatmeal and water on tap,
subtracted chocolate and orange juice,
you, me,
settled the stomach and afternoon nap.

We moved through milk drunk delirium,
then cluster feed bombs, epic and raw;
we hit our stride and rhythmic supply,
you, me,

teeth getting less, spurts getting more.

Car feeds in crowded parking lots
and sanity snacks on interstate flights;
we mastered the baby hydration caper,
you, me,

and regained the sleep of the nights.

From seven feeds, to five, now three -
the morning, the lunch and the bed -
and I can see the end creeping toward
you, me,
as you reach for bowl and cup instead.

Snuggle downs have left the building
with little arms stretching to explore;
the magic milk has grown us up,
you, me,
and the peaceful feed, it is no more.

We wrestle like dudes on cable now,
with foot in stomach and hand in hair.
We oscillate from couch to walking,
you, me,
then via the bed and onto the chair. 

The grapple extends to public view -
oh look, a napkin, a car, a puppy -
top open, bra open, mouth open,
you, me,
flapping, conjoined: the feeding guppy.


From breast to table in a microsecond,
infatuated, ingratiated with the spoon,
we're changing the calorie landscape,
you, me,
and milk will be on the firm outer soon.

As we head to two, then one, and none,
to the cupboard of cups and change,
I will remember back on this journey of
you, me -
the growing of a baby, real and strange.

M x

Linking with Grace for FYBF
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Sunday, December 1, 2013

Remembering the Undies

Fotballfrue via Instagram

I stumbled across this photo of Norwegian fitness blogger Caroline Berg Eriksen this morning, looking fab and fit in nothing but her underwear just four days after giving birth to her daughter Nelia. 

Berg Eriksen is the wife of a Norwegian football player, and pens a blog called Fotballfrue (which literally translates to Soccer Wife, or the Footballer's Wife, depending on which translation program you use, but it's all just splitting hairs). 

If you've been offline reading a good old-fashioned book or putting up your Christmas decorations for the last few days, you may have missed her photo and the nice (and not-so-nice) little flurry of opinion it has generated across the big wide interwebby land. 

As you may well expect, journalists and bloggers across the globe have taken up their various corners and started the great debate, firing off posts ranging right across the spectrum from condemnation to congratulations. 

If you have come across it while Procrastabooking or browsing entertainment sites, and stumbled through it's growing online shit storm, then you may well have already decided which corner you stand in, or even decided that you don't really care enough to stand in any corner at all. 

I'm definitely in the last category on this one: I don't give two hoots about how Berg Eriksen's body looks, or the underlying motivations behind the snap, or what the photo contributes or detracts from the global post-pregnancy body image debate, or even the fact that Berg Eriksen appears to have a chandelier in her room (although that does border on being quite cool). 

Perhaps I've reached 'celebrity postpartum selfie shot' overload and tuned out, or maybe I am just too obsessed with my own rather floppy and flabby post-pregnancy body and how it looks in front of the mirror to really care about anyone else's photographed reflection.  

What does interest me about the picture, though, is the fact that a four-day young mother - who endured labour and birth and the first few days of life with a newborn - actually had the time, mental capacity and emotional stability to remember she had pretty underwear.

Not only that, she also had the physical strength to put it on and take a photo with her phone AND remember her Instagram account details, use a filter and operate the interwebby to upload it to boot. She has also managed to write a blog post complete with pictures of the birthing process and upload that too. 

All this underwear donning, writing and uploading within just a few short days of giving birth to a baby. This is astounding - she had a baby, and remembered she had lacy undies, all within the first week! 

Four days after I gave birth, I could barely even remember my own name and actually did forget my daughter's on more than one occasion. My brain felt like it was imploding, and my boobs felt like they were exploding.

Four days after I gave birth, I was camped in my lounge room wearing nothing but a fluffy mandarin coloured dressing gown, purple ankle socks and soothing gel breast pads, alternating holding my baby with bouts of crying and potato chip demolition.

Four days after I gave birth, I was in the throes of attempting to breastfeed, complete with nipple shields and breast pumps and lanolin and complementary expressed milk bottle feeds and daily home visits from midwives.

Four days after I gave birth, I was feeling the hormones crashing down around my ears, snapping at the people around me and hiding in the shower trying to feel even somewhere close to a normal functioning human again.

Four days after I gave birth, I was reeling with exhaustion, with had a baby who wouldn't sleep a wink at night time and only five broken hours sleep logged on the clock during the past ninety-six. 

Four days after I gave birth, I was thinking about buying larger maternity bras and trying to summon up the courage to try and squeeze my post-partum body into a scarily tight pair of recovery shorts so that one day, I might hopefully be able to wear some normal pants again.

Four days after I gave birth, I was marveling at the tiny little squirmy baby lying on my chest, wondering how she ever grew inside me - and more to the point, how on earth she ever actually came out.

Four days after I gave birth, I was looking down at my puffy belly and
plentiful generous expansions and somewhat judging myself for eating my way through my final trimester and dissing pregnancy yoga as boring.

Four days after I have birth, I would not have been able to remember I owned a pair of nice knickers, let alone remember where I had put them or even think to put them on.

Some new mums bounce back at an incredible pace, heading out to the grocery store and running errands with their new bundle snuggled into a carrier; other new mums (like me) take a little longer to adjust their eyes to the new daylight glare of the parenting world.

Caroline Berg Eriksen has a fab and toned physique, that she clearly worked hard for before and during her pregnancy - but it's her apparent bounce back and her ability to remember she has pretty undies so soon after birth that has me impressed.

How quickly did you bounce back after giving birth?

M x

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Photo credits: Fotballfrue via Instagram/Chiot's Run via photopin cc

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Constructing Christmas

My name is Meg, and I'm a Christmasoholic. 

When the supermarket fills with tinny Christmas carols each November, I switch from being a (relatively) reasonable person to a tinsel waving loon, with one hand in the decoration box and the other firmly planted in the shortbread cookie tin. 

Like a broken carols record, I insist on mapping out all the Christmas light displays within a twenty kilometre radius and visiting them one by one in all to revel in their multi-coloured high wattage goodness.  

I love to send and receive Christmas cards the old fashioned way, with a pen and an envelope and a stamp and a little love, and have been known to lose afternoons days admiring the glittery holiday trim displays lined up in department stores. 

The Christmas tree is the pinnacle of my home-spun Christmas wonderland, holding court in the lounge room from the first day of December until the first day of the New Year (or perhaps the second, or even the third, depending on the severity of the Auld Lang Syne hangover). 

Sure, my tree is just a spiky plastic shrub wrapped in artificial materials and cheap lights, and it attracts debris and dust and will probably be bowled over by the dog at least twice before the season is out - but it's a special spiky shrub, and it makes me feel like a little magic might just happen. 

My husband does not share my level of enthusiasm for the silly season - while he is more than happy to down a Christmas beer and throw some king prawns on the barbecue, he is a strictly non-tinsel type of guy - the perfect naysaying yin to my obsessive decorative curling ribbon yang. 

He dislikes the triteness of the whole occasion, and the entrenched culture of commercial madness and giving gifts just for the sake of having something to wrap and unwrap on the big day - and really, if we're being honest here, who can blame him? 

The sight of a mile long queue at the end of a gift grabbing bonanza, and the effort of having to conjure up a fake smile of appreciation for your seventh box of chocolate covered macadamia koalas, well, it can deflate even the most buoyant seasonal balloon of happiness. 

It's not just the consumerist aspect that gets under my husbands humbug skin. He hates being dragged along to check out the Christmas window displays, and we have long since ascertained he has zero interest in trimming the tree or trying to form any sort of sentimental attachment to a bauble.
In fact, he is so uninterested in the whole tree trimming business that he usually just settles back on the couch with a beer and shrugs intermittently when I ask if the tree looks wonky or the decorations seem unbalanced.
Tree of disinterest
Last year, when I was heavily pregnant and trying to wrap a tangle of lights around the tree without bursting my waters or my leggings, he took his life in his hands by asking if we were really, actually, seriously, like REALLY, going to do the 'whole Christmassy Santa type thing' with our daughter.
Luckily for him, the lights were too tangled to use as a weapon and the baubles were unbreakable plastic so my only retort was to scowl and mutter angry insults. Sigh-bah-grinchy-humbug-sigh. 

With his aura of Noel nonchalance, it comes as no surprise that he is less than enthusiastic about entering the prime parental decade of nibbling carrots and making up stories about a jolly dude sweating around Australia in a climatically inappropriate red suit. 

To a point, I can understand his reluctance. It takes a lot of parental effort to perpetuate a myth the size of Santa, and even more energy and dedication to allen key a fifty-seven piece swing set together at midnight without making a sound. 

It can also be sheer hard work to deliver a sleigh load of cheer and sliced ham on a non-negotiable date year in year out, no matter the state of your personal credit card economy or how many end of year bevvies you've consumed. 

In the dim light of his unenthusiastic Christmas light bulb, though, I can see that he is conflicted - while he would like to wrap the whole season up and store it at the back of the wardrobe, he also wants to deliver a little bit of Christmas magic to our daughter.

Santa is a top bloke with an excellent team of elves and PR advisers, but he's still just a man with a sleigh and he needs a little parental help to spread the magic right across the world in 24 short hours. 

He needs our assistance to usher kids into shopping centre photography lines, oversee the writing of wish lists and to carry out the all-important tasks of gift wrapping and Christmas morning present placement.

I've been waiting impatiently
to help Santa deliver the magic to my own family since I was initiated into the land of the knowing aged nine and a quarter, when a series of forgotten price tags and a suspicious run in with the Easter Bunny in the laundry at midnight lit up the truth brighter than Rudolph's glowing nose.

I'm sure that when the pudding boils down to it my husband will be willing and waiting too, and when he's actually chewing on those carrots and making up those stories (and feigning excitement about them while stumbling about the lounge room at 5:20am trying to find AAA batteries and a pair of box cutters), he will find himself having the time of his life. 

Goodness only knows I will, complete with jingle bell earrings and a string of tinsel wrapped around my head like a sparkly turkey on a festive mission. 

My name is Meg, and I'm a Christmasoholic - are you? 

M x

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Sunday, November 24, 2013

A Thorny Truth

My rose bush in better days
There is a bedraggled rose bush in my back garden, stooping limply in a black painted terracotta pot to try and get away from the sweltering November sun.

The plant is a picture of perfect neglect: unpruned arms have wrapped around themselves and spindly offshoots curl up toward the sun. The potting mix has turned to dust and the thorns have deflated into an embarrassing rubbery mess. 

Completely out of place, one lonely bud sits atop the plant tower, defiantly trying to unfurl in the face of overwhelming gardening adversity.

In ordinary circumstances, I would probably pluck this wilting rosaceae from the pot and replace it with a nice green succulent from Bunnings, still strong with the power of industrial strength fertiliser and in with a far greater chance of 
surviving both the summer and my appallingly lax gardening routine. 

These are not ordinary circumstances, though, and this is not an ordinary forgotten backyard plant. No, t
his shining example of plant abandonment is my very own heterotopic pregnancy rose bush, planted in memory of the saddest time of my life and two little chances that slipped by the wayside. 

What is a heterotopic pregnancy? Medically speaking, a heterotopic pregnancy is a multiple gestation where there is at least one pregnancy implanted in the uterus and at least one implanted somewhere outside the uterus (such as in a fallopian tube). 

Keeping on the garden path, we can think of a heterotopic pregnancy as when one little seedling grows in the designated baby patch, while another jumps the fence and tries to grow in impossible territory, like in the middle of the lawn or smack bang under the garden shed. 

Heterotopic pregnancies in natural conceptions are relatively rare, occurring just once in every 7000 - 30,000 pregnancies. They occur more often in pregnancies where ovulation induction and assisted reproduction techniques are used, with numbers estimated to be as high as 1 in 100

Of course, heterotopic pregnancies are far more than the sum of reproductive organs, statistics and medical jargon. Like blighted ovums, like miscarriages, like ectopic pregnancies, like all pregnancy losses, they are human stories involving people like you - and people like me. 

My story began rather unremarkably, with the simple act of putting my contraceptive Pills in the bin and a quick Thursday afternoon roll in the hay (and yes, kids, one time really can last a lifetime). 

Within weeks I was sobbing when the morning tram was late, outgrowing my favourite jeans, and generally being shittier at the world than usual. I progressively broke up with my favourite foods until the only thing left to buy during the weekly shop was spiral pasta, rice crackers and a pregnancy test. 

Despite my obvious up the duffness, the first test was negative - as was the second, the fifth, and the ninth. I worked my way through the entire market of available tests - pee in a cup, pee on a stick, pink dye, blue dye, two lines, single crosses, even the fancy digital varieties with date markers and yes/no answers. 

After weeks of expensive peeing, I finally got the (barely perceptible, when you squinted, husband wasn't certain he could actually see it) positive result I had been waiting for and skipped off to the GP for my obligatory early pregnancy confirmation blood test. 

The day of truth was a Wednesday. I woke up with a stomach ache, which I put down to an unfortunate combination of nerves and a dodgy bacon and egg roll, and my husband put down to my famously overactive imagination. 

We shuffled nervously to the appointment, where the doctor confirmed that we were definitely pregnant, although the hormone levels were reading lower than he had anticipated - this suggested we weren't actually as far along as we thought, and was probably why I had gone through a veritable forest of pee sticks before getting a positive.

We went home as happy and high as little kids set free on a sugar bender in a theme park. Nothing could bring me down, except my tummy ache, which hadn't dissipated with the worry and was still rumbling away with an unpleasant intensity. 

Over the course of the evening, the pain shifted out of dodgy egg and bacon roll territory, through excruciating pain, into the undeniable reality that my insides may actually be exploding and I needed to get to the hospital pronto. 

A short eight hours after being confirmed pregnant, I found myself lying in the Emergency department under the heavy influence of morphine, listening in to a huddle of nurses in the hallway discreetly discussing my likely miscarriage, or ectopic pregnancy. 

I was poked and prodded, tested and turned, measured and monitored. The night staff hooked me up to several machines that went beep and wheeled me to the critical ward to doze under a blanket of painkillers until the ultrasound technicians arrived at sunrise. 

A delightful orderly wheeled me to radiology, where the ultrasound technician quickly got down to business and zoomed in on my reproductive bits. The first wave of the wand showed everything to be in order, with a tiny baby jellybean located inside my apparently normal looking uterus. The technician smiled and I allowed myself to breath. 

The second wave of the wand showed a completely different scenario and I stopped breathing altogether: I could see a jellybean in my uterus, which didn't seem to have a heart beat, and I could also see a big mess where I thought my fallopian tube should be, and a large roundish mass free floating around my abdomen. 

The technician disappeared and returned with the head radiology honcho, who immediately lit up like a Christmas tree and started rattling off the features of my internal disaster zone: Incredible, just incredible. Failed uterine pregnancy. Ruptured ectopic pregnancy. A true heterotopic pregnancy. You don't see these very often. Were you an IVF patient? No? Really? That makes this even more interesting.

My exhausted, morphine meddled mind struggled to comprehend what was going on. Yesterday I had been happily pregnant and ready to tell the world, five minutes ago I had been pregnant and sore, and now I was doubly pregnant and rupturing and about to be prepped for emergency surgery. 

Immediately and irrationally, I sided with the uterine pregnancy: it had done nothing wrong and was seemingly being punished for the ectopic pregnancy's failure to abide by the rules and park in the correct bay. Why did it have to do that? Why did this have to happen? Why couldn't it have worked out? Why couldn't I just have a baby?

I burst into tears and couldn't stop. The delightful orderly reappeared and wheeled me back to the ward in respectful silence, where the nurses quietly tucked me in and placed a nil by mouth sign at the foot of the bed. The intern nurse held out the tissues and looked terrified. My husband arrived and crawled into bed with me. 

The surgeon came to prep me for the procedure: they would go in with keyhole surgery, remove my ruptured fallopian tube and the ectopic pregnancy and maybe even my ovary, and perform a curette as well. 

She reassured me that the heterotopic pregnancy was not my fault, just a rare natural occurrence and a horrible case of sheer bad luck. She also explained that in cases like mine, up two thirds of accompanying uterine pregnancies survive, and it was just even unluckier that both of my pregnancies had come to their natural end. I nodded, and cried, and cried, and cried some more. 

In the hours before surgery, I napped in bed with my husband and fell into an incredible state of calm. This sense of quiet and peace stayed with me until a week into my recovery, when I sat down on the shower floor and cried like a maniac - then got dressed, went out and got drunk. 

I drank vodka and wine, and wine and vodka, and then some more vodka for good measure, and stayed up till dawn before doing it all again. I danced to bands and accidentally did some drunken star jumps, before realising the hard way that abdominal stitches and star jumps are truly terrible bedfellows. 

Once the hangover died down, I made my husband drive to the nursery and pick up a rose plant and a big black terracotta pot, which I potted and stared at right through the winter and into the spring. My heterotopic rose bush, with its specialised bag of potting mix and its thorny glory. 

I met with the hospital counsellor, who strongly suggested we wait at least a year before trying to fall pregnant again - focus on work, go to the theatre, take a holiday. 

I put her theory into practice for three whole weeks. I went back to work and I bought tickets to a musical and I felt okay - until I saw my husband play with a friend's baby and was brought to my knees with the realisation that the only thing that could bring me to terms with losing a pregnancy was to bring another to fruition. 

I wanted to be a Mummy, and in that split second of watching my husband bounce someone else's baby I knew that no amount of quality cabaret or trips to Tahiti could make that want go away. 

A month down the track I started crying on the tram again, and ten months later I gave birth to my beautiful daughter - in the space of a year my husband and I went from being that unlucky heterotopic couple with the sad story to the luckiest couple you can imagine. 

There is nothing remarkable about my story. It does not define me and it does not control me, but every now and then, when the world is quiet and no one is watching, I let it out of the genie lamp to prick at my eyes and sit on my heart.

I have experienced sadness and joy. I have one daughter, two pregnancy stories, three keyhole surgery scars and a ridiculously hardy rose bush that I really must remember to water before summer arrives in earnest. 

M x 

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Sunday, November 17, 2013

A Parent in Six Letters

One simple word.
Six homogenous letters.
Infinite possible individual meanings. 

After seven months in the job, this is how I spell PARENT.

P is for Pooplosion
Welcome to parenthood, the world of the brilliantly brave and the domain of the mighty pooplosion.

Pooplosions are the regrettable centerpiece of every parenting table, and are motivation enough to have you skulling Pinot from a plastic tumbler well before morning tea time.

As with most grand scale disasters, pooplosions have a tendency to be delivered at exactly the wrong time - when you are running late for dinner, when you forgot to pack a spare change of clothes in the nappy bag, when you've just buckled into the car for a long trip and as soon as you've finished dressing the baby after the bath.

There is no point sugar coating the most sour truth in the room, and certainly no way to avoid the clean up. Best just list your rose coloured glasses on eBay, roll up your sleeves and create a toilet training advent calendar for the fridge.

A is for anxiety
Parenting can be one of the most terrifying rides of your life, particularly if you are the kind of person who likes to travel through life with a mapped out travel itinerary and a well-stocked lunch bag.


If you listen closely enough, you can almost hear your helicopter parenting blades warming up from the moment you step foot in the delivery suite and taking off as you walk out through the protective hospital doors.

The fear of something, anything, happening to your adorable little munchkin gets right into your worrying parent veins and runs through your jumpy nervous system like some kind of offspring-induced crack.

The faint splotch of a perfectly normal rash is enough to have you scheduling urgent consultations with Doctor Google and plotting out the fastest route to the local children's hospital, while the slightest coughing sound will have you on high alert and fastidiously checking airways as though you are a plumber checking for bits of wayward plastic in a drain pipe.

You can strap the television to the cabinet and you can follow the vaccination schedule to the day, but you just can't stop the big, bad world from revolving or sneaking through the (childproofed) venetians. 

R is for Rocking
The show is done, the band has hit the bar and the era for rocking out is over. The long nights are now reserved for monotonously rocking your baby up and down the hallway, like a malfunctioning Ugg-boot clad robot stuck on a short wire between the bedroom and the nursery.

To break up the relentless routine there are other soothing motions to choose from - walking, swaying, carrying, pacing, whispering, singing, shh patting, and even downright pleading - but when you boil it down, they are all just rocking by another name, and none of them smell sweet.

Rocking is not confined to the baby kingdom.  Even if you do manage to jump the dirty-nappy moat and hitch a ride to town on a passing pumpkin carriage, you will still be owned by the power of the rock.

Without even realising it, you will lilt from side to side on the park bench, you will sway when you stand in line at the ATM, and you will take the concept of nursing a beer to whole new heights. Rock on.

E is for Exhaustion

Remember that time
you snaffled Foo Fighters concert tickets and stayed awake until dawn listening to their entire back catalogue on repeat even though you had to work the next day? And that crazy week at college when you pulled three all-night essay sessions in a row just to scrape through the semester?

Despite what you thought at the time, you now know that you weren't even the slightest bit tired; you were as fresh as an infuriatingly pert daisy, and gaily skipping through the great park of life with some nice vino and a basket of high quality cheeses.

Tired didn't actually exist until you were hit by parental exhaustion
- the kind of all encompassing, all terrifying lassitude that eats your brain and etches dark circles under your eyes.

It makes you put the butter away in the garbage bin and salt in your coffee, and leaves you zoning out in the cold section of the supermarket with a superfluous packet of smoked salmon in your hand, wondering if you were actually meant to be getting nappies from the discount chemist down the road.

I confess: somewhere around week five, I became so consumed by parental exhaustion that I actually forgot my own daughter's name. Seriously. Luckily, most of the important things come back to you after some uninterrupted sleep and coffee (and a quick check through your Facebook history).

N is for never again
Somewhere toward the pointy end of squeezing a seemingly over-sized baby out of a seemingly under-sized exit hatch, women across the ages have found themselves making desperate plea bargains and promises with the universe: mine was never again, never again, I promise, if you just get me through this, dear poor body, I will never, ever do this to you again.

Somewhere in the early morning hours of new parenthood, you will more than likely find yourself slumped against a wall, clutching a strange assortment of items (maybe a pillow, a single sandal, a bottle of tea tree oil, a microwave steriliser lid) and swearing under your breath: baby, if you will just go to sleep, go to sleep, I will never, ever, EVER, do this again.

Somewhere during the opening set of the childhood teething match, you will probably find yourself trying to pour sticky baby paracetemol between fiercely clenched gums, while prising a warmed teething ring back from the milk spot abyss: never again, just let the teeth come through, then I will never, ever, EVER, EVER do this again.

Then somewhere down the parenthood track, you will likely find yourself staring at a squidgy newborn sprawled on a blanket in the park, feeling strange thoughts stir beneath the surface: maybe just one more ... then never, ever, EVER, EVER again ...

T is for Time

Parenting is a fiercely hungry time vortex, stealing hours and giving minutes while busily spitting out spatially skewed memories to stick on the collective family fridge door.

Time is always hiding out in the bathroom when there are cloth nappies to fold, or sightseeing in Holland or Switzerland (or any other land far from here) when there are toast soldiers to cut and ear drops to administer and cups to stack and unstack and then stack all again.

The days crawl slower than your baby ever will. They creep from dawn to bedtime like individual time thieves, heavy with homemade apple puree and the dark space between routine and familiarity.

In argumentative opposition, the months rocket by, jettisoned by the endless parade of incredible baby milestones and spurred on by the parental desire to grab hold of pudgy little fingers and never let go.

Time is both the bane of my parenting existence and the bees knees of my motherhood journey - never enough, always too much, housing a growing child and her unwritten story.

How do you spell PARENT?

M x 

Linking with Grace for FYBF

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Image courtesy of Miriam Wickett via rgbstock.com

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

After school and the rest of the universe

What do you want to be when you grow up?

When I was four, I wanted to be a hairdresser. To get a jump start on my prospective hairdressing career, I went into business with my next door neighbour Kelly and set up a practice salon in her backyard, complete with deck chairs for seats, toilet rolls for hairdryers and gossip magazines and Cottee's Coola Lime cordial stolen from her kitchen. 

My enterprise was booming until a poorly executed half-mullet with Crayola safety scissors caught the attention of Kelly's mother, who had come to the salon to find her missing bottle of Coola. The incident put paid to Kelly's long blonde locks, my backyard business and my hairdressing dreams with just one foul snip.

Not one to dwell (too much) on these types of setbacks, I went searching for a more suitable career path. While professional carnival ride testing, leaving town with the circus and becoming Penny from Inpsector Gadget were sadly ruled out of the running, there were plenty of options.

My shortlist was a super-sized buffet of hot and cold options: ballet dancer, astronaut, high school english teacher, lolly shop owner, rock star, bare back horse rider, game show host, spelling bee superstar, fireworks technician ...

After many discussions over the sausages and salad at the dinner table and much thinking in the bath tub, I finally settled on my optimum career goal: to be the first female Prime Minister of Australia.

Despite only being the ripe old age of five, I genuinely had a keen interest in politics. I liked the press conferences that played out on the television, I liked the crunchy black and white newspaper stories in the newspaper, and I really liked the yelling part.

My parents were very supportive of my choice, just as they (initially) were when I wanted to be a hairdresser and when I demanded to take a bag full of dead frangipani flowers to preschool as a gift for my favourite teachers aide. In their supportive fashion, they gently questioned my decision to aim directly for the top job: do you really want to be the Prime Minister, or maybe just a politician first?

No, I didn't just want to be a politician. I had no intention of working my way up through primary school and the really big school after that and then the rest of the entire universe just to become an average politician on the average backbench. That would just be boring.

I wanted to be the Prime Minister, thank you very much, the Royale with Cheese, the big boss, the head honcho. I wanted to be on the television, and greet famous international dignitaries on the tarmac, and go to really big cricket matches and yacht races, and have a Canberra suburb named after me.

From within my childhood cubby house of perspective, the job
was exactly what I was looking for: it had all the pizazz of hairdressing, with the added bonus of being able to carry an impressive looking briefcase, be in charge of important things, and argue with people without getting told to be quiet or sent to my room.

Of course, being a wanna-be Prime Minister was no easy task for a kindergarten kid. My babysitter told me I was funny, my friends told me I was weird, and my teacher simply asked where I got such strange ideas from. My grandparents espoused the virtues of nursing and teaching and no one, not even the shopping centre Santa, would agree to grant my wish of a briefcase for Christmas.

My youthful resolve was tested as I grew, but moments of brilliance shone out among the long wasteland periods of school years and doubting questions: like helping the local mayor celebrate his campaign victory, watching the election of a young Natasha Stott Despoja to Federal Parliament in 1995, and - the holy grail - getting to play my dream position of Prime Minister during a school excursion role play at Parliament House.

As high school slipped away, and then university after it, I started to stumble off my career path: I found boys, and Ben Harper, and the Humanities Department at university, where my love of the political sizzle was radically overtaken by an admiration for the political critique.

With every lecture I absorbed and with every essay I crafted, I studied myself further out of my childhood ambition. Then I fell in love, drank way too much wine, graduated, went to rock concerts, slid down ski slopes, traveled across the public and not-for-profit sectors, and started a family of my own.

I did everything and then some more, but I did not become the
first female Prime Minister of Australia, or even an average politician sitting on the average backbench (which, it turns out, is not really that average an occupation at all).

Instead of arranging peace deals and bipartisan agreements, I stay up late arranging my metaphorical collection of titles and the many different values they represent: Blogger, Chocaholic, Friend,
Mother, Partner and Tired.

Most importantly, though, is Dreamer - the spark of the little girl who truly believed she could be the first female Prime Minister of Australia, and the spark of the mother who still asks herself and will one day ask her daughter -

What do you want to be when you grow up?

M x 

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Image courtesy of Jef, rgbstock.com

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Saving the surprise: my corner of the gender divide

Finding out the sex of your baby well before they are born has become a pretty standard pit stop on the modern pregnancy road trip.

Somewhere around the twenty week mark, pregnant women now pull off the proverbial pregnancy highway to visit the ultrasound technician for a pink/blue diagnosis and some nursery colour scheme directions.

This new pregnancy milestone has given a quick and drug-free birth to the 'gender reveal market': pink and blue cream-filled cupcakes, cutesie black and white photographs featuring ribbons and bow ties, and pinatas laden with tell-tale toys and treats.

Gender reveal parties are all the rage; they seem to have almost over taken the tired old baby shower in the must-do-must-have stakes, and now come replete with a mother (to be) load of baked goods, paper decorations and appropriately coloured sparkles.

Call me a cynic, call me a party pooper, call me old-fashioned, but both the concept of finding out the sex of your baby ahead of time, and the market that has grown with the technological capability to do so, goes over my head. Something just doesn't sit right with me about peeking inside my unborn baby's house without invitation and revealing one of life's coolest mysteries before it's fully cooked.

My brain lumps the concept in the same nonsensical category as finding out the winner of the relay race before all the batons have been exchanged, or watching the final season of How I Met Your Mother before starting on the rest of the series.

My lack of agreement is not an indictment on those who have found out their future ahead of time or skipped merrily down the 'gender reveal' path. Each to their own, I say, and while I reserve the option to critique your decision, I will also do the Macarena in an inflatable swimming pool of glittery pink and blue balloons to defend your right to make it.

But as a reciprocal gesture to my embarrassing Macarena performance, I sincerely hope you will accept my decision not to find out the sex of my baby and stand up for my right to keep the surprise alive - with all the gender-neutral lime and lemon baby clothing glory it comes wrapped in.

Because my decision to save the surprise is just as valid, and just as logical, and just as practical as your decision to find out the sex of your baby at the earliest possible scan and reveal it to the world through a clever Facebook status.

My decision to stick it out in suspense for ten months was built upon a solid foundation of personal beliefs and experiences, and was constructed with a unique quilt of handmade individual thoughts and factors.

One of the standout pieces of my decision pie was my unexpectedly awesome relationship with my bump. I didn't like many things about the pregnancy experience, but I loved my bump. It stuck right out the front like a watermelon and also right round the sides like an exploding cheese-ball. It was warm and taut and bouncy and came with me wherever I went like a cool pet rock.

My husband and I named my wriggling, kicking bump Bob - minus seven points for originality there - and included it in our daily conversations: did you like the thai chilli basil dish Bob, how was that crowded tram ride this afternoon Bob, who do you think you'll turn out to be Bob?

Bob was the heart of our pregnancy journey. When our beautiful daughter was born, she became the heart of our universe, and Bob hopped into the happy memory bank. Bob was the possibility, and my daughter is the brilliant actuality, and I love that we got to know them both in their own time. 

It wasn't just the bump though. I also wanted to hold off finding out my baby's sex before the big day because I really wanted to meet my son/daughter for the first time without the baggage of preconceived notions and expectations.

I didn't want to create a mental picture of a little boy or little girl who would never exist outside my subconscious wandering and lazy daydreams - I wanted to meet my child as a complete little person, and it felt like I couldn't do that if I already knew one of their biggest secrets ahead of time.

Another big serving of my decision pie was cut from my dislike of the infamous pink/blue dichotomy. I had absolutely no desire to find out the sex of my baby and dip my toe into the gender-appropriate-colour war, or try and navigate a compromised pastel path through the Great Pink and Blue Dividing Range.

Giving credence to traditional sex and gender stereotypes has never been my thing (I have an Arts degree, it goes with the territory) and I've never been fond of following basic rules - there's just something about accepted norms that makes me want to twist knobs and push buttons and mix up all the puzzle pieces to create a headache.

Not finding out the sex of the baby proved as effective as abstinence previously did in keeping the pink and blue stuff out of the nursery, out of the gift bags and out of the firing line of my wordy ideological rants (until today).

Of course, the house is now full to overflowing with pink and purple plastic stuff and frilly floral dresses with matching socks and headbands - but at least I know I held off the invasion for as long as possible. 

The real stickler for me in the great gender reveal debate, though, it that it's just not cricket - just because we humans can find out the sex of our unborn babies halfway through gestation doesn't necessarily mean we need to or we should.

Technology has given our society amazing capabilities that generations past never even dreamed would be possible, and those capabilities are truly exceptional. We can microwave our cups of tea when they go cold, we can post blogs for global audiences from our couches, we can design and produce motor vehicles and space shuttles ,and we can save sick children and eradicate horrific diseases. We can do a myriad of brilliant things with technology - but we don't have to do them all, and we don't have to do them every day.

We can pick and choose how we engage with technology to suit our personal wants and needs and desires. I choose not to have a television in my bedroom so I don't stay awake all night watching trash, I choose not to have notifications on my smart phone so I don't get fired up every time someone sends an angry tweet about one of my posts, and I choose not to use an electric mixer when I bake because I find something deeply satisfying about creaming a cake batter from scratch with a wooden spoon.

The same goes for finding out the sex of my babies. I could easily have found out my daughter was my daughter before she was born and I could easily find out what sex my future children are before they push their way out into mortal existence, but I choose not to - because I don't need to, and I don't want to, and I don't have to.

Did you save the surprise or embrace the great gender reveal?

M x 

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photo credit: JFXie via photopin cc

Saturday, November 9, 2013

Raising a little mind

Raising a little mind

My mind is a weird universe.

Deep inside my rather average human skull, galaxies of thought merge together in an airless crush of illuminated ideas and memory dark matter, populated by lumbering planets of trivial knowledge and vast black holes of forgetfulness and repression.

My mental cosmos is regularly rocked by solar storms of jealousy and meteorites of excitement, and is littered with nearly three decades worth of useless space junk and eclectic verbal and visual debris.

I often forget that there are universes outside my own. Every now and then, though, I come out of my private starry jumble and realise that my baby daughter has a mini mind universe of her very own.

She has a mushrooming brain which is spinning and evolving in her cute little head at a dizzying rate of knots -  she has a brain which I am currently, completely, terrifyingly, responsible for.

When I am suitably distracted by an outpouring of milk spew, or a wayward pile of dirty socks, or a nappy turned safety hazard, this responsibility jumps out from behind the fridge and terrifies me with it's sheer weight and breadth.

I feel that I am entirely unqualified to shoulder this responsibility, and unprepared for the immense challenge that is simultaneously lying on the change table in front of me today and (perhaps, hopefully not) drunkenly swaying in a brash nightclub in 2031.

Sure, I've had my own mind to look after for nearly thirty years now, but indulging my own mental warblings and insecurities ad infinitum is not nearly enough qualification to guide a fresh mind through the developmental woods and into the adult city.

This sense of inadequacy is not new. It began when my husband and I left the hospital, and we were just allowed to walk out the door with a baby - and take her home, all by ourselves. I kept craning my neck and looking back down the corridor, convinced that it was all a terrible mistake and someone would catch up to us promptly to yell at us with a stern voice and steer us back to the maternity ward for supervision.

Of course, no one came. Time has dribbled on, and so have I, a mask of nice breastfeeding tops and sun protective BB cream hiding my inner fretting from the outside world.

For every cog that turns in her beautiful little mind, I worry: is it turning far enough, is it turning fast enough, is it spinning in the right direction, is it just free wheeling in space?

For every spark of ignition that lights up behind her eyes, I wonder: is it aimed in the right direction, is it producing enough heat, is it too hot, will something else I do accidentally extinguish it?

I worry when I play nursery rhymes for fun that I should actually be playing  classical composers such as Vivaldi and Mozart for education, so I frantically scour Youtube for something different and end up playing heavy rock for her instead. Then I realise she has been watching the clip on the computer screen instead of listening to the music, and I become convinced that I am rotting her brain faster than it can grow.

To feed her mind, I read to her day and night. We are building an amazing and growing collection of picture books , which will one day catch up to my own large scale library of literature and non-fiction. Yet when she becomes entranced by the green sheep, or tries to hit the pages with her sticky fingers, I fret that perhaps I am teaching her to love pictures instead of words, and would be better slowly working my way through the traditional western canon?

To feed her body, I give her a combination of mush and finger food every day. Sometimes, I feel that giving her any form of mush is cheating her out of the chance to develop a normal relationship with foods in their natural state, weird textures and strange skins and all. Other times, such as when she is pushing a piece of cheesy toast directly onto her eyeball, I worry that she will develop a complex about food being a tricky and slippery beast that leaves you red-faced and should to be avoided wherever possible.

My sense of concern spreads from the kitchen to the wardrobe on a daily basis. I don't believe the colours I dress her in will impact on her psyche - pink and blue are just two colours from the big crayon box of life. I do worry, though, that the way I dress her will impact how my friends, her friends and society at large perceive and receive her.

Could a simple colour or frill or logo print cause someone to laugh or sneer or disrespect? Could this type of interpersonal reaction kink the relationship and confidence wires currently cabling themselves through her brain? I still smart when I remember insults about my (one and only) short haircut as a fourteen year old, I can't even imagine what an insult would do to a baby or toddler who is just building their mental world.

Of course, I also panic about sending my daughter to child care. Not only do I stress about the ramifications of sending her to child care at all, I worry about the type of child care our family has chosen and how that one single choice could shape the whole future of her mental universe. 

I could have waited for a family day care position to become available - but we didn't. We could have skipped child care altogether - but we haven't. We could have hired a private nanny - but we won't. Instead, she will run and mingle and jostle with the other little ones in the day care centre and fall into a group routine and a structured activity plan. Will this play havoc with her cosmic fabric or draw a straight pathway through the stars and asteroids? 

I could have sent her to a bilingual daycare centre that offered English and Italian, but I lucked out in the child care lottery - which was good (because I don't have to learn Italian next year) and bad (because I'll probably have to learn Italian anyway sometime to teach her the bilingual skills she didn't pick up at daycare).

Deep down, of course, I fret about this decision too. Maybe this will stop her from traveling to Italy, maybe the mental domino trail set to be affected by bilingual language development will never fall and instead stand like resolute mental obstacles in her brain ...

My mind is a weird universe. I wonder if my daughter's will be too?

M x

Linking up With Some Grace for FYBF

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