Monthly Archives: April 2006

And I like broccoli, too

Homebirth has once again come up as the hot topic du jour, and Jamie (the blogger, not the toddler) has written with her usual eloquence on the subject.  (Do go and read the post if you haven’t already.  Apart from anything else, it’s the only way you’ll ever find out what the title of this post means, since I’m too lazy to explain it.)

If anyone was thinking "Oh, brilliant – now we can get a doctor’s opinion on the subject!" then I’m afraid you’re going to be disappointed, since I’m not going to weigh in with my own opinions.*  This is because I’ve already written my comments on the original post, and there simply isn’t anything left for me to say on the subject right now that Jamie hasn’t already said more articulately and with better references than I could manage.  I’m posting purely for a bit of reminiscing about my own personal decisions on the subject, in response to Jamie’s question (the fourth and non-rhetorical question, that is). 

Yes, I would consider and have considered a homebirth, although I didn’t have one and probably won’t – my son was born in a birthing centre, and Hoped-For Sibling most likely will be as well.  My reasons (for considering homebirth, and for not choosing it) are not going to add much to the philosophy of this debate, as they’re entirely practical.  I have a pragmatic approach to birth – for me, it’s about getting a baby out of my body with the minimum short- and long-term unpleasantness to me and to the baby.  I’m not out for some kind of deeply spiritual experience in which I explore the core of my essential womanness, but I do have a strong preference for avoiding incisions in my abdomen or genitals, needles in my spine, the possible side-effects of opiates, and other similarly unattractive prospects.  In other words, I did not make my decisions in order to have a good experience, as the Neonatal Doc scornfully comments; I made them in an attempt to avoid bad experiences.

This meant that hospital promptly went to the bottom of the list, for starters.  Avoiding opiates (Pethidine or epidurals) is a pretty effective way of avoiding opiate side-effects, and there is evidence that it may reduce the risk of Caesarean/forceps/vacuum delivery.  Whether I’d be able to deal with an opiate-free labour was something I obviously couldn’t know in advance, but I felt it made sense to maximise my chances as much as possible, and one way of doing this was to make it harder for me to get the darned things.  I knew I could transfer to hospital if the pain became too much for me to bear, but I figured that if I was tempted to go for the epidural when the going got tough, it would be less tempting if I knew that it involved getting in an ambulance and going somewhere else rather than just asking.  Besides, hospitals are full of sick people, which means they’re full of germs, which didn’t strike me as the environment to which I most wanted a brand-new baby exposed.

If there hadn’t been a local birthing centre, homebirth would therefore have taken the top slot by default.  However, since there was, that was the option I preferred.  This wasn’t so much because I cared at which of the two places the actual birth took place, but because the after-effects of birth were hopefully going to include the need to take care of a newborn.  This was a decidedly alarming prospect.  Personally, I felt a lot more comfortable about the thought of spending the first day or two in the company of people who had more experience of the task than me.  I know that midwives come round to the house to check on you after a homebirth; I know that they’d only be a phone call away if I wanted any advice; but, as a novice parent, I felt a lot easier in myself knowing that I could speak to someone in person just by shuffling into the next room.

For the prospective second time around, I’m still approaching the decision pragmatically, but obviously the factors under consideration are somewhat different.  On the one hand, having had one baby, I have enough of a clue about their care that I feel comfortable with the thought of muddling along between midwife visits.  On the other hand, I also have more experience in giving birth than I did before, and managing one labour has left me with a lot more confidence in my ability to manage another;  I no longer feel that a hospital birth would have me yelling for the painkillers just because they were there.  So neither of those factors is going to play a part in my decision.

The main factor next time around is going to be my husband’s utter opposition to the idea of homebirth (which obviously existed last time around as well, but wasn’t really an issue then since I preferred the idea of the birthing centre anyway).  I honestly don’t care all that much any more where the birth takes place, as long as it can do so with the minimum of hassle, so, unless health factors in the next pregnancy make the decision for me, it is going to boil down largely to whether arguing the homebirth case with my husband is going to be more or less difficult than getting to somewhere other than my home while in labour.  Currently, the latter option looks decidedly better (although if the rumoured closure of the local hospital, which houses the homebirth unit, actually takes place, that decision might start looking considerably different).  Another factor is Jamie (the toddler, not the blogger) – I yelled uncontrollably through the end of my labour, and I think that’s something he’d find very frightening if I was within earshot of him this time.  So, all in all, a birthing centre is currently my top choice for next time around as well.

By the way, in case you’re interested, last time went spectacularly well.  I had a straightforward, opiate-free, manageable labour with a hasty last-minute journey to the birthing centre when things went faster than I’d expected and a normal, uncomplicated delivery half an hour after that.  I could not have wished for better.  I honestly don’t care all that much where my next delivery takes place – if it goes as smoothly as my last one, then it will be an experience that I will be extremely happy with.

*I do, however, want to correct Jamie on one point.  I know I must have had detailed knowledge of the Krebs cycle at one point, because that was the only way anybody ever passed first-year biochemistry.  But if you think that my knowledge can accurately be described in the present tense, then, dude, you’re being waaaaay optimistic.

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Look, Mummy, No Stairgate

This is a belated post about an even more belated decision.  We actually took the stairgate down a few weeks ago but I didn’t get round to blogging about it at the time (it’s now been long enough that the stairgateless top of the stairs no longer looks peculiar to me).  However, it ceased to be able to perform its primary function of keeping our toddler away from the steps some months before that, when Jamie figured out how to open the childproof lock.  Having done this, he rapidly invented the new game of Swinging On The Stairgate, which, despite the fact that the gate hinge is designed to be bidirectional, could apparently only be played with  the gate opened over the stairwell and Jamie hanging over empty space.

In view of this transition of the stairgate from safety feature to apparatus in death-defying stunt, I ventured the suggestion that possibly the time had come to retire it from active use, but my husband insisted that Jamie was too sensible to let go and would be perfectly all right.  (Hi, there, Social Services!  Enjoying the blog?)  For those of you currently sucking in your breath in horror, I’d like to point out that he was, as it turns out, quite right – Jamie always did hang on tight, and survived the experience totally unscathed.  So we kept the stairgate for a month or so after this – Jamie did respect it as something of a boundary, in that he would open it but not climb through it, so Barry found it useful for letting him get downstairs to grab breakfast in the morning and bring it back up to his study. 

However, it eventually dawned on Jamie that there was nothing to stop him simply climbing through it and crawling down the stairs, so, since it was now neither use nor ornament (having decidedly never been the latter), we took it down.  So now Jamie can get from upstairs to downstairs and vice versa, unhindered.  And he does.  He’s also grown enough to reach most of the door handles in the house (including the one leading to the ensuite bathroom – must get a bolt for that at some point).  He watches us most intently whenever we unlock a door to the outside, trying to figure out the Secret of the Keys.  I’m rethinking my original plan to get him a passport.  At the rate things are going, lack of documentation is going to be the only thing keeping him in the same country as us past his second birthday.

Incidentally, this is a child who was carried almost everywhere for the first six or seven months of his life.  If any of you happen to encounter anyone who gives you that old myth about how you Must Put Them Down Or They’ll Get Spoilt And Dependent And Spend Their Lives Wanting To Be Carried Everywhere, do feel free to direct them to this post.

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When The Political Is Personal, Feelings Get Hurt

For somebody supposedly trained to pick up on subtexts, I can sometimes be a tad slow about it.  Thus, for example, although part of my brain was perfectly well aware aware that Kateri’s discussion of marriage and its problems wasn’t just a topic she picked at random, I wrote my entire reply to her without acknowledging that her feelings on the matter were rather more personal than "I guess this’ll do for today’s Topic Of General Interest".  What’s (even) less excusable is that even after she’d spelt that out for me, I proceeded to do exactly the same thing again.

Because this is a topic I feel strongly about, and I was angry about it, I fell into a trap that I normally pride myself on avoiding: the belief that the reason I hadn’t changed anyone’s mind was because my original argument hadn’t been quite harsh, strident and tactless enough, and I had better rectify that ASAP.  Which was, in view of the subject matter, somewhat ironic.  I was up in arms about the wrongs done by ignoring the feelings of a group.  In the process, I ignored the feelings of an individual.

Kateri, I was out of line, and I’m sorry.  Regardless of how strongly I believe in what I said, I shouldn’t have said it in the way I did.  I hope life improves for you exceedingly soon, and if I wasn’t living three thousand miles away, I’d be over there in a heartbeat to take them off your hands for a bit and to explain to Josh, with diagrams, precisely what he could do with his dirty socks.

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Marriage and misandry – the sequel

My first trackback!  Wheee!  Thanks, Kateri, for carrying on the discussion

With regard to the marital hiccups of the Wilsons, I totally agree that the debate shouldn’t be about who’s right and who’s wrong.  That was, in fact, the exact point I was trying to make.  Everybody seems to have responded to this with their opinion about who’s right and who’s wrong, and I was trying to point out that that isn’t really solving anything.  What everyone seems to be responding with is their ideas about what they’d do in that situation, when what James and Valentina really need is to work out a way of compromising and finding a solution they as a couple can both live with.

(As a side point – while I would quite agree that statistically speaking it’s highly likely that James isn’t doing the major part of the childcare, this is certainly not something I’d infer from his attitudes on how things should be done.  Seems like every attachment parenting forum I’ve read has, somewhere or other, lamented the existence of full-time mothers who consider it normal and appropriate to put babies to sleep in separate rooms/make a plethora of other non-AP-sanctioned choices.)

Anyway, that was a relatively minor issue for me.  What bothered me much more was the idea that a proposed family life utopia only needs to be a utopia for the female part of the population.

I’m a little baffled by the comment "I must have more faith in men than she does, because I think there would be way more fathers than shitheads".  Without wishing to be egotistical, I can’t see who the ‘she’ could be referring to other than me.  But I’m not sure where Kateri got the idea that I think otherwise.  If I thought there were way more shitheads than fathers around, I’d be all for making Kateri’s model the standard.  It’s precisely because I think most fathers want to be fathers that this model makes me decidedly uneasy.  I think that most fathers want to be involved in their children’s lives on the sort of day-to-day basis that is only possible if you live with them and are involved in making the parenting decisions.  I do not think that most fathers see anything idyllic about being relegated to the sidelines.

Kateri says she feels comfortable with the idea of a woman-only commune because she knows that her husband would always want to be an involved, loving father even if the two of them separated.  What she doesn’t say is how comfortable her husband would be with having to be an involved and loving father on weekends only, with spending more time apart from his children than he got to spend with them, with being shut out of the majority of their day-to-day life and the day-to-day parenting duties.  There are a lot of men in that situation now, and they see it as very, very much a second-best.

Why, of course men would enter the equation, Kateri says.  Who says a man would not be welcome in the house if he wanted to be there?  Well, Kateri did, or at least that’s what it sounded like to me.  Call me crazy, but ‘We could… ignore men as much as we saw fit’ did not sound to me as though it allowed much scope for a man to get a say in the matter if the mother of his child decided that she saw fit to ignore him completely.  Still, in all fairness, that was written as an offhand comment made at a time of frustration, not as the Final Plan For Changing Society.  So I’m open to the possibility that Kateri didn’t mean that quite as harshly as it sounded, that she’s actually happy with the idea of allowing fathers to see their children on a regular basis.  What would that be?  Weekend visits, maybe?  A week or two in the holidays, for older children?  What kind of utopia would that be for men?  Seeing your children only intermittently, going back to a separate house, living apart from them, having only a minimum of say in their lives, knowing that even those crumbs are entirely dependent on the good will of a woman who might choose to cut them off for all sorts of complex reasons that may or may not include your feelings as anything to which she feels she needs to give priority?  (Anything about that life sounding familiar to you, Kateri?)

Last year, a well-known member of the blogging world (whose name I decided to leave out of this, because my intention here is to draw an analogy rather than criticise this person or rehash that particular dead-and-buried argument) told a story about the child she would have ended up adopting if she hadn’t become pregnant through IVF.  Through sheer chance, she met the woman who did adopt that child, and saw how happy the two of them were together, while she herself was just as happy with her two babies.  Commenters chorused about how blissfully happy this ending was for EVERYONE involved.  People couldn’t quite understand why Kateri was so upset

After all, why did it matter that the happy ending wasn’t happy for everyone involved?  It was happy for both of the infertile women involved – the characters that the commentators on Tertia’s blog could identify with – so why bother to consider the feelings of the other person who must necessarily have been involved?  Sure, the happy ending was only possible because of someone else’s agonising pain, but what was the big deal about the fact that that person didn’t even merit a mention when it came to basking in the happiness of the ending?  The important people involved got their happy ending.  Why worry about how anyone else involved may have felt?

I know that’s not an exact analogy.  After all, men weren’t ignored in Kateri’s description of utopia, were they?  They got mentioned, all right.  As penises for sex.  And then, as the New And Improved Mention, as fathers for children.  Not as people with their own feelings on the matter, people with their own parenting values that might just include getting to live in the same house as their own children. 

Kateri’s perfect family situation was worked out entirely in terms of what suited women and children.  The way that it might feel for men wasn’t even considered worthy of passing mention or consideration.  Men are the chopped liver of this utopia, the ones who don’t count.  An idyll that depends on treating a huge section of the population as chopped liver just doesn’t strike me as that idyllic.

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Marriage and misandry

On reading Kateri’s take on this particular marital dispute, my first thought was that the couple in question are probably both making the same mistake as she is.

Kateri’s approach is to start by deciding which member of the couple is the Bearer of the Banner of Righteousness and should therefore get to do things their way, and which one is the Jerk Who Is Just Plain Wrong and should therefore suck it up and deal with it.  Having rapidly reached the conclusion that Valentina gets the banner (after all, she’s making the same parenting choices as Kateri, so she must be right), Kateri sees the problem here as being James’ annoying inability to grasp the fact that his is the latter of the two roles.  Hence, her post centres on explaining exactly why James is wrong and Valentina (like Kateri) is right.

All of which somewhat misses the point.

Arguing about who’s Right and who’s Wrong in these matters gets nowhere, and that isn’t just because people do not, on the whole, respond to this sort of explanation of the error of their ways with "You know, now that you put it that way, I realise that I am a jerk, I am wrong, and I should just suck it up and deal with doing everything the way you want to do it.  In fact, I feel our marriage is all the stronger now that you’ve made me see the light on that matter.  You irresistible romantic fool, you!"  It gets nowhere because the crux of this argument isn’t really whether co-sleeping, or any of the other issues at hand, are Right or Wrong.  This sort of argument is not, ultimately, about what decisions get made.  It’s about how the decisions get made.

Marriage is – or is theoretically meant to be – a partnership.  I do not mean that word in the sense in which it is used by Aria, who apparently thinks it means ‘husband should take on an equal share of the work of taking care of the children but shouldn’t have the audacity to expect a say in how they’re taken care of, and should recognise and respond to his wife’s need for support but shouldn’t expect any support himself, seeing as he’s an adult who can just take care of himself, dammit’.  I mean in the sense of "We clearly have a difference of opinion here, so let’s talk about it so that I can listen to your point of view on the matter as well as putting mine across, and we can figure out whether it’s possible to come to some kind of compromise that we can both live with."  The problem with the "We’re doing things my way, live with it" approach is that it inevitably carries the subtext of "because I do not find you important enough to bother with taking your opinion on the matter into account".

(In case I am sounding too insufferably pompous at this point, I had probably better point out that 1. the reason I know this is because I have made this mistake myself more times than I could count, and 2. my original title for this post was going to be "The post that somebody had probably better remind me of at regular intervals for the rest of my life or Barry’s", and, even though I eventually decided that this one was snappier, the other one still holds true.)

Anyway – I suspect that both James and Valentina are making the mistake of taking this attitude, and that this is the real crux of their problems.  But with only second-hand reports, it’s hard to say for sure (though lines like "This is war and I plan to win" don’t really bode all that well).  What I did find worth commenting on is the fact that Kateri (along with most of the people commenting on her post) seems to find it completely appropriate for one partner in this marriage to take this attitude towards the other.  As long as it’s the wife acting that way towards the husband, that is.

Partly this is because the needs of the children are more important than the opinions of either parent (except for the one she happens to agree with).  The Needs Of The Children, in fact, trump everything.  Including, it appears, any attempt to establish the extent to which they are needs, and not simply preferences (on the part of either the children or the wife).  Will Jayla still need to be in the parents’ bedroom in another few months, or is it possible that she would in fact settle perfectly happily in her brother’s room by that time?  Would the children – or even just the older one – have been quite all right with a known and trusted babysitter for an evening while James and Valentina took a night out?  Would James III be just as happy on an earlier schedule that would allow his parents some child-free time together in the evenings? 

I have no idea.  And nor does Kateri.  It’s not entirely clear whether James or Valentina do, either.  But these things should be considered and not just assumed.  ‘The needs of the children’ is not a handy catch-all excuse for getting to do everything exactly the way you want.

Kateri also feels that honouring women honours their children, and that a happy mother makes for happy children.  She does not, apparently, believe that the same applies to fathers.  Woman feels that sharing a bed with her children would make her feel happy and fulfilled?  How dare anyone suggest that she should stop doing something that makes her feel that way!  Man feels that sharing a bed with his wife would make him feel happy and fulfilled?  How dare he be so selfish as to think only of himself instead of subsuming his own happiness to that of his wife and children!

Kateri’s solution for dealing with the inconvenient habit men have of wanting a bit of happiness and fulfilment of their own is to write them out of family life altogether.  I wondered whether this solution might have been suggested tongue-in-cheek, but, since she appears to be serious about it, I’ll discuss it seriously.  Kateri’s ideal family would consist of three or four women living together, not letting men in on the act at all unless they felt like it.  "We could each work a little, stay home a little, do a little housework and childcare… Our lives would not be tied to men."

Why, how idyllic.  Until, of course, the day when one of your wives decides that she wants child-free time in the evenings, and thinks the children should go to bed earlier than you think they should.  Or until some other dispute about childcare crops up.  Or until somebody gets PO’d because they think they’re getting lumbered with more than their fair share of the housework.  Or until one of the women turns out to be a bitch or a drama queen. 

I’m not sure whether Kateri’s obliviousness to these inevitabilities is because she’s seeing this as Evil Men Who Don’t Understand Women Vs. Nurturant Women Who Would Live Together In Peace, Harmony And Sisterhood, or if it’s just that any imaginary relationship is inevitably better than one that has the disadvantage of being real.  But I do know that any time a group of adults are trying to mingle their day-to-day lives this closely, friction and disagreements and resentment are sometimes going to occur. 

This is not a gender-specific thing, no matter how tempting it is to resort to the age-old solution of Find A Group To Scapegoat.  The problem isn’t that the other person involved in a marriage is a man, but that he’s a person.  As opposed to, for example, a programmed robot.  A woman would display just the same annoying tendency to have her own opinions on how day-to-day life should be instead of conveniently falling in with yours all the time, and having more women around, while being useful from the point of view of spreading the labour, would also increase the number of people to have disagreements with.

There is also another issue here, and it’s one I’m finding more disturbing the more I think about it.  Although Kateri’s Utopian family doesn’t include any official role for men beyond penises that can be either used for sex or ignored as each woman wishes, it does include children.  So, unless she’s planning on setting up a cloning facility, men are going to have to enter the equation at some point.  In Kateri’s ideal family, therefore, the children would have parents somewhere out there who were considered completely dispensable, who weren’t even considered worthy of mention as part of the family.

Which is deeply, bitterly ironic.  Because Kateri is – for want of a better term – a birthmother.

Eight years ago, Kateri gave up her first daughter for adoption.  Since then, she’s lived with the deep, complex, wrenching pain of knowing that she has a child in the world to whom she is not allowed to be a parent, whom she is not even allowed to see or contact without permission from the child’s other parents.  She used to spend quite a lot of time on adoption forums, so I think it’s a fair bet that she’s also read plenty of accounts of the third side of the story – the adoptees who grow up with a gaping hole where their genetic heritage should be, with the subtle or overt message that the parents who conceived you are annoying irrelevancies and that everyone (well, everyone important) is better off with them out of your life.

And she has no problem at all with the thought of putting more parents and children in these sorts of situations.  Not as long as the parents in question are men, anyway.

Amended, after reading Kateri’s latest comment – it seems her plan for the ideal family would allow for more visitation than was suggested by her original description.  And I don’t know where she stands on legal parental rights for fathers, in this scenario – maybe her Utopia includes those as well, and her idea of a father’s role in all this is more akin to the current situation for divorced fathers than to the current situation for first mothers.  (Of course, if she seriously thinks that that’s going to be compatible with avoiding ties to men and ignoring them as much as she sees fit then I think she might possibly need to give just a smidgen more thought to the finer details here.)

But none of that really changes the basic issue here, does it?  If you’re a parent who is forced to live apart from your children and have little or no say in the day-to-day running of the majority of their lives, then improved visitation may make it easier, but it doesn’t make it all right.  Not for you, and not for your child.   And yet Kateri, despite her own experiences of the pain of being an absent parent, blithely advocates such a situation as her ideal setup.  After all, why bother taking the feelings of fathers into consideration when planning how to run a society?  They’re only men, after all, and so their happiness, fulfilment, and parenting values can be ignored.

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Just in case you weren’t quite bored enough with the RESOLVE interview already…

A brief rundown of the story so far: Newsweek ran an article on infertility for which they interviewed Joseph Isaacs, the president of Resolve.  People objected vehemently to the article’s content.  Isaacs apologised and tried to explain.  People objected vehemently to the apology’s content.  Isaacs wrote to Newsweek to try to clear things up.  The letter failed to clear things up.  I heard about all this several days late and probably as many dollars short, and decided that even though the Internet had apparently wagged along perfectly well for the past couple of weeks without the benefit of my two cents on the matter, it couldn’t possibly continue to do so for any longer.

Caught up with all that?  Right.  Onwards…

Since it’s been a loooong week (massive backlog of stuff left over from my week off last week, on top of the baby having stomach flu), I suspect this is not going to be one of my more incisive and articulate posts.  It certainly isn’t going to be one of my most popular – not only am I weighing in on a contentious issue on the side of the person being hung, drawn, and quartered, but I’m doing so at the stage of the discussion where everyone is thoroughly fed up with it and just wants to forget the hell about it already.  So I will try to keep this reasonably short.  I wanted, however, to make three points.

Firstly, never, never, never underestimate the ability of the press to fold, spindle and mutilate your most carefully judged words.  It is quite possible that the inaccuracies in the original interview were indeed solely due to incompetence on Isaacs’ part; that Newsweek’s role was simply that of faithful and accurate transcriber of the material they were given; and that, if any of the Internet’s incensed infertiles had been the one interviewed instead, they would have done an impeccable job of making sure Newsweek got everything right.  But, you know, I wouldn’t put money on it.

Secondly, people seem to be getting astonishingly angry over things that Isaacs never actually said.  A simple statement that particular behaviours can increase the risk of infertility does not automatically equate either to sweeping generalisation or to moral condemnation.  I searched Isaacs’ words for any statements along the general lines of "And since women have total control over their fertility, anyone who does follow this advice is absolutely guaranteed to be able to get pregnant whenever she wants to do so", "If you do do anything to increase your risk of infertility, then you are a Bad Evil Woman who should be stoned in the streets for your lewd and uncontrolled behaviour", or "It follows from this that if you are currently suffering from infertility, then it is All Your Fault.  Nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah-nyah."  And, since this is not something you could have guessed from reading people’s comments on the issue, I’d just like to make it clear that I didn’t find them.

Thirdly, there are plenty of men out there suffering devastating grief as a result of infertility.  To imply, as the Galloping Cat did, that being male automatically makes one unsuitable to be in charge of an infertility organisation is not only deeply sexist (or do I mean shallowly sexist?) but outrageously insulting to these men.

And that’s all I got to say about that.

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