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One year anniversary – why write a book?

It’s been a little over a year since I published my book and released it into the wider world.

Writing a book before the age of 30 was a pretty major life achievement for me. It was one of my bucket-list goals.

I just never thought my first book would be a childhood sex education resource! But it was such a worthwhile undertaking.

At the start of my teaching career, I felt held back from anything other than teaching. I felt pressured into giving 100% of my energy, 100% of the time and I burnt out. I didn’t feel any sense of encouragement for taking on anything outside of school – in fact, it was actively discouraged on many occasions.

In fact, I think releasing a book on the topic of conception in lesbian families could have cost me my job or at the least, gotten me into a lot of trouble. The environments I was in early in my career were very conservative with a lot of religious freedom to discriminate. The fear and anxiety were real.

Before I left that environment, I spoke to someone who had donor-conceived children, but she hadn’t told them. There was fear about it ‘getting out’ and what her children may experience if others knew about it.

I understood the concern, but I think this approach only protects the parents. The psychological outcomes for those children when they eventually find out (and they will), have the potential to be dire and distressing.

That was when I knew I had to write my book. I wanted my son’s story to be filled with pride and openness. Even if he never shares that part of his life with others, I wanted him to know.

After all – donor conception is nothing to be ashamed of. Nor is infertility, IVF conception, or having two mums. Some people choose not to talk about their fertility journey to others because they feel it is highly personal – and that is okay. An individual’s choice to keep it private still doesn’t mean they are ashamed or that they should be. 

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I wanted to write a book about my future child’s life and conception, even if it made people uncomfortable. I knew my child would deserve to know his story, whether people liked it or not.

I changed jobs at the end of Term 2, 2017 – but I had the two week holiday period to fill, so I realised that was my time to create.

The first draft was terrible. God-awful. Too many words, not enough story. Too much awkwardness.

So I went back to the drawing board and thought about what it was I was trying to do, and why? What would I want from a book like this, if I were purchasing it myself?

I wanted:

  • A narrative – to connect with a child at their level
  • A scientifically accurate explanation – no pet names or silliness around body parts and sex
  • Inclusivity – to see various reproductive situations represented, including insemination, and IVF
  • Cute illustrations…. of course

The thing is, I am not an illustrator – I just like writing. So I contacted Anil Tortop at Tadaa Book who illustrates in a range of styles, and once I had a draft I was happy with, we got started on bringing it to life.

I will spare you the experience of looking at any of my drafts, but understand that by the time the book went to publication, it was on version 18. Thank goodness for patient publishers.

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When I looked back and stared at my creation for the very first time, I realised that I had achieved what I needed to.

It represents my child’s experience. Children benefit when they see themselves or people like them in books and other forms of media. Knowing their life is important enough to be represented bridges that divide between child and world – through that, they know they are not alone. The research in this area is preliminary, but ask any teacher to give you an anecdotal experience and I almost guarantee you they will have more than one. Children can’t be what they can’t see.

It normalises the idea of IVF, donor conception, and living in a same-sex family. If you try to teach a child about sex education but their conception has to be explained as an add-end, it sends a message that their differences can’t be talked about, or that it makes people uncomfortable. If it is seen as ‘just another method’ or ‘just another way to bring children into loving families’, this creates a sense of normal. Which is great, because I feel our lives are pretty standard, even with all the differences.

It casts my wife as a main character in the story of our child’s life. I want my wife to experience equality in all ways as a parent and if she is not a main character in the story of our child’s conception, then she becomes less important – she is as capable of raising our son as I am and gets the same sense of joy and challenge from him as I do.

It works towards making us ‘just another Australian family.’ I know we’ve got a long way to go with this one, but casting our life stories on the periphery (which they have been for a long time), makes us seem vastly different to other families. The more we are seen on the bookshelf, the more conversations we can start and the more we will become ‘just another character in the story of Australian public life in 2019.’

I do feel that Australia is mostly inclusive, with some exceptions. I am fortunate enough to live in a very progressive postcode and for the last year and a half, have worked in secular, progressive environments that have included me for all I am.

However, when I introduce the fact that I am in a same-sex relationship in conversations with new people, that part of my identity can sometimes take over. So I am no longer the friend, the colleague, the parent, the new acquaintance. Once I’ve dropped ‘wife’ into the conversation, I then get to field silly questions like, ‘Who is the man? How did you make a child? When did you tell your parents you were gay? How’s that weather…. etc.’

My vision is that when I introduce this part of my life, it doesn’t become my persona.

Yeah, we have a long way to go, but when I look at how far we’ve come, I have great hope. In order to get there, we need to start more conversations, write more stories, and spray those into the world like cans of Fanta that have been shaken too hard.

Even if people don’t like it.

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Body shame and pregnancy.

Despite our highly enlightened modern world, body-shaming is a common experience for many people.

You would think that having the power to connect and inform would reduce this somewhat, but the shaming comment remains a popular way for people to bring out the worst in each other and themselves.

An easy-to-reach, low-hanging fruit is a person’s self-image. Body shame is something I noticed before falling pregnant, during my pregnancy, and immediately after.

I couldn’t help but wonder if the elusive pregnancy glow I was exhibiting was just frustration!

Prior to falling pregnant, I was a vegetarian marathon runner and triathlete. I played soccer and did weekly Park Runs. This lifestyle left me with a 12-year-old boy body, so the novelty of bouncing breasts was something I looked forward to.

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Note, this wore off very quickly the first time I tried to do Park Run with an underwire bra.

Prior to pregnancy, people would make comments about my body with great frequency.

“You should eat more. Vegetarianism is making you weak.”

I found myself perplexed. I could squat more than I weighed, my best 5km time was under 23 minutes, and I was in the Brisbane female top 20 for goal-score counts in the 2014 season of soccer. I also completed a marathon in under 4 hours.

Weak? Only when the potato chips were in arm’s reach.

When I started IVF treatments, I took steroids to aid with implantation. These tablets forced me to visit the drive-thru as soon as work finished each day.

The worst part about working in a small community is that the whole postcode knows you caved in and had junk food by 8am the next school day.

“Hey Miss, saw you at the KFC. Did you get fries with that?”

Cravings aside, steroids also have a positive impact on helping a woman get pregnant on an assisted reproductive cycle.

Yeah, I got pregnant.

You know what else I got? Fat. I got fat.

Actually, these are not my own words. I harboured a tiny bump up until I was induced, 4 days overdue. I got a job at 23 weeks pregnant and nobody I worked with (except for my boss) knew until I was 30 weeks along.

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40 weeks + 3 days

It was my midwife who told me at my 36 week appointment.

“You’ve gained 20kg. This puts you in the upper percentile – so yeah, you are overweight. You should watch what you eat.”

Daaaaaaaamn.

This got me thinking. I knew that my weight was fine. You can’t use a BMI scale when a person is carrying a baby, extra blood, and fluid.

However – what if I had been more vulnerable? What if I struggled with body image?

Imagine the consequences for a child in utero when a Mum starts cutting her calories out of fear of being “fat.”

Sure, there are risks when you have a significant weight problem, and I’m not suggesting that medical practitioners should dance around this.

What I am concerned about is where the threshold is – whether it’s worth it to add stress to a person who is growing a tiny human if they’re just a bit above par with their weight gain.

The moment I left the hospital, most of the weight dropped off very rapidly, which I was expecting, given my body type and the percentage of fluid retention.

Now, the “concerned” comments have come back.

“Are you sure you should be breastfeeding? Just give yourself a break and a chance to recover. Fed is best.”

I am sure that if I had an inappropriate fat percentage in relation to my individual body, then my milk supply would have dried up.

Au contraire. My son is a beast – wearing size 00 at the ripe old age of 5 weeks old.

They say that pregnancy helps you to embrace your body because you see what it is capable of. Absolutely, that is the truth. But do you know what else you learn to embrace?

The fact that you just can’t win, no matter what your size is.  

We should all be more considered with our words – if we can’t fight against the media saturation and the advertising, the least we can do is support one another as women.

And yeah, I’ll have fries with that.

-crunch-

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Book review: Safe4Kids book series

One of the most challenging aspects of working with young people is acknowledging the reality that we have the responsibility to protect them from potential harm. It is sometimes hard to do this without terrifying them or preventing them from doing anything out of fear. Protective education aims to equip children with knowledge of their feelings and the language to set appropriate boundaries with others around relationships and touch. This aims to help keep children safe as well as to help them understand they have a network of people who can help them if they feel their trust or personal boundaries have been violated. These measures can help children to protect themselves and feel comfortable in everyday situations.

Safe 4 Kids have released a number of books alongside their protective education program to support parents and educators in starting these crucial discussions with children. Their guidebook introduces the language children can use to assertively set boundaries, and also how to identify a network of safe people. It also includes worksheets for children to draw what their early warning signs look like. The other books in the series cover different situations that can occur in childhood and ways of dealing with them, all linking back to the same key ideas of having a safety team, using the 5 private rules, and identifying safe/unsafe feelings.

Matilda Learns a Valuable Lesson

This book is about safe and unsafe feelings – how to identify them, which situations may lead to different feelings, and how to articulate boundaries to others, including adults. The illustrations show different situations, such as having an adult try to kiss a child who doesn’t want it. It introduces the idea of ‘early warning signs’ and the safety team (a network of trusted people a child can go to when they need help with situations that make them uncomfortable).

Hayden-Reece Learns What To Do if Children See Private Pictures or Private Movies

Because mobile devices are so ubiquitous in our modern age, it is important to start the discussion about pornography early. It can be confronting to use this word, but this book introduces the topic in a child-friendly way by talking about private pictures and private movies, without any graphic images. It talks about where a child might see them, what they are, and how to exit the browser, then talk to a trusted adult. The book reinforces that a child won’t get into trouble by telling someone.

Gary Just Didn’t Know the Rules

This book addresses peer-to-peer sexual behaviour in a non-threatening and non-judgmental way. It introduces the 5 private rules for staying safe. This reinforces that nobody – including other children their age – can touch a child’s private parts or create private images of their body.

Hayden-Reece Learns a Valuable Lesson that Private Means ‘Just For You’

Using a playground scenario of a student who tries to go into the girl’s toilets to look over the stalls, this book talks about what private parts and clothing items are, their correct names, and how to respect the privacy of others at school and elsewhere. It  reinforces safe/unsafe feelings and the use of a safety team if these boundaries are violated.

More information

These books are an excellent resource, particularly for educators who are delivering protective education programs or bodies and relationships lessons as part of the health curriculum. They are non-confronting, child-friendly, and use the same consistent language and ideas around protective behaviours, which benefits children in their learning process. If you need more advice or resources about protective education, make sure to check out the the Safe4Kids Facebook page here and their website here to browse the full range of resources and training for protective education.