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You can’t dress a boy in pink! My thoughts on gender and parenting…

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Before I begin….

Sex = Biological assignment of male/female/intersex – made up of characteristics such as genitals, hormones, and chromosomes

Gender = Social identity and expression with relation to masculine/feminine/other tastes or interests… in other words, how a person feels themselves to be (man/woman), and how they show that to the world

Despite how much progress has been made in society’s understanding of everything, gender formation – or the development of the intrinsic experience of how a person feels and expresses themselves in relation to boy/girl/other is still a bit of a mystery.

I very much consider myself a cis-gendered woman, but growing up, I felt like a very boyish girl. That is how I related with my gender identity. See above.

When I was pregnant with my son, there was a theory that we knew the sex of our baby. The clothing items I posted to Facebook didn’t help.

Pink cat socks? Must be a girl! A toddler soccer kit? You didn’t tell me you were having a boy? Actually, we were still placing bets the day before we met our baby – whose sex seems to be a delightful XY variety – time will tell how he relates to that with his gender.

I have never bought into the value of rigid gender stereotyping. I find it limiting that if a child presents as a female at birth, she should be press-ganged into a world of image-conscious dolls and shirts that say ‘I Hate My Thighs!’

I have an even lower opinion of make-up sets for little girls who are still losing milk teeth. I cannot help but wonder if all of this image-conscious advertising contributes to the toxic ‘mean girls’ trend that I keep seeing in my teaching career.

Likewise, I cry a little bit inside whenever I see boys steered away from performing arts in favour of plastic guns and shunning their emotions. ‘Boys will be boys’ has become tangled up with unsavoury attitudes that are not too far separated from these stereotypes and expectations.

It should be no surprise that we don’t limit ourselves to pink or blue.

We certainly get raised eyebrows when our son wears his light pink swaddle or purple tie-dyed t-shirt. More so when we show people his doll’s house (which sits beside his toy car.)

Still, I don’t buy into the idea that his gender identity is so fragile that it could be confused by a t-shirt colour or a toy. Whatever he becomes will always be okay by us and I believe it is our job to model acceptance and openness towards a range of interests.

“It’s just the way it’s always been done, that’s the way we’ll always do it.”

Back in 1995, I was not allowed a Batman cake for my fifth birthday. My mother was worried about what my party guests might think, and so I was given a princess cake. I was squeezed into an uncomfortable dress. I ripped that sucker off as soon as I’d blown out the candles.

I don’t blame my parents – it’s hard to buck traditions, lest you be labelled as ‘confusing the children’ or ‘pushing an agenda.’

It is also easy to think that one scantily-clad doll or toy gun is not going to rattle any child’s cage, but when our young are inundated with media and peer influence, there is no way out – unless a wider range of options are encouraged. Freedom to explore starts at home.

I would love for my child to do ballet lessons AND sports – or for his birthday cake to be anything he likes, superheroes or magical pink unicorns. His toybox is filled with puzzles, trucks, dress-ups, dolls, and LEGO. I don’t automatically reach for the bluest of blues in the clothing aisle, either.

In light of not having a default, people have applauded us for subscribing to ‘gender neutral parenting.’ The occasional person accuses us of ‘turning him gay’ – if that were possible, the opposite – conversion therapy – would have more credibility.

What we espouse is far from neutral – and I do not believe it is an unreasonably radical statement, either. It isn’t about raising a child free from these influences, but with the encouragement to explore in the safe love of two open-minded parents.

After all, I believe that it doesn’t really matter how much you push or police gender expectations either way – children will adopt whatever they feel as comfortable to their identity, and exposing them to a range of interests and tastes sends the message that any of it is fine by us. Conversely, discouraging a child from being their truest self can inflict harm from which they may never completely recover.

He can be whoever he wants to be – free from conditions, assumptions, and toxic limitations.

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Plus, he looks adorable in pink.

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How did you do THAT? My experience of IVF!

This is published in QNews Issue 469 – which you can get from many book stores, bars, cafes, and clothing stores around Queensland.
www.qnews.com.au 

The first time I told an acquaintance, ‘My wife and I are expecting our first baby in December,’ the response was, ‘How?’ Luckily, I love talking about how babies are made, especially ours. The path we walked (due to my endometriosis) was initiated by in-vitro fertilisation – or IVF. Although many people think of this as a modern innovation, it was first developed 40 years ago!

Although our baby will be born in 2018, IVF’s first baby was born in 1978. In the same era that brought flared jeans and ABBA to the fore, IVF was just as experimental, attracting mixed views from the general public.

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Back then, IVF involved removing a single egg from the mother’s natural ovulation and placing it in the same environment as live sperm. After the egg was fertilised and had matured into a multiple-celled embryo, it was placed inside the mother, where it attached to the uterine wall and grew into a baby.

When we started, 38 years after its debut, IVF had evolved. Artificial hormones could allow for the creation and removal of multiple eggs, which could be fertilised with free-swimmers – but sperm could also injected into the eggs under a microscope, which addresses some male fertility concerns resulting from lower motility.

An embryo can now be implanted fresh, or frozen for later use – a technology that became available in the 1980s. A woman can now have multiple attempts to get pregnant from the same egg pick-up surgery by freezing leftover embryos. Eggs, sperm, and embryos can be frozen, used later, or even donated to other people. Just like we watched vinyl records morph into Spotify in the same amount of time, the complexity of fertility issues that could be solved increased.

“What do you think of this one? He is a healthy soccer player, and had braces growing up, just like me!”

Choosing the sperm was like a game of Guess Who. We looked through an album of potential young men who could help us create a baby, without wanting parental status. Although our child can access his details at the age of 18, we are legally their parents. Not everyone chooses this, and fertility clinics also allow people to choose people they know, subject to medical testing.

After our little game of Guess Who, I went in for a game of Operation. The most nerve-wracking part of this process was calling the clinic every day and seeing how many of our potential babies were still growing. Six were removed at surgery, but by day five, only two had made it to the freezer. Although it felt disappointing, I knew that my ice-ice-babies were going to give us a good chance of pregnancy.

Nearly two years later, the doctor furrowed his brow at the consultation and told me, ‘Be prepared, this first attempt is very unlikely to work.’

At least he was honest.

Some say the body is a temple, but I think it is more like a garden. When you are preparing for IVF, they scan your uterine lining a number of times to check that it is nutrient-rich for your microscopic ‘seed.’ I was given a nip of brandy and Valium – which would be my last drink for a very long time! This relaxed my muscles and the doctor inserted the embryo into my body, using a very thin surgical implement. It was mildly uncomfortable and took a few minutes.

I was so sure that my doctor must be right about the first time not working (with his 30+ years of experience) that I went to Cairns the very next day. I didn’t drink or carry on recklessly, but I swam in waterfalls, walked to places in the heat, and ate ridiculous wontons in a high-end restaurant. I also had the joy of hanging out with three of my nearest and dearest – my wife, and our close friends, Carmen and Mick. I had no qualms lying spread-legged in the back of their 4WD post-waterfall and waiting for my soluble hormone tampon (pessary) to melt. I was in great company. It was awesome.

Two weeks, 10 pee sticks and a blood test confirmed that it had worked! The process of making a baby may not always require IVF for same-sex couples, but this is my experience of its miraculous science. What a time to be alive!