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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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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!

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Active birthing classes with Mummy and Co – they’re pretty awesome

When I first became pregnant, the most immediate thing I noticed (after the initial celebration) was the amount of advice I was given. People who know me well, gave me incredibly pragmatic advice – which kinds of baby outfits are best for nappy changes, how to sterilise and soak a cloth nappy, where to go to get a car seat fitted, among many other practical strategies. These were useful and I took note of all of them.

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The next most frequent topic was antenatal classes. Advice was clearly divided into two very firm positions; some people had left these classes in tears, and others told me that they were an absolute must. So I did some research, and many of the hospital-provided programs didn’t appeal to us.

The most concerning thing for us as a same-sex couple was the discussion of sex and contraception, which I felt was irrelevant to us. I also worried about this being a safe space for our family. Although most people are quite inclusive, particularly around where we live, I had heard about same-sex couples feeling very uncomfortable in some of these spaces. So I let it go. We didn’t sign up.

My pregnancy massage therapist, Blossoms and Honeybees suggested that we should opt for an active birthing class with Liz Lush (Mummy & Co), a physiotherapist in Brisbane. It seemed to focus more on the labour and empowering the support person with a toolbox of skills to use in pain management.

Far from being an uncomfortable space, Liz took us through exactly what labour would be like – how it starts, how it progresses, and what can be done at each stage. She also spoke about the various interventions, when they are used, and how to advocate for or against certain procedures when there is an opportunity for choice.

After this, Liz took us through specific strategies that could help distract us from pain. We practised these while tightly holding cubes of ice (because although it’s nothing on labour, it gives you an idea of what your tolerance levels are for certain kinds of contact during feeling of pain.)

Through this process, I was able to establish that I really do not like close contact when pain or discomfort is at a peak, but I do like heavy pressure on my back and stomach in between. Liz showed us specific ways of achieving this and which massage strategies would provide me with comfort. My wife was then able to attempt it and receive feedback on her technique. Overall, I highly recommend receiving pregnancy massage from a specialised therapist, which I plan to blog about next time, as well as shopping around for birth preparation classes. Everyone does it differently and gets different results, but we were very happy with the care we have received from both Blossoms and Honeybees and Mummy and Co.

Now…. along with all the useful strategies we learned… we also had the opportunity to learn some Pinterest-worthy mantras for birth. Normally, I dismiss a lot of #inspo as platitudes and fluff, but you’d be amazed at how powerful words of affirmation are when you’re about to embark on such a primal journey! It is pretty miraculous, what we are capable of… 

 

Image sourced from 10 Things Yoga Mama