All Posts Filed in ‘story of my life

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Seven

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My baby is seven months old today. We had a Plunket check this week — our Plunket lady is a perfunctory box-ticker of dire warnings and pointless, prescriptive rules (one day let’s talk about whether Plunket is actually helpful, or just adding more this-way-or-else pressure to mothers who are already under enough of it) so we generally just tick her boxes, lie when she asks about co-sleeping or solids, listen to her standard lecture about Doing Breastfeeding Right and skedaddle as fast as poss.

This time she was like “is he rolling?” and when we said yes, went to move on to her next box. Hold up, lady. This little firecracker is also sitting, crawling, creeping and cruising. He’s pulling up on everything from his cot to chair legs, and yesterday he climbed me like a ladder to get onto the couch. He’s a tiny ball of motion and chaos, and has the proportional strength of ten grown men.

He says “mum mum mum mum” all day long, just not necessarily to me. He can chase a ball and look at something for up to 45 seconds before he puts it in his mouth (on a good day). He plays games. He has opinions and mood swings and two stubby wee teeth. He laughs with his whole fat little body, his head popping up over coffee tables and sofa arms to blow smug, drooling raspberries. He is definitely the best and most wonderful baby ever to have lived, and I find myself wanting to stop people in the street and demand they look at him — look at him! — look at this delicious little human person who grew inside my body. Has there ever been anything so incredible?

To which all the other parents say, with conviction: yes. Each one, until the next one. Yes.

Yesterday he pulled over two bins, the laundry basket, the cat’s bowls (twice), a lamp and his toy basket. He occupied himself with licking chair legs all over the house, climbed into our wardrobe and pulled himself up on a heater (which thankfully wasn’t on, unlike last time he did that in the lounge and I thought he’d burned his hands and both of us cried).

I also tried out my serious angry-mum voice for the first time and he laughed at it. So that’s encouraging.

Every day he can do ten things he couldn’t do the day before. Every day he’s more independent and interactive. (And every time something about parenting him becomes easier, something else gets harder.) The growth curve is exponential. I look at photos of him seven months ago and can’t fathom how we got here in those short months, even though at times every hour of it has felt like years.

It’s incredible, and it’s also terrible: I thought I’d have longer. I can already see the baby slipping away to make room for the boy, and it’s too soon. I love that he’s bold and brave and strong and determined to do everything now, but part of me feels like he’s cheating me out of his babyhood, like we’re going straight from newborn to toddler, and I’m never going to be able to get enough of the chubby, gummy, cheeky little nugget he is right now.

Everyone was right: it goes so fast. Too fast.

And, with a roar, he’s awake. Off we go again.

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And yet

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I once went snorkeling in a series of caves underneath Cancún. The entrance was a dark, echoing cavern; a deep, ragged hole in the earth. I think of that cave whenever I see my belly button in the mirror. It’s like someone took a clay model of my midsection and left it in the sun too long.

Last week I went to the gym for the first time in a year. Loving (or tolerating) my body has been a work in progress my entire life, and in some ways it’s nice to have this tiger-striped pooch where my waist used to be. It’s like a shield, or a story written in stretch marks.

The first time I saw it after giving birth I thought “well, at least I never have to try and get into a bikini again”. And then, simultaneously, “I’ll wear a bikini if I want!” and “I can’t believe I got so fat”.

I gained 27kg during my pregnancy, due to a combination of ice cream and sitting still. I felt at the time like everything was hard enough without adding exercise and not eating ice cream into the mix. Post-birth, I lost the first 17kg without really doing anything except never having time to eat and pouring all my resources out of my nipples 12 hours a day, but that last 10kg feels like it ain’t going anywhere.

I made a human person, but I’m still obsessed with how I look in my jeans. These things don’t stack up. They aren’t of equal or similar importance. My body did something incredible for me and Brazil (and Nico, obviously). It’s still battered from it — back aches and red, scaly patches on my face, nipples turned chew toys. I don’t know if I can expect it to be like it used to be. I don’t know if I should.

I could name any photo album of my twenties “places I felt fat” and it would be an accurate description. I’ve worried I was fat everywhere from the top of the Temple of the Cross in Palenque, Mexico (I wasn’t) to an island off Tongatapu (also wasn’t) to Tokyo (wasn’t), Sydney (wasn’t) and everywhere in between (still wasn’t. Never was).

I want to be more accepting of my body, but it’s hard. I have 33 years of judging and hating and poking and prodding under my belt, and now there’s this extra weight on my stomach and hips, these gigantic breastfeeding boobs, the stretchmarks and dry skin and darker freckles and tired eyes…

It’s tough to inhabit a new body, one you didn’t choose, that’s older and weaker and looser than the one you used to have. It could be freeing, maybe, to be lifted out of your petty body confidence concerns by having all your former issues pale into insignificance. Worrying about getting into a bikini seems foolish now I’ve added stretch marks and loose pouchy skin and four cup sizes to the mix. Like I could choose to throw the whole mess into the mental trash where it belongs and focus on things that actually matter… or I could double-down and hate myself more, harder, for more concrete reasons.

I know which of those I want to choose, but it’s not quite so easy to actually do it.

I swing daily between deciding I need to go on a diet and announcing I’m going to love myself as I am. I know being thin isn’t the same as being well — but right now, I don’t feel like I’m either. My body has been stretched too far for too long. I’m not strong or flexible. My back hurts all the time and I’ve had a cold forever. It’s hard not to conflate that in my head with being slightly too heavy. In the past, there’s been a direct relationship. I’ve had too much weight on because I wasn’t eating well or exercising, and when I sorted those things out, the weight came off too. Right now, I’m eating well. I’m eating too much, but I’m eating well. I’m exercising, in a new-mum kind of way. Walks with my baby in the front pack. The occasional aborted naptime yoga attempt. There’s only so much free time to go around, and although I want to prioritise my health, I also massively resent feeling obligated to spend the eight seconds of the day I get to myself on making my appearance more palatable to others.

I’m supposed to “get my body back”, but I’m also supposed to keep breastfeeding (and, right now, I want to, even though I have Many! Opinions! that I will write about at length soon). It’s drummed into you that “supply” is infinitely perilous. Eating too little could damage it. Dieting could force you to wean early, or stop your baby gaining enough weight. When you already eat a healthy diet, the only way to lose weight is to eat less, but that could force your baby to also eat less. No matter how self-obsessed I get, I don’t want to jeopardise my baby’s chubby thighs for my own. Squeezing fat baby thighs is like 60% of the reason I had a baby in the first place.

They tell you that you’ll lose weight while you’re breastfeeding because you’re burning so many calories making food. (This is largely BS, by the way.) But that hypothesis ignores what every fad diet also seems to ignore: hunger. The hunger of a breastfeeding woman is second only to… well, a pregnant woman. Your body spent nine months laying down resources in your ass, but it’ll be damned if it’s going to use those if it doesn’t have to. We’re literally designed to store fat in our thighs like a squirrel stores nuts in the winter.

(Let’s talk sometime about how I feel about how women have all the pressure to be thin, when they not only naturally store more fat than men, but find it easier to gain and harder to lose. Then let’s sidebar about the #dadbod thing. Fuck off, society. Fuck right off.)

So, basically, my body is doing exactly what it’s meant to. It’s storing resources for my child — as many as it can get. It’s giving him antibodies and fat and all my liquids, while I drink litres and litres of water to avoid desiccating like a corpse in the desert. It grew and sheltered him, birthed him, and now it feeds him. If you want to get existential, it’s fulfilling its biological purpose. If we were grubs, I’d crawl into a hole and die once he was weaned, confident that I’d lived a rich and rewarding life.

So why can I appreciate that in others, but not in myself? Or caveat it with an “and yet…”. And yet, I’d still like to fit my old jeans. And yet, I wish I was fit again. And yet, I’m not ready to look like someone’s mum.

I am someone’s mum, though. And I remember when I was a child, telling my own mother that I loved her squishy bits, because they were better for cuddling. I remember telling my nana the same thing — she worried about her weight right up into her 90s, when there was nothing left of her but bones wrapped in soft skin.

How much mental effort have I wasted on the circumference of my thighs? How many other things could I have done with that time? How much nicer a place could the inside of my head have been?

And yet.

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Adventures in multicultural relationships

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“What’s a stick in Portuguese? Stick-o?”

“You’re so racist. It’s galho.”

“Okay, then what’s a trunk?”

“…Tronco.”

“I want you to be happy and do the things you enjoy while giving me your full attention at all times.”

“I’m peeved.”

“What does peeved mean?”

“It means… you know, peeved.”

“Very helpful. Do you even remember why you’re mad at me?”

“…No. Do you?”

“I do. But I’m not dumb enough to tell you.”

“You’re not the boss of me, you’re just my manager.”

“Remember when you used to stare at me, instead of out the window? It was a magical time. You’d stare at me and not fart.”

“And I said, ‘for fuck’s sake, man, I speak two languages and read two others, is there any point on arguing this tiny point of English grammar?’”

“‘In’ arguing.”

“Now I’m peeved.”

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Birth

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I love birth stories. I was dead keen to write one… before I gave birth. For the first few weeks afterwards, I was carrying around too much shame to even speak about it: I’d done it wrong, I hadn’t been cool (I lost my shit completely, and then lost it some more), I hadn’t coped.

I did too much hippie reading beforehand and wanted to try a natural birth, but when it came to it that epidural was the single best thing that’s ever happened to me. I’d have named my child after it, if it was called something slightly nicer.

We had a plan worked out — if I asked for pain relief, Diogo was to gently talk me out of it unless I used the pre-arranged safe word. (It was “quesadilla”, pronounced the way my 70-year-old, rural-Canterbury-raised mother pronounces it: kwes-a-dill-a.) When it came to it, I was screaming it in his face before he even had a chance to ask if I was sure.

Let me backtrack a bit.

I went into labour naturally at 39 weeks and 5 days pregnant. I’d gone to bed the night before feeling like something was happening, and every inch of me was positive that I couldn’t be overdue. There just wasn’t room. I’d never been able to comprehend people who realised they were in labour and went back to sleep (the most exciting thing that’s ever happened is happening after nine months of waiting and you sleep through it?), but I woke up at 1:45 that morning, left myself a note on my phone that said “I’m pretty sure this is it”, and went back to sleep until 8am.

The next day was a blur. The contractions rapidly ramped up to between 5 and 10 minutes apart, and then… stayed there. All day. And all night. And they hurt. Technically, that early phase doesn’t even count as labour — it’s “pre-labour”. It’s not, apparently, meant to be that painful. Later it turned out that Nico’s head was in the wrong position, so nothing was progressing, and I think I had back labour (you feel the contractions primarily in your lower back, and the part where the pain is meant to go away between contractions just doesn’t happen…).

About 4am the following morning, I rang the midwife on call. The contractions had made it up to 4 minutes apart, were crazy intense, and it had been over 24 hours since I’d slept or functioned or been comfortable. She said, “you haven’t had one while we’ve been on the phone; it’s still too early” and I burst into tears.

And so we continued until lunchtime the following day, when my midwife was due to visit anyway. At that point they’d slipped back to about 7 minutes apart. She checked my blood pressure and it was too high, and there was protein in my urine. After a couple of weeks of threatening it, I was finally over the line of pre-eclampsia now that I was already in labour.

Because of that, my midwife said we could go to hospital and, if I wanted, she’d induce me to speed things up. An induction was number one on the list of things I’d said I wanted to avoid in my birth plan, but after 24 hours without sleep, I didn’t take much convincing. Faster seemed better.

(Little did I know that 18 hours later I’d be frantic with excitement for a woman to cut my vagina open with scissors to speed things up. I clearly remember being beside myself that she was taking the time to anaesthetise me first. Shit escalates fast during birth.)

It took until about 6pm for the drugs to actually start and things to kick off: in between we went out for lunch and then again for dinner, me white-knuckling the table through contractions and hoping no one noticed that the ridiculously pregnant woman wasn’t just in danger of going into labour but actually was.

The syntocinon ramped things up fast. I don’t remember if the pain got much more intense, but there was no break from it now and my back was starting to be constant agony. I couldn’t find any way to get comfortable. I don’t know how long I held out for — it could have been three hours or ten minutes; time had ceased to have any meaning — but at some point it occurred to me that we’d been at this a day and a half and almost nothing had changed. I’d skimmed half of the birth skills book I’d been putting off reading between contractions the night before, but it contained such sage advice as “curl your toes into the carpet” and “light a pleasantly-scented candle”, which is the kind of earth-mother shit I’d find delightful if I’d, say, stubbed my toe.

I’d read a lot about the medicalisation of birth — the idea that (male) doctors have divorced women from the natural processes of their bodies and made a beautiful act of nature into a medical emergency. Unfortunately, these books had kind of convinced me that birth wouldn’t actually be painful. Several of them even said in words, “birth shouldn’t be painful”. Thus I found myself in probably the opposite position to most of my friends, who’d had the dangers and interventions hammered into them by their antenatal classes, midwives and friends and went into labour terrified. I was surprised to find myself in such pain. And I didn’t feel at all equipped to deal with it. I’d packed a fucking scented candle and some Rescue Remedy.

I thought about how many hours I could keep doing this for, making bargains and deals in my head to keep me from begging for drugs. Finally, I asked my midwife how much longer she thought it might be. She said, “I’ll check your progress in another four hours”.

CHECK MY PROGRESS. CHECK.

Four hours was my outside guess for the whole damn deal: at this point I’d already been awake and in constant pain for over a day and a half. She’d check my progress in another four hours? Fuck that with knobs on, thought me. QUESADILLA QUESADILLA QUESADILLA.

And, oh, it was beautiful.

I even slept off and on for a few hours, watching my contractions scrawl across the monitors like mountain ranges, the baby’s heartbeat strong and steady underneath them. (One blessing: Nico’s heart never skipped a beat. He was utterly chill the whole time, still trying to squirm around right up to the moment he emerged topside.)

Things my midwife didn’t tell me: syntocinon is INTENSE. The pain of it is intense. Pushing under it is like being hit repeatedly by a truck that drags you under it until it hits you again a moment later like a truck snake that’s eating its own tail while you writhe underneath its snake wheels. Several people said later that very few people manage a natural birth once they’ve been induced, for exactly that reason.

I also didn’t know that the epidural would be stopped when it was time to push, but the syntocinon would continue. I’m still not sure whether this is the only option or if I missed a choice somewhere in the haze of that night. (At one point I remember looking over to find my left side covered in blood. This seemed completely unsurprising, even though I was fairly sure it wasn’t standard practice for a birth. Turned out my IV had been dislodged somehow and my vein was emptying itself down my arm and into a puddle on the bed. I felt very calm and not at all bothered about this at the time. Bigger fish.)

I don’t know whether it was me or it’s like this for everyone with chemically-assisted contractions, but once it was time to push and the epidural was turned off, there was no let up at all. By dawn, the contractions had concatenated one into the other and I couldn’t keep up. I couldn’t even breathe. The pain in my back and hips was so intense that I all I could do was writhe and beg for it to stop, and then scream and scream and scream.

By this point it was my due date, two days after I’d left myself that note on my phone and gone back to sleep.

A couple of days later, through our shared bathroom door, I heard my hospital-room neighbour telling a visitor that she couldn’t understand why anyone would scream — such a waste of energy, she said.

Well, good on fucking you, perfect birther. I’m glad all your energy was productive. Mine felt like it was too much for my body, and the only way to bleed it off before it killed me was to get it out in noise.

I literally thought I was going to die. I felt like I was about to have a stroke. I was begging Diogo to make it stop, to let me out of my body just for a minute. And later, when I told Rachel B this and got to the part where my midwife then checked my blood pressure, turned white and immediately hit the emergency call button, she pointed out that that’s actually what was happening.

That hadn’t occurred to me until then. I’d been thinking about it purely in terms of my own failure: at a natural birth, at any kind of composure. Like, I knew things were going to get real in that birthing room, but I’d been thinking about, you know, the prospect of pooping myself in front of my love. I’d briefly worried that my scented candle might be too intense. Going full exorcist was nowhere on the birth plan.

To the medical profession’s credit, once that emergency button gets hit, things move. Doctors and nurses swarmed into the room. I lay there, legs akimbo, writhing and sweating in a puddle of my own drying blood, and could not have given less of a shit who saw what. If they were going to get the baby out, they could have told me they were sawing my legs off at the knee and I would have kissed them and offered to hold the saw.

A nice lady told me she was going to make a bit more room for the baby so they could get him out faster. Then she got out her scissors. I saw them very clearly, which I remember precisely because I couldn’t have cared less. “Oh, she’s going to cut me with scissors,” I thought, the same way you might think, “oh, there are scones at this morning tea”. Then they stuck a suction cup on his poor little head, and (and this is just my memory, so it may not be factually correct) a team of them lined up like a tug of war and hauled.

I always think of Rach telling her birth story with Joe, and saying that she was surprised to look down and find a baby after he was born. I feel the same way about the moment when he finally came out — intensely, suddenly and overwhelmingly shocked as I felt a whole person, with shoulders and limbs, come slithering out of me. The size of him was staggering. The feeling of all those limbs working their way out… like, somehow, I’d sort of thought it’d feel like, I don’t know, a really big tampon? I’d only thought about the head, so I was kind of just expecting something smooth and round to pop out of me. But instead a whole human person came out of my vagina.

I was surprised by a lot of really obvious things that day.

Everything is a blur from there. I remember him being put on my chest and looking at him and feeling this… very casual relief. Like, “oh, there you are. Of course”. Nico himself didn’t surprise me at all, and I’d really thought he would. I’d spent months wondering what he’d look like, if he’d have hair (of course he’d have hair). I couldn’t imagine him before he was born, but as soon as I saw him I felt like he never could have been anyone else. At some point Diogo cut the cord and someone took him away and cleaned him up, either before or after the nice doctor stitched my insides back together. I have no memory of birthing the placenta.

My next clear memory is Nico already dressed and wrapped up in the little plastic cot thing, and the relief midwife suggesting I might get up and take a shower. I looked at her, stunned. Get up? Shower? Like, did she SEE the massacre that just happened? I just spent over two full days trying to get a human out of my body and now I should just… get off the bed and go to the bathroom?

So I did.

And nothing will ever be weirder than the first time you try and stand up straight after nine months pregnant. There was a hole in my middle where my baby used to be, and all my organs hadn’t realised yet. Taking a breath felt a little like my whole body was about to fold in and swallow itself like a broken accordion.

I started thinking about this post because I was reading an article about the percentage of women living quietly with injuries from birth. (I have more to say on that later.) It made me think about how intensely ashamed I felt of having had an epidural and a ventouse delivery, and how the (supposedly) feminist literature had convinced me that without my body doing everything naturally, I wouldn’t produce the right hormones to bond with my baby. I was genuinely scared that any interventions would compromise my ability to love my child.

I’ve always been cautious with my feelings. I was scared I wouldn’t have the emotional capacity to bond, to love a baby the way he’d need to be loved. I shouldn’t have worried. The first weeks were a tired, aching, oozing blur, but I never felt anything but overwhelming, enormous love every time I looked at his squashed little face with its wildly lazy eye.

Now I don’t know what I think. I think mothers should feel empowered to birth their babies however they want to, by whatever standards they think are best. I think caesarean rates are too high and fear and clinical surroundings probably do make birth harder than it needs to be. But I also think humans have a fucked-up reproductive process, and drugs and interventions save lives and stop a lot of suffering.

I also think mothers are fucking heroes. Goddesses. They’ve been to war. They’ve looked the kraken in the eye and raised a middle finger to his tentacles. They’ve brought new life into the world in blood and pain and love, and then they’ve got up and had a shower.

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I made this inside me. NBD.

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Well, I’ll be.

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I’m thinking about becoming a florist, or a clothing designer, or a carpenter. What’s the word for people who make shoes? A shoemaker, Google? Surely not. I want a word like milliner. Ah, cobbler. I’m thinking about becoming a cobbler.

About becoming almost anything that involves creating physical things that can begin and end and be held and used. Anything that isn’t behind a screen and doesn’t involve grammar and sentence structure. I’m thinking about painting and lotion-making and preserving. About dill pickles and jam and crumb structure.

You should see my sourdough these days. You should try my jam.

I’m thinking about how much I love my job when I’m under pressure, and how that doesn’t go at all with any of these other wild, earth-mother desires I’m filled with. I’m thinking about how I’m applying for mentors at the same time as I’m wondering if I should be mentoring. Talking to schools. Helping. I’m clutching at everyone else’s philanthropy, knowing their cause isn’t quite mine but feeling so badly like I’m letting the side down, not contributing, not giving back.

Not even creating, really, in my own time. (Other than the sourdough and all that jam.) Instead, I take a lot of naps. I water the garden. I read recipe books and mindfulness books and Harry Potter in Portuguese (page 25!). I count the baby’s kicks. I fight nausea and fatigue by giving in to them, immediately and gracelessly. I make endless lists of things we need to change before the baby comes. I exhaust Brazil with trips to Mitre 10 and discussions about natural childbirth and my urgent desire for black and white curtains in the baby’s room.

I meditate, but restlessly. I’m working on it.

I’m too hot all the time.

I’m not interested in anything except the baby but I’m mad at anyone who dares to imply it. I drop things constantly. I eat too much sugar and I’m obsessed with fruit and I’m still not 100% sure if I’m allowed all this coffee. I feel beautiful and sexy and powerful, like my body was made to do this, and heavy and slow and broken, like every inch of me is falling apart. I’ve found myself and I’m losing myself. I’m a force of nature and a wild design error. Everything is exactly as it should be, but surely it shouldn’t be like this?

I am. We are. He’ll be.

We’ll see.

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Spicy food and cat litter

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When people talk about pregnancy cravings, they name normal things like ice cream or sawdust or pickles. This baby is obsessed with chilli. I’m putting it on everything, in quantities that would make my normal self burst into flame. I’d blame Brazil’s spicy Latin genes (#racism), but he’s an even bigger chilli wuss than I usually am.

My brain is adjusting to a new scale of time. We’re making plans for things that won’t happen for two years, or five, or twelve. It’s like my whole life has opened up in front of me, ripe and ready to finally be lived — but it’s also narrowed down, and thinned out.

So many things will be harder or take longer or be off limits for a while now. I don’t feel like I spent enough Wednesdays drinking impromptu wine… but I also did almost nothing else for over a decade, and I know I was ready to move on.

So many things will be out of my control. Baby will have their own timetable and set of priorities, and my career and social life are unlikely to make their list. The nature of what we do means the work comes when it comes — I don’t plan to take maternity leave, per se, but I also can’t make any plans about how or when I’ll work. Projects may or may not come up. Baby may or may not cooperate. We’ll make it work as best we can.

But at the same time, some sense of urgency has lifted. I’ve got time to do things and write things and see things. We might not get to travel beyond NZ and Brazil for a while, but we will eventually — and when we do, our little people get to do it too. (I’m sure that will come with its own set of issues, but it also feels pretty cool to me.)

I’m scared I’ll never have time to write for myself, but I need to make time for that, and currently I’m not doing that anyway. The optimistic, slightly dim part of myself is sort of hoping that “ask a busy person” thing will kick in and I’ll discover reserves of organisation and focus I never knew I had.

I fully expect future me to read that back and laugh until she cries.

The cat and I are in a battle over the garden. Everything I plant, he promptly digs up and shits on. I’m currently on the sixth iteration of my vegetable protection system.

After he dug up the carrots, I covered the whole garden in bird netting. Lucas immediately shat on top of it, managing to dig up the lettuces underneath without tearing a single hole in the material.

Next, I raised the netting with stakes. He sat on it until it collapsed, and then shat on it again.

Then I added a fortress of bamboo skewers poking through the netting. That night, as far as I can tell, he perched himself on a stake, backed gently over the netting, deposited a perfect pile of shit in the middle of it, and left without breaking a single skewer.

Finally, I raised the whole thing about a foot on each edge, then tented it over a teepee-like contraption in the middle. Then I fortified it with skewers and weighed all the edges down with blocks of wood.

Now he shits on my flowers.

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What an asshole.

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16 weeks

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I’m trying not to think too much about who this baby is. They’re their own person already, even inside me, and they have their own story. I don’t want to have too many expectations about what I want or hope for them.

Still, I hope they get their father’s musical talent and his easy way with people. I hope they love learning as much as we both do, and we can foster and build that love in them. I hope they feel my sense of wonder, but maybe direct it a little better. And now I’m projecting things again… I don’t want a baby to do the things I couldn’t or be what I can’t.

I hope they see the world is beautiful and magical, and that they have power within it — power to make things better; to change things for themselves and others; to get what they want if they have the courage and grit to work for it.

I hope the world is still a place worth living in when they’re grown. I hope my generation will do more than my parents’ to ensure that happens. I hope I can be a good mother. (I know Brazil will be a good father.)

Mostly, I think, looking at my friends’ kids and myself as a child and the world as it is right now, I hope they realise that life is an active thing, a verb to take and run with. This world loves passive box-ticking: school, work, mortgage, car, TV. You can follow all the rules and never actually live, never realise that your life is yours, and unique, and meant to be lived, not just consumed.

I desperately want my children to know what it took me so long to figure out: that there are more choices than anyone will ever give you. That breaking the rules isn’t always bad, and won’t always get you in trouble. That grown-ups don’t know everything, and you don’t have to listen to them when they tell you writing doesn’t pay and you should probably be a lawyer. That there’s time to figure all of this out. That your opinion of yourself matters more than anyone else’s of you. That you can’t please everyone. That love shouldn’t be hard, but it does take work. That you deserve it.

I hope I learn to listen to myself, too. I realise, the longer I think about it, that I need to work on some things myself if I want my children to be healthy, well-rounded people. I worry, if we have a girl, about everything society will teach her about the way she should interact with the world. About marketing and pornography and instutionalised, insidious sexism.

But I also think about how my mother was on a diet for most of my childhood, and my grandmother before her. I’ve been obsessed with my weight to varying degrees since I first noticed, probably around 11, that I was tall and strong and needed a bra. (Although I remember worrying about it earlier than that.) My self-confidence is so directly tied to my bathroom scales I can look at any photo of myself and tell you exactly what I weighed that day, and how I felt about it.

How can I teach a little person that their happiness isn’t tied to their size if I still don’t believe it myself? How do I show them that society’s arbitrary standards of beauty are bullshit when I wear makeup and shave my legs and sometimes buy stupid heels that make my feet bleed?

That stupid, endless feminist battle: sometimes I like to look pretty and dress up. I feel good when I look good, and I do that for me, not for anyone else. But I hate that it’s expected. I hate the sneaky, slimy subliminal messaging that tells girls from before they even hit puberty that everything about them needs to be altered or improved or removed to be found suitable for society. Wax this, dye that, tan these, tone those.

And, if we have a boy, how do I teach him to respect women in a society that still doesn’t? When he’ll grow up with violent mainstream entertainment that features women as passive set decoration, if at all. When anything for girls is considered shameful to everyone but girls. When porn.

We’re considering not finding out the sex in advance, partly because my head will probably explode at the inevitable deluge of pink gifts if it’s a girl. But there’s nothing wrong with pink just because it’s associated with girls. Deriding things for girls just because they’re things for girls is fucked up too. Pink isn’t the problem. Tiny tutus and glittery shoes are awesome, and every child who wants them should have them. Every child.

“Girls’” lego makes my blood boil, because lego is a children’s toy, not a boys’ toy. Heavily made-up baby dolls in tiny skirts make my blood pressure skyrocket. But I’d love my little boy to have a sparkly tutu and a baby doll, and I hope my little girl will be into dinosaurs and space.

But those are their own decisions, because they’ll be their own people. If I wish for anything, it’s just that they have the freedom in this crazy world to become whoever they want to be. To be true to themselves. To be kind to themselves.

And to listen to their mother.