All Posts Filed in ‘Uncategorized



Leave a reply

My last post was pretty depressing, so I thought I might follow it up with a summary of the things we’re doing now to lessen our impact on the planet, and where I think we can do better.


I’ve been guilty lately of getting too hung up on doing everything right, and that’s silly. If everyone made some better choices, we’d be in a much better position than if a handful of people disappear off the grid and stop washing their hair. So I do what I can, when I can, and try to be mindful of what I’m buying.

In general, we try to:

  • choose brands that are made locally or in New Zealand. This supports jobs here, and the profits stay within NZ, instead of ending up in the pockets of the 1% overseas
  • choose fair trade options whenever possible
  • choose products that aren’t full of chemicals or made of plastic when there’s an alternative
  • choose products made of recycled or sustainable materials
  • choose organic when there’s an organic option — the science still seems to be confused about whether organic is much better for you, and the weird rules of what qualifies as organic mean it’s often still contributing to soil depletion and nitrogen leaching, but I’d rather put my money towards increasing demand for organic methods than towards supporting current commercial practises.

Buying free-range, fair trade, local or organic is more expensive, but as folks on a decent wage, I feel like we have an obligation to pay for it. Not only is that what things actually cost when the environment and workers aren’t being exploited, but they’ll get cheaper and more abundant as demand for them goes up.

That said, we can afford it. I understand if you can’t. But I’d ask you to consider whether paying an extra $2 for a packet of bacon is really unaffordable, or if perhaps you could just eat less bacon? Or sacrifice a packet of biscuits for the pleasure of eating really good food that didn’t cause appalling suffering?

(I’m talking here to people in roughly the same social position as us — the appalling poverty levels in NZ are a whole other conversation, and I’m certainly not asking anyone raising a family on minimum wage to do anything but whatever they need to to keep their household fed.)


I know people don’t like hearing about the treatment of commercial food animals, but I think if making the choice to eat meat, you should have to be aware of what you’re choosing. The way pigs and chickens, in particular, are raised for food would be an actual crime if done to a cat or a dog. You’d go to jail. Their lives, conditions and deaths are HORRIFIC.

And if that doesn’t convert you, how about this: they’re also sick. Their conditions are so appalling that producers pump them full of antibiotics to keep them alive and functional enough to get to the age of slaughter. You’re eating all those antibiotics too.

Cows in New Zealand have better lives than beef cows in the US, but intensive dairy and beef farming is still destroying our water and wasting untold amounts of resources. There are a lot of places on this planet that aren’t suitable for growing crops but can be grazed by ruminants, so I’ve decided that I’m comfortable continuing to eat meat that’s been ethically farmed — but I want to eat a lot less of it.

What we’re doing now:

  • starting our grocery shop at Commonsense Organics and Moreish for meat and going to New World for whatever’s left over, rather than the other way around (this is a bit more expensive, but since we don’t really buy processed food, it’s not a huge amount more)
  • eating at least two vegetarian meals a week, and only one involving red meat
  • only ever buying free-range (and organic if possible) pork, chicken and eggs
  • using the BestFishGuide app to choose more sustainable fish
  • taking our own bags to the supermarket
  • composting (we have regular compost and a worm farm)
  • make everything we can ourselves (I bake our bread, make our muesli and do all our baking. We don’t really eat anything from a packet except chocolate… this does take time, but a) I love to cook and I’m at home anyway and b) it actually doesn’t take THAT long, and the taste and nutrition benefits are more than enough to make up for the effort)
  • working on expanding the garden and improving the soil, planting lots of bee-friendly flowers and looking after the fruit trees I planted this winter.

What I want to do next:

  • start getting an organic vege box delivery until the garden is producing better
  • get the garden and fruit trees to the point where we’re growing most of our fruit and veges
  • increase the amount of vegetarian meals we eat until meat is a treat rather than an expectation
  • start only ordering free-range meat when out (I’ve been intending to do this for ages and always seem to be able to forget it when it comes time to order… mostly I think because I’m scared it’s going to stop me getting bacon at most of my favourite cafes)
  • get chickens to provide us eggs and fertiliser
  • have a crack at ordering raw milk
  • add yoghurt and fresh cheese into the regular baking repertoire
  • take my freaking reusable coffee cups with me when I go for coffee in the morning!


What we’re doing now:

  • using cloth nappies at home during the day (I bought Pea Pods based on my research before Nico was born, but my favourites are Snazzipants and the generic pocket nappies they sell at Baby Factory)
  • using the best eco-friendly disposable nappies and wipes we can find
  • breastfeeding (except if circumstances mean I won’t be around for a feed, in which case he can have formula, for reasons I will explain at length another time but boil down to WILL EVERYONE JUST CALM THE FUCK DOWN)
  • trying to buy wooden toys and dissuade family from buying plastic junk.

What I want to do next:

  • have a “toy in, toy out” policy — every time Nico gets something new, he has to donate something he already owns
  • implement a donation/charitable volunteering Christmas present policy and focus on homemade or activity presents rather than vast heaps of toys
  • figure out cloth nappies that won’t leak overnight
  • stop using wipes or compost the ones we do use.

Cleaning and beauty products

What we’re doing now:

  • using planet-friendly cleaning products (best things: Eco and Deco laundry balls, and the steam cleaner I bought for floors and carpet)
  • using olive oil for eye makeup remover (trust me, it’s better than anything you can buy) and coconut oil as moisturiser (ditto)
  • checking makeup and personal products on the Think Dirty app (lots of things look like they’re not full of chemicals but they are, eg Natio, Body Shop)
  • using Ethique products (the deodorant is FANTASTIC — I’d previously given up the idea of being able to find non-chemical deodorant that actually worked — and I’m really enjoying their body bars and conditioner)
  • alternating non-chemical toothpaste with the industrial whitener stuff (because as said above, sometimes I’m okay with better rather than perfect)
  • trying to buy fewer clothes, and from retailers with better scores on the ethical fashion report (sometimes I feel like I use good causes to exploit my own consumer desires… is it still charitable if, between us, the Johnston-Freire household has 10 pairs of Toms?)
  • using Honey Wraps instead of gladwrap.

What I want to do next:

  • kick my Body Shop habit
  • find mascara and good makeup that’s also good for me and the planet (recommendations, anyone? Currently I’m using a lot of Honest Beauty, which I quite like but I have to YouShop it here and it’s not GREAT)
  • start making some body and cleaning products myself.

So there’s a rough summary of how we’re approaching stuff at the moment. Conundrums for another time: transport, power, water, etc.


In a state about the state of things

1 comment

The more I read, lately, the worse it gets. The more in-depth, well-researched and holistic the article, the more terrifying the conclusions for our planet and our species. If you think that’s being hysterical or dramatic, I would absolutely love for you to prove me wrong — but I’m going to need to see your evidence.

If your answer is “just stop reading things”, I sincerely hope you’ve figured out how you’ll explain that strategy to your children when they ask you how everything got so fucked up.

Because this is not about the world our great-grandchildren will live in, or even our grandchildren. Our children will deal with this. We will probably be alive to see it. We’ll definitely be alive for them to call us to account and ask us why we sat here, now, and chose to do nothing.

I started looking up the latest general climate change science, but it’s just too depressing to even continue. I just read an article by one climate scientist who said that, as a generalist looking at the big picture instead of focusing on one area of change, he’s concluded we’ll probably all be dead within 10 years, so there’s no point in even worrying about it anymore.

Things that are not the answer:

  • telling everyone to stop having children, especially if you don’t want children or have already had your children. We have too many people right now, but we do need some humans to continue our species, and if no one gets to have kids then we may as well be fucking extinct because what’s even the point anymore, am I right? If the meaning of life is to watch TV and eat burgers, we do not deserve this planet anyway.
  • hoping the government/the “market” will solve this by itself. That has never worked and never will. We need to actually be informed and agitate for real change.
  • saying “one person can’t make a difference” like the world isn’t made up of individual people. You personally can’t solve the whole problem, but you can sure as shit stop making everything a fuck-ton worse. Recycle. Stop buying plastic crap. Vote. Eat less meat. Do your own cooking. Buy sustainable, organic, free-range and fair-trade. Support local business. Talk to your kids about compassion and empathy and the issues. The power you have, as one individual person, is your vote and your dollar. Use them.

I’ve given myself a thumping headache and, as Brazil points out to me six times a day at the moment, my personal distress isn’t actually helping anyone, so I’m going to wander off.

Anyway. Here’s a list of books I’ve read over the last year or so that I would thoroughly recommend:

  • This Changes Everything by Naomi Klein
  • The Omnivore’s Dilemma by Michael Pollan
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer
  • The Vegetarian Myth by Lierre Keith (good counterpoint to Eating Animals, but gets a bit too out there in places)
  • Postcapitalism by Paul Mason
  • The Soil Will Save Us by Kristin Ohlson
  • Grass, Soil, Hope by Courtney White

If you have any further recommendations to add to this list, I’d love to hear them. Also any ideas for what we can actually do, here in NZ, to get past the wishy-washy left-right political BS and start having some actual conversations about things that matter.

Also, if you disagree with me, I would love to hear from you. Please, please tell me I’m wrong, or crazy, or being too dramatic. Just also tell me why.



Leave a reply

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.


We’ve been trumped

Leave a reply

Donald Trump is president-elect of the United States. A reality TV star real estate tycoon sleazebag, the actual, literal epitome of the smug white male, who ran on a platform based on division and fear, has been elected to be the most powerful person in the free world. And, despite the fact that Clinton technically won the popular vote, he didn’t just squeak in — he cleaned up. Republicans took the house and the senate as well as the presidency.

I’m not disappointed — I’m devastated. I’m crushed.

I woke up this morning and took my baby for a walk in the rain. Then I deleted Facebook and Twitter off my phone. I can’t spend the coming weeks like I did yesterday — staring at my phone in a haze of nauseous disbelief, wondering how we got here as a species.

I have to believe this is a sign of wider progress. It’s a last-gasp knee-jerk of a disaffected, worried population who feel that the system as it stands is broken. Millenials voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. People of colour voted overwhelmingly for Hillary. Progress always happens — it’s just that sometimes it takes a while, because it’s harder than the alternative.

It’s easy to be generous and kind within your own family or your community, and I’d be willing to bet that almost everyone on earth believes that they are. People vote for things like Trump and Brexit because they believe they’re protecting the interests of their loved ones (and themselves). White people voted overwhelmingly for Trump because they see the end of the great white majority barrelling towards them. Men see their generations-long free ride coming to an end. Mix it up with economic inequality, looming climate disaster/robot apocalypse, ISIS and the Kardashians, and it’s easy to see why people feel that the status quo is failing them.

It’s hard to care about people who are different to yourself. It’s not just hard — it’s actively against human nature. We are designed to divide ourselves into tribes, and to work to secure resources and protection for those we see as like us. Tolerance and inclusivity are difficult. They require constant thought and work. They require acting against our base instincts and digging deep for our better natures. They require accepting that there’s enough to go around — and if there’s not, that what there is is still worth sharing.

Those things are a tough sell on a good day. I read a book a long time ago that talked about our “culture of scarcity”. Our system of economics and government is based on the fact that there’s a finite amount of resources to share out, even as that system requires constant growth just to maintain itself. This idea seems so ingrained in us now that I’m constantly dumbfounded by my garden — I’d forgotten, somewhere in this haze of modern life, that food not only grows in the ground, but from seed that the food itself creates in huge numbers. A tomato, given sunshine and water and time, will create a whole crate of other tomatoes. Everything in nature cycles and recycles, contributing to the growth of other things. Meanwhile, we fill vast swathes of landfill with single-use plastic straws that will be plastic straws forever, and eat deep-fried chemistry experiments because they’re cheaper than vegetables.

We forget, I think, that we live inside of an epic, wonderful system, where everything works together and nothing is wasted. (I think we also forget that it’s a closed system. There are no new inputs once we’ve turned everything into straws.)

Trump’s trumpeted policies (such as they are) are based on protecting “us” at the expense of “them”, like life is a zero-sum game. There’s not enough to go around, so if we need more, we have to take it off someone else. I can get a job if we take your job away. Your rights come at the expense of my ability to say what I like without being made to feel bad about it (which, even if true, is not remotely equivalent).

The system is broken all the way down, left and right. I just don’t think Trump can — or wants to — fix it. Governments act in the interests of corporations and CEOs rather than people, and tell us that because that helps the “economy”, it helps us. Meanwhile, the economy can grow without the average person getting any better off, because the economy is now based on punting money around as corporate profit or interest on debt, rather than on actual humans doing actual work.

The political left isn’t offering an alternative to this system — they’re offering tweaks and reality checks. Hillary’s platform was basically that the system is complicated and difficult and doesn’t work very well, so there’s only so much that can be done because compromises must be made. It’s a shit platform, and it’s not enough.

But Donald Trump is promising to take the system apart in the wrong direction. To annihilate women’s rights and minority progress. To throw out the flawed but better than nothing healthcare system Obama has fought for and replace it with… something unspecified, but “better”. The problem is that Donald Trump’s version of “better” still sees neoliberal capitalism as the answer. The market will still save us, it just needs even less regulation and even more competition.

This isn’t a new way — this is the old way, but without the marketing layer that pretended it wasn’t racist and sexist and designed to fuck over everyone but whoever’s on top.

Corporations have proven they can’t be trusted to act in anyone’s interests but their own. The environment, workers’ rights… these things require the intervention of government to make sure they are protected. Corporations don’t have moral compasses, despite the fact that every corporation is made up of people who should. Capitalism, neoliberalism, democracy, money… these are all systems we invented, as human beings, to help us live and work together. They’re not ends in and of themselves. They won’t be here after we’re gone, because they don’t exist without us — but it feels like we’re now serving them, instead of the other way around.

“Neoliberalism’s triumph also reflects the failure of the left. When laissez-faire economics led to catastrophe in 1929, Keynes devised a comprehensive economic theory to replace it. When Keynesian demand management hit the buffers in the 70s, there was an alternative ready. But when neoliberalism fell apart in 2008 there was … nothing. This is why the zombie walks. The left and centre have produced no new general framework of economic thought for 80 years”

Some interesting ideas:


You’re doing time management wrong too

Leave a reply

“The math is straightforward. There are 168 hours in a week. If you work fifty and sleep eight per night (fifty-six hours per week in total), that leaves sixty-two hours for other things. The time is there to have what matters.”

Internet, let’s discuss this article. I read it and it annoyed me, not because it’s not a nice idea or because I want to be an angry feminist at all times, but because it assumes that all things that aren’t paid work or sleep are leisure, and that every non-sleeping hour is capable of being a productive hour.

Children are work. They are wonderful, but they are motherfucking hard work. And not only that, but they have a timetable. Removing work and sleep hours doesn’t leave a collection of wide-open hours for me to fill with childcare and leisure in any order I like: it leaves me with a baby who needs three naps a day, no more than two and a half hours after the previous nap. He needs three meals in between those naps, and five or six breastfeeds, occasionally still including at least one while I’m getting my eight mythical hours of sleep.

Sometimes we also need to go places and do things, and those things usually have start and finish times to adhere to. We try to go for a walk every day, and I’m trying to meditate and do a quick yoga class in the lounge after he goes down for his first nap. Those are my “leisure” moments. In between, we cram in feeding me, and housework, and the odd shower. Oh, and work. You know, the rest of my whole life as it was before o bebê, only with six times as much laundry.

So yes, I can find leisure time, but the fact that I made a loaf of bread today and meditated for six minutes doesn’t mean I’m relaxed and on top of things – it means I jammed them in around the sides of other things, sneaking moments wherever they appeared. Usually, my “leisure” is stuff that benefits the household: cooking, gardening, cleaning (which benefits my mental health and thus the household). And usually that leisure is done at a run, while also making baby food or listening to him screech for me to come back or with a baby monitor in my pocket trying to finish before 45 minutes ticks over and he wakes up.

The article seems to assume that fitting something rewarding or relaxing into your “mosaic of time” means that the simple act of doing it was relaxing or rewarding. I’m happy I got to do those things, but I’m not sure they counted as either.

“Being compelled to divide and subdivide your time doesn’t just compromise your productivity and lead to garden-variety discombobulation. It also creates a feeling of urgency—a sense that no matter how tranquil the moment, no matter how unpressured the circumstances, there’s always a pot somewhere that’s about to boil over.”

(There’s an article I liked a bit more. Laura Vanderkam can feel free to tell me that’s “limiting my stories”.)

I also waste a bunch of time. Brazil keeps threatening to take my phone off me, because I’m spending way too much time on Facebook. But after four hours’ sleep and then struggling to entertain a five-month-old for two hours, shoving some food in his face, wiping his bum and getting him into bed without a meltdown, I don’t have the energy to sew a casual kaftan or whatever it is my mental self thought she’d get to do at naptime. By the time I’ve made some toast, done the wee I’ve been putting off for three hours and collapsed on the couch to stare at nothing until I get my breath back, the baby’s up and it’s time to start again.

There are holes in my mosaic, but maybe, in the circumstances, I’m cool with that. There will be time enough for casual kaftans once this child-induced chaos calms down. (It does eventually calm down, right?) And in the meantime, there’s people being wrong on the internet.

Until next time, digital friends.


And yet

Leave a reply

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.


I don’t know if this post holds together as a cohesive whole, but then neither does my brain these days

Leave a reply

Nico is four and a half months old. I meant to write so much in those first four months, and instead I have a handful of half-finished sentences and scrawled thoughts, and 7,185 photos in my camera roll. (See, Facebook, I am being restrained.)

I just read back some of those scrawled thoughts — they’re like an ice bath now, a sudden dunk back into those first weeks of fear and pain and exhaustion. Of being terrified to do anything and also to not do everything and Google telling me over and over again sixteen million times a day that breastfeeding is the only answer and that everything is normal until it’s not.

But now we’re here. If not confident, we at least have our legs under us. We can navigate leaving the house, going to appointments, buying groceries. I generally know when he needs to eat and when he needs to sleep. I can squeeze myself in around the sides, stolen moments of work and exercise that remind me that I was once a person, too, and one day might be again.

I don’t begrudge him that — he needs me, and I’m so into being his mother it’s embarrassing. And it turns out everyone was right about how fast it goes. He’s already so different than he was. We look at pictures of him as a newborn and struggle to draw the line between there and here, even though there was only weeks ago. Time has never moved faster or slower. I’ve never been so content or so bored, so focused or so lost.

I don’t begrudge this brief, endless period of total need, but I do resent it sometimes. I resent the way society is constructed so mothers are down here in the trenches at home alone while the world moves around us, like making new people isn’t part of the world… kind of the core part, even. Humans are sort of the MVP of humanity.

This week Nico likes to drink water out of my glass. I let him try because it was cute, and now there’s spit and water all over the house. He pulls his own socks off when I’m changing his nappy. He hurls himself bodily at things he wants, and then rages in frustration when he can’t propel himself across the carpet by sheer force of will. He’s full of gummy smiles and giggles for anyone and everyone, but cries real, red-faced tears if we leave his sight in an unfamiliar place. He likes to “walk” holding onto my fingers (by which I mean stamp his feet while wobbling around on fat, bowed little legs), which is murder on my back but fuckin’ adorable. He can sit by himself for, oh, seconds at a time, and will play happily and independently with a toy for ages as long as he can reach out and touch me, and I don’t try to do anything else. His life goal is to get my phone into his mouth, which says far more about me than it does about him.

He’s basically a cartoon of a baby — all eyes and smile, with that serious forehead and those comical eyebrows. I’m obsessed with his fluffy duckling hair and his chubby little feet. I’ve cried several times in the last few days because I get so overwhelmed by how much I love him.

It’s embarrassing to admit that. It feels like you’re not meant to let on how much you love your children — or you’re only meant to talk about the hard bits. I feel a certain amount of judgement in some circles just for breeding — like I’ve sacrificed my work or my social life, or I’ll get so involved with my own tiny family that I’ll forget to care about the big picture. Sometimes it feels like the very act of having a baby feels unfeminist, like I’m letting womenkind down by being so openly womanly. Or at least thoroughly complicating the issue.

Childbirth and parenting do complicate it — but I think they should. Hormones and biology are complex topics, over and above society and its biases and expectations. Having a baby runs you hard up against the fact that women and men might be equal, but they’re not the same. Brazil couldn’t carry the baby or give birth to him, and he can’t feed him with his boobs (although Nico will give it a go, given the opportunity in the bath). So much of this has to fall on me. Society doesn’t help with that, but there’s also no easy solution to it. I find myself wanting to talk about this all the time, because I have no idea what to say about it.

As for the other stuff, I care more about current events now that I made a person who’ll have to live in this broken world, but I also can’t find room to care as much as I used to. I’m too tired and my feelings are too raw. I can’t even cope with the ducklings in the stream this year, because I’m so concerned for their safety I find watching them actively painful. I’m working, and I want to work, but I’m frequently startled by how little work matters. I like it and I’m good at it, but I’m just not as angry as I used to be about how people are Making Websites Wrong.

I often see articles reporting on studies that have found that having children makes you less happy. But now I wonder what they’re measuring as happy. Am I more frustrated? Less free? Frequently exhausted, emotionally and physically? Yes, yes and yes. I can’t do what I want to do when I want to do it. My life, by all accounts, is looking pretty pathetic right now. But under that… something that’s always been empty has been filled. It’s not that I’ve found a purpose — more like I don’t feel like I need to anymore. I’m just here, today, operating naptime to naptime. And a lot of those moments aren’t what you could call happy… but I’m happy. Happier. Happiest.

People are all that matter, in the end. And new people… I have this whole new perspective on humanity. I’ve never been more conscious of the fact that we’re animals, mammals, organisms made up of collections of cells. But we’re also phenomenal: watching someone learn how to reach out and touch something he wants to touch has made me aware for the first time of what a ridiculous feat of biological engineering it is that I’m typing on this computer right now. That I can tie my shoes and name things with words and use my imagination. We are incredible creatures.

We’re also born craving connection. The love of a child is absolute. I used to feel like that was somehow a weakness in parents — like it was vaguely exploitative to have children for love, like there’s something vaguely odious about needing other people that much.

It’s beautiful, though. This baby is so incredibly happy to see me every single time he sees me. I make his day just by showing up. He has no concept of hate or disgust or anger. He gets sad and frustrated and he doesn’t understand why I sometimes want to use the bathroom without him, but his requirements in life are so simple: me, Brazil, cuddles. The two of us form his entire pyramid of needs. Food and sleep and shelter are all contained within us.

I watch him watch a tree move in the wind and his total delight is contagious. I’m also realising he’s happier playing with one toy than six, with the cords on my hood while sitting in my lap, than the plastic elephant-shaped ball-shooter thing I bought him for $70 and four D batteries.

I used to joke that toddlers are proof we’re all born sociopaths and have to be moulded into responsible citizens through bribery and brute force. Maybe I’ll change my mind once we have one, but right now it’s fucking wonderful to realise the opposite is true: we’re born loving everyone and everything with indiscriminate abandon. This baby isn’t only teaching me about myself — I feel like I’m re-learning the world along with him.

It’s pretty great, you know?

Anyway, as I’m sure you’ve already guessed, I wrote all that while he slept. And then he woke up feeling like he’d been dramatically wronged by the changing table in general and his left sock in particular, following which he was done some kind of grievous harm by avocado, which only yesterday was his best favourite. Then he enjoyed some no-nappy time until I left the room for eight seconds and he pooped, rolled in it, and then peed across all of his toys. Then he smashed a pot plant, threw up in my hand and now he’s back in bed.



1 comment

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”.


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.

Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 12.03.55 pm

I made this inside me. NBD.


Dad of the year

1 comment

When I’m in the city alone for work (the one meeting I generally go to a week, while Brazil’s home on Wednesdays) and I see someone I know, they exclaim without fail, “but where’s your baby?!” like we’re bonded together. Soldered. Like he’s still a part of me.

I want to say, “he has a father”. I want to say, “have you ever asked his dad that, when you saw him out on his own?”. I want to say, “not sure” or “I left him in the car”.

Instead I laugh awkwardly and explain he’s with his dad.  Or he’s with my parents, if he is. His dad’s working four days now, so I can work a bit, and so he can spend more time with Nico while he’s little.

“Isn’t he a wonderful father,” they say. “So involved.”

When I told Mum I was taking on a project and Brazil would cut down at work, she asked, “but what about his career?”. What about mine, Mum?

It’s not actually all about me. When Brazil asked to work fewer hours, daycare was raised as an alternative. Like the only issue was whether I had time to work – not whether he had time to parent.

(Also, I’m a better parent when I have something other than my son to think about. Five days at home on our own made me a crazy person. Two sets of two days keeps me engaged. Keeps both of us happy. And makes his dad happy too.)

Last Wednesday, I went to a meeting and Brazil took Nico to a local cafe for lunch. An older lady sitting near him watched him feed Nico his bottle, take him to change his nappy, and chat to him while he ate his eggs and bacon. She came over. “Is that your baby?” she asked, and after he replied in the affirmative, “but where’s his mother?”

Her tone implied, is she dead?

Once the fact that I was alive and well was straightened out, she was beside herself. “Aren’t you wonderful,” she gushed. “Out all on your own with the baby!”

I’m just saying, no one has ever stopped me in the street to tell me what a great parent I am for leaving the house. (And I frequently think I really deserve it.)

Because Brazil is lovely, he was pissed. He appreciated the woman was only being nice, but he sat across the kitchen bench from me later and said, “it’s fucking depressing. Is the bar really that low? Feeding my child a bottle without supervision makes me dad of the year?”

Yep. And working at all makes my parenting questionable. Welcome to the world, baby boy. I hope things have changed a bit by the time you’re a parent.


Spicy food and cat litter


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.


What an asshole.