Monday, October 27, 2008

Just plain rude

Jo rang me, one lovely Sunday afternoon, from the bus-stop. The sobbing that proceeded, from the moment she heard my voice, came from deep inside and took ten minutes to calm. The party she’d attended was chock full of what Bridget Jones would (cleverly) call ‘smug marrieds’, couples glowing with adoration for each other and their ‘darling’ offspring. Glowing so damn much that it spilled over to the inevitable, dreaded line of questioning that some single, childless women in the latter half of their thirties and beyond fear. I hate that conversation. I hate it even more when there is a vague sort of smug underpinning to the query, one that leaves one person feeling happy and the other – sensible, grown-up and with a big smart lawyers job - crying at a bus-stop on a beautiful afternoon.

I was left wondering why people are so thoughtless. Smug bastards.

I have never imagined myself as a mother. Not for me the romantic dream of getting married and having a bunch of small people that resemble me. My dolls never enacted a single wedding ceremony and, though I did briefly at twelve flirt with the idea of a glamorous pop-star marriage to a member of Duran Duran, the thought of either hasn’t grabbed me since.

Why is it so damn fashionable to have children? What on earth possesses normally rational people who are lucky enough to have children to pity – I have been pitied on more than one occasion – those who, either by choice or circumstance, do not?


My name is Lucy, I'm in the latter half of my thirties and, ordinarily, I write about food here. The fact that I am both a little, well, on the curvy-side shall we say, and in my late thirties means that I am asked more often than I like if I am pregnant. For the record, I am not.

I feel that I should disclose here that I do in fact have children in my life to avoid any confusion, but I must add that they are
not mine. I like them both enormously, both are in fact well into their teens and very good-looking, well-mannered young men, but I'm exceedingly glad that they came ready-made. Plus their mum (with whom I share a surprisingly good relationship) takes them for half of the week, which makes things very nice for us all, thank you.

I also have a small scruffy dog which I do not, thankfully, treat as my child.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

the pressures of trying to conceive

The whole will we/can we have children thing can be a little stressful. I've touched on the issue of others feeling they have an investment in the decision, adding a little pressure to the whole equation.

People react differently to stress.

I tend to rant, cry, talk, write, walk my way through the tough spots.

I'm a woman, I can't write on behalf of how this makes a man feel.

Today's Age reported one man's response to the pressure-to-conceive.



Repeated sexual assaults and a couple of digital rapes.

Responses people? I am too flabbergasted for words right now.

Snipped from Other Rants

Melbourne massage therapist, Adam Alikakos, is up on five charges of indecent assault and two of rape. He doesn’t appear to be denying the accusations and expects a custodial sentence according to The Age.

Mitigating circumstances? Stress.

Julie Sutherland, for Alikakos, said her client and his wife were under pressure from family and friends to have children and during the time of his offending he had become stressed out about their failure to do so.
"He said that over the years he felt more and more at fault as a man and more and more emasculated," she told the court.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Socially infertile and very, very vulnerable

"Socially infertile".

That’s the latest phrase to call a growing number of women in our society. Single or gay, we are the ones that got missed in the tsunami of heterosexual coupling. While the term is still too contemporary to have it’s own wiki yet, some more enterprising Assisted Reproduction Technology companies have identified a lucrative niche market to exploit or offer hope to. Depending on how you read it.

According to today’s Age report, for $3,000 plus ongoing storage costs, a woman can have eggs harvested and stored til she finds “Mr Right”.

The piece is quick to point out that the procedure is experimental. Although young women undergoing cancer treatment have had access to the technology for some time with very limited success. The problem is due to the fragility of the ‘shell’ of the ova, 98% are unviable on thawing. This differs from current IVF statistics, which uses ova that have then been successfully fertilized and frozen after a few days of cell division.

But without “Mr Right” there is no semen to fertilize the eggs of the future dream child and this is the problem in the first place.

So, considering the odds of the eggs jumping the first hurdle let alone the next step of fertilization with “Mr Right’s” seed, are the two clinics in Australia offering these services to single women saviours or exploiters? The director of the Queensland clinic bandied more hopeful statistics for women up to 37, however there appears to be no peer reviewed published research to back this up. Overwhelmingly the current research negates the clinic’s optimistic statistics.

Perhaps this was what offered hope to the woman featured in the article to go through with “one of the more harrowing experiences of her life’, when she was 36. Some would find the ethics of that transaction highly questionable.

I found the article disturbing on so many levels. Beyond the exploitation of barren women for commercial means and the increasing medicalisation of fertility, the persistence of the myth of finding “Mr Right” troubles me.

Does the soulmate phenomena help our hinder our search for a partner? In a similar vein the Sunday Age last week ran a cover story on it’s colour supplement about single, financially independent women in their 40’s. The take home message is that after the rush of the late 30’s settling for “Mr He’ll Do”, at the biological cut off age for maternity, these women could afford to be fussy while they hung out for “the one” to appear. A contemporary take on the fairy tale of the tall, handsome man bounding up on his white charger to sweep us off our feet. A modern day Mr Darcy, oozing wet shirt sexiness, a sizable asset portfolio and stunning wit. Pre-made children an optional extra.

Once more women are portrayed as being incomplete without a man. We are left in some kind of holding pattern while we wait for our soulmate to recognize us in a crowded room one day and save us from our singleness.

Personally, I don’t subscribe to the soulmate theory. Maybe that is just a symptom of middle aged cynicism. Perhaps we have many perfect partners, or none at all. There have been many ‘right’ people at the ‘wrong’ time in my life. I’m aware now that we can’t put them aside for a rainy day and access them at will later on, only accept the situation for what it is at the time and make a choice to stay or leave.

But I wonder if the mythology of “Mr Right” hobbles our search for a partner or liberates it. I salute women who choose being single over a relationship that doesn’t meet their needs but does perfection exist, especially when none of us are perfect in the first place?

And do we really need a relationship to feel complete. What’s more is a relationship the consolation prize for not having our own children?

But back to todays article with the beautiful, single woman pictured in the romantic cliché of walking on the beach. While frozen ova may be a possible fertility option for a meager handful of women who access the technology before their mid-30’s, her odds are extremely slim. ART could offer her an option in the here in now with donor sperm and fresh eggs, plus a lot of medical intervention. But waiting for the picket fence and perfect man to complete the picture changes the odds entirely.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

it takes a whole village to (not) raise a child

My family is a pretty understanding lot. Or at least they remain hands off over matters they mightn’t fully comprehend. The childfree issue has been a choice, or serious of circumstances, my grandchildren-free parents have never hassled me about.

I didn’t know how lucky I was.
Update: it has been pointed out to me that if persons anonymously portrayed in this post read my blog, then it could pain. That was never my intention. All I wanted to do was tell my story about pressure to have children. Unfortunately this may be misinterpreted by others so I have removed the bulk of the post.

Sorry if it no longer makes sense. I rather liked the way it was written. Instead of removing entirely I am keeping fragments here to remind myself to be mindful.

After all, it really does take a whole family to not have a child. Even when you think it is a purely personal decision.


But instead of bonding in our grief, I felt I was being accused of deliberately wrecking someone's happiness. But really, I felt like a failure. That I had let down another family, other than my own, as well as the wider community.

Who knows the NB may yet have children. His sperm's probably still up for it and he doesn’t believe in monogamy.

While I can focus on the benefits of an unencumbered life, I have little desire to raise other people’s children. So if that is the choice he makes, good luck to him but I don’t intend to be a traveller on that journey.

When a woman has no children, or in the case of commenter Docwitch, only has one – a whole community feel they have a right to question the “choice”.

I don’t like feeling judged. But in a family with multiple children, I think it is unfair that one outsider should be expected to shoulder the burden of the failure to create a further generation.

That said, both the NB and I are sitting on the last branches of our respective family trees. His sister is also in her 40's and single. Mine is 50 and unpartnered. My brother died at 33, on the verge of commitment and children. Both our families have a right to grieve about the lack of future generations.

But as a whole.

Not a punishment.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Sometimes, I wish My Soulmate didn't happen to be a Bio-Boy.

I love my boyfriend. We honestly believe we're soulmates, and that we will be together forever. This isn't some kind of first love pillow talk. Nor can it be blamed on the honeymoon period, as we near our four year anniversary. This is real, in-it-for-the-long haul love, without jealousy, resentment or baggage and with the benefit of experience and complete honesty and respect. Also, a healthy dose of real expectations.

For example, being that we will be together until one or both of us expire, we are realistic about monogamy. He's not poly, but we've discussed the inevitability of attractions to and crushes on people outside of our union. Also, me being queer presents other obstacles to only being with one person for the rest of my life - that they only have the one type of genitals. I won't go into our ways of dealing with it all; it's not for this forum.

My friends in same-sex partnerships are asked, in passing, if they ever want children. Some do, some don't. I can't but think that those who don't, don't get the scrutiny afforded to my partner and I. Why is it a given that people in same-sex relationships won't want children, while those in M-F partnerships are assumed to set up house and start popping out kids like a wet mogwai?

I can't tell you why. I just know that while I would not change a thing about my boyfriend, (nose hair included) sometimes, I think it'd be easier to explain away our disdain for having kids if he wasn't a bio-boy. Or indeed, if I wasn't a bio-girl. But try as I might, he's not even a little into dudes, so the latter's a bagatelle.

Anyone have any thoughts as to why this may be the case?

Desci is a writer and editor in Melbourne. Her blog of vapid ramblings and hissy fits is here.

Monday, October 13, 2008

not-so barren feminists #1

While far from barren, there are some broads who deserve some positive attention for services to feminism. Roseanne Barr is an outspoken woman, feminist and mother of five. She relinquished her first born, in her late teens. Check out the interview, below, in last week’s Guardian.

Roseanne on antidepressants:

She believes that society wants women "on anti-depressants so they are no longer creative or fierce". Has she taken anti-depressants? "Oh, hell yeah. There isn't anything that I haven't done. They dull your rage. People don't like angry women so they say, 'We're going to have to drug that bitch to get her to shut up. We will humiliate her and disenfranchise her, but first she has to shut up.' Oh yeah, I did those anti-depressants the last time I was famous. I needed to dull the horror of it."
Interview in The Guardian with Chrissy Iley, 8 October, 2008.

She also blogs like a blogger, with kooky photos, spirituality, poems and short explosions of rage. Fortunately, she still gets angry sometimes.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Barren myths

Barren Myths #1 – if you don’t have a child then you’ve never been pregnant

When that friend is swooning with hormones and gives you the pitying look or the mock sincerity of “oh lucky you, you wouldn’t know what this is like” - she is often wrong. Miscarriage, abortion, foetal death, still birth and relinquishing children for adoption amounts to many unaccounted for pregnancies.

Just how many pregnancies end this way for Australian women, we don’t know. Not all States are required to keep such comprehensive data. Early miscarriage alone is almost impossible to track as not all require medical intervention.

Not all women want to talk about their miscarriages; especially repeated ones when well meaning acquaintances didn’t even know they were trying to conceive. Recovering from an abortion is a bit of a party stopper; such information is usually shared only with those who are trustworthy.

But giving a child up for adoption, particularly in an era of being removed from the public, family and friends (usually to a state or church run institution) and go to full term, then hand over a child after birth is something else. In many cases women never get to see or hold their child removed from them at birth. Then it is back out in the world before the breast milk has dried or ligaments shrunk back into place. While such homes for "unmarried mothers" tended to close by the early 1970's, some families still choose to seclude pregnant teenage daughters. I have met more “relinquishing mothers” than I ever suspected.

Good reading on this subject includes Merryl Moor’s PhD thesis “Silent Violence: Australia's White Stolen Children” (which can be read online).

Try not to make assumptions about your seemingly barren friends. They might just know even more than you do.

Monday, October 6, 2008

You'll Change Your Mind

Introducing Desci to the Deliberately Barren team.

I'm 26. For the last decade or so, I've been wrestling with people's assumptions that I'll breed one day.

Because everybody does. And if you decide it's not for you, then there's either something wrong with you, or you'll change your mind.

Sure, you don't want kids now, but you will in the future.
Once you're older, you'll realise.
Oh, right, I was just like you, and then I woke up one day, and everything changed!

Frankly, it's becoming a chore. Why is it my job to explain to people that actually, having children isn't some mystical thing that everybody wants to do. Nor is it an essential step in life.

My partner, 28, feels exactly the same way. To avoid the constant debates of others, our team line is 'We're not ruling anything out, though it's extremely unlikely.' So unlikely, in fact, that I actually chose to be put to sleep in hospital so I could get the most effective - and long term - contraceptive solution available to me (Mirena. More information about it once I've adequately test-driven it for a few months). And when I was on the pill, skipping periods regularly to better suit my gym addiction, I was doing a pregnancy test every month.

I should point out that I'm most likely infertile anyway, thanks to my Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (infertility is reversed once I shake the syndrome, it's not a permanent affliction).

But honestly, do these measures seem like the actions of someone who will 'change their mind one day'?

Don't get me wrong, many of my beliefs are fluid. Some things I felt at 16, at 20, even at 23, I cringe at now. That's normal. But... seriously, it's been a long, long time. I don't even know if I ever 'wanted' children when I was little, or if it was just a given assumption everyone placed on me, like finishing high school or going to uni. But the assumption that one day, a switch will flick in my head and suddenly I'll be a slave to my biology? It's a little annoying.

I say to my partner, I just want to fast forward time until I'm 36 and he's 38. By then, people may accept that the decision is final, or nearly so. By then, when people ask about children, we can just say that we never wanted them. (Except, of course, in the case of my grandmother. We'll have to avoid breaking her heart by just lying and telling her we're infertile). By then, they won't roll their eyes and tell us that they were just like us, and then everything changed at 25, 30 or 35. And if people think we're odd by breaking some bloody convention that states every male-female couple must squeeze out progeny, fuck them. We'll be living the life we wanted to, free of the sacrifice and boredom parenthood brings.

I have friends who have children, or want them. Sure, it's a drag, since everything changes once they've bred. They have kids, and, justifiably, their priorities change. They become less fun, harder to see, and all that, but I respect their decision, because that's what it is. They have weighed the pros and cons, and decided, you know what? I want to grow something inside me and have it crawl out and then take care of it.

I make the decision the other way, for so many reasons I've outlined at length, and I'm met with patronising tsk-tsking, eye rolls and head shakes.

Then, of course, there are the people that breed on instinct, like a fish squeezing out a sack of eggs. They did it because it was expected of them, without thought as to whether they were suitable as parents, or even if they wanted to. I have nothing but contempt for these people, mixed with a healthy dose of pity.

You know what? I know some people whose parents didn't have the luxury of deciding to have children. They did it because it was expected of them. And the product of such a household is always affected, often in ways which may not even be undone after years of therapy (as is the case with a close friend of mine). This lack of decision also may or may not lead to some pretty drastically bad phenomena.

I have made the choice to not have children. This is apparently unacceptable, as I am of breeding age and in a long term relationship. Such is the way people challenge me on it. I don't go up to people with kids and quiz them on when they decided they wanted children, why they made that decision, whether they'll regret it - that's their business.

It becomes surprising when my own parents challenge me on it. They know me, they know what I'm like. Many a family joke relies on how selfish I am, how impractical, how resentful I am of responsibility. And yet my adamant stance is met with heartbreak (and optimism that I'll change my mind). These people know how badly I'd suck at being a mother, and yet in the face of that they still inexhaustibly challenge me on my choice. What the hell? I know they spend the better part of their life stoned or drunk, but Jesus Christ, family.

Sure, several hundred years ago it was important to instill a message that it was imperative to have as many children as possible, since the mortality rates were so high. And a few decades ago, if you liked sex you pretty much were resigned to a litter, whether you liked it or not. But nowadays, we have the choice not to have children, and if we take that option it doesn't mean humanity might die out. Then why is choosing not to have children still so shocking a choice?

Desci is a writer and editor in Melbourne. Her blog of vapid ramblings and hissy fits is here.

the hot topic of the week here in Victoria

The abortion reform legislation goes before the (Victorian State) Upper House this week and The Age continues to run it’s series of uncritical, clearly anti-abortion, “human story” style pieces that have been peppering the paper for the last couple of months.

The latest is all about little Thomas who was born at 26 weeks (a full 3.5 months early). Now six years old there’s a picture with his loving mother with the caption, “Thomas Sharples and his mother Deborah, who is disgusted by the idea of a 24-week termination”. With Deborah’s willing consent Thomas’s story has been part of the case delivered by Labour MP Marlene Kairouz against the Bill.

The story, no doubt supplied by the anti-choice lobby, is lazy and uncritical in its reporting of the facts. What was the cost of Thomas’s 3.5 months of post-natal hospitalization, much of it in NICU and ongoing special care? Not a mention. Has Thomas suffered for being kept alive ‘against all the odds’? The story glosses over his deafness and makes no other mention of the physical problems.

Thomas’s story does not address the issues of the Bill or the fact it is looking at abortion up to 24 weeks. At that stage of prematurity each day makes a substantive difference to likelihood of survival. While the medical advances in the past decade are increasing the odds for those born at 26-plus weeks gestation, there have been no significant changes for survival of 23 week old fetuses, which stays hovering at around 20%. It would be rare for the 1:5 who do survive to do so without blindness, deafness, brain damage, digestive problems, sleep apnea, heart irregularities and an inability to be fed naturally.

While I love a good survivor story and am not an eugenicist, the sloppy reporting does little to tell the whole story.

Catholic, and some other chrisitan, doctors or medical personal believe it is against their individual human rights to perform a termination on a woman who’s own life may be at stake if she continues the pregnancy. A strange lack of compassion in anyone’s book to choose a fetus that may have little chance of survival, over a functioning adult.

The Age continues to fail to bring it’s stories on this legislation back to the point which is to allow safe, legal access to abortions up to 24 weeks' gestation and remove unlawful abortion from the Crimes Act. While a small percentage of women may choose to go through an induced labour at 23 weeks for lifestyle reasons, the vast majority who seek a termination at this time is in response to the devastating news that their much wanted baby, if it was to survive birth, would have major brain or internal organ damage. I’ve met no woman who has been confronted with this to take the decision to terminate lightly. Nor has a single one of them forgotten what it was like to labour in vain and hold their child until it dies.

For those of us who support the final passing of this legislation, all we ask is that when for whatever reason, a woman chooses to terminate a pregnancy of up to 24 weeks, that it can be done so legally and safely. In short, that no woman die or be damaged from the consequences of an out of hospital abortion, or that she or the medical personal go to prison for pursuing an abortion up to 24 weeks.

What is so wrong with that?

"A number of people have asked me, 'Who speaks for the baby?' The answer, I believe, is that the mother speaks for the baby, and we need to respect that right, whether we agree or disagree with the decision they make."
Jeanette Powell, Victorian Nationals front bencher, speech to the Lower House. The Australian

Cross-posted at Health Philosophy Politics and Other Rants