5 Things Younger and Older Mums Have in Common

AN ARTICLE FOR SPRING ST. SEE THE ORIGINAL VERSION HERE.

It’s a trend that’s not going anywhere. Women are waiting longer to have children. In the United States the average age of a first-time mum in 1970 was 21. It was 25 in 2000. The latest data puts it at 26.

It puts me in a minority. I often hear things like, “You’re young to be a mum”, or the less polite version, “Oh, you’re just a baby yourself”. Apparently being a younger mother is an invitation for strangers to weigh in on my life. Then again, I’ve heard older mothers get uninvited comments too, from well-meaning friends, to rude shop assistants.

It’s not surprising that having a baby, like being a woman in general, is an invitation for people to volunteer their opinions, regardless of your age. But what’s it really like to be an older or younger mum? When I started asking questions I expected to hear all sorts of pros and cons to having a baby and different ages.

In fact what surprised me the most was just how much older and younger mums have in common.

1. We all feel ok about our bodies

In general younger mothers are more fertile and their bodies bounce back from pregnancy more easily. I’ve always had a difficult relationship with how I look but, surprisingly, being pregnant helped me to be comfortable in my body in a way I hadn’t known before. There’s something about seeing my body perform its reproductive function that made me less conscious of the superficial, cosmetic aspects.

Younger mother Jenny agrees: “I have more confidence in my body to be able to do what’s necessary to nourish and raise my daughter.” Older mum Aleisha does, too. While she worries that her skin is “not as elastic as it once was” she knows it’s a “reminder of what I have done and what I have made. I don’t care so much about that stuff now.”

2. We all have to make choices about work

There are lots of considerations for new mums going back to work. When to return? Full time? Part time? What can we afford? Studies have shown that women make more money for every year they postpone having a child.

Aleisha agrees that there’s more financial security in having a child later. And she feels that it has made her more productive at work. “I am certainly much better organised now. I think perhaps I work harder when I’m at work so I don’t have to bring anything home with me. I live for the weekends now.”

Jenny also refuses to bring her work home: “I want to be around my children as much as I can—staying late nights in an office or away from home is not something I will do to further my career.” She feels lucky to have the opportunity in her role to work flexible hours and still get the experience she wants.

Meanwhile younger mum Samantha has felt the strain of trying to balance motherhood and her career in IT, as part-time work and maternity leave make it harder for her to keep up with technological advances. And older mother Marcie has similar concerns: “If I go back I would have to do training again and start from the basics.” A tough issue for mums at any age.

3. We all feel judged sometimes

A recent study of over 15,000 mums found that older mums felt judged about not being able to keep up with their children, while younger mums believe they’ve been actively snubbed by older mothers who don’t take them seriously.

Both Jenny and Marcie grew sick of people weighing in on the needs of their new babies. “I may be a new mum,” says Marcie, “but I know when my baby needs socks, needs to sleep, where my baby can sleep, how to feed her.” Jenny, too, had people suggesting that her baby was hungry or tired. “I can’t help but feel like that person has actually said ‘I know better what your child needs.’ As a mum who is around her child 24/7, I know what she needs, or, at the very least, I’m trying to figure it out.”

4. We all have changing friendships

It’s not surprising that both older and younger mothers can feel out of sync with their friends who are at different life stages. Samantha found it hard to keep up with the friends she used to see out drinking or at parties. “When I became a younger mum it made it very hard to keep up with friends, and for people to understand why I couldn’t be the friend I used to be,” she says. Aleisha has a group of friends like that, too: “I have noticed it’s harder to catch up with them, purely because I don’t go out on the weekends so much.”

But for me, there were definitely friends who stuck around, the people who were generous and considerate when I couldn’t do the things I used to. Jenny’s good friends have welcomed her daughter into the world. “It is a great joy seeing my friends interact with her.” But more casual acquaintances have dropped off for the moment: “I don’t have the time or the energy to catch up one-on-one with people I don’t have all that much in common with.”

5. We are all happy to be older or younger mums

Busybodies are quick to remind mums about the possible fertility issues that rise as women age. Older mum Marcie conceived her daughter with the help of IVF so is no stranger to this. But it has made her appreciate her daughter all the more.  “My real favourite thing is just having my miracle. I am grateful for every minute.”

Both Aleisha and Marcie feel more self-assured and confident because of their age. Marcie says, “I feel more relaxed, I don’t worry or overthink things.” Aleisha knows herself better than she did when she was younger: “I know what sort of mother I want to be and what values I want to instill in my daughter.”

Meanwhile, Samantha felt that a lack of expectations actually helped her as a younger mother. “I didn’t know anything about babies and had nothing to compare to so this helped me to adjust my lifestyle more easily.” I know what she means: as few close friends have babies, I felt free to do things my own way.

So there you have it. It turns out it doesn’t matter if you’re an older or younger mum. Regardless of age we know our children and know ourselves. We have career successes and challenges and friendships that come and go. And hopefully having so much in common makes it easier to make mum friends and set aside our judgments, no matter what age we are.

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ToB Quarterfinals

Welcome to the TOB17 Quarterfinals! A wonderful world in which I have read most of the books and have been saving up things to say about them. Let’s start with The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. As an Australian I haven’t read/seen/learned much about the experience of American slavery and so I didn’t notice what Judge Butler pointed out in the first round: the idea that each stop on the railroad is ‘a set piece for a different aspect of the African-American experience.’ I’ve been thinking about this ever since. I also like this from Judge Adewunmi:

America’s sin of slavery is not new, but its terrors have been somewhat dulled over time . . . So Whitehead brought some of that back. Here’s a definitively chilling line on a slave catcher: “Ridgeway gathered renown with his facility for ensuring that property remained property.” The matter-of-fact tone is perhaps the book’s strongest weapon. You do not need to embellish horror: It’s in the way Ridgeway calls all the enslaved people “it,” and it lives in one specifically chilling paragraph about the punishment meted out to another runaway that will haunt me forever.

I know exactly the paragraph she’s talking about and I totally agree. The Underground Railroad was a visceral reading experience. It is full of the close and personal terrors of slavery. The different stops provide a fascinatingly broad picture of the places and people of that era. My only criticism of the book was it’s sense of contingency, in the sense that I didn’t feel it. The structure of the book necessitated its end point in a way that I felt very heavily from about halfway through. I won’t say too much more to avoid spoilers but I will say that at first it didn’t bother me and then as it got closer and closer to the end I started to find the book overburdened with the sense of what needed to happen but hadn’t yet. I found myself skimming through the end because I could see what was coming so clearly that I didn’t really care how it got there.

Even though I really enjoyed All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders I thought The Underground Railroad deserved the win. Although Birds captivated me in a way that Railroad did not, I’ve said before that the book also didn’t surprise me. But I did like it as a way of exploring human emotions against a background of the fantastical. As Judge Adewunmi writes, despite the magic and science fiction, ‘Laurence and Patricia’s dilemmas are rooted in a much more recognisable world: of being at a certain age and feeling like you’re coasting; about wanting something to change but feeling like it is intangible and therefore beyond your reach; of imposter syndrome, and men who assault women’. What I loved about this book (and the others that I have read in this genre) is that, unlike a lot of traditional fantasy, the characters are playing out real life. It makes the impossible approachable, in the way that I would 100% cast spells during sex. But as Judge Adewunmi writes, ‘Anders’s prose—pretty, joyous, and inventive—felt a little too light next to Whitehead’s.’

The next match up was between Brit Bennett’s The Mothers and Version Control by Dexter Palmer. (Still haven’t read Version Control but I’m picking it up from the library today.) I really like The Mothers. It follows the story of Nadia Turner who, after her mother’s suicide and an affair with the preacher’s son, gets an abortion. This act echoes through the years as she befriends another girl from church, goes away to college, and comes back to find her friend married to the father of her unborn child. I haven’t read much about abortion and I liked the way the book gave it a weight without ever condemning the choice Nadia made. That being said, a friend I talked to thought it ended up reading as an anti-abortion piece. I disagree: I think the life Nadia end up with would not have been possible without the abortion and though it isn’t a fairytale ending it includes the escape from her hometown that she longed for and a reconciliation with her father. As a review in the Guardian puts it, ‘Nadia doesn’t want to be pregnant, so she has an abortion, and gets on with her life. But she doesn’t pretend it never happened.’

Judge Rinehart and the commentators talk about the economy and precision of Bennett’s book. Commentator Kurtz says, ‘Bennett’s book is “tightly woven” in sentence structure, yes, but even thematically this sense of constriction is marvelously persistent . . . Bennett is at her best when her characters are too much with themselves, bodies jostling for space in cramped rooms and hallways. She’s a good writer of the claustrophobia of hometowns and tight communities and our banging against the walls of ourselves and our expectations for how intimacy should operate.’ I think that’s a great description of the joys of the book. But parts of it didn’t work for me. I found the device of the omniscient church Mothers a bit forced. It was sometimes clunky and unnecessary, going over delicately handled and interesting plot points with a highlighter as often as it elucidated something new.

(Sidebar: you should read Bennett’s essay ‘I Don’t Know What to Do With Good White People’.)

The next round was between Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi and Grief is the Thing with Feathers by Max Porter. I found myself in agreement with Judge Popkey on Grief. It’s a slight, impressionistic book about the grief of a father and his sons for the loss of their wife and mother. I really liked parts of it (see previous post) but found that ‘Crow’s presence, and its implications, feel less personal—that is, specific—than private—that is inaccessible, and in a way that Porter’s sketches of the father and his boys’ grief does not.’ I also felt like I needed to read more Ted Hughes to appreciate this book and I kind of resented it. I don’t want to read Ted Hughes. And to be honest I’m not sure if it would have added much anyway.

On the other hand, I loved Homegoing. It tells the story of two branches of a family descended from sisters born in West Africa, each unaware of the other’s existence. One daughter is sold into slavery and the other marries a British slave trader. From there, each chapter tells the story of a different descendent of these women going through the years to the present day. In the way of such collections, you get snapshots of people in time only to lose track of them entirely or learn of their fate second-hand later. And, also common to these type of works, some sections are stronger than others. But on the whole it created an incredibly broad picture of generations of people who’s lives were shaped, in one way or another, by the slave trade. And then again I liked the juxtaposition with the extreme specificity of the experiences of only certain members of the family. It’s similar to The Underground Railroad in using its chapters as a way to showcase different parts of history from various perspectives. A lot of people (including Commentator Kearns) have said they didn’t think the execution matched the ambition of the concept. I disagree: I loved it. I was excited to see it pass through to the next round and I think it would be really interesting to see it go up against The Undergroung Railroad, a book with which it has lots in common but at the same time couldn’t be more different from.

I haven’t read The Nix or Mister Monkey so I’ll have to give that round a miss for now. See you back next week for more!

ToB17 Week Two

This week marked my departure from having read more than one book in any match up. All in all it worked out pretty well for me though: out of four books I’d read three went through to the next round.

First up, a disappointmentMy Name is Lucy Barton by Elizabeth Strout lost to Version Control by Dexter Palmer. I loved Lucy Barton. It was quiet but packed with so much emotion. It’s a reflection by a now-successful writer on a few months she spent in hospital when her estranged mother came to visit. The prose is so simple and spare and at first I wondered if her mother was actually dead and visiting as a figment of Lucy’s imagination. (It is no spoiler to tell you she’s not.) There is so little to go on but that’s what makes the slim novel so strong as the little pieces of information slowly add up to a bigger emotional truth. The reader slowly fills in Lucy’s childhood of incredibly poverty with hard and detached parents. You see her marriage to her husband and her missing of her two daughters, her work on becoming a writer, her eventual divorce. (Kind of a spoiler but not really.) Some of my favourite parts came out of the eventual divorce.And through it all Lucy’s distant mother is there with her, bringing up parts of her story and solidly blocking others. It’s so interestingly put together and trickily compelling: I kept wondering about her childhood trauma but by the time it’s eventually revealed I realised it was not the point at all.

Next up was The Mothers by Brit Bennett vs High Dive by Jonathan Lee. I haven’t read High Dive but now I kind of want to. I’ll talk about The Mothers more next time.

Then came Moonglow by Michael Chabon and Grief is the Thing With Feathers by Max Porter. I tried to read the Chabon. I tried like three times. But I hated it so much, although I think more as a concept than the book itself. I loved Judge Chancelor’s verdict (I also really liked his odd book from ToB15. He says, ‘Ultimately, I don’t care that much about the grandfather—or Mike.’ I would stretch that to Michael Chabon. I am heartily not into sprawling, somewhat autobiographical white guy novels. Colour me completely uninterested. Of the very little part of the book I did read I found it forced – trying too hard to be quirky and trying too hard to generate interest in largely uninteresting lives. But hey, I only got through like 30 pages so what do I know. Although Grief was also not my usual jam after forcing myself through half of it I succumbed to its charms. (To be fair it’s a really short book so forcing myself through half of it took less than an hour. I like that in a book.) Grief is super weird and painful and full of very strange imagery and a giant talking crow. Judge Chancelor quotes the end of one of my favourite passages about moving on. Here’s the part I love that comes immediately before it:

Moving on, as a concept, was mooted, a year or two after, by friendly men on behalf of their well-intentioned wives. Women who loved us. Women who knew me as a child.

Oh, I said, we move. WE FUCKING HURTLE THROUGH SPACE LIKE THREE MAGNIFICENT BRAKE-FAILED BANGERS, thank you, Geoffrey, and send my love to Jean.

Judge Chancelor also says this:

Grief Is the Thing With Feathers shows how much life fits inside any moment. It’s short. There’s a lot of blank space to process what you’re reading. Each scene seems chosen with great care, but also with a reckless laugh that comes from Crow. We go as deep and as close as possible to each instant—with an intensity of feeling as if the entire thing is going to be suddenly ripped away.’

In the next round, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi (which I loved) beat out Sweet Lamb of Heaven by Lydia Millet (which sounds cool but I haven’t read it). More on that next round.

And after that I haven’t read any of the others. Hopefully to be rectified soon!

 

 

ToB17 Week one

A fact that might seem odd to those who know me: I really like fiction about sports. ToB round one was the play-in round for me! But I actually only managed to read one of the books, The Throwback Special by Chris Bachelder. The cover completely rips off The Art of Fielding by Chad Harbach – the authors’ names even look kind of similar spelled out. But Throwback is nothing like Fielding. It’s about a group men of a certain age who get together once a year to reenact the tragic NFL play in which Joe Theisman was horribly injured. In a close third person it jumps between the 14 (I want to say 14? It could be another number. I really don’t know how sport works.) men, giving the reader little snapshots of their lives and their psyches. Some get more attention than others and lots of things are left out. That’s kind of what made the book work for me. I never actually wanted a complete picture of any of them but leaving bits out somehow made me more invested in their interactions. Like Judge Diamond says, the snippets of information ‘are supposed to tell little stories about the characters who make up this small book, and it’s clever, but again, I ultimately wanted a little more. And also a hell of a lot less.’ The absurdity of their get-together also kept me engaged as I wondered how exactly such a weird thing was going to work. The reenactment itself was viewed from afar and the hands-off approach of the author gelled with the way the characters were handled. I thought the whole thing was interesting and clever. But ultimately I don’t care about the tenuous friendships between a bunch of un-self-aware middle-aged dudes.

Sudden Death winning is exciting because it gives me another chance to read a sport book. Although the description of the book as Bolaño-esque is not really appealing to me… But that is a story for another time!

The first real match up of the tournament on Monday made me pretty happy. Judge Butler seemed very in tune with how I felt about the books. I won’t talk too much about The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead because I’ve learned from experience that if I do I’ll run out of things to say pretty quickly. I will say that, like her, I had to do some quick and furtive research to make sure the Underground Railroad was not, in fact, a real railroad. I am not American! Which is a pretty poor excuse.

However, I did like Black Wave by Michelle Tea more than Judge Butler did. I didn’t find the meta-narrative thing so annoying and I quite liked reading about Michelle’s (character Michelle that is) aimless and destructive drugged up wanderings around San Francisco. Then just when I was getting sick of that she moved to LA. Then just as that was getting boring the world ended. So good pacing all round. I liked the light and self-deprecating way the author handled character Michelle’s self-righteousness and general selfishness. If you’re going to have an eponymous character you get points for making them an annoying but funny egocentric dick. I actually haven’t finished the book yet, and I will, but I still have to agree with Judge Butler’s verdict:

Whitehead is just operating on another level here. The proof of his virtuosity may lie in how well this novel tricks the reader, in fact, into thinking it’s classical when what it’s actually playing at is jazz. For one thing, there are the fantasy trains. For another, each of his heroine’s layovers as she tries to outrun her past—in South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, and finally Indiana—is actually a set piece for a different aspect of the African-American experience. It’s not that I wasn’t aware of how stylized these parables are; it’s that I saw the book’s score and then promptly forgot its notation. You can read The Underground Railroad and remain fully aware of its constructedness, or you can put those thoughts aside and give yourself over to its thrumming engine, its beating heart.

The next matchup was between The Vegetarian by Han Kang and All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders. But in this case I actually disagree with the way Judge Ganeshananthan got there. The Vegetarian is the brutal, spare and perplexing story of Yeong-hye, an apparently unremarkable woman who suddenly decides to stop eating meat. Her husband and family flip out and three sections from various perspectives see her gradually shutting down, slowly removing herself from the world by disregarding the oppressive social contract she’s been living by. The book is full of strange sexual acts and dubious consent, force-feeding, rape, purging and self harm. Yet it wasn’t the kind of painful I expected, its depictions of violence more deeply unsettling than grisly. Like Judge Ganeshananthan, I hoped more would be revealed in the last section but the fact that it wasn’t was kind of the point of the whole book. I All the Birds in the Sky by Charlie Jane Anders, on the other hand, was a delight to read. Fun, funny, self-aware and, as Judge Ganeshananthan writes, full of ‘propulsive energy in the face of disaster.’ Judge Ganeshananthan ‘wanted to know that I was in the hands of a writer who wouldn’t be falsely optimistic, but could still bring me joy.’ I understand that feeling but I ultimately disagree. The Vegetarian was like nothing I’ve ever read before and achieved so much in so few words. All the Birds in the Sky, while not huge, definitely feels spacious and didn’t surprise me in the same way. As I said to a friend, ‘It’s like a not as good Lev Grossman book’, which is not really fair, but gives you an idea of how I felt about it. I’ve recommended it to people, even bought it for one, and I definitely liked it more. But The Vegetarian was a much more fascinating prospect.

So that’s it for my first week back on the ToB trail. Here’s looking forward to week two.

Re-reading Telex From Cuba by Rachel Kushner

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I used to be a big re-reader. There are a few reasons. For starters I’m a big fan of plot so I try to start a book for the first time knowing as little about it as possible. Re-reading strips away that concern with what’s going to happen next and allows different parts of the book to surface: language, form, voice, whatever. It’s also comforting to read a book knowing exactly what’s going to happen and knowing that you already like it. It’s like bowling with bumpers (the only way I bowl). Re-reading also allows me to keep track of complex plots and characters better, gaining a new appreciation for the way it all fits together. It’s interesting how often I misremember things, even parts of the book that are really important to me, and on re-reading new bits jump out and stick in my brain. I like that.

Now I have a small human on my hands so as a busy mum I have less time for reading and even less time for re-reading. But I took the time to re-read Telex from Cuba by Rachel Kushner.

Because of said tiny human and subsequent decrease in reading time I’ve been going out of my way to only buy and read books I feel pretty confident I’ll like. (That’s a bad thing but the upcoming Tournament of Books should help.) I knew how much I loved Rachel Kushner so I ordered a little book of three short stories called The  Strange Case of Rachel K. The stories are all centred on Cuba: ‘The Great Exception’ is gallop from the Spanish colonisation in 1492 to the destitution of a Hawaiian immigrant in the early 1900s; ‘Debouchement’ tells of illegal broadcasts by a faith healer and the luxury of the Pan American club in the years of Cuba as a United States protectorate; ‘The Strange Case of Rachel K’ is inspired by the true yet vague story of a courtesan murdered in a hotel room but recasts her as a woman of agency who finds a counterpart in a French Nazi.

The whole time I was reading I had this strange feeling of having read it before. It was only halfway through the final story that I realised I had: whole chunks of these stories are replicated in Telex from Cuba. I first read Telex from Cuba three years ago, on the back of my beloved The Flamethrowers. It’s the story of Cuba on the cusp of revolution told from the various perspectives. There are two American children living in the luxury of the American towns set up for cane farm workers, Rachel K, the dancer and courtesan who is a favourite of both Cuban politicians and revolutionary organisers, and real life French agitator Christian de La Mazière who is very much out for himself.

Kushner beautiful conjures the threatening political conditions using metaphors of the humid, oppressive climate and the slowly disintegrating faux-luxury. The children’s growing awareness works perfectly to slowly reveal the brutality behind the facade of their American lives and the book is filled with fascinating tangents – bits like the illegal broadcasts of the faith healer from ‘Debouchement’, the edible parrots from ‘The Great Exception’, the zazou subculture appropriated by ‘Rachel K’. There are so many great passage and lines and it was particularly interesting to see the bits that had made their way from Kushner’s short stories into the book.

Re-reading Telex made me fall in love with it the way I had done with The Flamethrowers. Like The Flamethrowers it is meandering yet thorough, full of all sorts of interesting stories that come together into a whole bigger than it’s parts. It’s huge in scope yet reveals so much about the individuals involved along the way. It is historical yet personal, evocative and searing. I loved it so much and one day I’ll read it again.

Chrissy Teigen’s Postpartum depression really got me

AN ARTICLE FOR SPRING ST. SEE THE ORIGINAL VERSION HERE.

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Yesterday I read Chrissy Teigen’s essay about suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety and I cried. I’m so not that person! I said to myself (and anyone who’d listen). I don’t get invested in the lives of celebrities. I don’t care about who they’re dating or when they break up. I don’t buy trashy magazines or spend time speculating about their triumphs and tribulations. So why did this get me?

Last month I wrote about how Chrissy Teigen’s pregnancy helped me through my own. Her growing baby bump and Twitter commentary brought me excitement, joy and hilarity. Her daughter Luna was born six weeks before mine and since then I’ve looked to Chrissy’s social media for the same things I did while she was pregnant, namely hilarious and honest commentary on being a new mother. Chrissy is a self-professed “chronic oversharer” and her public persona made me feel like I knew her, that maybe if we somehow knew each other in real life we’d become friends. I cared what Chrissy was up to and how she was doing.

When I read Chrissy’s letter in Glamour about suffering from postpartum depression and anxiety I was shocked. We all know that social media is generally used for displaying our best self rather than broadcasting moments of loneliness and pain. But Chrissy Teigen is famous for being so open and unfiltered that I’d forgotten this might apply to her too. I felt, strangely, like I’d failed her – like she really was my friend and I hadn’t seen the warning signs. She’d been suffering all this time and I was taken in by her amazing holiday snaps and red carpet outfits. Of course she looks happy and amazing. That’s literally her job. But still, how could this happen to Chrissy?

My next reaction was to the parts of her life I could never relate to. Her amazingly accommodating work:

The show treated me incredibly well—they put a nursery in my dressing room and blew up photos of Luna and John and my family for my wall. When Luna was on set, they lowered the noise levels. They turned down the air so she wouldn’t be cold. Only the most gentle knocking on the door. Pump breaks.

Her easy access to health care:

I had to go to the hospital; the back pain was so overwhelming. I felt like I was in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy: These kids were around me, asking questions. Maybe it was a kidney infection? No one could figure it out. I saw rheumatoid doctors for the wrist pain; we thought it might be rheumatoid arthritis. I felt nauseated all the time, so I saw a GI doctor.

Her help at home with Luna:

I have all the help I could need: John, my mother (who lives with us), a nanny. 

Chrissy addresses this in her piece:

I have a great life. I have all the help I could need: John, my mother (who lives with us), a nanny. But postpartum does not discriminate. I couldn’t control it. And that’s part of the reason it took me so long to speak up: I felt selfish, icky, and weird saying aloud that I’m struggling. Sometimes I still do. I know I might sound like a whiny, entitled girl. Plenty of people around the world in my situation have no help, no family, no access to medical care.

But my reaction was not what she was predicting. In fact, understanding Chrissy’s position of privilege didn’t make me think she was whiny, selfish or entitled. It just made me sadder. Here was a strong, smart, funny, empowered woman who is using all the tools available to her… and it still was not enough.

On a bad day, when I haven’t slept or showered, and nothing I do seems to please my baby, I might see a picture of Chrissy at a Hollywood event. She’ll look perfect, of course. And I’ll think to myself, If I had a team of hairstylists, makeup artists, nannies, stylists, personal trainers, etc, etc, I could look like that too. Obviously not like THAT, but I could look glamorous and stylish and put together. I could be a great mum without showing the physical cost. The sad thing is that my bad day, without my team of expert help, is still nowhere near as hard as every day was for Chrissy. So, no, Chrissy, I don’t think you’re being entitled.

There’s another aspect for me: while I was pregnant I was terrified of getting postpartum depression. My husband didn’t understand it. I didn’t have any risk factors and it didn’t seem to run in my family. My pregnancy had gone smoothly and I was so excited about my baby. But when I woke up in the middle of the night (usually to pee) I’d worry about what would come next. What if I didn’t bond with my baby? What if it was too hard? What if I couldn’t handle being a mum? These fears crystalised into a fear of postpartum depression.

It didn’t happen. Sure, I had days when I cried for no reason, times when I was overwhelmed and everything seemed too hard. But it was for hours, not even days, let alone weeks or months. And hat was bad enough.

I’m so sorry that women have to go through postpartum depression at what is already such an intense and hard time. A time with all sorts expectations, both from society and from themselves.  I’m so sorry that Chrissy had to go through it and that, even with all the help and support she had available, she still felt so bad. But I’m glad she told us about her experience. I know that by being her usual open, honest and candid self, the same way she got me through my pregnancy, Chrissy will help other women suffering from postpartum depression to feel less alone.

Like a human Zombie Round, I’m back for ToB17

I’ve missed the last two years but FINALLY I am back for Tournament of Books 2017. And this time, I’ve even read a bunch of the books already!

I’ve really missed this. The Tournament of Books is a great reminder about a lot of things: books I’ve been meaning to read, reading outside my comfort zone, some excellent books out there that don’t get coverage in Australia. ToB17 has already given me new favourites and fresh reading motivation. Now the brackets have been released and my excitement is mounting.  Watch this space for all my hot takes.

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I shared my pregnancy with Chrissy Teigen and learnt a lot

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Like everyone else in the world, I am a huge fan of Chrissy Teigen. I love her fashion sense, her unabashed love of food, her sweet relationship with John Legend and her general ballsy attitude. I love watching her get into fights on Twitter and I love watching her glammed up for an awards show but most of all I love that both these things seem to come equally naturally to Chrissy. She is an incredibly beautiful woman who is also smart, open, feisty and funny as hell.

­­In October 2015 Chrissy Teigen announced that she was pregnant. I found out I was pregnant two weeks later. I was equal parts excited and intimidated to share my pregnancy with Chrissy: eager to see her hilarious and honest take on this new life stage and confident I could never live up to her beautiful, hilarious, glowing pregnancy. But I did not expect that Chrissy’s pregnancy would help me through my own.

Lesson 1: It’s about you and your family.

When I found out I was pregnant I was excited and scared and, as anyone who knows me can tell you, unable to keep a secret. My mind was buzzing: who would I tell? When? How? I constantly ran through announcement scenarios in my head.

On the 13th of October Chrissy Teigen announced her pregnancy with this beautiful photo of her and John Legend:

There’s no gimmick, no joke, just a candid picture of the couple looking excited and happy and a heartfelt caption about the couple’s fertility struggle.

So I took a leaf out of Chrissy’s book and realised that my pregnancy was about me and my partner and our growing family. I didn’t do any sort of announcement, instead I visited the people who were most important to me and told them in person

Lesson 2: Your pregnant body is not up for discussion.

At what was probably the 3-4-month mark, Chrissy posted this photo of her baby bump:

Somebody is early to the party 😩😩😩

A post shared by chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) on

People all over started weighing in on her body, insisting that she must be having twins. She responded in true Chrissy Teigen fashion:

Then was forced to respond again:

And finally gave up:

When you’re pregnant it seems that everyone has an opinion. You’re big, you’re small, you’re glowing, you look tired – everyone has something to say. Luckily for me, I am not a celebrity and so my exposure to crazy members of the general public was minimalised but, like Chrissy, I learned to be firm about shutting people down. It is none of anyone’s business what size my stomach is and, no, you may not touch it.

Lesson 3: Eat what you want.

Not long after that, Chrissy posted this photo of her sugary cereal craving:

Cap'n Pebbles cravings, nightly

A post shared by chrissy teigen (@chrissyteigen) on

Everyone decided this was somehow their business and started food shaming Chrissy about her “unhealthy” pregnancy diet. She responded with a series of hilarious tweets:

As a vegetarian, I spent lots of time researching and then freaking out about pregnancy nutrition. I even saw a dietician. Then I kept on eating white food anyway because no amount of advice could make me start craving fresh salad instead of plain pasta. It’s easy to feel guilty in the face of Instagram pictures captioned #healthypregnancy but, as Chrissy proves, you have to trust your body and realise that it’s ok give into your cravings some (all) of the time.

See also: her many, many, many, comments about food.

Lesson 4: Wanting a girl doesn’t make you a monster.

The next public outcry came when Chrissy revealed to People Magazine that she and John Legend had chosen to have a girl. Vogue looks at the process here.

Chrissy was forced to defend her choice with facts, honesty and, eventually, sarcasm:

This was a big one for me because I also really wanted a girl. And I was pretty open about it. The most common response was, “As long as they’re healthy it doesn’t matter!” Others insisted that I’d love a boy just as much – ummm, I never said that I wouldn’t. In general, people seemed uncomfortable about my having a preference. Unlike Chrissy, I didn’t have a choice but if I had, I might have done the same thing. It made me examine my reasons for wanting a girl. I realised I wanted to share my experiences of being a woman, which are so crucial to who I am, with my child. I felt better for exploring this and, strangely, less concerned about my baby’s sex after thinking it through.

Lesson 5: take whatever help you can get.

Towards the end of her pregnancy Chrissy mentioned to Us Weekly that she and John planned to hire a night nurse. Naturally people got critical, telling Chrissy she was spoiled, uncaring and would miss out on bonding with her child.

Chrissy hit back at the publication for using a throwaway answer as a clickbait-y headline:

Women are praised when they seem to be managing everything. Everyone wants to be a supermum. But new motherhood is hard and tiring and requires you to quickly master things you’ve never done before. Many people offered to help and my instinct was always to turn it down with a breezy “We’re fine, thanks!”

But there’s no prize for doing everything alone and caring for a new baby can be incredibly isolating. So say yes! Yes to the offer of food, the offer to watch the baby while you have a shower, the offer of anything at all. Think about what you need and then ask for it. There’s no shame in getting help and, as Chrissy says of night nurses, they’re “helpers and teachers” and we all need more of those.

On the 14th of April 2016 Luna Simone Stephens was born. It was not, by any means, the end of the outrage (of course not!) but Chrissy’s honest and funny tweets, instagrams and interviews kept me going till the birth of my daughter at the end of May. It’s comforting to know that the experience of pregnancy and motherhood is something we all share, whether we’re millionaires, supermodels or just regular ladies, sitting on the couch eating pizza for breakfast.

Keeping up friendships when you’re a new mum

AN ARTICLE FOR SPRING ST. SEE THE ORIGINAL VERSION HERE.

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My daughter was born eight months ago. Suddenly most of my waking moments were devoted to feeding, changing, burping and bouncing this new tiny human. I didn’t think about my friends all that much, and can honestly say I never asked myself whether or not I was being a good friend to them.

People give you lots of advice when you are pregnant—most of it variations on, “Watch lots of movies, you won’t get the chance again!” and, “Sleep now while you still can!” Everyone told me, in short, that I wouldn’t be able to do the things I liked once I had a baby. (It’s not true, by the way; you do them less but you appreciate them more.)

But I hadn’t considered that it might also apply to my friendships.

In the early days everyone wanted to visit and cuddle my new bundle of baby. Everyone made the same joke—they were there to see the baby, not me. It was probably true, but I didn’t really care because I was a big fan of my baby too. But then time went on, and the visitors dropped off. People went back to their everyday lives and I was left trying to figure out what my own would be like. I learned quickly: It was very different. No more after-work drinks; no more big weekend nights out; no more spontaneous coffees; no more commute into the city to meet friends halfway.

So how do you make your friendships work?

Location, location, location.

When you only have two hours between feedings, you need to make that time count for sleeping, showering, and eating (in that order, for me). So if a friend came to my place it made my life much easier and maximized the time I could spend with them. (Tip from a midwife: Try to keep just one room in your house clean, and entertain people there).

I loved when people met me at the café down the road or joined me for a walk, a real bonus for a new mum with a baby who would only sleep in the pram. It made it harder for friends who lived far away. But it also meant I appreciated it even more when they made the trip.

Be understanding.

New mums are masters of running late, changing venues, or just plain cancelling. It’s really hard to be at the mercy of a tiny tyrant who has no respect for your schedule. So as a friend, do not take it personally when a new mum bails. Remember it’s not intentional; she would much rather be on time.

I can never be sure when a nap will end or an untimely vomit will necessitate an outfit change for everyone involved. I’ve always been one of those people who’s constantly ten minutes late. Add in a baby, a long list of supplies all crucial for leaving the house, and unpredictable pooping, and it went from a mildly annoying ten minutes to an extremely rude half hour.

At my end, I adjusted my preparation time and now always leave the house early to allow for any surprises. If I expect people to be considerate of me, I have to be considerate of their time as well.

Be honest.

If you want to ask about my baby, please do! If you don’t, that’s totally fine. Don’t ask if you don’t care, though, it’s really obvious and makes the interaction awkward for both of us.

I don’t expect everyone to be as interested in my child as I am (that’s what grandparents are for), so I’m happy to talk about my offspring as much or as little as my friends would like. And honesty goes both ways. There are so many media portrayals of the perfect mum and I don’t want to add to that pressure by pretending every moment is a delight. Some of the best conversations I’ve had involved me being completely open about my experiences and it’s brought me closer to my friends.

Mums are people too.

I may be a new mum, but it doesn’t mean all my other interests have evaporated. 

New mums still want to talk about the things we loved before giving birth, whether that’s movies, food, politics or The Bachelor. I really appreciated the friends who gave me books and then asked what I thought of them. And if you’re a mum, don’t be afraid to gently change the subject if you’re getting a bit sick of baby talk.

And try to schedule some baby-free time to catch up with friends. I was constantly distracted with my little one around, so leaving baby home with my partner or my parents was a real treat that allowed me to focus on my friends and my own interests.

Text/call/email/use social media.

You might not be able to do all these things. You might not be able to do any of these things. If you can’t get out to visit, or can’t find a time that suits both of you, just let your new-mum friend know you’re thinking of her.

I have friends who I’ve only seen a couple of times in the last eight months, but regular text messages let me know they’re thinking of me and let me keep up with their lives from a darkened room while shushing a baby to sleep. Talk to your friends in whatever way works for you—get in contact and stay in contact.

In general I see people much less now, but I definitely feel very secure in many friendships. With others, I hope we’ll reconnect when things settle down. I’ve become closer to other friends I can really appreciate now, and found wonderful new friendships with other mums.

And some weeks go by when I can’t get it together to respond to a text, let alone see a friend. But my true friends understand, and will still be there when I’m ready.

ToB Winner!

The Good Lord BirdCongratulations to James McBride and The Good Lord Bird, winner of the 2014 Rooster. There were some really nice, compact thoughts from all the judges and I urge you to read the whole thing. Here are some parts that resonated with me:

Judge Hu: [Life After Life is] one of the best self-obsessively formal novels of all time. How did Atkinson manage to craft a story so simultaneously cognitive and visceral?

Judge McElwee: This story [The Good Lord Bird] about a boy in a dress hardly touches gender.

Judge Fershleiser:  But in Life After Life, I got my book about female inner worlds. These characters face rape, abortion, abusive marriages, motherhood—all the inescapable strictures of a woman’s existence even as she has a freedom beyond imagining. Amid the extraordinary premise, it’s the fundamentally ordinary that is so beautiful: love for a brother, sharing secrets with a friend, seizing or shirking opportunities.

And commentator Kevin Guilfoile asks: I wonder if a less American jury might have leaned more toward Atkinson. I think The Good Lord Bird presupposes at least a passing familiarity with John Brown and Frederick Douglass, and maybe even an internalization of slavery as America’s original sin.

So that’s the end of another March of frenetic reading and posting. I am both relieved and saddened. As always, it’s been a great opportunity to read some amazing and interesting books and think some thoughts about them. I thank ToB in particular for The People in the Trees and At Night We Walk in Circles. Without you, I wouldn’t have read these wonderful books. Till next year.