Saturday, October 30, 2010

Remembering the lost

Cross-posted at HaT

Apparently October is the month for remembering those bubs that we lose before they get to grow up, or before they draw breath, or even before they're big enough for us to hold that one time. I don't do Facebook chain statuses, they annoy me, even if it's a sentiment I can relate to.

Instead, I'm just going to say again what I've said lots of times before - we need to construct the rituals and the social rules for talking about and publicly recognising miscarriage, still birth and infant death. I had two miscarriages, both quite early. The second was very early indeed. It's fair to say I grieved more for myself than the "baby", in my mind that embryo had not moved very far along the journey to personhood. However, I did still grieve, there was loss, and it was hard to talk to people about it at the time, because no-one has a framework, or a set of stock responses. They just look awkward and uncomfortable and it doesn't help.

Now I can talk about it with less emotion, and I try to take every opportunity to do so. I've come across a lot of people (especially men, for some reason) who are very relieved to find someone who will talk about it. Someone who they can share the pain, or sometimes the guilt over feeling not so much pain, or whatever was their experience. There's no rules about how you have to feel, but we need some rules about how to discuss it. Number one would be to listen to what the person is telling you, and don't guess how they are feeling. You'll never know whether this is deeply devastating or sad, but ok. Let them tell you. Other than, I don't know - feel free to offer suggestions in the comments.

My experience is only with miscarriage. Still birth and infant death are, in general, much harder. Those little ones have travelled much further down the road to personhood (and in the case of infant death, have legally achieved it) and it hurts more to lose them.

So I'm taking the time to remember the people that nobody got to really meet. To honour the tears that were shed for them, and to encourage everyone to help end the silence. It's getting better, but it could be better still.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Elissa categorises

Elissa explained to me today one of nature's binaries.

Things without sharp teeth:


Things with sharp teeth:



She also decided to tell me tales of hilarity:

"The other day, Daddy forgot to put our seat belts on. That was so silly. We said 'What the hell are you doing?'"


I love when my children remind me what terrible parents we are.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Handy pointers for GPs

It's unreasonable to assume that GPs are being obnoxious on purpose, so in the interest of fairness, here are some handy hints for GPs not to be arseholes.
  • If you ask a question, listen to the answer. Asking the same question four times doesn't inspire confidence.
  • If you send the patient for tests, book the tests you've been told you need to book.
  • Don't refer to a patient's "private parts", it makes you sound like a nervous school kid.
  • Not all diseases have read the text book, if the patient reports symptoms that don't match your memory of said text book, don't correct the patient, they probably didn't have the virus (or whatever) conspire to confound you.
  • If you're going to write down the results of observations, it's a good idea to actually make them (see next point).
  • If you are going to bother to make some observations, try doing it long enough to actually observe something.
  • NEVER tell a patient who has come to you because they're in pain, that they are not, in fact, in pain.
  • If you tell a patient they need a script, write out the script, without needing to be prompted by the patient. 
  • Don't pretend you're a super hero, lines like "Never fear, Dr XXXXX is here" aren't even endearing when you are a good doctor.
  • Finally, if the patient has been crying the entire time they've been in your office, don't send them on their way with a cheery "Have a wonderful day!" - it makes you look like an arsehole.
This handy list brought to you by a single visit to a single doctor. He was that good.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Things I'd like to see - Traditional Nation Signs

I've got a pretty reasonable handle on the towns and rivers and other geographic features of the bits of the east coast of Australia that I've travelled around. If someone mentions a town, I've probably got at least a vague idea of where it is. This is almost exclusively because as I've driven around, I've seen signs that tell me which town I'm driving through, or could turn left to reach, which river I'm crossing, and which mountains are around abouts. It's knowledge by osmosis.

On the other hand, I can tell you two fifths of bugger all about the lands of the peoples who were here before the Poms decided to send their criminals over here. I decided that this was a distinct gap in my knowledge, and went looking for instructive materials. One of the first things I found was this map. I haven't shown it here, because I think that might be breaching copyright, but you can look at it at that site (or download the pdf here for detail). The first thing that will hit you is that it's a mug's game to try to memorise who lived where, or even all the names of the nations - just like no-one thinks anyone is going to memorise all the towns and rivers in the country.

So want I want to see is signs on major highways and arterial roads, the same places that have signs for towns and other landmarks, letting me know which traditional territory I'm in now. So that same osmosis can work for me. So that we can all become familiar with the local peoples.

You may be wondering why I care about what may seem to be just historical lines on a map. It's because it isn't about where people lived, it's about who people are. When we refer to those people who were here before, we use white man's words to describe them - Indigenous, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islanders. We do it because we don't actually know who they are. Most people (myself included) don't even really understand the structure of their identities, much less know the names of them. I know that they identify loosely with large groups, such as Koori and Murri, but I can't even rattle off these broad identities (beyond these two) without looking it up, never mind more specific national identities. Fixing this is on my to-do list, but me learning about it isn't going to change much. I want to see this information floating out there, everywhere, so that if a person takes the time to tell me (or anyone else) who they are, the names they use won't fly away the way unfamiliar terms tend to do. They'll mean something, they'll ring a bell.

I'm also not looking for some grand gesture of massive funding to go out and put a bazillion signs all over the place. Just a commitment to make it happen over time. To start somewhere and keep going until the sign telling me that this is Tharawal land is as familiar as the one telling my I'm driving down Mt Ousley. This isn't history, this is who people are, here and now, and it's shameful that none of know the first thing about them.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Hard or soft wired?

Gender is a messy bloody business. People are really, really invested in the notion that gender differences are hard wired in the brain. I suppose it has a lot to do with identity. Most people consider their gender as a pretty significant portion of their identity. I don't think too many people feel terribly comfortable with the notion that something so central to their being is largely conditional on what the current social dogma says about gender roles.

I know I tend to buy into selective reinforcement type thinking. I'm pretty good at multi-tasking, because I'm female. I'm pretty good at science & maths because I happen to be. I'm tend to analyse relationships and engage in a lot of self reflection because I'm a woman. I tend to drink and swear too much when I go out because.... some other reason. My traits that are generally associated with "female" I attribute to my gender, whilst my traits that are traditionally "male" are for some other reason.

People get very worked up if you suggest that it might not be true that the having or not having of a Y chromosome in and of itself actually affects much about our personalities, our patterns of thought and our entertainment preferences. On the other hand, some other people get equally worked up if you suggest that some of these things might, in fact, have some hard wired component. Very few people seem to take the position that I feel is closest to the truth: that we have absolutely no idea how much, if any, of our gender identity is hard wired.

I think we should proceed on the basis that we have no idea. What would such a strategy involve? It would be pretty straightforward - you'd offer kids toys of all kinds, but not insist that they play with toys of all kinds. If the girl likes "girl" toys, so be it. If the boy likes girl toys, equally cool. If the kid likes a little from column A and a little from column B, also fine. We don't need to bring our kids up gender neutral, we need to bring them up gender accepting.

This is not much of a shift. My kids play with maybe 25% of the toys they have. I have a hard time guessing which things they'll like. So just ignoring gender roles in toy choice is unlikely to make much difference in the hit rate.

We need to proceed on the assumption that we have no idea how strong or weak any given child's capacity for empathy is, and to encourage and assist all of them equally to develop it. We should assume that any given child's language will develop somewhere between 1 and 4 years of age, and not set expectations based on presence or absence of a penis.

However, as they develop empathy, language, a focussed or more multi-tasking approach, a love of sequins or a passion for denim, we should stop comparing this to some arbitrary model of What Boys Do and What Girls Do. We know it's arbitrary, because these models are vastly different across cultures and across time. Pink was a boy's colour in the Western world only a couple of centuries ago. The idea of it being a girl's colour is either non-existent or very recent in most Asian cultures.

What would happen? I don't know. We might find that there are "girl brains" and "boy brains" but that they may not map terribly clearly with Y chromosomes. I think what we would actually find is a spectrum, with most people having attributes traditionally ascribed to both genders. But I really don't know what shape the distribution would be. It might be pretty flat, or it might turn out to have peaks in certain clusters of traits. So what would people call themselves? What would this mean for people who identify as trans gender? I also don't really know. I'd like to think that the idea of gender might become more subtle - not a great big stamp on your forehead that designates you B or G. It might recognise that some people are genuinely neither, or both, and see that as no big deal.

What do we have to lose? My collection of traits still belong to me, regardless of how they came about. I'm still free to identify as female. I might start thinking that perhaps I'm good at multi-tasking because I get bored easily, and so doing more than one thing at a time works for me, rather than because I fail to possess a Y chromosome. I might also expect my sons to be as self-reflective as my daughter, but equally accept that one may be more so than another.

Most shockingly of all, people might manage to find the things they love and excel at, regardless of whether it is a thing expected of their penis-possession status. How is this bad? How does this threaten us?

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Letters to Santa

It's the middle of October, the Aussie dollar is near as damnit to parity with the greenback, and it's seriously time to start thinking about Christmas.

This post was designed for my family, primarily - to write your letters to Santa in the comments section! But then I figured I may have some friends who could use some assistance in getting their letters to Santa delivered effectively, and what the hell, I'd love to know what everyone wants for Christmas! I'm opting for a huge list, that can't possibly be met, so that I'm not just providing a "buy me this" list. But if you have just one special thing you'd love to receive, put that in the comments too.

In the interests of eradicating boring gifts, write your Santa letters!

Things I'd like for Christmas, in no particular order
  • Outdoor speakers for the bathroom
  • One or two of my more beloved items of clothing copied by a dressmaker
  • Some jewelery that will go with pink-ish clothes
  • Babysitting
  • Funky & cool knitting patterns
  • Ceiling fans
  • Tablecloths that cover the whole dining room table, and preferably don't need ironing
  • Japanese dinner ware
  • Music - I may need to do some research on exactly what music I'd like.
That seems suitably ludicrously excessive. Now, what do you guys want? Family, I'm looking at you! But everyone, what's on your list this year, what would you like to receive? Or even, what do you seriously never want to unwrap again?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Blogging from the bubble

I was looking forward to the school holidays. I had Plans. I knew it was going to be a bit hectic, and the boys would probably watch more movies than I'd like, but there were a few key things we were going to do that was going to make sure it was a worthwhile holiday.

But the universe would have none of it. First, Ben got chicken pox. That was ok, it was the last week of school, and he wasn't very sick. Then, just as he was getting over the pox, he got a throat infection that landed him in Emergency on the Monday of the first week. He was ok - nothing that a massive dose of steroids wouldn't fix, but it screwed up his social life no end. Then he kindly passed that throat infection on to me, which didn't quite knock me out, but definitely knocked me down.

I managed one reasonable day in which we saw friends. The kids had fun and we had a sensational sushi night. At least our holiday highlight was a thumpingly good one.

Then I started to get a little ill again, and I thought it was the tail end of the throat infection. Not so. Eventually the little red spots started to appear, then I crashed completely. Chicken pox. I was very tempted to inflict you with the full litany of symptoms, but suffice it to say that there are systemic as well as rash-related symptoms, and one should remember that the rash gets everywhere. Think on that while you see how it looked on my face.

Now think about that everywhere. Ice packs were involved, people.

And it got worse. This was two days later.

Yes, that's as painful as it looks. That stuff about pox rash being itchy? Rubbish. The spots on my back were itchy, and I barely noticed it. It was all about the pain. And it went on and on. It's still going on, 9 days since the first symptom and 7 days since I hit the bed. I'm still in bed, but definitely on the improve. Why am I telling you this? Because there is a vaccine available for adults. If you didn't have the pox as a kid, get your immunity tested, and get vaccinated if need be, because this is a special kind of hell you don't want to go through.

On a lighter note, it was Crazy Hair Day at school today, and Ben was sent off, suitably crazied.

He was pretty chuffed, despite being told he looked like a girl. He's promised me next time he won't defend this with "I've never seen a girl with 6 pony tails straight over her head", but rather "Saying I look like a girl is the same as saying 'I look like a person'". (His wording on both counts, not mine.)

And no doubt Blogger is still going to left align these photos rather than centering them as they appear here in my editor, and I'm sorry, but I don't have the energy to wrestle with it. I'll just watch the rain instead.