Using language to support parent infant bonding

Language is so powerful. When Poppy was born we found many people would frame our experiences or her behaviour in ways that were not helpful for us. It’s amazing how many of our common phrases ascribe bad intentions to the child. It may seem like nit picking to fuss over a word, but words build the story that impacts how we understand each other. They create the filter through which we interpret each others intentions.

I first learned about attribution theory in uni, studying psychology, and a lot of things clicked in my mind about people I’d known. Most anyone when depressed or overwhelmed sees the world and other people through a filter that makes the innocuous seem hostile and the mildly difficult downright sinister. Some of us are more prone to this more of the time, living in a world where grey runs to black. How we feel can strongly change the way we interpret others and the world around us.

Many of the stories created by common phrases used about children would pit Poppy against us, as if she was indifferent or even cruel. People would say things like she was “being a jerk” if she wouldn’t stop crying, was “too smart for her own good” if she climbed something and fell off, “had us wrapped around her little finger” if we went to comfort her after she fell over.

On one level this is a way to be light-hearted about the stress of parenting, laugh it off, and validate how awful and exhausting it can be! But for some, in the context of stress and sleep deprivation, this can also take the relationship between parent and child into dark and risky places.

It can be difficult to understand just how painful things can get if you haven’t been there. In the early months of Poppy’s life, I was often sick, very sleep deprived, and feeling at the end of my tether. I’ve noticed that a kind of flip in thinking can happen when things are really bad. If you feel stretched past capacity enough, at some point it feels like it’s not possible for everyone to survive. Survival instinct and maternal instinct start to contradict each other. The maternal (or parental) impulse to protect and nurture is powerful and we tend to see it as the norm. But it’s not always the way, and when threat levels are high and bonding is distorted it may diminish or become secondary. The impulse to protect the child may dissipate next to the sense that there’s simply not enough resources for everyone.

Things can get really desperate if the child’s behaviour is framed as a threat in some way to your own survival. The shift in thinking from ‘we are all in this together, having a tough time’ to ‘they are sucking me dry’ is a risky one both for the relationship and the child.

This interesting article, the neuroscience of calming baby explores what’s going on behind a common phenomenon – babies are calmer when carried and held but will often become distressed when put down. It talks briefly about how important it is to understand that this is an inbuilt mammalian response, to “save parents from misreading the restart of crying as the intention of the infant to control the parents”. Soberingly, this is important because “unsoothable crying is a major risk factor for child abuse”. This is not in any way to blame a child for being harmed, or to excuse harm done to children. It is to examine the context in which otherwise devoted, well intentioned parents can find themselves struggling with furious impulses or not coping.

Ascribing bad intentions to a baby starts to activate a sense of threat, that the child is wilfully harming the parent, deliberately denying them basic needs of food, sleep, and relief from distress. When bonding is good and parent needs are getting met, these things don’t matter so much. But in harder times they can contribute to a sense of being tortured by the child rather than by the circumstances. It’s desperately important to see a child’s distress as distress rather than an attempt to control, manipulate, or do harm. Language is part of how we do this, helping to interpret and contextualise so we don’t distort what we’re experiencing.

It’s also critical not to set up impossible expectations such as “when you cry I will make it better for you” with a child. Overburdened by this sense of responsibility, parents are at risk of feeling intense distress in the form of failure, agitation, and frustration if confronted by distress they cannot sooothe or silence.

Rose and I translated a lot of common sayings when we encountered them. Someone would say to us things like:

  • “She’s fighting sleep” and we would agree but shift the intention- “yes, she’s struggling to sleep today”
  • “She’s not a very good baby” becomes “she’s having a hard time settling at the moment”
  • “She’s got you wrapped around her little finger” becomes “she sure is a little cuddle-bug”

This was incredibly helpful for me in a few instances where I was struggling. In early weeks I was prodromal (warning signs of psychosis) partly due to severe sleep deprivation. I would get Poppy confused with Tamlorn, the little one I miscarried. Rose and I would tag team Poppy all night to give each other some sleep. There have been times I’ve handed Poppy over in sobbing distress and Rose has taken her out for a morning drive because my nerves are shredded by her crying and my nipples are mangled from her biting and I’m losing it.

It makes a difference to understand that Poppy is behaving as she is supposed to, not to harm me. Human babies often want to be held all the time and use crying to signal fear, pain, hunger and every need they have. It’s also a biological norm for infant crying to send us round the twist, and being able to see our own limits coming up without hating ourselves for them is valuable. Infant needs can be more than a parent can meet, or impossible to understand at times. Nurtured infants need nurtured parents and few of have invested in those kinds of communities before bringing a baby into the world.

Parent needs are deeply important to meet in order to buffer that sense of threat and reduce the fight/flight response being activated in distress. Staying out of crisis mode is partly achieved by treating adult needs as real and significant, and using language wisely to tell the most helpful story about the situation.

So we found it helpful to say ‘squeaking’ instead of ‘screaming’ for example. “Our little person is squeaking again” sounded less dramatic and helped us keep perspective. We talked about “witching hour” and planned around the time every evening that Poppy would be overwhelmed and inconsolable. We used baby wearing to manage her desire to be close in a way that reduced our fatigue and back pain, learned how to rest her face on our shoulder so her screaming didn’t go right into our ear, and use as a mantra “I’m here with you, you’re not alone” in place of wanting to fix it when nothing was working.

In our case, ‘colic’ was managed by reducing stimulation. The lights went off every night at 6pm, Poppy had a warm bath as soon as she started becoming distressed, and we didn’t go out in the evening for many months until she passed through the phase.

Language is a big part of what helped us navigate these huge challenges well. The risk of psychosis in the early days, serious difficulties with breastfeeding, and a baby with undiagnosed functional lactose overload and colic caused by sensory overwhelm. Combined with 2 deaths in the family and a range of illnesses for Rose and I, it was not an easy start. We were and are ecstatic to have Poppy, she is an absolutely beautiful, loving, curious, adventurous child. Tending to the stories we told and the language we used helped us to bond together during those difficult times.

Holding ghosts

This is always a hard week for Rose, with anniversaries of miscarriages and other losses. In the past she’s grieved alone, with no grave to mourn by and no recognition of her loss. So today I took her to a cemetery.

I had permission from a friend – the mother of a lovely girl who died far too young, to sit under her memorial tree and remember Rose’s little ones and our Tamlorn. We sat in the shade her beautiful tree with Tam’s ashes, shared a birthday cake for the 7 children not with us, and cried.

It hurt. It was hard to do, many kinds of pain are shrouded in shame and a trick of the heart that says don’t look, don’t go, don’t feel it, it’s too big and dark and will destroy you.

It hurt but it was not unbearable darkness.

It eased the loneliness of loss but it was not epiphany or resolution.

It did not cure, but it had meaning.

We left roses beneath the tree. I made an ink painting to remember the day. Then we left to pick up Poppy from daycare, and held her tight, all the rest of the night.

Birth Workshop

I had a beautiful, and traumatic birth with Poppy. It’s complex. I was glad to have the opportunity recently to attend a birth workshop with Rose and unpack some of my experience. If you’re in Adelaide you’re welcome to attend the presentation of our group’s reflections this Wednesday. Details here.

Poppy fell asleep in my arms in our last workshop. Rose snapped this shot of me while we were meditating. She is the most beautiful, joyful, tender heart of my world. It was precious to reconnect with that sense of the sacred that was so present when she was born. 

My amazing day off

What a glorious day. 

I stayed up to 3am last night finishing the major project my team and I have been working on for weeks, the state wide consultation. Today was planned for a quiet, family day… Taking Poppy to a sensory play group, hanging out with Rose, catching up after all the long days and late nights I’ve been working lately… Tonight was date night and I had free movie tickets from my birthday waiting to go. Thursdays seen to be difficult days to make plans for lately. 

Instead of most of that we wound up supporting friends through labour and birth! Rose cared for kids while I was support person in the birthing room next door to the room I birthed Poppy nearly 10 months ago. What an extraordinary privilege! 

So strange that so many things I’m doing at the moment overlap the same skills sets – birth support, facilitating groups, mentoring, consulting, crisis support, workshops and education, parenting​… Being able to connect, listen, tune in, hold the space, and get out of the way are all essential skills in each of those areas. I feel like I’m falling over my primary saleable skill set, the one linked to income, finally making sense of it. Funny, just the other day I was writing up a consult that discussed the formal vs informal economy and I thought about how much my world has been in the informal and how people have been incredibly generous and supportive because I have been generous and supportive. As I’ve transitioned to full time work I’ve been feeling a little sad at moving away from the informal, at being less available for friends and family and attaching a dollar value to my skills and time. 

But on the other hand, at times I’m able to do what amazing people have done for me – throw money at a problem and help it go away. That’s new and wonderful.

Today was an opportunity to be there for a friend and I felt so many shifts in myself too. I’ve been struggling with birth trauma since Poppy came into the world nearly 10 months ago. I rarely talk about it and I’ve been wrestling with it, finding little keys or insights here and there but still deeply lost. Today, seeing birth through the eyes of a support person instead of the one giving birth, it felt like a circle that had been broken came together again. I could see things differently, literally from the other side. I could experience and connect back to my self in that place. I could be an anchor and hold the space for those there today. Being present and connected and witnessing something incredibly precious.

When baby was safely here and everything was settled I dashed off to pick up Poppy from daycare. When she saw me she lit up and I curled down on the floor to meet her. She crawled into my arms and I tumbled her to smell her hair, kiss her face, hold her hands, her tummy, her feet. She feels new and glorious and her eyes are full of stars. Rose and I manage to meet at the last movie session of the night and we sit in the aisle while Poppy plays, we cuddle and hold Poppy and hold hands and change nappies and eat popcorn and ice cream all the way through Pirates of the Caribbean. It’s been a glorious day.

Art with Love 

I’m still happily painting most evenings, given a chance. Last night I finished 6 ink paintings, as part of a larger project. These will illustrate a podcast I’ve recorded and be posted  online as a video slideshow. It feels wonderful to be creating. ❤

I’m also thrilled to be selling prints. My Etsy shop continues to reach people I haven’t heard of before, which is really wonderful. Recently I received a message over Etsy that truly astonished me.

I learned that people have been buying my print Waiting for You as a gift when a friend experiences a miscarriage. A woman contacted me to buy another print – a friend of hers had been gifted one, and that friend had given her a print, and she now has a friend who has  also miscarried, and she wanted to continue the chain of gifts. It’s so heartbreaking that miscarriage is so common, but to be a part of a spontaneous community response like this – it’s the most wonderful thing I could have hoped for. What an amazing development!  

It means that people are telling their friends when they are grieving, breaking the awful taboo of silence about miscarriage. It means that friends are finding tender ways to respond and connect to each other in grief. People are hurting in connection with their communities, not in isolation. They can hear about resources, they can offer compassion to the next person. It’s a very small thing, next to the loss of a child. Yet it’s also a very powerful thing. Learning that my art has become part of a spontaneous response to such a painful event makes me feel deeply honoured. This is the heart of my art, my peer work, what I love to do in the world. Thankyou all of you who read and share my world in some way, you are part of my tribe and you make this kind of connection possible. ❤

Our daughter was born 

Describe… your mother. 

One week ago today, in darkness and pain. Our daughter was born. Every day that passes we tumble through a thousand worlds, moving further from that place. The memories are etched but they change, too . A sacred space opens and closes behind us, revisited in memory but no longer present. The story grows less complex with the telling, more complete but small details lost. I don’t want to go. Here in the dark at 7.05am, I sit with my love and we look at photos of the birth, my raw and naked body in labour, birth team holding me, face twisted in anguish and face at rest. Tears running down my face and milk weeping from my breasts over my vast, stretched stomach, like a baptism. Since the water in which I birthed I’ve been bathed in blood, urine, tears, milk, vomit, and sweat. Waves on a sandy shore. 

The days pass, bringing us back into the world where there are things to do, goals to meet, tasks to accomplish, people to interact with. Every hour taking us further away from something I can’t help but grieve the loss of. Grief and love and terror tangled in together. Dazed and bewildered yet somehow seeing her and myself and the world more clearly, sight dimming gradually. The only way to get it back is to let it go. Fall down the rabbit hole. It hurts, every time. 

I was so afraid everything would change when she was born. Now I cannot bear for things to remain as they were. 

Welcome to my world, little girl. I am your mother. 

Early days 

Today I had my first breastfeed that didn’t bring tears to my eyes with pain. Hopefully we’re figuring this out. To everyone who recommended Moo Goo balm – you are absolutely right, it’s good stuff. 

Still in hospital, it’s pretty intense right now. Little frog is perfect, I feel quite broken, physically. It’s going to take me some time and TLC to recover. Rose has her hands full taking care of both of us. (not how I wanted this to be) The hospital physio has been fantastic and a huge support. And the baby cuddles are amazing. 

Welcome to the world, little frog

We are all doing very well. She was born at 7.05am on August 11th. We are still in hospital together as I had a pretty bad tear needing surgery and we’re navigating challenges with incontinence and my pain relief allergies. I have started to be able to walk short distances and we are hoping to be ready for home soon. Little frog is doing brilliantly and in excellent health, and Rose and I are figuring out breastfeeding and our new littlest family member together. 

Rose has the final say for her name which we haven’t announced yet as we’re still getting to know her and looking for a clearer sense of what it might be. We are dazed, overwhelmed, overjoyed, sore, bursting with love, full of grief for the other little ones not here, missing home and Star and sleep, anxious, content, and profoundly in love. 

I have been in a surreal bubble since labour and only this morning ventured out of my room for the first time and had the startling sense of being connected to the rest of the world again by doors and corridors and roads. We are incredibly busy learning and managing all these needs, finding a quiet moment for each other, to kiss or talk or touch base is difficult. Talking to the outside world is like sending morse code in a storm, all unpredictable and chopped up. 

She is finally here. ❤ 

Sensory overload in labour 

I have a virus. Not dangerous, but pretty miserable. My sinuses are gunked up, my throat hurts, I have a really unpleasant cough. My gum infection has returned, which is setting off bad tmj (jaw) pain, and my mouth has dried out badly enough that my tongue is cracked and hurting. My face is a big mass of unhappiness and eating is a challenge. 

So when I’m also having contractions in this long, long early labour (12 days now) I’m getting overwhelmed easily. There’s simply so much input I can’t process it all. If I add in bright light and more than one or two other people, noise or conversations, my brain overloads. The pain is exhausting but the input alone is simply too much. 

I don’t have a lot of sensory issues generally, some fairly minor ones around things like needing to be completely dry after showers, not being able to tolerate tags on clothes or tight sock seams that are uneven. I didn’t really consider labour from a sensory perspective. The discomfort is manageable at the moment; my face is the centre stage for pain currently. The sheer fatigue gets to me at times. The difficulty of rest periods being occupied by other forms of pain to manage, so they don’t feel like a good rest. Dialing down the input and finding ways to ground and focus is helping. 

So last night, Rose went out to a lovely little dinner and I stayed home, because as much as I wanted to be part of it, I felt terrible and the prospect of trying to manage uncomfortable chairs, lots of people, tastes, smells, sounds, conversations overlapping on top of facial pain and contractions was too much. A friend stayed with me and we played a board game. 

Rose and Star are off running errands and I’m alone, with the lights dim and about to watch a Wire in the Blood to give me something to focus on.  It’s slow and sad and I know it well, the music is full of grief and it draws me into a calmer place where my breathing steadies. 

Earlier today as I started to overload I simply went and sat by Rose and asked her to hold my hand, tears running down my face. Sometimes adding one more soothing bit of sensory input gives me what I need to ground. 

There’s no way I’m the only person dealing with this. I haven’t seen much out there about it. I hope my observations might be useful to some. If you want to explore more about grounding and sensory supports, try 

Waiting it out

I’m working on these two loom bead projects to help me manage the pain/boredom/frustration of over a week of early labour. The poppy design is a gift for Rose’s birthday coming up, she has a passion for these flowers since they bloomed all through our experience of getting pregnant and losing Tamlorn.

Still no sign of little frog, but everything is looking good and we have negotiated to have the inductions delayed by a week to give her and me a chance to go into labour naturally – which means a greater likelihood I’ll be able to manage contractions without needing to use methods of pain relief (ie meds) we know I have trouble processing. The week of early labour has been moving things along slowly, I’m 80% effaced and bubs is in a good position. Fingers crossed things keep moving along!

In the meantime I’m trying to figure out what project to pick up next – art, writing, study, employment… I put out a HVNSA newsletter the other day about the upcoming World Hearing Voices Day. For a year now I have strictly forbidden myself from doing anything on my networks other than maintaining the online discussion groups in order to focus my energy on paid employment. Giving myself a day to reply to emails and create the newsletter was actually a relief – in all the mess of trying to figure out income and the deep pain that topic causes me, I felt clear as an arrow to my chest, a strong sense of love for this work. This, and my arts, is what I want to be doing. This is where my heart is.

I have been delighted to have been approached by a number of people recently for public speaking work. I am booking in dates from September onwards. It’s good to have things to focus on I can actually do something about. 🙂

 

Ice cream for all 

I’ve now been in early labour for a week, which is exhausting. I generally seem to have contractions overnight then everything goes quiet sometime before dawn. It’s very frustrating and I’m under pressure from the hospital to fit an induction around their schedule, which I don’t much appreciate. But Rose is taking great care of me, we’re doing acupuncture and getting physio and our doula is being very patient and supportive. It will happen at some point! (don’t bother with bringing on labour suggestions, seriously, we are doing or have done them all) 

Tonight we are off having gourmet ice  cream to celebrate Star living with us for 7 months. She’s been staying with aunts while I’ve been in early labour and we’ve stolen her back for a night because we miss her! It’s good to have a night together. 


40 weeks pregnant. Come on, little frog, we all want to meet you. 

Early labour

Back when Rose and I were at the beginning of this pregnancy, we made a plan that we’ve both been careful to stick to. Not telling people the exact due date. As we’ve moved into the third trimester we’ve stopped telling most people what week we are at, we’ve been vague about when full term will be, and the closer things have moved the less specific information we’ve put out in public. There’s a good reason for this – most women find that as their due date approaches, everyone and their dog gets in touch regularly to ask them if they’re in labour yet. It doesn’t sound like a big deal, but it can be horrible. Making the focus the labour rather than the woman or the family can really take the shine off the last weeks of pregnancy. It can add pressure, be extremely frustrating, and really create a huge disconnect between what she needs at that point and what she’s getting from all corners. A lot of women get extremely fed up and grouchy, and some become quite depressive. Many growl at the very support network they would normally turn to for nurturing, and feeling crap about that only adds to stress.

All good reasons to keep the due date to ourselves and navigate the end of pregnancy with just our closest people knowing that information. It was a good plan, and if Little Frog had turned up on Thursday night when I started having contractions, I’d have called it a success. However, as with so much else in life, labour is often very different to what we’ve come to expect based on the movies. After a solid 2 months of pretty exhausting Braxton Hicks contractions, I’ve gone into what is variously called early labour, the latent phase, prodromal labour, or stop start labour (there’s a great description of the process here). What that means is getting contractions that don’t build into the stage called active labour. So they might turn up every 5 minutes, with increasing intensity over an hour, then stop completely and be replaced by the very familiar Braxton’s for the next 6 hours. It’s labour as a marathon rather than a sprint. At any time it could move into active labour, or I could experience this for another couple of weeks and wind up needing to be induced. I’m having chiro and acupuncture to try and move things along.

So, that makes things a little challenging to plan around. And when so few people know what’s going on, I’ve found myself isolated in my own little bubble. So, while I don’t wish to feel harassed by enquiries or deluged with labour stories, hey. I’m due on Monday, and I’m in early labour.

Rose has taken time off work, Star is staying with aunts for the moment. I’m resting, reading, having hot baths, cooking, and making beaded loom projects to manage the pain and help me focus on other things. Contractions come in bursts and then fade away. I’m still struggling with dental pain and need a lot of leg rubs to deal with the swelling. I’m not driving anymore and not able to walk very much. I’m incredibly grateful for the workshops and talking and support we’ve had, particularly from our doula, to arrive at this point. We’ve had to shift our approach as the days have gone by, move into rolling with the various feelings that come up – tremendous excitement, focused energy, disappointment, anxiety and uncertainty, feelings of failure, frustration, exhaustion. We’ve found a groove for now which is to focus on building our reserves (food, drink, sleep, rest/exercise balance, company/solitude balance) so that when active labour kicks off we both have resources to draw on.

We’re also banking our emotional energy – it’s impossible to stay excited and energised through this process for days – purely on a physical level it’s extremely tiring, let alone the emotional ups and downs. So we make space to talk through feelings as they come up, box up things we need to not focus on at the moment (I don’t much care about anything anyone else is dealing with right at this minute and I’m doing my best not to take anyone else’s stuff on), and clear the blocks when they need attention. I’m finding my projects are essential to give the more obsessive part of my brain something to focus on. I’m also surprised by some of the feelings that have come up – like a sense of anxiety that I’m somehow blocking the labour process or failing in some way. I don’t buy into the failure story intellectually and no one is harassing me in that way, but still. We imbibe cultural ideas and they seep into our vulnerable places. That’s why we need our people to help pull those thorns from our feet.

I’m ready. I’m excited. I’m tired. I can do this. I’m a little bit lonely and a little bit sad. I’m strong. I’m clear and focused. I’m vulnerable. I’m breathless with anticipation. I’m resting in the quiet spaces, feeling my hands in flour, the house breathing to itself at 4am. I’m crying in the bath. I’m phobic of speaking on the phone. I’m cranky and growling at the dog because my skin is burning from all the swelling. I’m missing Star and ambivalent about not having her here. I’m being crawled all over by the cats. I’m glowing.

I’m in labour.

Joy

I’m so happy. 

On the other side of the grinding chronic pain, the sense of disconnection, the humiliating vulnerability, the crushing fear, the darkness that sucks me dry…  is a strong, buoyant joy. 

It’s not ‘keeping my head together’. It’s not employing strategies to manage my thoughts or feelings,  or keep perspective,  or look on the bright side, or support my own mental health in the ways we usually think of them. 

It’s the aftermath of honesty, the raw pouring of heart into some receptacle – journal, compassionate ear, hole in the ground beneath a tree. We don’t have to claw our way up after unburdening the unspeakable weights, we simply float. 

It’s the pushing back against all the stories I’ve been told, what I’ve been told I will feel and think and how this will unfold – and my growing bewilderment at trying to fit my experiences to powerful master narratives that partly match up and partly do not. It’s clearing some space to speak my own story and claim my own truths about my experience, finding in those tiny, personal details the richness of life, the personal and unique in a greater story of what it is to live and be human and try to bring a child into the world. There in those details is my life, is what makes my life my own among the experiences of billions of others. There is where my meaning is found.

It’s also the flying of a heart that’s been caged by chronic pain and found some relief. Yesterday my gum infection flared and set off bad pain my face. Combined with the exhaustion and pain of prelabour I was swamped. I have searched back for what used to help me during the bad years of severe fibro when I couldn’t walk or drive but was brain awake enough to need things to do so the restlessness, boredom, and relentless pain didn’t make me self destruct. One of these things was skilled work with my hands that required focus. I learned embroidery and needlework among  other small, skilled crafts. 

So I’ve taken up bead loom work again, and there in the quiet space of following my pattern and building my design, I find some peace. The building distress eases, the sense of guilt that I am failing to manage my pain, that I know better and should handle it better, the painful self consciousness that my shattered attention is increasing my perception of it, drowning me in it- all those are left behind and my mind becomes still as my hands create. It’s not even a tainted capital A ‘Art’ where I’ve been criticised too often and get swamped by insecurity and justifications for spending my time and money this way, it’s an untainted lower c ‘craft’. Stepping into it merely requires me to tolerate the scorn that it’s too traditionally feminine, that anything that isn’t ‘real art’ is a waste of my time, and that adjusting to impairment, disability, and pain will mean I never recover. That’s easier from a place of vulnerability. Capital A Art for me needs an altered space or a lot more self confidence. 

Rose heats me a wheat pack and I sit by the heater beading, and for the first time in hours I don’t feel tortured. The rocking calms, my broken focus stills like scattered birds coming home, my hands thread and sew tiny beads. My breathing steadies. 

That night I lay in the luxury of a hot bath with beautiful scented oil Rose bought for me, reading by the candlelight, and the trauma state washes out of me. I don’t feel small, helpless, broken, and afraid. I feel beautiful, loved, content, and at peace. We share a quiet evening together, watching DVDs, talking about our daughters. She does a breast pump, I eat soft fruit with the relish of the newly awakened – delighting in scent and flavour, senses alive. The night is soft and gentle around us. My joy is effusive and my mind feels clear. 

My heart is full to overflowing. I’m so in  love with my family, these beautiful women, my lovely home. Rose and I watch our littlest daughter rolling in my belly, powerful and vigorous. I’m excited to meet her, and I finally feel ready for her birth – ready to meet the challenges of it, ready to wait for it. I can endure the uncertainly and the transforming vulnerability of the in-between space of prelabour when I can so clearly see my little girl is okay. With that star to guide me, there’s time for wonder and even joy. The love in my heart bears fruit on the vine and bursts within me. Rose and I lay in the dark together and breathe each others air, skin warming to skin, dreams nesting beside us like cats. 

I’m so happy.

Nearing the beginning 

Third trimester pregnancy. My experiences diverge from those around me. Gaps open everywhere that take effort to knit back together. Everything changes from day to day, even hour to hour. Life speeds up with the approaching end of this pregnancy. Fear makes way for joy, obsessive anxiety collapses to exhaustion, moments of stillness and ones of dancing.

Worlds spin around each other in tightening orbits, showering sparks into the darkness when they collide.

I want everyone close, all my people to be here, near me, as everything changes.

I also want to be alone, to find that calm quiet at 3am where my thoughts run slow and I can feel the time moving like an ant across a vast garden.

The end of pregnancy approaches like dawn. Approaches like a train coming. Approaches like the end of a river over a waterfall into the unknown. I cast dreams before me and struggle to recall I will still exist in some form beyond that threshold. I fry pancakes and tell myself I will still fry pancakes beyond that day. I clean my home and tell myself I will still live here in this place and still tend it. Not everything will be beyond recognition. It won’t be the before and after of homelessness or death. Most of the advice about everything changing is for and from people who have not shared any of my experiences.

The sense of closeness and urgency in me has not been shared by others – months into this they have still been lulled by the unending unfolding of pregnancy. I feel her movements come sharper as she grows larger, feel the pain in rib and skin and pelvis as my body protests. My feet swell and all the world speaks to me of change. Around me people still move in slower time. I struggle not to howl with frustration, to me, everything needs to be done now, to be made ready now, because she is coming soon and because I don’t know who I will be or what I will be able to do after she arrives.

Rose catches the sense of ending at last and together we hang colourful bunting on our bedroom wall, laughing at the sight of me waddling, bursting into song together. Showering kisses like summer rain, so sweet is our bliss.

Another  night I work too hard and long and my feet and ankles swell unbearably. Wrapped in blankets Rose holds my hand while I cry and I ask her to tell me that nothing is wrong – I’m not sick and baby is well, because I feel awful and it’s confusing me. I move into trauma mode, frightened and overwhelmed. Humour and rest help ease me out of it again. 

My body is tired. Pain is constant. Scares come into our world like volcanic eruptions, Rose  and I laying on the bed together, hand in hand, desperately trying to breathe while we wait for the midwife to come and check that baby is okay. She’s been quiet too long and I flip from calm to terror as the fear I always push away overwhelms me. The sense of responsibility to make the call – something might be wrong – is horrifying. By my throat is a large red swelling, glaring back at me from the mirror. I call the locum too. 

People tell me to sing to her, to drink cold water, to try various things to wake her  up, and I simply can’t. I cannot ask the question without drowning in the silence while I wait for a response. Panic has teeth in my throat; I can’t call her name and live with the silence after. Stop focusing on the anxiety and focus on her, I instruct myself. She may already be dead and I should have sounded the alarm earlier, comes the thought, and my mind erupts in screaming. I can’t think, I can’t speak, I can’t breathe. I’m not brave enough for this. Rose and I lay together, holding hands, breathing through terror, waiting for people who can tell us if our world has ended. 

Oh, says our midwife, baby is engaged,  you’re in prelabour (which can last for hours or weeks), and you’re getting contractions without breaks. That’s why you can’t feel her moving. She’s still moving but the contractions are blocking your sensations. We hear her heartbeat on the doppler. While listening, she rolls  from right to left and I feel none of it. The next morning my uterus calms again and I can feel her stretching and rolling inside me. We cry with relief. 

Ah, says the locum, your lymph system is stressed. It will probably bring on labour. You’re on the right antibiotics, ignore the lumps, rest lots, and get a doctor to check them out after you give birth. If they abcess you’ll need them lanced but not until then. Okay. Okay, I can do this. I look up patterns for bead weaving on Etsy and unpack my loom. The waiting is interminable and I need things to do to keep my hands busy and calm my mind. 

Rose takes me to the new shrink the hospital suggested. It’s pouring with rain and we can’t find her office. We arrive late, I’m cold, wet, angry, and crying. We talk over tea. She mentions that thing women seem to talk about with pregnancy and birth – a sense of connection to the universal whatever, god, creativity, consciousness. I feel something inside me retreat trembling into a dark cave. A sense of shame. I have helped create life! But I do not feel it. I have run from a darkness I find all too terrifyingly easy to believe in. Everything else, all the rest of it, meaning and creativity and energy and forces for good and order and purpose… Those I doubt. I have so little time left with you within me darling girl, and I feel I’ve failed to be aware of you, to be in awe of what you are, to feel connected to anything universal or enlightened. I am in love with you, like a mother in the night, teeth bared. I am connected with a universal terror of loss, a sense of overwhelming responsibility for what I cannot possibly control. I am connected to a sense of being a small creature in a dark cave, trying to protect the infinity precious from a vast, cruel world. The terror and fury and profound love of the almost powerless mother are mine. It doesn’t feel very enlightened. 

Waiting for you. The slow build of my body towards labour, movement and activity that plateaus into the calm before a storm. We wait and watch, poised for you to come. I lay in the night and wonder if I’m doing something wrong, if I’m really ready, if I’m blocking you or forcing you too soon, if we’ll be okay. My body is tired. My mind is a thousand thoughts like glittering confetti in the dark, all strange and contradictory and self contained. It becomes hard to speak, impossible to share, to find a single narrative, a simple answer to any question. I’m full of constellations, strung in darkness. I love you, little girl. I can’t sleep. Rose breathes and dreams beside me. I write, on my phone, in the dark. Inside me, my daughter rolls over, gently pushes a foot into my ribs. The dark inside of me is her whole world. She lives in the shadow beneath my blood, cradled by my bone. She is not me and never was. The egg that made her I have carried my whole life, like a star. She is a thorn in Rose’s breast, a bud waiting to bloom and crack open all that has contained it. Love is such tender pain. She has been silent so many months, in her dance I feel like her voice is near, that she is ready for it, reaches for it, longs. We know about longing, little girl. We know about loving in the dark. Your Mama and I are here, arms aching to hold you. Please come safely from the night. Please come to us. We’ve waited whole lifetimes to see your face, to hold your hand and hear your breath and learn your name. It is not safe, anywhere, but you are deeply loved. It is all I have. It is not enough. It is everything. 

Blessing Beads

I’ve made the necklaces that Rose and I will take into labour with us, from the beautiful beads our friends and family gave to us with blessings and advice. Mine has an amethyst heart from Rose at the centre and purple glass spacer beads. Rose’s has a bloodstone heart from me and red glass spacer beads. Each of the accent beads are unique and beautiful and we’ve been able to recall who most of them are from which is beautiful. They are all glass, stone, timber, or ceramic, (natural materials, I have a loathing of acrylic beads) with different sizes, shapes, and textures which makes them perfect for ‘worrying’ at and using for grounding. I wrapped the part that sits behind our neck in cotton thread so the weight of the beads isn’t uncomfortable to wear. They are also waterproof. I’m very proud of them and thrilled Rose planned them, taking our tribe with us is a beautiful idea.

Moving into Rest 

I went off to the city for appointments in my ugg boots because my feet are too swollen for any of my other shoes. My pain levels which have been constant and chronic for months, creep slowly higher and my mobility steadily decreases. I’m into the window now where baby is going to be okay whenever she comes, and could turn up any day in the next few weeks. 

My body is tired. I have developed a skin infection on my leg (which is part of why I’m swelling up so much) and I’m on antibiotics for that. Yesterday I had an emergency dental appointment where they diagnosed a bad gum infection which was cleaned out under a local – the relief is immense! They also considered repacking a suspected infected root  canal but as it will definitely trigger bad jaw pain and is not 100% certain to be infected (the xray might be showing infection or might be scar tissue from previous severe infections) I’ve decided to turn that down until after baby arrives. It was very stressful as the local anaesthetic and low blood pressure made me unsafe to drive myself home and I wound up needing rescue by my Mum as well as having to make difficult calls on the spot about what to do with varying degrees of unknown risk to baby and my own health. I’m very happy it’s over. 

My doctor has put me onto rest with my feet up, and leg massages to ease the stress on my lymph system, so I’m having to let go of nesting and transition to rest mode – eat lots of small, soft foods and soup, drink lots of water, nurture myself and look after my headspace so I’m feeling ready for labour whenever that starts. Rose is needed at home more to look after me and help me get to appointments, as I’m less able to drive or deal with the walk from buses and we still have to get into midwife appointments at the hospital and doctors and so on. 

The skin infection gave us a bit of a scare, I was treating topically what started as a bite of some kind I thought I might be allergic to. A couple of nights ago I went to change the dressing and it was much larger and full of black spots. So we called out the locum and prepared for a long wait up. I couldn’t get Rose or Star to bed, in the end when the locum turned up in the small hours, we were all sitting on the big bed next to the cot and the baby hammock, the two of them singing to little frog so we could watch her move in my belly. What could have been a stressful wait turned into the sweetest evening. I was reminded powerfully that we cope much better with difficult times than we do with anticipating difficult times, and that we have worked hard to make safe and gentle spaces in our family. I love them all so very much. ❤

Watch out for the nesting

I am on maternity leave and alternating my time between sleeping, appointments, nesting, eating, and sleeping. I have energy but almost no mobility, which is an oddly frustrating place to be in and puts me at great risk of turning into a Sargent major type who barks orders at the rest of my household because I want ALL THE THINGS DONE NOW. 🙂 Plus I’m hungry for the first time this pregnancy. Always. Even if I’ve just eaten. Even if I’m too full to eat anything else. I have conversations in my head that go like this:

Wow, I feel sick.
Yes, that’s because you ate a huge bowl of dinner!
Ugh I feel really awful. I hope I don’t throw up.
Don’t you dare throw up!
Hmm. I’m hungry. I wonder if we have any dried apricots left?
What? We are not having anything else to eat! We feel sick, remember?
Oh, apricots are only little though.
That doesn’t matter! How can you still be hungry?? Maybe you’re dehydrated. Go and have a big glass of water.
Okay then. Ugh, now I really feel sick. I’m so distended it’s like I can feel my skin stretching. I really feel like a donut though.
You are nuts! We are not having a donut. We don’t have any donuts.
I think I need to lie down. I feel awful. Oh, look, there’s one banana left!
Argh!!

Pregnancy hormones are also fun. Everything is personal, and everything makes me cry. All the damn time. And the nesting thing! Yikes. I waddle around like an oversized duck and no one else can keep up with me. I have decimated the front garden with the pruning of its life. Things that have not been cleaned in years are being cleaned. I am increasingly ruthless with space making and have got to the point where the things I’m boxing up and giving away to the local op shop are clothes and shoes and craft supplies and books I like, because we will have 4 people here and I simply need more damn space! RAWR.

I have also bought an art desk, one that tilts so the cats don’t get onto it. It is gorgeous. It is glass, which means installing a bright light beneath it will turn it into a cheap light box, and I got it on a very good special for the end of the financial year. When we moved Star in, I lost my studio room and everything was downsized to a table and desk in the lounge room. Now that four of us need to share this living space, and it needs to be baby proofed, that is not going to work at all. It’s the only space that’s got heating and cooling so it’s essential we can all share it. So I’m overhauling it. I’ve got rid of the table, the desk will be cleared off to become a permanent study space for Star, Rose, and whoever has study to do, and I’m installing my new art desk into the dining room. Which kind of means I have a room I can call a ‘studio’ again! I’ve tested leaving a wet oil painting on it for a few days, and so far no painted cats or footprints all over the house. Excellent! It’s all a lot of work though.

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The glorious desk! I only plunged into extreme self hate for about 4 days after buying it. That’s not bad for me.

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As my kitchen is so small, the dining room is where all the kitchen supplies are stored, so it will be a shared space between art things and cooking things. Some items like cake tins have been moved to the shed. Mostly I’m keeping the admin/household stationary in the lounge room with the computer and filing cabinet.


The cot is half assembled in the bedroom and the furniture (like side tables) we can no longer fit in the room (it’s completely taken up by bed, cot, change table, and tallboy for baby clothes) are out in the shed. Baby clothes that are size 1 and up have been soaked, washed, dried, and boxed up in plastic waterproof boxes in the shed. The lounge room is starting to look a lot better with a lot more space, I still have to clear the desk to turn it into a study station, but progress is being made!

I fill all the household bins and wait impatiently until they’re collected before I can do more pruning/sorting/cleaning. I am very determined! I have to do lists of things I want done before baby arrives which we are ploughing through at high speed, I am working on sorting out the sheds so we can find what’s in there and store new things, and I am setting up better cleaning systems and making sure we have the right tools and can keep things ticking over. I am also determined that as I’ll be doing half my labouring at home, it is not going to be a horrible messy pet fur encrusted experience. I want a clean bathtub, and glasses to drink out of and a floor that doesn’t stick to my feet. Chaos will descend on us soon enough, we are not starting out with it!

This is the desk I need to clear of art supplies so it can be used for study:

That leaves us with more room in the lounge for baby play things, for guests, to put up a temporary table for dining or big projects or tax sorting out which can be taken down again and give us the room back. Some space for hanging wet clothes in winter too. Life size tetris, it really is. 🙂

My Nana has passed away 

I’m home, by myself, in bed. Feeling the week wash out of me like the tide. I curl into my cocoon while the world goes on without me, and do the only things that make sense right now; sleep, think, and write. My daughter does the same within me, sleeps, stirs, dances, dreams.

All her great grandmas have now died. My Nana lived overseas so I won’t  be able to attend the funeral. I sent her a letter in the last days to tell her that she is important to me and I loved her. I haven’t seen or spoken to her for many years. I lost all the relationships with my father’s side of the family when I lost my relationship with him. Family tears apart down bloodlines and homeless with my mother, I had made my choice and thrown my lot in, not with sides but with individuals I loved and knew and felt responsible for. All the broader connections of family in my life, fragile and stretched by distance, by my own illness, by lack of understanding around sexuality, by communication being filtered through people who told only the stories they wanted heard… All of them fell away and I plunged into bitter isolation and loss, alone in our tragedy, focused on survival.

So many things divide us. Across the chasm, neither of us reach. There’s too much time passed, too many questions, too much pain, too many bad memories and bitterness and assumptions and loss. I had to dig into secrets and history to figure out the shadows cast forward that shaped our ruin. I had to run from the boxes assigned me to grow into, far too small and the wrong shape for me, far too silent and powerless and accepting of the stories I’d been told about myself and the world. I couldn’t grow within family, within school, within those friendships or that world I’d inherited. I was stunted, lonely, and dying. There was no future for me.

Out in the grief numbed solitude after my world burned, I wrote new rules, told new stories, learned to look at the world out of my own eyes. Grew more tender, more harsh, more strange. The roles assigned me fell away like so much shed skin. My pain and loneliness nearly sank me. I rebuilt very slowly, turning around my damaged valves: I am no longer grateful to anyone for attention: it is a privilege to get close to me. Alone in my caravan I repeated the words over and over to myself. Only letting the special ones in. Breaking all the old rules, as over and over as they crept back into my life. Mourning everyone I had ever loved and doubting everything I had ever believed in and sacrificed for.

Rose, Star and myself are in family therapy. It’s been a good experience. I joked last time that each of us has so much painful history with the idea of family, that we can be badly triggered about ‘family’ merely sitting in a room by ourselves and thinking about it, let alone when we try to relate to each other directly!

I have rebuilt so much. I have trouble feeling it, trusting it. The first two friendships I grew close enough that we told each other we loved each other both abruptly disconnected from me and they’ve never spoken to me since. My grief was intense. I live in a whole world that’s triggered by the idea of family.

I had a dream of one day taking my family overseas and visiting all these strangers and asking the hard questions and speaking the hard truths and finding and giving grace, freedom and connection. Some days I feel strong that way, no longer small and frightened, that I can lead us in a new direction, I can take back what I’ve lost and bridge the gap.

Other days my own bitterness swamps me. I was alone and no one reached out to me. Or  the old roles hang waiting for me – submissive, grateful for scraps, secretive, and wondering what I did wrong to not be loved better, how I could change myself to be embraced. A child among giants. Who do I hate for the pain? The wheel spins and today it is me, tomorrow it might be you. There’s enough pain for all of us. My dreams burned down and body fell apart and I was homeless and did not ask because I could not bear your silence and yet that silence still rings in my ears and I feel the loss like a missing limb. All those people who came to my wedding, that joyful throng, all silent at my divorce, at my poverty and disability. I went alone to the court. I slept alone in the shelter.

Sometimes the distance simply overwhelms me. Blood might connect us but these people are strangers to me. What could they possibly owe me, or I them? Why would they thank me for disruption? Let them be, accept the loss, move on. Build a new tribe and love them instead. People I can share with, even pain. The numbness still haunts me. I try to feel the hugs, on good days I feel connection, I believe that in a few years time these people will still be here, I believe they genuinely care about me and don’t merely feel obligated, I believe I can be loved and also free of tyranny and abuse. There are not very many good days like that. Mostly I keep my focus more narrow – this day, this week. I hope rather than trust. The hand that reaches out hides the tremor. I love from a heart that has scars I can’t heal and memories I can’t forget.

My Nana has died. The woman I’ve been likened to all my childhood, who’s sicknesses and allergies I seem to have inherited along with her creativity, her predilection for grand projects, her impulsive generosity. Almost everything I know about her is through stories. I can’t remember the colour of her eyes, the touch of her hand, or the sound of her voice. We are all only stories, in the end. She was part of my old life, before all the fires and loss and freedom. I’ll get no answers from her now, no absolution. That broken circle stays forever broken. While I try to live my life with some integrity and joy, people get only older, the old shapes of things changes, rain erodes the soil and land falls into the sea. While I debate the timing of the tearing off of old bandages, the breaking of promises and the gift of forgiveness, time passes and each of grows older in our own mirrors. While I wonder if I’m strong enough yet, wise enough yet, while I doubt my motivations and interrogate my impulses, the world spins on, out of kilter, slowly into darkness. One by one, they will die, with or without me in their lives. Those stories will end.

Oh, little frog, what a broken world you inherit. I’ve been far stronger than I ever thought possible and your nest is a safe one. But not strong enough to repair all the harm or bind back together all the brokenness. Three women sleep in your house and nightmares stalk each of us. We each love you and we are each wounded. I don’t have the answers and I don’t understand life. But I love you fiercely and I want you to be free to grow. So I keep growing too. Here in my grief, my stolen grief for a woman I barely knew, here in my bed with my cat on a cold winter day when the week of doing has finally ebbed to a day of being  and following only the strange impulses of my still wild heart… Here I hold you close and try to weave the stories of your family and your roots into a shape you can grasp and grow with, to honour the dead and the living with truth and grace, to show both  the beauty and the shadow, to neither privilege nor ignore blood or the other bonds between people. Precious daughter. There is family here waiting for you, ready to love you. Let that love not be a cage, and let it not dissolve in the dawn. Let it be stronger than the pain.

Blessings for our Daughter

Here are some photos from our beautiful blessingway/baby shower recently. We are now openly sharing that we are expecting a daughter in early August. ❤ 🙂

Gender is a funny thing with children and many people have strong feelings about it. Some have been quite offended when I didn’t wish to share it. Personally the only aspect of our babies gender I find relevant at this stage is that it gives me the words that define a relationship. All the gender neutral terms (child, baby etc) are independent of me. It’s ‘son’ or ‘daughter’ that makes my heart thrill that this child has such a close connection to me. So in that sense, it’s deeply important to me. We’re having a daughter, a daughter, a daughter, our daughter, and we’re so in love!

Most of the straight world sees little wrong with making a big deal out of gender, while a lot of the queer world frowns on even announcing it or letting it sway any choices. I genuinely don’t care about the gender of our child and I’d never have a baby with anyone who had such a strong preference they wouldn’t adore a baby of the ‘wrong’ gender, or cope with a child who had a different take on their gender. I care about as much about it as I do about their height or eye colour ie. I will adore whatever happens. It will have a big impact on how other people treat them, what they expect of them, where they are vulnerable, and whether this vulnerability is acknowledged or hidden. In the sense of how we navigate the world around us, gender is still a very big deal, and one I’m sensitive to. However, it’s made a big deal for babies and children in ways I find inappropriate and teeth aching.

Baby showers are also something that frankly, usually make my teeth ache. There’s a certain homogeny of experience and presentation about parenting and babies I simply don’t relate to. I want to celebrate the people and family and little one on the way. Pastel pink frills and tiny pale blue suits with trucks remind me only of how miserable I felt as a kid and the eldest girl, getting all the pink stuff. There was a wildness to my own experience of childhood I can’t find here. It’s just not my language, not my people, not my dream of motherhood.

So when Rose and I were planning – something she’s longed for for an exceptionally long time – I sort of wrote myself out of it and found it confronting to be asked what I wanted. It wasn’t an easy question to answer. In the end I fumbled around and came back with – something with poetry in it. And fire. Something with a touch of the sacred. This is a big deal for us, and there’s a dark side to it of all the little ones we grieve.

Rose has arranged baby showers for others in an ‘always the bridesmaid, never the bride’ kind of way, so she had some clear plans and ideas about she loved most and what worked well in the past. As usual, next to her experience of this world of babies and Mums, I felt awkward and ambivalent and struggled to place myself. Nothing quite fit, I’m not the only Mum, we didn’t want a female only space, or the usual gifts of clothes as we have a lot already… At first none of our ideas seemed compatible. We wound up mixing up aspects of a traditional baby shower (games, food, fun) with a blessingway (ritual, connection, intimacy) and split our day into two parts, one with a larger group and one with a very small one. Friends supported us with catering, provided a larger venue, games, photos, thankyou gifts, and planning help. Rose did most of the organising and I filled in gaps and played the support role.

We wound up with a lot of folks sick on the day, and as message after message came in the night before and the morning of, both Rose and I wilted and found it almost impossible to face up to. Underlying anxieties about loss and still birth, fears of being attacked for making too much of a fuss, trying to make sure both Mums were celebrated equally, and fears that the event couldn’t possibly live up to expectations all combined to make both of us want to hide under the bed… we each felt that if we’d have been a solo Mum we’d have called it all off that morning. But for the other, we hung in there. And it was lovely.

Little frogs were the theme of the night. People gave us beads for a necklace each to wear for labour, to bring our tribe and their hopes and blessings along with us. Kids ran around, we had moments of reflection and tears, moments of laughter and silliness, my goddaughter kissed my belly and no one else touched me without permission. We brought three roses to represent the three grandmas we loved who could not be there – one passed and two close to passing. (Rose’s died the next morning) Family sat around the fire and knotted yarn bracelets to connect us until our daughter’s arrival.  Star wrote a poem about her own unique relationship to us and little frog. We shared poems and stories. It was beautiful, very touching and safe. Everything we could have wished for. ❤

How Rose and I conceived

Rose and I are very often asked how I got pregnant, so this post is everything ‘you’ (n)ever tried to asked a harassed queer couple you don’t know while sharing a lift/bus stop/waiting room with them. Questions about conception is a really common thing queer families have to deal with, and it’s often surprising how intrusive strangers can be, or that people disbelieve us at times and tell us what we ‘must’ have done. o.O Conception is fairly misunderstood, it turns out! Mostly people are just curious but some can be very rude, and frankly most of us do get tired of having the same conversation every other day with complete strangers.

Recently Rose navigated the conversation with someone particularly persistent and in her face by asking them how they conceived their children and what sexual position they used for conception. 😉

So, TMI warning. There is explicit but not graphic terms and information in this post, and no images. For the short version, just read the headings.

We used Donor Sperm

Rose and I have plenty of eggs between us but no sperm, so we’ve used donor sperm. This is a lot more common than people generally think, for straight and queer couples and single women. A lot of the technology behind the use of donor sperm was originally developed in the field of livestock and animal breeding, where it is very common to ensure strong bloodlines and healthy genetics, or to preserve endangered species. There’s many reasons people use donor sperm such as male infertility, cancer treatments, high genetic risks, and ‘social’ infertility.

Donating sperm is a very minor process physically, compared to donating eggs or other body organs or tissues. It simply involves ejaculating into a cup. In some circumstances (paralysis, collection of sperm following a vasectomy, and so on) the process can be different or more complex. Sperm can be used fresh, or frozen for later use.

Sperm donation can have huge emotional implications however, as it involves bringing a new life into the world. Sperm donors are genetically the father of the child, but they are not the parent, and do not have any responsibility towards the child. Donors (usually) have no parental ‘rights’ or say over how the child is raised, and they do not go on the birth certificate as this lists the child’s parents, not their biological heritage (same as for male/female couples who use donated sperm or eggs). This is basically the same as donors of other tissues – we don’t get to decide what happens with blood we donate or how someone who receives a donated liver or corneas lives their life.

We chose a Known Donor

You have two broad options with a donor. An anonymous donor is usually one who has contacted a fertility clinic directly and made a donation. Anonymous donors will usually have no contact with the family who uses their sperm or with any children born, but they do get listed on a register that a child can look up once they turn 16. (rules around these registers vary from place to place, and some places such as SA don’t have one)

A known donor is someone in the families life who agrees to donate to help them out. Some families prefer a middle ground between known and anonymous donors – for example the parents might know the donor but all parties agree to keep their identity private when talking to people outside the family.

Rose and I chose a known donor because it is important to us to have our baby grow up knowing exactly what their genetic heritage is, who provided it, and how they came into the world.

For more about how we went about this, see

We used Artificial Insemination (AI)

This term covers any form of conception that doesn’t involve ‘natural insemination’ ie sexual intercourse. Generally speaking if conception is via intercourse, the donor is legally considered to be the father/parent with all the rights and responsibilities of that role. Many couples who don’t use donor sperm do try some form of AI to help them get pregnant. Reasons for this include physical scarring or problems with mucous preventing sperm reaching an egg, and immune system rejection of sperm. Pregnancies resulting from AI are no different to those that result from natural insemination.

There’s actually quite a range of methods of AI, some of which require trained medical professionals in a clinic, and others of which can be done by anyone at home. IVF (in vitro fertilisation) is the most commonly known, in which an egg is fertilised by a sperm outside the body. If all goes well over several days of development, the egg is then implanted into a uterus to grow, or frozen for later use. IVF is the most expensive method of AI, needing the most sophisticated equipment and highly trained staff.

Other common methods of AI include ITI (intratubal insemination), IUI (intrauterine insemination),  ICI (intracervical insemination), and IVI (intravaginal insemination). Each of these methods simply refers to the location that sperm is deposited – in or near the fallopian tubes, the uterus, the cervix, or the vagina. Sometimes ICI and IVI are used to refer to the same process. They are the simplest methods of AI and can be done at home. ITI and IUI generally need a doctor and a clinic, however I have heard of nurses or midwives who know how to insert catheters and so on choosing to do IUI at home.

Rose and I chose IVI, commonly called ‘insems’, for several reasons that suited our family.

  1. We didn’t have to push back our timeline by 3-6 months to wait for a local clinic to freeze and thaw sperm samples. This is a sensible precaution against the possibility the sperm may be contaminated with HIV that hasn’t yet shown up on the donors blood test – in our case we were satisfied this was a very low risk with our donor and having already had to wait through tests and surgery we wanted to start trying as quickly as possible.
  2. It wasn’t medically necessary for us to use a more complex method to become pregnant. I conceived within 3 months with Tamlorn and 4 months with little frog. There was simply no need for the extra medical processes for us.
  3. We didn’t need to put ourselves through the hormone treatments to extract eggs, which can be gruelling and sometimes cause struggles with mental health.
  4. IVF and other forms of AI involving clinics are very expensive processes which places a huge extra burden on families at what can already be a very stressful time.
  5. Methods of AI that require a clinic mean that conception becomes at least partly a medical process involving doctors and sterile environments. We were very happy that we have been fortunate enough to become pregnant using a method that we can easily do privately, at home, with romance between the two of us.

There can be downsides to using AI at home however, particularly that in some regions this leaves people vulnerable to the donor being legally treated as a parent – so if you are exploring donor assisted conception I strongly recommend you reach out to families in your area and learn what your local laws are.

Cycle Tracking was Essential

Many people learn how to track their cycle to improve their chances of conception, particularly if they have been trying for awhile. It can be a real art form. Ideally, you introduce sperm (via intercourse or AI) between 2 days before and the day of ovulation. Sperm lives several days in the body and takes a while to find their way to the egg, while eggs die much more quickly: so you are more likely to conceive up to 2 days before or the day of ovulation than you are after ovulating. Tracking your cycle can be the most challenging part of this, because it often only tells you the day you do ovulate. You can introduce sperm more than once each cycle to boost your chances. If you are dealing with irregular cycles, a miscarriage, or fertility issues and it can be a very frustrating process. In some ways I felt quite lucky that sex and conception can be split up for us, as the process of trying to conceive can be very stressful for straight couples who are scheduling sex around fertile times. It can start to feel quite mechanical or create performance anxiety and tension. We could do an insem and have sex then, or later that day, or just kiss and cuddle depending on how we felt at the time, which took the pressure off our sex life in a way I really appreciated.

There are many methods of predicting ovulation (tracking temp, mucous, blood tests, ovulation prediction kits (opk’s) and so on) some of which work better for some people than others. Tracking my cycle was quite easy the first time around using OPKs. However, following Tamlorn’s miscarriage, none of the methods worked well for me anymore.

I wound up with a cycle that ranged from 23 to 39 days in length. To get pregnant I had to throw out all my earlier data and start fresh from the miscarriage. In my case this meant ignoring my apps and tracking by hand. When I did this I went back and discovered that the three cycles we had done so far had mostly completely missed ovulation, sometimes by up to a week. I then calculated not a fertile day but a fertile window – based on my shortest and the longest possible cycle. Because our donor was local and friendly, we were able to arrange for donations every 2-3 days within this window, which meant that through the whole time there would always be live sperm present, looking for the ripe egg. That cycle we conceived little frog.

I Preferred the ‘Soft Cup’ Method

There’s a few different ways you can make IVI work. It’s a very simple method in that you merely need to get sperm into the vagina, using something other than a penis. Some people use a new turkey baster or similar device, others prefer a syringe (with no needle, obviously), some people like to use a speculum to get the sperm right onto the cervix. There’s no best way except that everything needs to be clean/sterile, and you want to get fresh sperm into the body as quickly as possible because while it can live for days in a body, it dies within an hour or so outside of one.

We started with sterile single use 6 ml syringes, but later changed to the soft cup method and vastly preferred that because it was less messy, less sperm was wasted (the cup can be left in place for the rest of the day), I could do it myself easily, and it was easier to do in challenging settings such as a bathroom if need be.

A soft cup refers to something like a menstrual cup. You tip the sperm into the cup, carefully ‘fold it’, insert it into the vagina and over the cervix, and stick your legs up against a wall/have sex/lie down for half an hour/watch a movie/whatever. This worked well for me because I already have and prefer to use a cup to manage my menstruation, so I am familiar with how they work with my body and experienced in putting one in, placing it correctly, and getting it out again. Menstruation cups are not comfortable or easy to use for everyone, and they do take some practice. I suspect it would be a very stressful technique to learn when getting it wrong means spilling precious sperm rather than a bit of menstrual blood! Checking to make sure it was fitting over the cervix was key for me. My cup is a Lunette, purchased through scarleteve.com.au

We’re both the ‘real Mum’

Our baby has a family with 2 Mothers, a big sister, and a lot of furry critters. There’s no Dad involved in the sense of being a parent. There’s also a whole tribe of aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and so on, some of whom are related genetically and many of whom are not. (whether close friends, part of a family by marriage, foster families, and so on) People tend to privilege the experience and relationship of either the biological or gestational mother (in the case of egg donation this isn’t always the same person), but as step Mums and adoptive Mums know, their bond, their love, and their role is just as real and important, and sometimes more so.

Hopefully the SA legislation will be sorted out in time, and we will both be on the birth certificates as the parents of this little one, equally recognised as guardians and with equal responsibility for their welfare. ❤ Either way, we’re tremendously excited to meet our little one.

For more about our pregnancy, miscarriage, and conception journey, see Pregnancy Links.

Babymoon

Rose and I are away on a Babymoon arranged by a best friend. It feels like I’ve lived a thousand lives since this morning. She drove to me to work today, I delivered a talk about living with chronic pain to a carers group in Murray Bridge. It was a wonderful experience to share hope and resources and validation. I came away bubbling with joy about the positive feedback and that glorious sense of doing some good in the world. We drove off through the rain, eating hot donuts and talking about pain and caring and life and art…

We’re staying at a little BnB in the hills with a gorgeous garden, in the dark it’s lit with lamps that catch the raindrops like tiny fairy lights through the trees. We’ve sat by the fire and soaked up the warmth, and curled up in the spa together, and eaten cheese and chocolates for dinner and drunk non alcoholic bubbles. We’ve laughed about good times and talked about bad times and got teary and held each other and watched the baby moving under my skin. In our world of no time here, time suddenly moves glacial slow and moods shift like seasons spinning around us. We are here, on the cusp of birth, with these precious hours to wonder and hope and tremble and remember who we were and how far we have come together. To watch bodies changing and rest faces against breasts we’ll soon be sharing. I go through the usual post-talk process as ecstatic energy ebbs to vulnerability and uncertainty. We talk over the phone with Star who is having a rough week; grounded once again in the role of parent, anchored in each other by our chosen bonds of love.

In the dim light, the luxurious robes hang empty against the wall. Beyond the hall the bathroom waits under its chill, smelling of honey and milk. Here we lay, waiting for sleep, for dawn, for words, for baby, waiting for our worlds to change forever, waiting hand in hand and side by side, full of joy and fear and deep love, eyes shining brightly, darkly. Arms aching for you.

New life and death

Wrote this earlier in the week – it’s been a hard one between a funeral, a bout of gastro for me, and a lot of other stressful events and appointments. Glad it’s done and to have Rose home again after her quick interstate visit for the funeral. 

We had our beautiful baby shower on Saturday, and woke on Sunday to the call saying Rose’s Gran has died. We are all tired, physically tired after preparing for a big event, and emotionally tired from so many feelings and people and connections. Yesterday Rose went back to the venue to clean and collect the last of our gear, Star cleaned out our car from front to back including the gear ruined by leaking seals in the boot, and I cooked and washed dishes and cleared and reorganised our pantry. I am very sore and very tired, but all the displacement activity has helped ground me. There was sweet beef curry for dinner, a family recipe which was comforting, and a fresh batch of banana muffins for lunches.

It has been a slow, sad day. We three have moved mostly in our own spheres, awkwardly when we are together. Moments of connection are easily fractured by misunderstandings, miscommunication, frustration as words won’t come or fit together right. We are still defining ourselves as a family, defining our culture. I’ve laid a blanket over the day, soothing the anxiety: it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to be out of sorts. You don’t have to pretend to be anything else. It’s okay to need time alone, to need company, to need both.

Zoe spent the morning jumping up on everyone and constantly wanting to go outside and come back in again. When I woke up I was able to bring some soothing to her energy and we realised she was trying to tell us she was cold. Rose and I packed her bed with an extra wool blanket and a pillow and Zoe settled at once. I could only be soothing because when I woke early this morning, sleep deprived and in pain, it was Rose who wiped away my tears and calmed me back to sleep. Peace and gentleness like a baton we hand between us in relay. And in that peace, all the things we couldn’t hear a moment ago suddenly make sense, like finding the radio station clearly between the static.

New South Wales is currently buried under storms, with the airport half closed and many evacuations in place. We have just learned that the funeral is planned for this Thursday, and we are changing plans and rearranging appointments so that Rose can attend.

But in among all the heavy weight of grief, I want to take a moment to acknowledge our baby shower, which was simply beautiful. We both felt very vulnerable that morning, but our people who could be there embraced both the silly games and the moments of ritual and connection. We were very loved up, and despite lots of sickness and cancellations and worries, it all turned out as good as it possibly could. It’s been a long time coming for us both, and it was precious. We’re in the last months of pregnancy and taking each day as it comes, looking for windows to enjoy it and delight in it between the troubles and discomforts. Celebrating with our tribe was a very important milestone for us. ❤

Looking forward

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I’ve started a new oil painting, about walking in the local park at night, as I loved to do with Zoe before I was pregnant. There’s been a lot of art this past week. 🙂

Tomorrow is our baby shower/blessing way. I’m excited. It’s been a sad week too – both Rose and I are waiting on news as each of us has a grandma in end of life care. In both cases they live much too far away for us to visit, which is hard. It’s strange being happy about the baby shower and sad about death and loss at the same time. Rose and I find ourselves feeling vulnerable and anxious, wanting our people around us tomorrow, a sense of connection to our tribe.

We move between grief and joy, the way I move between pain and pleasure in this pregnancy. One hour we curl up in bed and cry and talk about all the sense of unfinished business. The next we pack baby clothes and games and food for tomorrow, ticking off check-lists and making plans.

I’m soaking up every hour I get where I’m not overwhelmed by pain but can find the tremendous hope and joy in carrying our baby; counting the stretch marks like tide lines on my skin, Rose and I holding my generous bump to feel the baby dancing under my skin. Watching for those moments even if they are brief, knowing they will be gone so very soon and I’ll look back on them for the rest of my life, maybe even miss them at times. It’s been a very hard pregnancy, but not every minute is miserable. There’s beauty here too; hope, longing, and love. Looking forward to celebrating that tomorrow.

Standing in some other place

I am busy this evening because today we moved slowly and made space for conversation and connection. How rare that has been lately. One child in the home with crises to be managed, and another little one on the way, and Rose and I find ourselves squeezed for time, for energy, for moments to hold hands and look into each other’s eyes, for conversations to plan, to problem solve, to debrief, to reconnect, for romance, for parenting conversations, for sex, for poetry, and art, and altered states, and dreaming about the future. We divide our tasks and conquer them and find ourselves split and far apart. Companionship becomes a memory. Downtime becomes time to zone out. The idiot box gabbles in the background, making us feel as if we have relaxed, as if we have spent time together, as if we have recharged. Time for us becomes time we have to push someone else away, privacy becomes a thing of closed doors where we used to be naked in the kitchen together. Parts switch out and conceal themselves because those conversations are too hard to have yet. Home becomes a place of divided zones where once it was all our land, all my own territory. Changes to be navigated, a new season in our lives. In the hallway, the trees drop their leaves and crunch underfoot. In the bathroom the tiny violets blossom. I walk around the rooms with that wide, soft padding of late pregnancy and eyes follow my hands rubbing my belly, watching for the baby, waiting for the baby. The washing line is covered in baby clothes that drip with rain. Everything changes.

Rose and I met with our doula today and discussed birth. It was pragmatic, intellectual, options, plans, preferences, risks, solutions to possible problems. But underneath it, I was awash with images and feelings, a dark current running like a river of everything I have ever thought, felt, and feared. We had planned things in our afternoon, errands that need to be run, baby shower preparations that need to be done. I flushed hot and felt ill, dissociated, drunk. The harder I struggled against it, the stronger the tide pulled me in. We sat in the car together and I fell into that other world, the blur in my voice clearing to something deep and soft. Bringing images up from the deeps, the dark side of birth – the horror stories and blood and loss, all dripping with meaning and needing embrace. We sat and talked and listened and found the other side of joy, found the shadow where this space is sacred, where the wounded mother howls, where the night runs black with rain. Behind the advice to run, to disconnect, to bar the windows and make the walls higher and push the dark away I found a deep need to go into it, to connect with the strength of that place, the rawness and intensity and power within it. To say the unsayable things and wear the blood on my face. (This is love in the shadow of your loss, Tamlorn)

I remember us, love. The soft, small voice of the wilds still within us, the thing that cannot be tamed. We’ll find ways to make the minutes stretch, to turn an hour into a year where the stars wheel overhead and nothing in the world exists but us. The world is not all it seems to be, life is not all it appears at first glance or at second. We’ll make a place for us.

30 weeks pregnant – Poem

I’ve been taking ‘mindfulness and meditation’ classes for pregnant people lately, and it’s been interesting. A few weeks ago we were doing a breathing exercise when we were given the instruction to “notice our baby”.

Immediately, I wept. Tears streaming silently down my face. I felt a deep sense of longing, and a door inside me briefly opened, then closed again.

I wrote this:

It’s not safe to be aware of you.
That’s what killed Tamlorn.
I sang about them, like a bird with an egg
And a predator found my nest and ate the egg
My little love gone.

This time, I’m silent.
You, my love, are nested
In the rushes down by the river
While all the babies are killed
As I try to sneak you past Death.

I do not sing
I do not even speak to you
I do not look to you, though my heart
Longs for you like a compass pointing north
You are not here, little one
Please, let them not notice you are here.