Earlymark

It was one of the best, but also one of the worst years of my life in 2003 when Master Z made his way into our world.

I was 36 weeks and 4 days pregnant and had suffered lower back pain all day. Thinking I needed to lie down, I went into the bedroom to attempt to sleep. Afternoon siestas were my friend most days during this time; I was up so frequently during the night. The pressure of the baby on my bladder was constant.

Having vacuumed and washed all the wooden floors in the house that day, I decided I must have overdone it, but I felt satisfied as the entire place was sparkling. The nagging lower back pain was annoying me, so after tossing and turning for a bit, I decided to run a bath. My father was coming for dinner and I wanted to be good company for when he arrived in another hour or so.

It had been a torrid year in my family – my parents’ 29 year marriage had come to an abrupt end only six months before, and the shockwaves were still very much being felt. I hoped this little one would provide some solace for our fractured family. On top of this, it had taken month after month of fertility treatment, then IVF, to finally succeed with achieving a viable pregnancy.

It had been a long, arduous road to get to this point with Master Z. Not only did reservations exist around us for our choice in having this child, but the tenuous nature of the pregnancy itself brought with it a lingering cloud from what felt like some kind of higher power telling us ‘This isn’t meant to be’.

Every fibre of my being knew he WAS meant to be, and that people would see that once he arrived. The start of this pregnancy was rocky, with several threatened miscarriages. Our little man hung in there though and here we were, eight months down the track.

We were desperate for him to arrive safely and soundly.

I was 24 years old and it was late November. Our due date was December 23, and we were excited at prospect of a Christmas baby. For his sake, I hoped he was born either before or after Christmas Day rather than on it. We had made tentative plans that if he did happen to be born on Christmas day, we would do as friends had done, and nominate another day mid-year to celebrate his birthday, so he didn’t miss out on having his own special day.

My partner at the time, T, had been saying we should probably pack a bag, just in case. I hadn’t gotten around to that bit yet.

The nagging in my lower back wasn’t dissipating.

I waddled my way into the bathroom. Reaching over to turn the taps on, I felt something ‘down there’. All of a sudden I thought I had wet my pants. There had been no warning, no show, no nothing. My waters had broken. Hobbling down the hallway to the phone (yes one of the old fashioned variety on the wall), I rang the hospital.  A trail of liquid followed me along my sparkling floors.

The midwife from Admissions answered. The conversation went something like this:

‘Hi, um, I think my waters have just broken’

‘Ok then, how far long are you?’

‘I’m 36 weeks and 4 days. So what happens now, do I come in and you just patch me up?’

‘Ah, no dear, you are going to have your baby tonight.’

‘Oh no, I can’t – he isn’t due for another 4 weeks. It’s too early.’

Quiet on the other end of the phone for a second.

‘Just come in here and we will be waiting for you.’

Needless to say they assumed I was a first time Mum. A naïve one at that…

Five hours and 46 minutes later, he arrived. It was a dramatic entry to the world: he came out not breathing. My mother and T paced back and forth as the paediatrician worked behind a screen to get him breathing. It was the most frightening moment of my life, dulled only by a shot of pethidine administered too late to be of any use other than to calm me.

Master Z was whisked away to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit to spend the night – I didn’t even get to hold him.

But it didn’t matter as he was safe, and breathing and ours.

Drug of Choice

Parenting is a drug. The highs are amazing, euphoric even. The lows: the worst come down ever. Nothing makes you confront your own feelings of inadequacy and fractures your sense of self-worth like a teenager with a bee in his (or her) bonnet. That same being you held to your breast and nurtured, that you fought so desperately to bring into this world, can turn on you in a heartbeat, when they feel their own life is closing in on them.

Master Z told me a couple of days ago that he wants to spend most of his time at his other house.

Until now, we have always operated on a 50-50 week about basis. He is almost fifteen years old and approaching the end of year 9. He’s on the cusp of manhood and is desperate to embark on a more independent, self directed life where he can get himself around and spend less time on structured activities, and more time instead with friends.

He has spelled out his logical reasons for wanting this change in his living situation: T’s house is closer to school and his friends, he’s sick of taking all his school and sporting gear back and forth between the two houses, and it’s quieter and a better atmosphere for study there. Plus the little kids drive him nuts at times.

I get it.

Makes sense.

Completely understandable.

So why do I feel so completely and utterly betrayed?

I literally feel like my insides have been scraped out with a spoon. I’ve completely personalised it of course, and the feeling burns. How could he do this? How could he stand being without us for ten days each fortnight? How could he throw back in my face everything I’ve done for him, and reject his other family like this?

He’s not.

He’s being a teenager.

Just like the majority of others navigating this adolescent phase: it’s all about him.

And because he can.

Shared parenting is so hard. Issues arise that you can never, ever foresee at the time you make that decision to embark on separate lives. I am almost certain that had I have known the innate difficulty that split households would bring to my kids’ lives, I truly would never have left my first relationship. It’s just too difficult. For everyone.

That’s easy to say from this position: ten years down the track and a world away from the memory of struggles we faced at the time. I know deep down that there is no point dwelling on the past, as I wouldn’t ever give up the life that I currently have now, with Lisa and my tribe. So it’s redundant. But perhaps if I had known then some of these issues I would face in years to come, as well as the layer upon layer of added difficulty, I might have been better equipped to make a more informed decision at the time.

I never fully understood how people could ever just ‘stay together for the kids’. It seemed so silly, to have two people desperately unhappy with one another, co-existing purely to avoid disruption to the lives of children – children who would probably be happier with their parents not being ‘at each other’ day in and day out. This ‘stay together for the kids’ mentality was the school of thinking that my parents adopted, and while I appreciate wholeheartedly the good intentions, I don’t believe it necessarily did my siblings and me any favours. I know too well that feeling of walking on eggshells, and the perception that things completely unrelated to me were always my fault, purely because quite often the atmosphere in our house was tense. I swore my children would never grow up with that. I was convinced my parents would have been happier shaking hands and going their separate ways.

There were many good times too of course – wonderful times as a family – but the overriding constant theme present throughout my childhood is one of tension and guilt.

What I didn’t completely grasp was why my parents chose that path: why they stayed together all those years knowing full well that it was so troubled. I always assumed it was simply because of my father’s position as Principal of a Catholic high school. Divorce at that time would have cost him his position in Catholic education, coupled with the fact that for my mother, being a single mother of four children really wasn’t the done thing. I now realise these were only secondary considerations.

They stayed together because the alternative is too damn hard.

And I can honestly say today that I get it.

So I will begrudgingly set my little bird free, earlier than I wanted or hoped, knowing full well that he knows how much I love him, and that I will always, always have a place for him.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Rocky Road

Our excitement at being pregnant for the first time in 2002 was short-lived.

Tragically, our first pregnancy ended in miscarriage at 8 weeks.

It was three days after the Bali bombing in 2002 that we lost our first little one. We were actually supposed to be in Bali with my ‘in-laws’, T’s parents, at the time, but the bombing the day before meant that all flights over there were cancelled. We ended up spending our break at a high-rise resort in downtown Caloundra on the Sunshine Coast instead.

The devastation was indescribable. I could talk about the myriad of feelings that grief on this scale brings, but I won’t. It’s too sad, and even now, this topic remains largely taboo.  As commonly experienced as it is, it remains for the most part a very lonely, private journey. There’s nothing anyone can say, and many times when people try, they get it wrong.

‘It just wasn’t meant to be.’ Wrong.

‘Things happen for a reason.’ Wrong.

‘It’s Mother Nature’s way.’ Wrong.

Insert many other well-meaning clichés here. All wrong. There’s nothing at all anyone can say. Particularly when you are gay and embarking on a path many don’t agree with already. It felt like salt on open, gaping wounds.

We got back on the horse again as quickly as we could manage after piecing our broken selves back together. This time we opted for the more expensive, but also more successful IVF (in-vitro fertilisation). The prospect of month after month of failed artificial inseminations again was too much for us to face. This was what our specialist, Dr Keeping, was referring to, we realised, when he told us we would successfully have our child ‘as long as we could hang in there’.

The emotional toll was intense and inescapable.

If we thought the process during artificial insemination was intrusive and an ordeal before, it was nothing compared to IVF.

The aim of IVF is to grow as many ‘follicles’ or eggs as possible to an ideal size and maturity, and then to ‘harvest’ these from the ovaries under a light general anaesthetic. A scientist at QFG could then, for an extra fee, physically inject sperm into each egg for maximum fertilisation chances, in a process called ICSI (intracytoplasmic sperm injection). We opted to pay for this additional option. Two days later we would come back for a fresh embryo transfer, provided we had some resulting embryos to use.

The tricky part was determining the right amount of follicle stimulation that my sub-optimal ovaries required: too little would result in insufficient eggs, too much would result in too many eggs that weren’t mature enough to continue to develop. The potentially life threatening condition Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome (OHSS) was a risk too if I was particularly unlucky.

We ended up with 23 eggs, eight of which fertilised to a degree suitable for embryo freezing for potential use later. These were all average quality apparently. Like red wine, embryos mature to differing degrees and qualities. Mine were, I imagine, around the $12 a bottle variety.

We decided to transfer the ‘best’ two embryos into my uterus, in the hope that one of these would fertilise. If both did, so be it. We figured we would be twice as thrilled.

The two week wait after the embryo transfer was a killer. A medicinal shot of brandy to calm the nerves from the clinic and we were sent on our way. The advice ‘Just try not to think about it’ was bestowed upon us as we left.

Yeah, right.

I can safely say those two weeks were the slowest two weeks of my life.

When I arrived home after the transfer, I didn’t notice that there was a bee perched on the iron handrail on the front stairs.  As I grabbed the rail to start ascending the front stairs, it stung me. My entire hand swelled up like a baseball glove. That, as well as the agonising symptoms of Ovarian Hyperstimulation I was experiencing, kept me in bed drugged up on paracetamol and sleeping for the first few days.

In retrospect I guess the pain and discomfort I felt during these early days stopped me from dwelling too much on whether or not the procedure was working. Perhaps this was a blessing in disguise, ironic as that sounds.

Finally the time came to do a test. To our absolute joy, the IVF worked. One of the two frozen embryos took and we were pregnant.

We found out the day we moved into our new house in Forest Lake. This felt like a much-needed omen for us – the start of a fresh, new beginning. One with joy, happiness and the family we craved.

We couldn’t wait. We knew all the angst was going to be worth it.

We were so right.

IMG_3759

An Uphill Battle

Conceiving our first child was by no means a simple task. My polycystic ovaries meant it was always going to be an uphill battle. Not that I knew this at the time. The long and short of it was I was never going to just fall pregnant without specialist help, whether I was gay or straight.

I had done my research and I sought a referral to Dr Doug Keeping from Queensland Fertility Group (QFG).

Much as I enjoyed my visits to see Dr Doug, with his dry sense of humour and laid back approach, I was impatient and desperate for a baby. After a couple of months of failed attempts, I asked Doug outright if he thought I would ever be able to have a baby. His reply I’ve never forgotten:

‘You’re young, you definitely will, it’s just how long you can hang in there’.

I was relieved and confused at the same time. As I went along I came to understand exactly what he meant.

It’s a complete and utter head game. The synthetic hormones turn your life literally upside down. It becomes an emotional roller coaster where tears, mood swings and meltdowns feature heavily. And you feel so desperately out of control.

notpregnant

It took seven months to fall pregnant the first time. Seven months of mapping cycles, counting days, taking hormone tablets, administering Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) injections, making early morning trips to the city for blood tests, then racing to get to work on time.

The term ‘ordeal’ was an understatement.

Ordeal that it was, I’ll never forget the joyous feeling of seeing the second faint line appear on the test.

It was a work day. About mid morning, I went to the bathroom and saw the all too familiar signs that indicated the cycle had not been successful.

I was a catatonic mess, sobbing on the phone to my partner T, who didn’t know what to say. She too, was devastated.

The drive home from work was deathly quiet; we were both so flat and discouraged. I think it was desperation more than anything, but upon arriving home, the ever eternal optimist in me wanted to do one last ‘just in case’ test.

I did. The finality of another negative was too much to bear. I couldn’t look.

I hated myself and my body for ‘betraying’ me: I felt useless and inferior. Most women I knew had to TRY not to fall pregnant. My mother was one of them, so I figured I would be like her and it would come easily to me. She used to joke about how my three siblings and I were all ‘accidents’ and that even different forms of contraception just didn’t seem to work for her. What was wrong with me?

A few minutes later, T came out to find me, test in hand. She looked stunned and showed it to me. There was an unmistakable second faint line: it was positive.

Hardly game to speak, we raced down to our local medical centre and sat and waited for the next appointment. A lovely British doctor, sensing our apprehension, confirmed it for us – we were pregnant. We rang our families, unable to contain our excitement. I felt delirious with happiness.

We were going to have our own little one! All the effort, money and heartache month after month had been worth it.

It was finally happening, we were going to be parents.

 

Old School

TD

I want him to read this while he still can.

For me, the most difficult aspect of coming out was realising that my life was NOT going to head in the direction I had planned. Having to justify yourself to others around you, when you yourself don’t even feel it’s OK, is really, really tough.

It wasn’t what I wanted at all. But it had to be, because that’s the way that it was. There have been a number of people who have helped me along my way, one of whom I’d like to mention now.

His name is Thomas David Lehane (known in our family as ‘TD’) and he is my grandfather. He’s the old school ‘patriarch’ of my mother’s family. As a child I used to marvel at how he was able to sit at the dining room table while his wife Muriel, known to us as ‘Mirum’, bustled around waiting on him. Cups of tea, porridge, more tea, the paper, his reading glasses, the sugar, a spoon to stir his tea…

One thing after another she would race around and get for him – it was her job. She herself told me that when I asked her about it one time. TD went to work to look after the family, and she stayed at home to look after the family.

It was simple: the traditional model of that generation.

It was very different to how our family dynamics operated and I found it both fascinating and perplexing.

But for them, it worked. Sixty plus years of marriage are testimony to this.

TD was strict, and as a child, he was absolutely terrifying when he was angry. I adored him though, as did everyone in the family. We still do. He is funny, clever, interesting and kind, and he is fiercely protective of his family. His wife and four daughters, his grandchildren, and now even his great grandchildren, are faultless in his eyes.

Heaven help anyone who tries to tell him otherwise.

I can remember breaking it to him when I was a late teen that I in fact like girls rather than boys. It was a difficult conversation and I had become teary when I told him, expecting him to unleash his fury. I was petrified, but I needed to tell him. So I did.

He looked at me in a way I’ll never forget and he said, ‘Oh Shadder (my nickname in the family), you are just a little girl, you don’t know what you want.’

But I did. There was no shouting or fury, he just listened to me quietly while I spoke.

And it was ok.

It became known to everyone in the family that I was ‘that way inclined’ at (not so coincidentally) around the same time I decided to head overseas for 12 months to England.

My year away brought clarity and confidence in the new me. The prospect of embarking on my alternative lifestyle at home, however, was not inviting. It was one thing for friends and family to say it was fine, another for them to deal with the cold, hard reality.

Upon returning to Australia, I eventually met T. I knew the relationship had long term prospects, and so wanted to introduce her to everyone. In a ‘baptism of fire’, I chose a family birthday celebration. No one knew what the grandparents’ reactions were going to be: my parents, aunts and uncles were all apprehensive. The tension was pervasive, as people waited for TD and Mirum to arrive. Finally we heard familiar voices so we made our way towards them.

TD took one look at T by my side, paused for a second, then opened his arms, saying ‘Well, come on then, give us a hug’.

That was the extent of it. The tension immediately vanished and everyone else followed his lead, welcoming T as part of the family.

I have never actually explained to him how much what he did meant to me, and although I suspect he knows, I want to make sure. He is 85 years old now, not a spring chicken anymore, though he is still as charming and lovely as always.

Thank you TD. I truly hope I make you as proud of me, as I am to be your granddaughter.

IMG_3724
TD holding his first great-grandchild in 2004, Master Z.

Modern Family

Not everyone who wants to be a mother wants to carry a baby.

For some women, that urge to physically grow another human never arrives; however the desire to be a mother does. The ‘maternal instinct’ comes in many forms, and is different for everyone. It is a spectrum – with those like me, who love and in fact yearn for the feeling of being pregnant on one end, and others who have absolutely no desire whatsoever, even finding the thought abhorrent, on the other end. Most women fall somewhere in between.

My ex-partner, who I shall refer to as T, definitely was one of those who naturally gravitated towards the opposite end of the spectrum to me. My wife Lisa also would situate herself further down that end. Yet these two are both amazing mothers, who could not be more loving and doting. As it turns out, T ended up ‘going in for a bat’, successfully conceiving and carrying our lovely Miss D, as I couldn’t successfully fall pregnant at that time and we desperately wanted a sibling for Master Z.

But that’s a story for another day…

My eldest two kids, who I affectionately dub ‘The Bigs’ describe themselves as not having two mothers, but four. T and I went our separate ways when they were only young: Master Z was four and Miss D was one. It was an extremely difficult time as relationship breakdowns involving kids inevitably are, but we did our best to always put the kids and their needs first.

I couldn’t ask for a better person to co-parent with.

T met her partner J about eighteen months after our separation. T and J have been together for ten years now, and so ‘The Bigs’ have been raised with J heavily involved in their lives for as long as they can remember. They love her and it is very mutual. My wife Lisa and I have been together four and a half years now, and these last few years with Lisa in our lives have been the best years we have had as a family. So it makes me burst with pride to hear my kids politely correcting people when they enquire about their family:

‘We’ve actually got four mothers’.

This generation of youth is SO much less hostile about these things. I love it. Reactions involve little more than conversational explanation and as soon as they explain that two are actually ‘stepmothers’, that’s it – most kids just nod in that knowing way and move on. End of discussion.

Being gay just isn’t the stigmatised ordeal it was in past years.

I remember whispers and finger pointing at a senior student someone suspected was ‘that way inclined’ when I was at school at a private all girls’ school twenty-five years ago. The ‘L’ word was taboo in that circle, and in my completely sheltered and ignorant youth, I remember just staring and staring at her from behind. I felt sorry for her, and secretly felt relieved it wasn’t me that was the subject of the whispers.

Little did anyone know…particularly not me.

As for the same sex family thing, young people these days really don’t seem to mind. Well, in our circles anyway. Maybe it’s just that the kids have learned from a young age to be selective in who they befriend, I don’t know. As well as gay celebrity icons, we have ground-breaking TV shows such as ‘Modern Family’ and ‘The Fosters’ and films such as ‘Brokeback Mountain’ to thank for this. To society’s credit, today’s youth are far more aware of the diverse world we live in, and therefore tend to be far more understanding about alternative families and their dynamics.

The inclusive curriculum and anti-bullying approaches fostered in our schools towards differences in terms of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and disability are all paving the way for a smoother educational experience for those a little ‘left of the middle’. We are not there yet, but I can see a future ahead with leaders possessing far more empathy and understanding towards difference than displayed by those of generations before us.

The split family status of our family adds an extra dimension of difficulty to our kids’ lives, which is why T, J, Lisa and I have always worked so hard to establish a harmonious relationship between the two houses. It is something I feel extremely proud of, as it truly hasn’t been easy. Forging a long term functional relationship is hard enough within one same sex family, let alone between two.

The effort, however, is paying dividends now with children who are secure, and happy, knowing that no matter what happens, they have four people in their lives who will together put them and their needs first.

No matter what.

62AA4671-9B9D-4618-92AC-5EB4BD6D39F5.jpeg
The Bigs with their ‘other’ mums, Lisa and J 

 

 

Ready or Not

We received an invitation for Master Z ‘and his family’ to have afternoon tea with the local member on Wednesday afternoon to celebrate his receiving a ‘Local Sporting Champion’ grant. He’s had a great year with his sport, playing hockey at National level plus State level for both club and school hockey. Initially, I felt thrilled, then I suddenly stopped and thought about who would attend.

‘And his family’…an easy turn of phrase for some – not quite so for us.

I wonder if they know exactly how many people that invitation actually includes. On my side, we have the seven of us: Lisa, me and the five children. Then there are the other two parents, T and J, from the big kids’ other house. So that’s nine people: four women, five children.

I can just imagine the looks and raised eyebrows as we all file through the door. No thanks.

Master Z, though proud of his family, has reached the teenage stage when everything your parents does is embarrassing. He would rather die than have all of us turn up with him. I completely get it. All kids feel this at this stage of their lives. It is normal. But his family is anything but normal. Not just for the same sex parents factor – but for having so many kids in the family too. Master Z has already made it abundantly clear that he is only ever having two children – if he has them at all. I remember telling him we were expecting Miss L, and his face just fell:

‘Not another one.’ Yes another one.

Isn’t it funny how different kids are? Miss D was thrilled at the prospect of another child. She is more quiet and reserved than Master Z, but also fiercely loyal and not in the least self-conscious about her family. I wonder if that will change as she enters the teen years. From my limited perspective on parenting teenagers, it seems like these gorgeous, delightful individuals you raise, turn instantly into paranoid, anxious, moody, self-obsessed individuals for seven or eight years, returning only to their lovely selves again if you are fortunate, only after they have passed through the dreaded ‘teen tunnel’.

If I am completely honest, I’m dreading it.

I know in my heart that’s why I chose to teach primary school rather than high school. I love the youthful exuberance and excitement of childhood. I love the childhood urge to run yourself ragged, play, climb and shout. I love being met at my car on the way into school by children who are excited that I will be spending their day with them.

I love the missing front teeth, the dimples, the mess and the chaos.

I love it all.

The teenage years, however, I view with far more scepticism.

Everything seems to become embarrassing and anxiety ridden. My gorgeous big boy, at the ripe old age of 14, already spends more of his time in his bedroom than he does hanging out with us. Miss D is showing signs of heading in that direction also. When you only have their company for half their lives, this feels like such an unwelcome wrench. Close friendships are beginning to monopolise their time, and dreaded homework usurps the rest. Don’t even get me started on how much sleep Master Z seems to need these days too. It’s truly diabolical.

I had to pre-warn the kids well in advance that we were having a ‘family day’ last Sunday for ‘Father’s Day’ so that they could get all their chores and schoolwork done beforehand. Almost like I needed to ‘make an appointment’ for their free time!

It feels like the beginning of the end: like basically their childhood is over. A new phase is beginning and I’m not all that certain I’m a fan. Thirteen years and all of a sudden, that’s it, the fledgling years are gone.

I know it’s not all bad – I adore the people I can see them maturing into – it’s just that I’m not ready yet to bid farewell to my little people in favour of teenagers.

Ready or not, here they come.

Father’s Day

Book Week poses far more of a stress in our household than Father’s Day ever has. Hard to believe but it’s true.

For us, the day itself is spent celebrating with extended family. Grandparents and uncles are celebrated with either a family breakfast, or lunch. Basically it is just like other families, but on a larger scale as our nuclear family obviously doesn’t contain a male parent.

Whether it be at day care or at school, our children’s educators have always taken them under their ‘wing’ and supported them in identifying a recipient for their beloved Father’s Day or ‘I love you’ cards and associated paraphernalia.

Not only this, but knowing that my three eldest children (Master Z, Miss D and Master M) have two households, they have always avoided yet another potentially tricky scenario by providing us with two Father’s Day cards – one for each of their respective houses. I have witnessed firsthand the efforts of early childhood and primary school teachers who spend hours planning and researching the best and most creative ways to provide activities and gifts to celebrate these special occasions.

No idea how they managed before Pinterest!

A fellow educator and new friend of mine messaged me tonight to ask my opinion on her plan for her Prep/Year 1 class for Father’s day. I was absolutely touched; not only by her reaching out to ask my opinion, but also by the level of concern she has for ensuring that the 2-3 kids in her class with no father ‘on the scene’ feel included. She also wants to make sure that the single parents ‘pulling double shifts’ were acknowledged too. Her heartfelt message explaining how she feels really moved me and I’d like to share it:

‘Mother’s and Father’s Day are so important for so many reasons, especially for little kids. When they don’t have one or the other, it can be confusing. It is so important for me to get these special days right for them. That little present that gets made at school, to be wrapped and then given on that special day means so much more to the kids most of the time, than to the parent. It’s my job to make sure that everyone is catered for in a respectful manner and I’ll always do my best to make this happen.’

The world really is a beautiful place.

Massive shout out to the educators out there who have made sure that my children never feel alienated on Father’s Day. On behalf of same sex and single parent households everywhere – thank you.

This is truly a wonderful example of the importance of the ‘village’ in raising confident and balanced young people.

So when you sit down on the weekend with your kids to celebrate with whoever it is in your house that is being honoured this Father’s Day, please remember how much thought has gone into the day – all to show you how very much you are loved.

Unwrap that precious gift as though it is a pot of gold.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Book Week Can Bite Me

img_3376-1

There are some challenges all households face irrespective of sexuality or family dynamics…One of those that considerably raises the stress levels in our house is Book Week.

Last week as most of you would be aware, was Book Week for 2018. Now let me preface this by saying I am a HUGE supporter of encouraging the reading of books. As a teacher, I cannot overstate the importance of fostering a love of literature from an early age, both for children developmentally as well as simply for enjoyment.

Book Week, however, causes the same drama in my house every year: I am hopeless at dress ups. As a full time working mum of five, I struggle at the best of times to ‘keep all the balls in the air’. Making sure each child has homework completed, dinner eaten, teeth cleaned, body showered, books read, sports trainings attended, housework done, uniforms ironed, washing done, cuddles given…Night times are completely and utterly chaotic. Fun and happy, but frantic.

So when it comes time to roll out an impressive and uniquely constructed costume for Book Week – nine times out of ten, I inevitably fall short.

I cannot compete with the artistic ‘Stay at home Mums’ who epitomise flair and creativity – designing, sourcing and even sewing for weeks beforehand. Seriously, I just don’t have the time. And if I did have the time, I’m pretty sure there would be a hundred other ways I would choose to spend it than this. It’s just not my bag.

Thinking I was on top of it this year, after combing through the Kmart FaceBook page for ideas and watching the efforts of umpteen others on social media, I had prepared several options for Master M to choose from. We were sorted. I was quietly patting myself on the back for my organisational prowess this year. I needn’t have. At approximately 6pm on the night before the Book Week Parade, seven year old Master M confided to me that he really didn’t like any of my ideas and that he wasn’t excited at all about it. I felt like a Warner Brothers cartoon with steam screaming out my ears. But I held it together and listened calmly.

Ordinarily I would adopt a bit of the ‘tough luck’ mentality, but my Master M is struggling at school right now – learning isn’t as easy for him and he finds school hard. My omnipresent friend ‘Mother Guilt’ took hold and I started to stress. Here I had the opportunity to genuinely foster an interest in books with him, and I felt like I should be embracing it fully. How could I do that if he didn’t feel excited about his costume?

Trips to two different shopping centres with the lovely Lisa to try and find him something inexpensive yet impressive proved fruitless. Department stores literally must rub their hands together as they jack up the prices, knowing full well the plight of the old ‘working mum’ and her sidekick ‘Mother Guilt’. Even stay at home Mums must find it a challenge – those I know certainly don’t have oodles of time on their hands to sit around thinking up amazing costume ideas that will blow the socks off their kids. It’s a pressure cooker at times, this parenting gig – and I felt at boiling point.

There were school lunches to be made and babies to be put to bed, before we could even think about collapsing into the arm chairs for a bit of a break before we ourselves retired. Eventually after much discussion, I convinced Master M that it wasn’t in fact uncool to wear a ‘Storm Trooper’ costume and dug out a Star Wars book that he had buried at the bottom of his bookshelf. Alas my book was certainly not going to appear on the ‘Children’s book of the Year’ shortlist, but he left for school in the morning with a smile on his face. Mission accomplished and crisis averted.

Until next year when Book Week 2019 rolls around.

Or the Easter Hat Parade, the other nightmarish event on our school calendar.

Don’t even get me started on that one…

About a Boy

I was in London the day I learned I was expecting my first boy fifteen years ago.

I was doing data entry at a dingy small scale factory style establishment near Croydon, walking distance from a hospital. Work was optional for me at this time, as my partner had been offered a contract working for an engineering company overseas. I was in the blissful position of being able to leave my relatively new call centre position in the finance industry and hightail it overseas for a few months.

It was a tenuous pregnancy from the start. Every month I thought I was suffering another miscarriage as my body, whilst pregnant, continued to function ‘as per normal’

It was only at thirteen weeks that finally my system seemed to kick into the ‘Oh so we are holding onto this one’ mode.

I was a basket case, a blithering bag of nerves, and the prospect of getting away from work, stress and life in general was wonderful and exactly what I needed.

I felt so much pressure at home – people close to me didn’t quite know how to deal with our news – and I could feel eyes on us in a way I wasn’t accustomed to. Being a same sex couple who was pregnant was a game changer. It felt like people had learned to ‘tolerate’ me having a female partner. Especially one that they genuinely liked. Although we were considerate and non-demonstrative at all times, bringing a baby into our lives caused a new wave of judgement.

Why were we doing this? How would life be for this little one? We sensed the fear and uncertainty in the empty smiles and hesitant congratulations. We knew deep down that we would be ok, but we ourselves felt the weight of others’ concern. Add to this the pushes and pulls of threatened miscarriage and constant hormonal upheaval, and it was truly stifling.

I had previously lived in England for a year after ‘coming out’ when I was 20, and it was one of the most enjoyable years of my life. Presented with this golden opportunity, we snatched at it as though it was a lifeline, leaving almost immediately.

Whilst I didn’t need to be bringing in an income, I knew it would help to keep my anxious mind busy. An added bonus was that it would help to fund our weekend jaunts around the countryside. I was there only a couple of months so I needed something unskilled and easy. Data entry was available, so data entry it was.

The best thing about the British culture is that it is considered rude to question someone about their personal life. Unlike at home in Australia where our ‘She’ll be right mate’ mentality means nothing is really off limits conversationally, I never had to worry about fielding questions about my partner here. People just didn’t ask. It was bliss.

I met my partner at the hospital on my lunch hour. She was nervous, but excited, just as I was. The ‘consultant’ that we saw at the hospital who referred us for our scan had been literally speechless when we told him our baby was the product of IVF. In London in 2006 apparently it was unheard of that two women would have access to such technology. Our consultant stumbled over his questions, asking several times to make sure we had understood his question correctly – he had an Indian accent and was somewhat difficult to understand. As he left us, he was shaking his head and looking confused.

I can remember feeling very certain I knew who his lunchtime conversation was going to feature…

I hated feeling so different. Why did our interactions always have to be tricky? I fantasised about being met by the consultant with a smile, then the ensuing polite conversation including menial questions about names, genders, our accents even. It just wasn’t fair – it was always so awkward.

In the waiting room we witnessed a couple; the female was pregnant like I was but much further along. This couple had obviously received some horrendous news. They were wailing and crying with their parents at hand, in the gut-wrenching way that only grief evokes. It made me want to sob for them. A much needed reality check was cast upon me: I spent not another minute fantasising about a ‘different’ experience.

The chill of the lubricant gel on my stomach startled me and I felt my focus return as I watched the alien-like image jumping around on the screen. It had two tiny arms, two spindly little legs, and a thumping heartbeat. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.

The words of the sonographer penetrated like a drum, resounding in my ears.

‘It’s a little boy’.

As we walked out of that hospital, it was our turn to be speechless. For some reason, we thought we were having a girl.

We felt suddenly, desperately, ill-equipped.

This changed everything. Well-meaning relatives had pulled us aside and warned us in earnest that they didn’t feel that two girls should be raising a boy. Yet another awkward (and unwelcome) conversation.

We had waved it away as best we could at the time, certain we were welcoming a pink addition to our family. We wandered along silently, both awestruck and unable to voice the many, many terrified thoughts we were having. By the time we arrived back at my work, we had calmed ourselves. The image of the devastated couple in the hospital still fresh in our minds, we gathered ourselves and spoke.

A baby, we were having a beautiful, happy healthy baby.

And he was ours.

And that was all that mattered.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.