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Ash-8-Months

I promise this isn’t some kind of mummy blog rant. I’ve never had the urge to write publicly on the topic of pregnancy and parenthood, but recently some friends have encouraged me to share my experiences. They said it would be helpful for women “like us” to read, so I’ve jotted down some observations and thoughts – I hope some of you find some of it useful.

Last week Ash turned nine months old, and in exactly a week from today I will be on my way home from my first official day at work in almost a year. Lots of people have been asking me how I feel about it, and while I will undoubtedly miss Ash, I am  looking forward to it (it helps when you enjoy what you do for a living).

It will be great to get back to contributing to positive social change, being inspired by my talented colleagues, and exercising the professional part of my brain. Importantly for me, the work aspect of my life hasn’t been completely on hold while on parental leave. I’ve been chipping away at developing a start-up social enterprise with a good friend of mine who happened to also be on parental leave at the same time.

Over the past nine months we’ve spent many days pushing prams together while brainstorming, feeding our babies while planning, and writing to-do lists while cleaning up vomit. It’s been so much fun!

I also decided to do a bit of tutoring at uni to bring in a few extra dollars, and have a break from full-time parenting duties. Fortunately I was able to teach classes in between Ash’s feed times, and feel relaxed about leaving him, knowing that he was with his wonderful grandmother.

Interestingly, when I tell people about working while on leave, most of the time they respond with something like “How do you manage all that? Aren’t you too exhausted to think about work? I can’t believe you can handle a newborn baby and work at the same time!”.

I guess I could take it as a complement, but these comments are usually promptly followed up by more generalised advice such as “don’t think about work while you’re on leave, enjoy your time with your baby”, or “you should really forget about doing the housework, you need to sleep when the baby sleeps”, and “don’t worry about exercising, your first priority is looking after the baby”. Sigh.

Clearly it never occurs to them that my way of coping, managing, and mothering may be different to theirs, or social norms.

Some days all I want to do is clean while Ash sleeps, so that when he wakes up I can enjoy the environment around us. Sometimes I am physically exhausted, but have lots of ideas that I just have to get out of my head and onto a google doc before Ash wakes up. Other days I sleep when he sleeps.

I think it’s really important to do what makes you happy, especially when you’re sleep deprived, a little isolated, and going through a lot of physical and psychological change.

For me, having professional projects and “work” to focus on has really helped keep me grounded, intellectually challenged, and feeling like I hadn’t had a complete identity change the minute Ash came into the world.

There is no single, better, or right way of spending your time. This clearly isn’t rocket science, but then why hadn’t anyone, any blog, or any book suggested it to me before?

In light of this, I thought I’d share some of the things that I found really helpful when I was pregnant, and in the early days when Ash was born.

But before you read on there is one very large caveat to all this – I am extremely fortunate to have a fantastic husband, an amazing mother, a caring father, a supportive workplace, and good mental and physical health. Without these things, the list below would undoubtedly look very different.

Seeing a kick arse GP

A visit to a GP is typically where your pregnancy journey will begin, so having a good rapport with them is pretty important. They’ll likely influence your decision making and set the tone for your pregnancy early on. One of the most helpful things my GP did was to firmly tell me not to read too many pregnancy or parenting blogs, and under no circumstances play Dr Google when it came to health-related issues. After that appointment I promptly unsubscribed from a bunch of sites that were doing little more than causing me mild anxiety about all the things that could go wrong with me, my baby and my relationship while I was pregnant.

Listening to the experiences of like-minded women

I’m fortunate that most of my closest girlfriends already had babies, or were well on their way by the time I fell pregnant. They have been an invaluable source of information and ideas for me, and a great sounding board.

I should stress though that I chose pretty early on in my pregnancy who I would listen to and who I would politely smile and nod at, while disregarding everything that was coming out of their mouth. There’s no shortage of opinions and views about pregnancy and parenting out there, and most people don’t hold back before telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. That’s why I think it’s really important to stick to a few trusted sources, and ignore the rest!

Writing up my birth preferences

I was hesitant about birth plans, but I really liked the idea of Simon and I both knowing my birth preferences. For me it was about understanding some of the decisions that I might need to make during labour, and discussing them with Simon and our midwife in advance. For example, what pain relief options I would like to try during labour, whether I wanted to have vaginal exams during labour (and whether I wanted to be told how dilated I was), preference for skin-to-skin contact with the baby immediately after birth, how I wanted to birth the placenta (and what to do with it afterwards), the list goes on!

One of the most useful sources of information I found in preparing my birth preferences were the prenatal yoga classes I attended with Vedanta Nicholson. Not only were these classes a fantastic way to relax and learn essential active birth skills, but Vedanta gives you really practical, evidence-based information about labour and birth in each class. I also found the following books incredibly useful – they all helped to inform my birth preferences:

One of the things I learnt about birth preferences, is that they can be helped or hindered by hospital policies. For example, some hospitals in the ACT don’t allow water births, and they all have various standards when it comes to medical intervention during labour.

A couple of my girlfriends had gone through the Birth Centre at Calvary, and highly recommended it. After chatting with them I thought it would probably suit me, because I was keen to have a vaginal birth with little or no intervention if possible. I must say that I received amazing care from the midwives, nurses and doctors at Calvary – and I saw quite a few after a 30 hour labour that ended in an emergency cesarean section!

Even though my labour didn’t end as I would’ve liked, I found the entire experience absolutely empowering and mind-blowing! Anyway, that’s another blog post

Once Ash was finally born, there were a few key things that I found helpful, particularly in the early days:

Focusing on the positives – there are lots!

While I spent the first few months post-partum feeling frustrated about being so physically inactive while my body recovered from the Cesarean Section, and adjusted to keeping another human alive (outside my body this time), I kept focusing on the fact that we had a gorgeous and healthy little boy in our lives. This simple mantra gave me a clear reference point when I was thoroughly sleep deprived, full of raging hormones, feeling fat and lethargic, and at times, completely unsure if Simon and I were “doing it right”.

Forming a parental brains trust

Simon and I are really lucky that the group of parents we did our hospital classes with started a really supportive and candid closed Facebook group so we could stay in touch. While I’ve never been big on the concept of “mother’s groups” or discussing difficult and personal issues with perfect strangers, this crew was (and still is) a great support for Simon and I. It’s been so interesting to chat with other parents about everything from sleep, to teething, nappy options, health issues, weaning, first foods, childcare experiences, and everything in between.

Finding my new training routine

Having gone from doing functional fitness, Capoeira, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu regularly pre-pregnancy, to being restricted to “just walking” for 6 months post-partum, I had to rethink and reimagine my ideal training routine. It went something like this:

When Ash was about four months, I started to do some one-on-one personal training sessions with my man Simon. My focus for these sessions is mobility and light strength work. When I am super tired we run through a series of stretches, focusing on unlocking all my tight and tangled spots (there were lots).

At six months I felt I could add some more dynamic, whole body movements into my training. So I was super excited when I returned to FuncFitness to train once a week, it’s one of the friendliest gym communities in Canberra. The culture of where you train is always important, but even moreso when you’re getting back to training after a break, and are feeling super unfit.

Most recently I’ve started doing some one-on-one Muay Thai sessions with my friend Mitch Langman. Some days we work on the psychological aspects of my training, sometimes we spar, sometimes we run drills on the focus pads. One of the things I love about training with Mitch is that regardless of what we’ve done during that hour, I always leave with a smile on my face, feeling a billion times better than when I first walked in.

So what’s next? I’m absolutely itching to get back into some Capoeira and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu at Elements – I’ll find some time somehow!

Last year I was lucky enough to attend the Better Boards Conference, and co-present with the talented Ruth Pitt on the YWCA of Canberra’s long-term strategic plan. This week the Better Boards team sent me the video of our presentation, so here it is – enjoy!

You can read my original post covering the conference here

Note: I’ve since resigned from the YWCA of Canberra board to take up an exciting role within the staff team, and I love it!

Progress-program

I was recently asking my NGO communications buddies if they knew of any courses that focused on digital campaigning and community mobilisation. The responses I received were largely along the lines of “I don’t think anything like that exists in Australia”, and “hey you should run a course on that”, so I was starting to get a little disheartened.

That was, until Sarah Stokely suggested I grab a ticket to Progress 2013 – and man I’m glad that I did!

In this post I’ve tried to capture some of the highlights of the last two days, and will no doubt add to it as my brain digests the smorgasbord of ideas, critiques, and strategic thinking I was lucky enough to learn about at this landmark event.

Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson

Richard Wilkinson, social determinants of health guru and expert on the societal effects of inequality framed our thinking as the morning keynote speaker on day one.

His opening slide encouraged us to consider the question, why are we so miserable?

He explained that at a global level (comparing country-to-country), life expectancy is unrelated to economic growth, happiness and other measures of wellbeing.

However, when we look at the population within countries, health and social problems are more prominent in countries where there is an inequitable distribution of wealth. That is, the larger the income gap, the worse off countries are across a range of areas including: homicide, mental illness, imprisonment, life expectancy, high school drop-outs, maths and literacy scores, social mobility, teenage births, social capital, and the prevalence of trust between citizens.

Research shows that people who live in unequal countries actually trust each other less. Only 15-20% of people living in unequal countries feel they can trust each other, compared to more equal countries, where it’s about 60%.

Richard explained that a naive view of inequality only looks at one end of the spectrum that focuses on poverty and income differences. Whereas a more informed view examines the layers of all the subtlety destructive tendencies that humans possess, ie the psycho-social effects.

Fundamentally it’s about a response to social hierarchy and ranking, and whether people feel valued or devalued.

Richard Wilkinson-Public health slide
Research tells us that friendship is a protective factor of health

We then had a look at the “U shape of inequality” from the 1930’s to the present day. It bottomed out in the 70s (thank you feminism) and is now sadly on the rise again. Richard says we’ve lost any vision of what a society that serves us all might look like – a thought for us to keep in mind throughout the conference.

So what might this more equal world look like, and how do we get there?

Richard challenged us to consider what would happen if we extend the idea of democracy into the economic world, and transform big business and corporate control into democratic spaces.

His talk convinced me that in many respects, some of us have reached the end of the benefits of economic growth, and that now we need to think about how to create a better quality of life for everyone, beyond consumerism.

Tim Costello on the narrative of progress

Tim says that the notion of progress needs to be unpicked. He says it can’t be a narrative about material goods, and that we need to understand its limits. The economic rationalism storyline should have already been unpicked, but it still dominates our public debate and policy making.

Australia ranks number one in the world in terms of medium per capita wealth, and number two for wellbeing. We are healthy and wealthy, but are we wise?

The story of “the wealthier I am, the happier I’ll be” doesn’t necessarily work out the way we think it will when we’re ultimately faced with greed, stress,  and fragmentation of communities.

Working out the narrative of progress was one of the challenges Tim put to the conference attendees. This was particularly important given that the NGO sector is largely written out of the progress story.

His take-home points for us:

  • If we can understand our size and our muscle, we can change this place
  • We need to empower people to define what “the good life” means for them
  • There are a lot of people in Australia who should be having a voice, and they need to be connected

Limited news: a future for media in Australia?

Future-of-media

Panelists:

Tim started out talking about how he often sees journos dealing with Twitter followers like they are some kind of pest. He said journos don’t like being publicly held to account, they don’t like being questioned, and they still resist engaging in meaningful dialogic communication.

This got me thinking about how we can break down the barriers to social media use, how we can bridge the digital divide, and how we can empower citizen journalists to deliver quality, yet independent content. I’m yet to come across a better example than the PakVotes project that I came across in Geneva earlier this year.

We then moved on to discussing the Murdoch press, and how we break down the empire and it’s constraints. The general consensus was that monetising free-to-access media is still very difficult, and the publications that have opted for the paywall option are finding it problematic.

Jamila thinks that by 2020 we’ll have online media accounts where we pay very little (eg half a cent) per article read, but that it will take a while for us to get to the point where culturally we’re ready for that to happen on a large-scale.

She flagged that sponsored content is one of the more promising ways that we can monetise online media. I saw a couple of examples of this when Mamamia ran its “Most Clickable Women” awards, and invited female bloggers to engage in the creation of branded or sponsored content.

Digital Campaigning: going well beyond clicktavism

Panelists:

This was one of the sessions I was most looking forward to attending, and it delivered! It was a real honour to hear some of the world’s leading campaigners share their approaches to strategy, implementation and evaluation.

Some tips from the gurus:

  • Technology is just an enabler, it’s how we use it that’s important
  • Seize the moment – when something happens in the real world, leverage it!
  • When people see real action in the world it galvanises support in the online environment
  • By challenging politicians to do something about an issue (by collecting signatures for an online petition, for example), you present not only a big stick, but also a very big carrot
  • It’s important to agitate around issues that “no one cares about”, but recognise this will often require a much more long-term strategy
  • Many people fail because their target audience can’t see how it will lead them to success, and they can’t see their role in the journey
  • When people take action you need to celebrate little victories along the way

Moving beyond the “gender card” – opportunities for the Australian women’s movement.

Y women

Josie Swords of Feminaust, Krista Seddon of the YWCA Victoria, Michelle Deshong of the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, myself representing the YWCA of Canberra, and Nina O’Brien of Kindling.

Panelists:

Jane began the discussion by saying that she doesn’t see feminism as a movement. She sees feminism as a way of seeing the world, where women are at the centre of their own lives, rather that at the periphery of someone else’s. Jane noted that one of the things that we (women) consistently deal with is a trivialisation of our thoughts, feelings and desires, and that this needs to change.

Rebecca however, was more interested in talking about how we as a collective can move our agenda forward faster. She said the average GetUp member is a 55 year-old woman, and that one of the reasons women make excellent campaigners is that we’re comfortable with emotion, and the vulnerability that leads to connection.

Michelle challenged the position that Jane presented, because she feels like she has only just had the opportunity to start participating in feminism. She sees her race as the first thing that has prevented her participation, and then her gender, which is why she calls herself an Indigenous Feminist.

Michelle believes that gender equity is a conversation for everyone, and that Indigenous women want to participate in feminism while bringing their men along with them.

There aren’t a lot of Aboriginal women who are participating in the “feminist debate”, because they are more comfortable participating in the “Indigenous conversation”. The overlay of cultural context for Aboriginal peoples is very important, and shouldn’t be underestimated when it comes to participation in feminist debates.

Jane sees social media as one of the biggest ways that we can move feminism forward faster. The fact that we can have a public conversation without being mediated is unprecedented, and is something we shouldn’t take for granted.

Using the Destroy The Joint campaign as a case study, Jane passed on a few words of wisdom about progressing the feminist agenda:

  • Mock stupidity – it’s the best defence!
  • You have to fight mockery and insults with the same thing!
  • We need to make all progressive movements FUN!
  • Start with a group of people who are like-minded, and want the same outcome. You will have a much better chance of making your campaigns fun and engaging.

Finally, Michelle encouraged us to think about what the world will look like when gender equity exists, and stressed the fact that for us to get there, women’s rights first need to be accepted as human rights.

One of Her Canberra’s 15 Women to Watch in 2015

Her Canberra - 15 Women to Watch

Nominated for Mamamia’s Most Clickable Women of 2013

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