Tag Archives: breastfeeding

The family laundry and missing women (mothers, take your babies)

Sparrow has had a feed, a vegemite sandwich, and a sleep. All in the Atrium. This means I’m out of tricks. He’s next to me in the pram while I kneel on the floor and type. We’re at The Family Laundry and I’m hoping that if there’s anywhere baby noise will be tolerated it will be here. I find a tiny green striped maraca in the bottom of the nappy bag and for now, he’s happy. There’s a woman with a baby in a sling walking up and down behind me, then standing still and rocking; the baby dance. Sometimes I do this dance in supermarket lines, even when there’s no baby on my back.

Sparrow rollingAnn Patchett reads from her new novel, State of Wonder, and I take Sparrow to the back of the theatre to do a nappy change. There is a thin flap that unzips from the nappy bag, the only thing between his body and the slate floor. He squeals and kicks and I try to be as fast and as clean as I can. State of Wonder sounds thick with gorgeous writing but it slips over and past me. The nappy change is done and I lie Sparrow down on the strip of wood flooring that cuts through the slate, to type with both hands, to try to pull words from the air and get them onto this page. Maile Meloy is reading and then Georgia Blain. Sparrow has rolled nearly onto the slate. He bangs the maraca and tries to sit. I am momentarily jealous of the baby dancing woman who could type right now if she wanted to. I try a breastfeed even though he’s not due. I hope that a nipple will create enough quiet for me to at least hear, even if I can’t write. I try to type one handed. It’s excruciating. Sparrow keeps lurching away from my breast and swiping at the keyboard. He’s making so much noise I feel sick. I give up. We go out to the Atrium and I drink coffee, and breathe, and decide to try again at the next session.

A young woman with an Equal Love t-shirt and forearms crisscrossed with cuts stops and smiles at Sparrow and reaches carefully to touch his hand. He grins at her with his gappy teeth, spit dripping from his chin. We talk. I try not to look at her sad arms. Sparrow, I think, has made her afternoon sweet.

The friend that I’m with comes to find me and we make our way to Missing Women. I put Sparrow in the ergo and try to be present. Carpeted floor. That’s good. A wide escape stretching out behind me. Good too. I bounce and rock and listen to the recorded intro. Sparrow makes noise, but I hope that he will sleep. Chris Gordon, who’s chairing the session, asks why, with so many women in publishing, do most non-fiction books and biographies feature the lives of men? Katie Holmes stands behind a lectern and says she is staggered by the stories of grief and the stories of hope that she hears from women. Sparrow squawks. Chris smiles at me (he’s out of the ergo and I’m trying to breastfeed him again – he’s so full of milk that it’s spilling from the corners of his mouth but I want to stay and so I keep trying to keep him quiet), a warm smile, a smile that says I understand. But there’s someone else in the audience who glares, a few times. I put him back in the ergo and try to get him to sleep. Please. Sleep. I fail. The cranky woman is psyching me out. I bail.

Sparrow sleeps on the peak hour train and then on the walk home. By the time I open the front door it has been a five hour round trip and I feel defeated. What I know is that I tried. And what I want to say is this: mothers, take your babies. Stretch these adult spaces. Require them to open up for you. And if you, out there, see one of us with a pram or a sling and a small squawking thing, trying to do something more, trying to make the world a bigger place, at the very least, hide your disapproval.

This is my last MWF post. Last week I watched Monkey reach a bubbler in the park in our street that he’s never been able to reach before. He pushed himself onto tip toes and pressed the button until a small trickle emerged. He had to poke his tongue out to get any water, but he did it without needing to be picked up. I feel like I had to do something similar to get to this festival. I had to push and stretch and do something that I didn’t think I’d be able to, and I’m glad that I did. Tired, but glad. Thank you for reading.

Don’t feed the artists (but give me lemon tart)

I’m back at MWF today, but not as a blogger. About seven years ago I started learning Auslan (Australian Sign Language). The idea was to get myself a profession where I could make a decent hourly rate and pick and choose my hours so that I could still write. It’s finally starting to work. So today I’m interpreting. My fabulous wife (I really have to think up a good pseudonym for her) has bought both kids in so that I can work and they can play. The NGV, nori rolls on the steps of Fed Square, ACMI, and in between session breastfeeds for Sparrow. One of the sessions has been cancelled, so instead of signing I’m writing. They were all here just a minute ago; Sparrow with shreds of seaweed glued to his cheeks and forehead, and Monkey with an arc of chocolate across the bridge of his nose. I was asking him what he’d been doing but his eyes were on the big screen that’s up in the Atrium. Judy Horacek’s hands were there, drawing Growl. “Didn’t she illustrate Where is the Green Sheep?” asked C (I’m going with the first letter of her name – I can’t keep calling her my wife, particularly given we’re not allowed to get married). She did. C and Monkey went over to her table while I fed Sparrow, who kept flattening his mouth around my nipple as if about to nip, then springing up to beam at a woman sitting across from us. On the screen, I saw Judy lean forwards and knew she was talking to Monkey. And then I watched her draw this.Judy Horacek sheep

“A sheep Mama! With an icecream because it’s my favourite!” Judy’s drawing for three hours here today as part of MWF’s Don’t Feed the Artists series.

I can’t help but feel blessed. Yesterday’s visit here was a debacle. Two attempted sessions that both had to be bailed from because Sparrow was making too much noise. And now this. C with both kids down the road at the NGV where there’s a room with a light that chases you when you run. Me at a table with coffee and lemon tart, writing, and watching Judy’s hands make art. Yesterday I was a butter and vegemite smeared woman battling peak hour with a pram. Today I am a Woman with Altitude. Blessed.

In conversation: William Powers (and a lightening fast breastfeed)

Monkey arrived with tomato sauce smeared over his chin. He grabbed my hand as I stepped off the escalator and asked me what I’d been doing at the writers festival. Writing, I said. “But how were you writing Mama?” Sparrow is simultaneously desperate for sleep and needing a feed. The four of us sit in Beer Deluxe while Monkey eats a biscuit and then spills pale and frothy orange juice over the table. Sparrow sucks and murmurs, eyes rolling back in his head. I watch the clock. Could I feed, and hear about Monkey’s morning, and drink a coffee, and get to the toilet, and then make it here in half an hour? I could.

Bill Powers (@hamletsbb) is tall, and wide through the shoulders, and friendly. I have a father, but not a dad. This makes me susceptible to wishing nice men were my dad, and despite Bill being not a lot older than me, this is how I feel. His essay, Hamlet’s Blackberry, came from the observation that he was critiquing media, but leaving out the devices themselves. He saw people reviewing new gadgets and all the fabulous things they could do, but not discussing their impact. “The more I got connected digitally the more I felt my focus narrow down. People of all ages were saying that the more connected they were, the more they felt the rhythm of their life was changing in some fundamental way, that their attention had become scattered.”

I have felt this too. About ten weeks ago I had a poem accepted for publication in a Melbourne Poet’s Union anthology called In Their Cups. I got the news in an email. It was such a feelgood moment that I’ve been checking my email in hyperdrive ever since. I’m the rat that got some cheese when I pressed a button. There’s no more cheese, but I can’t stop pressing. And it’s not just email I check. There’s all my ongoing Words with Friends games to keep up with. And Twitter, I should check that (hang on I’ll just tweet about irony). And Facebook – I should let my friends know I’m at the MWF and having a great time. I arrive back in my body, in ACMI’s Studio 1, to hear Matthew Ricketson asking this:

How do you live happily in a digital world, but also deal with the burden?

“It’s the conundrum of connectedness. In history there have been moments like this one, for example the invention of the printing press, where everything changes, and people have a sense of drowning in information. Life in the crowd. Connective technologies draw us closer to everybody else in the world. We’ve been so trained by the screen and our attention is divided so thinly. What I had to do was open up a gap between my digital life and myself.” William’s glass of water is almost empty, but I haven’t seen him drink. He seems like someone I’d like to know. I’ll just look him up he’s sure to be on Twitter. Follow. Great. Check email: spam, a new follow from MWF retweeting my tweet, someone on freecycle with an offer of one hundred red bricks.

Stories about digital life are bubbling in me. A loved one who was staying in our bungalow and couldn’t sleep. She was convinced that her iPad would be able to help her, but was too far away from the house to pick up our wireless connection. So she walked into our freezing and pitch black backyard at two o’clock in the morning to search the app store. Or Monkey crying every time I take my phone back. “But I really really LOVE that phone”. He’s been playing since he was one, and long ago mastered the swipe and pinch. Or being in the doctor’s surgery last week and noticing that seventy five percent of the people in the waiting room were interfacing with smart phones, and wondering if we were all, already, cyborgs (Donna Haraway eat your heart out).

Then he played this ad. It gave me shivers and made me cry (not the first time that’s happened at this festival). Then this quote from a keynote address at a university: “Turn off your computer. You’re actually going to have to turn off your phone and discover all that is human around you.”

At Bill’s house they call it the vanishing family. They all arrive in the lounge room at night, and then disappear to their various screens within ten minutes to “check something”. So they have the internet Sabbath. They turn off the household modem on Friday night, and turn it back on on Monday morning. I can feel myself filled with dread and defensive bargaining, reminiscent of when I was contemplating giving up smoking. The first few weekends they were totally lost. They wandered aimlessly around the house, went to their screens, and sagged when they discovered they could not disappear. “As time went by it got easier, but there were also incredible benefits. Eye contact came back. Minds slowed down on the weekends. Being right here right now. Present. Connected. Really alive. Showing up for your life. Some of that carried over when we went back to our digital lives.”

The session finishes. I check my email. Again. I text to say I’ll meet you under the big screen. I walk fast to hold Sparrow while he waves and grins, to eat a sandwich brought from home, to sit with my back in the sun and be fed poffertjes by Monkey, who pronounces the Dutch word perfectly, then kisses me on the cheek. “That’s a purple kiss Mama, because that’s your favourite colour and I missed you. Can I play on your phone now?”

A baby in the library

I’m learning a new library. I’ve spent enough time in university libraries to be able to find my way around, but it’s the fine details that I need to get a handle on. Fine details this time around include finding the lift so I can get the pram around and working out where the accessible toilets are so Sparrow doesn’t have to sit in the corridor (or on a toilet floor) while I wee. I am overly anxious about the noise he makes. Squeals or sleep moans or cries or grizzles. Other students speak loudly, their phones ring, check out kiosks beep but somehow, in my overly worried head, this is allowed noise. A baby in the library seems wrong. I have to work on behaving as if I (we) belong.

Two weeks ago Sparrow and I went to some training. Endnote A. And then last week Endnote B. I contacted the trainer before I registered and checked. Yes, she said. Fine. When we got there, in a quiet aside, “You will take him out if he gets upset won’t you? Just better for everyone that way”. I agreed, and the training proceeded.

Sparrow rolled around on a blanket and tried to eat the nappy bag straps. I learnt how to create an Endnote library. He grabbed his feet and grinned. I imported references from Google Scholar. He breastfed. I typed one handed and learnt how to switch between APA6 and Harvard. And again this feeling, that it is possible to do this thing (and also a rush of geeky excitement – hooray for Endnote, and for never having to format a bibliography by hand again). There is a baby and his Mama in the library, and we are finding our way.


Breastmilk, catalogue searches and childcare

Crying baby

Image via Wikipedia

I can count on one hand the times I’ve had a child free moment (and by moment, I mean moment) since Sparrow was born. About two weeks ago I was pushing him along Sydney road, and he was crying, and it was spitting and cold and someone walking in front of me lit a cigarette and I got a lungful of chemical and he was crying and I needed a break. Right then. There was nothing to do but keep walking. So we did. Keep walking. And then it passed. Last week it happened again. Walking again, and crying again, and this tearing love in my chest that pins me down and makes me want to run at exactly the same time.

Monkey was fourteen months old before he started childcare. Guilt leached through my pores for weeks, but then there was this lift. A lightness on Tuesdays and Fridays, the anticipation of child free-ness. Sparrow will be eight months old on Monday, and today was his first (half) day in the Joey’s room. He had a donkey and a wrap that smelled like home in his backpack. I handed him over with my brave face and left and closed the door and cried, and felt like I had failed him.

At home. Alone. The Temper Trap. Tea. My laptop. A yellow formica kitchen table. Three phone calls. No wriggling baby on my lap. No Monkey saying “but I’m talking Mama”. Aching breasts. The library homepage. Breast pump. Catalogue search terms: feminist theory body. Eight pages of Butler and Irigaray and Kristeva and Grosz. My left hand pumps, pulling milk out and down, hot and white into the bottle, while my right scrolls and clicks. In twenty uninterrupted minutes I have one hundred and sixty mils of milk and fifty one items on my list. I call the library and discover I can borrow fifty items at a time. There are tiny dots of milk on my laptop screen. I leave them there, and put a library visit into my calendar, and wonder how to carry fifty books, and get my keys and the empty pram, and walk through the park to pick up my baby.

MWF here I come

Federation Square Theatre (BMW Edge)

Image via Wikipedia

The Melbourne Writer’s Festival has selected me as one of their five ‘UNbloggers’. I’m a bit in awe I have to say, being such a brand new blogger and all. My first response was excitement, and my next was more along the lines of what-was-I-thinking-I-can’t-take-an-8-month-old-baby-to-a-writer’s-festival. But I’ve just decided that I can, and that it’ll be ok. There’s plenty of couches scattered in that big undercover bit at Fed Square (perfect for breastfeeding), there’ll be a change table somewhere, and Sparrow will magically sleep through each of the minimum ten sessions I attend. Ah. Sleep.

I’m guessing that writers and audience alike may not feel particularly warm to either a crying, squirming, squealing, or singing baby. I wouldn’t have been, pre-baby. Note to self: paranoia and doing other people’s thinking for them whilst attending the festival will not be conducive to the kind of relaxed and inquiring state of mind I’d like to cultivate. More notes to self: everyone there was a baby who interrupted a grownup at some point. Sometimes childcare is a hard thing to get and babies need to travel with their Mamas. Sparrow might magically sleep through the sessions (yeah right). Even if every post ends up saying something like “the first five minutes of this session was amazing, and then I had to leave because…” that’s ok.

I’ve downloaded the app and made a must see list. It’s twenty-one sessions long, and that’s only because I couldn’t include anything after dark (Sparrow’s not so crash hot at going to sleep for the night without me).

Essential items (please feel free to add to this list in the comments): pram, ergo, cruskits, pear slices, blanket, quiet toys, food and water for me, all the other stuff that goes in a nappy bag, laptop, iPhone so I can dictate my posts as I think of them in case I can’t type, pen and paper for old school moments, a brave face, and the serenity prayer. No I’m not religious, but the serenity prayer is gold.

What does your phd notebook look like?

I’m writing this with my left thumb. Sparrow (I haven’t decided yet whether to name my children in this blog, so for now they have pseudonyms) has woken for a feed and sucks deeply, his head warm and heavy in the crook of my arm. Bronchialitis makes it hard for him to breathe and so a vaporiser bubbles at the foot of his cot, and I feed, and write with my left thumb.

I’ve been thinking today about notebooks after reading The Thesis Whisperer’s recent post. There were some great tips about keeping a phd notebook, but nothing about the actual notebook. I mean, how big? Lined or unlined? Thick pages or thin? A cheap throwaway thing from the supermarket or a leather bound journal? How precious should this object be? And don’t get me started on pens and then post-its. Because sometimes it’s about the aesthetic.

Some of the my best work was written in a very large, very heavy, black fabric bound book. Thick, cream, unlined pages. I bought it to honor my work. But then some of my favourite poems have been scrawled on the backs of mandarin stained receipts scraped from the bottom of my bag.

My right thumb now which is good, faster. Sparrow still sucks, and breathes, and sucks. He likes to hold my hand while he feeds. Not hold, he likes to touch. It is the lightest thing, the feeling of those four fingers resting on my wrist. As if to say stay. To say I know you, and right now you are mine.

Back to the look of things. When I set up this blog the first thing I did was try out themes. I love to play with appearance, to have a beautiful space to write into and out from.

What does your phd notebook look like?

Feed’s finished. To bed.