Category Archives: childcare

Pregnancy is not an illness…

…but sometimes it sure as hell feels like it. Boom tish!

When I was having my daughter, we had a trainee midwife attending us as one of her “case studies” for qualification. She had a sticker or something with the motto “Pregnancy is not an illness”. From this you could tell she was young, idealistic, totally delightful and had never had a child herself. I always wanted to add the punchline above, but I restrained myself. After all, I had no idea until I had become pregnant myself.

I have to say that I was gobsmacked by how unwell I felt when I was pregnant with my daughter. I had blithely expected that I would carry on life as usual, and work up until the day I had her, but it didn’t work out like that. I ended up leaving work early. I know some women who haven’t felt ill, and others who ended up having to be hospitalised because they were so sick, so it really does depend on the person.

The worst of it is that the really sick period (5 weeks to 14 weeks for me) is when you aren’t supposed to tell anyone. So you can’t explain to anyone why you’re turning green at the sight of a cup of coffee, or you have a sudden insane desire for Pink Lady apples all the time. (Mmm, that yummy pink crunch!)

Any expectation that your life will go back to normal straight after having a baby is also misguided, in my opinion. I’ve heard of a barrister struggling to Court to make an appearance one and a half days after giving birth, which just seems insane to me. In fact, from the way it was reported to me, it was like a competition: “X came back 2 days after she’d had hers, but can you believe it, Y beat her and turned up 1 and a half days after she’d had her baby!” Seems like a pretty stupid kind of competition to me.

Anyway, I’ve been thinking about the reports that Cate Blanchett is to take part in the 2020 summit two weeks after her third baby is due. That seems like insanity to me. The only way in which she could possibly manage it is to palm the child off to someone else for most of the time. And even then, she’ll still be feeling a little sore and sorry for herself. If she’s trying to breastfeed, she might need the baby brought in and out of the summit. Or I guess she could take the child to the summit, but it’s very difficult to concentrate on work-related matters when you’ve got a beautiful newborn there demanding your attention. At least, that’s my experience. And I wouldn’t have it any other way: this new person has come into your life and you want to get to know them.

Cate might miss out on her new child for nothing anyway: this 2020 summit sounds like a bit of a furphy to me. A case of letting people talk, and then just going on as normal afterwards. It reminds me of Charles II’s strategy with Parliament – he got them to fight and talk amongst themselves, while he got on with ruling the country. Mind you, Parliament had an equally dismissive idea of him: “Give him a whore and a side of beef and he’ll be happy.” Lovely.

So, despite thinking of myself as a feminist, I’m just not sure about Cate’s appointment to 2020. She’s a great actress and all that, but her attendance so shortly after the predicted birth of her child gives a message to women that, yes, you can just get back to things straight after having your baby. This might be the case if you have a phalanx of nannies and other support people, but for most normal people, the process of having a child is an exhausting and all-engrossing one which does affect your capacity to work. Even if you’re not unwell and tired during the pregnancy itself, you are likely to be sore and tired after the birth (whether natural or caesarian). And babies are made so that they cause us to focus a lot of attention on them when they are born. And you know what? That’s natural.

Advertisements

15 Comments

Filed under breastfeeding, childbirth, childcare, children, feminism, motherhood, parenthood, pregnancy, society

Childcare, guilt and the working parent

After we moved to our new house, I bit the bullet and put our daughter in creche. I reasoned that she’s almost 2 years old, so she should be able to cope with it.

The first time was awful. I stayed with her for three quarters of an hour before I left. She was very nervous and clingy, and when she realised that I was going to leave her with these people, she started to cry, and gave me a look which indicated I had committed absolute betrayal, calling out “Mummy, Mummy, Mu-u-u-u-mmy!” and stretching her arms out. She wasn’t the only one crying. I am afraid I sobbed the whole way into work. The second time was much better, but then she got sick, and had a week off. We’ve had her in childcare for a little over a month now, and of that time, she’s only been there half of the time because she keeps getting sick (colds, bronchitis, ear infections). I’m lucky that my Mum lives close by and has been able to come over at the last minute. I hope that the bubba will get more resistant to disease as time goes on; if she’s still getting sick like this in a few months time, I don’t know what I’ll do.

I wouldn’t mind putting her in for a morning twice a week, but from 8am to 6pm seems like an awfully long time. The carers there are lovely, and being a social little thing, she seem to enjoy interacting with other babies and doing little activities. But she’s always so glad to see me when I pick her up, and when we get home, she has to cuddle me for at least 15 minutes straight. We have a love-fest and tell each other how much we love each other. In fact, she says “I lubboo Mummy”. It’s adorable.

When politicians talk about the problems of childcare, they generally mention availability as the key concern. Yes, that is a problem, and the waiting lists at some childcare centres are insane. I was just lucky this one recently opened up and had some vacancies. However, in such debates, it’s just assumed that mothers are champing at the bit to get their kids into childcare and get their noses back to the grindstone. I would suggest that the reality is a little more complex, at least from my point of view. I’ve noticed that the debate falls into two camps – the staunchly pro-childcare and the staunchly stay-at-home advocates. I don’t fall into either. I’m a little more ambivalent. I think if someone occupies one or the other, that’s okay, but most mothers (and fathers) are probably more like me, they just don’t want to admit it.

I like my job, and even if I didn’t have to work, I wouldn’t want to stop working altogether. It’s good to have my own time, where I can do adult things, and have adult conversations. It’s also good to keep one’s brain going. But the whole time I’m at work, I miss my baby. On the way home, I’m impatient to see her. I treasure our days at home together (well, mostly…she wouldn’t have her afternoon nap and let me do marking yesterday, and she wouldn’t take her antibiotics either for some reason…grr).

Financially speaking, I have to keep working, because I have a mortgage and it has to be paid. I’m saving for all I’m worth just in case interest rates go up a substantial amount, or something else happens. That’s the problem of being an ex-banking lawyer; I can imagine the worst case scenarios all too well.

I don’t know what the solution is. I don’t know how to make myself feel less guilty. I don’t want to make my parents have to look after my daughter all the time (they’ve already done enough with my sister and I – they should enjoy their freedom/retirement). For the moment, I’ll just keep going, and keep juggling all those balls in the air (mother, wife, academic, student, blogger…you name it).

P.S. Only 14 more papers to go out of 100. This post is my reward to myself for having marked 6 papers this morning. At this rate, perhaps I’ll finish today? In fact, perhaps I should stay up tonight just to get them out of the way? Hmm, tempting…

6 Comments

Filed under childcare, children, feminism, Guilt, jobs, motherhood, parenthood, society

What’s in a name?

According to this article by Catherine Deveny in The Age today, I must be conservative, insecure or stupid. Why? Because I changed my name (at least to an extent) after I got married. Where’s the option for “D. None of the above”? Deveny was inspired to write the article after seeing Jana Rawlinson (nee Pittman) successfully compete in the World Titles hurdling.
There are a number of reasons why women change their surnames after marriage. When I asked a close friend if she intended to change her surname, she just looked at me for about 5 seconds. Then she said, “My current surname has six letters, but only one vowel. Do you know how much trouble I have with it? And no one in Australia can say it properly anyway.” So she opted for another six letter surname, but with three vowels and three consonants. Another friend had her father’s surname, but she didn’t have much time for him. She was happy to ditch her father’s surname for her husband’s, on the basis that she may as well take the surname of a man she respected. Perhaps in Rawlinson’s case, she wanted to change her name to change her image. Fairly or unfairly, she did suffer some really bad press, and I can understand that she might want to ditch her old name for that reason.

What about me? I must confess that I didn’t change my surname until my little girl was about 8 months old. And I only changed it for home (driver’s license,  Medicare card, banking details). So many women I know have done the same as I did. My mother didn’t change her surname until she had me, either. I don’t think it’s marriage which makes the difference, it’s children. My daughter has my husband’s surname. And me having a different surname sometimes leads people to conclude that I’m not her mother. Also, there’s probably a touch of obsessive compulsive disorder in there somewhere: my maiden name looked out of place on the Medicare card, in a way that it didn’t when there were only two names on it.

I haven’t ditched my maiden name altogether. I still use it for work and professionally. This is partly because I had published before I got married, so I didn’t want to lose any meagre reputation I might have built up. Sometimes I do wish I could get rid of my maiden name altogether (partly because there was another girl at high school and law school with almost the same name, right down to the middle initial, and people were always confusing the two of us, on paper at least). But then at other times I feel nostalgic and glad that I’ve held on to it. It has a long, although not altogether glorious, heritage. My forefather who gave me my surname was a 15 year old pickpocket who was deported to Australia on the Second Fleet. He allegedly stole a hanky.

The other option, the “sit-on-the-fence” option, is to adopt a double barreled surname, but I don’t really care for the combination of my husband’s and my names. Also, it might make it hard for our names to fit on licenses, certificates and the like. My sister dated a guy with a long double barreled surname for a while, and apparently his name didn’t fit on his graduation certificate. And what happens when a double barreled surname marries a double barreled surname? Do they become quadruple barreled? Or do they pick one name from each pair?

Does adopting my husband’s surname (at least to a degree) make me conservative, insecure or weak? I don’t think so. Strangely enough, I quite like my husband. And I’m proud to bear his name. Should I demand that he bear my surname instead? I think perhaps I did bow to societal convention a little. In some Asian countries, wives do not take their husband’s names (eg, Vietnam), so perhaps I wouldn’t have felt the same desire if I had grown up in that culture. But it does feel nice for the three of us to have the same name – like we are a little named unit.

I don’t think the name changing issue is that important. The more important issue raised by Deveny is why mothers are criticised if they go back to work, but fathers are not. I think her rant on surnames detracts from the valid point she makes.

I hate that bloody “supermum” title. No mother can have it all. If you go back to work full time, it’s inevitable that your relationship with your child will be affected. And if you are a full time mother, it’s inevitable that your career will be affected. I have no illusions about that. Currently, I’m trying to do both part time, which sometimes feels like juggling 50 balls in the air at once. I think I took on too many things this year, which is part of the reason I was depressed last month. I didn’t feel like a supermum, I felt like someone who was stretched to the limit.

When babies are first born, they are still totally reliant on their mothers. It’s like the umbilical cord is still present, it’s just invisible and the baby is now on the outside. The physical realities of pregnancy and motherhood mean that women do have to drop everything, for at least a time, and concentrate on bringing up baby. But when the baby gets older, parenting is a joint effort, and the focus shouldn’t just be on the mother. There are many different ways of organising your parenting. I know of families where the father stays at home, and of families where both parents work part-time in order to share the care of the children. I also know of families where the mother stays at home, and of families where both parents work full time or almost full time.

I have no idea how Jana Rawlinson managed to win a World Title hurdling medal with a young son. I wonder if she feels like she is juggling 50 balls at once? Good luck to her. But I also wish good luck to all the other parents out there who are juggling work and children and everything else…

14 Comments

Filed under childcare, children, feminism, jobs, motherhood, parenthood

Getting mothering advice from Cruella De Vil

Claire Verity is a self-proclaimed baby training guru who has advised the rich and famous. She says, “I won’t stand for any nonsense from anybody, babies or their parents.”

Her secrets are as follows:

  • Feed your baby on a strict four hour feeding schedule the moment they get out of hospital. She says, “The key to a happy baby is food. The mistake most mums make is that they don’t feed their babies enough.”
  • There must be a strict routine. Babies must be in bed by 7pm every evening.
  • Babies should sleep in their own cots.
  • Only one nighttime feed is allowed.
  • Babies are started on solids at 17 weeks.

The bit that disturbs me the most, however, is this excerpt:

Cuddles are also restricted. Claire says too much fuss can make a baby crave attention.

“Imagine having a dog with a ball and you keep throwing it for them. Then all of a sudden you stop and walk away and they don’t understand.

It will think: ‘Why have you stopped playing with me?’ It will start barking, dropping the ball at your feet and annoying you.

It’s the same with a baby. If a baby’s picked up for half an hour, cuddled and then put down, it will get upset.”

I think this woman is awful. What a freak she is! It’s like a child is a dolly who should be put back in its box when you’re bored of it. Doesn’t she understand the meaning of love? Okay, it’s not a good idea to start cuddling and poking your baby when she’s fast asleep, but I think babies should have as much cuddles as they want. In fact, one of the greatest pleasures of having a baby is cuddling her. Now my daughter comes up to me and asks for cuddles, which is awesome. She also gets me to cuddle her soft toys (“Tigger” (a tiger), “Raf” (a giraffe) and “Doggy”). Looks like my daughter will be a cuddle monster, just like me.

My mother’s group and I were saying that there’s so much guilt out there these days about bringing up children. If you let them cry you’ll warp them for life and they’ll hate you; conversely, if you don’t let them cry they’ll be ill-disciplined little brats who won’t have any sense of boundaries. People like Claire Verity just exacerbate this.

The thing is that every baby is different. Unfortunately, it’s a process of trial and error, and there is no “right” solution. What works well for one baby might not work at all for another. My mother said my sister and I were totally different, and had very different needs. I slept through the night from a very early age (I’m still a sleepyhead too) and my sister never slept well.

My maternal health centre strongly recommended that we try controlled crying at 6 or 7 months. It didn’t work for my daughter. It was awful. We tried for a week, and her sleeping just got worse. By the end of it, my husband and I were emotional wrecks. I thought that it must be my fault somehow – had I incorrectly applied the controlled crying approach? I also felt guilty for leaving my baby to cry.

That being said, I know that controlled crying has been a godsend for other parents and friends. The world is so hard to cope with when you have had no sleep.

As it has turned out for us, a happy medium was been best – one feed in the night until our daughter was one year old, not getting up straight away unless baby sounds very distressed etc. You just have to do what works for you!

I really hate all this judgmental crap which rears its ugly head when you become a mother. The most important thing is that baby and mother are happy and healthy, which makes for a happy family!

(Via Diversion Cubed)

    39 Comments

    Filed under childcare, motherhood, society

    Family friendly? – the Coalition’s rhetoric-reality gap

    Recently, John Howard said that a “stay-at-home” Mum provided the best start for a child. All I can say is: there is a massive disconnection between the rhetoric and the reality of the “family friendly” policies of the Coalition government. His government’s policies do not make it very much easier.

    How does Mr Howard think that a family can survive on one income for an extended period of time? I can tell him that it is pretty difficult. We spent all our savings during the eight months I took off after having my daughter. We had been planning to use that money for a house deposit.

    I now work part-time to cover the bills, and over the last year, we’ve managed to crawl back into the black. We are really lucky to have the support of my parents and my parents-in-law, who take it in turns, looking after our daughter while I am at work. Otherwise, I don’t know what we would have done. My present salary wouldn’t begin to cover childcare costs.

    My husband has done a postgraduate degree, so he spent a substantial number of years at university (including undergraduate and postgraduate). We’re still paying off the HECs gradually. Despite all that expertise and knowledge, my husband’s wage is not “much” compared to, say, a lawyer or a doctor at a comparable level. Science just isn’t valued.

    Of course, I did a dual degree (Arts/Law) and that took a while to complete too. Part of the price I paid for gaining a varied and enriching workplace experience was that I also only earned just above the average wage for most of my career. Ironically, I got my first big pay rise when I was four months pregnant. I know everyone thinks lawyers are “rich”, but I’m here to tell you that sometimes I think I’d have been better off being a plumber. No 5+ years at university not earning any money, no HECs debt, more flexibility and control over your own work.

    It’s all very well for Mr Howard to say that a stay-at-home mother is better. But the reality is that most women I know can’t afford to stay at home for too long. Most women have little choice. The same applies for fathers who wish to stay at home (of whom I know a few).

    There’s a couple of different reasons why parents go back to some sort of work after having children:

    • They need the money.
    • They don’t want to spend too long out of the workforce in case they can’t get back in again.
    • They crave adult companionship.
    • They enjoy their job.

    Let’s address each point in turn. I would say that first point is all-important. A once-off payment of $4000 is not a replacement for $40,000 per annum (an average salary). And these days, prices are predicated on having two wages.

    The second point is also important. Take too long out of the workforce and according to employers, you’re cactus, baby. A “has-been”. No use to anyone. (Why workplaces think this I don’t know).

    I would say that one of the pleasures of working again has been getting a little time to myself, two afternoons a week. Okay, I’m working the whole time, but it is nice to be able to have a cuppa after my class in peace. A little break also means that my daughter and I can’t wait to see each other. She stands at the top of the stairs shouting “Mummy, mummy!” and I run up to her. (I’ve never had to go a whole day without her yet. I’m not looking forward to that.)

    I do actually enjoy my job too. As Goldilocks said about Little Bear’s porridge, it’s just right. Not too much time in the workplace: I’d start resenting it for keeping me away from my baby. But enough time for me to get enthusiastic about it and enjoy the mental stimulation.

    I love my baby so much. I don’t want to suggest that I regret having her. She is the centre of my life.

    But I do feel like the system punishes educated professional people who want to have a family. First, you spend all that time at university when you could be earning. And then, as soon as you do start earning, you have to pay tax on all that time you spent at university. The more study you do, the bigger the bill is – the more you are punished for learning. Unfortunately, just because you are qualified and learned doesn’t mean that your salary will reflect your qualifications. And it takes a while to work up to a decent salary – by which time the biological clock is ticking if you are female…

    The head of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has recently said that women are punished for having children, and that compulsory paid maternity leave should be introduced. But is paid maternity leave the answer? I think it’s important to offer a choice. As I have mentioned in a previous post, Anne Manne tells of a Finnish innovation where parents are offered a choice between a government-funded childcare place or three years leave with a guaranteed job and an allowance of equal value to the childcare place. Manne notes that over three-quarters of Finnish women chose the leave option. Personally, I’d also choose the leave option. I would use the money to pay a home carer if and when I needed one. However, I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone who chose the childcare option, or who chose not to have children at all. As outlined in another previous post, I would not get on my moral high horse on this issue.

    Obviously Mr Howard has never had to live on one averageish income, with small children to boot. I’d like to see how he fared. And then I’d be interested to see what new policies he came up with.

    Update

    Have a look at this post on the cost of motherhood at Larvatus Prodeo.

    Update 2

    Also read this post from a new addition to my blogroll, the delightful RG.

    11 Comments

    Filed under childcare, feminism, motherhood, parenthood, society

    Motherhood and career – what is the answer?

    Julia Gillard recently stated that it would be difficult to be a top level politician and a mother, which has caused somewhat of a stir. Is it really so controversial?

    A friend and I spoke about it today. Our daughters are a week apart in age, and have turned one in the last month or two. When I mentioned the topic, we looked at each other. “Well, derr-r-r-r!” said my friend. “Of course it would be extremely difficult!” I agreed that I couldn’t have managed it. Before I had a child, I had no idea how much she would utterly depend on me for physical and emotional support, and how much I would love spending time with her.

    We both know women who have maintained their full-time career, and have husbands who work part-time. The difficulty for women who choose this option is that if you breastfeed your child, you still need to maintain a physical link with your child. Otherwise you have to express whilst away from your child to maintain your milk supply. In both cases, the husband had accompanied the working wife on interstate and overseas trips so that the baby could still be breastfed. I expressed some admiration towards my acquaintance who had returned to full time work when her baby was six weeks old. “Don’t admire me. I wouldn’t recommend it!” she said, with a wry and somewhat sad smile. “It has been extremely difficult on everyone.”

    It would be great if my husband could have more flexibility so that we could share the care of our daughter. He loves looking after her. His workplace used to have rostered days off as a matter of course. He retains RDOs, but he is in a minority, and often finds it difficult to take them when no one else has them any more. It’s not just about women being able to spend time with their children. As I have outlined in a previous post, men would also like to spend time with their children, and men would like to be able to choose to share the burden of childcare with their partners. But at the moment, it’s just not economically feasible for us to do that.

    Let’s look at the Labor party’s recent suggestion that women be given two years unpaid maternity leave and a guaranteed option to return to part-time work. I like it. It is exactly what I would have wanted myself.

    The problem is that I’m not sure how it would work practically. Prior to having a baby, I was a solicitor in commercial litigation. Although my male colleagues on the same level were extremely supportive, and offered to explore the option of a “job share” with me, I am not sure that it would have been practicable in the long run. Knowing me, I would have been working “part time” nominally, but would have ended up working full time from a practical perspective, because I am a perfectionist and a control-freak. (Well, I’m a lawyer; those last two characteristics should be taken for granted.)

    I think it would also be difficult given the demands on solicitors these days. You are expected to be “on tap” and to drop everything for the client at any time of the day or night. You think I’m kidding here? In 2005, the Managing Partner of Allens Arthur Robinson, Tom Poulton, said proudly in an interview with BRW:

    “We don’t run this place as a holiday camp … We expect our people to treat the client as if they were God … You don’t have a right to any free time.”

    Presumably you don’t have a right to be a parent either.

    The other problem is childcare. I am currently facing the nightmare. Stupidly, I left it very late in the piece to look at my options, not realising quite how insane the situation is. The childcare centres which provide quality full day care in my area have waiting lists of at least 15 months, if not more. Even ABC Learning Centres have massive waiting lists. There is no flexibility. You have to take the “day” you are given. If you take your child out for any period of time, you lose your “spot”. A few weeks back there was a post at Larvatus Prodeo about childcare, centering around Bronwen Bishop’s calls to make childcare costs tax deductible. The author, Cristy, said:

    Ms Bishop’s proposal was designed to ensure maximum flexibility of childcare arrangements, which meant that it would have provided heavy subsidies for home carers including private nannies. Clearly this means that many of the proposed changes were really designed to favour the wealthy. …surely there should have been more discussion of how to make centre-based care more affordable and accessible – since that is an issue that is constantly raised in the community.

    I support Ms Bishop’s proposal. I think there needs to be greater flexibility. If tax deductions were available for home care, it might make home care an option for more women, and not just the wealthy. I dispute the notion that home carers are necessarily the province of the wealthy. If I could afford it, and was provided with a tax deduction, I would definitely explore that option.

    But I do agree with Cristy that the policy with regard to centre based care needs to be looked at in more detail. As I’ve said previously, I am deeply cynical about the Federal Government’s supposed “family friendly stance”, and the exhortation to “have one for your country” makes me hopping mad. The problem is that now childcare centres are about making profit, they are not about providing care. Of course, it’s preferable that childcare centres break even, but the profit motive means that the focus is now on cutting costs, not caring for children. Cherryripe has done a couple of interesting posts on the controversial ABC Learning Centres (here and here).

    I don’t want to leave my child with someone whom she doesn’t know, who has 10 other children to look after and doesn’t have time for her, who might not care if she was upset or hurt. If possible, I would like to leave her with the same person or people, people who know her and care about her and do not have too many children to look after. I would also like some flexibility – why should she remain in childcare just to keep her place if I have time off? The whole thing fills me with dismay and makes me really quite miserable.

    This brings me to a new point. This article by Anne Manne mentions the fact that in Finland, parents have a choice of a funded childcare place or three years leave with a guaranteed job and an allowance of equal value to the childcare place. Manne notes that over three-quarters of women choose the leave option. What would I choose? The answer is easy for me. I’d choose the leave option, and I would use the money to pay a home carer if and when I needed one. I should note that I certainly wouldn’t judge anyone who chose the childcare option, or who chose not to have children at all. As I have noted in a previous post on the childcare issue, the whole question is so difficult that I don’t feel comfortable getting on my moral high horse.

    I like the Finnish idea. Perhaps we should look even further outside the square and give women even more of a choice.

    Update

    There is an interesting debate going on at Larvatus Prodeo here. One question raised in comments is – why do parents often have to work two full time jobs these days (even though they might not want to do so?). The consensus is that house prices have a lot to do with it (given that a small house in my area costs about 20 times my annual wage – no kidding!)

    I really wish that the Federal Government would do something about house prices. It’s just impossible for my husband and I to have children and to own a house. We’re struggling enough as it is.

    I believe that part of the reason house prices have been pushed is because of negative gearing. Australia is the only OECD country to have tax deductions for investment properties. In the US, I gather it’s the other way around: you can get tax deductions for the family home, but not for investment properties. Here’s an example where I think the US is more enlightened than Australia.

    10 Comments

    Filed under childcare, feminism, law, law firms, motherhood, politics