Posts Tagged ‘family’

My daughter is pregnant. This is a much wanted and hard-fought-for baby, and the prospective parents are very happy. I wish then all the joy in the world, and the best outcomes for their baby. This post is about me, not them.

I’m not sure how I feel. There is an assumption that I will be delighted and excited and happy. When I say that I’m unsure about how I feel, the response is one of surprised confusion, as though I’m not conforming to the script. The expected social script is that I’m delighted, look forward to being a grandmother, and think it is the best thing ever. I did not want to be one of those women who put pressure on their kids to have kids so they could reach grandmother status. I think that is selfish and controlling. As a person concerned about the environment who knows that overpopulation by humans is one of the biggest problems, I don’t want to encourage more babies. I worry about the future of humans living with a warming planet, exacerbated by the political will of many countries, especially Australia and the USA, which focuses on greed and short-term profit for the favoured few, and not long-term health for all. I am a product of the political and environmental climate of the 1970s when global warming was known about, the trends and science were clear, and we had time to make constructive changes. I do my best to minimise my impact on the planet as a consumer.

“But you had your children, isn’t it selfish to not want others to have theirs?” Yes, my husband and I replaced ourselves by having two children; when I wanted to go for number two Jim famously said “You’ve got one perfectly good baby, what do you want another one for?” This is a line that I am reminded of when number two has done something particularly irritating. (He has turned out rather well, as it happens.) But I digress. The world those children were born into seemed more hopeful, and I knew even then I was taking a risk.

The population is growing beyond what we expected, too. In 1955 when I was born the population of the planet was about 2.7 billion, and in 1985 after I’d had my two (in 1982 & 1984) it was 4.8 billion. Now it is 7.5 billion and the clock keeping score is alarming to watch.

A few years ago, in an effort to make it clear I was not one of those have-babies-to-make-me-a-grandmother type people, and to communicate my concern about the potential future for a child born into the 21st century, I said to my kids “the planet is fucked, don’t breed”. I see now this could be interpreted to be as didactic and controlling as a demand that they do. This meant that when they did decide to start to try for a baby they were somewhat diffident about telling me. I hope I made it clear then that I wished them all the best and have complete respect for their autonomy as adults making choices for their lives.

A couple of people have said, perhaps intended as reassurance, that at least the ‘right’ kind of people are having a baby. I suppose by ‘right’ they mean middle-class, employed, non-illicit-drug-using, intelligent people. I am horrified and outraged by this statement and that someone can think it is ok to say that. I have countered it by saying I’m not in favour of eugenics; a response which seems to provoke some discomfort. If people having babies are in poor social circumstances it is not because the individuals are somehow deficit but because of health influences determined by governments and social structures. If opportunities for income, employment, education, health services, transport, sustainable agriculture, self-determination etcetera are limited by government policies—as they are—then that is not the fault of the individual but the result of wider societal structures if their lives are less than optimal. Let’s not judge people by class either.

So how do I feel? I feel a confused mixture of existential dread and cautious hope, with a growing pleasurable anticipation of playing the role of the quirky, cool grandmother, sharing love, happiness and books with a new human who is continuing my lineage. I have confidence that they will be excellent parents, and that the three sibling doggos will be a source of love and delight. For everybody’s wellbeing I’ll focus on the hope, not the dread.

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I bought Cory Silverberg’s book ‘What makes a baby’, described as “a book for every kind of family and every kind of kid”, and took it to a family gathering to read to my great nephews. This is the story of that reading. Image

I selected a lucky child and offered to read to him. We snuggled up on two chairs. “What makes a baby, by Cory Silverberg” I read. “Where do you think babies come from?” I asked, before opening the book. Ben* squirmed a bit, and said, “It’s something I’m not allowed to say”. We were sitting in the lounge room with adult relatives all around, so I said, “Whisper it to me”. “Sex” was the answer. “What do you think that is?” I whispered in return. “I don’t know”, Ben replied. “OK”, that was cool.

The book does not use any gender terms or relationship descriptions. This means it does not exclude people who may not fit easily in the usual boxes. As someone who avoids boxes and labels, and does not fit well with some, I loved this approach.

The book explains that babies need an egg, sperm, and a uterus. The book is beautifully illustrated (by Fiona Smyth), and in the depiction of eggs there are drawings inside of family portraits and books. I took a moment to explain that those things symbolised all the genetic material we came with, called DNA, or deoxyribonucleic acid, because I’m geeky and like to bring science into things. Then we discussed who had provided Ben’s egg, sperm and uterus, “Mum and dad”. As it happens I gave birth to Ben’s cousin, my niece, Alice, in IVF surrogacy, using my sister’s egg and donor sperm, so we talked a bit about how her circumstances were different, and clarified some of the details. It is lovely that the book emphasises identifying who wanted the child to be born, and who loves the child, without naming the relationships or roles those people have; it is up to the child to identify those people.

The sperm picture, a few pages on, also has all sorts of symbolic images in it, including a colourful double helix. Ben pointed at it and said, “That’s DNA”. The earlier picture, when I had mentioned DNA, had not included the double helix, and I was totally impressed that he had recognised the symbolic drawing. What an amazing world we live in that an eight year old has such knowledge of science. His mother assures me that their policy is to answer fully questions about sex as they are asked, so I am confident he will be given the bigger picture when he wants to know.

We have ‘the gayest family ever’ (family expression), so What makes a baby can be used to explain not only the circumstances of Alice’s birth, but if she and her fiancée Karma have a child it will apply to them too, as well as his uncle Andrew and his partner Josep. It was read by many of the adults that day, and conversations were started about sex, gender, chromosomes, identity, cis and trans, as well as the sexual orientation aspect. I have emailed additional information to people who asked for it.

I bought the book with the intention of keeping it, but ended up leaving it with my great nephews, as I thought it had a better chance of being more widely read and discussed there than on my bookshelf. Thanks Cory Silverberg and Fiona Smyth for such an awesome book!

*a psuedonym

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