Saturday, July 28, 2007

careful, it's catching...

If you have been anywhere on planet Earth in the last couple of days you have probably heard that fat is contagious. Yup, you read it right, it has been discovered that you can catch fat. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine has claimed that if you have fat friends, then you too are going to become fat. Now there are so many fundamental flaws in this study (not to mention the reporting of it) that it is difficult to even know where to begin so I shall refer you to this entry at Peggy Elam's blog On the Whole. She says it all so much succinctly that I could. Plus she covers all the salient points so why reinvent the wheel? I am fat remember and we all know fat people are lazy...

The brou-ha-ha that the release of these apparent findings (or more what they claim are the findings) has stirred up, has only served to reinforce my strong belief that fat has become the new evil. Well, actually to be more accurate, fat hatred has been around for a long time. It just seems to be even more socially acceptable to hate fat people these days. Trendy almost. Come on people, get with the times - hate a fattie today!

I have battled with my weight for the majority of my adult life. And for most of my childhood as well. That story is a whole other post. But the upshot of it is that I know first hand what it is like to have people dislike you, or even hate you, because you are fat. This is not to say I have ever understood that mindset, but I have experienced it many times. I have also had many close friends who have been thin. Some more than slim, some positively tiny. Thank the gods that some people can see past physical exteriors. Unfortunately, there are way too many people who can't seem to do that and it is those people that are the problem. And to make it worse, their prejudice and outright hatred of fat people is now being reinforced by such craptastic studies as the one mention above.

Why do some people have such an intense reaction to fat people and the idea of fat in general? This is something I have thought about for many years and it is just lately that I have started to come up with some answers. Fat haters directly associate fat people with gluttony and laziness. It is automatically assumed that if you are fat that you eat too much and you are not active enough. Of course both of these assumptions are not always right (yes, they are sometimes right but not always, probably not even often if the fat people I know are anything to go by). Obviously fat haters find the concepts of gluttony and sloth too much to deal with and are terribly threatened by them. Puritans that they are... It seems to be about excess. Fat haters cannot deal with the excess that they believe fat entails. They can't handle the thought (as misguided as it is) that we fatties eat more, that we lie around more and that we take up more room. And even worse, that our clothing takes up more fabric! (Didn't you know that the mere availability of plus size clothing encourages fatties to stay fat?) And this hatred of excess (even perceived excess) pierces our puritanical friends to the very core.

One of the more recent reasons for hating fat people that I have come across is the "because of the strain your fat related illnesses places on the health system, I have to pay more for services that I don't even use!". OK, so following that train of thought, none of my tax dollars should go toward the fire brigade, the private education system or Indigenous services simply because I have never had a house fire, neither I nor my children attend private school and I am not Indigenous? Yup, I can see the sense in that. NOT. It's akin to people complaining about their tax dollars going towards welfare payments. When you break it down, the actual dollar value that you as an individual are contributing is negligible. Personally I don't like it that any of my taxes go toward politician's international junkets but cest la vie. And if we are going to cut off health services to fat people because they "chose to be fat" why don't we cut off services to anyone with substance abuse issues, sexually transmitted diseases, smoking related health issues, sports injuries, car accident victims and anyone with anything else that was caught or caused by an activity they chose to take part it?

Personally I do not understand the idea of hating someone based on the way they look. I don't understand why some people hate people of color, I don't understand why the Nazis wanted racial cleansing and I don't understand why my fat causes such a reaction fat haters. Sure, they might not find it aesthetically appealing to have to lay their eyes on my wobbly bits but I don't always like everything I see either. And there is always the option to LOOK AWAY if it upsets you that much. But I always come back to thinking, it's fat. It isn't gangrene. It's fat. It doesn't make me a bad person. It doesn't even necessarily mean I am gluttonous and slothful. It just means I am fat. And if I can live with it, then so can you.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

motherless daughter

Yesterday was fourteen years since my mother died from cancer.

While I am thankful that I had nineteen years with Mum, it saddens and angers me that I have missed out on sharing more of my life with her. There was a lot of unfinished business between my mother and I. Perhaps "business" between a mother and her daughter is never finished but I feel like I barely had a chance to even begin to resolve some of the issues. We didn't get any time together as women rather than as woman and child. It goes without saying that I miss my mother. However these days, time passes without me thinking of her. Sometimes even a few days. Other times I can't get her out of my mind. When I gave birth to my own daughter last year was one of those times. I wondered then when I looked at and held my newborn daughter if my mother felt the same feelings I did when she first saw me. I still wonder how she felt about having a girl child. There is something about having a daughter. That is not to say having a son isn't just as meaningful to me, there is just some primordial about having a daughter. My mother had lost several babies prior to my birth. All of them had been boys. I was her first girl child. I imagine by that point she was just glad to have a living, breathing baby. But I am sure the irony wasn't lost on her that to that point in time, her one surviving child was a girl.

Now that I have a daughter of my own I am even more aware of not repeating some of the patterns that transpired between my mother and I. I know that mother-daughter relationships bring with them their own unique complications but I hope to at least make the complications with my own daughter different to those between my mother and I. I never really knew if my mother was proud of anything I did. I assumed she was. I hoped she was. But I never knew for sure. Even now that I am in my 30s, I wonder sometimes if she would be proud of what I have achieved. I hope that my daughter will always know, without a doubt, when I am proud of her. I also hope that I can be a bit more matter of fact and open with my daughter about "secret women's business". I have vague memories of Mum giving me a book about the facts of life (not a very informative book either) and of her asking me (the day before my first wedding) if there was anything she "needed to tell" me. We never had a discussion about sex. We may have had a very rudimentary chat about menstruation but I have no memory of it. My recollection is that I learned about menstruation mainly from the Judy Blume book "Are you there God, its me, Margaret" and about sex also courtesy of Judy Blume, this time from the pages of "Forever". I think Mum let me down a bit in that regard. I hope I can do a bit better job with my own daughter when the time comes.

My mother and I fought a lot. I always felt she never really understood me. There were a lot of contributing factors to why I felt that way but one that has struck me more and more as I have gotten older myself is that Mum and I were a lot alike. These days I have a lot of family and long time family friends say to me "Oh you are just like your mother" or "I can just hear your mother saying that" and at times I hear myself saying something and think "Oh god, I sound just like my mother". While sounding like their mother is something most women dread to some extent, myself included, there is also some sort of comfort in it at the same time.

There are things about my relationship with my mother and qualities she had, that I hope I can emulate. Mum was always very open with my about my biological father. It was never hidden from me that she had been married to someone else before (the man I call) Dad and that I was born during that marriage. I have no memory of that time so it would have been easy for her to hide it from me. And because I was adopted there is no mention of my biological father on my amended birth certificate. So withstanding blabbermouthed relatives, she could have hidden it from me. At least until I was a lot older. But she didn't. I have been aware of my paternity ever since I can remember and I am thankful for that.

Mum was also the creative type. She sewed handmade clothes for my dolls. We made all sort of things from plasticine and Fimo modelling polymer. She made me furniture for my dolls house, fantastic costumes for school dress up days, she sewed the curtains and quilt cover and made the lampshades for my bedroom. She bought me books as part of the weekly grocery budget and took me to the library every week (this involved a 45 minutes return trip). From the time I started school things weren't always great between my mother and I but I have a lot of happy memories as well as the not so happy ones. In retrospect I strongly believe Mum suffered from depression, possibly even bipolar, as her moods and activity cycled up and and down on a regular basis. But I know she did the best she could and if she was fighting that demon (mental illness) then I appreciate what she did do, even more.

While I am a different woman than my mother there are a lot of similarities in our lives. I have often wondered if to an extent I am subconsciously reliving her life. There have been time I have looked at pictures of her at a particular age and me at the same age to see what similarities there are in our appearances. I have also compared what she was doing in her life and what I was doing at the same age. Apparently a lot of motherless daughters practice this ritual. I wont be able to do that anymore come 2020. I will be 46 then and Mum was 46 when she died. I imagine that will bring with it a whole new set of challenges. Its not something that scares me as much as intrigues me.

And I know I got my sense of curiosity and wonderment from my mother.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Reason enough?

I am not usually one to enter into discussion about the lives of the rich and (in)famous. However an article I read today hit a nerve with me. So here goes...

Anyone who reads trashy women's magazines or celebrity blogs would be aware that Nicole Ritchie is pregnant . Now apart from being surprised that she could actually get pregnant seeing as she weighs in at about 38kg (83lb) I wasn’t giving it too much attention that she was preggers. Until I read this week’s cover story in Australia’s New Weekly magazine.

Now bear with me for a moment while I pad this out with some pivotal background information...

Nicole Ritchie has a history of drug abuse . She started using before she even hit her teens. She has spent time in rehab and she had been on the straight and narrow for a while. But then she and her BFF Paris Hilton filmed the reality show (I use that term loosely) The Simple Life . It is said that Nicole got tired of being referred to as “the fat friend” and set out to lose weight. And lose weight she did. She went from being slim (by average standards) to a skeletal 38kg . For a while it looked like she and Lindsey Lohan were having a competition to the death (literally) to see who could lose the most weight. Naturally all sorts of rumours started flying that she was back on drugs and then Nicole was caught and charged with DUI. As Nicole is already on probation after pleading guilty to heroin possession in 2003, this latest charge could mean a trip to the slammer a la her BFF Paris.

And now, after the gossip mags speculating for well over a month, Nicole has confirmed that she is indeed pregnant. In NW magazine, she is quoted as saying "The baby was the perfect way to turn my life around. I wanted a beautiful reason to do it".

And it is that statement that raised my ire...

I have two children of my own. I know how much joy and wonder comes with discovering you are pregnant, carrying the baby and then giving birth. I know how much having a child adds to your life. I also know how much hard work goes into being a parent. Many couples have had a baby in a last ditch attempt to keep their relationship a happening thing. Anyone who has had a baby will tell you that this is a really risky thing to do. Newborn babies are high maintenance. Even the most easygoing baby needs feeding and changing approximately every two hours. Add to that the potential for a baby with special needs such as reflux or colic, or simply being a baby that likes to be held 24/7 and you begin to see that there could be trouble in paradise. Mix in the chances of mum having a difficult pregnancy/labour/delivery or postnatal depression and you begin to wonder how any relationship actually survives a newborn baby! If Nicole Ritchie thinks that having a baby is going to make her life easier, she is labouring under a misapprehension to say the least!

Women who are pregnant or who have just given birth are vulnerable emotionally because of the increased hormone levels in their body. They are also going through a major rite of passage during which life as they know it, completely changes. If you have any weaknesses, any issues, any ANYthing, it is going to be amplified when you have a baby. I agree that a baby will turn Nicole's life around but she is taking a huge risk in expecting another human being to give her the impetus to change her addictive and self destructive behaviours. Its common knowledge that no one can change an addict except for an addict themselves. And it isn't fair to expect someone else to do it for you. What happens if Nicole's baby screams all night long every night of the week and Nicole is at her wit's end and is tempted to use? Or if she does in fact go ahead and use? Will she then (consciously or subconsciously) blame her baby for that? After all, she is clearly stating that that the baby is going to purge her of all her issues, that's what is implied when she says the baby will turn her life around. Another thing that worries me is that Nicole states that she wanted a "beautiful reason" to turn her life around. How about wanting to live? Isn't the idea of staying alive enough of a reason to turn your life around? Or how about staying out of jail? That would be enough for some people...

Professionally I have worked closely with women who have had babies thinking that the baby would give them a reason to live, that the baby would provide them with the unconditional love they crave, that it would be "fun" to have a baby, that getting pregnant was the way to keep their man, that having a child was a great way to secure an income (welfare payments) and a million other reasons that have been questionable at best. And its all fine and good until reality sets in and things get hard. And when you are a parent, Sooner or later, something will happen that makes you realise that being a parent is the ultimate in tough jobs. Of course there is rarely a time in anyone's life that everything is in place, that there are no issues and it is the perfect time to procreate. Making the decision to bring a child into the world can (and should) be the most difficult decision a woman ever has to make. Of course there do seem to be an awful lot of women who dont give it much thought at all and pop babies out without so much as blink of an eyelid. (Okay maybe not that easily but you know what I mean). There are some people who should never have children. Who exactly those people are depends on your point of view. But it goes without saying that having and raising a child is a huge responsibility and it is not something that should be taken lightly.

I honestly hope that this baby DOES help Nicole Ritchie get her shit together. I hope that she can stay on the wagon this time and put the well being of her baby before any of her own needs. I hope that this baby is raised feeling safe and secure and loved. I really do hope all those thing. But I am not holding my breath...

Saturday, July 7, 2007

to name or not to name?

The British government is making moves to force new mothers to name their child's father when registering the child's birth. At the moment, mothers are able to leave the father's name blank on the birth registration form, which results in a blank space in the area for "father" on the birth certificate. The thinking is that naming the father of the child will "send an important signal about father's roles" and that fathers "must take their role seriously".

Currently in Australia there is no obligation for the father's name to be listed on a child's birth certificate. The onus is on the mother to register the birth as it is she who is given the registration form while in hospital. If the baby is born at home or anywhere other than a hospital, the mother can request a registration form from her local hospital or the Registrar of Births, Deaths and Marriages. The mother can then choose whether or not she lists the father's name on the form. A child born to parents who are not married will be registered in the mother's name. However if both parent's agree, the child can be registered with the father's name. The child will be registered in the mother's name if the father does not consent to his name being used, or if the mother does not want the father's name to be used. The father can agree to his name being used but still not have his details appear on the birth certificate by completing a Statutory Declaration.

There are pros and cons for listing the father's name on the birth registration. If a woman wishes to list the father's name she must have his permission to do so (either by him signing the registration form or by completing a Statutory Declaration). Another pertinent factor to consider is whether or not the mother intends to pursue the father for payment of child support. If she does intend to pursue payment, the process is made a lot easier if the father's name is on the certificate. If it isn't listed but the father accepts paternity, he can complete a Stat Dec to that effect. However if he disputes paternity and he is not listed on the certificate, DNA testing will be required to settle the matter and the court will often order this. If the mother doesn't intend to ask for child support but does plan to claim any kind of welfare payments from Centrelink things become a little more complicated.

Centrelink, which is responsible for the administration of welfare payments in Australia, including Parenting Payment - Single, insists that women name the father of their baby in order to receive welfare payments. If a single woman does list the father of her child on the birth certificate, when she applies to Centrelink for welfare payments, she will be required to pursue the named father for child support payments. Income received in the form of child support has a direct affect upon the amount of benefits that can be paid to a sole parent. She must then prove that she has made every effort to contact the father in order to receive child maintenance payments and that she has lodged his details with the Child Support Agency.

If the birth certificate does not list the father's name and there is no legal documentation accepting paternity, the mother will have to supply Centrelink with evidence that she either does not know the identity of the father or that she has been unable to contact him. This process places added stress on the mother at a time when she is already vulnerable. Having authorities demanding to know the father's identity in order to receive payments necessary for living costs can be very intimidating for a new mother. The mother may also be intimidated by the father of the child, if of course she is in contact with him. There are many cases were the father of a child has abandoned the mother at some time prior to the birth of the child, or the mother believes it is in the best interests of the child and herself for the father not to be named.

There are also situations when the mother may not know the identity of the father. As distasteful as it may seem to some people, the reality is that consenting adults have casual sex, often with partners they have only just met. It is also possible for a woman to conceive during a rape and who would want to list the name of their rapist on their child's birth certificate? While it doesn't seem fair that women can choose not to name the father of their child and continue to collect full welfare payments, there are situations when it is in the best interest of the child (and the mother) for the father not to be listed. And just because his name is not on the birth certificate does not mean that the child will never learn of their father's identity.

Another issue that can arise for the single mother is that if the father has possession of legal documentation that names him as the father of the child and there is no custody order in place, he is entitled to walk into any school or daycare centre and take the child into his care. This is particularly frightening because mothers are not encouraged to get sole custody of their child unless a direct need for sole custody can be demonstrated. So even if the father has never laid eyes on the child, has never had any contact of any kind with the child, as long as he has some sort of legal documentation proving paternity he can take that child into his care at any time he wishes to. Another situation that can arise is that if a child requires a passport and the father is listed on the birth certificate, the father must then give his permission for the child to obtain that passport and for the child to leave the country. Even if that father has NEVER laid eyes on the child.

Of course there are positives for having the father listed and they are primarily for the child. It can cause some children distress when they see that they do not have their father's name listed on their birth certificate and it can have an effect on their sense of identity. Knowing their father's name can also assist a child to trace the father's whereabouts in the future, as it is difficult to find someone if you do not know their name.

There are many different points that need to be given serious thought when an unmarried woman is considering whether or not to list the name of her child's father on the birth registration. And unfortunately there are no easy answers.