This photo is part of a series taken by Shaun (pronounced Shan), a friend of ours, in the week after Grace was born. Shaun and Gerard go way, way back and both played in legendary Hobart band, The Reserves (but not at the same time). I don't think that I would be speaking out of turn if I said that I have been a little harsh towards Shaun on occasion. One particular bar-b-que, where large amounts of alcohol were consumed by almost everyone but me, comes to mind. Anyway, the fact that things were awkward between us for some time makes these photos all the more special.

Shaun arrived with his camera one unseasonably hot afternoon as we were lazing about with Grace, eating, cuddling, talking. You know, that really special time with a newborn, before the sleep deprivation really starts to take it's toll and everything has this rosy glow. And you think that you are just so clever and she is just so beautiful and little and precious (which I still think).  At least that's how it was for us.  Anyway Shaun more or less just stayed in the background for a few hours and snapped away. A couple of weeks later he dropped by with a big pile of mostly black and white photos, and the negatives.

It was such a lovely, thoughtful thing to do. And as time goes on I am more and more grateful, because apart from a few messy hospital shots and one of me breastfeeding Grace in the bath (none of which are suitable for the public gaze), there are very few photos of me with Grace in those first few months. There are loads of photos of just Grace, loads of Grace and G, loads of Grace and her other relatives. But not with me. For such a long time I have been really camera shy and have much preferred to take photos at family gatherings, rather than be in them. This has a lot to do with my fat issues and my longheld belief that I don't photograph well. However I have come to the conclusion, especially after becoming a mother, that I don't want to be invisible in my own history. And I want Grace to be able to look back and see pictures of us together. In twenty or fifty years no-one will care whether or not the pictures are flattering because, for the most part, that's not why we take them. So as a bit of a dare to myself, I joined  Self Portrait Challenge and at first it seemed quite a scary thing to do. But in less time than I could have imagined, not only am I learning alot about taking photos, but I am starting to feel more comfortable in front of the camera and with images of myself in general.

This month's theme has been "with someone" and I have found it compelling. A few posts were so sad and moving, that I cried. Others have made me think. Many have been full of joy and laughter. What a rich and complicated world we live in...  Visit all the other SPCers and their special people here.

Books, books and more books

I've been tagged by Rachael to write about the books in my life. It's the first time I've been tagged in blogland for anything and I'm surprisingly excited. I had thought that I might feel about this tagging phenomena (is it called a meme?) a bit like how I feel about chain letters and the like, which I really don't like at all. Something to do with the superstition and sense of obligation that often seems to be associated with chain letters, eg if you don't do x y or z, catastrophe such as (insert dire example) will happen to you. Maybe it is the passing on, as in tagging, that I'm not so sure about, but we'll get to that later. Anyhow onto the books.

I love books and have been a voracious reader ever since I can remember. Even when I am really busy, I always have a novel on the go and often read over breakfast. These days, I buy most of my books from the local Brotherhood of St Lawrence opshop. When I'm done, I can either give them back or pass them on to someone else to read. That said, I wish I'd kept a few books I got rid of in the last big purge.

A book that changed my life. At first I couldn't think of any, then my mind was flooded with possibilities. Firstly I thought of all the feminist, history and social theory texts I read at uni. Then I thought of the gardening and cooking books that have changed the way I do things. And then the idea books. All very cool. But the book that changed my life the most, was decidedly uncool and daggy, in that self help kind of way. I'm talking about that bestseller with the yellow cover, Feeling Good by David D Burns. I was compelled to read another book on cognitive behaviour therapy by the doctor who treated me during my meltdown in the mid nineties, but Feeling Good which follows much the same method is the one I keep handy, just in case. Sure, I needed drugs and counselling during the meltdown but CBT helped change my thinking in a way that meant that I could stop being so ruled by my moods and overall, be happy. It also contains the Beck Depression Inventory which is handy whenever the black dog starts sniffing around. If I consistently give myself a score of more than 30, for longer than a week or two, I know that a) I'm depressed enough to be checking the book and b)it's probably time to consider getting some help.

A book I've read more than once. There are many, they are like old friends. Some that come to mind immediately; The Darkover series by Marion Zimmer Bradley. For lovers of utopian science fiction, with a feminist twist. The middle books such as Thendara House are my favourites. I would love to see a long running quality TV series based on these books.  The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Attwood. I love the opening of this book, as the women whisper their names across the old gymnasium... Must get another copy and reread again. Another favourite, The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace is a beautifully told but somewhat savage, coming of age story set in a stoneworkers village as the age of metal dawns. I could go on and on... so many books fit this criteria.

A book I'd like with me if stuck on a desert island. It would have to be something very practical, if I was allowed only one. A survival manual; with sections on finding water, plant and animal identification, constructing shelter and building a raft perhaps. So I could stay alive and go home to read proper books in comfort.

A book that made me laugh. I don't laugh out loud when reading. But I did find Mad about the Boy by Maggie Alderson pretty funny. It's got a gay husband, a love affair with a gym bunny private detective, organised crime, shabby chic style, a funny uncle and a mummy with a happy ending. Perfect holiday reading.

A book that made me cry. Seven little Australians by Ethel Turner. The chapter after Judy is crushed by the tree, saving the general (her little brother). She's too young to die. I also cried reading Feather Crowns by Bobbie Anne Mason. I kept wanting the little quintuplets to live, but I knew they wouldn't. I also cried reading A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. Apparently this is a modern retelling of King Lear, but I thought it was about families and sickness and loss. I was sad before I read this book and it spoke to me quite deeply of loss at the time.

A book I wish had been written. After the birth and death of our son in 2002, I ached for some sort of art that would speak to me of how people mourned these sort of losses, because I had no idea. I read and reread The Tentative Pregnancy by Barbara Katz Rothman, which contained personal stories and was useful to a point, but I wanted literature and art. Sometimes I wonder whether I could write such a book, but I don't know whether I can go back into those feelings for long enough. So I kind of understand why there's not much to read in this vein.

A book I wish had never been written. Can't think of one. Books are good no matter how bad. Although I am sure that there are some out there that are so evil and vile that they should have stayed as unformed thoughts in their author's head.

A book I've been meaning to read. Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flannagan. G gave me a beautiful hardback copy of this book several years ago for my birthday. I got stuck after the first chapter. Must try again as I have heard good reports and I should occasionally read some more challenging literature. Because I know I will enjoy it once I make the effort. And of course there is a teetering pile of books, waiting to be read, beside my bed. Which I love. Oh the possibility!

A book I'm currently reading. The Hinterlands by Robert Morgan. I stumbled on this author when I bought Gap Creek (recommended) from the opshop because it had the Oprah book club sticker on it. So much to like, history, living off the land (a favourite genre of mine), idiomatic language, big themes. The first story in The Hinterlands had me reading every spare moment, especially the bit where the protagonist gives birth alone in a small cabin on a winter's night in the middle of the wilderness and a panther is trying to come through the chimney. She fends him off by burning all the furniture. And gives birth. And has dinner ready when her husband returns. And there is more but I'm not telling.

So who am I going to tag? This is the bit I feel a little hesitant about, but here goes... I tag Alina (who last week sent me the coolest photo, but you'll have to go here to see it. Go on, you know you want to. Thanks Alina!) and I tag Penni whose books I wish to read one day soon. But seriously ladies, if you don't want to do this bookish meme, don't, I will not be in the least offended. You may even tell me off for bugging you. I have to say, it took me a while, but I have had keyboard issues (now fixed) due to a certain little someone and their sticky mitts. However once I got cracking, I really quite enjoyed it.


Seasonal shuffle

Weekend before last was warm and in a burst of spring enthusiasm, I packed away my thermals and bulky jumpers, thinking we won't be needing these until next year. Sometimes I do the shuffle way too early, and get caught out, but not this year. I'm already wearing sandals or thongs (as in footwear) most days. I like to stretch the sandal wearing season as long as I possibly can. Grace is also casting off her shoes at every opportunity, although this may have more to do with learning that she can, than the weather. I have unpacked the first lot of summer clothes, just a few short sleeved shirts and t-shirts. This t-shirt is on high rotation for round home wear and was my first ever attempt to refashion a t-shirt beyond sewing a coloured patch onto it.

Yes, I realise it is not the best photo of the t-shirt but although I'm quite drawn for some reason to wearing it, it's a little small for my taste and not all that flattering (wear unflattering t-shirt in public and be seen by hundreds, no problem. Post unflattering photo on blog ... well). But I love the colour and the way I cut all the banding off, did some gathers and just let the edges roll. A very significant letting go for someone who insists on sewing flat felled seams and straight edges when the rest of the world is going all frayed and asymmetrical. I'm trying to loosen up a little.

Summer wardrobe planning has begun. Each season, I make just a couple of things from my list, way less than I'd like. However I'm learning that if I don't rush and if I make garments as well as I can, I'll love them for many years. My wish list is always long but my wardrobe (as in where my clothes hang) is small and shared. I like it best when it isn't too cramped and everything in it is something I like both in terms of comfort and my own peculiar sense of style. I went to town the other week and out of habit went to look in the big lady section of Myer (department store in Melbourne). Usually, I would buy a couple of t-shirts and every now and then some other item. But this time, I looked at them and thought, blegh, I could make some out of material I already have, in better colours. I didn't even bother looking in any of the other big lady places I used to frequent because I know that even though there will be garments in my size, none will fit properly, or be the sort of clothing that I could be friends with for seasons on end.

I think I've taken the wardrobe refashion pledge more to heart than I ever thought I would. Although I've been making and remaking one way or another since high school, there is something about not buying new mass produced clothes that is really working for me. Until this winter, I have bought most of my t-shirts, shirts, knitwear and hoodies. (Except for when I was pregnant because as we all know, big women don't get knocked up. Or they get pregnant and wear doona covers or somesuch. Pregnancy forced me to make or alter nearly everything I wore and I loved my pregnancy wardrobe, bigtime.) Anyway, what I used to buy were all those top half garments that I could easily buy to fit. Pants I gave up on ages ago and just learnt to make. Same with summer dresses. Skirts I made because they are so easy. So after six months of no shopping for new clothes at all, just looking through Myer made me realise that I have come to expect more.

However, it's not really practical for me to make absolutely everything I wear, so I commissioned my sister Betty to make me two pairs of pants and a new black wool wrap top. I love the top she gave me after Grace was born and it's starting to show. I'll keep it for round the house and the new one for work etc. I don't think she charged me quite what she charges everyone else but even so it is worth paying a bit extra, I figure, to get something that fits well and that I will happily wear for several years. I'm still wearing the jeans she made me before we went to Uluru in 2004 (see below). They are well faded and worn in but probably have another two years in them, at least. My new trousers need to be worn in a bit but they are fabulous, and because I was clever and asked for black denim and green denim like material, I can wear them to work. (Dress code: anything but blue denim, rubber thongs or t-shirts with words).

So now that I am spending better and less on clothes, I have more to spend on shoes. I am way past wearing anything that isn't ultra comfortable and often find myself buying men's shoes. If they don't make the grade, I pass them over to G, who wears them until they are unfit even for the opshop. I bought these on impulse, so I don't have to wear my horrible black runners as often.

They are probably the lightest coloured shoes I have had since the eighties. G keeps asking when he can start wearing his new "cats". But they are very comfortable on. I also have my eye on some modern mary-jane slash runner hybrid type shoes in a rather startling bright green, if they come in my size, that is.

Sunny sunday morning

Somehow I convinced Gerard that today would be a good for a Coburg market outing, as we haven't been for a few weeks. There's not enough turnover to go every week, and some are better than others. We got there about nine thirty but I reckon all the really good stuff had already gone, like the tin of old buttons for $2 that I heard the dealers talking about at the ephemera stall. When I got to the stall that had had the buttons, I could see that they might have had lots and lots of really great stuff but that being market novices they had sold it all too cheap. I felt sorry for them really, I know what it is like to be setting up your stall in the wee small hours, not sure what's hot and what's not, having dealers and pushy bargain hunters haggle and get in your way as you try to get everything organised. Last couple of stalls we had at Daylesford, I told people to go away until we were ready and became quite direct when they got pushy.

I did buy a few things though. Like a bunch of old patterns that I thought were for children's clothes but are actually for dolls clothes. I suppose there might come a time of sewing dolls clothes but I'm not sure if I'd use a pattern. Anyway, I guess they're quite cute if a little disturbing, especially the patterns for the high heeled doll. Shudder.

I couldn't resist a small, old and pretty scruffy paper box from Mr Ephemera, it says Glitter Wax on the outside which sounds fun and modern, despite the old packaging. I would really have liked to have seen what Glitter Wax was like but I suppose even if it hadn't been modelled a long time ago, it would have deteriorated by now. I do like the picture of the mother with two crafting little children at her feet.They look so neat and orderly, just like at our house (what no clutter and piles of unfinished winter sewing?). Anyway inside the box is a set of six very charming animal stamps.  Only $2, can't go wrong, hours of fun.

I also bought some cardboard baby books and quite a few golden books. One was Very Busy Barbie (Mattel 1993), a stunningly stilted tale of how Barbie runs late for a modelling job interview because she is taking her elderly neighbour to hospital and yet still gets the job because not only is she beautiful, but her employer learns of her good deeds. Oh dear, so bad it's good, almost. Another is called We Help Daddy (MIni Stein & Eloise Wilkins 1979). Illustrations follow.

Check out the pipe. The daddy is smoking a pipe pretty much the whole way through. Despite the pipe smoking and the very stereotypical gender roles, I find this one quite charming and it has the soft feel of a much read book.  I also bought Tootle and The Saggy Baggy Elephant, which I remember from my childhood, and a few others. Gerard bought a few also, he tends to buy wacky cartoon adventures, while I go for the domestic, girly or prettily illustrated ones. Never mind, I suppose it won't be long before Grace is telling us what she likes and doesn't. Even now, I am often quite surprised at which books become favourites.

With my Mum

My Mum comes over every Tuesday to spend the afternoon with me and Grace. We go shopping, play in the garden, sew or go for a walk. It's a comfortable and pleasurable part of my weekly routine. Grace loves it too, her face lighting up when her Nana comes in to get her from her morning nap.

I know I'm really lucky to have this kind of relationship with my mother. We've always been close but it hasn't always been this comfortable. I was a revolting teenager and quite horrible to her. There were some difficult times when my parents separated ( I was 25), later to divorce. Not to mention a nasty patch while we were in a family business together. My parents have both remarried and everyone gets along well enough for a big family Christmas and for birthday parties. Which is a good thing, but sometimes a bit complicated. One Christmas there were more ex-partners at the table than partners. Luckily it was a big table and everyone was on their best behaviour.

My Mum has a very profound belief in the value of family and in sticking together, even when you don't like each other very much. I think this comes from her parents, in particular her own mother, my Nan. Mum also has an amazing capacity to be present during difficult times. Maybe this comes from having been a nurse, but I think it is more innate than that. Mum was there when our son, Frank was born and died on the same day, and in the long months that followed. Three years later, when I was pregnant with Grace she came with me to many hospital appointments and was also with us during labour and Grace's birth. Even though she is not known by her first name, Grace, I think it pleased her greatly when I chose to name our daughter after her and after her grandmother before that. It greatly pleased me too.

September's self portrait challenge theme is "with someone". See many other people with their someones here.

Nothing but blue skies

Today was warm enough for sandals and sunshiney, and I spent the afternoon at CERES with Grace, Mum and a friend from mother's group and her daughter. My friend had called on the off chance and as Mum and I had no firm plans, it seemed like the perfect outing for the afternoon. CERES is one of my favourite places in Melbourne; an environmental park with community gardens, orchards, sustainable living displays, a nursery, gardens and a cafe with suprisingly good food (especially the cake) and coffee. Very child friendly without being dull for gardener type adults. And I spotted these pink broadbeans which had me all excited and hopping for the camera. Hopefully I'll be able to get some seeds and grow some next year...
The last few days have been intense, as any who read my last post might imagine. I have been having a conversation with myself (and with mum, Gerard and the rest of my family) for quite a while about whether I should write the truth about our son Frank. I'm glad I did. Although telling such a story is painful, probably both for writer and reader, it has also been enormously theraputic for me. Translating all those thoughts and emotions into a narrative has taken away much of the fear I felt and most of the blackness too. At least for a while. I still feel sad, of course, but stronger and clearer. Like my head has been given thorough cleansing. I worried that the post was way too long but sometimes you just have to keep adding words until you feel the story has been told.

At some point I may post Frank's story at A heart breaking choice which I found a week or two ago when my not very adept and somewhat sporadic google searching led me to uncommonmisconception. Finding Julia's site and reading through her "best reads" and some of her archives finally convinced me that I could write our story also. Although I am never pleased to find and read such sad and difficult stories, reading of other women and their families does make me feel less alone. Previously, all my googling had found were disturbing pro-life sort of sites. Not at all comforting.

Thank you for your kind comments, they are very much appreciated. I'm going to leave you with a corner of our spring garden. This garden is my place of peace and over the next few weeks, I'm going to try and spend a whole lot of time here amidst the greenery; planting, weeding and puttering. And maybe even a little lying around with a book or playing world cup soccer with Grace.

Not a poster-girl for older motherhood

Warning: The subject matter of this post is dark and should probably be avoided by pregnant ladies and anyone else who does not wish to be reminded of grief or loss. I have thought long and hard about whether I wish to post this and I am aware that in doing so, I may offend some people's deeply held beliefs. For that I am sorry. But I don't like big dark secrets and it seems to me that this kind of reproductive experience touches more than a few women and their familes and should be talked about from time to time.

Early spring is difficult. Grief runs close to the surface and changeable weather seems to mirror my moods. This spring has been worse than last, perhaps because I am not on medication like I was last spring. And maybe because the sheer joy watching Grace grow makes me so aware of what we have lost. And with that sadness comes an unreasonable fear of losing my little family, making me want to gather them in tight. I get anxious when away for an hour or two and ring home a bit more frequently from work, just to be sure and tiptoe into her room at night just one more time to watch her soft breathing. This grief also turns me into a bit of a monster; distant, distracted, irritable and joyless. So I have decided to write it out.

I am often vague and imprecise, but with people I come to know well, eventually I have to tell the whole story our son, Frank. He was born in September 2002 at 20 weeks gestation and died eight hours later. It is always difficult for me to discuss the precise circumstances of his birth and death. Partly because I fear being judged, even though nobody has ever said anything harsh. Indeed, the only negative reaction I have ever had has been one of withdrawal. From an old work colleague. But my reticence is also in part because I still feel that I made a decision that was somehow wrong. Even coming from a lefty, right to choose, feminist sort of background. And I should be very clear too, that despite any of my talk of wrongness, I will continue to believe that all women have the right to choose whether or not to carry a pregnancy. And to choose whether or not to have genetic or other testing.

A while back, at the checkout of the Mediterranean supermarket, I overheard two older women in passionate conversation with the woman at the checkout about when she was going to start having babies. Although most of the conversation was in Italian, there was enough English for me to understand. My turn came and the woman looked at me and said something like, I'm just not ready. And I replied with something like, well you have to do what's right for you. She looked at Grace, asleep in her stroller. I said, I was 41 when she was born. The woman's face brightened. But then I had to say, I wouldn't have left it that late, if I'd had a choice. It was tricky. There were problems.

I always worry with these conversations because I don't want to say don't have a baby when you're older. For most women everything goes well, even into their forties. And despite everything that has happened, holding Grace in my arms after she was born was extreme joy. Persistance paid off for us in a big way. And continues to do so. But I also want to say to the woman in the supermarket and others, that there are risks and although it is most likely that everything will be alright, maternal age does increase the odds that something will go wrong. The worst conversations are when people say, oh but I can always have testing. As if testing will ensure that everything is OK.

When I became pregnant in 2002, I was 37 and would have been 38 when our baby was born. I had already lost two pregnancies early in our relationship. And while those losses were very sad, we were not really ready to be parents. A black year followed where our depressions bounced off each other and we needed to learn how to live well together, how to be happy and productive. Once our lives improved, I fell pregnant again fairly easily and felt we were finally ready for the responsibility of parenthood. We were both so happy and optimistic, as were my family and friends. Although I had the odd bolshie thought of refusing all tests, I just kind of assumed that I would have genetic testing, mostly for peace of mind and also because I felt it was the responsible thing to do at my age. Part of the deal for an older mother. I ruled out the screening tests as wishy washy. If I was going to have testing, I wanted a definite answer that everthing was OK.  At the hospital, I was offered amniocentesis, due to my age. I wasn't offered the earlier test, chorionic villi sampling (CVS) or advised in any detail about the choices I would need to make if abnormalites were found. Besides, apart from failing maths in fifth form, I always passed tests, right?

The pregnancy was not easy. I had started a new job and was battling the usual first trimester fatigue and nausea. I was keeping my pregnancy secret as I hoped to be offered a permanent position. Then there was the continual cold and hemorrhoids (from iron tablets) so bad I couldn't sit for a week and needed an operation.  Then there was spotting and threatened miscarriage. Then everything seemed fine again. At the end of winter I had the 16 week amnio. Mum came with me and we watched the ultrasound, fascinated as the doctor told us how strong and healthy the baby looked. In the next two weeks, spring came and I started to really show. I had already started to tell people at work. I felt our baby kick. I had well and truly crossed from the first trimester of uncertainty into mid trimester belief in our baby and the life we would all have together. The testing seemed like a formality.

The Monday the results were due, I rang the hospital from work. They told me that the results weren't in yet. I though little of it and went home. At six o'clock the genetic counselor rang and told me there was bad news. I held it together on the phone and made an appointment for me and G to see her the next day. Then everything collapsed inwards. The only place I could be was in bed, crying. We were both in shock. Later we sat on the back porch and called friends and family. Everybody was sad but I think already it was assumed that we would not continue with the pregnancy.

I had been presented with a choice but it felt like a non choice, in a tiny little box. No matter how I turned the options over in my head, I couldn't make any decision that seemed right in any sense. It felt wrong to end the pregnancy, killing our baby. It felt wrong to continue the pregnancy knowing that the baby could have a significant disability. One thought that greatly disturbed us both was the potential for our child to have no living relatives after we died and needing to go into state care.  At the appointment, the genetic councilor was soft voiced and kind. She easily accepted our decision not to continue the pregnancy. Apparently about 95% of pregnancies where an abnormality is detected are ended. I was shocked to learn that I would not be having an abortion under general anesthetic but that labour would be induced and I would be awake. We were booked in for Thursday night. The next two days passed in a daze. I quit my job as I knew that I was never going to get a permanent position and I just couldn't face seeing the contract out. I ran around getting the car cleaned, errands done, just doing stuff. I drank at night and knocked myself out with painkillers.

At the appointed hour we turned up at the hospital. G stayed with me all night as I was given 4 hourly pessaries and morphine. In the morning my Mum came in and I sent G home. Inasmuch as I had a birth plan, I knew that I didn't want to have to worry about whether or not G was coping. The pain was extreme, but not focussed like full term natural labour pains. I kept having more pain relief and everything became very, very blurred. Sometime in the late morning the pains worsened and I became extremely bossy, sending the nurse for more drugs and laxatives. She only made it back just as I was turning over saying, the baby is coming. Mum caught the baby, a little boy. Complete and alive and very little. I burst into tears ( I think or did I just want to). The nurse asked me if I wanted to hold my beautiful baby. I said no. I don't remember being aware that he was born alive. He was placed in a plastic bassinet beside us. I made mum go and ring G and the rest of the family. Lying in the high white hospital bed, I felt it was important that my people knew. (Another thing I feel I should mention, the nurses at the public hospital we attended were beyond fantastic. Sensitive, caring and professional. I couldn't have wished for better treatment at such a difficult time.)

G came back and spent some time with our baby in a separate little room. The placenta wouldn't deliver and I went to surgery and had it removed under a general anesthetic. There was no way I was staying awake for that one. I don't think that I would have cared much if I didn't wake up, ever. Going home was a relief and the next week or so passed in a blur of check ups, going back to the hospital to hold my baby, follow ups, a hospital funeral and the odd stuff up. I concentrated on the paper work. Then out of the blue, grief hit me . I remember sitting at my computer looking for jobs to fill in my jobseeker diary with tears streaming down my face, insensible with rage. A friend made me go and see a doctor and get a medical certificate. The doctor booked me in for regular visits, becoming a lifeline of sorts.

The next five months were exceptionally difficult and I demanded a lot from those around me. G had his own grief and sometimes wasn't able to help with mine. And at various times I was probably pretty angry with him too, not that I was singling him out, I could be angry at anyone or anything. My mum was exceptional and would visit, spending the whole day gardening or just hanging out, talking when I wanted, being quiet when talking was too much. A month or two later, I was pregnant again and once again miscarried. Immediately I conceived again and two months later the baby died inside me. Everything seemed impossible but somehow, in the midst of all this I found another job and life went on. Later in 2003, I was referred to a recurrent miscarriage clinic and as well as a barrage of tests was offered counselling.

Counselling was a mixed blessing, the counselor was tough and made me confront things I needed to but wouldn't accept me saying that I felt part of our decision to end the pregnancy was wrong (could this have been to do with hospital policy and the fear of legal action?).  In the end I had to give up counselling . More rage issues perhaps? Sometime later, I read The Art of Happiness in which the Dalai Llama is posed with this exact dilema. His response was that this an extremely difficult choice, either way might lead to great suffering of the child and/or the parents. He ended by saying that such a decision is beyond the power of a rational mind. To move out of almost perpetual blackness I needed to clearly separate my feeling of wrongness from that of grief. This allowed me to fully mourn the loss of our baby; as the baby who might have been (before testing), as the baby he was, as our son in every sense. I have also accepted that I will never ever feel completely right about this decision, even if in the same situation I would make the same (non) choice over again. Even when people say that I shouldn't feel guilty or that they would do the same thing in the same situation. It isn't exactly guilt that I feel but more a deep sense of wrongness. I have learnt to sit with the wrongness, which like the grief is mostly buried inside and covered with stone. Only every now and then it all still hurts all over again. But these feelings are episodic now, not constant as before, and I know they will pass.

Wet old Wednesday

I know I'm supposed to rejoice in the rain, because as everyone is saying, it's been a dry winter and spring and we desperately need the rain. Yes we do. It's good for farmers, good for the garden, good for hayfever, good for water storage blah blah blah. But it's pox for doing the washing. I'm so over drying clothes inside and the shuffle between the heater, and the rails above the door and the dryer of despair. We've left it for a day, G can deal with the laundry monster tomorrow. It's also crap for my Wednesday walk around the suburb, going from mother's group, to the opshop for books, to lunch and a spot of shopping, especially with a small child who will not wear shoes or socks, no matter how cold. I lost the battle on that one today and copped a number of bad mother stares from (mostly grandmotherly) women in the street. To maintain a positive vibe, I tried to ignore the drips inside my raincoat and take photos of bright, rain soaked colour on our walk.

This was the first spot of colour that jumped out at me. I remember this house being the same colour when a friend and I inspected it as a possible share house back in 1985. It was rejected as it had an unworkable floorplan. I don't think it has been painted or maintained since then.

Second spot of colour. On abandoned housing development built on a site contaminated by toxic drycleaning chemicals. I don't think we'll be playing in the playground next door.

Third patch of colour on the wall in the lane coming out of Spotlight. Felt guilty going there but I really needed some bias binding to finish some pants in the final stages of construction. He looks off his face, strange and unhappy. Needless to say, I was very pleased to come home to this.

I am quite besotted with my front garden at the moment. The effect I have been going for is woodland. I even like some of the weeds and how it looks better a little unkempt, well to my mind anyway. Sometimes I see people stop and look through the front gate, sometimes shaking their heads, sometimes enjoying it. It's the sort of garden I would look at too.

Me and Mr G

I took this photo of Gerard and me by accident about a month ago. Along with my mum and stepfather, we'd been helping my sister Betty and her partner, Cam, move house. It was just after lunch, and I was playing around with the camera and taking pictures of their Hills Hoist, as you do. Gerard is in the background talking with Camo and his stance is so typical, as is the beanie and general scruffiness. I kind of like that about him (even though I often try and persuade him to be a bit less scruffy) because it means I can be a scruffnut too, if I want. He doesn't care because he loves me just as I am. How good is that?

We've been together nearly seven years now, although I first met him through an employee of our old business about ten years ago. At that time, although I heard a voice inside saying he's the one, I just wasn't listening. Luckily fate gave us another chance three years later when our paths crossed at club one night. About two minutes (slight exaggeration here) into our relationship Gerard asked me to marry him. I replied that it was far too early to make that sort of commitment. The offer has never been back on the table. When people ask why our daughter has a different surname to me, I say she is our lovechild. It's pretty common around here not to get married, even when you have children, so you'd think people wouldn't comment, but they do.

Married or not, I have never before felt so loved, so secure, so free to be myself. That's not to say that we haven't had some difficult times. It took about a year of living together before all the rough edges between us smoothed over. Even now if we fight, it's awful. We're both scorpios and fighting is always a bitter cold power struggle. I tend to give in because I just can't bear the silence. Luckily there's very little to fight about these days.

If I were to try and pinpoint why we are so good together, I would say, apart from that spark you need to be a couple, it comes down to sensibility. We have pretty similar ideas about how we want to live our lives. Neither of us is particularly career minded but I've found my little work niche. Gerard does contract work and has yet to find his. We like material things but we're into secondhand and recycling when practical. We like making art and craft, building furniture, funny collections, playing in the garden, camping, music, having hobbies, books, television and the internet, cooking at home and hanging around with Grace and the rest of the tribe. It's a funny little life but it's good.  Very good.

September's self portrait challenge is "with someone". Visit with other SPC'ers and their special someones here.

"We are the team that sometimes lets you down..."

Yesterday marked the end of the football season at our place. What was to be a father's day treat of football on the telly with beer and snacks and maybe some last minute redemption, soon turned to bitter disappointment. Even so, we still know how to spell kommittment here.

I must say, G took it like a true tasmanian and got straight into the mockery before any of those pesky mooks called him, texted him or otherwise stuck the boot in. Not to say that the boot hasn't been on G's own mocking foot in past years. And will be again. Happily. Joyously. There will be victory in the end.

The scent of lust, apparently

The book I'm reading at the moment, Seasons of Content by Jackie French has a reference to flowering pittosporums. She writes, "Pittosporum blossom is supposed to send bees mad and, according to (male) Aboriginal lore, send women mad with passion too.. " Although she goes on to say that she has never seen either of these phenomena (and neither have I), I knew at once which tree she was talking about. We have one of these trees on the west side of our house and the scent is intense, especially at night. If we slept outside, under animal fur or beside a fire, and if the weather was as balmy as it has been, well I could imagine it might drive some women to lust. Before succumbing to hayfever. I can stand under this tree for maybe five minutes, taking it all in, before I start to sneeze.
I identified the plant as Pittosporrum undulatum with this  photo on the Association of Societies for Growing Australian Plants (ASGAP) webpage. Not the easiest of pages to navigate but good for identifying plants, if you have some information to start with. My mum had told me the tree was a pittosporrum so I was off to a good start. I had thought that it was a weed tree and was pleased to discover that it is a native. However the description page states that although indigenous to the Sydney area, it is an environmental weed in Cuba, Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and Western Victoria. Unlike many natives, this tree grows well in disturbed and nutrient enhanced soils. In addition the seeds are eaten by birds and are likely to grow where they are excreted. And this tree can grow quite large, shading out other species. So according to the ASGAP people, it shouldn't grown anywhere within several kilometres of bushland. Another plant that is a common garden ornamental and weed in bushland is the Cotoneaster which orginated in China. We have one near our front gate and every autumn when it sheds red berries everywhere, I consider chopping it down. Not that it is ours to chop but I often consider chopping it down anyway.

Day of the Dads

When I asked G whether he wanted a present for father's day, he said no. I asked if he wanted a special dessert, offering baked goods, but he wanted caramello chocolate for after dinner. Easy, peasy. In the morning he wanted a sleep in and orange juice in bed. But by the time I had Grace up and was ready to do breakfasty things, he was up too. He's not one for lying around. So instead I tried to tell him what a great Dad he is, because it's true.

I never knew how deeply I wanted to have children until I settled down with Gerard. Our journey towards parenthood has not been easy and he has remained true the whole way. Sometimes we've both doubted; worrying that we are too old, too odd, not rich enough or even just not the sort of people who should have kid(s). Looking back, I'm horrified that we could have missed out on this biggest joy of all. All those things don't matter as nearly as much as we thought they might. All sorts of people have families in all sorts of conditions and do just fine. Indeed, there is nothing like the responsibility of providing a home for your child that sorts out your priorities. I never rationally considered whether G would be a good Dad. I think my heart and body just knew.

Not only does he do his share of crappy nappies, he truly loves to spend time with Grace, as in whole days. He makes her toys and other bits to play with. He wrestles and plays world cup soccer with her in the back yard, and is always up for a book or a cuddle. And he tells her that she has to follow the (not so) mighty (at the moment) Blues, or she'll be mocked.

My own Dad is a great dad too. He's been my dad for 42 years now, so we've had ebb and flow. Watching my Dad be a grandfather to Grace is a joy. Having Grace has changed our relationship, more subtle than with Mum, but I think having your own child finally confirms you as an adult in the minds of your parents. Or perhaps there's now a big experience that you have in common and you're more inclined to appreciate their parenting. Despite having a different aspirations than us, he never mocks our choices. Indeed he is pretty supportive of our endeavours and lifestyle choices. More than I can say, really. I can tell when he has read my blogs because he goes through them very systematically and it shows on my stats and referrers page. And he has kept me supplied with computing and digital photography equipment. Not quite the latest gasp, but good solid technology and better than I'd be able to buy myself. And he comes over and shows me how to do stuff (like killing viruses) and makes it all work. It's one of his ways of showing me that he loves me. Thanks Dad.

Now I must go and make dinner. We're having egg pasta with herb and almond pesto, chopped tomatoes and mushrooms. And as requested, caramello nougat chocolate for afters. Some dads are easy to please. Yummo.

Happy fathers day!

Saturday slacktitude

Once again I got to sleep in this morning. An extra two hours sleep and some time to lie around reading and looking out the window, thinking about the week just gone. Letting thoughts and sadness settle and then feeling at ease again. I finally got up after Grace's morning nap and we had  a long pancake brunch together. Then she had a wriggle while I had coffee and read some of the paper.  In the afternoon we lazed around the garden with a visiting friend from Tas. I took a photo of the purple cat I finished last night. We talked about names but none of the suggestions seemed to fit. I think he might be called Mr PurpleCat. I think he looks a bit uptight but Grace seems to quite like him, for a toy.

Mr PurpleCat is made from the sleeve of a cardigan that my mum made for Grace. The wool (Bluebell crepe?) was supposed to be machine washable. It felted after about three washes. And proceeded to shrink even more with each wash.

It was so warm today that I wore a t-shirt and thongs. I'm starting to think about toenail polish and leg hair removal. And camping and holidays. And then I drunk some beer, not much at all, because I am a hopelessly cheap drunk but enough to cement the feeling of total slacktitude that seemed to hang over the day. Quite nice really.

Spring is sprung

First day of spring. Started off well enough, a little play with Grace, a beautiful sunny golden drive to work. Blue skies. Warm. Work seemed OK, a number of people were wearing bright pink to mark the first day of spring (gotta love public service dress code). But as the day wore on everything I touched seemed to turn to complication. I heard a very sad story that touched a big sadness in me, one runs very close to the surface at this time of the year. The day seemed broken after that.

I was glad to get home and debrief, to roll around on the bed with Grace playing tickaticatica. Her joy and her cuddles made me happy and sad all at once. We played in the garden, even as dark fell it was still balmy. A hot summer this year? Certainly it's dry, but we've had warm springs that don't lead into hot summers. So, who can say? I think I'm going to sow the first lot of summer vegetable seeds this weekend, just in case.

Early evening is one of my favorite times in the garden. At the moment it is incredibly perfumed. The jasmine is starting to blossom, the plum is shedding petals like fragrant snowflakes and there's this other tree (a native I think) which has clusters of creamy yellow that are intensely scented, especially at night. Jasmine reminds me of being at boarding school and a little hidey hole down the back of the oval, near a side fence. A good spot for a fag and gossip, and to just lie around and take in the smell. I'm going through a little phase of missing smoking, even though it's been five years since I gave up. This doesn't happen much anymore, so I'm sure it will pass.

Early evening, the colours of the garden take on a mysterious hue. Especially these blue chinese forget-me-nots that grow wild at a friend's place up near Daylesford. For a while, I regretted planting these as they can take over and be hard to control. But I had a change of heart last summer and decided I liked them as they are also very drought and neglect tolerant. And pretty.

I'm also loving these euphorbia which also come pretty close to being a weed. There's a row of them in one of the beds. I like the shapes of the flower heads and the lime green that deepens in the dying light. After the flowers, the tough leaves form a backdrop to other plants.

I felt better after hanging around the garden, checking out what's doing, watching Grace explore and climb. After dinner I watched Bridget Jones's Diary on telly, despite G complaining that I'd already seen it several times. Some movies are even better after a few watches, and this for me is one of them. And I was sewing, so not having to concentrate too hard was good. He went to bed out of boredom. I finished purple felt cat, who may make an appearance tomorrow. Am feeling better. Much.