Oh Tony Abbott. Not again.

I haven’t posted here about Tony Abbott’s comments yesterday yet, mainly because I was a bit lost for words.

I was lost for words, but I wasn’t surprised.

Is it a bad thing when you aren’t surprised that the Prime Minister of the country you are living in inadvertently says something demeaning about women again?

I think it probably is.

Sigh.

I’m so tired of reading about these regular faux pas that I haven’t even read any of the internet backlash yet. I suspect it is fierce.

So, let’s recap. As well as being the current Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott is the self- appointed ‘Minister for Women’. Many an eyebrow was raised when he announced this appointment due to his chequered history of making somewhat careless remarks about women and their role in society (I could list these, but this web page sums it up pretty well).

Yesterday, Lisa Wilkinson, the very successful journalist and TV presenter, asked Tony Abbott what he had done for women in his first 100 days since becoming Minster for Women.

His reply?

He got rid of the carbon tax, which was good for women, because, and I quote, “as many of us know, women are particularly focused on the household budget.”

Oh Tony.

Do we really have to go here again?

Really?

Look. We can see that Tony’s comment was off the cuff. He wasn’t expecting the question, and this was a particularly terrible answer to give. But the problem is he keeps saying this stuff. Over and over. And it is a bit offensive. I heard this latest comment, and my first thought was ‘Does he really think the family budget is the most important issue to women in Australia? He’s a f@*king idiot.’

I don’t want to think that the leader of the country where I am raising my children is a f@*king idiot.

And this is what annoys me about Tony Abbott. He’s NOT an idiot. He’s a Rhodes Scholar, for goodness sake. I am acquainted with a Rhodes Scholar who works for the United Nations. This guy is currently working on a border dispute in South America. SERIOUS INTELLECTUAL STUFF.

I also still hold out hope that Abbott, the father of two daughters, isn’t actually sexist (although you’re really not helping me here, Tony).

Part of Abbott’s problem is a wider issue with Australian politics–that politicians feel that they need to talk down to the public if they want to stand any chance of getting voted in. God forbid that they’d appear out of touch, so instead they go out of their way to relate every comment back to ‘ordinary Australians’.

Add to this that the news here is reported in such a manner that only one sentence from a political speech makes an edited bulletin, and politicians also become addicted to soundbites, trying to explain a complex policy in just three words so ‘ordinary Australians’ can understand it (‘Stop the boats’ anyone?). The assumption is that the bulk of the population is ignorant.

This is the way Abbott has learnt to speak as Prime Minister – by over generalising, soundbiting and stereotyping – so we can’t be surprised when he comes out and unintentionally says things that patronising. In fact, no one is surprised. I assume most people reading his comments thought, “Oh no, what’s he said this time?” (He’s a bit like the Australian version of Prince Phillip, only not as funny).

God, I wish he’d stop the sweeping statements and the overgeneralisations. Every time he tries to talk down to us average Joes, it’s embarrassing in a dad-dancing-at-a-wedding kind of way, because he’s obviously not very good at it. So please Tony, just stop it. You’d never hear Obama talking about ‘the housewives of America doing the ironing’, would you? If Obama can communicate his ideas clearly and eloquently, surely Tony’s media team and speechwriters could pick up a few tips?

However, I would argue that this lazy stereotyping isn’t even the most disappointing thing about this entire debacle.

For me, it that fact that Tony Abbott couldn’t think of another achievement that his government, and he, as Minister for Women, has achieved for the women of Australia. Doesn’t that, in itself, speak volumes?

And THAT’s the issue. THAT’s what women across Australia should be angry about. Frankly, we deserve better.

For the record, as a mum who, yes, manages the family budget, (yes! I am one of Tony’s dream demographic!) and I can tell you that I don’t give a stuff about the government getting rid of the carbon tax. I think most mothers would actually forfeit the extra $50 a month if it means their children and grandchildren could grow up in a world that isn’t choking to death on its own toxic atmosphere.

What I’d really like is the Minister for Women to be making a difference to issues that really affect women – the gender paygap; the woeful lack of convictions in rape cases; the oversexualisation of young women in the media; a generation of women who left the workforce to take on caring responsibilities who are now living in poverty in retirement; childcare options that allow women to return to work without having to sacrifice over half their salary (as I have to) to do so. And that’s just off the top of my head, Tony.

So Prime Minister – let’s be honest, you’ve got a country to run. I think it’s time to hand over the Minister for Women baton to someone who knows about women’s stuff and has the time and dedication to tackle issues that affect women every day.

Maybe, even, a woman, perhaps?

I took antidepressants when I was breastfeeding. AND when I was pregnant.

Over the past week or so, the UK press has given extensive coverage to the tragic deaths of new mother Charlotte Bevan and her four day old baby daughter, Zaani Tiana.

If you are not familiar with the story, 30 year old Charlotte, who allegedly had a history of depression and schizophrenia, walked out of her local maternity hospital with her baby daughter, and committed suicide with her daughter at local beauty spot Avon Gorge in Bristol. The press has since reported that Charlotte had been in touch with social workers throughout her pregnancy, and that she may have been frightened that her baby would be taken away from her. It has also been reported that Charlotte stopped taking her medication so that she would be able to breastfeed her daughter.

Charlotte Bevan
Charlotte Bevan

Quite rightly, the NHS is now launching an investigation to look into how the new mother was allowed to leave her maternity ward. The press are being particularly vocal in their call for new mothers, particularly those with a history of mental health illness, to be much more closely monitored in hospital.

Yet there is one aspect to this tragic story that is not being discussed, despite the fact that it is an aspect that I believe would have significantly reduced the risk of Charlotte and her daughter coming to harm. An aspect that is based on myths and unsubstantiated claims and which, as a result, is causing extreme heartache and suffering to many new mothers and their families.

And it’s this: “Charlotte stopped taking her medication so that she would be able to breastfeed her daughter.”

According to media reports, Charlotte Bevan used to be on anti depressant medication to treat her depression. I don’t know if she was still on anti depressant medication during pregnancy. However, allegedly, she stopped taking her medication because she thought that there would be risks to the baby if she took anti-depressants if she was breastfeeding.

And here’s the rub. In fact, here is the bit that makes me want to climb inside the internet and scream and shout at new or expectant mothers who are googling and reading pages of ill-advised advice about the risks of taking anti depressants and breastfeeding:

YOU CAN TAKE ANTI DEPRESSANTS WHEN YOU ARE BREASTFEEDING.

That’s right. You CAN take anti depressants when you are breastfeeding.

I know, because I just did it.

And guess what? It turns out me and my baby are fine.

A bit of a back story about me. I had severe post natal depression following the birth of my first baby, who was born with a heart abnormality. During pregnancy number two, anxiety hit me like a tonne of bricks – I suffered from acute anxiety, agorophobia and panic attacks from week eight until the day I gave birth. And beyond. Well beyond. In fact, I’m still taking (a lot of) medication now. And I was admitted to psychiatric hospital too. So I was really really unwell.

Both my GP and psychologist recommended to me at that eight week mark to go on to anti depressant medication. And did I? No. Because I’d read all the scare stories about taking anti depressants when pregnant and was terrified of harming my baby.

So I got more unwell.

And then a bit more unwell. So unwell that I recall having to lie in a darkened room because my entire body was shaking. My heart was hammering and I was literally gasping for air, paralysed to the spot. This particular anxiety attack had me in its grip for over four hours.

That night, I made a choice. I chose to go to my doctor the next day and asked to be referred to a psychiatrist, so I could be prescribed anti depressants and have my illness properly managed. I knew that I had another six months of pregnancy to get through. I had a job to go to. A house to run. And a young son to look after. Staying in bed for six months was not an option.

I did go on medication, and I stayed on it throughout pregnancy. It didn’t cure me, but it certainly made me able to function on a daily basis.

I was lucky that my psychiatrist specialises in perinatal anxiety and depression. I had expert monitoring throughout my pregnancy, and, when I gave birth and decided to breastfeed, guess what my psychiatrist did? She put me on ANOTHER anti depressant. So I was (and still am) taking TWO anti depressants (I didn’t even know this was a thing!). And I breastfed my baby boy until he was six months old. He is now 12 months old, walking, almost talking, getting in to mischief and is quite evidently undamaged by my choice to take medication.

But here’s the uncomfortable truth – I can’t say for sure is that we would have remained undamaged if I hadn’t taken medication.

Because I know why Charlotte Bevan did what she did. I understand what she was feeling, because I have had those same feelings throughout this wretched illness. I had my suicide plan well thought out. But I didn’t go through with it, because the medication helped me to cling on to life by my fingertips, even though every fibre of my being was willing me to let go so that it could all be over with.

I’m not a doctor, but here is what I do know:

1. My psychiatrist, who is a specialist in perinatal mental health, prescribes anti depressants to pregnant women and new mothers every single day.

2. Obviously, no one is willing to test medication on pregnant and breastfeeding mothers. So, to cover themselves, pharmaceutical companies say that their medicines ‘are not advised for pregnant or breastfeeding mothers’ – even if the products would actually be safe.

3. In the mother and baby unit of the hospital where I was staying, almost all of the new mothers were on medication and breastfeeding. And all the babies have turned out fine. 

When I read about Charlotte Bevan, I want to know who told her to stop taking her medication. I want to know, because it was irresponsible advice that arguably led to her death. I have met too many mothers who were advised, wrongly, to come off their anti depressant medication when they were pregnant, and they’ve all had awful outcomes (helloooo psychiatric ward). GPs and other so called ‘specialists’ who are erring on the side of caution are costing lives.

Of course, there can be risks to all medications. I get that. But, if the mother ship isn’t functioning, there’s no hope for the baby. We’re talking about unsubstantiated risks, scant ‘evidence’, and rumours versus a mother, or, in Charlotte’s case, a mother and child, no longer being here.

Which is why, somewhere on the internet, this post needs to exist. If just one mother reads this, and, as a result, changes her mind about stopping her medication, it has been worth writing. So please, if you are still reading, PLEASE share this post. Let’s make this post appear in the google search rankings so that mums can understand that there is another side to this story.

Finally, if you are reading this post and are worried about taking anti depressants during pregnancy or when breastfeeding, please, PLEASE talk to your doctor. And if your doctor tells you to stop taking your anti depressant medication, then find a new doctor who knows what they are talking about. Your baby needs you to be well.

You need you to be well.

Pre and post natal anxiety and depression is a cruel, hideous journey, but medication can help to make the journey a little easier.

Yesterday I shed tears for a man I did not know.

Yesterday I shed tears for a man I did not know.

I shed tears hearing Michael Clarke talking about Phillip Hughes’ passion for cricket, cattle and country.

I shed tears as I watched footage of Phillip Hughes, ruing a young life cut way too short.

But most of all, I shed tears for Phillip Hughes’ father, Greg. I watched the agony on his face as he carried his own son’s coffin on his shoulder. In that moment, as a mother, I could almost feel his pain.

The phrase ‘parent’s worst nightmare’ is often used flippantly – just today, I’ve seen a story about an app called Kick On (which allows users to find their nearest party) being described as ‘a parent’s worst nightmare’.

And yet, here, etched on Phillip Hughes’ father’s face, was the definitive proof that burying your own child is your worst nightmare. It was possibly the most heart-wrenching image of despair that I have ever seen.

I suspected the press would use this image on their front pages today. In the Courier Mail’s case, at least, I was right (I haven’t seen the other newspapers).

I’ve seen comments online criticising the outpouring of grief for Phillip Hughes – it reads along the lines of ‘yes, it’s sad, but you don’t know him. How can you cry about it?’ And this has got me thinking – why did I shed tears over the death of a young man I never knew?

I think it is a straightforward answer.

In part, it is because Phillip Hughes’ death was particularly shocking. Not just for the sheer incredulity that an object as innocuous as a cricket ball could instantly wipe out the life of a healthy young athlete. But because it was a death that happened on a cricket pitch, in a game that was caught on camera. We watched it happen. Yes, he was resuscitated on the pitch, but the reality is that he died on that pitch.

We don’t witness people dying very often – we may be witness to the final hours of a terminally ill relative, perhaps, but we rarely witness a death that happens so suddenly.

In the past I have heard from people who witnessed the comedian Tommy Cooper’s heart attack on stage in 1984. They say that they have never forgotten it. Social media now means that Phillip Hughes’ death has been widely viewed, and as such, will never be forgotten. It will serve as a constant reminder of the fragility of life.

Despite its absolute certainty, we don’t like to talk about death in our society. Its trauma goes unspoken, because it is a painful subject to broach. With Phillip Hughes’ death, we have not been able to look the other way. We have had to confront the trauma head on, which I think in part explains why we, as a nation, have been so affected by it.

The other reason I shed tears watching the funeral is pretty simple. Empathy. It’s human nature to be empathetic to others when you witness their suffering.

We know that the lives of Phillip Hughes’ family has been shattered in to a thousand pieces, and it will never feel whole again. To bear witness to his parents going through the one thing you dread the most is understandably upsetting to see.

I always remember a colleague telling me that his mother still set a place at the Christmas table for his brother, who had died a few years previously from an aggressive form of cancer.  She set the place and always wept. When questioned as to why she did this when it continued to make her so upset, she replied that she wanted to do it. She wanted to feel the pain of her son no longer being there, because, if she could still feel the pain of missing him, it meant that he wasn’t gone completely.

As a mother of two boys, I know that losing one of them would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me. So it is for this reason that I shed tears for Phillip Hughes’ family, and all the other families where there is a child missing at the Christmas dinner table this year.

10 reasons why Christmas isn’t as good for my kids as it was for me

image
It’s December 1st today, and my little boy has opened the first door on his advent calendar. His reward? A half-melted piece of what looks like dog chocolate which has no bearing on anything Christmassy. There’s no picture behind the door. Just chocolate.

Now, if you’re a kid today, you probably think that this is the best thing EVER to wake up to. But I would have to disagree.

Because, if you were born before the 1990s, there was nothing more exciting as a kid during December than trying to work out what Christmassy-themed picture you were going to get behind the door of your advent calendar.

Would it be a star? The three wise men? A bunch of holly? Or a picture of a robin? Whatever it was, it was so damn CHRISTMASSY!

And don’t get me started on the excitement of finally being able to open the no. 24 door WHICH WAS ALWAYS, TANTALISINGLY, BIGGER THAN THE OTHER DOORS (and invariably contained a nativity scene).

Has anybody tried to find picture-only advent calendar? I have, but without success. So it’s doggy chocolate calendars in our house this year, and my kids get a sugary treat to build up the anticipation for the rest of the sugar they will consume over this festive season. None of which has anything to do with Christmas.

Which got me thinking – in what other ways is Christmas worse than it was when I was a kid? (I’m not mentioning Black Friday here because I am British and it’s not a thing, by the way). Here’s my lowdown – see if you agree…

2) The lack of Jesus, anywhere. Christmas is about celebrating the birth of Jesus. So where is he? I’m not even christened. But crikey, even I get a warm, fuzzy feeling thinking about a baby being born, and a message of hope, peace and kindness to one another. Children know the words to Jingle Bells and Santa Claus is Coming to Town, but have never heard Silent Night or Away in a Manger. Argh, here in Australia, every Christmas Eve, they even broadcast a ‘carol concert’ which is like a pop concert, with no actual carols, but instead a bunch of cartoonishly-attired questionable singers warbling out the words to All I Want for Christmas is You. With backing dancers. With not a donkey or a heavily pregnant Mary in sight. It is so wrong on so many levels.

3) One BIG present. When I was a kid, every Christmas, you got one big present. The biggie. The one you had all your hopes and dreams pinned on. The last present to be opened, in the biggest box under the tree. Oh my goodness, it was soooo exciting waiting to open that big present. Nowadays, all kids’ presents are huge, and they get inundated with gifts by everybody. So instead of one big present they get lots of big presents, half of which they never actually play with. A prime example that less should be more, even at Christmas time.

4) Small presents were great. We did get stocking fillers. And do you know what? We played with those toys for months. Years, even. In contrast, I’ve lost count of how many plastic bits of crap my son has played with for less than an hour that have broken straight away. Utter crap.

5) Santa was a bit more mysterious. These days, Santa makes so many appearances I’m surprised he isn’t worn out by Christmas Eve. He’s in every shopping centre, and at every event, pretty much from November. When I was a kid, there was ONE Santa, in the town centre, and I never went to see him. Because I was a bit scared to, to be honest. I was a bit scared that he’d see through my impeccable manners and deem me too naughty to be getting a present. Which, of course, made the anticipation of Christmas morning even better.

6) Crappy Christmas decorations. Now, our decorations as a kids were not at all fancy (remember those foil hanging decorations?. I LOVED them.) We had the same ones every year and they lasted forever. Those decorations were as much a part of Christmas as a turkey dinner in our house. These days shops are groaning with the weight of tacky bits of plastic and shiny crap which you know you will throw out and replace – what’s special about that?

7) Crappy tree lights. Another Christmas highlight when I was a kid was working your way through the Christmas tree lights, twisting them one at a time, to fix the rogue loose bulb that was preventing them from working. Nowadays, a bulb can go and the lights just carry on lighting. Which is a lot more efficient, granted, but a lot less fun.

8) Christmas telly. Australia doesn’t do Christmas telly (I KNOW) so this is a British thing. Remember getting the TV listings for Christmas and planning your entire school holidays around what was on? The big family film on Christmas Day? Noel’s Christmas Presents? No more. (I can still remember being aghast that Sky TV didn’t have Christmas programmes on on Christmas Day. That was the start of the decline.)

9) The lack of excitement over the Christmas number one. 1993 was a rough year for me when Mr Blobby stopped Take That from claiming a coveted Christmas number one spot. In fact I can name most Christmas number ones AND the year. And then along came Simon Cowell, who single-handedly ruined this great national tradition. Git.

10) Holiday and sale adverts. Remember the devastation you’d feel on Christmas Day evening, when the TV adverts changed from Christmas ones to ones advertising holidays (again, this is a British thing) and the Boxing Day sales? Talk about coming back down to earth with a bump. But it was okay. Because at that age you were still so enthralled by your one big present that Boxing Day was almost as exciting as Christmas Day. I imagine by Boxing Day my four year old will be bored of his new toys and will be asking for the iPad.

Bah, humbug.

 

 

 

 

Mamamia, I’m calling you out for being hypocrites

Redfoo. Dapper Laughs. Julien Blanc.

Mamamia has been vocal in calling out guys like this lately for being misogynistic creeps who promote violence towards women and objectify women to be little more than a piece of ass.

Let’s recap for a moment:

  • 39 year old Redfoo currently features on a hideous ‘song’ called Literally I Can’t. The premise of this song seems to be that a group of girls who refuse to join in a wild party are told to ‘Shut The f*ck Up’, with Redfoo reminding them, “u got a big ol’ butt, I can tell by the way you walkin’. But you an annoying BEEP, Cos you talkin, ugh.” (Redfoo has since pointed out that he never says the word ‘slut’, but I can’t think of any other words rhyming with butt that would be censored, so let’s choose to ignore that particular line of defence.)
  • The ‘international leader in dating advice’ Julien Blanc was thankfully hounded out of Australia last week. Blanc charges what can only be described as very socially inept males hundreds of dollars per ticket to listen to his ‘tips’ for picking up women, which include grabbing womens’ heads and pushing them in to his groin.
  • Dapper Laughs is a supposedly comedic character now allegedly retired by UK comedian Daniel O Reilly – not, however, before he caused a furore by making jokes that included telling a woman in his audience that she was ‘gagging for rape’. Unbelieveably, since this character was created in 2013, he gained 360k followers on Twitter and has actually been referred to as ‘the voice of a generation’.

THE VOICE OF A GENERATION.

The undeniable fact is that misogony is marketable. This kind of vitriol permeates in to a culture where women are objects to be conquered, ridiculed or criticised.

Which brings me to you, Mamamia.

I’m a regular reader of Mamamia. I like what you do. I’d actually go as far as saying that you guys are a voice of OUR generation – a generation of strong, independent women striving for equality between the sexes. Which is absolutely why you should be calling out all this ‘women are no more than a piece of ass’ misogynistic crap.

But then you run a story on this.
KimKardash-ass-2

And you ruin it all.

Because, by running a story on these naked photos of Kim Kardashian, what are you doing?

That’s right, Mamamia. You’re reducing a woman to a ‘piece of ass’. Objectifying her. Telling the world that it’s okay to judge a woman based on her appearance.

The exact same thing you’ve been calling out Redfoo, Julien Blanc and Dapper Laughs for doing.

You could have run a story asking why the media feels it is acceptable to use covers like this.
You could have asked why you’d never see a magazine cover with Kanye West’s bare ass on it.
But you didn’t.
You ran a story telling us to look at, and comment on, Kim Kardashian’s ass.
Why?
Because misogyny is marketable, and look at that click rate soar.
And with that, you lost me.
Shame on you, Mamamia. I thought you knew better.