Monday, April 9, 2018

Postpartum (and mid-PhD) depression and me

I have postpartum depression.

Forgive any typos, as I write this with one hand while nursing to sleep my 4 month old baby who is presently smack dab in the niddmiddle of a dreaded sleep regression.

I shouldn't be surprised by my diagnosis. It is hardly a rare occurrence among new mothers in the 21st century. It is particularly difficult (and commom) among this generation, I think, because of the great expectations placed upon us by our capitalistic social mores, and our own desires to disprove the stereotypes placed upon the millenial brood.

We (I) feel like we are supposed to be able to make a living, get an education, start a family, and stay out of debt, while the cost of living ever rises, and the respect and economic pay-off one gets for having an advanced degree ever diminishes.

On top of this, we (I) feel the pressure of the ticking time-bomb that represents that tiny window in which we (I) can reasonably expect to start and raise our family before the pressures of an academic career become such that any immense distraction (like pregnancy, child-birth, and caring for an infant) would ultimately spell our (my) demise.

The last 3 months have been the hardest months of my life, by far. I like to think that had I birthed a baby who slept all the time, and didn't cry for literal hours and hours each day, that I eouwo not be struggling to overcome postpartum depression right now. Maybe that is the case, but more likely, like so many women before and after me, I probably would have experienced it anyhow. The feeling of inadequacy, the anxiety over my own gealhe and that of my baby, the fear of doing too much, or too little, or the wrong thing altogether, taunt my every moment spent with this beautiful little child.

But things get gradually better as I begin to grapple with the reality that this is my life now. Sleepless nights, and days spent bouncing and nursing a baby who sometimes just won't be consoled, are the rule rather than the exception. And with the help of my family, friends, and my husband I am slowly becoming someone that I want to be around again.

Unfortunately, now that I begin to see the light at the end of the postpartum tunnel, the fact that my PhD comprehensive exams are fast approaching takes center stage in my mind, creating a whole new set of anxieties and concerns that had been waiting patiently to arise while my mind, body, and soul were otherwise occupied (keeping myself together enough to make it through each painful, colicky day). So, as one problem becomes manageable, so comes another.

But again, with the help of my family, friends, and my husband, I will be able to get through this as well, and find a way to read this stack of books on gender theory, childhood studies, and masculinity, while taking some very special time to enjoy my amazing, ever-changing, challenging, and increasingly spirited baby.

Sunday, February 4, 2018

New mom life (tales of a colicky baby and its overtired mother)

Seven and a half weeks ago I gave birth to a very lively, spirited, and loud little baby. The first three weeks were like heaven on earth. A week after giving birth we headed to visit our families up North for Christmas, and while I was tired (and sore...everywhere) it was a relatively non-stressful trip. I may have cried a little here and there, thanks to those postpartum hormones, but this beautiful child slept everywhere, ate like a little piggy, and captured everyone's hearts.

Upon returning home things started to get a little hairy. Our little, spirited, but largely happy baby started to cry... a lot. I know all babies cry, but this wasn't just crying. This was hours of inconsolable wailing that kept us up for the better part of the night trying to sooth - doing anything we could think of - singing, playing music ("Fat Bottom Girls" is one of the little one's favourites!), dancing, bouncing, rocking, and (for me at least) crying right along.

Apparently this is colic, and while I know it is fairly common (up to 40% of babies are diagnosed with colic every year, and Canada has the highest rate of colic of any 'developed' nation in the world) I never thought for a second that I would end up giving birth to a colicky baby. By the time we were in the fourth week of this little creature's life I had thrown out nearly everything that I used to believe about babies out the window. Granola momma no more, we introduced a bottle (because in the middle of the night, in the midst of crying fits, my breasts just won't do), started swaddling and using a soother, and took to taking long car rides in the late afternoon to ensure that at least some day-time sleep would take place. We even discussed switching to formula to see if that might help.  Earlier this week, in desperation, we went to the emergency room in the middle of the night, only leave shortly after checking in with the nurse for fear that if we stayed to see a doctor (it was predicted it would be hours before we could) then none of us would be getting any sleep that night.

As an academic, colic boggles my mind and frustrates me to no end. While on a personal level I am overwhelmed by the sad look on my little baby's face and the shrill cries that escape that little mouth, on a professional level, I am furious that colic is so completely over-researched and under-understood. I have spent hours (that I definitely should have been sleeping) after the cries finally end and sleep takes hold searching academic archives for an explanation of what causes colic, and unfortunately, there is no hard and fast answer. Maybe its gas, maybe it is a symptom of the "fourth trimester", maybe it's acid reflux, or caused by overstimulation, many theories, so little evidence to back any of it up.

But for the last few days things have gotten gradually better. After some of worst nights of my life, and some of the hardest days, a light is beginning to appear. I've stopped eating soy after reading that some babies have Milk and Soy Protein Intolerance (MSPI), and we are heading to see a pediatrician on Tuesday afternoon, which will hopefully shed some more light on what seemed just days ago like a pretty dismal situation. But right now my beautiful child is sleeping. And that honestly feels like some kind of miracle.

I am looking forward to the end of this ordeal. I want to get to know this little baby whose smiles light up my world, and whose cries break my heart. And I want to get back to doing things other than walking for hours (baby-wearing and long walks have become my best friends and worst enemies) and rocking and bouncing and crying. I want to start studying for my comprehensive exams, and start reading, and painting, and thinking about the future, rather than feeling trapped in the now.


Wednesday, November 15, 2017

To my future (privileged, white) child

I'm thinking a lot about what it will be like to raise my soon-to-be-baby in our (Western, contemporary) culture. As you may know, VOMD and I are expecting our first child in Early to Mid December. On top of the regular What to Expect type material, I have been reading a lot of books and articles about raising a critical, socially conscious, and culturally sensitive kid.

Many of the articles I have read are written by well-meaning white moms who are concerned that their kid will grow up racist unless they have friends from different cultural backgrounds at an early age. These types of articles are usually tagged alongside feel-good stories about a little black girl and a little white girl who think that they are twins - we've all seen that story on our Facebook feeds, I'm certain. But, recently I read a book called Nurture Shock, which addresses much of the new research into child psychology and development, which addresses the fact that raising your child in a culturally, ethnically, or racially diverse environment does not diminish the extent to which they hold biases later in life. It turns out that children naturally 'sort' people based on characteristics like gender attributes, skin colour, hair colour and type, and attire. It is not enough to raise a child to be colour blind in a colourful world. We need to teach them about injustice, race, ethnicity, religious diversity, and privilege.

So, here are 5 things that I need my future, privileged, white child to know, and that I hope that VOMD and I can teach them.

  1. You are so lucky to have been born to middle-class, white, educated parents. We call this privilege, which essentially means that you are given opportunities that many people are not, simply on the basis of the colour of your skin. 
  2. When people say that you are privileged, they are not insulting you, or implying that you did not work hard for what you've had. They are simply asking you to recognize that because of the world in which we live, your skin colour makes your life a little easier than it is for many others who were not born white. 
  3. You may love the clothing and practices of another culture or religion, but that does not mean that you can simply take what you like from them in the name of fashion. A bindi is not just a pretty decoration for your forehead; sugar skull makeup is not appropriate for Halloween; moccasins, and native head dresses are not just fashion accessories; dread locks are not just a hair style. These things have meaning for the people from whose culture they derive. 
  4. If someone tells you that they are hurt by something you have said or done, you should not be defensive - but rather, try to  see where they are coming from, acknowledge what you have done, and offer a genuine apology. 
  5. PC culture is not a real thing. Yes, some people take things too far and insist that you never have an opinion for fear of hurting someone's feelings, but for the most part when people call 'PC' they are saying that they should be allowed to be racist, sexist, and bigoted without consequence or public censure. While free speech is certainly an important right in both Canada and the United States, it does have its limits - and one of those limits is that if it is insulting to an entire group of people (especially one who has historically been put down by mainstream, white, Euro-centric culture), or incites violence (physical or otherwise) against anyone on the basis of skin colour, cultural heritage, religion, physical or mental ability, sexual orientation, or gender identity, then it is not acceptable.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Sexist. Racist. Vegan.

Sexism and racism within the vegan movement are increasingly publicized and criticized - and with good reason! I know you've probably read some account, written by a white vegan, that compares the treatment of animals to Jewish peoples, Black Americans or Canadians, or people living in non-industrialized, non-Western or Westernized places͓. Mainstream veganism is often centered on whiteness and the 'vegan community' is largely occupied by white folks who live in gentrified areas, and whose general attitude towards anti-racist sentiments is dismissive, at best, and racist, at worst.
Anti-feminist sentiment has also been recognized as a staple in the feminist movement – with organizations like PETA using images of scantily clad women, or women with their bodies written on to indicate cuts of meat, to ‘sell’ the idea of vegetarianism, veganism, and animal rights.There are also increasing numbers of vegan youtubers (like Vegan Gains, Freelee, and DurianRider) who get most of their views and likes for criticizing (mostly) women's bodies (not to mention Vegan Gains' tirade against Islam, and his crapping all over people who choose chemotherapy as a cancer treatment, rather than veganism. Freelee was right on board too...because they're clearly oncologists...right? Guess what! Vegans get cancer too! Sorry....I got a little off track).

I have spoken about this before, but I'll mention it again. When I went vegan everyone around me who was already vegan went on about how it was going to make me so healthy, how it was going to clear my skin, get me fit...etc. But going vegan actually triggered chronic acne rosacea, which I am dealing with to this day. Every time some vegan activist starts criticizing a non-vegan's body or skin, I admit I get a little hurt, because I do not fit their mold of what a vegan looks like. This is the case with so many young women in the vegan movement who are not thin. People like Freelee crap all over non-vegans who are 'overweight' and claim that going vegan will solve everything. So when a chubby girl goes vegan and doesn't drop the weight, how do you think that makes her feel?

Recently I've been increasingly confronting my own values, beliefs, and protest methods as I become more aware of issues faced by marginalized people, and more aware of the negative impact that certain animal advocacy methods can have on vegans and non-vegans alike.

Audre Lorde wrote this great essay called the Hierarchy of Oppression, in which she calls into question the notion that at any point she can see something from a single position - as a woman, as black, as a lesbian - and she finds that she cannot, because regardless of the topic at hand - black oppression, women's equity, homophobia - she is always all three.

Within the lesbian community I am Black, and within the Black community I am a lesbian.  Any attack against Black people is a lesbian and gay issue, because I and thousands of other Black women are part of the lesbian community. Any attack against lesbians and gays is a Black issue, because thousands of lesbians and gay men are Black.  There is no hierarchy of oppression. 

So many people I've spoken to in the vegan community, though they disagree with some of the methods used by folks like Vegan Gains, see the service they are providing as useful to the vegan movement. These hyper-macho, sexist, racist, folks appeal to a portion of the population who are unlikely to come to veganism due to the stereotype of the wimpy, feminine vegan man. So, to get them to stop eating animals hyper-macho vegans tell you that going vegan will make you better at sex! It will give you clear skin! It will make you thin (if you're a woman) or jacked (if you're a man)! And then they insult all these people that the hyper-macho non-vegan feels comfortable insulting - fat women, feminine men, followers of Islam...

How is it useful to empower a bunch of racist sexists to stop eating animals, when they continue to direct hate towards humans? There is no hierarchy of injustice, as Lorde tells us. And this applies to the vegan movement as well. Veganism is a gender issues, a race issue, a sex issues, a LGBTQA+ issue. If your methods further disenfranchise or harm an already marginalized group of people, then you are not doing the world any good. 

Happy Tuesday, everyone.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

What makes a woman?

*I want to preface this by saying that I do not claim to speak for all women, whether cis or trans or otherwise. This is a reflection on recent debates, discussions, and arguments that have taken place in academia and in the western world at large of late. The thoughts here are not fully formulated, particularly with regard the problem of science/biology as marker for legitimacy.*

Gina Rippon, a neuroscientist, among numerous other thinkers, scientists, doctors, and researchers, make the argument that the male and the female brain are indistinguishable.
Image result for male brain female brain
Yeah, believe it or not, this image is not accurate! 

While some research suggests that women may be less suited to spatial reasoning tasks, and men less suited to hearing high pitched noises, and multitasking, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests that these are learned and enculturated traits, not innate ones. Those of you who know me, know that I wrote my MA thesis on the problem of public washroom access for nonbinary folks - and the problems with the gender binary as understood by feminists more generally - and a lot of that work drew on Judith Butler, and before her, Simone de Beauvoir, both of whom argue that women are not born women, but rather become women --- though notably Butler's work is much more nuanced.

At the same time, there are some new radical accounts by trans activists and writers who write about being born in the wrong body - the claim being that one is, in fact, born a woman... that one is born with a certain brain, a certain personality, that is inherently 'woman'. And I see this as entirely valid as well. A few years ago there was a conference that Judith Butler attended where a trans woman stoof in front of a room full of feminists and gave a performance of a spoken word poem, at the end of which she exclaimed "fuck you, Judith Butler" (see Transforming Community Conference). This sentiment often stems from the interpretation of Butler's performativity, which is often misread as performance. Gender performance makes gender expression look like drag. Gender performativity, on the other hand, is more complex, and has to do with the sociality of gender as it is developed, solidified, negotiated, and so forth in our social and political contexts. Problematically, though, Butler's work and words have been used by trans-exclusionary radical feminists over the last decade or so to make arguments that exclude trans women from feminist politics, and which refuse to acknowledge the experiences of trans women as legitimate. This has been the impetus for the increase in biological arguments for being born a woman on both sides of the spectrum, with the trans-exclusionary folks arguing that if you are born with a vagina you are a woman and therefore can legitimately make claims to women's spaces and experiences, and on the other side some trans activists have made the claim that trans women are born women as a result of being born in the wrong body - that there is some biological, neurological differences that make them inherently women.

I think both of these arguments are harmful, and are skirting the key issue, which is that the gender binary is problematic to its core and demands of us that we fit, neatly, securely, within its narrow boundaries. It demands that we choose sides. And, given gender's historical relationship to sex in the western world, it demands that we make claims to our identities that are grounded in science, traditional notions of rationality, and biologicality. In doing what the binary demands, in making the arguments "I'm born a woman because I have a vagina" or "I'm born a woman because I have a female brain" we are playing into the trap, inadvertently reaffirming the thing which have for centuries kept us servile. It is deeply problematic that we must revert to biology for legitimacy. As so many feminists, people of colour, LGB, trans, and queer folks have been crying out for ages when (primarily white male activists or scholars seek to prove the existence of injustices, wrong-doings, etc. using science and statistics) "why can't you just trust my experience?!  Why must you prove these injustices?! Why is what I say not enough?!"

I was not born a woman. My vagina made the world treat me in a certain way, which likely had an impact on the behaviour I exhibit. And there are likely biological reasons that I cry more often than I yell, but the world decided that I was a woman, not me. It looks at me, my long hair, my breasts, my emotional demeanor, my clothing choices, my academic interests, and it says to me "that's what a a woman does".  As Beauvoir argued half of a century ago, the title of woman has frequently been used to keep those born with certain traits (physical and otherwise) within a confined box of expected actions, attitudes, and behaviours. As Butler argued half a century later, the binary itself - male/female, girl/boy, man/woman, is prescriptive more than it is descriptive. It tells not only women, but all of us, that in order to be legitimate we must not only behave in a certain way, but have certain body parts that line up with those prescribed behaviours.

There is nothing wrong with someone making a claim to womanhood on the grounds of their born identity, nor is there are  problem with making a claim to womanhood on the grounds of physical traits, nor is there a a problem with someone making a claim to womanhood on the grounds of discomfort/detachment/frustration with the gender prescribed upon them by birth. There seems to be, though, a problem with the use of biology as the determinant for legitimacy. You are a legitimate woman if you feel like a woman. Full stop. It doesn't matter what got you to that place - whether you were born that way, whether culture made you that way, whatever. You are legitimate. All women are legitimate. Trans women are legitimate women. All humans are legitimate. And someone having access to womanhood does not diminish your legitimacy as a woman. Inclusion or exclusion from feminist politics, or womanhood more generally, on the grounds of biological differences is counterproductive to the project I hope we all see as legitimate - calling into question, and tearing down, the patriarchal structures of the majority of the Western world which paint women, non-binary, LGBT, queer, and other non-conforming folks as other, as less-than, as not enough.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Some excuses not to vote (read: I was wrong)

I used to have a pin on my backpack that read: SHUT UP AND VOTE. When I was an undergraduate student at Nipissing University, pursuing my BA in Political Science, I started the habit of writing letters to the editor of our local newspaper, the North Bay Nugget (don't laugh) about political things that caught my attention. One year, I wrote this letter. I'm sharing it with you now, because I have increasingly become critical of a perspective that I once shared with a large proportion of the politically active community - the idea that there is no excuse to not vote.

Here is a direct quote from my letter:

"I timed myself this year, just to prove to a fellow student how silly he was for saying it was a waste of time. Including travel time by bus it took me 15 minutes and 16 seconds.

The average adult Canadian watches 28.8 hours of television a week. Which seems like a bigger waste of time to you?"

Man, what a cocky jerk, right? (especially coming from someone who definitely watches more than 28.8 hours of television a week) 

There are many legitimate reasons why one may not vote, and I am regretful of the shaming tone of the above letter. So, here is my apology.  I am sorry that I shamed non-voters. I am also regretful for my stance on the Occupy movement, which I now recognize as a laudable, and politically legitimate movement with a socio-political agenda that I strongly support. 

In response to that jerk who wrote the letter 6 years ago (I call her 'Old Cranky Jo'), here are some reasons that not voting totally makes sense: 

  1. While legally employers are required to give employees time to vote, asking for time off from your job to vote may lead to unfavourable backlash. Some people are also self-employed and for the good of their business, and to protect their livelihood, may not be able to take the time to vote within the limited timeline on voting day. 
  2. Voting stations are often inaccessible to people without vehicles or money for public transit.
  3. Those with mental, physical, and/or emotional 'dis'abilities may not be able, at any given time, to leave their home, let alone go to a voting station, stand/sit in a line for an extended period of time, and/or comprehend the voting process, how to vote, who they are voting for, etc. 
  4. Engagement in the democratic process may be difficult for those whose lives are dominated by other concerns - like health issues, familial or relationship obligations, childcare, employment, emergency overseas trips, and so much more.
  5. Some people may be politically motivated to abstain from voting. I've met some pretty rad anarchistic people recently who make a decent argument for non-engagement in a corrupt system as a political statement, and as an attempt to make themselves ungovernable. (I'm not on the same page, but I get where they are coming from)
  6. Education and access to information (or lack thereof) may result in disinterest and disengagement that is not willful. Don't think that this is accidental. Why do you think governments don't really seem to care when there are low voter turn-outs? The system which discourages your participation resulted in their power!
  7. There are plenty of people who feel as though not a single politician represents their views and values. It is notable that our public figures tend to be wealthy, white, male, English-speaking, of Western European descent, and at least slightly right leaning.
So, when I wrote that letter 6 years ago, I had not fully considered the implications of what I was saying. I was young, uneducated, and less critical than I am today. 

Thanks for hearing me out, folks.

Happy Monday, from a woman who makes mistakes, but is always learning! 


Friday, January 27, 2017

Ableism and virtual activism

For the last three weeks I have spent most of my time in front of the computer, curled up on the couch or in bed with a stack of dirty tissues on one side, and a glass of water on the other. Because of my sickness I have not been able to take to the streets with my fellow feminists and water protectors, and it has given me a strange sense of impostor syndrome that I normally only feel in the academic world.

But then I read this article about the disability march - a group of people from all over the continent and the world, despite physical or mental limitations, engage in the political practices of the majority from their homes.

I am critical of social media for many reasons - but for its capacity to allow people who can otherwise not get involved in politics to raise their voices, it is invaluable. (that said, access to the internet and social media is limited based on economics, geography, etc., but that is a conversation, perhaps, for another day).

There are many reasons that someone may not be able to physically be present at polling stations, marches, rallies, and protests. I keep hearing from my politically active friends: "shut up and vote"; "get off your ass and do something"; "so, where were you on the 21st?!" and so forth. This ableist attitude is harmful to a movement that seeks to overcome the American administration headed by President Cheeto Birdbrain who thinks it is appropriate to mock a disabled reporter (you all remember this, don't you?!)

Today there is a rally against Line 10 here in Hamilton - our Canadian PM is approving the destruction of indigenous land, and threatening the health and safety of our water. I will not be able to attend. But I am here, writing this post to say that though I - and many others - may not be physically present, our voices are being raised. We are writing letters to our MPs, we are calling their offices, we are signing petitions, we are sending money and supplies to water protectors, we are fighting alongside you, even though you cannot see us. I will eventually be able to leave my home and physically join in, but many others will not. Don't be an ableist by insulting the absent. Call on able bodied (and able minded) people to be present, and empower those who cannot to do what they can, to get involved in their own way.

Here are some resources for those who can't get out there, but are protesting the hell out of our leaders' injustices in whatever way they can: : A guide to safely existing and organizing in the virtual world : An article in the huff by a disabled activist with some very helpful tips on how to get involved : A legal guide for disabled activists (particularly those able bodied enough to be physically present - ie. what to do if you are arrested etc.) : Amnesty International's guide to effective e-activism

Please let me know if there are any great resources you think others should know about!

Happy Friday,