Category Archives: being queer

New moon, new season, & new placement!

Today feels pretty special.

It’s a new moon in Pisces AND it’s the spring equinox. A new moon and a new season, and – even though I couldn’t see it because of the clouds – that moon totally passed in front of the sun a couple of hours ago giving us a total solar eclipse.

It is against this perfect backdrop of potential that I start my labour ward placement, with my first of three night shifts tonight.

I’m pretty excited.

The end of February marked the half way point of my training, but I didn’t feel able to take stock and celebrate at that point. I still had an exam looming, taking up all my energy, and there didn’t seem much to celebrate. It was hard. Then once the exam was done the last week of teaching rolled into the first week of placement with only a weekend to pause. But a happy accident with the rota meant my first shift on the week wouldn’t be until the Friday night – tonight – giving me the gift of this week to reflect.

I have spent the week getting ready. Spring cleaning the house, sorting through my record collection and my zine collection. Finding new homes for the things I don’t need. Getting the garden ready to grow vegetables, planting seeds indoors and crowding them on to the tiny sunny window sill in the living room. Clearing out our converted basement so my housemate and I can use the space to do yoga in there together because it is hard to survive & thrive as a midwife with the little core strength I have. Getting a new vacuum cleaner and being impressed and horrified and the amount of dust and cat hair it sucked up in its first trip around our little two bed terrace house. Creating physical space and in the process creating head space for what comes next. Which got me to a place where I could look back on how far I have come.

It can feel a bit like I have had to move heaven and earth to simply get to a point where I could start, and then continue, to train to be a midwife. Quitting my stable job with the local authority to go back to college. Moving to another city to be closer to campus and the hospital. Another house move and then another to finally put down roots in a house share with another student midwife that will see us through to the end of our training. The end of an unsupportive long term relationship which resulted in a loss of queer community for the best (worst) part of a year.

But I haven’t had to do it alone. Each time I moved house, I moved into a new home with friends. Countless friendships with both midwives and non-midwives have been there to help me when I needed to either talk more or think less about midwifery. One friend provided a one-woman pep squad to cheer every time I wrote a blog post, after months of talking about how I was gonna start writing about the way my politics and my practice inform each other. The end of the unsupportive relationship gave space for my other, more important romantic relationship to flourish as it became my only one. I’ve had family both in this city, and on the other end of a skype call when I have needed them. I’ve also been lucky enough to have several excellent hair cuts during this time. It has been hard. But it hasn’t been impossible.

But I needed this week, and the space it allowed me to make, to realise that.

How do we get midwifery research out of this heteronormative rut?

So whilst I am here writing posts about how we need to stop thinking that all the pregnant people we are caring/all people accessing reproductive healthcare around pregnancy are automatically women, on the other side of the looking glass I am training in a heteronormative world where we haven’t even got to that thought and are still referring to “fathers” rather than partners when we talk about the non-birthing partner.

I tend to use the word “partner”, with the phrase “partners of any or no gender” tripping off my tongue unless we are talking about something that *specifically* concerns non-birthing partners who are male. In which case I say “male partner”. Some other (student) midwives do this, but many just say father.

This week I went to a lunchtime event where researchers showcased their ongoing or current research around the theme of “involving partners and fathers”, and I had hoped from this wording that this would be a showcase that didn’t centre father’s experiences.

And the presentations were good! Important work is being done! But it is focussing on the experiences of fathers. After hearing the researchers speak, I realised that one of the problems we have – even *if* we talk in terms of partners so as not to centre the experiences of fathers and erase all others – is that so much of the research done into non-birthing partners/non-birthing parents is specifically research into “fathers”.

Researchers set out a hypothesis specifically about some aspect of fathers’ role in pregnancy/birth and then recruit fathers into the study and then publish this research and then there we have it, another piece contributing to the body of work that erases the experience of non-male partners, contributing to the heteronormativity of midwifery care. Another piece of research that because of its design can only be applied to fathers – despite the fact that the experiences of fathers detailed within the study may well also be the experiences of non-birthing partners of any or no genders.

I raised this point at the end of the presentations – my concern that research into partners was very heteronormative – stressing that I didn’t think it was any one researcher’s responsibility to fix, but that by continuing the centre research on “fathers” rather than partners of any or no gender, the problem perpetuates. There were a couple of points in response, the first being that it’s because male/female partnerships are traditional, and pointing to a growing minority of research into the experiences of same sex partners.

I am of course aware that heterosexual relationships are traditional. That’s not a justification for seeing them as the only relationships. Regarding the research being done into the experiences same sex partners;  it’s welcome, of course, but that is a separate point, and doesn’t get you off the hook limiting research into fathers when it could be framed as the experience of any partners. Because whilst I imagine same sex partners do have unique experiences (stemming largely from systematic homophobia?) which should totally be researched so practice can be improved, I bet they also share a lot of experiences as non-birthing partners with the fathers that we see so much (comparatively speaking) research about. And also, do you really think by covering fathers and same sex partners that we have covered everyone? Because I have some thoughts on the (falsehood of the) gender binary that you might find interesting…

Until those researching the experiences of fathers stop and ask themselves – is this really something that needs to be specifically limited to fathers, or can I ask the question more generally of partners of any or no gender – then this problem is not going to go away. If anything it’s going to get worse, as the existing body of work about “fathers” available each time someone embarks on a literature search at the start of a new project is gonna grow and grow.

I’m not a researcher (yet), so I imagine their are complexities to this I may be missing. Like what happens if we say we are studying the involvement partners of any or no gender but then only fathers come forwards to participate – can we still generalise our results? But surely it’s better make a commitment to moving away from heteronormativity, and to tackle these questions as them come up? To at least start ?

Specialist butch pregnancy wear from Butchbaby & Co – Good Bye Maternity, Hello Alternity!

I spend a lot of time thinking about pregnancy and birth, often through a queer lens, so I was pretty excited to hear about US-based Butchbaby & Co, a new enterprise between Vanessa Newman & Michelle Janayea, with the tagline “Don’t change, just because your body does.
The first ever alternity wear for pregnant masculine, transgender, and queer individuals.”
recite-yz6boi

Their philosophy is that “Comfort is essential. Not a luxury. Pregnancy can be scary for anyone. But when you don’t fit the prototype for average, feminine woman, the experience can be less accommodating and even scarier. Butchbaby & Co. is designed to provide holistic comfort to one’s clothing and one’s lifestyle throughout the pregnancy experience. We strongly believe no individual’s identity should change just because their body does.”

I’m not butch myself, but I recognise there are going to be people who present masculine of centre, or who are just straight up masculine, who are gonna need clothes to wear during pregnancy. It makes me so happy that these two are making the clothes they want, not only for themselves but for people like them. And I really like the shifting of ‘maternity wear’ to ‘alternity wear’ – the kind of language hacks I want to see more of to shatter the idea that pregnancy is inherently womanly or feminine!

The expected due date (ha!) for the first collection is autumn 2015, and they are are planning an initial line of 8 items, comprising of:

  • Nursing T-shirt
  • Oxford button-up
  • Jeans
  • Pullover sweater
  • Zip-up hoodie
  • Sweatpants
  • Boxer briefs
  • Nursing sports bra

They are just starting out, so you can subscribe to updates through their website at http://butchbaby.co/. I am excited to see how their baby grows!