Monthly Archives: December 2010


I dented:

I had a baby. There. That’s my year in review post! (I’m enjoying everyone else’s.)

A year ago I was already been monitored several times a week in case rising blood pressure resulted in a sick fetus. That started on Boxing Day. A year ago I was keeping a secret pregnancy blog, and in January I created a new tag “over-fucking-due”. (OK, yes, technically “post dates” but since induction came up for me from 38 weeks onwards over-fucking-due was the appropriate sentiment.) Here’s some thoughts from that:

January 6: Hornsby’s hospitalisation time for mothers who had a vaginal birth and don’t have post-birth complications is 48 hours. If I’m induced Monday and Janus is born that day, then this time next week I will likely be home with him. This time next week.

January 9: My mental model of being overdue (I am not, but in a few days will be) was that women mostly hate it because it’s like being nearly due but not fair. For me though, things have actually changed for the worse over the last couple of days.

January 9: I have decided that Monday or early Tuesday morning would be optimal baby-having time, because the hospital is airconditioned and I would like to lounge around in a private room for the Tuesday heatwave. Let’s make it happen, Janus. Thank goodness I don’t live in Adelaide.

January 10: Meanwhile, waiting for labour: exactly as boring for me as it has been for every other pregnant woman in the history of the universe. I’m convinced the whole having sex with your acupuncturist while mainlining habeneros and raspberry leaf tea and constantly going for long walks thing is just to stop the revolution. The revolution that would inevitably happen if post-dates women were left to their own devices.

January 11: I trundled off for an ultrasound this morning. I don’t know the exact results. She said the placenta looked ‘mature’, undoubtedly that’s not an entirely positive thing. The amniotic fluid looked fine. The computer estimated his weight at 4kg almost exactly. I have no idea how the blood flow measured up, it took her forever to do it because he was playing with the cord. The exact prognosis will have to wait on the doctors tomorrow.

Apparently he has hair.

Oh good times, especially as he wasn’t born until a week and a half after all that. The only fun bit was talking about all of the silly self-induction advice. There’s a stand-up routine in there somewhere. (Also January 11′s heatwave was nothing on that of January 24, which reached 43℃… and! yes! I was in hospital!)

However, on reflection, I think I was wrong. In fact, the thing, the single thing, about 2010 was becoming a mother. The specificity of being Vincent’s mother isn’t confined to this year. And for all that another child would be a strange mystery and unexplored territory, I would be doing it as a mother already. I’ve been in places like that now, just not necessarily in the same company.

In 2010, I became a mother.

Reverb 10: Community, Beautifully Different, Party

Community. Where have you discovered community, online or otherwise, in 2010? What community would you like to join, create or more deeply connect with in 2011?

The Geek Feminism community has been my big community in 2010 (and late 2009). It leaks nicely into the personal, expanding my undead army of feminists, and of friends.

In 2011, I really hope to make more contact with other parents of young children. I’m picky about this, I probably basically want to hang out with feminist parents, but I live in an uncongenial location physically.

Beautifully Different. Think about what makes you different and what you do that lights people up. Reflect on all the things that make you different – you’ll find they’re what make you beautiful.

Saving this kind of question for therapy?

Actually, being snarky is all too common. I find this question really hard: I am much more able to identify things that I share with other people than ways I differ from them. Here’s some things that are different about me, I suppose beautiful is in the eye of the beholder:

  • I’m extremely tall for a woman.
  • Despite being born and raised in Australia (by parents who were likewise, but it doesn’t matter much for accent) I do not sound Australian to people who live here, and constantly have awkward conversations about where I’m from.
  • I am quite fearful of heights, but am and always have been perfectly happy in deep water. (Except, just once, watching divers descend in extremely clear water, as it looked like they were falling.) I do not find spiders, snakes or sharks especially scary either.
  • I need (or vastly prefer) a couple of hours of screen or book time a day for relaxation purposes.

I honestly cannot answer a question about what I do that lights people up.

Party. What social gathering rocked your socks off in 2010? Describe the people, music, food, drink, clothes, shenanigans.

I conceived and threw what I called “Party of Three”, which was in May celebrating Andrew’s third decade, Vincent’s third month, our third year of marriage, and becoming a family of three. Excellent conceit: I can’t think that I can repeat the pattern for anyone’s fortieth. We went to Shark Island as for Andrew’s twenty-first and had a slow picnic in the heat of an autumn day. It was beautiful.

I don’t know where I will be living this time next year, possibly not in Sydney at all. So it’s good to take advantage of the harbour while we’re here.

Self-guided diving

I went scuba diving yesterday. I normally dive in and around Sydney, which is coolish temperate water (20℃ yesterday, ranges are 16–23℃ over the year) and provision of dive guides for everyone on the boat is fairly standard at least with the shops I dive with. It’s quite common to meet people with 20 to 30 dives experience who have never dived only with a buddy.

Andrew and I were thrown in the deep end with Queensland diving. We learned to dive in Thailand, which many people don’t recommend (because the diving is comparatively easy) but I do recommend (because… the diving is comparatively easy, so you don’t get scared off as much). We then did a single dive in Sydney and then Advanced Open Water and then a liveaboard off Cairns, on which every diver was expected to self-guide.

And ever since then I’ve preferred it. Reasons:

  1. Yesterday, I dived in a group. I got kicked in the face with fins twice, and kneed in the head once. I also think I kneed someone else in the head or back. Divers have a restricted field of vision and are somewhat awkward about turning. Tangles are hard to avoid.
  2. Yesterday, our group was eight people. We were queuing to see anything interesting. If that interesting thing was in motion, the last six people didn’t get to see it.
  3. Queues go double if half the divers have cameras with them. (Some photogs believe they should go last, since they will look for so long. Some believe they should get first look, so as not to have other divers in the shot.)
  4. I try not to get too uptight about purist diver sentiments, in which you must do the hardest reasonably accessible dives and diving style in order to be considered safe or respectable and so on, but I have enjoyed forcing my underwater (landmark based) navigation to improve by not following a site expert around.
  5. Some dive guides (not yesterday’s) are really bad at their job. They won’t turn back when someone’s air is low-ish, they get lost themselves. (Divemasters are often backpackers, not necessarily local experts.) Sometimes their air consumption is worse than mine. There’s nothing less fun than chasing down Speedy the Dive Guide to say you’ve reached the agreed air mark, and to use another 10% of your original air in the chase.
  6. It’s rare that they communicate the details of the dive plan. “We’ll look at the sharks,” is one thing. I dive tables, not computers, and I need to know that there will be a loop back past the boat in time for my timed dive ending (I usually run out of time before air, on air tables). And I hate the practice many dive guides have of reviewing everyone’s air about three quarters of the way into the dive and signalling to people to re-buddy with air matches. My buddy is my spare air, I want to have talked with them before the dive at the very least, and to have the same buddy throughout the dive, not to be paired with Air Matched Random Diver.

Sometimes a guide is unavoidable, for example, in the Similan Islands there are so many boats around, each launching multiple dinghies with outboard motors. And groups aren’t such a nuisance in the tropics, as the vastly improved visibility means that you aren’t all on top of each other. But generally speaking I’m happy diving in pairs.


From August to October this year my family was in a bad way. Our baby started at childcare, and he brought home very nasty short-term illnesses week after week after week. (Even people familiar with this phenomenon thought we had an unusually unlucky run of it, it was something like seven respiratory illness and three rounds of gastro.) There were weeks that none of us were out of bed for long. There were weeks we didn’t sleep. There were many times when we were all sick simultaneously and had trouble feeding ourselves.

Various people have said they wished they could help, or is there anything that could help next time, so I thought I’d toss some ideas out there.

Important note: I am not asking for these things now. We’ve been well for a couple of months and are doing OK! I’m providing them for reference in case you need to help another friend who is caught in a mess of family illness or severe stress or similar. I realise that almost all of these require money: if you don’t have money or time to help someone a card or note is appreciated, I think!

I think the main problems were decisions and planning, frankly. If in order to accept an offer of help, I needed to look at a calendar and cross-match with someone else’s calendar, plan a menu, write up the baby’s feeding and care needs, it was too much work. At times I was literally cognitively incapable of that kind of reasoning due to utter exhaustion.

Finally, you do have to ask if your help would be appreciated, but I think the thing to do is to present a pretty concrete plan. Eg, “I want to help by ordering you some ready-made meals from the supermarket for delivery tomorrow. Any allergies, diets or food preferences I should keep in mind? Also let me know if it’s a totally bad idea, or if there’s another way to help.”

Stuff that might have been helpful, given that:

  1. ordering groceries to be home-delivered to us, especially if we didn’t have to plan the menu! Just simple meal staples that could be boiled or stuck in an oven or toasted. Since we don’t have many geographically local friends, this was probably more practical than cooking food and dropping it off. You can order groceries online around here, good stuff.
  2. likewise ordering takeaway meals, except harder if anything to order online.
  3. perhaps paying for extra childcare for a day or two (although almost all of them don’t take sick kids, so it would have had to be during an interlude). For a child in existing daycare like Vincent, their existing centre can often take them for extra days if paid for. For reference this would have cost about $70 a day I think (we get some government benefits towards it) and we can’t afford it ourselves.
  4. paying for a two-hour house clean.
  5. simple treats, like wine or chocolates.

Stuff we didn’t find very useful, with reasons. Not to make anyone feel guilty, but to perhaps help decide whether to offer these things:

  • “We’ll look after him!” For various reasons we were often unable to take advantage of this. We generally didn’t want to give someone else what we had. Or it involved a lot of careful calendar planning and comparison in return for half an hour of babysitting. If I need to spend an hour planning the babysitting for an hour of babysitting, it isn’t as helpful. This might work better if you have long periods of time available. And, sadly, if you are not an experienced child carer, a sick baby with sick parents is probably not the place to start.
  • “Come and stay with us! We’ll do all the work while you relax!” Firstly, we were too sick to drive for other than a very short period of time, and the people making this offer were some hours away. Secondly, when we did take it up, Vincent got very sick away from good medical care and was distraught at the destruction of his routine. He also wanted me to do most of his care. Obviously that was partly bad luck. But travelling with a sick baby is a pain in the neck, so this could be hard to arrange unless you live conveniently to each other.
  • General offers of visits: we were worried about getting people sick, or having to cancel because we were, our house was a mess, we didn’t have any food to offer them, and all the hours I had free from sickness and sick-baby-ness I was spending catching up on work commitments that people were screaming for. I suspect this varies a lot, many people are badly in need of contact with the outside world in this situation.

On that last, maybe keep an eye out for a drop in Chicken Little-ness from your friends, and visit, or invite them to a low-key local outing when the immediate pressure is off. One can emerge from these things with distinctly fewer social contacts, if they’ve gone on for long enough.

Reverb 10: Wonder, Let Go, Make

Wonder. How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

Largely by attempting to understand the perspective of my baby son. Again with the baby!

But really, this was brought home by a visiting midwife in my postnatal checks who said that a newborn is experiencing hunger, thirst, temperature, touch, many sounds and many positions all at once in the same few days. So I began by talking to him, and agreeing that it was a strange strange world he’d found himself in. And later, it became a game of trying to understand what it’s like to never be bored because everything is new. And later again, to have to infer rules from first principles. Why can you chew on food, and on many brightly coloured plastic things (toys), but not most other things? How can you explain the “what you can’t chew on” rules succinctly.

Plus, for example, babies doesn’t know about nudity and clothing, they don’t know that your nose is shaped just like food but is not meant to be bitten, they don’t know not to touch faeces, they don’t recognise a difference between food and dirt.

So, it’s been rather easy to keep in mind that the world is a strange place, this year.

Let go. What (or whom) did you let go of this year? Why?

I was anticipating these things, but I can’t do any of the following now:

  • propose a spontaneous late night wander with my husband, and execute it a minute later
  • have a conversation with my husband in a normal tone of voice while we’re both occupying the same room
  • sleep all night (I’ve slept through about ten nights since V was born)
  • leave the house within two minutes of the idea occurring

It’s got to the point where it’s going to be strange to have some of that return.

Make. What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

Sticking to physical things, what I tend to make is food. The last food I made for pleasure rather than necessity was, I think, burnt butter biscuits for the picnic in memory of my grandmother. And I’m failing to execute a plan to make rum balls right now.

That said, “clear time for it”? This set of prompts seems to be rather in the “empower yourself” mold. I’m not making rum balls right now because I need downtime after deaths and illnesses in the last week, not because I’m failing to organise my life sufficiently well. This year, my life has organised itself around disasters and stressors. Making time for things was a recipe for disappointment in 2010.

A unicorn races around the world before the truth has got its boots on

Background: the Haecksen miniconf is a one day event at Australia’s Linux conference in January highlighting women and women in Open Source tech and community. It’s been running since 2007: I was the one who founded it (under the name “LinuxChix miniconf”, it was changed by Joh Clarke for the January 2010 event).

The current logo of the miniconf is of a unicorn driving a robotic Tux penguin (the latter being the logo of Linux), you can see it at the Haecksen miniconf site. This year’s organiser Lana Brindley planned to sell t-shirts for the event, which had the text:

[yōo-nǐ-kôrn'] noun
1. A fabled creature, represented as a horse with a single spiralled horn.
2. metaphor A person who is believed to be non-existent, and worthy of note if spotted in the wild, such as a woman working with technology.

There was a small Twitter storm in which the shirt was judged sexist, here’s a short sample:

For some reference on the in-jokes the unicorn reference is to the Unicorn Law: If you are a woman in Open Source, you will eventually give a talk about being a woman in Open Source.

The organisers of the Haecksen miniconf are always to date affiliated with LinuxChix and are women in tech and friends of women in tech. I guess the problem, certainly unanticipated by me without hindsight, is that there’s very little precedent for Open Source conferences to have such a woman-friendly sub-community that they’re going to be adopting the language of unicorn-ness for the purposes of mocking the straightforward sentiment and adopting it in a kind of reclamation.

What was meant: A whole conference of us! Are you going to treat us like unicorns now huh? We have horns you know…

I’m sorry that Lana faced a tweetstorm over it, it’s much too harsh for the lesson. The miniconf has been selling insider t-shirts since 2007 (the 2007 shirt was “At this year’s, stand out from the crowd”, with an image of a women-figure of the toilet door type standing in a line-up with man-figure shapes, which wouldn’t necessarily be read as friendly either). This year the attention to sexism at conferences has risen enough that it came to the attention of not-insiders who nevertheless care about women-in-tech and are watching out for sexism.

I suppose this suggests for future events (women-in-tech ones generally, not Haecksen miniconfs in particular) that designs and publicity should be run by some outsiders for a “will this sound like a serious endorsement of sexist sentiments?” check. Not only because of the impression left on folks on Twitter, but the potential impact on attendees too. If this was my first ever… I don’t know how I’d read that shirt.

Lana: sorry about what happened, it’s never nice to be in the eye of a Twitter storm, especially when your intent was to do good and you had consulted plenty already. If the spotlight had come on us in 2007 I bet I would have had the same problem.

On a related note, I grow increasingly tired of the 140 character limit on tweets, I think it contributes badly to situations like this. It’s hard enough for apologies/explanation to catch up with something that bugged people without having to eke them out 140 characters at a time with five replies coming in in between each tweet. But then, as everyone who has ever had anything to do with my writing will attest, 140 characters is not my genre.

Reverb 10: One Word, Writing, Moment

One Word. Encapsulate the year 2010 in one word. Explain why you’re choosing that word. Now, imagine it’s one year from today, what would you like the word to be that captures 2011 for you?

“Vincent”, of course.

Vincent’s birth was interestingly timed in terms of the way I divide my life; slightly more than ten years after my relationship with Andrew started. So, 2000–2009 were relationship years, and very early in 2010 I had Vincent.

I thought about “mother” as well, but it seems too general to say that. Perhaps the word of 2010–2019 might be “mother”, but this year has been specifically about Vincent. 2009 was generalities about parenting and babies: what was it like, were we ready, would we make it? And this year has been more about answers. The answers are Vincent.

Next year’s word, I hope, will be “Doctorate”.

Writing. What do you do each day that doesn’t contribute to your writing — and can you eliminate it?

You know, I think right now, each day, I do exactly as much writing as I want to be doing.

What I need to be doing is more sitting around in the evenings in pyjamas snarking at the television with Andrew. What’s stopping me doing that? Earning money. Can I eliminate earning money? No. I need to finish my PhD though and move earning money to daylight hours.

Moment. Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors).

The hospital where I had Vincent discouraged fathers from staying all night, unless the baby had been born very late. Vincent was born at about 4pm, and after I had been stabilised and finally transferred to the ward with Vincent, Andrew went home at 11pm or midnight.

Vincent had had several good breastfeeds in the delivery room, but newborn babies sometimes do not feed much for the first 12 hours or so after birth. And indeed, in the ward he initially didn’t feed much. I lay half-dozing in my hospital bed, bathed in the light of a green LED attached to my otherwise dark television set. Vincent slept, wrapped up tight, in a plastic cot to my left within arm’s reach. I smelled sweat, mostly, and looked at him.

Every few hours he would call softly, like a peep or a mew and I would pick him up and put him to the breast, which he would sort of explore for a moment and then go peacefully back to sleep. At some points, I left him to sleep on my tummy.

Your women’s networking event; mothers need to plan

This post is inspired by a specific event, but I have contacted the organisers privately with a specific complaint/suggestion, so I’m not posting this publicly to slam them, or naming them here. But I think the ideas are more generally useful.

If you run career networking events for women (or anyone! but it’s more obvious if they’re targeted at women) you need to make it possible for mothers to attend them. Not all women are mothers, but a substantial fraction are.

How can you do this? Well, childcare for children from 0 to 12 or so would be awesome, but I realise it’s expensive and logistically difficult (certified safe space, insurance, qualified carers in the right ratios…). Here’s something that isn’t: specific advance publicity. That is, publicity that announces date, time (start and finish, or at least finish of the formal bit, eg “6pm to 8pm with socialising until whenever!”) and location. Because here’s what a mother will have to do:

  • there’s good odds a mother needs to be sure someone else will care for her child during your event. That someone else might be a co-parent who has a life of their own to plan, or it might be a non-household member (same) or a paid carer who needs to be booked (and budgeted for!) in advance
  • if your event is on a day when she does care, she will probably need to dress especially for your event
  • if your event is on a day when she does care, she will probably have to travel especially for your event

The appropriate minimum notice period is at least a week.

As a bonus, this is also helpful to part-time workers, unemployed people and students, all of whom all have to dress especially and travel in order to attend most networking events, and busy people, for that matter, and people who work in casual-dress jobs.

A slight tangent, but something else I wish networking events did: be more specific about the catering. So many go from, say, 6pm to 9pm and specify something about a “light meal”, which in the extreme can constitute a couple of spring rolls per person. I’m a long-term breastfeeder, at the height of production I’ve had to eat something like five substantial meals in a day. Even before I was pregnant, I ate good sized dinners. I understand that your event likely won’t have a full sit-down meal, but I’d much rather get info like “light snacks will be provided, there’s a food court at $address if you want to eat beforehand” than “our sponsors are catering a meal! awesome $sponsor!” when it turns out I will need to leave early (in tears, because noise and hunger overwhelm me) and buy a whole second meal at 9pm.