Captain! I’m detecting spoiler activity off the port bow!!

Star trekkin’ across the blogiverse

So I went and saw Star trek last night and thoroughly enjoyed it.

Spoiler warning! [OMG! OMG! I don’t want to read the spoilersclick here, be distracted by cute cat picture]

Firstly, let me preface this by saying that I enjoyed this movie so much that I’m seriously thinking about seeing it again at the movies. Something that I’ve never done before, ever.

I loved the way that they incorporated stuff from the existing Star Trek universe and original series (for example, Captain Pike was the name of the original Captain in the first pilot episode, and the original series included the green woman) and all the characters stayed roughly true to Gene Roddenberry’s vision (and Gene got posthumous character writing credits) but through the use of a niffy story line involving time travel, the events weren’t constrained by the existing Star Trek time line.  Nice (and, I’m inclined to think, frees the franchise up for future movies).  So bearing in mind that I loved it, I’ve got a bit of a beef about it.

(MOTH* gets frustrated at me, can’t I just enjoy things without having a feminist rant.  I don’t think this particular rant is all that feminist.  As a human being, and movie/TV show viewer this is something I’m getting sick of).

Why, why, why, do writers feel that the ultimate of emotional hooks to hang your drama off is  the pregnant wife?  Over used plot device much, but particularly in this movie.  One pregnant/birthing mother who is the motivation for Kirk’s father to sacrifice himself is not enough.  No the baddie of the piece had his own pregnant wife whose death provides the motivation for his evil twisted plans of death and destruction.  So movie watchers are not expected to believe that the chance to save 800 people in 12 minutes would be enough of a sacrifice for Kirk senior?  Or the destruction of his entire home planet is not enough motivation for Nero?  No images of pregnant women have to been incorporated for bonus extra emotional impact.  Well movie writers I’ve had enough.  I’m tired of it.  Be original will you.  Be clever and offer something different.

Maybe I’m just bitter cos the opening sequence had me tearing (as in water in my eyes, not ripping my ticket) up even though as I’m watching it, I’m thinking “this is complete bullshit! –  if all that chaos was happening around you while you are in labour, your labour would probably cease as your elevated stress levels would dampen the hormonal signals that control the process”.  They do that so often in movies, incorporate a completely implausible birth scenario just so some bloke can be the hero.  Tired of it!

Bonus points for those that can list in the comments other movies or TV shows that include a ridiculous birthing.

*MOTH – Man of the House.

It seems that people continue to go to extremes to ensure that they have a son

(Picture of one month old baby boy by Nils Fretwurst)

I found this story here.

Woman in India ‘has twins at 70’


A woman said to be 70 years of age has given birth to twins in India’s northern Uttar Pradesh state after taking IVF treatment.

Omkari maintains she was nine years old when the British left India in 1947, which would make her 70. Omkari Panwar has no birth certificate but if her age is proven it would make her the world’s oldest mother.

The twins, a boy and girl both weighing 2lbs, were delivered one month early by Caesarian section. Doctors said the twins were doing fine.

Now, we are very grateful to God, who has answered our prayers
Charam Singh, father of twins

“We already have two girls but we wanted a boy so that he could have taken care of our property. This boy and girl are God’s greatest gift to us,” Omkari said.

Father of the twins, Charam Singh, a farmer in his mid-70s, told ABC News he was very happy.

“The desire for a male child has always been there, but God did not bless us with a male child. Now, we are very grateful to God, who has answered our prayers,” he said.

I saw this headline and my immediate reaction was along the lines of ‘perhaps letting people in their 70’s have babies is a case of technology going to far?’ but upon reading the story I realised that in this case it was not about the desire to have a baby, per se, for after all the couple in this story already have two daughters and five grandchildren. What did this couple want so badly that they not only spent their entire life savings but also took out a bank loan? They wanted a son, a male heir to take care of their property -or what is left of it, seeings that they have got into debt and spent their savings in order to pay for the IVF. Logic is obviously not clouding their judgment in their deep desire to have a male heir, a desire I imagine that they have probably been nursing for over 40 years as they raised their girls. And apparently age is no limitation in this technological dystopia of ours. I say ‘dystopia’ because many women are discovering that technology does not allow everyone who wishes it to have children, fertility treatment is still a very hit-and-miss affair, and stories such as these about obviously post-menopausal women having babies, trivialises the experiences of those who cannot conceive and perpetuates the myth that science is the panacea that will solve our problems and deliver our wishes.

I imagine, as I really know next to nothing about this couple, that as they have gotten older and felt their approaching mortality, their wish for a male heir grew into desperation. Because having a baby, or indeed two, when you are in your 70’s would be no picnic, especially for the mother. Endless rounds of hormone injections and the exhaustion of carrying twins close to term, would not be an easy task, let alone taking care of the babies themselves once they are born. For this couple, the pressure desire to have a male heir must have been immense, if what they were willing to do to achieve this is any reflection. I envision that this desire to have a son was the result of socio-cultural and/or religious beliefs that almost necessitate having a male heir to carry on one’s family line. And this is far from being something unique to India.

The preference for sons over daughters is almost universal across cultures and is currently being acted upon in ways that are producing demographic distortions. (For details, here is the link to the comprehensive ‘Because I am a Girl’ report). The general birthrate is usually 95 girls per 100 boys (as infants, boys have a slightly higher mortality rate, so generally the differences in birthrate disappear by childhood), but in some areas (for example, South Korea, India, China, Bangladesh and Pakistan) the birth rate reflects this desire for a male child and as result there are 80 girls for every 100 boys. This is a reflection of several practices, prenatal testing to detect female foetuses – which are then aborted, female infanticide, and a neglect of girls – withholding food and/or medical attention.

In order to explain what I mean by demographic distortions let me share with you the number of women and girls missing, that is the additional females we would expect to be living in a given population if there was no discrimination. (Bear in mind that the population of Australia is roughly 21 million, just to put these numbers into to perspective) India is missing 23 million females, China – 30 million, Pakistan – 3.1 million, Bangladesh – 1.6 million, Egypt – 600 000, Turkey – 600 000, Nepal 200 000, and from the rest of the world we are missing some 40 million women. The shortage of women in areas such as China is leading to problems such as the kidnapping and trafficking of women. (See The Penguin Atlas of Women in the World, by Joni Seager, 2003).

Undergoing IVF treatment to ensure that one has a son is, unfortunately, just the most modern permutation of a very old practice. Since the beginning of (written) history MANkind has engaged in practices that reflect the preference for a son. I will leave you with this snippet of a letter written by a husband to his pregnant wife living in ancient Roman controlled Egypt, which reflects the practices of the time.

I beg and beseech you to take care of the little child, and as soon as we receive wages I will send them to you. If -good luck to you!- you bear offspring, if it is a male, let it live; if it is a female, expose it.” (from ‘Marriage, a history’, by Stephanie Coontz, 2005).

Pregnant Man gives Birth!

Meet Thomas Beatie a female-to-male transsexual who decided to fulfill his dream of having a baby. Thus when he was operated on to become male kept his reproductive organs in order to keep open the option of having children. While Thomas is not the first FTM transsexual to get pregnant and have a baby he is the first to go on Oprah and tell his story to the world. (Daddytypes.com has this story from the point of view of other FTM transsexuals)

The news today is that he gave birth (naturally) on the 29th June in Oregon and the father and daughter are doing fine.

This picture fascinates me. Thomas looks so manly, but that belly is no beer gut, and the way he holds his hand on it is so familiar to any woman who has been pregnant. What I also find interesting is Thomas’ views on his impending fatherhood (found here).

Quizzed about their roles after the birth of their child, Thomas and Nancy said they would be sticking to the current set-up, with Thomas as the dad.

He rejected suggestions that pregnancy might reawaken his maternal instinct.

I see pregnancy as a process and it doesn’t define who I am
Thomas Beatie

Thomas added: “I have very stable male gender identity.”

Wow! The radical feminist vision of reproduction not being tied to gender has come to fruition, (well maybe for a very small segment of the population, the FTM transsexuals who wish to have children, and who have opted not to make themselves sterile in the surgical transition from female to male). In the case of Thomas we have someone, who chooses to be male, who chooses to have (as in – carry in his belly and birth) a baby, and who chooses not to sees the two as being incompatible notions. For some time society has been able to understand that women who choose not to have children can be feminine, but we do seem to be in the midst of a culture which glorifies motherhood and pregnancy, so what are we to make of a pregnant and birthing father?

I know one father who I honestly believe would have loved to have been able to carry and birth one of his two children (if it were possible he and his wife would have carried one each as they made their little family). But of all the men I know he is probably the only one who can seriously entertain the idea that pregnancy and birthing, were it possible for men, would be an option that they would consider.

If men could have children would it raise the status of child rearing? Or would it remove the sentimental glorification of motherhood, or the devaluing and disrespectful contempt accorded the role of mother? I know it is a paradox, but I feel that motherhood is simultaneously loved and loathed. There exists a romanticism which makes it look attractive and almost inevitable for most women, but we also live in a culture in which mothering, caring and nurturing and not valued as being the worthy and necessary contributions to society that they are.

I personally don’t think that the ability of FTM transsexuals to carry and birth babies (and be, in some sense, both mother and father to the child) is going to threaten or revolutionise the dichotomous gender roles of our culture, but many people do. Apparently Thomas and Nancy had a lot of trouble finding a doctor who was willing to help them in their quest for Thomas to have a baby.

But what if technology did develop to the point where most men, and not just FTM transsexuals, could give birth if they so choose? What would the implications be for our society? Well obviously our culture would be engulfed in its own effeminacy and culture, reason, finance, adventure, aggression, intellect and all other areas which are the supposed domain of men would come to an abrupt halt and society as we know it would cease.

I don’t think so.

As indicated in my last sarcastic paragraph we as a culture have divided the world into binary categories and assigned virtues as being either masculine or feminine and given a corresponding cultural value. These which fall onto the masculine side of the dichotomy are valued more highly that those which fall on the feminine side. So we have mind and matter, culture and nature, intellect/reason and emotion, light and dark, active and passive, aggression and nurturing being equated (respectively) with masculinity and femininity. Now these arbitrary categories reflect the hierarchies and priorities of our culture, not biology or destiny. I would like to think that if men, as well as women, could give birth then we as a culture would realise that nurturing is not the exclusive domain of women. (Of course many people already realise this and as a result fatherhood is being appreciated, experienced and enjoyed differently to how it has been done in the past). I do not think that there is any trait which belongs exclusively to one gender, although our society emphasises some traits more in one gender over the other. This thought exercise, what would our world be like if men and women could have babies has been interesting for me, although I do not think that technology is anywhere near the point of being able to create that situation. As far as I am aware, scientists are not even certain what amniotic fluid is composed of and so are a long way from being able to create an artificial womb. Which is perhaps just as well, I really believe that the answers to our society’s problems are not going to be found in new and better technology but rather in changing the way we value or devalue the various aspects of our world.

Back in March, before I started blogging, when news of Beatie’s pregnancy broke bluemilk posted ‘When “mother” is just a biological social construct‘ and discussed the gender transgressions that are being committed.

A ‘Mother’s Choice’ (tick, tick, tick)

DI BAKER: Look, I knew I never wanted to push. I knew before I even met my husband so, it’s – girls plan for their perfect dream wedding. I planned for the perfect pregnancy.

I had meant to catch the 60 Minutes program on Sunday Night so that I could watch the story on childbirth entitled ‘Mother’s Choice’. Not at all because I trust 60 Minutes to help me make that ‘Mother’s Choice’, but because I was interested to see how they framed the ‘choices’. But I forgot and only caught the last half of it. When a friend of mine mentioned her displeasure at the story I decided that it was worth de-constructing. So rather than rely on my memory of the program (undoubtedly clouded by my emotional response to the story) I have dug up the transcript.

The story was presented by Tara Brown and introduced in the following terms,

There’s nothing unusual about women having babies. Understandably, though, every mother-to-be feels unique and, here, I’m speaking from personal experience. If all goes well, come October, I will be a mum for the first time. Soon, I’ll have to make that decision – how I want my baby delivered. These days, one in three Australian babies are delivered in an operating theatre. Caesareans are fast becoming the norm. Right at the other end of the spectrum, some women have their babies at home with no medical intervention at all – not a doctor or a midwife in sight. So, natural or the knife? Tonight, the intimate stories of women who’ve already made that difficult choice. And I should mention some viewers may find some scenes confronting.

So for starters giving birth is presented as a stark choice. ‘Natural’ is made to sound as though its done, home alone and sans medical support versus ‘the knife’. We are given the stats – ‘one in three’ which means ‘Caesareans are fast becoming the norm’. Ok so we completely ignore the experience of the majority of mothers who fall between the very few women in Australia who choose to give birth without a doctor or midwife present, and the one third of women who have a caesarean. It should be noted that not all caesareans are elected, (and this story conflates elected caesareans with medical emergency caesareans) a lot are decided upon during the course of labour, for the health of either the mother or the child. The experiences of the majority of mothers, vaginal birth in a hospital setting, is not even examined as one of a ‘mother’s choices’.

The story presents the opinions and birthing choices of four Australian mothers. Julie Heath, Georgia Sheahan, Tara Darlington and Di Baker. While Dr Michael Van Der Grien and Dr Garth Leslie give their opinions there were no midwives’ views in the program. Through out the story we cut to Julie Heath’s home birth. She is giving birth to baby number four and is quite confident of her ability to do so unaided by doctor or midwife, with only her husband present to catch the baby (in the intimacy of her own home surrounded by the TV crew). We are not told about the births of her other children, but we are informed that they live only a minute and a half from the hospital, in case any thing goes awry with this birth.

This birth footage is interspersed through the the story, the birth goes well and seems to be relatively quick and easy, and eventually we are given the proud parents’ reactions:

JULIE HEATH: It’s a girl.

BEN HEATH: Another bloody girl. Another bloody girl.

(And that’s really a topic for another day, but here’s the link to the ‘Because I am a girl report‘ if you are interested in the implications of being born a girl.)

TARA BROWN: The baby girl seems healthy… ..but there are anxious moments. Julie is worried by her own bleeding and calls for an ambulance. While the blood loss is not unusual they decide to take her and the baby to hospital for a check up. But sometimes it can be so much worse.

DR MICHAEL VAN DER GRIEND: Home births… ..when they go great are great. But when home births go wrong and you don’t have back up it can be a disaster.

TARA BROWN: And you are left to clean up the mess?

DR MICHAEL VAN DER GRIEND: Ah, yes.

Let us note the juxtaposition here. We are shown the home birth pool that Julie has used to give birth in, the water stained with her blood, just as Tara Brown starts to discuss the dangers in the ‘natural’ birth scenario with the doctor. We are not told what ‘mess’ the doctor has had to clean up but we are left with the image of a pool full of blood.

TARA BROWN: But Dr Van Der Griend believes in most cases, vaginal births and elective Caesareans are equally safe. While he prefers to deliver babies normally he thinks Caesars should always be available.

DR MICHAEL VAN DER GRIEND: I think a woman has the right for choice and I think in 2008 the safety of that as an alternative to a vaginal birth or a normal delivery is still… it’s on par with it. I think women should still have that as an option.

Now we have a paradox, we are subtly made aware of the danger of the natural birthing, but are reassured by our good doctor that caesareans are as safe as natural births. The doctor feels that all mothers-to-be deserve to have a choice, but that choice needs to include the option of an elective casarean. Georgia Sheahan made the choice to have a caesarean and admitted to Tara Brown that maybe she was “too posh to push” but she chose her C-section because she was concerned about the potential for things to go wrong.

GEORGIA SHEAHAN: I don’t like the idea of, you know, pushing something the size of a watermelon outside something the size of a golf ball. It just sounds awful and I didn’t want any part of it.

TARA BROWN: Georgia is part of a growing trend of women opting out of labour, giving Australia one of the highest Caesarean rates in the world. And it’s not just the pain. Georgia says too many things can go wrong with a natural delivery.

GEORGIA SHEAHAN: You know you can get a cervical prolapse, you can get tears, so there’s all those unpleasant things, from a mother’s point of view. But I was also terrified of things that can go wrong for the baby. You can have, you know, shoulder dislocation, you can have the cord wrapped around the neck and, at the end of the day, I wanted a child, not a childbirth.

The way the show presents women choosing to have a caesarean, it is almost as though they are choosing a procedure equivalent to having a tooth extracted. But a caesarean is major abdominal surgery and comes with its own risks, but the doctor informs us of these.

DR MICHAEL VAN DER GRIEND: You tend to lose a little bit more blood with a Caesarean section birth compared to a straightforward delivery. Your risk of infection or wound infection or urinary tract infection is higher. But all of those things, even though I’ve named them, are significantly low in my experience in a straightforward elective Caesarean section.

But Georgia doesn’t seem to be aware that C-section carries some risks for the babies as well, their limbs can be broken as the babies are pulled from their mother’s stomach.

TARA BROWN: And for the babies, some delivered by Caesarean need special care to help with their breathing. This little boy, just five minutes old, is no exception.

DR GARTH LESLIE: That’s right, a few big breaths, that will help.

TARA BROWN: But paediatrician Dr Garth Leslie isn’t too worried. Is that a consequence of having a Caesarean or do you see the same in natural deliveries?

DR GARTH LESLIE: You see the same in natural deliveries but its a bit more common after a Caesarean because they haven’t been… ..had their lungs squeezed down through the pelvis during the labour process.

Tara Darlington had four children, her second, due to a medical emergency, was born via caesarean. For her this was not an experience that she would care to repeat.

TARA DARLINGTON: It was much harder bonding. I mean, I was laid up in hospital for longer. It was harder to carry him… So if it saves your life what can you say but if it wasn’t necessary I wouldn’t choose it.

Her attitude is in sharp contrast to that of Di Baker.

DI BAKER: In order to keep everything intact, um, I wanted to have a great sex life, I wanted to enjoy intimacy with my husband and have total fulfilment.

TARA BROWN: Well so when you say “keeping everything intact”, what do you mean exactly?

DI BAKER: It is like the unspoken myth, women don’t want to talk about it. Things certainly have to open up for baby to have to pass through and things don’t necessarily remain intact down below.

This is the part of the story that I found the most disturbing, she puts these ‘myths’ out there and these are not really corrected or explored, although Tara Darlington does say that her own sex life hasn’t been affected by the birth of her four children. What is disturbing here is the fact that whomever her doctor was they have agreed to give her a caesarean on the basis of something that is unlikely to happen. While we are discussing myths, there are also rumours that giving birth vaginally can have the opposite effect, it can give a birthing mother the biggest orgasm of her life (I can’t think of why ’60 Minutes’ didn’t explore this ‘unspoken myth’) In the circle of mothers I know it’s not the giving birth vaginally that has affected their sex life it is the looking after the baby!

There are so many demands on mothers in our culture and continuing to look sexy and nubile while managing to bring up your offspring is now one of them. The modern mummy is expected to remain ‘yummy’ and this subtle pressure on women to remain ‘intact’ and to undergo unnecessary surgery is something I find very disturbing.

This story focused on two ways to give birth, ‘naturally’ or with the knife. The story contained no exploration on giving birth vaginally in a medical setting, either in a birth centre or a delivery suite, and no mention of independent midwifery. So for a story ostensibly about a mother’s difficult choice we certainly are not given a clear picture of all the available options. According to this ‘expose’ ‘a mother’s choice’ is presented as being between danger (home birth without help) and vanity (choosing a caesarean because you are too posh to push). The subtle message seemed to be that with choices like that it seems that women would better off letting their doctor choose for them. (Some examples of the ways some doctors respect their patient’s choice are provided here by Lauredhel).