Have We Gone Soft?

You might be delighted that to know that I have left

Because two activities that I have been involved in over the past week have made me question the embarrassing invalidity of our first world problems and how passive we are about things that we should be fighting against. (Nauru, anyone?) And as much as I detest the modern term of “snowflake”, sometimes I do wonder if, as a culture, we simply can’t be bothered to do much of anything these days, least of all fight for causes that are important. And I defy any woman watching the second season of The Handmaid’s Tale not to have questioned 1) ‘what if?’ as she watches those terrifying scenes of patriarchy-gone-mad and 2) whether she’d be an Offred or not.

I’m not pointing the finger. I haven’t been to too many rallies lately and it’s easy to think you can change the world by tapping a few accusing words on a computer, but I hope that I can sow a seed at the very least.

It’s not all bad. There have been certain historical moments over the past few years that have eased my guilt about being a bit of a couch potato when it comes to throwing my weight behind political change: the fight for same-sex marriage, the fight of the high school kids in the US for gun control, the #Metoo movement, and only this week in Australia we heard VICTIM Saxon Mullins speak out about her RAPE – an incredibly brave decision that may actually contribute to changing the laws around consent. In fact, it’s when I hear about such extraordinary stories of courage, I wonder if the rest of us take too much for granted. Perhaps we are entitled? Perhaps that’s why mental illness is on the increase? Perhaps we have gone soft?

What I like to texamples of unity such as these serve to demonstrate that we are prepared to stand up for our rights, when necessary, but what about standing up for the rights of others?

I packed those birthing kits on Saturday for the tiny percentage of women in Africa that will receive them. (You might remember that I wrote a post about it here.) Thirty or forty of us WOMEN bandied together at the local surf club and slurped merrily on lattes, discussing the merits of chickens over dogs as pets and the new restaurants in town, as we compiled a thousand neat little parcels that will hopefully save lives.

Each kit comprised of a plastic sheet that looked like a bin liner for the women to lie on, some string to tie the umbilical cord, rubber gloves (because many midwives fear HIV and refuse to assist at the births unless they are supplied them), a tiny piece of soap to wash hands and a blade to cut the cord. We had to conceal the blade as best as possible because otherwise the kits are ransacked for them to make weapons. Each kit cost $3 – inclusive of materials and transport – and yet it is an onerous task to get people to volunteer to put them together.

With such a basic set of provisions, the women that receive them have to hope that nothing goes wrong during the birth of their children. Unlikely, we decided, when four of the six of us around our table had experienced complications during the births of our own children, that without modern medical intervention might have produced a very different outcome. And as we sat, clumsily folding plastic and knotting string with the ocean in all its beauty in front of us, it was impossible not to think back to our own experiences of childbirth – which for many of us had seemed archaic at the time, and nothing like the spiritual, controlled experience the parenting gurus had promised us.

I HAD TO SLEEP IN A WARD, WHEN I’D BEEN PROMISED A PRIVATE ROOM,’ I sobbed and one of the girls rushed back to the cafe and fetched me a Belgian chocolate mocha

I can still remember my biggest concerns throughout the heinous pain and the indignity of bringing two new lives into the world – whether I’d poo in front of the midwife or scream and swear at the old man. And whether I’d be able to cope with the pain if the TENS didn’t work.

The worst: HOW WAS I GOING TO EXPLAIN IT TO MY NATURAL CHILDBIRTH GROUP IF I HAD TO HAVE AN EPIDURAL?

Fortunately, few of us have to imagine an existence where we don’t know if we will live to see another day. Few of us won’t survive the birth of our children nor have to worry about our babies surviving the delivery.

My second reality check happened on Sunday when I went to the Sydney Writers’ Festival to watch Thomas Kennealy – the author of Schindler’s Ark – interview Heather Morris about her new book The Tattooist of Auschwitz. You should know that Kennealy’s book has a special place in my heart because the old man recommended it to me when we first started courting, which meant that I mistakenly believed him to be super-cultured – a massive misrepresentation on his part. I should also mention that this was in the days, (as he so often reminds me) when I used to play golf with him. Since that time, he has only ever read sports biographies and I have never been back on the golf course.

I digress. Morris’ novel is based on the true story of Lale Sokolov who was the tattooist (or tatovierer) at Auschwitz/Birkenau and responsible for carving out the identification numbers on the arms of the camp’s inmates. His story, as told by Morris, follows his journey through camp life and his love affair with his future wife Gita, whom he met there and married after their liberation by the Russians. It is a story about courage, the determination and infinite will of the body and mind to survive and a gritty demonstration of much it can endure before it surrenders. The book is not gratuitously descriptive of the horrors witnessed by Lale, instead, it is a thought-provoking memoir (and often humorous) about his motivation to live, his experiences in the camp and his survival, which he put down to ‘luck.’

After their release from the camp, Lale and Gita came to Australia as refugees and attempted to mold themselves back into normal life. They faced the typical ups and downs of any young couple in their new life, albeit with a very different approach, and Gita remarked on this to their son one day after their latest business venture had collapsed and he caught her singing. When he questioned how she could sing when they were being forced to move, she responded to him:

‘When you spend years not knowing if in five minutes’ time you will be dead, there is not much that you can’t deal with.’

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