Chemicals, Kids and what we as parents butt-up against as we try to raise healthy children in a toxic world.
‘I birthed my baby!’ my dear friend Anna told me today, ‘I’m so proud of myself. And yet not many people want to hear about my experiences of birthing my baby, particularly now that my baby isn’t alive any more’.
After an ultrasound confirmed her baby no longer had a heartbeat, a very sad Anna and her partner went to the hospital to talk through their options. The conversation with a Brisbane hospital registrar went something like this:
‘If I have a D & C (Dilation and Curette – the most common surgical procedure for miscarriage) I want my baby taken out whole’, Anna states.
‘We cannot guarantee this’, the registrar replies.
‘And I want to bring my baby home’.
‘After the D & C we will need to do tests and that will take a few weeks. After then you can bring the products of your miscarriage home in a jar’, says the registrar.
‘But it’s my baby’ Anna states, ‘it’s not your baby. What if I don’t want any tests. What if I just want to bring my baby home …my whole baby home’.
‘Its standard procedure’, the registra says again.
But what do we do when we want our baby whole (as is very possible for most early pregnancy miscarriages) and what if we don’t want our baby tested and given to us in a jar? Why is it that miscarriage assumes something went ‘wrong’, that it is a result of some kind of pathology, or worse, something a mother did.
Inspired by my friend Anna, a homebirth midwife, natural birthing advocate and Mama to three fabulous girls, I’m now writing a joint article for publication with her about miscarriage. Why? Because Anna birthed her baby whole, in a bath, and with her family beside her - the way she initially intended. She had a funeral in the back yard for her baby which was healing and connected the family. She made informed and empowered decisions which has helped with her physical and emotional recovery. Why? Because of the often unnecessary (and potentially damaging) surgical interventions we assume we must always take; and because there are safe, non-invasive options that are available if we want to take a more natural path. Anna reminds me that in most cases our bodies not only know how to give birth, but also know how to end a pregnancy.
So this is what I will be blogging about over the next few weeks as I immerse myself in the research…
Today I was sitting on a bench at Southbank watching Adiva splash around in the pool. She was playing with one of her imaginary friends named Torque, a sparkly unicorn that is friends with the mermaids at the bottom of the pool. Next to me sits an old woman who is humming. I don’t know the songs she hums but it makes me want to hum too. She reminds me of my time travelling across Greece where old Greek Mama’s stir big pots of eggplant rigatoni in their kitchens in the afternoons, the rich fragrance wafting onto the street – a time before I had kids.
Jedda is asleep, snuggled in the sling. She’s all soft and creamy.
The old woman stops humming. ‘Free spirit isn’t she’, she says through a toothless smile and points towards Adiva.
‘Yes’, I reply, ‘She’s really fun to be around and, to be honest, completely overwhelming at other times. Particularly since this one came along’, I say, gesturing downwards towards Jedda.
‘Yes, motherhood as a way of doing that doesn’t it’, she chuckles.
I nodded in agreement.
She starts humming again and then stops. ‘You see this?’ she said holding out her left hand. Her ring finger was missing, or part of it anyway – down to the second knuckle. ‘It was cut it off nearly 20 years ago now. How it happened doesn’t matter, that’s not important. You lose something and people think it’s tragic, the end of the world, something to turn into a drama. But it’s not. Every time you lose something you find something in return. Might not be what you’re expecting to find, that’s all’.
What did you find? I ask the old woman a few minutes later.
‘Courage’, the woman said with a grunt, ‘that’s not a bad exchange, eh?’
I nod in agreement. ‘Not bad at all’.
What have I lost and found in return?
I immediately think of motherhood. I have often felt a deep heaviness and dare I say it, loss, since becoming a mother. What have I lost? Independence. Freedom. Writing time. Meditation time. Sleep. Control. It often feels like I have a divided heart and an oscillating life. Excited to have a break from the girls, but then I can’t wait to get home to touch and hold them again. Thrilled to have a few moments to write, but spend my time writing about them. Resentment at being woken 2… 3….4 times during the night, but then wanting to etch their drenched luminescent faces in my mind forever as they slide back into sleep. Torn between doing things for them and getting out of their way so they can experience it for themselves.
Adiva calls me from the pool and Jedda wriggles and stirs. I am again summoned to feed, clothe, play, clean, care, love, and nurture them…again and again and again. And in the smalls spaces I have for myself while they are still little and need me lots, I have found ways to meditate in small spaces, write quickly and pragmatically, live without control (alot of the time , and find joy and wonder in a day without much sleep.
Not a bad exchange either, I reckon. And I’m still learning….
Question: I’d like to live more naturally and organically, but it’s too expensive. How do you expect people to live this way?
This is the most common question I get in my workshops – the economics question – cost as a factor preventing people from buying quality or organic foods and products. It’s also been noted in many studies.[i] Although cost is a factor for many people, in my expereince it’s actually less about economics than what most people think. There are a number of issues I wish to unpack here. The first is how individuals and households choose to prioritise their spending.
Most people spend money on that which they value and that which their own value systems prioritise. Values provide a framework for deciding what is important – true, right, good – and so have a central role in defining our identity and our relationships. We make choices everyday on what we spend our money on, whether that be going to the gym, buying books, eating fast food or restaurants meals, fashion, cosmetics, handbags, your child’s education or organic products. It is our inherited value systems that guide what we buy, how much we buy, and when we buy.
When I work with families who have children with behavioural issues, depression, anxiety, cancer, or chronic immune diseases for example, I discuss their value systems and map out their daily habits and what they commonly spend their money on – what they put on their child’s skin and hair, the cleaning agents they use in and around the house, what exercise they do, and what the family is eats. The findings are usually fairly consistent with the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) data on household spending. Nutritionist Shane Heaton notes of these statistics that that the average Australian household spends only 18 percent of its expenditure on food and non-alcoholic beverages. As a percent of household spending, this is less than the previous survey in 1994. We’re spending less of our money on food than we used to. On top of that, the average Australian household spends more on junk food than fruit and vegetables; more on fast food and take-away than fruit and vegetables; more on alcohol than fruit and vegetables. Alcohol and tobacco combined account for nearly twice the spending on fruit and vegetables, and we spend five times more on recreation than healthy foods. The net result of these choices is that we spend nearly twice as much on medical expenses as we do on fruit and vegetables. Compared to previous ABS household surveys, the proportion of household spending needed for medical and health expenses is rising.[ii]
In doing this mapping exercise with the families I work with, they get to see, in black and white, what they spend their money on – what they prioritise and value – and then they get take responsibility for their choices and their consuming habits. When you have a sick child impacted by environmental illnesses, and their children are high up on their value system, they usually do whatever it takes to relieve the symptoms of their children’s illnesses and put in place preventative health care strategies. For them, reducing chemical exposure, buying organic and fresh fruits and vegetables, using chemical free personal care products and household cleaners becomes a matter of immediate necessity.
The second point to consider is what is known in the health industry as the health gradient. We know, on the one hand, that poverty and inequality has a major impact on health and wellbeing. People on lower incomes die younger and suffer more serious illness than those on a higher income, as do people less educated. The risk of early death for those in the lowest social groups is up to four times greater than for those in the top groups.
More complex than this, though, is that we also know that the health gradient is relatively uniform. This means that people, on average, no matter what they earn, have better heath than those below them, and worse health than those above. The issue then is not solely confined to actual economics. For example, lower ranking staff in most professions suffer greater disease and earlier death than higher ranking staff. Why? People in these lower ranking positions are likely to experience long-term stress, job insecurity, lower self-esteem, and lack of control over work than those in higher paid positions. It’s not that they can’t buy good nutritious food, but rather there are many complex issues, including psychosocial stress, impacting their health and wellbeing. On average, the rich do better than the poor, but many poor people have higher wellbeing than many rich people.[iii]
The third point to consider is Richard Eckersley’s argument that in society today, measures of a ‘better life’ are often defined in economic terms and framed in the belief that ‘when to comes to progress, more equals better’.[iv] Indeed, when we use the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as a measurement if national progress, we are in fact ‘better off’. Australians are, on average, almost five times richer now than at the turn of the century.
But does this really mean that we are healthier and happier?
Consider that progress, in relation to health and wellbeing, is also about improving the quality of life, not just the standard of living, or, as Eckersley points out, ‘How well we live, not just how long’. Wealth is therefore often a poor indicator of wellbeing. Consider the evidence:
These indicators tell us a very different story. It shows that money does not automatically lead to increased health or wellness. Therefore, the assumption that household income determines the demand for organic food or chemical free products is, therefore, more complex than ‘I can’t afford it’. The organic industry’s experience is that organic consumers come from all walks of life and all levels of the socio-economic spectrum.
A significant point to also consider in relation to organic food consumption, is that the price difference of organic foods, compared to non-organic foods, is around 20 percent. Consider, however, that organic produce usually contains 26 percent more dry matter (less water). Hence, as nutritionist, Shane Heaton argues, ‘there is more “food” in organic food, so you get more carrot in an organic carrot, for example’. Research also continues to show that consuming organic food means more nutrients, fewer toxins, less water, less chemical fertiliser runoff, fewer herbicides and pesticides in the environment, better for farmers, better for animals, better for the environment. For Heaton, organic food is not a luxury item, but rather, ‘how food is supposed to be, and the higher price is the real price of real food, paid now, not later in environmental and health care costs externalised by industrial agriculture’.[v]
Farmers’ markets and more localised produce markets can also go some way to alleviate the price associated with organic foods. Research continues to reveal that farmers’ markets are actually cheaper that their equivalent non-organic products being sold in supermarkets. Many supermarkets selling organic foods have high premiums on their organic foods. [vi] Moreover, according to a report from the Soil Association, and Greenpeace, The True Cost of Food, if elements, such as air and water pollution, eroded soils and health care costs were factored into the price of produce, organic produce would be the same price, or even cheaper, than food produced conventionally.[vii]
[ii] Cited in Shane Heaton, Can you afford to eat organic food? Can You Afford Not To? Australian Organic Journal, Summer 2004/2005, pp. 14-15
[iii] Eckersley, R. The Politics of Happiness, Living Now Magazine, Mach 2007, pp 6-7.
[iv] Eckersley, R. Quality not Quantity keeps us well, The Canberra Times, December 4, 1999, pg. 5.
[v] Op cit, Heaton, Can you afford to eat organic food? pp. 14-15.
[vi] La Trobe, H. (2001) Farmers Markets: Consuming local rural produce, International Journal of Consumer Studies, 25 (3) pg 186.
[vii] Cited in Maxted-Frost, T.(1999) The Organic Baby Book (2nd edition), Green Books, Devon, pg. 35.
Join our elist to receive a FREE BOOK CHAPTER from our best-selling book Chemical Free Kids: Raising Healthy Children in a Toxic World. Additionally you will occassionally receive special offers to assist you to make healthier consumer choices for you, your kids and your family.
My resume looks something like this: mama, university lecturer and researcher [currently at the University of Queensland], nutritionist, writer, author, presenter, health coach, ethical business consultant, and all round chemical conscious parenting nut.
Along with our research grants, our Certified Organic Business allows us to expand Chemical Free Kids, conduct research, and explore conscious parenting, deliberate, non-toxic living. The products are raw, certified organic, potent and made fresh!
For more information, please email us: email@example.com