The Weight and the Wait: reading about detention over a belly full of person


A pertinent page from Kaz Cooke’s ‘Up the Duff’

I am finding this stage of being pregnant fairly unpleasant.

I alternate between wanting to yell “GET IN MY BELLY” to various food items and “GET OUT OF MY BELLY” to the unborn child that regularly uses my bladder as a trampoline. I say “well done” out loud to myself most mornings, congratulating myself on having successfully endured the ordeal of transitioning from horizontal to vertical. And since my physical capabilities are currently limited by the fact I’m the shape and size of a large beach ball, I spend chunks of my days on the internet, reading forums with my mouth hanging open as comment after comment declares that labour “FEELS LIKE SATAN IS DANCING HIS DEVIL DANCE IN YOUR UTERUS” and “is similar to period pain, but TEN THOUSAND TIMES WORSE AND WITH A SIDE OF RAZOR BLADES CHUCKED IN FOR GOOD MEASURE”. But, these commenters invariably add cheerfully, it’s all worth it in the end because *insert senseless baby talk and some heart emoticons here*. Aww.

I do believe, however, that almost everything painful has a funny side to it if you manage to wrangle it into the right light. And when all the discomforts of being 38 weeks pregnant are mixed with humour and the excitement of being close to meeting the small being that I’ve been growing for nine months, it’s an experience I wouldn’t give up.

However, there are some things that are not funny or joyful, no matter from which angle you look at them.

It would not be funny, for example, if I was this big and uncomfortable and having to live in a tent that was over 40 degrees Celsius.

It would not be funny if I was awaiting the birth of my baby not with joy but with fear, because there were no midwives to help me if things went wrong.

It would not be funny if I felt forced to have an abortion not because I didn’t want my baby, but because I didn’t believe a newborn child could survive in the conditions I was being forced to live in.

Detainees stand in the shade at a family camp, Nauru. There is no air conditioning, and some reports have suggested that the temp can reach up to 50 degrees in the tents. Image source: The Guardian

Detainees stand in the shade at a family camp, Nauru. There is no air conditioning, and some reports have suggested that the temp can reach up to 50 degrees in the tents. Image source: The Guardian

These are things happening to pregnant women who are being sent to the detention centres by the Australian government. Now I could – and indeed have before, when encountering fearful bigots who stupidly repeat “they’ll take our jobs” and “but it’s illegal” like dopey broken records – go into the technicalities of the Refugee Convention, or discuss countless true stories of the horrors that these asylum seekers are actually fleeing from. They are extremely important conversations to be having; but for this post, they’re not my focus. Because I think that we can get so caught up in the political nit-picking that we lose touch of the human element of what’s going on.

For me, from my current perspective, the human element is this: every morning that I feel like a hero for hauling my rotund self out of bed, there are equally rotund childbearing women who are enduring long and perilous journeys and revolting detention camps in an attempt to just reach a place that is safe. Their efforts to ensure their babies have a future are truly heroic – but I, sitting around with my feet up under air-conditioning vents and getting irritable when I have to get out of a chair, am more likely to have my baby survive than they are theirs. And if their babies do survive, their futures are a lot more uncertain than my own; while I’m packing bags and drawers full of tiny clothes and being given a cot and a pram and all sorts of things in preparation for my baby’s arrival, these women are detained in hellholes indefinitely with no access to support and very little control over the world they are going to introduce their children to.

The disparity is nauseatingly cruel and unfair, and I feel so helpless – the more I read about what’s happening at the detention centres, the angrier I get, but the more impotent my anger seems. I feel, as do many other Australians with hearts and brains, frustrated at how powerless we are to stop what’s going on.

And even though it’s not enough, even though it makes no difference to the horror that these other women and children and families are facing, I feel that the least I can do is see my blessings for what they are; to stop feeling sorry for myself every time I have to bend over to pick something up off the floor; and, most importantly, to raise a compassionate person who gets competently furious at inhumane bullshit.