By GINGER GORMAN
Facebook and I recently had an altercation. I logged on at the end of the day to idly flick through a few posts before bed.
One day I’m going to have kids just so I can bore my friends to death on Facebook :), a ‘friend’ of mine posted as his status. (In the physical world he is an acquaintance, not a friend.)
The comment riled me and I repeatedly tried to comment underneath his post, attempting to explain the joy children might bring to a life. I went back a few days in a row, wishing to write a sentence or two underneath. Each time I deleted half-formed thoughts and in the end, wrote nothing.
It seemed there wasn’t a single word to say on the matter that didn’t seem condescending and self-righteous. A married person talking at a single person about how ‘wonderful’ her life is. I got angry – first with myself and then with my Facebook ‘friend.’
“Your comments are trite, Ginger,” I told myself.
My mind came back to this Facebook post numerous times. I was forced at ask myself why it irked to distraction. The answers – because there was more than one – were confronting. I had to open doors that were deliberately and forcefully shut a long time ago.
On the kid front, let’s be clear. I’m not a person who loves standing around talking about the mind-numbing details of her children’s lives. And many Facebook posts are like that. They tell you what someone’s child is wearing, what they will or won’t eat, a ‘cute’ thing the child has done today.
Rewind to 2004. I was a perennially single 28-year-old and my former boss invited me to her two-year-old’s birthday party. I found myself stuck drinking cups of tea with half a dozen mothers of other two-year-old children.
Endless chatter about whether one’s child eats avocado or is now skipping their midday nap struck me as the very idea of modern torture. Looking down at my expensive shoes, I silently swore that if I ever had children, I would not be that kind of person.
But things change. And people change. It can take a cataclysm to do it.
In 2007 I nearly died. Twice.
During a conversation with a work colleague, she walked away from my desk and then I strained my neck at a strange angle.
“What the fu*k is that on your neck?!” she screeched.
Thyroid cancer, was the answer.
“How long would I live without surgery?” I asked Dr Peter Barry the next day.
With crisp blue eyes and kindness, he smiled at me.
“That’s not a very nice question,” he said.
“I know,” I replied, “I’d like the answer.”
“Eighteen months. Maybe two years,” he said.
A shattering thought. I was not a 31-year-old with my whole life ahead of me. The cells inside me had turned upon themselves. Without surgery, my body would destroy itself.
The surgery went well but 48 hours later I found myself dying in a Canberra Hospital from severe dropping calcium (hypocalcemia); a rare complication caused by removal of the thyroid.
As I lost feeling in my face, feet and hands, I buzzed the nurses. No one would listen to me because my vital signs appeared normal.
“The doctor is seeing someone who is having a heart attack. You’ll just have to wait,” a dark-haired nurse said to me with unmasked irritation.
“What do you do when you’re dying in a hospital?” I wondered in desperation, “Can you call 000 without them thinking it’s a hoax?”
It’s strange the way the brain works at 3 am. Thoughts don’t travel in straight lines but whir in concentric circles. I didn’t want to wake any of friends or family in Australia and “bother” them. Somehow though, my cramped and claw-like fingers manage to phone my dear friend Poppy in England.
“I’m in trouble,” I say to her, “I don’t know why anyone won’t help me.”
“Ginger,” she says in a firm, calming voice, “you must try again. You’ll be OK.”
There are two things she doesn’t tell me. The first is that she’s at the airport, boarding a plane to Australia to come and see me.
The second is that she’s not confident I’ll be OK. Much, much later Poppy tells me that she spent the 24-hour flight terrified; she wondered if I’d still be alive when her plane touched down in the antipodes.
In the end a doctor came. He looked at me and yelled for liquid calcium. There is no terror greater than hearing alarm in a doctor’s voice: the realisation that you are the emergency.
He saved my life – again.
There’s a photo of me the morning after. Even today, I can’t look at it. It’s a photo of a person stripped of her voice and her dignity. That woman managed to turn death away at the door, but only just. The people there to help ignored her. She has been made small.
On the upside, the cancer gave me a husband. Before my diagnosis, I was off to America and Europe to holiday and work. After my diagnosis I spent a week numb from shock. I partially emerged and bought an apartment and a car.
The bloke I chose to be my housemate was a short, slightly rotund Filipino Australian bloke with deep, kind eyes and a beard. He loved his family and he loved to cook. He was a far cry from the emotionally unavailable artistic tossers I usually dated.
“Great, I’ll never fancy him,” I thought with a substantial lack of self-awareness. Removing the cancer had changed me. Within a few months he asked me to marry him.
Our first few years of marriage hasn’t been easy. Together we endured bouts of workplace bullying, unemployment and then depression after the birth of our first child. We moved interstate and were cut adrift from our community.
And then my beloved father was diagnosed with aggressive prostate cancer. He died on Melbourne Cup Day last year, just 10 weeks before the birth of our second daughter.
My belly swelled, I felt my baby get stronger and stronger, kicking me and punching me in the ribs. Dad’s limbs got weaker and weaker. He talked about seeing the birth of our little girl, but I knew he never would.
He was a complex, genteel and sometimes difficult man whose life started in poverty in the northern suburbs of Melbourne and journeyed all the way to the diplomatic corps in Canberra. He was a man who achieved highly but was infested with doubt.
His absence is a coat of grief. Looking into the face of my tiny daughter, I cry sometimes. Dad will never see her.
I’m winded when I help my mother sort through his clothes. Dad’s smell is here, his broken swimming goggles are in his bedside drawer, the last book he was reading has a bookmark in it and his shoes are by the back door. The great cruelty is that Dad’s whole life is here in this glorious house and garden, except that he’s not able to live in it.
With death so close at hand, this brings me back to children.
What I’d like to say back to that Facebook comment is this: You can choose to see the details about other people’s children as a dull imposition on your own busy life. Or you can view those small facts and figures, those sweet photos and first steps, as a window into the future.
All our lives are filled with failed relationships, arguments, dogged personal insecurity, career disappointments, death, disease, terrible accidents, poverty, pollution, politics and bickering. Those small faces, hands and feet of our children offer us a blazing, irrational hope that tomorrow might be better than today.
Ginger Gorman is an ABC radio presenter and producer, based in Canberra. She has won multiple awards for her work in print and radio journalism. When Ginger isn’t kid-wrangling, she cooks, talks, reads, sews and scours op shops for that perfect retro frock. You can read all about her in her profile here, and follow her on Twitter here.
Do you talk about your children on Facebook? How do you record the moments that matter?