At this point I’m adjusting to being a mother. I have a ten and half month old son Peter and so I’m learning how to actually look after him and maintain myself at the same time.
Looking after myself is something that I’ve had to learn to do, but it’s very important because if you don’t look after yourself it becomes all about looking after your child and that is not sustainable.
Becoming a mum has connected me to a broader community of mothers in Canberra. For me, a key part of being in Canberra is connecting to other people through common interests and problems that bring you together and keep you together. Even though I’ve been in Canberra for a long time, becoming a mum has connected me to a whole new group.
I’m still the person I was before in many ways—I’m still somebody who came to Canberra not planning to stay here, I’m still working in healthcare and feeling like the job that I do in healthcare matters, and I’m still part of my group of family and friends here. But being a mother has broadened my connections within the community so that I feel that I’m more a part of Canberra now.
I think being a mother is an important part of being a woman. But also just being part of a family. Men and women bring different things into a community and bring different perspectives and different experience into their work, into their family life, into their hobbies, into their volunteer work.
What I’ve learned from my mother, and what I’ve learned from the women around me, particularly working in health care, is that you treat people with compassion and patience, and give people room to have their own experience and deal with things in their own way. Women are expected to be empathetic and understanding; more empathetic than men.
Not everyone is, but I think that if you really want to absorb the experience of people around you, and are aware of what’s going on around you, you become part of this community and you feel that you can do something for others, and they can do something for you as well, particularly when you’re having a rough time.
As a new mother I’ve discovered that we want to help each other and motherhood is an avenue through which you can help and support each other very much. I have been to groups, such as a mum’s exercise group, where other women have been very supportive of me while I’ve been finding my feet and working out what works for me and what doesn’t work for me. I had the same experience with the Women With Disabilities ACT circus program. It’s just lovely to see women being supportive to one another. You very much get that feel in Canberra.
I’ve discovered since having my son that it is actually very hard getting around on public transport with a baby. I have to work out which buses are wheelchair accessible before I can get out of the house. It’s not great on the south side of Canberra. Depends which bus route you’re on, but for me in Isabella Plains, I have to actually look at the schedule and work out when I’m going to leave, how long I’m going to have out to do what I need to do, and then be sure to be on the bus at a particularly time, or I’m stuck for three hours. We need to distribute the wheelchair buses more evenly.
We have a breadth of public and private services in Canberra and I’ve been fortunate to be able to use private services. If you can’t afford private health cover you can still maintain a minimal level of health. But to improve my quality of and participation in life, work, and exercise, and to get to the point with my disability where I am highly functioning, it’s taken private health services. It’s taken six years of physio, seven operations, and multiple specialists, and a lot of that has been done privately. If I had done that through the public system I would still be on waiting lists. For example, the pain management unit rang me two years in and asked if I still wanted to be on the waiting list. At that point I’d found a private service.
My favourite things would be my entire family and friendship network. We love just spending time together, and enjoying the many wonderful food options in Canberra. I also love the local markets. It’s such a lovely thing to go out to the markets and talk to producers about where what you’re buying has come from and then bring it home and make it into a beautiful meal that you share with you friends and your family.
That makes for a pretty perfect day in Canberra. Sitting on a beautiful day like today outside, sharing a meal with friends, a nice bottle of wine or some good beer, watching the kids run around the yard, playing with the dogs.
Initially I wasn’t going to be in Canberra; I came down in 1997 to go to university to study journalism and intended to return home to Sydney. But in the end I met a boy—a different boy to the one I married!—and actually ended up preferring the environment in Canberra. Sydney is very busy, very rushed, there’s a lot going on. If you love the social life, Sydney’s fantastic. If you want to be able to go out to the city and there always be something going on, Sydney’s great. But if want to get together with mates for a nice meal and a glass of wine, Canberra’s great for that. People are so nice, they’re so helpful, and they’re so welcoming. It is a little bit hard initially to find the people you fit with, but once you do it’s very comfortable. So nineteen years in I certainly don’t have any plans to leave.
Image created by Josey Carnovale