Amy Silva is a young woman who has always done things a little differently. She’s not any kind of radical bohemian, but when faced with the ultra conventional culture of life as a Darwin-based ‘Army wife’, she realises she rather likes being open to all that’s outside the square. But her views about life, the universe and everything get a major shake-up when she finds herself suddenly, unexpectedly pregnant. In Peace, Love and Khaki Socks, Kim Lock walks Amy through the intense journey of discovery, bewilderment and empowerment that is a modern, Western pregnancy. Amy knows nothing about pregnancy and birth and, as she learns, the reader is invited to consider the many pros and cons of the medicalisation of this natural process. Ultimately a strong argument for home birth, this book allows a likeably naïve protagonist to discuss some highly controversial concepts within a very straightforward narrative framework. It is a funny and entertaining story – not unlike some of the rural/’outsider’ romance novels so popular in contemporary Australian publishing – but it also has a very serious point to make about the way we treat pregnancy and birth in the hospital system. (You can WIN A COPY of this engrossing story by leaving a comment below.)
Darwin’s culture of ‘Army Jerks’ and their partners is crass and conservative in equal measures – plenty of drinking and infidelity combined with a curious, unquestioning conventionality that leaves a lot of people unwilling to rock their personal boats or make choices outside of what is seen as ‘the done thing’. When Amy begins to consider her options for her pregnancy, she’s lead to believe there is no choice but to sign up with a private obstetrician. Amy’s early antenatal appointments will resonate with anyone who has given birth in Australia. I found myself chuckling at these opaque and hurried check-ins revolving around weighing, weeing, blood tests and endless pieces of paper – many of which only serve to frighten, not inform. As a young woman with little experience of maternity services, Amy begins by simply following directions, but soon feels her revered obstetrician (the best in town!) has no real interest in mothers. She is ushered in and out without time to ask questions, let alone feeling fully informed about the repercussions (or necessity) of ‘routine’ scans and endless urine samples. As her stress levels rise, so does her curiousity; could there be another way to manage pregnancy? How can she start to feel more in control of what’s happening to her body?
There are other complications. Amy has just signed a contract with a new employer who is unlikely to be sympathetic about sick leave. Her best friend, Hannah, has lost a long-awaited baby herself and finds it challenging to support the dithering Amy who is successfully carrying a baby she didn’t choose to conceive. Amy’s partner Dylan is regularly absent – both literally, due to work commitments, and figuratively in that he is struggling with Amy’s growing desire to have the baby at home. The advantage of this informative work of fiction over a textbook or advice site is Lock’s way of considering context. Deciding when and where and how to have and raise a baby is not just a matter of medical statistics and best practice guidance – it’s informed by all the people who share your life. Amy struggles with issues like how much input Dylan should have in their decision making (it’s her body, after all) and how to negotiate her work contract. Lock covers a wide range of these related issues in her novel, alongside the medical facts.
This novel makes a nice companion piece to Mary-Rose MacColl’s The Birth Wars which I reviewed awhile back (though the two works are completely unrelated). The core argument in both books centres on our culture of fear and risk-aversion, and the combative nature of many medical personnel which leaves women confused, and – in the worst cases – damaged, by their birth experience. While in Australia home birthing is not widely embraced, the frustration at being spoken down to by haughty doctors is widespread. Amy comes to deeply resent being told that she is ‘not qualified’ to make decisions about her own body. She breathes a huge sigh of relief when she finally meets a home birth midwife who says she has ‘as long as you need’ to discuss anything and everything she wants to know about giving birth.
Peace, Love and Khaki Socks is a work of fiction, so it does not claim to answer all questions on this tricky topic. It does not offer a broad analysis of midwifery, for example, within which there are also differing opinions on the concept of home birth. It also doesn’t tackle the legalities of home birthing which are still evolving in Australia; nor the difficult position in which we place medical staff who risk law suits if births don’t go to plan. It does place a welcome question mark over the common assumption that birth is a risky procedure necessarily requiring intervention. Drawing parallels with a fierce cyclone that hits the city when Amy is nine months gone, the book suggests we could do with a bit more reverence towards Mother Nature.
The prose style is relaxed and friendly (for want of a better word!). It left me feeling as though I’d been hearing a friend’s birth story over coffee; the only exception being occasional passages of dialogue that become weighed down by all the medical inclusions. The final chapters, as Amy lurches from ecstasy to agony during a long labour and birth, are moving and joyful. Keep the tissues handy!
Peace, Love and Khaki Socks will be published on 1st May 2013 by MidnightSun Publishing. I thank them kindly for my review copy.
MidnightSun is offering a copy of this powerful story to one lucky reader of This Charming Mum.
Win a copy of Peace, Love and Khaki Socks!
- Like This Charming Mum on Facebook or Twitter
- Visit the MidnightSun website and do some liking there too!
- Leave a comment in the replies section below describing your birth experience IN ONE WORD! (Me? CONFUSION.)
(NB. I’ll choose a winner next Saturday 20th after 5pm. The winner will be contacted by email and announced on this blog, Facebook and Twitter. The prize will be forwarded to the winner by MidnightSun, so you will need to agree to me passing on your postal address details. Good luck!)
This review will also form part of my reading list for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013.
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