PEACE, LOVE AND KHAKI SOCKS
Author: Kim Lock
MidnightSun Publishing RRP $24.99
Review: Monique Mulligan
I finished reading Peace, Love and Khaki Socks last night and I fell asleep thinking about the issues raised in this intelligent debut novel from Kim Lock – birth plans, home birth, midwives and so on. For women who have given birth or are pregnant, this is one of those books that makes you think about such things. As I drove to work, I switched on a new audio book – The Curious Case of Benjamin Button by F. Scott Fitzgerald – and the opening lines struck me as interesting because they represent a huge shift in thinking about childbirth:
As long ago as 1860 it was the proper thing to be born at home. At present, so I am told, the high gods of medicine have decreed that the first cries of the young shall be uttered upon the anaesthetic air of a hospital, preferably a fashionable one. So young Mr. and Mrs. Roger Button were fifty years ahead of style when they decided, one day in the summer of 1860, that their first baby should be born in a hospital.
I love the “high gods of medicine” bit – if Amy Silva, the protagonist in Peace, Love and Khaki Socks, read that I’m sure she would punch the air and say, “That’s exactly what I’ve been talking about!”. Amy is 24 years old, living in the married quarters at the Darwin RAAF base; her boyfriend, Dylan, is a digger in the army. She’s a reluctant Army Wife – not reluctant to be attached to Dylan, who she’s been with since high school, but reluctant to play along with the rules of the Army Wife Mob. She’s also a pacifist, so she’s living a life of contradiction as the partner of a gun-toting soldier. When Amy discovers she’s pregnant, she’s completely shocked – this wasn’t what she planned. And now that it’s happened, she doesn’t even know how she feels about it. Isn’t she supposed to feel something? So begins Amy’s journey through pregnancy; it’s a time of ‘routine’ tests, doctor/obstetrician appointments and an increasing dose of confusion. It’s her body, her pregnancy, her baby – so why does she feel like she has no control, no say in the matter? Why does it seem that her body belongs to medicine?
As Amy struggles to get her head around her pregnancy and all it involves, her mind turns to the impending birth itself. An encounter with a like-minded woman starts her thinking about home birthing. Getting straight-up information is difficult – her (female) obstetrician refuses to have any in-depth discussion about it (interesting that this character is female – sets up a good contrast); the impression she gets repeatedly is that it’s a dangerous, foolhardy, even negligent option. Even Dylan is not convinced about the merits of home births, which causes increased friction between the two; he thinks she’s just trying to be ‘different’. But Amy is certain it’s the way for her – a way to reconcile her values and reclaim the power she feels she, as a pregnant woman, is being denied.
As a mother I could relate to Peace, Love and Khaki Socks for obvious reasons – I’ve given birth twice and even though Bear and Monkey are now 17 and 15, I can still remember when I found out I was pregnant with each of them. For me, I did have that rush of emotion – it was instant and deep. Both my birth experiences were very different: the first was in a nurturing birthing centre, but my birth plan (yes, it included candles and music by Enya) didn’t really happen the way I expected; the second was in a busy labour ward, pumped full of drugs to induce labour and feeling like a number on a to-do list. Reading Peace, Love and Khaki Socks took me back to those occasions and allowed me to revisit the journey from pregnancy to motherhood; it allowed me to ‘let go’ of lingering feelings that only arise when women have their birth story discussions and examine some of the points Amy was making about a lack of empowerment. Did I feel empowered in my first pregnancy? Yes, I think so – the care I received was wonderful all along and no question was silly. Did I feel empowered in my second pregnancy. Not really … and I should have because I’d been through it once, but for various reasons I didn’t. I won’t go into that, but reading this book did inspire a reaction – a bit of anger, even.
I’m also a former Army wife. My boys’ father was in the Army, so the whole setting in the married quarters was very familiar to me, as was Amy’s ‘non-Army-wife’ role. I was one of those wives who didn’t really hang out with the other Army wives – I hated the gossip, the politics etc. I was a bit different, like Amy, choosing a slightly different route, a different circle of friends. One school mum (non-Army) once said, after a year acquainted, ‘Oh, I didn’t know you were one of the Army wives’. A comment loaded with prejudice and implied stereotype and I couldn’t let it pass without a sweet smile: ‘Is that because I don’t have a fag hanging out of my mouth and my trackies on? Is that what you expected?’ In that sense, I could completely relate to Amy, laughing at times as I recalled memories from those days … you really can tell the rank a soldier is by his house if you live in the married quarter and woe betide you if you get a house above your rank because there’s nothing else left! Having the Army setting, in which soldiers are expected to conform and do as they are bid (and in which families do not come first) was the ideal contrast for examining a birth plan that is seen by many as unconventional these days.
Peace, Love and Khaki Socks is written with a relaxed, easy style with some wryly funny moments – like hearing a birth story from a friend. It will especially hold appeal for those who are pregnant and/or considering home birth options. I did enjoy reading it, especially for the trip down memory lane – it’s the novel’s biggest strength – and the insight to life in Darwin, a setting that was well drawn. A couple of things did irk me though. One was the over-emphasis on Amy’s ‘hippie-ness’ – I felt a bit irritated at times because it just felt like there was a lot of what amounted to ‘name dropping’. ‘I get the picture,’ I felt myself thinking. It just felt like it was laid on too thick. The other thing was some mistakes in the text – an apostrophe in the wrong place, ‘obstinence’ instead of obstinate, ‘prey tell’ instead of ‘pray tell’ … however, while that’s my peeve, it didn’t get in the way of me enjoying the book overall. A good and interesting debut that should inspire debate about birthing choices.
Available from good bookstores and MidnightSun Publishing. This copy was courtesy of MidnightSun Publishing.
Bookish treat: One fair trade coffee and the scrambled eggs at Amy’s parents’ cafe for me, please.