A Birth Story


It’s a strange feeling to walk yourself into an operating room, climb on a table, and wait to be cut open. I wasn’t sick. I wasn’t even in labour. But I was there for a C-section, preparing to bring my baby into the world in the last way I expected.

I had wanted to give birth at the Toronto Birth Centre – a midwife run facility just for delivering babies with beautiful big rooms, double beds, and fake fireplaces – long before I was pregnant, and before the centre had even been officially opened. I was drawn to the idea of a place just for birth, not contaminated by the stress of hospitals. Hospitals are for illness. Hospitals are for interventions. Hospitals breed infections.

We chose a midwifery practice with privileges at Mt. Sinai because, if something goes wrong and you’re going to end up at a hospital, it may as well be one of the best. But I wasn’t going to need it. My body – so bad at doing so many things – was going to be really good at pregnancy and birth. It was going to finally redeem itself for being clumsy and uncoordinated, for being hard to manage and hard to love.

And oh how good at pregnancy it was. So good that it grew an enormous baby who refused to leave the comfortable swimming pool of easy to access food and climate control. I was desperate to get the birthing show on the road – drinking the teas, taking the herbs, visiting the acupuncturist for the first time in my life, and then in rapid succession for the week after my due date in an attempt to get the baby out. Nothing seemed to disturb her. So on day nine, I went for the ultrasound I had hoped not to need to confirm the health of the baby and the placenta. As the OB walked me through the report, he pointed to strong muscle tension and heartbeat, good fluid levels, and a still normal placenta. And an estimated fetal weight of nearly 13lbs! His recommendation was, “in order to ensure a safe delivery”, to deliver the baby via C-section.

My first reaction was to laugh. I thought, “Yes, I know I’m having a big baby. I’m a big woman. And look at the size of this belly!” But I also knew that ultrasound estimates can be wildly inaccurate and those doctors really just want to cut things, don’t they?

We left the hospital. I tweeted about the extreme prediction, laying the ground work for some serious street cred. But I wasn’t going to be one of the 27% of Canadian births that ended in C-section. Those were for emergencies, or for people who got sucked into the medicalization of childbirth and got talked into thinking their bodies weren’t made for this. I was going to have the natural birth I planned! I knew things sometimes went wrong, but they weren’t going to go wrong for me! How could they? I had a plan.

But as the night went on, I got worried. What if they were right? What if I really had a 13lb baby? Or what if they are so wrong and I actually have a 9lb baby and have a completely unnecessary surgery?

I called the midwife, mostly looking for some reassurance that I could, indeed deliver this baby even if it was huge. I expected her to be relaxed, but she wasn’t. Was it possible the size was overestimated and that this baby would be totally fine? Sure. Was it possible that my large frame would safely deliver a baby of this size, even though it probably wouldn’t feel awesome? Absolutely, it was possible. But it was also possible that the baby’s head would deliver nicely and then nothing more. The shoulders might be too wide and get stuck. And then they would do all they could to manoeuvre her out – in an extreme case, breaking the collar bone if that was necessary. If it worked, all would be well. If it didn’t, well, the words “brain damage” and “death” are basically the scariest things in the world.

They called it an “elective C-section,” but this wasn’t a “too posh to push” situation. (Me. Posh. Can you imagine?) I lay awake most of the night before tormenting myself.  I wasn’t sure it was the right decision. I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was giving up. But there didn’t seem to be an alternative, knowing that I couldn’t live with the guilt of calling their bluff, pushing for a vaginal birth, and being wrong. So I woke at 6am and headed off for surgery.

We walked along a nearly empty College Street to the hospital at a quarter to seven in the morning. “Alice?” I said as we stopped at a light. “Alice Emilia?” Ryan responded. And our baby had a name.

I walked into the O.R. sometime around noon. I sat waiting for the spinal anaesthesia while watching the nurse assemble the scalpels that would be used to cut through my body.

“What kind of music do you like?” the surgeon asked.

“Taylor Swift” I instinctively responded. It was the first thing that came to mind. I had no idea why I was being asked.

“Great choice. I love Taylor Swift.”

I lay on the table, Taylor Swift on the speakers, with 10 masked strangers taping on monitors, positioning my body, disinfecting my abdomen. Actually, I really have no idea what they were doing to me. I heard the masked voices, never sure which one to respond to, tried unsuccessfully to wriggle my toes, and waited.

“So how big do we think this baby is?” says the surgeon. “I’m guessing 10lbs 3oz.”

“No. No way. I am not having surgery for a 10lb baby. She’s over 11lbs or I’m out.”

“Ok. 10lbs 5oz.”

Ryan, who had been waiting in the hall, came in at some point (we later learned that they make the support person wait in the hall not until they are ready to start cutting, but until they have actually made the first cut. I guess to make sure I didn’t scream). Some time passed, it felt like no time at all despite the strange feelings of my insides being tugged and manipulated.

“Do you like this song?” It was a Taylor Swift song I somehow wasn’t familiar with. “Someone hit next. Get a song she likes.” They settled on “Our Song.”

Someone said “Stand up now.” Ryan stood up to peer over the curtain.

“Take pictures!” Ryan took pictures.

Someone lowered the surgical curtain and there I was, staring up at a beautiful, scrunchy, pissed off baby covered with goo. I’m not sure how I felt in the moment. Overwhelmed. Amazed. Despite being pregnant FOREVER, it’s hard to process looking down at the human you’ve grown.


She was swiftly swept away to be inspected and weighed.

“11lbs, 6oz” someone announced.

I’m pretty sure I cheered.

At some point someone brought her over to me to look at momentarily before they continued on with baby inspections. Or maybe this happened right after she was born. Truthfully, everything after looking up at her from the table is kind of a blur.

They brought the baby to Ryan for some skin-to-skin contact since I wasn’t in any shape to hold her. They held her to my face so she would smell me, and feel my skin. I’m sure other things happened, but shortly after I was given a dose of Ketamine to deal with the pain of being put back together and things got awfully fuzzy. Eventually, I ended up in a recovery room with a perfect, fat baby voraciously feeding on my chest. A tiny human that I somehow grew, and housed.

We were in the hospital for two days, though the recovery is much longer. I haven’t completely let go of the feelings of missing out on the natural birth experience I planned, even though I know the consequences (not to mention the physical damage) could have been much worse than some misplaced feelings of want or guilt. It was not the birth that I wanted, but it’s the birth I got. In the end, I am at peace with the decision.


She’s Not Making It Easy


My fetus is a jerk. Incredibly stubborn, and not particularly concerned who she’s inconveniencing. It’s making some things challenging, but it’s what I like best about her. Her, an unborn creature that of course I can only project personality on to at this point.

And while I know I’m projecting, she’s working this stubborn thing pretty hard — hard enough that we’ve given her a twitter account just to amuse ourselves.

At my 20 week ultrasound — the one where they take a picture of every body part from every angle to make sure she’s not missing anything important — it took the tech at least 50% longer than planned to get the images. The tech jabbed me in the belly with her wand repeatedly, made me touch my toes, sent me to the bathroom twice, and had me flip-flopping all over the table in the hopes that the baby would roll over and expose what parts needed capturing. She did roll over briefly, but them immediately rolled back — as if to say “I know what you want, but I’m not going to give it to you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Once she finally started kicking with enough gusto to feel from the outside, I’d call Ryan over to feel. He’d put his hand on my belly and all movement would stop. He’d wait for a few minutes, hoping to get a sense of the madness that is this alien invasion inside me, but would get nothing. Then he’d take his hand away and she’d move again.

Finally, this week I went for another ultrasound and discovered she was breech — footling breech according to the report. She was just hanging out, head up and foot dangling down, not doing what she is supposed to. We were surprised, though I’m not really sure why. A breech baby almost definitely requires a c-section. Luckily, at 34 weeks, there is a procedure to turn the baby around. In an ECV, they quite literally grab hold of the pregnant belly (well, the lump of baby within), push hard, and turn. My awesome midwives did this successfully yesterday and I thought we were in the clear. Until this evening when my fetus, the jerk, seems to be hanging out on her side.

I hadn’t really thought all that much about what I want my daughter to be – although we’re likely grabbing on to the “I’m a girl who doesn’t take shit from anyone” for a reason. Yes, I want her to be smart and kind, and preferably be reasonably coordinated so she doesn’t have to spend all her school age years feeling out of place. But mostly I’d like her to be strong. I want her to be brave enough to stand up for things and not feel like she has to shape her personality to suit the world around her. I want her to be bossy. I want her to have opinions. I want her to be stubborn, even though it will likely get her in trouble. Ideally, she’ll find a mix of these things, and not let just one thing overwhelm her life. And maybe, if I’m lucky, she’ll cut us a little slack occasionally so we don’t spend the next 18 years in tears.

I’m ok with my fetus being a jerk. But for the next 6 weeks, would it kill her to just behave?

Photo: Korona Lacasse on flickr

5 Things I’ve Learned about Pregnancy: A Listicle

Photo via TipsTimesAdmin on Flickr https://www.flickr.com/photos/tipstimesadmin/11557919223/in/photolist-iBkmHn-5Zkxe7-idL6v-8cZmLZ-71yZLi-dZicFZ-xDgCP1-4PNvSx-5fetgN-aw9Sth-xDkU3u-g1oZpj-7Q8YoN-kjfvT-5cYUWv-5siQc1-8d3vyA-uNbrPA-92MRDG-pZAuKB-47FSSy-3zQatC-oN5ezy-4nPoNZ-67f7SG-crtLkL-6aMC5C-7MFL5L-7WiKe6-7XfFgh-4nMcjc-8TXFGT-7Lsz4B-4zD18k-6aHtCt-8U1Hr9-4y5b47-8dbGLR-pJcbV9-4nMcfX-4yKz3R-9be9XB-7XcrWa-75cRM8-3ay81x-6Mhp4M-4z9fgd-7Kn71C-4yDfTJ-5d4gDA

  1. Pregnancy is hard, even when it’s easy.
    I’ve had it really easy so far*. I was tired and nauseated the first trimester, but could still function in my daily life. The second trimester was mostly boring, despite a few irrational mood swings about Ryan drinking when I could not, and I’ve had no major health complications (of which there are many possible). I think my body might be made for doing this stuff**.

    And yet, I’m not one of those women who will claim to love pregnancy. (For the record, I think you’re all lying.) Things ache in weird places. I have an invader in my body who sucks out the nutrients and for whom I had to give up coffee***, diet coke, and gin. I can no longer comfortably tie my shoes, I have to take naps in the middle of the day, my abdominal muscles feel like they are being stretched over a frame, and most of the time my sleep is shit.

    And that ignores all the emotional stuff that comes with it. Pregnancy is a big friggin’ deal. So basically, all pregnant women deserve a prize for continuing our species, but women who have it especially hard – 9 months of puking, forced bed rest, who have to work manual labour jobs on their feet all day – should get a fucking parade.

    And yes, I know some people choose not to have babies. You might deserve a parade for something else in your life, that’s awesome. But be extra nice to your pregnant friends even if you think they’re annoying.

2. The human body is nuts. Why are we not celebrating how amazing women’s bodies are on the inside? (Like, actually on the inside. Guts and stuff.)

Seriously. How am I still upright? #thingslizzgrew

A photo posted by @opinionatedlizz on Sep 15, 2015 at 8:34am PDT

I took a photo today – 34 weeks less a day – and as I looked at it, I couldn’t believe I was still standing upright. Even more amazing was when we looked at a diagram of a pregnant women in our prenatal class and I realized that nearly all of my internal organs have been displaced – my stomach is basically in my throat, guys – and yet, somehow continue to function.

I have an actual tiny human inside my stomach right now, I grew it from nothing, and I am single-handedly keeping it alive. And no, I’m not a special snowflake. Women everywhere can just grow new humans. It’s amazing. For all women’s bodies are culturally devalued (and also over-valued as baby-making ovens), they are biologically awesome.

3. Forcing women to carry babies and become parents before they are ready is absurd.
Really early on in my pregnancy, I was scared. Yes, I did this deliberately, and yes, I wanted this baby really badly, but I was terrified. There were so many possible things I could do wrong. It would take 10 months and a huge toll on my body, and at the end, I would be left with a helpless human that I would have to keep alive – not just for a few weeks, but forever. And I would have to teach it to be a good human, and a kind human, and hope I could love it the way it needed to be loved. I knew we were going to be poor for a long time since daycare in Toronto is equivalent to mortgage payments. I sat in a movie theatre one day and panicked about how hard it will be for Ryan and I to just go to a damn movie without it costing $100. And to be honest, I was a bit resentful of losing control of my own body. And the only thing that balanced that out was knowing that I would get a baby at the end that I truly wanted.
But if you had all that fear and didn’t want, or weren’t, for whatever reason, able to handle a baby right now/ever, it would be awful. I’ve always been pro-choice, but actually being pregnant made me appreciate so much more the need to have access to safe abortions and birth control. Because pregnancy is really hard, and at the end you have a baby that needs a hell of a lot of work to make it into a productive member of society and forcing that on anyone who isn’t interested or isn’t capable of doing that work is both cruel and stupid.

When I read about companies fighting against providing birth control to their employees as part of drug plans for “moral” reasons, the only conclusion I can come to is that they really hate women, and they really hate babies.

4. Midwives are amazing. I am lucky.

I guess we timed things well, because I was more than able to find a space with a midwife (despite the small number available). So far, they’ve been really awesome, and I’ve really appreciated going through this madness with the support of health providers that I not only trust, but who don’t treat me like I’m a moron. They give me choice (sometimes more than I would like), and they assume I’m a rational adult who can make decisions about my own body. I get to see the same people week after week, I’ll know the person delivering my baby, and afterwards, they will come to my home multiple times to ensure I and the baby are doing well. No trudging out to a clinic 2 days post-partum, possibly in the middle of a cold November rain storm (or snowstorm), sleep-deprived, bleeding and sore, and sitting in a waiting room full of sick people. How humane.

Yes, I’m glad doctors and hospitals exist for doing the things that actually require doctors’ skills, but until I’m in need of those special skills (hopefully I won’t ever be in need of them), having a publicly funded alternative is the best.

5. Having a pregnancy buddy is essential.
I know that not everyone is as invested in the details of my pregnancy as we are****. I’ve been trying really hard not to overwhelm people with details about weird things happening in my body (night mumbling) or what strange animal my baby is equivalent to this week (ferret) or what new things we got for the baby this week (Lies. It’s baby shoes and they are the greatest thing on earth.), but it’s hard because it’s basically all I can think about. So I can’t stress enough how essential it has been to have someone to talk about all the minutiae, who not only wants to hear all your crazy, but who has a similar philosophy about pregnancy so she doesn’t make your crazy worse.

*Please don’t punish me for being cocky, universe.
**Pretty please. I promise I know you could smite me at any moment, universe.
**For 6 months. I’m back!
****Once she’s out, all bets are off. Unfollow me now because my baby will be the cutest, most special baby in all the world and I will make you look at pictures of her fat limbs and frowny face.

Get Your Give on: It’s GivingTuesday Time!

December 2nd is the second annual GivingTuesday in Canada. Heard of it? It’s a movement to remind us all that we can use our money to do amazing things, not just for stuff.

How I’m getting involved:

December 2nd also happens to be both the anniversary of my mother’s death, and the birthday of young cousin (whose mother won’t let me post his picture on the internet, but I promise you he is super cute). So in their honour, this year I’m giving to two charities that relate to motherhood:

Jessie’s Centre is a local charity that helps pregnant teens and young parents with education, healthcare, housing, jobs, and parenting skills. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it would be to raise a child as a teen – particularly without the support of family or sometimes a partner.  I recently had the opportunity to visit the centre, and tour their in-house high school and childcare centre. They do good things, but they could do even more with more support.

Women’s reproductive health is really important to me, and I respect that Jessie’s Centre gives young women help and options, and if they choose to become mothers, ensures they can still go on to do all the things they want to do in their lives.

I’m also giving to AMREF Canada’s Stand Up for Mothers program. Children around the world grow up without mothers because women don’t have access to adequate healthcare. 162,000 mothers died in pregnancy and childbirth in Africa in 2010. That’s 56% of all maternal deaths worldwide. 950,000 children were left without a mother because she died giving birth to a brother or sister. That’s fucking ridiculous, guys. AMREF is aiming to train 15,000 midwives by 2015 to help save women’s lives. This is a problem we can solve.

I’m also going to pump up my donations for these charities by taking advantage of the Interac and PayPal matching opportunities through CanadaHelps.

You can do GivingTuesday too!

  1. You can give money to a charity that does awesome work. I promise you, they always need your money. I gravitate towards smaller charities, but choose what suits you best. Here are some tips from my friend Andrea, which are awesome, like she is.
  2. Fundraise for a charity. My aunt and I both did this for our birthdays – look how cute we are!
  3. You can  perform random acts of kindness. Buy someone on the street lunch. Offer to babysit a friend’s kids so he/she can get a break. Visit a home for the aged and spend some time with seniors who don’t always get enough visitors. Do something awesome for someone else, and encourage others to do the same.
  4. You can volunteer. Attend Timeraiser’s special GivingTuesday event in Toronto to find a charity that is looking for skilled volunteers, visit volunteer.ca to search for a charity to contribute your skills to, or just call up a local charity like a food bank or shelter and offer your time. My friend Leslie and I met reps from the Native Women’s Resource Centre at a summer Timeraiser event, and ended up working on their annual report – something they needed help with and we were interested in doing.
  5. You can send charity gift cards to people you love (or even people you barely know, if that’s your scene) to inspire them to give.
  6. You can read this blog on Playground confidential about ways you can give, or any of these awesome GivingTuesday posts on GivingLife.
  7. You can watch the video about ways to participate.
  8. You can give blood. I went with my office recently, and not only was it super easy and painless, they give you cookies at the end. Basically my dream.
  9. You can be loud on the internet on Tuesday and get everyone involved. #GivingTuesdayCA #Unselfie

GivingTuesday isn’t going to solve all the world’s problems in a single day, but the bigger it gets, the more we can remind people that giving back needs to be part of our lives.


*Note: Though my work involves charities and GivingTuesday, this blog is entirely my own opinion and about my personal connections to charities.

Carrots Won’t Change the World

Photo via swong95765 on flickr

Naomi Klein spoke today at the Toronto Reference Library about her new book, “This Changes Everything.” It’s about climate change, and environmental change, and the terrible place we’ve got our world in right now (and how we should probably start getting ourselves out of it).

I haven’t had the opportunity to read the book yet, but the talk got me thinking not only about the environment, but about the role of Government in our lives and about how we, as a people, change.

This is my conclusion: humans don’t respond to carrots, humans respond to sticks.

At our core, we’re self-interested, and lazy people. Even the best of us. Because there is a survival benefit to forming groups and keeping the group strong, we’ve developed moral codes that train some of that selfishness out of us. But, in the end, taking care of society is still about self-preservation (or preserving the people we love) — either directly or indirectly. So Naomi Klein says that the carrot in this situation is “we don’t all die at the end,” which, frankly, seems like it should be a pretty good incentive to stop wrecking everything.

And yet, it doesn’t seem to be enough to make any bold changes in our lives or our world to stop the damage to the environment. Even as I write this, I’m eating take-out sushi from plastic containers. I ordered dinner right after her talk  because I can’t seem to figure out how to have a job, have a tiny bit of a social life, and still cook regular, healthy meals. So I made a bad decision for the environment to suit my immediate needs. I’d feel less bad about it if it were only occasional, or if I didn’t also have two take-out coffees today.

It’s not that I don’t think about the environment, because I do. I try to reduce chemicals, I don’t drive a car, I have silly reusable produce bags that add extra weight to my produce because I can’t stand single-use produce bags that serve no other purpose. And it’s not because I don’t fear the “we’re all going to die at the end.” I fear constantly. I fear that all the chemicals from cars and airplanes and cleaning products and make-up and food additives that go into my body daily are causing unknown destruction to my cells. I fear that my children, or my children’s children, will have their lives cut short by cancer or a freak storm or something I can’t even imagine right now because we really have no idea what we’re breaking yet. I care, and I’m afraid. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I’m afraid of about 500 other big, massive, and kind of abstract things that are going wrong or could go wrong in the world — people are starving, women can’t control their own bodies, we regularly hurt and murder each other, it’s not safe to walk alone at night, we’re socializing each other wrong to put the burden of walking safely at night on the wrong people, we’re running out of water, the world is still awful and racist and sexist and ageist — that I just can’t mentally metabolize it all. I can’t always be thinking about all the things that are wrong in the world or could go wrong because I still have to figure out how to keep my job and pay my bills and maintain my marriage and keep my sanity that I’m frankly just all out of energy.


There are so many problems and there are so many things to fear that it’s completely overwhelming and I don’t know what to do about most of them. So I do almost nothing.

I’m clearly not the only one, and I don’t even think that I should feel all that bad about it. (A little bad, for sure). Because humans are hugely flawed and we’re not always very good at doing the right thing unless it hits us in the face.

I make decisions based on doing the best I can, trying to be better, but knowing that if I’m given a choice between something that is easier and solves and immediate need, and something that is a bit harder but solves a way bigger, more important need — except that need is a little hard to comprehend and anything bad that will come out of making the hard choice won’t happen for a very long time and I can’t really think about that right now anyway — I’m going to make the easy choice. Because I’m human. We’re wired this way.

But, if you re-frame the choices and instead of giving me a really easy-to-make bad choice and a hard-to-make good choice, you give me two entirely new choices that both lead to a better outcome, I do better. Sure, I’ll still choose the one that causes me the least trouble, but it will actually be less shitty for everyone. Because the thing about the carrot is that it only works to change behaviour in people who a) are really love carrots and were probably going to eat them anyway, or b) the carrot is so great that its benefits outweigh the benefits of the bad behaviour you’re hoping to change.

For example, when grocery stores offered 25 cent discounts for bringing your own bags, some people did it. But they were probably the people who were going to bring their own bags anyway and just liked the perk. But when the City of Toronto introduced a by-law that required all retailers to charge at least 5 cents for plastic shopping bags, behaviours changed. This very small negative consequence irritated people, and made them think about their choice to use bags. People I know who I would never have thought in a million years would carry a shopping bag, started carrying adorable, compact bags in their purses.

But when they overturned the ban? Plastic bags for everyone!

People don’t like being told what to do, and people don’t like being inconvenienced, and people don’t like change. So we do nothing. And we continue to do nothing. And then everything goes to shit.

Which brings me to my next point…

We need leaders who will actually lead, and we need leaders who know when the carrot is not enough and we need to start using the stick.


I have mixed feelings about Government as it currently exists. Maybe because I have the worst luck of any human on the blanket in dealing with government agencies, but government as a whole doesn’t seem to be working all that well. We have a public sector, which I happen to think is an important thing, that is massive and therefore not nimble and responsive, that is trying to solve All the Problems. And our public service exists within a political climate that devalues its work and is hugely divided on a social direction, all the while competing with a private market that can do things more cheaply. There are valid things to criticize about government and the public sector, but I also really believe that if we don’t have anyone working with the sole purpose of serving the public good (rather than also trying to make a profit, scale growth, impress all the ladies) then we’re going to be in trouble. Because, humans are lazy and humans are always looking to serve the immediate need and humans want to take the easy way out.

People don’t like governments acting like parents, but we all just keep acting like children. Clearly we need someone to say “You broke the world with your garbage and plastic and fossil fuels and over-consumption and factory farming. Now you have to be inconvenienced for the next 20 years while we pick up the pieces.”

So as flawed as government is, I truly believe we need it; but we need it to be better. We need politicians and leaders that make decisions based on the public good not on popularity. We need mayors and premiers and prime ministers who make tough decisions that will piss people off so that we can actually make some progress. (And then we have to stop trying to overturn every damn decision every four years because we’re whiney babies). Most importantly, we need leaders who will make the tough decisions that piss everybody off and somehow manage to convince us all it was a great idea anyway.

This is over-simplified, of course. Because in addition to making it harder to drive, we also need to make it easier to ride bikes. And in addition to making it harder to buy all our food in plastic containers, we need to make it easier for people to access healthy, fresh food and give them better transit so they can get to their affordable home that is not unreasonably far from work in time to cook their meals. And in addition to ending a constant flow of oil, we need to spend money on alternatives. We need to do a lot of things that require the expertise of all sorts of people who are smarter than me to plan and execute on big ideas. But most of all, we need leaders who will bring those people to together and make something happen.

We just finished a provincial election, and Toronto is headed into another mayoral election. I’m not particularly inspired by anyone. The best thing a politician could do to get my vote is tell me how much harder they are going to make my life and how much better the world will be because of my sacrifice.



Carrot photo courtesy of swong95765 on Flickr. 

Cat photo courtesy of Massimo Reganati on Flickr.

Leadership photo courtesy of Jessica Lucia on Flickr.

Joaquin Phoenix Is Not Your Friend (Or, why it sucks to be a woman in The Immigrant)

Joaquin Phoenix is not your friend. He’s a celebrity. But he’s probably an ok guy. This is actually about a character he plays (sorry, Joaquin) in The Immigrant. Spoilers abound!


There’s lots to love about the immigrant. It tells stories of life experiences I know nothing of, it’s beautifully shot and brilliantly acted, and it’s beautiful to look at. Also, Mario Cotillard’s face.

It’s a story about how insanely hard life is for women, particularly poor women and immigrant women, and Lord knows we need more of those. But somehow that is overshadowed by the story of a man. A man who isn’t the best of men but tries hard, who loves a woman and sacrifices to give her the happiness she deserves. To which I would like to call absolute bullshit!

Bruno is actually a terrible man, who profits off the abuse and exploitation of women. He lies, he cheats, he steals, he manipulates, and he kills. Sure, if you put him next to someone awful (since this is the Internet, let’s say Hitler), he seems pretty ok. But just being slightly less awful that the awful people around you does not make you good. It says a lot that the only redeemable thing about Bruno is that he didn’t directly beat and rape Ewa. That’s a really fucking low bar for redemption.

But the worst part is that we’re so used to seeing these stories of men who aren’t as bad as they could be, that he really doesn’t seem that bad. Not great, sure, but nobody’s perfect, right? As viewers, I think we want to find redeeming things in characters. We want to forgive. But, I would argue the stories we read and watch are actually constructed, probably mostly unintentionally, to reinforce the idea that male characters who aren’t 100% evil (who don’t spend the whole time cheating and beating women) can be redeemed. And it’s up to us to forgive them. (It’s worth noting that bad women are rarely seen as completely redeemable, and for far smaller transgressions.) That reflects our culture, and that’s a problem.


Just in case you think I’m being too harsh on poor Bruno, here’s a list of moments that make Bruno seem like not The Worst guy:

  1. Bruno gives Ewa a home, and takes her to his theatre to get a job as a seamstress. That’s nice. Ewa needed a job and she could earn the money she’d need to free her sister for quarantine. Except there really wasn’t ever a job as a seamstress. That is just a ruse to get her in the theatre. When Ewa “agrees” to join the dancing show (after a violent outburst and blackmail moment), we know Bruno cares about her because he a) didn’t rape her (when he was clear he totally could have) and b) doesn’t immediately force her to go topless in the show. And then, when Bruno sends Ewa home, black-out drunk, it’s because he’s sold her to a rich man’s son — but he felt really bad about it, guys, and the son was going to be gentle!
  2. With a gun to his head, Bruno stabs his cousin Emile to death to protect Ewa. She doesn’t know what Emile is capable of! And yet, Bruno can’t tell Ewa she is free to leave, even when he thinks he’s going to die, because in his mind he owns her. And in that moment when he stabs Emile to death, your instinct might be that it was self-defense. BUT HE ALREADY TRIED TO STAB EMILE WITH THAT KNIFE ONCE BEFORE. He killed Emile not out of self-defense or defense of Ewa, but out of jealousy and pride. He thought Emile would steal Ewa away, and since he owned Ewa (and because he’d lost a woman to Emile before), he couldn’t let that happen.
  3. After Bruno murders Emile, one of the other prostitutes tells the police it was Ewa (out of jealousy? fear? self-preservation?). Bruno heroically helps Ewa escape the corrupt police and even takes a beating for her. It’s true, he didn’t have to do that. He could have turned her in. EXCEPT HE WAS THE MURDERER. HE KILLED EMILE. By not turning Ewa into the police for a crime she didn’t commit, Bruno proves that he is not actually the devil. Could someone throw the man a parade, already?!
  4. In the end, Bruno frees Ewa’s sister Magda from Ellis Island by bribing a guard (with Ewa’s uncle’s money that she had to beg for), and he confesses all his sins and “lets” Ewa go. Aww, shucks. At this point, we already know that Bruno has been withholding money from Ewa to keep her from leaving him. But remember when he reported Ewa to the authorities and her uncle because he heard about her “low moral standing” on the boat, lied to the guards or had the guards lie about her New York family being nonexistent, and had her sent to the deportation centre only to handpick her in a fake white-knight act so she’d feel (and, in reality, be) indebted to him for safety?Sure, I guess by bribing the guard to free Magda Bruno did an ok thing. But only if your standard of “ok thing” is not doing the absolute worst thing you could do, and instead doing the sort of decent thing to help someone out of a situation that you 99% caused!

The Immigrant

My beef isn’t that Bruno isn’t a great guy. Lots of stories are about bad people, and I was even grateful that I didn’t have to watch any women being raped and tortured (which feels rare these days). My issue is with a movie that veils a character’s evil with moments of pseudo-compassion, and the only person who gets mad at Bruno is himself. Ewa may have been trying to forgive and let her anger go, but wasn’t she entitled to be just a little bit more pissed off?

If you’re going to tell a story about the shit life a woman has to live to survive, and the shit man who played a significant part in making her life hell, let’s not pretend we’re telling a story of compassion (or, from the trailor below, love). Let’s just tell it like it is.


What is GivingTuesday, and why should you pay attention to it?


Though Black Friday didn’t used to mean much to Canadians – what with not having Thanksgiving in November and all – it has crept over the border in recent years. Big Canadian brands like HBC advertise Black Friday sales, and the American giants like Best Buy and Amazon do their fair share as well. With the advent of Cyber Monday, a day to enjoy the shopping frenzy of the season without having to put on pants, it’s clear that this is not something that is going away. Since the US often leads the world in so many aspects of pop culture, it will likely only grow. But another thing we’ve borrowed from the US is GivingTuesday.

Founded in 2012 by the 92nd Street Y, GivingTuesday is a day to give back. It can mean giving money, volunteering time, or being charitable in other ways. In their first year, GivingTuesday in the US had more than 2500 partners (from individuals, celebrities, charities, and businesses), online giving increased 50%, and Paypal mobile donations soared by 487%!

Joey Larence Whoa!

What I really like about GivingTuesday is that it is a reminder. It’s so easy to get caught up in shopping and presents (and I do love presents), and so easy to forget about the world around us. It’s a very community-minded movement.

I’ve reflected a lot on how, and how much, I give lately, and I’ve realized that not only do I not have a particularly good plan, but I am not giving as much as I could be. So I picked two charities to give to on a monthly basis for now, and as I learn more about all the amazing options out there, I may change it up.

Even if you do lots already, it’s still a great movement to get involved in. It’s simple: On December 3rd, do something good for your community. Donate money, send a charity gift card, or volunteer your time. I have a plan, but you’ll have to wait a few more weeks to find out what it is! And be sure to let other people know what you’re doing and encourage them to get involved too. #GivingTuesdayCA. You can also get some tips on the GivingTuesday.ca website.

Here are some organizations I’m supporting this year:

Disclaimer: This post contains my personal thoughts and feelings only. I am not representing my employer.