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lip lit: Peace, Love and Khaki Socks

Have you ever considered homebirth? Well, neither have I, but that’s because I deliberately avoid all contemplation of having a baby because it’s terrifying. After reading Peace, Love and Khaki Socks, however, I find myself cheering for the home team.

Kim Lock’s novel is about a young woman grappling with a surprise pregnancy. Freelance graphic designer Amy Silva lives with her boyfriend Dylan in a Darwin army base, and is used to standing out. In contrast to the gossip-mongering ‘army wives’ who are defined by their husbands, she can’t stand baby stores, works hard at her career, and rejects chemicals and big corporations in favour of  natural goods.

Lock gets under Amy’s skin. Khaki Socks shows the internal world of a 24-year-old; our leading lady gets neurotic about peeing, bodily changes, and there’s even a lovely description of the mucus that comes out before birth. All these minute details are a little confronting, but novels that include the small details of life can be pleasurable for readers because we see our lives reflected (I didn’t—but I’m sure lots of mums will!)

Hospitals are repeatedly depicted as sterile and horrible. BFF Hannah has a miscarriage and the unfeeling medical team make her feel responsible.  Amy’s memory of a childhood visit is harsh: ‘We strode along the bright corridor, passing doorways open into a glimpse of the old, frail, sick and infirm. I swallowed the smell, the scent of antiseptic and helplessness, and tried to ignore the crawling of my skin.’

Isolated from family and friends, Amy is frustrated when encounters with doctors are prescribed, rushed and impersonal. She decides to pursue a homebirth—to the chagrin of her boyfriend, family and friends.

The path to homebirthing is a logical one. Any encounter Amy has with the medical profession—receptionist, nurse, GP, the ‘best obstetrician in the state’—are  all rushed and impersonal. Amy finds the doctors’ assumptions belittling. ‘What vexed me was the subliminal assumption that I was, somehow, supposed to know what this was all about—despite the stunning, accidental backstory of my condition. Rather than foster any self-assuredness, the doctor’s task seemed to merely assess me for errors, and send me stumbling off.’

A friend suggests that Amy has ‘handed away her power’, and suggests homebirth as an alternative. Enter the midwife: Ellie is feminine, warm, maternal, and encourages Amy towards embracing motherhood like some sort of guardian angel for scared pregnant women.

Hospital births are shown as patriarchal; harsh, staffed by time-poor doctors who tick boxes and undergo procedures. Homebirth, however, is the worship of the feminine. When Amy finally gives birth (be prepared, it takes 20 pages), the scene is earthy and loving.

Khaki Socks is quite a feminine text; Lock weighs in on a few touchy subjects within the story. Amy’s childhood memories serve as lessons on society’s expectations about women and sex: a schoolboy tells her to provide her husband with intercourse whenever he likes, while her parents chastise her curiosity about a pornographic photo. Army culture is misogynistic, objectifying of women and breeds outdated domesticity.

But the real question raised by the novel concerns Amy’s homebirth: Does a man have a say in his partner’s body? Dylan is convinced that homebirthing faces more risks than at a hospital, and a black cloud settles over their relationship as he argues about where their baby will be born. Hannah is the voice of female ownership: ‘Screw what Dylan thinks—it’s not his body.’ At its heart, Khaki Socks is about a woman searching for agency in an unfeeling system; homebirth becomes no longer the alternative but the logical choice.

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