Baby Health Centre


A sunny day, a crumpled child
eleven whole days old
a large white uniform behind a desk
recording details
exacted from that small resistant flesh.

Now Mother (me? )
we’ll do a check, shall we?
And squalling, bare
on cold white scales
then straightened out upon a towel
my daughter lay
my small miracle of humanity.
The Uniform began inspection from the feet.

Oh pigeon-toed, she said                    (a fault? )
and knees, well…                                (another fault?)
oh and I have never seen an umbilical
hernia so large…                                  The doctor said
It should be taped.                              The doctor said that time would heal
It should be taped, you will regret…
And look, poor child, a birthmark there
so obvious…                                        The doctor said
but maybe hair will cover it
when she’s old enough to care.

I claimed her back, her nappy, clothes
and rushed outside.
She’s flawed, she’s full of faults
I told her father
and we stared at her, small mortal
black-haired, fierce in sunlight.

And now our Kate, fifteen,
no pigeon toes, no strawberry mark, no hernia
gallops over hills and tosses her head defiantly 
at school rules concerning


© Betty Johnston

“A gender-equal society would be one where the word ‘gender’ does not exist: where everyone can be themselves.”*

I’ve always been aware of gender conditioning and actively tried to combat any lingering prejudices or stereotypes in my own parenting, even down to encouraging dolls with my boys when they were little. It’s great to read people writing about gender issues they’re experiencing with their kids. For too long these subjects have been discouraged or silenced. I’d love to publish some more creative writing on this topic, especially if you are struggling with a child who actively tries to move away from gender normative preferences. A society where everyone can be themselves thanks Gloria for those aspirational words.

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* Gloria Steinem