Cate Kennedy

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Waiting Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Cate Kennedy's Waiting. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Cate Kennedy

Kennedy was born in the United Kingdom and spent her childhood traveling between various Australian states and the U.K., due to her father being in the Air Force. After studying at the Canberra College of Advanced Education (which later became the University of Canberra) and the Australian National University, she worked as a freelance writer, a teacher, and a community arts worker. In the 1990s, she spent two years as a volunteer teaching reading and writing in central Mexico. This experience partially inspired 2001’s Signs of Other Fires, her first poetry collection. She has since published several other volumes of poetry, one novel, and two short story collections, Dark Roots and Like a House on Fire. Many of her stories were first published individually in magazines and newspapers. All of her short story and poetry collections have won numerous awards and been nominated for many more. Kennedy lives in Victoria, Australia.
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Historical Context of Waiting

In dealing with both the personal experience of pregnancy loss and the medical aspects of diagnosing a miscarriage, “Waiting” evokes a shift in how people talk about and diagnose miscarriages. Before medical professionals began using ultrasounds in the 1970s and 1980s, many pregnant people miscarried before they even knew they were pregnant. Prior to this point, miscarriages were often framed as a “blessing in disguise” because of the belief that something must have been wrong with the fetus. It wasn’t until the 1980s that doctors began to acknowledge and validate that miscarrying can be a traumatic experience, emotionally in addition to physically. Today, medical organizations believe that somewhere between 10 and 20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage—though they also suspect that the total rate might be even higher, given that some pregnancies end before they’re detected. Most people miscarry before the 12th week of pregnancy. Experiencing multiple miscarriages like the narrator in the story is known as recurrent pregnancy loss, and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists state that it affects only about 1% of women. In 50 to 75% of cases, doctors are unable to conclusively identify a cause.

Other Books Related to Waiting

A number of Kennedy’s stories tackle issues of parenthood, family life, or the process of receiving medical care. “Tender,” for instance, takes place on the night before a woman’s scheduled biopsy; “Cake” follows a young woman on her first day back to work after having her first child; and “Laminex and Mirrors” is about a young woman dealing with professional standards that keep her and her fellow hospital employees from connecting with patients. As a writer of realist short fiction, Kennedy pays close attention to the mundane nature of everyday life. In this sense, her stories can be compared to that of other authors like Raymond Carver and John Steinbeck. She has also mentioned the Russian author Anton Chekhov in talking about her own work. At the time Kennedy published her first short story collection Dark Roots in 2006, there were almost no short story collections being published in Australia; most authors—including her—were publishing individual stories for competitions. Since then, a number of Australian short story writers have risen to prominence and published award-winning collections, including Ceridwen Dovey (Only the Animals) and Debra Adelaide (Letter to George Clooney).
Key Facts about Waiting
  • Full Title: “Waiting”
  • When Written: 2009
  • Where Written: Victoria, Australia
  • When Published: “Waiting” was first published in 2009. It was later included in the 2012 collection Like A House On Fire.
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Realist Short Story
  • Setting: An Australian public hospital
  • Climax: The narrator mentally tells Pete to give up and let the cows eat their struggling wheat crop
  • Antagonist: Miscarriages, the callous and unfeeling male ultrasound techs, and the forces of nature
  • Point of View: First Person

Extra Credit for Waiting

Pregnancy Tests. While the narrator’s mention of the “two blue lines” may be well-known shorthand for a positive result on a modern at-home pregnancy test, testing for pregnancy hasn’t always been so simple. From the 1930s through the 1950s, a pregnancy test involved injecting a female lab animal with a woman’s urine to see if the animal ovulated. The discovery that scientists could use Xenopus toads was revolutionary, as they didn’t have to kill and dissect the toads to check for ovulation—the test was positive if the toad laid eggs.