Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Thank you, everyone

i am no longer going to write entries in this blog. I actually received  a strong spiritual witness last night that I need to discontinue writing it. If anything in this blog has hurt you, I am truly sorry. If anything in this blog has helped you, I am glad. If anything in this blog has convinced you I am judgmental and cruel, I hope you can forgive me. In any event, I must obey the guidance of the Holy Ghost and stop writing.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Thank you, generations

This morning, Luke and I spent some time looking at a recent letter from his Great-Grandma Carey. After I told her about a reading activity I do with Luke where we cut out pictures of words he knows from magazines, she sent him an envelope filled with cut-out pictures of animals. She even pasted a picture of a very fat cat sitting on a sofa to some stationary and wrote Luke a little story letter about it. He loves this envelope full of pictures, and he loves the story letter. I am fully aware of how precious a real letter from a great-grandparent is, and I fully plan on preserving this sweet missive.

Renée is named for two of her great-grandmothers; one living, and one passed on. We just received a gift package in the mail from Great-Grandma Renée today, in fact. This image of the two Renées together was taken by my sister, and it will be an heirloom forever. But even sweeter are the memories we've made so far with Great-Grandma Renée holding baby Renée coaxing laughs and smiles from her, wrinkled hands around chubby ones.

The relationship of child to great-grandparent is truly tender and awe-inspiring. When I have been in the room with my children and any of their great-grandparents, 5 of whom are living, I have felt the beauty of it deep in my soul. The human race, so resilient and wise as it ages, so buoyant and joyful in childhood. When you have children yourself, it changes your relationship with your parents and grandparents. They talk about different things to you. Your children act as a lodestone for the powerful memories of their childraising years, and you suddenly find yourself hearing stories about yourself, your siblings, and your parents that you have never heard. Happy stories, sad stories, funny stories. Precious bits of family and personal history that never would have come out if not for the presence of those sweet little spirits around you.

These are the fruits of 3 generations of bearing children young. Nick and I's grandparents, our parents, and now us, all having children in our twenties. This is one of the many things I've been thinking about after reading all these articles on waiting to have children.

The desire to be a grandparent and a great-grandparent is probably incomprehensible to most twenty-somethings today, who can't even manage to wrap their head around being regular parents--but that will change. You may desire it dearly, so dearly someday.

If you wait until your late 30s or 40s to have children, and then your children follow your example, there is very little chance you will live to be a great-grandparent, and your time as a grand-parent will not happen until you are already quite old. The loss of these relationships again, may not resonate with twenty-somethings now. It may not resonate with anyone, because if anything has become clear to me while reading over all these articles, it is that our culture does not value family relationships. Not the relationship of parent to child, not the relationship of sibling to sibling, certainly not the relationship of grandparent to child. No, what our culture values is money. Because nobody's afraid of losing the relationship of great-grandparent or grandparent, but the idea of women losing MONEY because of childbearing is simply TERRIFYING.

Truly, what is the prime reason that these authors are discussing delayed motherhood? Money. What is the baby penalty they're talking about? Essentially, money. To read these articles, you would think that making less money is the worst possible thing that can happen to somebody.

Why are all these people freaking out about money anyway? For most of these high-end careers that are being discussed, mamas will be making PLENTY, especially if they're in a dual-income household. At most, they'll probably have two or three kids, soooo what are they gonna be spending all this extra money on?  When I read all these freak-out facts about women making less money as a result of motherhood, I just think it sounds so stupid and shallow. Grow up! Money is not the only thing that matters! I'm in a household that will be primarily single-income in a very expensive area and we plan on having, I don't know, between 4 and 7 children. I'm not freaking out about money and how much or little I personally will make.

I'm not trying to overly simplify things, and obviously people live in a great variety of household set-ups and financial situations. I guess I would just like to see somebody writing an article that says: screw all that--kids are worth every penny less of paycheck. Kids are worth every extra moment you spend striving toward a goal. Children are worth it all, because at the end of the day, children are the only thing of worth. Career is nice, and money is nice, but anyone with children can tell you that family is the only thing that matters. These articles make it sound like women are suffering and miserable and leading terrible lives because they're making 10 grand less a year, or taking extra time to achieve tenure, or finish grad school, or make partner at a law firm.

I'm not saying these things should happen to women just because they're women--I'm not saying that the current hurdles women have to jump over are acceptable. Obviously, salary should not be fixed on gender, but on work accomplished. And guess what? During certain periods of a woman's life, they may need/want to work less than men, and that's okay! What these articles appear to say is Because of all these career difficulties, women should just delay having children/not have children--because clearly a bigger paycheck, faster career advancement, and more prestige are way more fulfilling and worthwhile than being a mother at a younger age. I'm saying the only way these hurdles can be abolished is if the brilliant, capable women that employers want to hire and retain fight for the working world to embrace women's biological timeline, and not just men's. 

Speaking of that timeline...there are more factors than just "How quickly can you get pregnant with a healthy child?" involved in deciding whether to delay children (for some people it's a conscious choice. Others may simply not be in a position to have children until later, and that's a different matter). As I mentioned already, you are sacrificing your future familial roles for present career gains. Waiting till an advanced maternal age limits your family size choices. You may think "Oh, I only have one sibling, I want a small family, I'll have plenty of time to have a couple kids after 35." But motherhood is a change far more visceral and tremendous than any other--you may feel differently when you have children. I have a friend who only had one sister growing up, and now has six children. She is young, fit, and luscious. She is one of the most joyful and relaxed mothers I have ever seen, and everyone who encounters her is in awe of her. She didn't know before that she would have such a big family--but it's pretty nice that she started having kids young so she could accommodate so many sweet little ones with healthy timing between each.

Waiting puts you in a difficult position if you conceive a disabled child, because you will not have the same amount of young, energetic parenting life ahead of you to care for that child. There's the consideration of young, student life being ultimately more flexible for bearing and rearing young children than a rigid career life. If 30 to 40 is a crucial decade for career advancement, as one article claims, then is that really the decade you want to have children in? If women shifted back to having children in their early 20s, then their children would be much older by the time careers grew more demanding. Why, Wendy Davis illustrates that quite well.

It's convenient for Jean Twenge, the author of "How long can you wait to have a baby?", that she easily conceived three children with no disabilities and experienced no miscarriages after the age of 35. I'm really glad it turned out that way for her. But just because it didn't happen to her doesn't mean other people don't have problems. It doesn't mean that a rising likelihood of childbearing issues--even if that rising likelihood is less steep than people at first assume--isn't something to weigh seriously and perhaps fear.

Let's remember that the way people view and present statistics is subjective. Jean is basically looking at these statistics and minimizing the risks, saying, Sure there's an increase in childbearing issues, but the risks aren't that big, they aren't that serious, nobody really needs to be afraid of them. It's easy for her to retrospectively look at these statistics and say "What was I afraid of? I conceived healthy children easily, so obviously these statistics are blown out of proportion and my fear was groundless."

But someone else--someone who has struggled long and hard to conceive because of age, or who has a fetus with Down syndrome and has grappled with whether or not to give birth to a child they won't live long enough to properly care for, or who has suffered miscarriage after miscarriage because of age, may look at those statistics and think "Oh my gosh, why would anyone risk going through what I've experienced by putting off children? Don't they see how the likelihood they'll have difficulties goes up every year?" Because she didn't struggle, Jean thinks those percentage points can be brushed aside. But someone who did struggle may believe every percentage point counts.

This isn't about being afraid--it's about being informed. If by choice or chance a woman is in a position that she's bearing children in her late 30s or 40s, she needs to be aware of what the possible struggles are, and she needs to be aware of how her body has changed so she can optimize her chances of a quick, natural conception. For instance, Taking Charge of Your Fertility advises, "As women age, the quantity and quality of fertile cervical fluid tends to decline...women in their 20s will generally have 2 to 4 days of eggwhite, while women approaching their late 30s will often have a day or less. This decline can lead to impaired fertility if intercourse is not timed well. In addition, as women enter their late 30s, they tend to have more anovulatory cycles, and often those in which the egg is released have shorter luteal phases." If you don't know what she means by fertile cervical fluid or luteal phase, that's a reason to go read Taking Charge of Your Fertility! And if you don't know...how many women don't know?

I feel like it is unwise to just ride along on a wave of popular lifestyles, assuming that you can do whatever you want whenever you want and you will suffer no ill consequences from it--that's basically what Jean is saying. Don't worry about it! Nothing will happen! You'll be fine! SHE CAN'T KNOW THAT FOR YOU. SHE CANNOT KNOW THAT WAITING UNTIL YOU'RE 37 TO TRY TO CONCEIVE IS A GOOD IDEA OR NOT FOR YOU.  Sure, waiting until you're older may be the right thing for you and you personally may not feel the effects of age-related childbearing issues, but you can't tell the future, and neither can Jean Twenge. If you want a family, don't gamble. Make a plan, make sacrifices, and bring the children who are waiting to love you and learn from you and laugh with you into this world. Trust me--your children will love you a lot more than your paycheck will.

(On a final note, maybe you think I don't know what I'm talking about since my career choices happen to be very flexible and compatible with motherhood. In some ways, I agree. That's why there will be future blog entries with interviews and input from some of the savviest high-power career women I know who have also had children young. Just wait). 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Thank you, worldwide sisterhood

Since I was 18, I have been a member of a women's group. I meet with this group most every week. I have met with them in Virginia, in Utah, in Colorado, in Belgium, in France. When we meet together, we talk  and hear lessons about all kinds of things. Like how to...

Improve your relationships
Improve yourself
Manage your time
Avoid fighting in your home
Forgive people
Forgive yourself
Reach out to other people
Accept other people's service
Feel more satisfied with your life
Be more optimistic
Conquer negative traits like spite, envy, bitterness, and grudge-holding
Develop positive traits like compassion, mercy, patience, and joy

Both times after I gave birth, women from this group willingly brought me meals for over a week--and I'm talking good stuff, like honey-lime chicken enchiladas and thick, luscious beet burgers. When my children and I are sick, women from this group text me and ask after me, pick up tissues and medicine from the store, bring me jars and jars of home-made applesauce and big pans of from-scratch lasagna.

A friend of mine from this group recently gave birth. Her husband had to be away her entire due month on mandatory military training. Her mother was going to come, but not until pretty close to the due date. My friend was not alone though. Women from our group watched my friend's toddler daughter, drove my friend to the hospital, stayed with her through her awesome natural birth, spent time with her in the hospital, brought meal after meal to her home and have kept in touch with her, asking after her every need. No one in this sisterhood is ever alone in any experience.

Women in this group are all intertwined in little teaching groups, so each woman will have friends that come and talk with her once a month and connect with her about whatever is going on in her life and make sure she's doing well. Each unit of this group has organized, loving leadership that is very aware of everyone's  well-being. If a woman in this group has a family emergency, help will come. If a woman in this group is having an emotional crisis, help will come. If a woman in this group moves to a new city and needs to find a job, find an apartment, move furniture, or just make new friends, help will come.

Aside from the powerful support network for day-to-day life, this women's group regularly puts on events. Lavish dinners, classes about every subject under the sun, women's conferences with brilliant, inspiring speakers. There is normally babysitting provided on-site as well. Normally, being in a group like this would cost money, and then events would cost even more money. But being in this group is completely free. The events are all completely free. Even the on-site babysitting.

What is this group--this wondrous group that gives me friendship, guidance, and peace-of-mind every day of my life?

If you're Mormon, you already know. If you are not a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, let me tell you about the Relief Society.

The Relief Society meets at least once a week, in the final hour of the regular Sunday church meeting. There is a lesson and discussion. About twice a month, there will be other Relief Society meetings during the week or maybe on Saturday mornings. Those could be classes or mini-conferences or dinners or parties--but there is always an educating, enriching aspect to it. It is never just women getting together to endlessly chat or gossip. The Relief Society is a worldwide sisterhood, and I feel increasingly in awe of the privilege I have to be a part of it.

Seriously, what woman gets to meet in a big group with only other women every week and discuss deep spiritual matters? What woman gets to relate to her peers, give counsel to her juniors, and hear wisdom from her seniors in a lovely, organized setting once a month, let alone at least once a week? What woman knows that wherever she lives, wherever she travels, wherever she moves to, there will be sisters just waiting to love her, know her, and serve her?

There are many, many women in this world who are alone--utterly alone. It cuts me deeply, because I know what they could have.

It is a marvelous thing, and I know to my core that the Relief Society is an integral part of God's true church on the earth. The Relief Society is a gift from our Heavenly Father to all of his daughters, all around the world. We believe that organized groups for women existed in Christ's church anciently, and that having a vibrant, orderly system of service and love for women (and for men--it's called the priesthood, and it mirrors the Relief Society beautifully, but that's another story) is a clear indicator of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints truly being the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. Heavenly Father does not leave his daughters in the dust. He ties us together so that through our efforts in sisterhood, we might all become more like our Heavenly Mother.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Please, casual sex

Look, I know that I'm not the norm when it comes to sexual relations in this culture. I know that complete abstinence/virginity before marriage is no longer standard. But I'll be darned if someone can tell me what good casual sex does for anyone beyond immediate pleasure.

What do I mean by casual sex? Why am I even writing about this right now? 

To be realistic, let's say casual sex is sexual interactions outside of a serious, long-term relationship. As to why I'm writing about this presently...go look at the news.

There is such an insane double standard about sex in our culture. When it's consensual between peers ages 10 and up, no one takes it seriously. Sexual activity and exploration is expected! It's normal! It's fun! It's not a big deal!

But then as soon as there is sexual activity where one party is not consenting...then suddenly sex is deadly serious. Everyone is supposed to be appalled and treat it as the worst of crimes. 

Don't get me wrong--sexual assault, battery, and rape are among the darkest deeds humanity can commit. Those crimes are deadly serious. But consensual sex is serious too. 

Is there even anything else like this in our culture, that is viewed with two such radically different perspectives? You might say violence--look at video games, TV, movies. But violence is only treated casually in entertainment. In real life, violence is still treated seriously.

In my house, if something is important or fragile, I keep it away from my children. I don't put the Social Security cards and the Crayolas out together. How crazy of a parent would I be if I gave Luke crystal figurines to play with, then punished him for breaking them? I wouldn't just be crazy--I would be gravely irresponsible. 

This is what we do in our culture. We say sexual liberation, activation, and exploration is a good thing. We take this deadly serious, important, fragile thing, we remove all propriety and cultural rules, and just put it out there for everyone to play with. And then when it gets broken--when women are kidnapped and sexually tortured for years, when children are exploited for porn, when women are raped by their comrades-in-arms--we punish people for it. 

Or at least, we ought to. As Jackson Katz talks about in the Ted Talk below, there are far too many inactive bystanders when it comes to sexual violence. Or, as Petula Dvorak says in the link above, there are too many people who "treat sexual assault like one big frat house joke." These people were so thoroughly indoctrinated into the casual sex culture that they missed the memo that sex is always casual except if one person doesn't want it, then it's really really really serious. 

With theft, there are varying degrees of severity depending on what is stolen. You don't get the same punishment for stealing a candy bar as you do for stealing a Ferrari at gunpoint. Why is that? Because as a culture, we realize that a candy bar is less valuable than a Ferrari. Candy bars are trivial, casual, commonplace. Ferraris are expensive, and represent years of hard work and investment. We can't treat sex like a candy bar half the time and like a Ferrari the other half of the time! People will be conditioned to think it's okay to steal sexual activity because it's not a big deal, when in actuality, it is a HUGE deal. Whether it's  groping in Arlington or rape in Ohio, stealing sex is always grand-theft auto, because sex is serious

I don't assert that on religious grounds alone. Sex is biologically serious. There are reasons it evolved with our most potent feelings and hormones. Sex is supposed to be powerful enough to bind two people together long-term so that they will be united in caring for young. Biologically, that is its purpose. Oxytocin is present for sex, for birth, and for breastfeeding, all of which ought to function biologically in binding families together.

I may be completely alone on this, but from where I'm standing, it looks like sex is not something that should be played with casually. It looks like people seem to break it an awful lot.  Just as I wouldn't hand something crystal to a child unless they are sufficiently old and mature, sex should not be culturally condoned in human relationships unless they are sufficiently long and committed. I am deeply curious about what would be different, culturally, if sex was always viewed as something serious. Would there be fewer sexual assaults? Would sexual crimes--including enabling crimes, like human trafficking and running brothels--be treated more seriously by the law? Would there be fewer abortions? Would perpetrators get the full weight of punishment they deserve? Maybe it's barbaric, but in the Ohio case...I think that's the death penalty. Obviously, the world is not a perfect place, and there will probably always be sexual assault. And certainly, there has been sexual assault, even in places and times where sex is not taken lightly. But what would it be like if we had Victorian morals combined with 21st-century women's liberation? This is what I've been pondering.

Now, there's the bright side of all this; it's hard to open your emotional eyes to the bright side after all of this darkness. Sometimes, when people--especially religious people--view sex as serious, that somehow transforms into sex as bad. It is so sad to me when this happens. Within my own religious community, this sometimes happens, and it breaks my heart. Sex is serious because it is special. It is sacred. I rejoice in people who understand this. Also within my religious community, I see the potential joy, comfort, pleasure, and true love that is part of strong marriage relationships that were preceded by sexual purity. I am far from the only happily married Mormon. How exactly do you think Mormons have so many kids?!

Call me naive if you want, but this much I know--my children will know of the serious beauty of sex.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Please, aggression acceptors

As a child, I feel like I played plenty of war games. Imaginative games born of hours Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers (here's lookin' at you, Emily K.). Spy games, play fights, pretend weapons of all kinds. I once got chided at recess for making up some version of tag that we called Unabomber. Even looking back on these games now, I feel a sort of visceral satisfaction. At times, I think all kids want to play a little rough.

Knowing this full well, I did not go into raising a little boy with any kind of a pacifist mindset. I still don't consciously have a pacifist mindset, but...I've been thinking a lot about aggression in little boys. I've been thinking about what's acceptable and what's not, what's encouraged and what's not.

Luke is a really gentle little boy. I think some of it is his natural personality, and some of it is choices we've made in how we raise him--like nursing till he weaned on his own (around 22 months), co-sleeping, wearing him as a baby, not physically punishing him, playing gently with him, not really exposing him to shows with fighting. All of those things have seemed like the most loving and developmentally healthy choices we could make; they happened gradually, case by case, not necessarily with any goal to raise a gentle boy. But so far, that is what has happened. Contention of any kind stresses Luke--when he watches Toy Story 2, the infighting about who turns on the TV in Al's apartment makes him really upset. He has implored us to turn off episodes of TV shows where characters are bickering. He was given a toy gun and said, "A trumpet!" He was given a toy sword and persistently held it by the tip instead of the hilt. Any roughness with Renée has thus far been...experimental? Based out of curiosity, and not aggression. It has always been met with severe disapproval from us.

I don't know if it will always be this way. Maybe he'll realize that such things as hitting or shoving in anger actually exist. Maybe he'll experiment with this behavior. I don't know. But I do know that I have come to expect gentleness from him, and it doesn't seem that all mothers of sons expect gentleness.

I have seen Instagram pictures of older brothers shoving and kicking each younger siblings. Pictures are a form of praise. When I see these pictures, I have to wonder...why was a photo being snapped instead of the younger sibling being defended immediately? If Luke ever came close to doing that to Renée I would totally freak out. I know I'm not the only mom who feels this way...but it seems like most other moms who share my chagrin at shoving are moms of older sisters. And when I have a lot of time, my mind starts fixating on socialization of girls and boys, about how men commit radically more violent crime and acts of abuse and terrorism...about how the bombers at the Boston marathon were brothers, darkly united in their aggression. Sigh.

I have talked with another mom of a gentle boy. We discussed how other boys sometimes treat our sons, and how their mothers react. Her son got purposefully clocked on the head with a heavy toy at a church play group. The hitting boy was not corrected by his mother. Last week, Luke was forcefully shoved to the ground by an older boy. Luke was visibly baffled by the encounter; as he stood up, I wondered what he would make of it. He quickly started to say, "Oh I'm just kidding. I'm just kidding," as if he decided the shoving boy had to be joking. In Luke's mind, there could not possibly be another reason someone would shove him like that. He could not even perceive aggression.

I have talked with our friend Patrick, who is the oldest of four children, including two younger brothers, about this issue. He related that people ask him all the time, "Oh, what was it like growing up, did you beat up your brothers a lot?" And he is always really weirded out by the question, and responds with a version of, "No, my brothers actually love me, and I love them. I never beat them up." Patrick is quite tall, and always has been. If he'd wanted to wail on his brothers, he surely could have--but something led him not to. Either Patrick's innate gentleness, or perhaps his parents' encouragement. But regardless, people assume that an older brother=a hitting brother.

I have pondered at length about how it seems to me like moms of rough boys are secretly/subconsciously pleased that their little boys hit, push, or tackle. Sometimes it doesn't really seem like their hearts are in it when/if they correct their boys. There seems to be a sort of pride, as if they're thinking, "Well, sorry my son is rough, he's just the alpha male. He'll clearly grow up to be a leader/quarterback/CEO/the President."

I don't know what Luke will end up doing in the coming months and years. Like I said, he may at some point discover that roughness is a possible choice. But I don't want him to be that way. I don't assume--and by assuming,  accept and approve of--all boys' innate aggression. I look at the gentle men in Nick's family and my own--including Nick, his father, my father, my brothers, his uncle, his cousins (a family of 5 boys and 1 girl)--and I hold out hope that gentleness will be genetic. I hope one day, Luke will be just as puzzled as Patrick when asked if he pushed his sibs around.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Thank you, Antonin Dvorak

I love America. It is still the country that inspired Antonin Dvorak to compose this:


The refrain of the second movement of the New World Symphony wraps around me like a blanket crocheted by my mother. Its gentle ups and downs comfort me like the ridges in the hands of my father. Many songs have borrowed this melody, because of its unique ability to place the peace of home in people's hearts. My favorite song that lovingly borrows from Dvorak is a French LDS hymn called "Souviens-Toi."

Anyone who is Mormon and knows French has probably heard of this hymn; I've seen various LDS people translate it on their blogs. Right now, I am in charge of teaching the 12-13 year old girls at church, and for a recent lesson, I decided that I would attempt my own translation of this song. My main goals were to preserve the spirit of the song as poetically as possible and to have the English words actually fit to the melody and be singable. The French text rhymes, but I felt that rhyme in English came off wrong. I did not translate every single thing word for word, but tried to find the right way to express the same thing in English. This is my offering:

Souviens-toi, mon enfant
Souviens-toi, mon enfant: Tes parents divins
te serraient dans leurs bras, ce temps ne’st pas loin.
Aujourd’hui, tu es là, présent merveilleux,
ton regard brille encore du reflet des cieux.
Parle-moi, mon enfant, de ces lieux bénis
car pour toi est léger le voile d’oubli.

Souviens-toi, mon enfant des bois, des cités.
Pouvons-nous ici-bas les imaginer?
Et le ciel jusqu’au soir, est-il rose ou gris ?
Le soleil attend-il la neige ou la pluie?
Conte-moi, mon enfant, la couleur des prés
et le chant des oiseaux d’un monde oublié.

Souviens-toi, mon enfant : A l’aube des temps,
nous étions des amis jouant dans le vent.
Puis un jour, dans la joie nous avons choisi
d’accepter du Seigneur le grand plan de vie.
Ce soir-là, mon enfant, nous avons promis
par l’amour, par la foi, d’être réunis.
Remember, My Child
Do you know, little one, your parents divine
held you close in their arms not so long ago
Now today, you are here, marvelous, aware
your small face still reflects the bright light of heav’n
Tell me now, little one, of this blessed place
for you make light the veil of forgetfulness

Ponder now, little one, on the woods and towns
Here below, do you think we can picture them?
Was the sky pink or gray at the close of day?
Would the sun, warm and fair, wait for snow or rain?
Tell me now, little one, the hue of the fields
Sing me songs of the birds in a world away

Picture now, little one, at the dawn of time
We were there, best of friends, playing in the wind
Then one day, filled with joy, we both made a choice
To accept, from our Lord, his grand plan of life
That night then, little one, we promised ourselves
By our love, by our faith, we would reunite

It is not perfect, I know. If you know French, you can see how the French is much more beautiful. I did my best. 

This song is a parent--a mother or father--asking a child or infant about what it was like living with Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother before coming to this mortal life. Yes, in the LDS church, we do believe that we have a mother in heaven, as well as a father. We believe that everyone on earth lived as spirits with our heavenly parents before coming to earth and receiving a body. We believe that Heavenly Father and our Savior, Jesus Christ, created a plan whereby everyone on earth could learn, progress, repent, and choose to return to live with our heavenly parents again after this life. This is the Plan of Salvation, or the Plan of Happiness.

On a day like today, I think about the Plan of Salvation. I think about our Heavenly Father, who loves his children. I think about our older brother and Savior, Jesus Christ, who died for us so that we could repent, and return to our heavenly parents. I think about the people who returned home today, when they weren't expecting to, and I weep. 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Thank you, Taking Charge of Your Fertility

Occasionally, you read something that is such a revelation to you that you feel like an idiot for not knowing it before. Over the past two weeks, I have had that experience in reading Taking Charge of Your Fertility, by Toni Weschler.

Maybe other women already know and understand much of the information in this book; that would be awesome. But for ladies like me who somehow missed the boat on an in-depth understanding of the menstrual cycle and how women's fertility really works (despite gobs of knowledge about pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding and a mother who was very open about body/reproductive knowledge), here are some intellectual hors d'oeuvres.

  • The 28-day cycle is a myth that impacts a variety of women's health care standards. Menstrual cycles are as individual as fingerprints. By keeping track of key fertility signs, you can get to know your own cycle.
  • Women typically release one egg a month, occasionally two. That egg is viable for a very short window of time, about 24 hours. Men produce hundreds of millions of sperm every day. It is entirely possible to know when you are fertile (ie, could become pregnant) and when you are not. 
  • The time between menses and ovulation is variable. It could change every month based on what's going on in your life. If you are sick, stressed, travelling, or exercising vigorously, ovulation could be delayed.
  • The time between ovulation and your next menses, or the luteal phase, is generally not variable month-to-month for a given woman. A luteal phase averages between 12 and 16 days between women generally. If your luteal phase is 13 days, then it may occasionally be 14 or occasionally 12, but will not vary beyond that. 
  • If you are keeping track of your key fertility signs and know when you ovulated and how long your own luteal phase is, then you will actually know if your period is "late" or not. Let's say your period starts on April 1. You get sick a week later, and then you are really stressed out from school. You notice that you don't ovulate till around April 25. You know that your own luteal phase is 15 days. So, you are not surprised when your period doesn't show up until May 10--giving you a 40-day cycle that is completely normal.
Wow. Whether you are trying to achieve or avoid pregnancy, that knowledge of when your period will come is wonderful. In the example above, a woman who is not keeping track of her fertility signs may have been really excited, expecting that she's achieved a pregnancy she wanted. When her period finally arrives so "late", she and her husband might feel disappointed. Another woman with that same 40-day cycle who is not keeping track of her fertility could have purchased several pregnancy tests in a fit of paranoia that she's become pregnant when she was not quite ready. When her period arrives, she will feel relief--but will be just as susceptible to pregnancy paranoia the next time ovulation is delayed for some reason.

You can only really know when to expect your period if you know when you ovulated and how long your own personal luteal phase is. If you're trying to get pregnant, you can only know when to time your baby-makin' if you know when you're going to ovulate (And guess what? Ovulation predictor kits* don't necessarily help with that). Toni shares stories of couples trying to get pregnant who had been very diligent about making time for love about two weeks after the woman's period (based on the the mythical 28-day cycle), but who had not achieved a pregnancy. If a woman ovulated at day 11, then they would have missed the ball! Or if a woman ovulated frequently at day 20, they would have been too early! Toni points out that a couple could make love twice a week for a year and not get pregnant because they are missing when the woman ovulates every single time. Such a couple might think they have fertility problems, when actually they just don't know enough about the woman's cycle. Toni also talks about how many fertility treatments are timed based on the 28-day cycle and the problems and misfires and expense that can subsequently result.

Oh and speaking of 28-day cycle problems, guess what else is based off of it? PREGNANCY DUE DATES. If a woman's last period started February 1, her due date will be calculated from February 14, according to the 28-day cycle. But if her ovulation was very delayed and she didn't ovulate until February 28, that means her due date is off by two weeks. That means that if her care provider insists she is induced at 40 weeks, she could actually be getting induced at 38 weeks. What if that baby naturally would have gestated till 42 weeks? Then baby has been born a month early, and will suffer for it. Every day in the womb makes a difference. How many "failed" inductions that resulted in C-sections were inductions that didn't work because they were actually happening at 36, 37, or 38 weeks?

Toni also talks at length about the inequality of manufactured birth control, how it is essentially all geared toward the woman; how even though women are the ones who are only fertile a couple days a month, we are the ones expected to live with all of the horrible side effects of birth control. As another incentive for reading the book, let's just say that Toni has a little parody of the IUD called the IPD, and it is so vindicating and hilarious.

Basically, when women are actively keeping track of their fertility signs (waking temp, cervical fluid, and cervical position), and timing unprotected intercourse for when she's infertile (which is the majority of the time), then Fertility Awareness is a completely free method of birth control that is just as reliable as condoms. That is, if you are using the Fertility Awareness Method taught in the book with exactness, you have a 2% chance of getting pregnant. Using condoms with exactness, you also have a 2% chance of getting pregnant.

I ponder at length about lost body-knowledge. I have been aware of our culture's lost knowledge about birth and breastfeeding for a while, and now I realize we have also lost knowledge about the most basic elements of the menstrual cycle. A woman's body is not just this mysterious, unknowable thing that has to be reigned in with drugs and devices! We can and should know our own bodies and our own cycles.

I realize I didn't even attempt to explain what the key fertility signs are or what they indicate (though I was fascinated to learn about how the cervix changes position cyclically with ovulation!) That is because this is a complex topic, and I don't want anyone to be tempted to run off and try to use FAM as birth control with a couple fun facts. These are hors d'oeuvres. Please, go to the library or a bookstore and sit yourself down for the main course. It will give you the most nourishing and delicious self-knowledge you have ever consumed.

*You may view all of this with skepticism, thinking of someone you know who got pregnant unintentionally while using "natural" birth control. Likely, they were using an ovulation predictor kit, which doesn't give enough warning before ovulation; the Rhythm method, which is based off the 28-day cycle and does not require a woman to keep track of her own fertility signs; or the Billings method, which only monitors cervical fluid and is thus incomplete and prone to slip-ups. Toni's Fertility Awareness Method is rigorous, detailed, and very individualized, and again, has the same clinical effectiveness as condoms for contraceptive purposes. Don't knock it till you've tried it.