Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Thank you, cheesy workout DVDs

A couple of years ago, I probably would have just laughed if you asked me to do a workout DVD. I pretty much just thought they were all ridiculous. But...I'm just a teensy bit obsessed with them now.

It started during my pregnancy with Luke. I wanted to be healthy and happy. That was pretty easy during my first trimester, since I was lucky enough not to be sick at all. But as my expanding belly started transforming my slim frame during the second trimester, I started to get uncomfortable. I didn't have any idea how to exercise with this new body shape. I like running, but that didn't seem right. And I certainly didn't want to be out in the heat. So I ordered a prenatal workout DVD from Gaiam.

The very first time I did the second trimester workout I felt sooo great. When you're pregnant, you get all kinds of random stiff, achy, or tight spots all over your body. You might get leg cramps. You might get restless legs. Or any number of other discomforts. In my experience, pretty much any possible pregnancy soreness can be alleviated, eliminated, or entirely prevented with a well-designed prenatal workout. Not to mention this Gaiam DVD features Summer Saunders, an Olympic swimmer, and her sister in law. They have this really laid-back, natural banter, and Summer herself is so cute and chipper. It has a great mood to it.

I did the Gaiam DVD my whole second trimester, and then a girl from church loaned me Denise Austin Fit and Firm Pregnancy. (True confession: this girl moved away and I forgot to give the DVD back to her, and I have found no way of contacting her, not even through facebook! It doesn't help that her name is Ashley Smith. So I still have her DVD. And I still love it. And I wish I could thank her and get her address and Amazon a new one to her. Maybe one day!)

Regardless of how kooky Denise Austin seems with her non-stop chatter and troop of pregnant ladies, all of the workouts are fabulous. I recommend every one, from the all-trimester cardio to the post-natal ab workout. I probably would have lost my mind from restless legs if it weren't for this DVD. Oh my gosh, doing the cardio workout was literally my favorite part of the day during my 3rd trimester. I could just feel the tension and pressure in my back, hips, legs, and chest ninja vanish like the Foot Clan. I had more energy during the day and I slept better at night. I did Denise Austin's cardio every single day, even the day before I went into labor.

I am confident that my regular exercise is a huge part of the reason my labor went so well, and I know that it helped me get back to my normal clothing size afterward. To be honest, I have always been slim without trying too hard, though I do eat healthy and try to run a few times a week. But still, I had never actively needed to lose weight before, and I am definitely not an intense exerciser. I do not like to feel stressed out when I'm exercising. Utah was cold for so many months after I had Luke that again, running wasn't really a choice. Something had to be done, because I had neither the money nor the inclination to buy myself a bunch of new clothes in a bigger size. My clothes were great, I just needed to fit in them! I was overjoyed to make the discovery of streaming workouts on Netflix.

Netflix has a good variety of workout DVDs, and I started with some slightly easier ones from the irresistably cheesy Dance Off the Inches series. My BFF in the exercising world quickly became Ellen Barrett, however. She had two different workouts from Self Magazine on Netflix at the time, Slim and Sleek and Bikini Ready Fast (not that I would ever wear a bikini...). I switched back and forth between them for several months, and not only did I feel those same energizing benefits as from my pregnancy, but I did get back to wearing my regular clothes without doing dieting (which sounds HORRIBLE) or going crazy working out.

And being home with a baby, it was easy to find half an hour a day to do a workout. Luke doesn't mind having some chill time, and he has always watched my workouts with fascination, hahaha.

Now that I'm pregnant again, I'm getting reacquainted with cute Summer and crazy Denise. No matter what you think about workout DVDs, they're cheap, effective, and you can do them in the comfort of your own home, whenever you have time. Your health and happiness abounds with good exercise. So if you're pregnant, pre-pregnant, or post-partum, take some samples from the tasty cheese tray of workout DVDs. And maybe you'll become just as obsessed as I am.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Thank you, Kmart Donors

This story has been jingling its way around the internet, and I have to say, it's really, really sweet. Christmas time always brings with it tender stories of need and generosity. I'm so grateful to Margery A. Beck for writing up the Associated Press article and bringing attention to this beautiful blizzard of giving.

But I have to offer one important clarification. Beck says, "At Kmart stores around the country, Santa seems to be getting some help." It's not Santa who's getting help through the selflessness of these donors--it's Jesus Christ. Santa is not the driving force behind powerful goodness in the world. Jesus Christ is.

In the Book of Mormon, we are taught, "When ye are in the service of your fellow beings, ye are only in the service of your God."  In the New Testament book of Matthew, we are taught, "Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."

The Light of Christ draws people closer to each other and closer to God. Jesus Christ is our elder brother, our Savior and Redeemer. We are about to celebrate his birth, and as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I think it's vastly important to remember that he is the reason for the kindness at Kmart. And for the following event, shared by my friend Chelsea Slade on Facebook today. And countless other stories of peace on earth and goodwill toward men.

"Observed the following at 7/11: A homeless woman standing outside asking customers for spare change as they went in. One girl shook her head, holding up a credit card, indicating she didn't have cash, then raised a hand as if to ask a question. The homeless lady shook her head, and the girl went inside. After a few seconds, the homeless lady went into 7/11 and started talking to the girl, who smiled and nodded. The homeless lady gathered up a big armful of groceries, and the two went to the counter together, where the girl paid for her slurpee and for the groceries. The homeless lady came out with her arms full of food, singing praises to Jesus, and the girl smiled and slipped back into her car and drove away."

Merry Christmas, everyone.

Please, Pakistan contraceptive pushers

It is not wrong to have a big family. It is something that many responsible and intelligent people plan to do. There are seven kids in my family, and five in Nick's. Nick and I would love to have a big family ourselves.

However, there is a big difference between marrying at a biologically mature age and choosing to have many children at a healthy rate for you and your babies, and being married as a teenager and being forced to have 12 children in 12 consecutive years.

What is the answer to the repression of women's biological autonomy? What solves the problem of women having zero respect from their husbands or in-laws? What saves a woman from being forced to have children year after year, a practice which is tragically unhealthy and dangerous for mother and children?

According to apparently many, the answer to all those questions is contraceptives. Magical, hormone adjusting or sperm-blocking contraceptives.

This is an absolutely infuriating prospect to me. Let's invest time, money, resources, and media efforts to drugging women up! Instead of helping them get more respect in society, let's just get permission from their husbands and mother-in-laws to insert an IUD!

I understand the population growth without sufficient resources and the danger to women's lives are immediate problems, and I understand the desire for a quick "solution." But here's what I'm afraid of. This campaign will succeed, the "problem" that people actually care enough about to get involved with (population) will be solved, and that's where the advocacy will end. All women will end up with is possibly fewer or better-spaced children. Not more rights, respect, options, or education.

To me, this is not the most sinister part of the article:
"Today, just one in five Pakistani women ages 15 to 49 uses modern birth control. Contraception is shunned under traditional social mores that are fiercely defended as fundamentalist Islam gains strength."

This is:
"...Rural Pakistan, which is home to two-thirds of the about 180 million people in the nation. In this area of Sindh province, literacy rates are dismal, teenage marriage rates are high, and 10-children families are not uncommon."

And the answer to young girls being pregnant year after dangerous year is not "a government committed to slowing population growth." How about a government committed to educating girls and getting respect for women? That is what would make a lasting difference. 

Believe it or not, contraception is not the silver bullet for women's liberation. It's also not the only option. Natural family planning does indeed work. But any family planning is meaningless if it's not something a husband and wife choose together, with mutual respect for each other's well-being and desires. That can't happen in a society where men say "Our wife? What does she know?" 

The way I see it, the same time, money, resources and media efforts being used to drug women up could be used to lift women up through education and opportunity. 

Please, American comedy

I've really debated about writing this entry at all, because I don't know if it will make sense to anyone. But after another sad and frustrating experience with American comedy yesterday and a sleepless night trying to sort out my complicated feelings, I want to express my perspective. I am pregnant, nursing a toddler, and I've been very sick the past couple days. I can't afford to lose sleep at night.

Nick and I don't have real TV. We don't even know how to set up our TV to receive any local channels, much less cable. We have an XBOX 360 and Netflix, and lots of movies of our own. We really love screen media. I take great pleasure in a good TV show or movie, and watching something good is one of our favorite ways to spend time together, as I've expressed before.

Part of the reason we don't care about having real TV is that American shows in general don't really interest us. There are two main reasons: one, because of the extreme, sensational and violent nature of many non-comedies, and the inevitably crass nature of comedies. I won't talk about extremity today.

Every time we start to watch a live-action American comedy, we end up stopping. This has happened to us with The OfficeArrested Development, ScrubsHow I Met Your Mother, Ugly Betty, 30 Rock, and probably others I can't think of. The latest is Parks and Recreation. It has been a long time since I watched the other shows, so I will primarily draw examples from PR. What troubles us and what makes it very difficult to watch American shows is the flippant, ugly, casual way sex is dealt with.

In the three episodes of PR we watched, this is what we saw about sex and marriage:
--Sex matters so little that you can have sex with somebody and completely forget about it (even though it's someone you know well and see every day)
--Being young and married is stifling to your sexual identity, and you should reach outside of marriage for satisfaction
--If you meet somebody attractive, find a way to have sex with them. If someone disapproves of this, they are "a huge dork."
--Numerous crass phrases and references to the act of having sex
--If you do get married, you'll probably end up realizing your wife is a *itch and get divorced
--Quote from a career woman about her slightly kooky, inept daughter: "I want my daughter to be successful. That's why I've always told her there's nothing wrong with being a wife and a mother." (Every time I think about this I have to stifle a scream of rage.)

It's not like we go into comedies with a fault-finding attitude. We want to like them. We want to laugh and quote things with our friends. But our attempt to break into PR was the same as with other comedies. A couple of things happened in the first episode. We tried to ignore them. A couple more in the second. We tried to ignore them, and just focus on the genuinely funny things. But by the third episode with the distasteful one-night-stand that didn't phase any of the characters, that familiar feeling of disappointment and disgust had settled in.

The persistent jokes about incest and other weird sexual goings-on turned us off to Arrested Development. The sexist, body-part focused dialogue of Michael Scott pushed us away from The Office. I think the last episode we watched of How I Met Your Mother was one in which they realized Ted hadn't had sex for a year or something and they spent the whole time trying to find some random person for him to have sex with.

Of course we know people have sex outside of marriage. But it's just really hard to see sex divorced not just from marriage, but from any kind of meaningful relationship at all. We could accept Lily and Marshall's relationship in How I Met Your Mother, and we mostly tried to laugh off Barney's extreme, comic sleaziness. But eventually, the superficial sexuality present in pretty much every American comedy wears us down.

Lest you think me stiff or prude, let me clarify that I don't think sex is a dead serious subject that's completely untouchable in humor. Just ask me about some of the hilariously bawdy things that have come out of my own mother's mouth. To me, sex is sacred, but it is also a part of life that can be happily joked about just like anything else. Intelligent or satirical sexual jokes are really great. One of the reasons we love Futurama so much is that while there is occasional racy humor, I'd say 90% of the sexual jokes are funneled through Bender, who of course is a robot devoid of any and all morals. Because he's not even human, his exploits take on a very witty, satirical cast.

And that's the beauty of Futurama in general. It's a mix of both intelligent and completely wacky humor, and the writers are boundless in finding comic material. They are not reliant on throwing in lowbrow, lewd references. So many shows seem to have vulgar sex jokes as life's blood. But even with Futurama, there are a couple of episodes we've skipped and a couple of scenes we've fast-forwarded through. It's wonderful though, that out of 4 seasons of a show, we've probably had to do this less than five times.

I will note another thing that I personally struggle with (not so much Nick). If you know me, you know that I have an excellent memory for words and quotes from shows and movies. Quotes regularly run around my brain in my day-to-day life. I wish that I could watch these shows and really ignore the crass sexual jibes, but even when I'm not trying to remember them, words stick in my head. It takes me a long time and a lot of willpower to stop these disagreeable phrases from taking laps around my mind.

In closing, I will say that I am not trying to come off as holier-than-thou by saying all of these things. Nick and I fully realize that these are our particular opinions, and we don't really expect anyone to share them, and we of course don't look down on anyone for not being phased by the sexual aspect of American comedy. There are some things that don't bother me that bother other people--swearing in media, for instance. By and large, I could care less about swearing. But everyone has something that's important to them that they don't want to see denigrated or made light of. To me, crass sexual references are just as troubling as racial/ethnic slurs.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Please, food stamp haters

So, one very unpleasant surprise when we were getting ready to come to law school is that according to UVA, I apparently don't exist. Luke does, and of course Nick, but not me.

To get through law school, you have to take out federal loans. You are not supposed to work during law school, and so this loan money is supposed to pay for your life, and not just your school expenses. The amount of loan money you get is determined by a budget that the school makes and submits. UVA does not have a married student budget. They only have a single student budget. It is presumed that if you are married, your spouse will be working and can thus pay for their own living expenses. There is no allowance for a spouse that stays home with children. We were told this is a "lifestyle choice." You cannot get a loan extension. You can get loan extensions for children, but not for a spouse. To UVA and other law schools, staying home with your children is just not even a viable option, and it is not something they will make a budget to support.

Basically, this comes out to: Nick, Luke and I as a family are supposed to live for 12 months (if Nick isn't able to find a paying job this summer) on an 8 month single person budget.

We could potentially barely squeak by on this budget. And I really mean barely. Come next August, our bank account would be completely empty. As it is, we are eligible for programs like Medicaid, WIC, and food stamps (SNAP--Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program). I cannot tell you how grateful I am for these programs, because at this point in our life we really need them. When we finally finished the process of getting food stamps on Monday, I felt like crying. I am so grateful that this assistance is available.

And then last night, I was reminded of something--apparently Nick and I are lazy hippies taking advantage of hardworking people's tax dollars. Oh, and we're also probably alcoholics.

In a social setting, a man felt comfortable expressing his extreme irritation that his tax dollars are wasted on "lazy hippies who won't get a job and use food stamps to get drunk."

Hearing this remark reminded me of another. I heard a man at Sam's Club say to the cashier in a very angry tone, "You know what's wrong with food stamps? They can buy lobster."

Let me clarify one thing, to get started. I checked the food stamps rules of every single state, and you are not allowed to buy alcohol anywhere.

I don't know these men personally. I don't know what their life experiences have been, or why they feel the way they do. But I can tell you that I am offended by their assumption that anyone who needs assistance with food is a lazy, undeserving freeloader. I'm offended by how they implicitly begrudge me and my husband, who is working his brains out, help that we desperately need.

I'm sorry, sir, but have you ever even known someone on food stamps? Because most likely, they were elderly, a child, or a working age woman, since only 17% of food stamps users are working age men. A good number of people on food stamps (41%) live in a household with earnings, and yet still only 15% of food stamps households are above the poverty line. So where are these hippies who are taking advantage of your tax dollars? Maybe there's some definition of hippies that means "young families and elderly in poverty" that I'm unaware of.

I'm sorry sir, but who are you to say that my little family doesn't deserve to buy lobster, if that's what we choose to do with our food stamps? That isn't what we choose to do, because that would be a waste of money. (Although yesterday when shopping with our EBT card for the first time I was sorely tempted to buy lobster just to spite you). Food stamps does not give you an extravagant amount. The amount we've been allotted is just slightly more than what we had already budgeted for ourselves with our meager resources. In other words, I see it as the perfect amount to provide for our family. We will continue to be frugal and wise with our grocery decisions. The difference is that now we won't be destitute by next summer.

Could we potentially have made different decisions that would make us ineligible for food stamps now? Sure. We could have delayed Nick going to school until he had worked for a few years and saved up money, but in this economy, that path just as easily could have ended up with us on food stamps. I could work while Nick was in school, but again, I don't know if that would put us out of the food stamp boat either, because if I was working we'd have to pay for daycare, which is not cheap. As it is, we have chosen for Nick to go to school now, and I have chosen to be at home and raise my own child. Judge me if you wish, but don't begrudge my family food.

Thank you, EMD Serono

The biopharmaceutical company EMD Serono recently conducted a survey about fertility knowledge among women ages 25-35. I heard about it through this NPR piece, which is worth listening to as well as reading.

I think that EMD Serono's survey report is really important, and I think it's something that young women and young men should be aware of. If you are interested in having children, I highly recommend reading it and thinking about your own assumptions and preconceptions (haha) about fertility. I certainly had some incorrect notions.

Overall, it seems like many women have molded their assumptions about fertility to fit the current cultural norm of getting married late in your 20s and then waiting even longer to have kids. Here are some bits I found surprising or interesting from the survey report:

--For having a first child, women expect to be about 7 years older than their mother was when she first gave birth; about 31, instead of 24.
--Despite expecting to wait till past 30 to have children, 3 out of 4 women said they had no concerns about trying to conceive, and 3 out of 4 women believed they would have an easier time than other women when trying to conceive.
--Women who know a 40+ woman who has had a baby are more likely to believe that women peak fertility at 30-34, when actually women are most fertile at 20-24
--The general overestimation of women's fertility at all ages and underestimation of how long it actually takes to get pregnant on average, which was the biggest finding over the study.
--Only 2% of the women in the study were using natural family planning as opposed to manufactured contraceptives.
--64% said they discuss contraception/birth control/familiy planning at every OB/GYN visit, whereas 78% said they have never discussed age as a factor in fertility with their OB/GYN, and 78% also said they've never discussed the average length of time it takes to get pregnant.

The unfortunate truth is that the current cultural norm does not really align with our evolutionary development. I was struck by the comment of Kate Nail in the NPR article, who said, "It seemed so fashionable to have kids in your 40s these days." It may be fashionable, but that doesn't mean that it makes biological sense, or that it is easy or even necessarily wise.

In our youth-worshiping culture, it seems nothing ought to interfere with partying, prosperity, and self-promotion in your 20s. Some people see marriage as interfering with those things, and delay it. Some people see children as a huge interference. Rachel Jankovic, a non-LDS Christian mother, was recently quoted by an LDS church leader on this topic:
"[Growing] up in this culture, it is very hard to get a biblical perspective on motherhood. … Children rank way below college. Below world travel for sure. Below the ability to go out at night at your leisure. Below honing your body at the gym. Below any job you may have or hope to get... Motherhood is not a hobby, it is a calling. You do not collect children because you find them cuter than stamps. It is not something to do if you can squeeze the time in. It is what God gave you time for."

Whether or not you believe in God, it is so heart-breakingly true that people often do prioritize working and world travel over creating a family. 

But ahh, here's the thing, the thing that I want to say to Barbara Collura, who was quoted in the NPR piece. Fun+adventure+career+education and family are not mutually exclusive. Truly, they are not! I look at Nick's own mother, who had two rambunctious sons while going through law school and starting her successful law career. She has taken her family to Spain, Ecuador, Uganda, the UK, and more. And check out the blogs of these educated, world travelling, working mamas, who have done it all with less than year-old children:

Look at what is possible! And this just happens to be women I know. Are these all crazy rich, overachieving women? No. They just find a way to make it work. There are thousands of young LDS women at BYU alone who manage to have children and get a bachelor's or master's at the same time. Is it easy? No, it's pretty busy. But being married and having babies does not forbid frivolity and fun. 

And the other side of this issue is that your 20s are not your entire life. People live for a long time. There is so much time for education and enlightening experiences. I deeply admire Nick's Grandpa Peterson and his lady friend Sharon, who constantly take classes at the University of Utah, are incredibly involved in their community, and take so many adventurous trips all over the place. They are in their 70s and their lives are rich and full. It's amazing, and Nick and I hope to emulate them one day. 

I don't say any of these things in a prescriptive way, as in "Well, everyone should have an identical life path and should get married young and have kids young." Certainly, that is not right for everyone, and some people may have desired that but it didn't end up that way. But at least from the survey, it seems like many women and men may be making choices based on incorrect assumptions about fertility. And I know from living in this culture that those thoughts about fertility blend together with notions about your life being "over" once you get married and have kids. I think it's important for women and men to know the truth, both about fertility and about the potential for grand adventures with a young family. I think it's important for women to know the truth even if it does make them feel guilty. 

I say many of these things because I know that marriage and children are nothing to be afraid of, and they are certainly not restricting. As another blogger I love said, "Be careful not to buy into the idea that the only good we can do and the only difference we can make and the most fun we can have is outside of the role of motherhood. It is a lie. It is also one of the blackest forms of misogyny. It is hatred not just for women, but for their special gifts."

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Thank you, Rhode Island

What a relief! An entire state has FINALLY overcome the formula lobbyists and stopped giving out free formula samples to newly delivered mothers. Hallelujah!

Granted, cute lil Rhode Island only has 7 birthing hospitals, so this is a very small start. And I have to wonder if the small number of birthing hospitals is the reason formula companies didn't put up a more voracious fight. I'm sure if California or Texas tried to do something like this, (and maybe they have before?) that formula companies would be squirting bottles of fury and money all over their state governments.

One thing I noticed in the article (that I've seen in many other online discussions about nursing vs. formula) is the woman who supported free formula, saying, "Women are smart enough to figure it out on their own."

This is a frustratingly narrow mindset. Don't you see that this has nothing to do with mother's intelligence or decision-making capability? It has to do with what hospitals ought to be promoting or not.

When hospitals give out free formula, they are promoting formula. They are saying, "Hey, this is a healthy and great way to feed your child." The act of handing over a formula packet undermines breastfeeding. It says myriad things from, "You'll have problems with nursing and you'll need this," to "This is equivalent to breastfeeding." Introducing doubt about breastfeeding and mixing up thoughts about the "just-in-case" necessity of formula is not what hospitals ought to be doing.

Formula is pretty much the only thing I can think of that has managed to almost completely defeat a biological norm. Respirators have not infringed on the territory of breathing. Catheters have not replaced people peeing normally. Feeding tubes have not ousted people eating. Sex toys have not superseded people making love. Artificial insemination is not the most common way people get pregnant.

Currently, all those other things are used pretty much only by necessity, when things have truly gone wrong. (With the exception being sex toys, of course, which are not a medical issue. I include them because you could say breastfeeding isn't a medical issue either. But that's kind of a whole different subject...) It's possible all these other biological interlopers could become something people frequently use by their own choice. With clever enough marketing, people could become convinced that they're not capable of peeing. They need help. They could be tricked into believing that making love just won't be satisfying or just has no chance of helping them conceive, so they need costly, manufactured help on a regular basis. Heck, I can even imagine scare campaigns involving asthma and pollution that make people certain they have to have a respirator to breathe at all. Maybe this all sounds kind of sci-fi, but I think a highly processed substance almost entirely replacing the normal, biological substance is pretty freaking sci-fi as it is.

Women who say, "Hey, mothers are smart enough to figure it out, we don't need regulation on formula advertisements and we don't need hospitals to stop giving out free formula," just seem really ignorant of the vast power of marketing. In a country where only 14.8% of babies are exclusively breastfed at 6 months old, something must be done about formula. Clearly, formula has extended its reach too far. If formula didn't have such a powerful grip, women wouldn't get kicked out of stores, restaurants, courtrooms, parks, museums and more for breastfeeding. If formula wasn't so ridiculously ubiquitous, women wouldn't have to fight so freaking hard to nurse their babies or pump in the workplace.

It's not about women being smart enough. It's about hospitals and health care providers needing to stop promoting formula and start helping mothers breastfeed. Truly helping them. Doctors have a lot of influence and money. They could help mothers in the fight for better breastfeeding access in the workplace, which is a huge barrier. But that's not the only barrier, because it's not like all stay-at-home moms are exclusively breastfeeding. The mindset that women just "dry up" and are frequently incapable of making enough milk for their baby is everywhere. Doctors must help dispel that myth, because it is a myth and self-fulfilling prophecy. They could help introduce doubts about formula instead of doubts about breastfeeding. In fact, I think the most important thing doctors (especially ob/gyns and pediatricians) could do is to get a broader education about breastfeeding, because currently most spend maybe 1/2 a day in medical school learning the benefits and basic mechanics. Any breastfeeding mom can tell you that there is so much more to know that it's not even funny. If doctors and politicians spent more time getting a deep education about breastfeeding and less time pandering to formula companies, a whole lot more babies would be breastfed in this country.

So, Rhode Island, you are my hero, truly. Thank you for actually thinking about the impact of what hospitals do, about the message that it sends. Thank you for trying to send a more positive message about our endangered, beautiful, biological norm.