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.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Please, Steubenville

To be honest, I have had no desire to write about the events in Steubenville. When I heard about it, I immediately wanted to forget it. But every time I tried to bury it, someone with a shovel came along and dug it back up via Facebook status. This piece in particular, posted by a friend, got me thinking.

Rollins asks a lot of questions He basically asks why did the Steubenville boys think that what they were doing was okay. Rollins seemed content to speculate, or to let others speculate. Personally, I have an answer.

Why did the Steubenville boys think what they did was okay?


"Wait a minute," you might say. "How do you know they view porn?"
Because when a researcher at the University of Montreal recently tried to do a comparative study on young men who view porn and young men who don't, he could not find any young men who do not view porn. The likelihood that the Steubenville boys regularly view porn is extremely high.

I honestly think this is a case of monkey see, monkey do. What else can we expect as a society? Porn is not just about sex anymore. It's not just a harmless erotic past time. Porn conveys destructive messages about power, aggression, violence, and sexual objects and subjects. Porn images are violent and misogynistic, not fun and sexy.

In the musical The Little Shop of Horrors, a young man named Seymour acquires a mysterious plant. He finds out that the plant thrives on human blood. He feeds the plant--first with his own blood. But the plant grows and requires more and more. Seymour ends up killing other people to feed to the plant. Despite the deadliness of the plant, Seymour cannot resist it. In the end, the plant consumes Audrey, whom Seymour loves, and finally Seymour himself.

The musical is a dark comedy, but there is nothing comedic about pornography. When the seeds of porn are being constantly planted, nourished, and watered in young men, it's no surprise when Little Shop of Horrors-like monstrosities rear up and consume young men, young women, and their whole communities.

What can be done? As the musical implores, don't feed the plants. Don't watch porn. Don't accept porn viewing by your loved ones. Don't accept porn viewing by young men. As long as porn is the norm, Steubenville will continue to happen over, and over, and over--whether or not there's video evidence.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Please, caste system

There is a caste system in this country. Oddly, there are only two castes in it--a high caste and a low caste. The low caste is so despised that you will never, ever see a published picture of someone from it. You will never see them on TV. You will never see them in a movie. You won't see a member of this caste smiling back at you from a "Look-see-how-diverse-our-campus-is" college advertisement. Members of this caste may even be afraid to be seen in Youtube videos, so you might not see them there. They certainly have no representatives in Congress, and I am willing to bet low caste members have no representatives in any legislative body, down to the most local level.

The pressure to leave this caste is higher for women than for men, but neither gender prefers to be in it. At womenshealth.gov, there is even a special fact sheet about how to get out of the caste. As far as I could find, there is no equivalent fact sheet for men. Occasionally, a female celebrity will admit that she used to be a member of this caste--usually only when she's being paid to admit it.

Low caste individuals will try to edit pictures so you can't tell which caste they're in--that is, if they're comfortable having their picture taken at all. Low caste individuals are obsessed with trying to change their caste. Morning, noon, and night they are desperately working. They will do anything, try anything, endure any drug. Before they even leave the house in the morning, low caste people will do everything they can to hide their caste so they aren't ashamed at work or school. The only time you may see low caste individuals completely unedited is in Sylvester McMonkey McBean-like advertisements that promote magical products that can change your caste. But even in caste-changing advertisements, you still may only see members of the high caste portrayed. The low caste is just that repulsive. Nobody, nobody wants to see these people. Nobody wants to photograph them. They can't be models even for products marketed to their caste.

If you're in the low caste, studies show you might seriously struggle with self-esteem (naturally), and that you will have trouble rising in any given career field. Job interviews are stacked against you. You may have a hard time socially, and you may find a love life difficult/elusive. The low caste is universally despised.

Do you know what I'm talking about yet? If you still don't know, I'll give you some hints. I'm not talking about a race. I'm not talking about a weight class. I'm not talking about a sexual orientation. I'm not talking about a specific religion.

I am talking about people with serious acne. Not just the occasional pimple, but the angry, painful, face and/or body covering kind. The kind that is there day-in, day-out. The kind that scars you, body and soul.

If you have had or currently have serious acne, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you've known me for a long time, you probably know that I have had serious acne, both in my teens and in my twenties. Currently, I am not struggling with acne, which is maybe why I feel okay enough to write about it. If you have never dealt with serious acne...you are truly, truly fortunate.

When you have serious acne, there is no way you can feel like you are physically beautiful. In popular culture, overweight people can  beautiful. People with a variety of diseases can be beautiful. Amputees can be beautiful. People with extensive scarring and burns from accidents can be beautiful (like Stephanie Nielson). People with blood, gore, and open wounds on their faces can be beautiful. But never people with acne. Never ever ever.

When you have serious acne, you do your best to come to terms with it, to have some working level of confidence in yourself and your presentation to the rest of the species. But it is there, every time you look in the mirror. Trying to not feel ugly when you have chronic acne is like trying to not get a headache when you're being punched in the face multiple times a day, every day.

If you've never had serious acne, you may think, "What's the big deal? Buy some Proactiv--it worked for Katy Perry, didn't it?" Proactiv. Oh how I hate their advertisements. Yeah, thanks--the last thing people with acne need to see is more airbrushed images of people with perfect skin. Thanks for reminding us of what we'll never look like. 

Personally, I have never used Proactiv, because nothing, nothing topical ever made the tiniest bit of difference for me. So, I can't vouch for its efficacy, only its crappy ads. When I finally convinced my mom that acne was worth going to the doctor for (and that took A LOT of work), I was given Accutane.

I ended up taking Accutane 2 1/2 times. One full course (6-8 months) in 10th grade, one truncated course during my junior year of college, and another full course during my senior year of college. It absolutely worked, and seemed miraculous to me. At each of those times, I was so extremely grateful to be suddenly launched out of the low caste.

But I did not forget my roots. Don't be fooled by the skin that I got, I'm still I'm still Jenny from the block. (I hope that reference makes sense to someone...) It would be impossible for me to forget, considering the nearly suffocating self-loathing I felt for my physical self. I made some of the worst choices of my life during my teen acne plague, choices that I know now were directly linked to my unshakable belief in my own ugliness.

I was grateful that Accutane worked for me, but guess what? Not everyone with serious acne can take Accutane. Maybe their insurance doesn't cover it (and you need insurance to cover it, because it is a really expensive drug). Maybe they get some of the really serious side effects, like depression/suicidal thoughts. Maybe they want to start a family soon. Maybe they have other illnesses that are incompatible with a powerful drug like Accutane.

I think a lot about what I did endure to become a member of the high caste. I had to have my blood drawn and tested every month to make sure the pills weren't slowly killing me, so I missed school on a regular basis. Having my blood drawn is upsetting to me, and has made me pass out before. I do not like it. I'm pretty sure Accutane affected my night vision, and I'm not sure whether it was permanent or not; it's hard to tell. Once I got married, I was required to use two separate forms of birth control--one hormonal and one barrier--at all times while taking Accutane. That was no picnic. If I had somehow gotten pregnant anyway, the fetus would have such extensive defects that I may have needed to end the pregnancy. Every single pill drilled that that nightmarish possibility into me, because every single pill has a cover with a silhouette of a pregnant woman with a red slash over her.

In some ways, I think the costs of Accutane were radically outweighed by the benefit--acne-free skin. But in other ways, I still feel kind of upset that I went through all of those things just to look a certain way. But I felt desperately impelled to do it. There is just no cultural compassion for acne sufferers the way there is for almost any other state of being or disease. When acne sufferers are not being vigorously excluded by popular culture, then they're being endlessly mocked. There's an assumption that acne sufferers can/ought to be doing something about their acne, that they have the power to change it. Many high caste individuals assume that if people wash their face more or eat better or drink more water that their acne will go away. HA! If only it were that easy. That government acne fact sheet? It really emphasizes that if you have severe acne, you should see a dermatologist and get antibiotics, contraceptives, injections, Accutane, or even surgery. In some ways, I'm lucky that I just went straight to Accutane. I know many friends who have slathered on cream after cream and slogged through pill after pill, enduring many side effects, all in the pursuit of clear skin.

Here is the base line: sometimes people with serious acne can do something about their acne, and sometimes they can't. If my skin were to degenerate into serious acne again right now, there would be virtually nothing I could do about it. I am in the middle of the 10+ year endeavor of childbearing and breastfeeding, and so pills are not an option for me. I already know that topical treatments do nothing for me. I would do everything in my power to care for my skin, and still it would look horrible.

The next time you see someone with serious acne, don't assume that they can change it. Look in their eyes and think--forcibly if you must--that they are beautiful. Maybe over time, the caste system will clear away.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Thank you, memory-foam mattress

If you're like me, you've always been hypnotized by the idea of a Tempur-pedic bed. Those commercials with the stable cup of wine on one side and the woman cavorting on the other side always seemed positively magical.

But if you're like me, you've seen the price tag on a Tempur-pedic and then had to pick up your eyeballs off the floor. 

But thankfully, there is a solution. Here's some history on how Nick and I got the most AWESOME BED EVER. 

When I was at the beginning of my third trimester with Luke, I'd started to have trouble sleeping. I had restless legs and I just could not get comfortable at night. It was maddening, and I was always pretty tired. We visited a friend, and got to sleep on a Tempur-pedic bed for a couple nights. Sleep. ACTUALLY SLEEP. When I woke up each of the mornings without having roused at all during the night, I was incredulous. Where was my pregnancy discomfort? Where were the restless legs and insomnia? They were absorbed right into the beautiful foam of that Tempur-pedic bed. 

Fast forward to the months before law school. Nick and I are the kind of nerdy people who research, oh...just about every decision we ever make. So, we'd been doing research on how to succeed/not die during law school, and I read in one book about how important it is to invest in a good bed. The book argued that during law school, sleep is precious and critical, and so you want to make sure you have a quality mattress so that every minute you're sleeping can be the best sleep possible. When I read that, my mind automatically went to those unforgettably delicious nights of sleep on the Tempur-pedic bed. 

But then it was back to the price tag. There was no way we could shell out for a king-size Tempur-pedic, which starts at around 4 grand. So we started to look around. We looked at all kinds of other memory-foam beds, read dozens and dozens of reviews. Compared prices, compared tiny details like whether people noted a plastic/chemical smell coming from the mattress or whether people felt too hot at night. We compared longevity, as noted by reviewers. Finally we decided to gamble on Sleep Innovations.

And let me tell you--we hit the sleep jackpot. 

We got the 10-inch king size mattress for just $419 off Amazon. It shipped for free with Prime. It came in a big fun box, all vacuum-packed. We opened it and it puffed up and up, until it was our own little piece of sleep heaven. We got some memory-foam contoured pillows from Ikea to go with it. We didn't have to buy a devilishly squeaky, baby-awakening box spring, since memory-foam mattresses stand on their own. Paired with a nice, low platform bed frame (from sustainable wood, found surprisingly at Walmart), we had a pretty sweet set-up going. 

Our sleep is amazingly good. I have never been so well-rested in my life as I've been in the past year and a half--and I have an eight-month-old baby! We never wake up with random aches or pains. During my second pregnancy, I never had trouble getting comfortable and I didn't have to use 6,000 pillows to support my huge belly. The memory foam just contoured perfectly around it. The feel of the bed and pillows is different than a traditional bed--you can't really throw yourself onto the bed, and the pillows aren't really cuddly. But they are designed to support your neck/spine in the most comfortable way, and they definitely succeed at it. You lay on the bed and pillow and you just gradually feel your body sink in, supremely relaxed and supported. It feels so awesome.

The bed is also a dream for co-sleeping. There's plenty of room for everybody.  Renée isn't sleeping on an incline, always sliding towards my body. We're both levelly supported, right next to each other.  When Nick gets into bed or when I want to readjust, it doesn't jostle the baby, and there is no squeaking or creaking. With the platform set-up, the bed is low to the ground, which is comforting in the event of an extremely unlikely but possible baby roll-off. If Renée nurses to sleep in bed during the day, I can easily slide out of bed without disturbing her at all. When she was under six months, I just stayed in sight. Now that I know her better, I usually put our super sensitive baby monitor right next to her and check her every couple minutes. 

We are pretty busy people, and we highly value our sleep. We are obsessed with our bed. When we go to hotels, and certainly when we stay at other people's houses, we just pine and pine for our bed. We hate being away from it even for a couple nights. In fact, we love it so much that for we're about to purchase it again. We frequently visit Nick's family (in the next month, we'll be staying there 3 weekends out of 4 for various events), and we'll be staying with them for 12 weeks during the summer. That is way too long to be away from our Sleep Innovations beauty. It's about time for our guest room to come to the foam side. 

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Please, dirty ob/gyn secrets

In the past week, I have read this blog post, which heavily praises a male OB who supported a mom in a VBAC after 3 previous c-sections.

I have also read this Washington Post article (and also this and this) about Nikita Levy, the male OB/gyn who committed suicide after being caught out for secretly filming and photographing his patients. And no, he wasn't working in some sketchy, no-name practice. He worked for Johns Hopkins.

I can't link to this because it was in Birth as an American Rite of Passage, but I have also read the birth story of a woman who had a male OB with major anger/control issues who repeatedly screamed at her while she was in labor and cut a huge, ugly episiotomy apparently for spite, since she would not consent to a c-section when there was nothing complicated going on with her labor.

I've also thought about my mother, who had an awesome first birth with a progressive, naturally-minded male OB, but who was severely abused and disrespected by all of the other male OBs she ever had to work with--hence why 3 of us, including me, were born at home with midwives.

What is to be done? I have written before about my general feelings on male ob/gyns. Yes, I'm aware that there are honest, hard-working, high-quality male ob/gyns in the world. I'm glad that they exist. I'm glad there are awesome, natural-friendly, VBAC supporting male OBs out there. Some of them have made all the difference for their patients. Some of them have helped women achieve their dream birth. Male ob/gyns can be very good doctors. But honestly, how as a woman can you make sure you're not seeing a Nikita Levy?

It's just hard for me to understand how so many women are comfortable with male care providers for their reproductive health. I feel really uncomfortable when other women casually talk about weekly "cervical" checks by their male OBs, or go into detail about their male OB's assessment of their vagina. And then there's the even more nauseating premarital gynecological exam recommended to young women in certain states out west--young LDS women who have probably never had any sexual encounters of any kind, and who are encouraged to have a gynecologist--often a male gynecologist--"stretch them out" before their wedding night so that their wedding night isn't painful. Wow, I can't believe I just got through typing up that description without vomiting. It is something I have been aware of for a long time, but has horrified and revolted me so much that I have rarely, if ever, been able to bear thinking about it.

We're talking about the most personal part of your body, and biologically, the only reason a male would have interest in/access to that part of a female is for sex. I think that a male who can successfully repress all sexuality when looking at and touching a woman's lady parts is the exception, not the rule. I'm not saying 100% professional male ob/gyns don't exist. I'm just saying...Nikita Levy created a lot of evidence about his secret rapes. There are probably thousands of other male ob/gyns who are just as creepy and sexually abusive but don't fill up 10 computer hard drives worth of images and video.

Okay, I'm going to say it--it's not probable. With the jacked-up sexuality of our culture and the INSANE porn industry in today's world, it is certain that there are thousands of other male ob/gyns who are just as creepy and sexually abusive as Nikita Levy. It is certain that many, many male ob/gyns get sexual pleasure out of examining their patients. In the Post article, a rep from Johns Hopkins said this was "such a unique situation." I don't agree. I don't think male ob/gyns just flip a switch and turn off their biology when they walk into an exam room. It is not impossible. I just don't think it's common.

This is all conjecture, of course. I doubt there have been surveys/studies done of male ob/gyns that ask, "Oh, by the way, do you get sexual pleasure out of doing pelvic exams on your patients?" Even if there were research done, what ob/gyn would ever admit it? It would be completely damning for them individually and for their colleagues as a whole. Nikita Levy killed himself after being caught.

So how can a woman ensure her own safety and privacy when it comes to reproductive health care? There's no easy answer, especially since most of Nikita Levy's patients loved and trusted him. But some possible ideas?

  • Choose midwife care or a high quality female ob/gyn
  • Only use a male ob/gyn if absolutely necessary--ie, female care providers are not available or cannot provide the particular medical care that you need 
  • Go to appointments with a spouse or friend? This may be more possible/comfortable for some people than others.
  • Minimize pelvic exams. Cervical checks during pregnancy really truly mean nothing and can do more harm than good. Sometime, I may write an entire blog entry about why I plan to never have a pelvic exam during pregnancy again. For non-pregnant state, the recommendation for a pap smear is every 3 years, so unless you have specific reason for concern, you shouldn't need a pelvic exam more often than that. 
  • I'm not saying you shouldn't be nice to your care provider, but...I dunno. If it's a male care provider, consider keeping things strictly, strictly business. It makes me feel pretty queasy to read about how all these women were confiding in Nikita Levy and telling him private emotional things all while he was sexually exploiting them. 
  • Be informed about what is supposed to happen during pelvic exams. Be informed about what instruments need to be around. (Nikita Levy was finally caught because a female colleague noticed an unusual pen hanging around his neck during appointments. Turned out to be a pen camera). Even if it feels awkward, ask questions about what is happening and make sure there is no extra or unexplained time taken.
  • Listen to your instincts and keep your creepo sensors set to high. Never hesitate to change care providers for any reason!
Yeah, those are just my thoughts. I'd love to hear some more ideas about this, because...I have felt really disconcerted by this news about Nikita Levy.

Some people may think I'm being paranoid, harsh, or overly cynical. But my mama didn't raise no fool.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Thank you, natural-friendly hospitals

So, the latest book I've been reading for my CAPPA childbirth educator course is Birth as an American Rite of Passage, by Robbie Davis-Floyd.  It's a very technical anthropological treatise on birth, definitely addressed to fellow anthropologists. Much of the jargon is unfamiliar to me. Robbie is quite thorough and analyzes every tiny detail of typical hospital birth and its impact, physiologically and anthropologically, on women. I have felt pretty depressed reading it, mostly because the first edition of it was published in 1992 and so little has changed. In fact, in many ways typical hospital birth has gotten worse. Reading it has made me despair of women ever rising up and taking charge of their births.

But despair is not productive. Hope is productive. I have to keep hoping, and I have to keep doing all that I can in my own sphere. So goes the mantra, anyway.

Based on her own research, Robbie also presents several different outlooks on birth and pregnancy. She categorizes these outlooks and analyzes them. She states, "Generally speaking, women who give birth in hospitals are seeking to be prepared but not to be 'natural,' and women who aspire to truly natural childbirth are choosing to give birth in freestanding birth centers or at home." She emphasizes a number of times that by choosing to give birth in a hospital, women are at least in some degree showing agreement with the technocratic birth philosophy of the hospital.

Is it possible to have a natural birth in the hospital? Is it possible to have an earthy, homey, happy, spiritual natural birth in the hospital? Is it possible to be in the hospital but not of the hospital?


But it is not easy, and you have to be ready.

Many people know this already, which is great. But I think it's important to talk about, because many people still see natural birth and hospital birth as mutually exclusive. Many people still think that if you go to the hospital, that you are stuck laboring/giving birth on their terms. And that's just not true.

I have absolutely loved both of my natural hospital births. They have hands-down been the most exciting, beautiful, exhilarating, romantic, challenging, spiritual, and joyful experiences of my life. Nick and I have never felt so close, so united, so in love.

I have birthed in hospital instead of at home or at a birth center because both times, we've been eligible for Medicaid and so it was a choice between a 100% free birth or spending money we don't have on an out-of-hospital midwife. (Midwives are not expensive; in fact, they are RADICALLY more affordable than typical prenatal care/hospital birth. We're just in a stage in our lives where we don't have any money to spare). If you are drawn toward natural birth but are obliged to birth in hospital as I have been, here are some things that have helped me:

1. Be confident about birth and your body. If you have any fear at all, it will make you vulnerable to accepting unnecessary interventions. You need to utterly believe in your body and in your ability to give birth to a healthy, happy baby.

2. Get a care provider who respects you and regularly attends natural births. This may be a midwife, and this may be an OB. Whichever it is, do not be afraid to ask questions. Detailed questions about their own practices and about hospital policy. Ask if they have had patients before who did what you want to do in labor. Some care providers seem perfectly friendly...until you start asking questions or expressing opinions. If your care provider brushes off your questions or seems contrary to any of your desires for labor, switch care providers. If you have any doubt or any discomfort with your care provider, have the respect for yourself and for your baby to get out! It is never too late. My sister switched care providers at 37 weeks and had a beautiful natural birth to a healthy baby instead of the unnecessary C-section she was threatened with.

If your care provider is someone who is familiar with natural births and has low intervention rates, then you will be able to trust them if for some reason any particular intervention might be helpful. Most interventions most of the time just interfere and make things harder for mom and baby, but everything has its place. I know great natural birth stories that have involved vacuum or even episiotomy or induction. In each of those stories, the mother had a care provider that she knew was comfortable with natural birth. Not just a care provider she thought was nice, or that was gentle, or friendly--a care provider that actually knows how to assist a woman having a natural labor/birth.

3. Read books that offer an evidence-based critique of hospital birth. Some of these books are Pushed by Jennifer Block, Born in the USA by Marsden Wagner of the WHO, The Thinking Woman's Guide to a Better Birth by Henci Goer, and of course, Birth as an American Rite of Passage. There are many more. My favorite is Pushed. I recommend reading a critique of hospital birth early in your pregnancy or before you're pregnant. If you are a feminist at all, then these books will make you angry. They will make you extremely upset. They will make you want to cry and scream.  I say to read these books because I think if you want to have a natural birth in the hospital, you need to be angry/disgusted enough to break up with the hospital, and then slowly come back to the point where you can be friends--guarded, wary friends, but friends. If you feel too trusting/comfortable with the hospital, you're pretty much guaranteed that you will get unnecessary interventions.

4. Read lots and lots of positive natural birth stories/materials. After you get super upset from reading critiques of hospital birth, you'll need to feel better. You'll need to be reminded that the point of all of this isn't to be mad at the hospital--it's to have an AMAZING birth experience that will change your life and will be the absolute healthiest for your baby. Anger is not an emotion you need to carry with you into labor. Anger at the system can help shape what you want for your birth, the way that heat helps you shape metal into a sword. But you can't use a sword while it's still red-hot, and you can't have that earthy, spiritual natural birth if you're super angry. When I was pregnant with Luke, I had major anxiety/anger issues about the hospital. It plagued me well into my second trimester. I finally read a section from Birthing From Within about making peace with your birth place that really helped me. I also read lots of wonderful birth stories on the Mama Birth blog. Reading natural birth stories is the only antidote for the poison of how birth is portrayed in our culture. You will find birth stories that inspire you. You will read perspectives that resonate with you. You will get ideas about labor comforts. You will get ideas about how to feel peace during labor. The more you read, the more you will see that no birth is the same.

5. Take a natural birth class with your birth partner. There's Bradley, Hypnobirthing, Birth Boot Camp, Birthing from Within, and lots of local, natural birth classes that don't associate themselves with any one method (when I am a childbirth educator, I will fit into that last category!). Find one that fits your schedule and your philosophy, shell out the money, and TAKE IT! There are about a billion reasons to do this, most important of which is that it gives you and whoever will be assisting you at your birth many chances to practice and talk deeply about birth. Start thinking about this early on, because many of these classes run for between 8-12 weeks and you want to be done before you're full term. So, you'll most likely start your class in the second trimester.

6. Deliver at a natural-friendly hospital. Guess what? The hospital nearest you might really suck for natural birth. It may be extremely busy and crowded, such that there is a time limit placed on how long women can labor before getting bullied/duped into labor-speeding interventions. The staff may be really unfamiliar with natural birth and have no idea how to assist you OR be completely antagonistic to you. There may be no resources for natural birth, such as birth balls or jetted tubs in the delivery room. There may be policies about IVs and continuous fetal monitoring that are extremely hard to buck. You want a place where women regularly have natural births--and a place with a jetted tub in each labor room! Water is REALLY IMPORTANT WHEN YOU'RE HAVING A NATURAL BIRTH.

I admire women who are strong enough to be the pioneer, to be the first woman in a hospital to buck a trend.  I love women and I believe women are inherently strong, but I also know women are  powerfully socialized to please and cooperate. In Birth...Passage, Robbie talks a lot about the psychological openness/vulnerability of the laboring woman. Reading her descriptions of this, I understood for the first time just why it is so difficult for women to resist when they are pressured over and over again to do interventions. You need to be able to stand up for yourself and what you want in labor, but it is very hard to fight while you are in labor. You don't want to birth in a hostile environment. Your body will rebel against it, and unless you are a particularly mighty woman, you will likely lose your natural birth. Both times, I have given birth at a hospital that was about half an hour away, and it was totally worth the drive. Birth is not an emergency, so don't feel obligated to be within 10 minutes of your birth place.

(7. Be prepared for how they will try to treat your baby. Both times, my labor and delivery were GREAT, but the second my baby was born the pathology claws came out again. Be prepared to say no, A LOT.)

There are other things that are important for preparing to have a natural birth, certainly, but I think these were some of the things that enabled me to have awesome births with extremely healthy, alert babies who nursed well and had absolutely no health issues--even in the hospital.

(If you are thinking about this on a personal level, I am always happy to talk about this in more detail. Feel free to email me). 

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Thank you, Todd and Ray

Last night was pretty rough for sleep, because a mean cough was keeping poor Luke up. So, I started today feeling not so great. I wasn't successful getting baby girl to take a morning nap, which is always a little frustrating. Let's get out of the house, I thought. We'll go to open play at the rec center and everything will be great. Come home, have lunch, kids will be worn out and ready to nap...golden.

The rec center was fun, as usual. Luke didn't even get upset when we left, so I was feeling great. But...(you knew there was a but coming) then driving home I felt that sad, distinctive rumble of a tire going flat. My good spirits went flat with it.

I wish I could say that I was super awesome and capable and changed my own tire lickety-split. I was prepared to try, though I have never done it before. Baby girl had blessedly fallen asleep, and Luke was sitting patiently for the moment. I had the spare and everything out, and was kneeling dejectedly on the sidewalk, looking at the owner's manual diagrams. Genius me had gone out in February without a jacket, so my hands and arms felt like they'd been playing Tetris with the contents of a freezer. Will I even be physically strong enough to do this? I wondered.

But then Todd appeared. About my height, paint-spattered sweatshirt and work boots. "Do you need help?" he asked. I honestly hadn't even heard his massive pickup pull off the side of the road, I was so focused on the tire and manual. My mind immediately went hot from the friction of a million safety/instinct calculations going at once. My mother raised me and my sisters to have certain levels of paranoia. Just last night I had to go to Target with the kids when it was dark, and I got an employee to walk me out to my car (my sister narrowly missed a carjacking on an evening run to the grocery store with her baby. A spiritual impression to get in the car and lock the door even while her baby was still strapped to her in the Ergo is the only thing that saved her.) Was I willing to accept help from a man I didn't know?

In such a situation, you can only go by spiritual impressions. After a moment of awkward conversation and Todd pointing out that his father was there in the truck as well, I felt right accepting his help. I felt safe and incredibly grateful. I was able to take the kids out of the car and care for them while Todd jacked up the car and started removing the lug nuts.

Then came the humorous problem of the lug nut lock. The great thing about being young and having used cars is the many things you get to learn the hard way. Did we check/ask about a key for the lug nut lock when we bought our Fit Sport used a few months ago? No, of course not. So, even though I had a friendly neighborhood Samaritan right there, the spare couldn't be put on. The rim and tire couldn't be removed.

Todd's father, Ray, didn't miss a beat. He drove over to an auto parts store around the corner to find a lug nut lock. While he was gone, I found out that Todd and Ray aren't even from here; they're just in town doing some contract work and were willing to spend their lunch hour helping me.

Ray returned from the auto parts store. No lug nut key. But he bought a can of Fix-a-Flat. which seemed marvelously sci-fi to me. I didn't even know this stuff existed. By now my tired, hungry kiddos were getting impatient, and so it was so nice to be able to take care of them while Todd sprayed in the Fix-a-Flat. Then, we all went to a gas station near by and put extra air in the tire. When it was clear I could safely get home, Todd and Ray headed off to find lunch.

I tried to give them this nice box of chocolates I happened to have with me as a thank-you, but they'd have none of it. "Please," I said, "You made my day better, and these chocolates can make your day better." Ray insisted, "My day's better helping you."

I've always slightly dreaded having a flat tire, because in the back of my mind I've had the guilty knowledge that I'm not a responsible car owner who is facile with tire changes. Today could have degenerated quickly into an extended, horrible ordeal with tow companies and waiting around forever with the kids in the cold with no more snacks. But two Christian gentlemen were able to re-inflate my happy day as easily as Fix-a-Flat re-inflated my tire.

Thank you, thank you, Todd and Ray.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Please, pacifiers

This sucks.
Before I go off on my own rant, let's see what some breastfeeding books have to say about pacifiers:

The Politics of Breastfeeding: "It is remarkable how rare thumb or object sucking is in societies where unrestricted access to the breast is the norm. It has become socially acceptable for a baby to suck anything, be it bottle, dummy, soft toy, blanket, or the nearest adult finger while the ideal object, a breast, is denied."

Ina May's Guide to Breastfeeding: "Pacifiers can also be the culprit for a slow weight gain. Do you ever give your baby a pacifier? If so, put it away. Any sucking that she does should be on your breast. If not, the pacifier is getting the stimulation that should be telling your breasts to make more milk. Don't forget that night feedings are important for delivering the most milk during a nursing session to your baby."

The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding: "If she has fallen asleep nursing, it's partly because her level of cholecystokinin (CCK) has risen. In a newborn, a high level of this hormone makes a baby sleepy and tells her that she's full; a low level can wake her and tell her she's hungry. After maybe twenty minutes of sucking (not necessarily eating) your baby's CCK has risen enough to put her to sleep and give her a rest from all her hard work. About twenty minutes after she's stopped sucking, her CCK level has fallen again. Your baby may wake up, convinced she's never eaten before in her life, giving her a chance to "top off her tank" with renewed energy. Another sucking bout, another CCK rise, and she's likely to zonk out completely...Sucking on a pacifier releases CCK, too. A baby can fall asleep with a pacifier, thinking she's been fed. But really she's been fooled out of a meal, and your breasts have lost a feeding's worth of milk removal. Result: slower weight gain and lower supply.

Womanly Art, cont'd: "Pacifiers, also called dummies, have their place, but not necessarily in your baby's mouth. They were designed to substitute for your breast, and they sometimes do it too well...In the early weeks especially, if a baby wants to suck, he wants to eat, pure and simple. A pacifier is like a sugarless gum for someone who's trying to double his weight in a matter of months. It can reduce intake at a time when a baby is meant to grow quickly. Pacifiers are linked to early weaning, though the reason for the connection isn't clear. They may be associated with sucking problems, too, especially if they're started in the first few days, though again the reason isn't clear. Mothers who rely on pacifiers tend to develop fewer baby-calming skills of their own...Prolonged use can affect mouth development, raising a child's palate and crowding his teeth as well as narrowing his nasal passages and leading to an increased risk of sleep apnea and speech problems."

Did your baby have a lot of trouble with latch?
Did you have trouble with milk supply?
Did your baby gain weight slowly?
Did you "have to" supplement?
Do you feel like your baby or toddler "isn't cuddly?"
Has your toddler lagged at all with speech development?

Do you or did you use a pacifier?

Yes, pacifiers are germy and gross and cause all sorts of technical problems with breastfeeding and anatomy and speech. Parents seem to be increasingly aware of the problems of prolonged pacifier use; some try to take away the pacifier at a certain age, and some blow off the warnings with remarks like "They'll have to have braces anyway, so why does it matter if it messes up their teeth?" Some parents are aware and maybe even feel guilty or insecure about how much their child uses the pacifier, but struggle mightily with day-to-day functioning when they've tried to take it away.

It's upsetting to me how common pacifiers are and how much they undermine breastfeeding. It's upsetting to me that the AAP recommends pacifiers for nighttime instead of co-sleeping and nursing. But one point on which I wanted to wax philosophical is the line from Womanly Art, "Mothers who rely on pacifiers tend to develop fewer baby-calming skills of their own."

Here's the thing about pacifiers--they're not just substitute breasts. They are substitute mothers and fathers. Pacifiers don't just deny babies of milk and deny milk ducts of stimulation. Pacifiers (paired with infant car seats, strollers, cribs, swings, or bouncers, etc) deny babies of physical human contact. Pacifiers deny mothers and fathers of precious moments holding their baby close, whether in their own arms or through use of a baby-friendly cloth carrier like a ring-sling or wrap. Pacifiers make mothers and fathers bond less with their baby.

I am busy being a mom and don't get to perform vast studies on pacifier use, so fortunately other people have thought alike and have studied the effect of pacifiers on emotional maturity. Surprise, surprise, it's a negative impact. I couldn't find any studies about how using a pacifier impacts a mother's emotional connection with her baby. But I cringe every time I see a mom putting one of those things into a carseat-ridden baby. I always think, Just pick her up! Nurse him! Put her in a wrap! Rock him! Talk to her! Sing him a song! Anything, anything, anything but that freaking plastic plug! And anecdotally,  I have personally noticed a correlation between moms who routinely use pacifiers and moms who are willing to do cry-it-out. When the vast majority of mothers are already prevented from crucial, evolutionarily-tested post-birth hormonal bonding with their child because of epidurals and c-sections, what we don't need as a society is a piece of manufactured garbage to distance mothers and babies even further.

Sure, it's possible that there are routine pacifier users who somehow experience no ill effects for themselves or their babies. And there are probably people reading this who think, "Oh, I don't use it that much," or "It's not that serious; I still comfort my baby other ways, I still interact with my baby." When you use the pacifier, you gain a silent baby. But what are you losing? What is your baby losing? Every time you stick it in your baby's mouth, you could be interacting with/comforting them in a way that promotes bonding and physical, mental, and emotional development. You could be doing something else. The pacifier is just such a slippery slope. Even if parents start out with good intentions, like "Oh it's for the baby's comfort; she just wants to suck all the time." That illusion quickly gives way to the reality that pacifiers are for parents' convenience--not for babies' best interests. Compromising overall and dental health, breastfeeding, speech, and emotional development is not in a baby's best interest.

So is there any place for pacifiers? Again, let's see what The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding has to say about it. In the entire book, they only suggest one possible use for the pacifier--in the car. The car is kind of the worst place EVER for a naturally parented baby. They can't be held, nursed, rocked or wrapped, and when they are very little, auditory/visual stimulation doesn't do too much for them.

So yes, we do own a pacifier. It stays in the car, where it belongs, all of the time.