Saturday, September 5, 2009

Your Fourth?? some cultural musings...

This was first drafted in May and I haven't touched it. Any day I will meet my 4th child so it is time to wrap this up and post it....

I have to admit, I have a little game I'm playing with the world right now. A little anthro project... on how we Americans view "large" families.

When I am out and about, usually I am with all three of my boys ages: 6 , 4 and 2. Sometimes I am out with only my 2 year old and sometimes (rarely) I am out with no children at all. But I am always watching and enjoying the little study I am doing. I take a very active interest in how other people look at me and my children because I realize every day how more and more I defy cultural norms.

Sometimes I think 4+ children is "the new only-child" the way I often hear that "three is the new two." I am sure parents with only-children have a ready answer of why they have only one child. But I wonder if they don't have to use it as often as I feel I have to justify being pregnant again. Women in America are willing to start families later in life. Fertility problems, post-partum depression, frozen eggs, PCOS, adoption, population growth, the economy...all are commonly found in the news today. Maybe the only-child moms have a growing community that make their choices more understood by our culture as a whole.

But those of us who dare go past the "new two"...what are we? First of all, before I even start laying out details about my life I want to make clear that I am not bashing other choices. I am just making it clear who I am. Really, I want this piece to simply alert us to the tiny stereotypes we carry with us every day. The big ones get plenty of attention, but I think we often allow less-discussed stereotypes to creep into our brains and don't give them credit as such and then they quickly pass away as we get on with our lives.

Some people when they meet me for the first time and find out that this pregnancy is my fourth are left speechless. Often I wonder if their minds are racing with one or more of the following questions:
1. Does she believe in birth control?
2. Does she know how to use birth control?
3. Is she pro-life (or anti-choice)?
4. Is she Catholic? (red hair + many children? = Irish CATHOLIC! fun combo but sorry...neither)
5. Is her husband oppressive?
6. What is wrong with her?????? Doesn't she have a life of her own?

Why do I think they have these thoughts? Well, first off people (usually men) will ask things like those above in jest when they do not know what to say ("congratulations" works, for those still unsure). I also heard this kind of talk from both sexes before I became a mother. I can even imagine my brain going through "the logical reasons" a woman would do this to herself if I could have seen me plus 3 young boys (running into and wrestling with each other, being slow, being fast, climbing things, being loud, you have a visual) 10 years ago. That is why I started opening my eyes a little more to how I look to others lately. Now I want to get more people expanding their list of "reasons" for any family situation. This includes the people who see the benefits of having 4 (or more) children, and that to be the main reason, plain and simple.

So that is some background on me, but it is true, I am no mind reader--most of the above is speculation that experiences of years past were swirling around in the minds of people today. Here IS what I have experienced over the last few months:

When I am out with all of my boys people cannot resist asking (now that I am quite obviously pregnant), "do you know what you're having?" Especially in larger cities I have noticed people will ask me before even saying anything to get my attention first.

Now, for the record, ALL pregnant women get asked this question and I won't get into my feelings about this being the knee-jerk response to the "I'm pregnant!" announcement. However, it is different when you are pregnant with other children. You don't get the "congratulations!" or "aren't you glowing..." before the question gets asked. And when you have many boys with you, the question is asked with a sort of twinge of expectation that makes me very uncomfortable.

I do know that some people to try to conceive a certain sex child or hope for one of the other. I am not sure we should assume everybody is this way and I, for one, am not "trying for a girl." It bothers me that there is some universal hope that this baby might be a girl when I will be perfectly thrilled with a 4th boy. And it is this, besides having a stock answer for (yes) planning a fourth pregnancy, is another thing I find myself saying again and again. "No, we are planning on another boy" and if I have to go further "it feels the same and I make great boys" or something like that. I try to spice it up but usually I just want to let the interrogator simmer on what "planning" might mean in that sentence. No, I don't really know and yes, we do like to be surprised. But it is funny how many people have heard word of mouth that I am "having another boy". I never said that...officially.

There is another group of women who ask about my fourth and it is such a pleasure to talk to this group. Often, women in this group will ask "but, do you mind, may I ask how old you are?" They don't really even need to know because they usually follow this with "I would've had more too if I had been younger..." This group makes me feel sane and supported and that our American culture does support larger families. I also feel like these women have buried something that they don't tell many people but it makes me feel like I am supporting them too--that thinking of having "many" children as a nice thing doesn't make you nuts at all. I usually find that yes, I am fairly young to be on my 4th child. This group tends to make me feel like I am very wise for my years. Thanks to you ladies for being out there. Like encouraging women to breastfeed in simple ways, I plan to say positive things to women on their 3rd and beyond pregnancies in a similar way.

And because I am ready to post this and have this baby I am not going to try to remember anymore musings that I had 4 months ago. When I first drafted this I had more to say but had to leave it. What I really feel now is the need to put even these few thoughts out there, see if any moms have felt the same way and then give a shout to my wonderful village.

Thank you to everyone who does know me well--who has seen me on grumpy days and on days I feel glorious. For letting me be a listener to you and for sitting there as I rant away on the same handful of topics. Keeping me close to your lives affirms that you still want to be in mine, despite distance, family struggles, illnesses or simply different nap/bedtime schedules. My beautiful friends, I feel so lucky to have you. You provide more support to me than you know. I had no idea how much I would need you as I began my motherhood journey and, if anything, that is what being pregnant a 4th time has really driven home. You really have to have your girls by then and keep your world connected to theirs. How grateful I am for all the technology at my fingertips, how in the world could I have done this 50 years ago? Ah but that was a different time too.....another day, another post.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Connecting the Mothers to the Childless

One of the huge hurdles I see women facing today is relating across the parenthood line. When I was pregnant for the first time I had no peers who were first time mothers with me. I swore I wouldn't change, I could be a mother and hang out with my girlfriends and life didn't have to change *that much*. Well, I kept part of the promise and I do try to always conjure up the smell of being childless. I need it especially when I read certain articles (such as the article I read last night in Marie Claire about a woman being revoked godmother status) or talk on the phone with a long lost childless friend. But as time passes, it is harder and harder to remember. I don't want to stop reading certain magazines when I realize I can barely empathize with a writer, nor do I want to take breaks from friends when I sense they don't "get" me anymore.

Lately a few things have happened that make me feel the need to write about this and open up a discussion of the language barrier between those with and without children dominating their lives.

One very wonderful thing is that a close friend just had her first baby. She is a child expert, a step-mother and a teacher. Yet she said to me with such deep mixed emotion the other day "I just didn't understand how hard it was." I hugged her and I said, "you aren't supposed to, nobody ever does." I got thinking why IS this the case? Why does our culture not get it? I know she wanted to understand, just as I did too during my first pregnancy. Is it simply that we do not have words in our language that describe the changes that happen to you simultaneously when you have a newborn? Do we not do a good job mentoring women? At Birth Circle I feel like there is such a spirit of understanding, even between the first-time and third-time pregnant women. But is there ever a circle that includes the women who don't think about being pregnant or becoming mothers and what it all means to the feminist movement? I want to find this...or create this.

So that is one thing to muse on. Really it is how to get the childless women interested in this sort of thing when becoming a parent is a distant point in the future. It just doesn't seem real enough to care about until you are pregnant. But by then the learning curve is so steep, much steeper than it needs to be.

Another thing that happened is I read this post on the newly formed collaborative blog to discuss modern feminism. I am so grateful that I have friends who "speak" Feminism better than I do to help us start some good discussions. When I think about what we teach childless women, younger and older, about how to balance family with work, something truly does get lost in translation. I do think a lot has to do with how we use the word "career" and luckily, I read a review of a new book that encourages people (ok, women specifically) to rethink their "career" as a series of waves instead of as a ladder. I don't think we make clear that a "career" doesn't stop or start but is always morphing as your passions and commitments change. And this is a good thing.

While kids are happily playing I want to wrap this up and get talking about it more. The last thing I wanted to bring up are the actual phrases women use after they become mothers that I don't hear childless women using. I recently used "it is just too much" in an email to two very dear girlfriends as they/we attempted to plan a get-together. I have been wondering, did they both understand what I meant? One friend is a working mother with two children, the other is childless and in a long-term relationship. Did I ever say "it is just too much" in my childless life? I don't think I did. And if I heard it, and I do think I did, I thought "what is too much? just get a babysitter!" or "it is too much to prioritize your friends?" or a myriad of other things.

I may have to title a blog "It is Just Too Much" to really elaborate on all the things that includes. But now I have a crying child and I'd love to know any initial thoughts you have out there!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

HPV, Gardasil & the Immature Cervix

I am very happy that modern medicine is moving in the direction where research funding is put towards women's health issues, such as cervical cancer.  I am very happy that we have learned that HPV is the main culprit.  But what we do with this information, I believe, is up for debate.

First of all, please see this and this about the side effects some young women are having from Gardasil.  While these stories are not conclusive enough for the medical community, I think they are pretty frightening.  

I don't want to rewrite those blogs. I wanted to add a couple of things to think about when you and I contemplate this vaccine for our children.  

First is what I learned last year while attending Miriam Grossman's talk at UVA.  She discussed (Cavalier Daily Article summary) how the immature cervix is more likely to contract HPV than the mature cervix.  The immature cervix has fewer cell layers and HPV isn't as happy to settle in when the cervix is thicker.  So that is one little piece of science.

The other thing that I hadn't realized is that if the world gets the HPV vaccine, then the need for pap-smears goes way down since virtually all cervical cancers are caused by HPV. This is of interest to me because I wonder who this benefits.  If all young women are given this vaccine, will insurance companies pay for pap smears anymore?  Especially if they are shelling out reimbursements to have every young girl in the country vaccinated?  

To truly eradicate cervical cancer, one thing that I hope evolves from medical research is a vaccine or cure that prevents men from transmitting it.  And I am a mother of boys so this comes from a personal place where I expect them to be accountable for their actions and certainly never on some receiving end of a phone call that says "I have HPV, did I get it from you?"  I have heard this is a "challenge" for medical science and they have tried.  Hmmm.  I hope they keep trying. 

I admit that I do not trust insurance companies or pharmaceutical companies with the health of my children.  I did just watch SiCKO and encourage others to check it out sometime.  As far as the personal, my insurance company paid much more for my hospital birth where I received no interventions than my homebirth which had a much lower price tag.  I, you or somebody somewhere essentially paid for drugs that I did not use.  These drugs, had I used them without needing them, would certainly not be in the best interest of my baby's health.  Epidural anesthesia, pitocin...all part of a hospital birth package deal are part of some bigger financial picture between big pharma, insurance companies, hospital revenues, AMA, ACOG and who knows who and what else.  My point is, I do not feel that pharmaceutical companies are not in it to make some money--after all, they did spend tons on research.  The faster they get any treatment, including this vaccine, out into the public, the better for them.

So, apologies for jumping around.  I hope to bring it all together.  HPV likes the young cervix.  So we want to vaccinate before the woman begins being sexually active at all because the younger she is when she starts, the higher risk she is for contracting HPV.  At the same time, if the cervix is so young and needs maturing, giving some vaccine to toughen it up (or whatever the vaccine does) before puberty even is fully on does seem to lead me to think it could cause some other problems later in life.  Sure, maybe not HPV and cervical cancer...but gosh, I have had three babies and I am pretty darn happy my cervix was good and normal for those experiences.  I can see why people might worry if it could affect fertility and so on.

So as Nature's Child discussed, parents really need the full info about this vaccine and make a choice that makes sense for their situation.  If you know your 9 and 10 year old daughter is not even close to being sexually active, then why not wait?  Let her cervix age a bit along the way.  Why is The Establishment trying to push this vaccine so early?  And then I think again to the politics of things, all of our children can have access to health if they are in the public schools.  That means there is funding to push it on children right as they get all those other shots for school.  The older the child gets, the less likely the child will be injected with the vaccine.  For one, she goes to the doctor less, I know I did.  So there is more money to do it younger.  Ideally less cervical cancer too, but you cannot ignore the economics.  

Meanwhile will the pap smear become less routine over the next 20 years?  Might some women slip through the cracks?  And meanwhile, what about the men?  What sort of HPV testing will our country encourage for young men?  It seems like the men should have to know if they are spreading a disease that causes cervical cancer.  Would our government be inclined to fund a mandatory vaccine for young boys?  Especially if it had any scary reproductive side effect at all?  I wonder...

So all of this is to suggest the government and medical community back off on this one.  Give parents and their daughters the current information and let them make an informed decision.  I know we cannot count on all parents to be as involved with their daughters with topics such as this...but that goes into another post about how our country has such a messed up relationship with sex.  What is missing right now is the discussion about the side-effects and just how HPV works.  You don't get it from toilets, people.  It is from having sex.  Can we not educate our daughters about their bodies a little more?  I am not talking about abstinence education.  I am talking about "if you start having sex, I want you to know these things..." kind of talk.  The kind that leads women to Planned Parenthood, to Student Health, to a clinic when they cannot talk about things with other people in their lives.

Many parents of teens I know are not bloggers and are too busy to watch the evening news.  They count on getting the full story from their doctors.  Are they?  

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Donating Breast Milk

This keeps coming up so I feel like I need to put what I know (which is very little) out into the public sphere. I have seen an uptick of Charlottesville interest in both donating extra breast milk and in using donor milk.

To be very clear, I do not know enough about using donor milk to give much information about this practice. But, because I do believe human milk is a superior infant food to formula, I think families need to take this option seriously and do their research on what is best for their situation. I wanted to share the places I have heard of to give interested families a smaller headache when approaching this option.

First are the Milk Banks. Start at the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

Second is MilkShare. They have a Yahoo Group to help families connect to one another.

Third is this story about Lynn Page who donated 56 gallons (!!!) of breast milk. It was this article that just ran in Oprah Magazine that made me realize how past time it is for this option to be discussed more openly. Not discussed only by families, but taken seriously by insurance companies and health care providers (see the follow up articles, same link).

The fourth thing is to simply call your local lactation consultants, hospital-based or not and ask them what they know. Be ready for the spectrum of answers but chances are, they will be helpful.

And the more I looked up web addresses, the more information I came across. If you have a great tip for a mother out there, go ahead and post it here as well as to whatever site for which you probably also should post a testimonial!

I can't put up enough disclaimers: do your research and take responsibility for what ever choice you make for your family. I am not in a comfort zone as I discuss this, partly because much of the activism I do with breastfeeding has absolutely nothing to do with this topic. It is hard enough to support women trying to breastfeed their own children in our culture, it is another thing to monitor the practices of women who choose to donate or use donated milk. But if you, dear reader, are searching in the night for resources that have been helpful to other people, I wanted you to know that you are not alone in your efforts. Many many families choose this option. Connect with them and hear their stories. They ARE out there.

Friday, February 27, 2009

The Purpose of School

Here I am, at the place so many moms come to if they have learned to question social norms...I'm questioning the ways we, as Americans, educate our children.

I was a public school kid and I think I liked it most of the time. During the early years I had mostly teachers that were inspired enough and I was a great student so did it even matter much? I had a fairly decent adolescence. I enjoyed high school although I was very eager to get to college and around more people like me. I'm not sure why I feel the need to question public school with such fond memories but yet here I am.

My husband and I recently visited a local public elementary school. Nobody seemed unhappy. But something didn't feel right, at least to me. I am now questioning "what is school for?"

Some thoughts come to mind, especially those I was raised with:
1. "School is for socialization"
2. "School is to teach kids how to 'be' "
3. "School is the three R's"

But what if your home life provides all of this? No doubt not all households do, and I am not saying I even agree with 1-3. But, here's another take, what IF everything "schooling" means to you you find you can do on your own time? Or if schooling is = "homeing" or at least kind of close to it. Just what if.

Then start thinking, well, "schooling" maybe should be
1. "supplementary"
2. "additive"
3. "world-opening"
4. "exposure to various perspectives"
5. "something I [the parent] am not good at"

And what else? You tell me what schooling means to you. Because when I sit with my 5 year old and tell him about coins, I don't feel I am "schooling" him. But when I see kids at school learning about money, that is definitely "school" or a "lesson."

I am finding my own way, and I challenge all parents to find their ways as well. This may mean public, independent or home schooling. It may mean a co-op or a free school or unschooling. It may mean going solo, pairing up with other families or doing what your community does as a whole. As usual, continue to question what the experts say your child needs and look at your situation. Trust your instincts...I am trying my best to trust my own.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Last Night's "F-Word" Discussion

I just have to get this post started even if I run off to pick up the 5 year old. My brain has been swimming for the last 12 hours.

Last night I and seven other women came together to discuss what feminism means to us and our country and I think we are really onto something fantastic.

We talked about everything under the sun related to women's issues--workplace concerns, education, inspiration, how "the plan" changes, and I could keep going. I want to just list all the topics I can remember for now...

We talked about phases of life, new motherhood, sex differences with nurturing and geniuses, Larry Summers, is it ok for women to be "on average, better" at some things? Does it bother you to say that men or women may have different skills if those differences aren't used against either sex? It bothered some of us, but not all of us.

We talked about how we individually felt about strippers and then how we feel feminists feel about stripping, modeling, and being a "sex worker." (I am already an old person and didn't realize that one doesn't use the word "prostitute" or "whore" anymore.)

I was educated and humbled that there are many other F-Words out there. I am well aware that there is misinformation and hurt feelings revolving around women's choices to breastfeed or not, but I had no idea that just saying "formula" was really hard for some women to hear or discuss--no matter if they used or did not use it. I had heard once upon a time when I was a student but had long since worried about using the word "slutty" to describe a style of clothing. I knew thong underwear was being sold to tweens but it was not on my radar that even there was a market for thongs that fit 7-year olds.

We questioned the media. Does it get too much credit for how our men and women see each other or not enough? We questioned our language. Besides "whore" and "slut" we discussed just how we talk to little girls and little boys differently. Do you really think boys and girls' are treated as differently in school today as we were taught they were 20 years ago? I have my opinion. It may not match yours.

How do we get younger women to understand what the bigger issues are? Do we agree that we should be upset at that NASCAR woman using her body to sell GoDaddy? Do we think that a woman may have even thought of that marketing idea? I shared that I got an email about Bubba getting a job and that doesn't keep me from respecting men and thinking they are capable. I do not worry about my own sons seeing cleavage when they are teens and having them think that means women are all sex objects.

I question what is wrong with me...or what is a mother of boys....

Do we all agree that when women entered male-dominated jobs they just proved they could work like men but now it is time to actually change the way we view modern workplaces? What if women had gone to work first, with babies in tow, and left the men home to be house managers? The 8 hours work day was a dream once upon a time and women were perhaps relieved to no longer be so stressed with the family-farm-based schedule and pressures of feeding a family. Free time was created when our society became more industrialized in many ways. And yet now we are so uber industrialized we don't ever shut it off.

Are you worried that there are not enough female mathematicians? Computer scientists? Do you think the English majors and Sociology majors needed more convincing? Where do personal preferences come into play? Can you really blame one 6th grade teacher for everything you study as an adult?

What era really did things get out of whack? The 50s? The 80s? If the American Association of Pediatrics had always advocated mother-baby togetherness and breastfeeding for at least a year, would have male-dominated work places changed as women entered them? Now women have proved they can detach from their children, but do we want to keep up this trend? Well, I cannot lie, I have used the word "Attached" in my blog title....I think it is time for social change.

This discussion was the first of many. Ladies who came, please post other "minutes" to this blog to show the world what we covered. And other readers, please give us more food for thought.

The average age of our participants was about 30. Nobody under 25 came and no feminists of the Second Wave made it either. Life happens, I get that, and in some ways I am grateful we didn't have a full house. I am hopeful that we will get talking more, both online and in person. We can have a late evening discussion or a coffee hour another time. Could I dream that Charlottesville will begin to feel a surge of female energy that could really change the lives of women locally and beyond?!

Gotta go, I want to hear from you!!!

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

When Activism Called Me

Monday I attended the Fem2.0 Conference. What an amazing gathering of women (and a few men) who were there to network, build bridges and truly demonstrate what feminism means in 2009. I left so very hopeful that our generation (of women and men) will make our country and our world a much better place. We left the conference with a little homework assignment, to tell the story of when you felt the call to activism. When you realized that you just had to say something, that you couldn't be quiet anymore. When you felt that justice needed to be served in some way that just could not be ignored.

As I thought about it, for me it was the first time I truly felt outrage personally. Don't get me wrong, I had been saddened, moved, and depressed about many other issues before this turning point into activism, but it was truly when it was personal injustice that sent me over the edge.

I was raised to be content and complacent. My parents had been members of the ACLU until my father began to work for something of a government agency and enacted a family philosophy of "non-partisanship". My parents registered for political parties to vote in primaries but besides that, no petition-signing, no grassroots anything. "We give to the United Way (and stay out of it)" was their philosophy at this time in their lives. No matter that Mom had walked in Civil Rights marches back in high school and that Dad used to be an academic and most likely surrounded by political discussion a ton when he was younger. They were in a different stage in their lives by the time I surprised them and I did not grow up in a household that felt "outrage" or a call to activism.

When I saw some of the panelists speak Monday, I realized that growing up with outrage must really help a person become an activist at a younger age. I'm not an old lady, but I do think it is interesting that I, and many others, did not feel the call to activism until I became a mother. We discussed that it is a very "politicizing event" at the panel "Breaking the 'Waves': Moms Coming Together for Equality" for many women and yet how to get women who do not have children to understand how this happens? There are so many reasons motherhood empowers women but not all reasons apply to all mothers.

The act of birthing my first child was the turning point for me. It was not worrying about the world I was birthing my child into, although that has certainly come into my sphere since then. It was childbirth. Something that I see many women view as a burden and perhaps one of the most awful experiences of their lives. Well, it was not for me. And here is the story.

Before I found out I was pregnant I had been to each of my sister's three births. Her birth experiences varied and by her third, she had been coached by a friend (from Holland no less) to try to go drug-free. I would never forget her words to me after the dust had settled, "Cynthia, I healed so much faster without all of the drugs, try to not do the drugs..." and so it was. I approached my first pregnancy, at the young (for my circle of friends) age of 26, with the expectation of avoiding as many interventions as possible. The more books I read, and especially Active Birth, Birthing from Within, and Husband-Coached Childbirth, I gained the confidence to approach birth in this way.

Meanwhile I couldn't talk about my approach with anybody. I loved my coworkers dearly, but they all gave me the "honey, the epidural is wonderful" talk and when I hinted at trying to avoid it they smiled and made me feel like I would be eating those words. They finally left me alone and tried to support me, but it was in a way that was filled with doubt and general misinformation about women and our biology. Stories about too-small-pelvises and too-big-babies were constantly the in the air outside of work. When I told my family that hospitals had squatting bars to help women use gravity to get their babies out, your pelvis can expand when you aren't on your back, and so laughed and made jokes about women doing gymnastics during labor. The women were, in my memory, very silent, perhaps smiling along and just letting the "boys be boys." But I felt unsupported. I felt belittled. I felt like nobody believed in me, except my husband, who was amazingly non-chalant about the whole thing. His confidence worried me in a different way--he was so confident that women were designed to have babies that he didn't understand my addiction to birthing books. Well...he wasn't going to push this baby out. It was me. And in many ways I felt very alone with the whole thing.

The day came. And I was a week late. My care providers had given me some deadline before they wanted to induce me and *thank goodness* I went into labor exactly 1 week late. (Baby number 2 would really show the medical community the rebel in me--he went over 2 weeks late and was perfectly fine--and the smallest of my three babies.) The labor was extremely straightforward. My water broke around 2 a.m. and contractions started within the hour. We went to the hospital when I really felt like I was ready to go and sure enough, we arrived and I was progressing nicely.

Things slowed down slightly when I went throughout the whole hospital triage make sure I was in labor. Hi. I am 41 weeks pregnant, I told you the waters broke at home (and my husband could vouch for that) and now am having contractions on top of each other. Let me have this baby. But no, I must lie down and have the monitors strapped on for at least 20 minutes. I complained, "I know you have hand-held dopplers!" Well, we just need to do this and then you can get up. But then I had to go to the bathroom. Quite graphically and specifically, I HAD to poop. There was no "excuse me, can you please remove these things and let me get a robe on..." no. I had to go and the nurse said "but you can't, not right now, wait! I have to get the doctor!" and off she ran. I said to my husband "Kevin, get me a trash can!" and I emptied my bowels right next to the bed. The nurse and doctor came in and, now I know, they were really worried I was pushing out the baby without the expert there to catch.

Finally convinced I was in labor, we moved to a labor and delivery room and I complained again about monitors. One nurse was very frustrated with me but slowly the staff realized that I was going to challenge their norms and not cave. Before too long, a new nurse, who turned out to be a certified nurse midwive on duty teaching the RNs more about the midwives' model of care, came into the room. I said "FINALLY someone who understands what I'm going for" and my mother cried and thinks Nurse Lisa was an angel from heaven. To this day I wonder how things may have gone if she wasn't working that day. She was experienced with different labor positions and we had to use many of them because they realized baby was acynclitic so I needed to be flipped from side to side to get baby into a more optimal presentation. I pushed for 2 hours and it was hard. HARD hard. My husband was always right there with me and so supportive. My mother and sister stood back a bit but were supportive, in their own way.

When baby came out I felt such relief. Not only relief, I felt fantastic. I wanted to tell the world that I did it and that every woman should feel as great as I felt in that moment. I had done it. I had birthed a baby without medication. I had only a tiny tear that needed only "one stitch" if it even needed it at all. And Marcus was 9 lbs 15.7 oz. Only after baby #3 who was also 10 lbs did I feel like I could even say that number. 10 pound babies. My body makes 10 lb babies. Still somewhat shocking to read. I was an 8.5 lb baby and my husband is not massive. There was no predicting that.

And one of the first thing people asked right after that was "if you knew he was that big, do you think you would have tried to go natural?" and that is what really fueled the fire in my belly. Not only was I on a birth high that left me talking a mile a minute for days (and now years) about the power of women's bodies, but I was asked to question my approach again? AGAIN? After such success? What is WRONG with people? What is wrong with our society? Why should I even wonder how else I would have approached the birth when I had just proved was that my body could birth a 10 lb baby the first time around? If anything, this proves that women should never know, or even think they know what size their babies may be!

The more I read about childbirth in America (such as Birth as an American Rite of Passage, Our Babies, Ourselves, and Ina May's Guide to Childbirth), the more I became outraged how few women ever get to feel the way I do after a birth. So many never even get the chance. The worst thing is, they don't even have the kind of care that supports a birth that will make them feel this kind of empowerment. Birthing my first child changed my life and my perspective on the world. Not only did I become a parent, but I gained the confidence to question every social norm that comes my way. I feel like I have the intelligence and the tools to do so. Sometimes I see women who are 10 years older than I am still in a place that I was when I was 25. Is this kind of thinking something akin to "wisdom"? Because I didn't plan to have any wisdom until I was much older. I am so frustrated to see young women look towards childbearing with fearful eyes. I have head older women say they want to avoid the entire birth experience altogether, if they have to have a baby, they would prefer the elective cesarean to keep it under control.

It is this control that makes me want to tell the world that childbearing is one of the most important feminist issues in America today. Our women have been told that staying in control is of utmost importance. But in staying "in control" we are actually not encouraged to feel outrage. If we stay in control, then that means we are fitting very nicely into society as it is today. We are so busy with work and family that keeping it together is truly essential to our existence. But if every women could feel truly empowered once in her life...if every woman got a chance to follow her instincts and prove the naysayers wrong, well, what could women achieve? What could their sons and daughters achieve when they hear of her transformation?

To be very clear, I believe childbirth can be empowering no matter how the birth turns out. The key is having the mother be a partner in her care and not simply a patient. I am not anti-doctor or anti-cesarean. Women and babies are saved every day by modern American medicine.

The women for which I advocate are the women who do not know they can ask for better in a hospital setting. A woman who may be told to lie on her back and agree to the hospital staff's norms of monitoring her and her baby. The woman who feels so much pain from staying on her back that she must have an epidural to help her stay there. The woman who now cannot feel her contractions or move around to help her baby move down...who is then told the baby has "failed to progress" or that the baby's head is too big (cephalopelvic disproportion) and that she must have a surgical birth. When that woman's baby is born he could be be ten pounds and the operating room will breathe a collective sigh, "well no wonder, your baby was 10 pounds!" The woman will be happy her baby is healthy but she will also have to recover from surgery which will not be the most pleasant introduction to motherhood.

All women remember the births of their children for a lifetime. Many contemplate how the birth progressed and why things happened the way they did. I can very easily imagine how my birth could have gone differently--I have heard and read of countless stories that read as the above paragraph. But it did not happen to me. I found my voice during the birth of my baby. I am not alone in this outrage and I will no longer feel like I cannot discuss my approach with people in my community. I am proof (times three) that my way can work. It may not work for all women, but women deserve the information to approach birth in a confident, empowered way. The outrage I felt at being so doubted has led me beyond birth activism, but that was the beginning for me. My priorities have shifted and I am so grateful that I am the person I am now. I can make a difference and I do, one woman at a time.

Monday, January 19, 2009

What I Was Reading

I had three books I wanted to share with readers that have been on my nightstand. I am in the middle of all of them and am rotating them around so I thought I would give a little update on what is feeding my blog-brain for the future.

I had to title this post "What I Was Reading" because, given the crazy climate for buying a house, my husband and I put much energy into hunting down, finding, and are now in the home inspection process of buying a new house. Thus, I have not been reading these books for a couple of weeks so that will delay blog reflection even more! But, as a public service announcement I just had to say to women everywhere--call a mortgage professional if you think you may want to purchase a house. This is not our first house so we aren't eligible, but it is my understanding that there are amazing deals for first-time home-buyers. Look into it. This is a little about empowering women to take charge of their finances ala Suze Orman. Don't rent forever if you know you might be in the same place for the next few years. Houses/condos/new construction is on sale as well as interest rates. The climate is unlike any other in my lifetime. My mortgage officer said she hasn't seen rates like this in the 22 years she has been in the business.

We also learned that when it was once insulting to offer 10% off of a purchase price to begin negotiations, these days that is often a normal starting point. So you can afford to bargain and wait for the right house, especially if you aren't dying to move (which we weren't).

OK, back to the books I was reading before I became overwhelmed with real estate...

Misconceptions, by Naomi Wolf
This book is a great way to get childless-feminists to understand mother-feminists. It should be required reading in Women's Studies depts to help women understand the biology behind motherhood. How your brain, along with your uterus, changes so that you will mother a child to the best of your ability. Not with the ability to succeed in a labor force that was designed for men (which women have proved they can do), but instead gain the ability to have extra patience and extra empathy for a tiny dependent creature. Even if you have never thought of yourself as liking babies or small children, please read this book so you can understand what has happened to your feminist friends. They are still feminists, they just march to a different beat. What makes this book so important is that Naomi (much like myself) thought many of the mothering stereotypes wouldn't happen to her. I am loving her reflections on how she thinks pregnancy alone needs to be viewed as an accomplishment in society. I haven't read yet about her birth or her new baby.

The Sexual Paradox, by Susan Pinker
Nutshell: Girls that do very very well in school often choose to leave the labor force as adults while boys that do very poorly in school find holes in society where they can be experts and end up working long hard hours, often leading to great success. For instance, we often think of cooking as women's work but professional chefs are usually men. Turns out that this profession is incredibly intense and used to turn off many would-be female chefs (I trust the tide is turning). One man Pinker discusses is one who was dyslexic in school and never could do well. He found a profession where reading was limited and excelled. Much more to read, much more to dissect.

A Whole New Mind, by Daniel Pink
"Why Right-Brainers Will Rule The Future." I did not begin to think of myself as a right-brainer until recently. I was a rule follower and a just-do-the-standardized-test girl and felt pretty good about it. The world worked for me and I worked for it. The system was just fine, not perfect, but not that bad either. But then college, then studying abroad, then Sept 11th and most importantly, motherhood broke me out of my good-girl upbringing. The idea of telling my child to respect authority because that what authority demands is *not* how I want my children to think. I realize that I was still very left-brained when I worked on Wall Street. I did not understand why we were making so much money, I did not see the value we added to our clients. Nevertheless, I trusted my superiors and kept my nose to the grindstone. When I left that job, I promised myself I would always check into my instincts and believe in them. Reading about pregnancy and childbirth further helped me believe that our instincts are rarely given a priority when we make decisions today. Too much is decided on "that's just the way you do things" or "well, I owe it to my parents/education/peers to do something viewed as successful" when really, success finds you after you follow your instincts, at least that is my current philosophy. I am not saying every gut reaction is one to follow to your death. I do think each one is worth checking into and understanding where the instinct comes from, what you might know that others do not about yourself and how you see the world. But whoops, off topic, Pink doesn't really talk about instincts, he talks about design, empathy and story, and other skills that we (as a very left-brained society) don't view as skills at all. One point that is very simple to illustrate his thesis is how how MFA programs are landing their graduates similar positions at Fortune 500 companies as MBA programs. Corporations today know that story and design are huge. And if you haven't shopped at a Target yet, you should do so before reading this book. Much of what he uses to exemplify the abundance we have in our country and how our minds want more than left-brained solutions is showing how design is practically Target's middle name. The store, the products, and the actual designers of their items are a focus...the simple utility of objects is no longer enough for us.

Anyway, I'll be trying to finish one of these books soon and I hope to give a real review...or even a proofread one! With a June move date one might hope I could finish at least one book but, well, I know myself better than that. Wish me luck.

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Far Left, the Far Right and a Political Mobius Strip

I like how blogging forces me to see if there are others out there who think the way I do so that I do not recreate a blog post. Given my constant distractions, I would rather link to a much more articulately written post with which I agree than craft it myself. I would appreciate others to let me know of other posts bringing the Left and Right together, in my searches I haven't found quite what I had in mind.

I have been bothered by the political spectrum lately. How the spectrum is described in our media and how our politicians cater to certain segments. I had not looked for alternatives to our the standard Left-Right linear spectrum until today.

I was very excited to find The Political Compass. It provides a great visual to the kind of thing I am describing. At one point during my brainstorming about this topic, I had come up with Political Venn Diagrams but got lost listing just how many circles might need to intersect to find the ideal government. The Compass is great and I hope it can help a lot of people from seemingly different perspectives see where they do agree.

Before I found the Compass, I had come to the conclusion that the normal political spectrum looked more like a mobius strip. The farther to either side you walk, sooner or later you have found yourself walking with people that walked from the other direction. The Compass has edges. I like the idea that sometimes you are walking next to someone that may be on the other side of the Compass from you. For instance, I know a very liberal man who is very authoritarian when it comes to the death penalty. The more we recognize outliers to any of these political spectra, the more we can be aware of how often people who often could work together get played against each other.

Here I want to list a few of the ways the far left and right have similar interests, but I would love to hear what is the first thing that comes to your mind if it isn't listed here. I think the theme for many of these crossovers is that "less government" is not necessarily a Republican virtue anymore (if it ever was). It just depends what *kind* of government we are discussing.
  • Homeschooling and its laws. For instance, in the state of Virginia, a parent who has a college degree has fewer requirements to fill than a parent without the degree. I have heard this is under debate. Homeschoolers span the political spectrum, despite being stereotyped as something of the Far Right in years past.
  • Midwifery and homebirth access. I was stunned to learn a few years ago that often the biggest friends to these issues are Republicans. Meanwhile, most of the families I know choosing midwives in my area voted blue this fall.
  • Anti-Bedsharing/cosleeping education. Publically funded outreach to discourage parents from bringing their babies to bed with them. Spending tax-payer money to make a mother feel bad for sleeping with her young like any other mammal. The latest Mothering issue did a fantastic job counteracting this campaign.
  • Legislation to encourage Breastfeeding. Whether you prefer longer leave for new mothers or you insist the government create flexible schedules for parents (and anybody else who needs flexibility) and remodeling government spaces to be baby-friendly, you can find liberals and conservatives coming together on topics like these.
I have have used up all my blogging time for today (and yesterday, when I began this post). Please excuse errors and confusing sentence structure. My goal in the New Year for this blog is to post with self-forgiveness so that I post more often. I don't want to sit on posts waiting to actually give them a 2nd (and 3rd) read-through someday.

Also, many of these thoughts were encouraged by one of my great commenters to my Newton's Laws post. She mentioned how the word "feminist" might need to be thought of more like the word "mother" or "writer." I think that is a great concept and in need of much more discussion. Feminism too spans the political mobius strip. In rebranding feminism today, we need to portray feminist thought as more fluid and on a continuum. In doing so, women can come together on so many issues instead of often seeing each other as far far away on the other side of the linear spectrum.