When purity is not enough

February 6th, 2008

Are women insane?

I ask because if you think about the question of abortion, eventually you have to confront this question too. You have to confront the inexplicable, overwhelmingly documented willingness of women to hurt themselves to escape an unwanted pregnancy.

At least you do if you are privileged or naive enough to not be able to imagine the fear and desperation that led to this:

The first month of my internship was spent on Ward 41, the septic obstetrics ward. Yes, it’s hard to believe now, but in those days, they had one ward dedicated exclusively to septic complications of pregnancy.

About 90% of the patients were there with complications of septic abortion. The ward had about 40 beds, in addition to extra beds which lined the halls. Each day we admitted between 10-30 septic abortion patients. We had about one death a month, usually from septic shock associated with hemorrhage.

I will never forget the 17-year-old girl lying on a stretcher with 6 feet of small bowel protruding from her vagina. She survived.

I will never forget the jaundiced woman in liver and kidney failure, in septic shock, with very severe anemia, whose life we were unable to save.

This is an account by a man who became, and remains, a Canadian abortion provider. He saw this nightmare of suffering and decided to do what he could to make it stop. Those who disagree with him have twice made violent attempts on his life, and yet he continues to provide abortions.

Is he a monster? I can’t believe so. Do I want the septic obstetrics ward to exist again? No. If we ban abortion, will it? I think the answer is pretty unequivocally yes.

Do I still feel uneasy about abortion? Yes.

Which is why I’m pro-choice.

When I was vehemntly (though never violently) anti-abortion/pro-life (pick your tag), I could not understand the women in those wards, or the ones who used bleach and coathangers and mangled themselves so horribly. Why not just have the baby? Give it up for adoption?

But then, I have never lived in a family that believed in honor killings. I was not alive at a time when women who were labeled “promiscuous” were sometimes locked up in asylums. Even if I had gotten pregnant, there was little risk of my being shipped off to a “home” to give birth among strangers and then give up my child forever, no matter what I wanted. I was not a woman who already had other children and who worried about feeding another. I am white; if I wanted to give up a baby, it would probably find a home, so long as it was healthy. Were I black or hispanic, it could be trickier. Were my child disabled, trickier still.

Do you know that in an abusive relationship, one of the most common precipitating events for a man to murder a woman is her pregnancy? Or that conversely, surveys of teenage girls in relationships found that some of their boyfriends attempted to control and impregnate them by throwing away their birth control pills?

When I was younger, I did not think about the fact that the history of our civilization is one in which women have mostly been property, not people. And so women’s bodies, even now, remain a battleground. The ability to reproduce is power, and there are still those who think it’s a power women cannot be trusted to administer properly.

And so the battle over abortion is really about power, down at the root, not about stopping a practice that may be inhumane to later-term fetuses. Even I got sucked in to the idea that “conception=person” an idea that does not survive even the smallest bit of thought. An 8-cell blastocyst is genetically unique, yes, but it’s not a person. A woman’s own body rejects multiple embryos before and after implantation, often before she knows she is pregnant. That does not make her body a murderer. That doesn’t make every period a crime scene.

Later-term abortions are more troubling, because we don’t really know where or how to draw the line. They are also more rare (about 1.4% per the CDC), and much more likely to be the result of actual medical problems with the fetus.

I know from my own experience talking to other women that most women seeking abortions want to do so as soon as possible, before they show, before they begin feeling any investment in the fetus. Third trimester women are not lining up for the procedure willy-nilly, if for no other reason than that if you’ve gone through the first two trimesters, you’ve already suffered whatever backlash you’re going to suffer, and giving birth in itself is probably small potatoes. Even if you have a medical emergency, you’re much more likely to get a c/section than any kind of termination at that stage.

I am troubled by the idea of an abortion that takes place when a fetus might feel pain. As of now, the American Medical Association maintains that the nerve and brain structure to feel pain is not in place until the 39th week, which is at term. But still, like a lot of people, I don’t want to be party to any kind of inhumane death of another person.

And so, I’m pro-choice.

But wait!

Oh yes. Because the supreme ironic failure of the pro-life movement is this; countries with easy access to abortion do not have higher rates of abortion than those where it is illegal. What does go down, dramatically, when abortion is outlawed? Women’s safety. Illegal abortions are incredibly dangerous. But women seek them out anyway. Are they insane? Or perhaps, are they driven by the need to save their own life or their children’s lives, or simply to exercise some control over their own bodies?

I don’t believe the organized pro-life forces actually care about real women and children. Otherwise, why would they have also been anti-contraception, anti-pro-child legislation (medical care, daycare, aid for the poor) that enables women to raise children? They cannot even support treatments like Plan B (which prevents an embryo from implanting) or RU-486 (which facilitate very early non-surgical abortion), despite the fact that they are much less ethically dicey than surgical abortions. Because that would mean returning to women some form of control over their own sexual and reproductive decisions. It would mean trusting women, even supporting them, even valuing them. And the pro-life movement doesn’t value them. It doesn’t care if they end up back in the septic ward, if their already-born kids end up orphaned on the street. It doesn’t care. Its attitudes are shaped by ancient religious hangups that have no more relevance for American government than rules about meat on Fridays, no matter how many nicey-nice words it uses. And women die as a result.

To the younger me, the pro-life position (minus the anti-contraception bit) was more “pure” more clear-cut, and therefore better. But human life is none of those things. An ideological purity that causes massive suffering, abortion septic wards, and more abortions is not a better system than a realistic, nuanced, approach that reduces suffering, reduces the need for abortions, and gives women the dignity and power over their own bodies that they deserve.

The hot button

January 9th, 2008


image courtesy Feministe

What is it? No really, what IS it that freaks people out about Hillary Clinton? I have yet to hear a coherent explanation that makes the outsize fear she causes among certain people understandable. Except for the most obvious one.

Other bloggers have covered this thoroughly, and I have to say, I hope the next time some douche pinches a woman’s cheek or rubs her shoulders in a pathetic ape-man dominance display, she punches him on his stupid smirky mouth. Enough of this bullshit.

Whatever it is that makes Chris Matthews and his ilk lose their marbles in the presence (or at the mere mention) of a woman with any power whatsoever, it also seems to have infected a few posters in this Metafilter thread. A relatively mundane post about a new magazine for Canadian teens that proudly proclaims feminism, acceptance for LGBT teens and people of color, among others, brought out some astonishing responses:

I looked briefly. It seems to be a tool for turning teenage girls into feminists. There is a proper place for self-empowerment and gender equality, but the world already has far too many feminists…

I find the site to be pretty disappointing. A typical inbred cookie-cutter liberal/feminist blog, with no indication of any appeal to real living teen girls as opposed to ideological fantasy teen girls. They should focus less on The Message and more on presentation.

my use of feminist is as follows: A female who believes that an imbalance exists in every area of life between men and women. Never content with any concession from any male, she believes fairness means imparting special priveleges to women to decide what is or is not proper, regardless of circumstances. She will accuse essentially any man who challenges this belief of being sexist, pedophilia inclined, porn addicted, power hungry, or some combination thereof without ever allowing herself the realization that such a worldview is essentially sexist in the opposite direction.

I’m sure yours differs. I no longer care. I’ve defined my terms.

Yeah. In their concern-trolly attempt to tell girls how to be feminist, so long as “feminist” is defined as “not too uppity”, such posters emphasize just why teenage girls might need a magazine that isn’t about clothes, shoes, and man-pleasin’. Sheesh.

Shameless does look like a good magazine, by the way. I may order a subscription. First the Canucks give us Degrassi, now this! Bless ‘em.

What’s your sign, baby?

January 5th, 2008

It is the 21st century, right? Because I just had to comment on an (otherwise level-headed) parenting blog about the fact that worrying about what astrological sign your child is born under is bunk. People were all concerned! “Oh yeah, if he’s a Leo, you’re in for a rough go. My little Virgo is an easy kid.”

Bha-wha? Now I understand astrology-as-parlor-game, trying to see if you can make yourself fit into it and reading your horoscope. Using it to decide when to buy a lottery ticket (it’s as good an indicator as anything else for that, which is to say, your odds are the same either way). But actually being worried about your unborn kid’s future personality because they’ll be born under a day associated with a certain constellation?

Pregnancy has many things to worry about–maybe the kid will get your dad’s huge schnozz, or your spouse’s annoying habit of sucking his teeth, or your horrible teenage acne. Or more serious inheritable traits like heart problems and depression. All of these worries are connected to actual reality in some way.

As opposed to worrying if your child will be too prone to folding their socks precisely, or stealing cars, because they were born on the wrong day.

Like I said, superstitions can be fun, especially when you’re a kid and you actually make up your own (step on a crack, break your momma’s back; yelling “Jinx!”, etc.) Wearing your lucky shirt to job interviews may give you more confidence, even if you know deep down that there’s no magic. It’s generally a good idea not to walk under ladders anyway. Using little mental games and tricks can be one way of dealing with the randomness of life, provided you don’t take it too seriously.

But if I were someone on a major parenting blog, posting about actually being worried that my kid would be born under the wrong sign…that’s just sad.

Fa la la la (hargh) la la la (SNRCKK)

December 23rd, 2007

We are recovering; so much so that Matt can go back to his SecondLife singing gigs, and I am not feeling like Hot Aching Death. I have felt that way for what must be only 10 days or so but feels like 100 years.

I can deal with coughing/sniffing/etc. etc. but this cold came with body aches that felt like I’d been beaten with a sack of hot nickels and extreme sinus headaches. The Tylenol could not really cope as every day, two metric tons of blockage would shift to press against a new place–my lower left temple, my freaking JAWline, the BACK of my head, and various other places where a headache Shouldn’t Be. As the last of these (I hope) lifted this morning on the way to Family Christmas 1 (of 3), the sun came out, the birds sang, and I could have skipped across six or eight daisy-covered meadows in joy. The state of non-pain, after weeks of pain, is the best state of all.

So we never got our Christmas tree up. Exra gifts that we wanted to get were not gotten. Lights purchased in November went un-strung in December, and so while our neighbors put up happy festive displays of animatronic reindeer and seizure-inducing marquee lights, our house was the dark, gloomy one that makes the children cry. Considering that we did decorate a little for Halloween, I’m now worried as to what the neighbors think of our spiritual inclinations.

We’ve had Bare Minimum Christmas many times, but mostly due to cash-free-ness or being out of town. I had so many plans this year now that neither applied, but our Walking Death Cold put a kibosh on doing anything extra that didn’t involve blowing amazing amounts of goo out of our heads. Thankfully, Nathan is still too young to notice and feel ashamed. Plenty of time for that next year.

Sex ed in school doesn’t make kids have sex

December 21st, 2007

…in fact, it makes them delay it. And I don’t mean strict “abstinence ed” either. Via Feministing, news of a CDC study that shows:

…teenage boys who had sex education in school were 71 percent less likely to have intercourse before age 15, and teen girls who had sex education were 59 percent less likely to have sex before age 15.

Sex education also increased the likelihood that teen boys would use contraceptives the first time they had sex. . . But sex education appeared to have no effect on whether teen girls used birth control, the researchers found.

Additionally, black teenage girls who received sex ed in school were 91 percent less likely to have sex before age 15.

That 91% figures is pretty amazing.

Now for those who have always opposed sex ed* on the principle that sex magically won’t happen if you don’t talk about it, this poses a dilemma. Do you change your tactics to do something that actually helps teenagers postpone sex? Or do you go “lalalalalalala” and pretend that abstinence-only programs work, despite lots and lots of evidence to the contrary? In other words, what’s more important: being anti-sex-ed, or helping kids?

When kids are ignorant about sex, or only get told weird, negative, one-sided and inaccurate things about it (the way most abstinence-only programs do), bad things happen. Pregnancy rates go up, STD rates go up, and an awful lot of lives get affected.

This is a big issue with me, because what I see is adults letting kids down in a monumental way, because they are uncomfortable with the knowlege that their kids will one day have sex. Being so squeamish or scared to tell your kid about sex or let someone else do so that you keep them in ignorance is BAD PARENTING. Because what your kids don’t know can really hurt them. They need knowledge to protect themselves, because ignorance surely won’t. It’s like putting them behind the wheel without teaching them to drive. Irresponsible.

It’s about control, too. By the time sex becomes an issue, your kid is not under your direct supervision 24/7 anymore. They are at friends’ houses, at school, at parties, on band trips. They are going to have to make decisions about sex without you around to make them be responsible–so if you don’t teach them how to think for themselves and how to protect themselves beforehand, you’ve missed your chance. And you can tell them your preferences for what they do, but ultimately, you can’t make them adhere to those preferences, and as a parent, you have to accept that. Once your teenage son and his girlfriend announce a pregnancy, punishment is a moot point. The best you can do is try to teach him beforehand why he should try to stay out of that situation, for his sake and hers. And then, you have to let them go, and hope for the best. Which is terrifying. But that’s parenting. And for me, if some other adult is able to back up what I teach my son about respect and responsibility, that’s even better.

*All comprehensive sex ed programs I’ve ever heard about, by the way, do tell you that abstinence is in fact the best way to avoid pregnancy, disease, and other complications. Telling someone how condoms work does not equal telling them that they need to have lots and lots of sex, right now.

Sorry about the blog-lag

December 19th, 2007

…but this endless chain of colds is kicking my ass. And Matt’s, and Nathan’s, although they seem to be on the mend. My freaking ears hurt because I’ve blown my nose so much for the last 3 days, and still, my head keeps producing astonishing amounts of mucous. No decongestant seems to be able to stop it for more than an hour or two. So yeah, not sleeping too great either.

If I don’t feel better by tomorrow, it’s off to the doctor, though if it’s a virus, which I’m sure it is, the most he can do is prescribe a stronger decongestant. Or maybe some morphine, or Vicodin. Whatever. At this point, I’d gladly take something that knocked me out until I was better, even if I missed Christmas. Not like I can taste, hear, or breathe properly anyway.

So yeah, see what you haven’t been missing? This. I promise that when I feel better, I’ll post some cute Nathan pics and maybe even not write long pointless bitter rants about my nasal passages. In the meantime, Merry Christmas.

Bitter homeschooler’s wish list!

November 18th, 2007

Updated link to the list, per comments below, from the original author.

For the record, I won’t homeschool unless absolutely driven to it (i.e., if all the available schools for Nathan were awful). Because I really am not cut out for it. But I have sometimes wished I was, and admire many of those who do.

Ok, here’s the list.

The Bitter Homeschooler’s Wish List:(From Secular Homeschooling Magazine, Issue #1)

1. Please stop asking us if it’s legal. If it is — and it is — it’s insulting to imply that we’re criminals. And if we were criminals,would we admit it?

2. Learn what the words “socialize” and”socialization” mean, and use the one you really mean instead of mixing them up the way you do now. Socializing means hanging out with other people for fun. Socialization means having acquired the skills necessary to do so successfully and pleasantly. If you’re talking to me and my kids, that means that we do in fact go outside now and then to visit the other human beings on the planet, and you can safely assume that we’ve got a decent grasp of both concepts.

3. Quit interrupting my kid at her dance lesson, scout meeting, choir practice,baseball game, art class, field trip, park day, music class, 4H club, or soccer lesson to ask her if as a homeschooler she ever gets to socialize.

4. Don’t assume that every homeschooler you meet is homeschooling for the same reasons and in the same way as that one homeschooler you know.

5. If that homeschooler you know is actually someone you saw on TV, either on the news or on a “reality”show, the above goes double.

6. Please stop telling us horror stories about the homeschoolers you know, know of, or think you might know who ruined their lives by homeschooling. You’re probably the same little bluebird of happiness whose hobby is running up to pregnant women and inducing premature labor by telling them every ghastly birthstory you’ve ever heard. We all hate you, so please go away.

7. We don’t look horrified and start quizzing your kids when we hear they’re in public school. Please stop drilling our children like potential oil fields to see if we’re doing what you consider an adequate job of homeschooling.

8. Stop assuming all homeschoolers are religious.

9. Stop assuming that if we’re religious, we must be homeschooling for religious reasons.

10. We didn’t go through all the reading, learning, thinking, weighing of options, experimenting, and worrying that goes into homeschooling just to annoy you. Really. This was a deeply personal decision, tailored to the specifics of our family. Stop taking the bare fact of our being homeschoolers as either an affront or a judgment about your own educational decisions.

11. Please stop questioning my competency and demanding to see my credentials. I didn’t have to complete a course in catering to successfully cook dinner for my family; I don’t need a degree in teaching to educate my children. If spending at least twelve years in the kind of chew-it-up-and-spit-it-out educational facility we call public school left me with so little information in my memory banks that I can’t teach the basics of an elementary education to my nearest and dearest, maybe there’s a reason I’m so reluctant to send mychild to school.

12. If my kid’s only six and you ask me with a straight face how I can possibly teach him what he’d learn in school, please understand that you’re calling me an idiot. Don’t act shocked if I decide to respond in kind.

13. Stop assuming that because the word “home” is right there in “homeschool,” we never leave the house.We’re the ones who go to the amusement parks, museums, and zoos in the middle of the week and in the off-season and laugh at you because you have to go on weekends and holidays when it’s crowded and icky.

14. Stop assuming that because the word “school” is right there in homeschool, we must sit around at a desk for six or eight hours everyday, just like your kid does. Even if we’re into the “school” side of education — and many of us prefer a more organic approach — we can burn through a lot of material a lot more efficiently, because we don’t have to gear our lessons to the lowest common denominator.

15. Stop asking, “But what about the Prom?” Even if the idea that my kid might not be able to indulge in a night of over-hyped, over-priced revelry was enough to break my heart, plenty of kids who do go to school don’t get to go to the Prom. For all you know, I’m one of them. I might still be bitter about it. So go be shallow somewhere else.

16. Don’t ask my kid if she wouldn’t rather go to school unless you don’t mind if I ask your kid if he wouldn’t rather stay home and get some sleep now and then.

17. Stop saying, “Oh, I could never homeschool!” Evenif you think it’s some kind of compliment, it sounds more like you’re horrified. One of these days, I won’t bother disagreeing with you anymore.

18. If you can remember anything from chemistry or calculus class, you’re allowed to ask how we’ll teach these subjects to our kids. If you can’t, thank you for the reassurance that we couldn’t possibly do a worse job than your teachers did, and might even do a better one.

19. Stop asking about how hard it must be to be my child’s teacher as well as her parent. I don’t see much difference between bossing my kid around academically and bossing him around the way I do about everything else. (considering I dont boss anyone around, this dosent really apply to our family)

20. Stop saying that my kid is shy, outgoing, aggressive, anxious, quiet, boisterous, argumentative, pouty, fidgety, chatty, whiny, or loud because he’s homeschooled. It’s not fair that all the kids who go to school can be as annoying as they want to without being branded as representative of anything but childhood.

21. Quit assuming that my kid must be some kind of prodigy because she’s homeschooled.

22. Quit assuming that I must be some kind of prodigy because I homeschool my kids.

23. Quit assuming that I must be some kind of saint because I homeschool my kids.

24. Stop talking about all the great childhood memories my kids won’t get because they don’t go to school, unless you want me to start asking about all the not-so-great childhood memories you have because you went to school.

25. Here’s a thought: If you can’t say something nice about homeschooling, shut up!

Broken patterns

November 18th, 2007

It’s been two years since Nathan’s birth. I guess there are days I don’t think about it; being as involved in birth issues as I am, though, that’s pretty rare.

I’m still angry. Laid-back, non-grudge-holding me, still wishing she could go back and scream and strike out at the people who hurt her, lied to her, who denied her and her son a good birth, c/sec or no. Because believe it or not, it’s not just about the surgery. It’s about all that came after, too.

There was no reason to take my baby from me for six hours, while he screamed and I pleaded pitifully, begged and wept for someone to bring him to me. None. There was no reason to forbid me visitors in recovery, so that my doula had to sneak in to hold my hand for fifteen lousy minutes. There was no reason someone could not have stayed with me and Nathan in my room after visiting hours, so that I could have help lifting and feeding him without tearing my scar. There was no reason for that suffering.

There was no reason for Nathan to be given sugar water instead of my milk right after birth, no reason he could not have been put next to my skin, held between his daddy and me while I recovered. For that six hours, he was in a cold, comfortless world, and he screamed bloody murder, as well he should. And my heart ripped in two, and I’m not sure it’s back together yet.

It took us a long time to bond, to get back to a peaceful place, after that. A long time for the memory to fade, for us to find our way together. Some things, like breastfeeding, we never did find a way back to. A long time for us to be mamababy, together and content.

Today Nathan was sick, and wanted comforting after a particularly bad spell of diarrhea. He’s a big boy, but I sat on the floor and held him in my lap, his ear on my heart, while he drank his milk, and rocked him and calmed him down. I made a little safe world for him to be in while he was hurting and scared, a refuge from the bad things he didn’t understand.

It worked today; it would have worked then too.

If we’d only gotten the chance.

Don’t all little girls dream of doing laundry for their menfolk? (contains *^*%&$& cursing)

October 18th, 2007


Knowing how to tell when pasta is done is the first sign your boy is going gay.

I mean, jeez, people.

The playhouse — which can be filled with a sink, an oven, a laundry machine, a cradle — is aimed at little girls with the tag line, “Where dreams have room to grow.”

And it’s pink of course. Meaning, “Hey boys! You’ll never have to do any of this boring girl crap! Now go play with your violent robots or something!”

The deal is, there are plenty of playsets out there–like this one–that don’t gender-identify kitchens. It’s great for all kids to play at cooking, doing chores, and raising kids. Because unless you’re raising your little boy to be a sexist tool, he’s going to have to do some of those things to have a healthy relationship with his partner…or even just to be a clean, fed, well-dressed human being.


“don’t come back till you lose that 50 pounds”

October 2nd, 2007

I once had a doctor lecture me about my weight when I actually went in to see him about a cold. Because, you know, I don’t KNOW that I’m considered fat and unhealthy. Thanks, doc! Can, I um, have that prescription for my lung infection now that you’ve humiliated me?

Fat discrimination by the medical profession is not a myth. Sometimes, it even kills. At the very least, it’s irresponsible and unethical to refuse to treat a patient simply because they are overweight, as some of the commenters to that story relate.

One comment in particular brought tears to my eyes, about a woman who avoided doctors for 28 years because she was afraid of their treatment of her as a fat woman; when she finally did go, she cried because the doctor was “so kind.” Kindness should not be rare; compassion should not be the exception, for fat people or anyone. A person who’s overweight comes to their doctor already bearing the scars of how others see them and how they see themselves. The least their doctor can do is not add to them.