Category Archives: Women

I did a podcast!

A friend of mine invited me to do a podcast on motherhood for her friend / client Lisa York. I agreed! You can find it (and also a brief summary of it) here (warning: loads a little slowly), on Lisa York’s SuperMum website.

Yes…. SuperMum. I have to admit that my friend asked me to do a podcast and I was all “yeah! yeah, sure!” and never really asked what it would be about (I know.. I know). Then ON THE DAY of the podcast I listened to some of the archived podcasts (which I loved!), and dug around in the site and found out that it was all about tips for motherhood. Interestingly, not parenting per se, but motherhood – how to keep sane, or keep happy, or just keep going while “mum-ing”. For example, there were tips on how a quick morning meditation can help your day, and how to have a quick “mummy reboot” or how to “Find Your Lost Identity”. So, my immediate reaction was to look at my unwashed hair and creased clothes, and the general disarray of my life, and think “Cripes, I have got literally nothing to offer here”. It is not unusual for me to wear the same clothes three days in a row because I didn’t have time to wash / choose / think about anything else. There. I admitted it. Be grateful I use Febreeze y’all.

Lularoe cassie pink classic T

Unwashed hair in bun, make up non existent, T-shirt left over from yesterday… and off to work I go. For realz y’all.

Plus, I was worried Lisa would also want parenting tips, and I don’t give parenting a lot of thought. I’m not saying I am a brilliant parent-er, but through a combination of over confidence and and inertia (I like to think inertia sounds better than laziness) I I just mostly do what feels right at the time, somewhat in consultation with the other ‘alf, and rarely actually take stock of what I am doing. I mean, I am prone to suddenly going “ermagahd we all need watch less TV” or “waaaaah, the minions are not being adequately controlled by their masters and anarchy is on the horizon in this household” but at these points I can’t think of a time where I have investigated HOW to watch less TV, or HOW to control the parasites. I just sort of try to do it for a little while, and when a new panic comes [“We all need to take Probiotics everyday or we’ll be 20-stone and ridden with ebola!”] I forget about the old one, and who knows if I actually effected any behavioral change.

I am totally on board that I could do things better, and that my kids could be better in some areas, but I am just not motivated enough to like, read a book about it, or an article. Or, let’s face it, even a listicle (unless it has super amazing gifs, including one of Ryan Reynolds (Greatest Dad Ever TM) in his underwear). I do love that plenty of my friends read this stuff, because then when I am whining that my kids can’t do a basic human act like sit at the dinner table, I can absorb their collective wisdom (nicely digested, synthesized and often tested) as I sob into my Malbec.

Toddler feeding doll

Caroline may be more of a SuperMum than me

So, I totally freaked out, but Lisa (who runs the website and its podcasts) was ah-maz-ing and told me just to be myself and then gave me a write-up that made me even want to listen to myself (to be clear: I have not! Ha! I am way too awkward and worried that I’ll sound like a fool or spend all the time fretting about my answers to do that). But, I am glad I did it. As we talked about things like differences between the US and the UK, and the fact that I don’t read parenting books, I am super worried that I will offend someone – but still, I am glad I did it. And I definitely enjoyed it. And Lisa seemed to think that the message of “Oh, I’m just winging it because I guess deep down I don’t think what we do makes an enormous difference anyway…” was an OK message to put out there. Or maybe even a reassuring one. So, if you needed to here it – there we go.

I’m winging it and you can too 🙂

Sam being a SuperParent

But also, it was good that one of Lisa’s goals with SuperMum is just to tell mum’s stories… and I really enjoyed listening to those – kind of like an audio blog if you will. I’ve subscribed on itunes and I am trying to listen to new podcasts on the way to work, so maybe some tips will seep in after all…

Oh, and at the end of the podcast every person is asked to give their definition of a SuperMum. Apparently the most common definitions involve happiness and health. I won’t tell you what my definition of a SuperMum is (go listen to the podcast!) but can I just make a plea that we stop tying success to happiness and health? Both of those are gifts that are only somewhat within our control. It’s easy to agree that someone who has cancer / has children with cancer (i.e. the health part is tough) is no less a SuperMum than someone without. So, can we generalize and say that someone who is depressed / has children with depression – or is even just struggling to be happy and content right now – is also no less a SuperMum. And this obviously goes beyond parenting: your success, and your worth and your value does not have to tied up to your health and happiness. It’s up to you to decide what it is tied to…

 

How to be supportive of women’s birthing choices

*Note: throughout I got tired of writing ‘women and their partners and families’, so I just wrote ‘women’. But I do believe wholeheartedly that birth decisions affect the whole family, and so should be a somewhat group decision.

Ah, the Mummy wars. Just as we might be close to reaching some kind of rapprochement over one issue (breastfeeding), we really hammer into a new one: birth. For the unenlightened, a war is indeed brewing. On one extreme, you have the group who think that any intervention is ‘birth rape’ (not kidding…). On the other side, perhaps as a backlash, you have the women claiming that allowing any kind of pain in childbirth is anti-feminist, and women who don’t give birth in a hospital are baby killers. It’s just another incarnation of the nipple waving breastfeeding sluts vs. the poisoning lazy formula feeders debate.

It would be nice if we could just ignore this. Let the extremists be extreme, and live in a happy middle road. But the knock on effect is that women are becoming miserable – people feel judged and found wanting, guilty, denied a right, some even feel violated for a medical professional doing their best. While I support attempts to improve medical care, and thus women’s birthing experiences, this does not seem the right way to go about it. I understand that is hard when people think they are fighting risk to babies, or denial of rights to women – both highly passionate issues – but it seems to me that the path we are going down is not working. Families and caregivers need to unite in support of one and another to enable informed choices and happiness with those. That’s not the same as inaction, nor will it lead to stagnation. I believe that within this modus operandi, there is still room for encouraging change and I also believe it is the way to help women and their partners make better choice.

Here is how I try to be supportive of all birthing choices:

(1) Everyone: Be realistic and scientific.

Don’t lie. Home birthers: admit that the risks to mother and child are higher (but very small) and note openly that scientific evidence shows that epidurals at the right time do not increase C-section rates. Hospital birthers: be open: yes, a C-section is more likely, even when other factors are controlled for. Yes, pitocin increases the likelihood one will want an epidural, and not due to this, also increases the likelihood of a C-section. Be honest: you are more in the doctor’s hands, and you may be pressured to make an alternative choice. Home birthers: women in hospital may also not be pressured to make choices against their will and may work with professionals who are incredibly dedicated to following their birth wishes.

I have seen both done. At my Bradley classes (a natural birth class), our instructor was having a home birth. In the discussion about risks and benefits she noted that the risk were higher, but in absolute terms extremely minimal. She told us to go away, read, and make our own decisions. When my OB told me I needed an induction and I was resistant, she honestly talked through the increase in C-section occurrence. She told me to go away, think and read, and make my own decision.

Only by talking through openly and honestly about the facts and figures can women* make informed choices, and research ways to mitigate unwanted outcomes. When my OB was open about the increase in C-section risk with pitocin, I was able to research how to deal with this, and constructed a careful plan which took 2 days to effect, but resulted in a vaginal birth.

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(2) Anti-home birthers: Accept that you cannot save all of the babies, all of the time.

It can be a very emotive subject, and anti-home birthers usually cite the well-documented and reliable statistics of increased mortality with home birth. It is a tiny increase, but the pleading ‘won’t you please think of the children’, often accompanied by a picture of a stillbirth, can be very compelling. But here is the thing: home birth is not the last bastion of child (or maternal) risk. Children are starving to death, being shot to death in war, being shot to death because of lax safety, dying of vaccine preventable diseases, dying of non preventable diseases, dying because the basic standard of medical care is not uniformly distributed across economic strata in the US. That’s not to say that we should be cavalier about infant mortality, but some perspective helps. If you are not pouring equal amount of vocal outrage into all causes of child suffering (especially given how many more children die from these other causes, than from home birth), I would ask you to reconsider your reasons for championing an anti-home stance.

(3) Home birthers: to use your own words: anyone could do it.

If forced to, then I am pretty sure (but have not checked the empirical evidence) that anyone could deal with the pain of childbirth. Some people choose to have an epidural (or other pain relief) and there is nothing ‘weak’ about it. It’s just a choice, like the one to go to Kroger vs. Fiesta (or Tesco vs. Sainsburys for my dear UK readers), and should not have a value judgement attached to it.

(4) Anti-home birthers: We all take risks with our child.

Accept it, we all take unnecessary risks with our child. To anyone taking a ‘holier than thou’ approach to their child rearing I could point out preventable risks you take. Take your child in a car? Increased risk!! Why not stay at home or within walking distance until the child is 16 ?  You might say: that’s not practical, the benefit outweighs the unrealistic cost.

Sure – to *you*. There are people, I am sure, who follow this (small number though they are).  Ultimately: you don’t know the cost to someone of going into hospital. You don’t know their fears and needs, and how strong they are. You cannot judge for someone else whether the costs outweigh the benefits, because you don’t know them.

(4) Home birthers: We all take risks with our child.

You may tout increased bonding for a drug free childbirth, or a cite the evidence that some aspects of pain relief get to the baby and affect their immediate post-birth presentation. But again, you will do something that is sub optimal for your child’s development (although defining that is tricky), sometimes out of ignorance (and so some education is OK), but sometimes because to you and your family judge the benefit to be greater than the cost, as above. And that’s OK.

I could go on, but it has been (for me) a long post. I will always choose a hospital birth. I will always research and learn, but I will always reach an agreement with my trained medical professional. If I can’t do that, I will seek out a medical professional with whom I can, because this provider is obviously not right for me. For my birth, I agreed to an unwanted induction, but I worked out a fairly long and complicated plan for doing everything I could to ensure a vaginal birth. Indeed, this was necessary, if I had not worked with my OB on devising a 2-day induction, I would have been one of the ‘C-sections after a day on pit’ statistics.

That being said, if I had had a C-section, I hope I would have worked with my provider and still have thought it a wonderful experience. Many aspects of my birth sucked (or at least the aftermath), but I am delighted with the whole experience. Shit happens. But I got this thing out of it:

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My plea: chill, relax, channel your energy / outrage somewhere else [send refugees donations, volunteer at your local hospital, whatever], remember that you are not a bat, and don’t know what it is like to be a bat. Gain some perspective: birth is important, but it is just one aspect of a whole lifetime of wonderful experiences.

Peace. Love. Babies.

 

Really Huffington Post? Really?

C’mon, I love the HuffPo. I like ‘crunchy’ / ‘hippie’ ideas – I even have such leanings myself. I proactively support women’s right to make choices about their healthcare. But can they not collide so horrifically in a piece such as:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/08/photos-home-birth-social-media_n_4549531.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000009

I’ll save you clicking the link. Ruth Fowler wanted to instagram every moment of her homebirth. She did – including her decision to have a whisky sour to take the edge off the pain (in her “all natural” [cough – alcohol?] birth]. She shared much of the pain, and the wait, and then boom: a cute little baby on an immaculate, naked mother… a big gap and ‘Oh, I woke up in hospital after a hemorrhage, took lots of fentanyl [a sedative] and ohmygosh my midwife and doula were amazing I couldn’t have done it without them’.

The Huffington Post called it the ‘uncensored… beautiful, messy, reality of homebirth’.

As someone who has been though a severe postpartum hemorrhage, let me disagree. That is bull. What we saw was beautiful, I will agree.

But I saw no mess. You want to know mess? It is when you bleed so much a biohazard bin is full, your blood runs off the bed, off the splash pads, can’t be absorbed and runs all over the floor for your husband to clear up. That is the mess.

This is the aftermath of a (much cleaned up) messy birth

This is the aftermath of a (much cleaned up) messy birth

And the reality? The reality is that in these births, the husband sits by helplessly, holding a newborn he is not sure he wants – if it costs him his wife.

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The reality is that it is not your midwife and doula you should be thanking, but the medical team (for me: 14 specialists and counting) and the nameless blood donors who allowed your child to have 2 parents.

The uncensored? The uncensored is not ‘yay I have a baby… ooooh fun! I am in hospital in soft focus and makeup with a cute baby 2 days later’. The reality is being wheeled to the operating room fighting the versed because you don’t know if you will wake up from it, it is waking up WITHOUT your infant despite wanting him desperately, it is waking up without you infant (fort he first time in 9 months) and being told they are ‘doing their best, but you are not out of the woods’, it is screaming in pain in the night, it is feeling blood transfusion after blood transfusion burn (10 units of such), it not being allowed to alone with your baby. It is gritty, and it is cold, and it is pale with blue lips and sadness.

Carefully place the baby by the mother... look, it is almost as if she got up and picked up the baby herself

Carefully place the baby by the mother… look, it is almost as if she got up and picked up the baby herself

Why do I say this? I do not think hospitals are perfect – I do think that unless you are informed and prepared to discuss and push for your views things may not go your way. I am not against home birth at all. AT ALL. I had a friend who just 5 months after Sam came told me that she was planning a home birth and I was all ‘OK, she knows what happened to me – cool’ and was pleased and supportive. But I am pro informed choices. And pieces like this spread the misinformation that if something goes wrong in childbirth its not that bad. It spreads the idea that hospitals are not necessary in any cases [Thanks to my doula! Thanks to my midwife! Umm… yeah… that’s all I needed].

This “uncensored.. [and]..messy reality” [sic]” gives a completely false account of the reality of when something goes wrong. Not to mention: where is the father in all this??? Where are his emotions? His experience?

Women need to know what happens when birth goes wrong. They need to see the actual messy reality. They need to hear doctors and nurses thanked and know they did something amazing. Then they need to look at the statistics, see how incredibly rare it is, and make their own decision – with their partner (please involve your partner if you have one). And be loved and supported through it. But just as I hate medical professionals who overplay risks and rush to C-sections, so I hate crunchies who downplay what what the reality can be.

Personally, I would much rather read “Wow… it went really badly, here is how awful it is, but I transferred to hospital, survived and so would make the same choice again. See if these are risks you are prepared to face’. Let people make the choice: unnecessary intervention (likely) vs. the real consequences if it goes wrong (unlikely).

Ugh.

Of course, the important thing is how well it all turned out:

Love being a Mum!

Love being a Mum!

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Why I love the (hashtag) Royal Baby & a special milestone for me and Sam

I am so excited Prince George has made a safe and healthy entrance into the world. I read some of my American friends criticizing the news (and one British) and having ‘mixed emotions’ about what the monarchy stood for. Although I may be a noisy political advocate for many causes, this was not a political cause for me.

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I guess at the heart of everything, I do not have an intrinsic problem with the monarchy. They return more money to Britain than they cost, they don’t interfere with everyday life, but they do try to do some decent charity work without too many bells and whistles (LOVE Prince Charles quiet support of organic farming, and much as I did not like Diana, she did amazing work to remove a lot of stigma from HIV patients). And, all countries need their identity; the monarchy is part of ours and if not something to be proud of, to me, not something to be particularly ashamed of.

So, for me, as my heckles do not get raised by the mention of the monarchy, the Royal Baby story was just a story about a young couple, who fell in love, and had a baby. All the criticisms: they didn’t swaddle properly! She came out after only 12 hours! She has a manicure! She can’t nurse in that dress! She showed her belly! All those bitchy little comments just reminded me so vividly of my first few days (months?) as a parent.

Swaddle fail

Swaddle fail

I failed utterly, utterly, at swaddling, despite great instruction from my Bradley Method teacher, AND getting the nurses to show us how to do it several times in hospital AND having step-by-step diagrams in ‘The Happiest Baby on The Block’. I just said: Thank goodness for ‘swaddleme’s [and for the friend who bought me three].

Also failing at using a Swaddleme. Oh well.

Also failing at using a Swaddleme. Oh well.

I was utterly confident I could see people immediately, even though I was clearly very sick, and visitors were not allowed in ICU anyway. But I was on a great high – I was utterly in love with a new little human. I was convinced her was the cutest / most well-behaved / smartest baby ever, and I just wanted the world d to meet him.

What do you mean I am not ready for visitors? But I invited my colleagues over for cupcake (no... I really did...).

What do you mean I am not ready for visitors? But I invited my colleagues over for cupcakes (no… I really did…).

OK, I didn’t have a manicure, but as soon as I was able to unhook myself from my IV I scuttled off to bathroom and put make-up on (which in retrospect, because I was deathly pale and swollen from blood loss, just looked vaguely clown-like). Had I been able to have a full shower, you can bet your bottom dollar I would have had a blow-out (I got the straighteners out as soon as I got home).

Yes Lekki, you look awesome. Not deathly pale with clownlike levels of blusher at all. AT. ALL.

Yes Lekki, you look awesome. Not deathly pale with clown-like levels of blusher at all. AT. ALL.

Nursing clothes? Messed that up. I found my clothes were totally inappropriate for nursing, especially in those first few days when you haven’t got your technique down. Even when Wes went and bought me special nursing tops I got lanolin and milk all over them. C’est la vie.

Hoodies: Not awesome for nursing. Also: terrible swaddle (again).

Hoodies: Not awesome for nursing. Also: terrible swaddle (again).

And as for that belly? And the ‘Did Kate decide to show she was normal?’, “Did Kate purposely show her belly?’ question. While I applaud Kate for not getting into a girdle, I suspect she, like me, had no idea what people meant when they said ‘you’ll still look 6 months pregnant when you leave’. Seeing that I barely put on 4 lbs of non-baby weight, while I heard people say ‘take maternity clothes’, and I heard them tell me my belly would take weeks to go down, I was used to stories of Alex Curran leaving hospital in her skinny jeans, and I didn’t really think the ‘6 months pregnant belly’ would apply to me. Boy-oh-boy did it 🙂

When am I due? Oh, 7 days ago actually...

When am I due? Oh, 7 days ago actually…

They were not mistakes, they were just ‘learning to be a parent’ moves. They were just a reflection that nothing can really prepare you for EVERYTHING it is to suddenly have a brand new newborn. You can read books, you can visit friends, you can watch videos, but as soon as you have that little thing in your arms you realize you had NO IDEA what it is going to take.

And that is why I love the Royal Baby news: I guarantee that at this moment, Kate & Wills are not marveling over the heir to the throne, or thinking about the press, or planning their every move. They are completely and utterly absorbed in their new one, wondering how to be come parents, and blown away by how clever they are to have bought the cutest / most well-behaved / smartest baby ever [apart from mine] into the world.

Reliving that special time through them is wonderful. Tomorrow marks the exact number of days, since Sam’s birth, that reflect the time he was inside me (i.e. from ovulation to birth). I am fairly emotional about that, and hearing about wee Prince George just warms my heart and reminds me this is the best thing I have ever done.

Best. Baby. Ever. Fact.

Best. Baby. Ever. Fact.

 

Oh, and I am not proud of this, but we also didn’t get the car seat right:

Not a good way to strap the wee one in

Not a good way to strap the wee one in

Chest strap too low, head not properly supported, and in fact, should have had side impact protection (Sam was very small!). We’ll do better next time.

How this right-wing Christian Tory girl ended up supporting Obama

… Or [alternative title]:

“I am sorry I was an ass-hat for the last 6 months”.

But it takes me a while to get to that part in this post. Patience if you will, please.

So, back in good old Blighty, I was actually noticeably right-wing. I was a Young Conservative. I dated a former Young Conservative. I was devastated when he broke my tax-reducing, spending-cutting heart. I cried when “New Labour” got in. I rejoiced when they were out (although not at the coalition replacement). I… OK, OK, you get the picture. So, it seemed clear to me that when I moved to the US, although I liked Obama as a person, I would support the Tory-party allies: The Republicans.  Right? Right?

No. I don’t so much hate them, as actively fear Romney becoming President. I cry at the thought of it. That’s one helluva turnaround in less than three years. So, I began to ask myself: why? How the heck did this happen? How did it happen living in Alabama (although, living in Alabama was probably causal, but that’s not the point of this post). While vaguely pondering it, I did notice other people making the same switch. Fellow displaced Brits looking confused and perplexed and going “hang on, when did I become a leftie?”. Indeed even the Tory party in the UK is struggling to love the Republicans: Cameron is trying to repair relations with his ‘sister’ party, but keeps making clear statements against Romney-Ryan.

How did this happen? I was genuinely curious. After much thinking and mulling and chatting and yelling and crying, I believe it came down to this: in the UK a lot of the ‘social’ policies are pretty done – yeah we tweak them, yeah there are groups asking for more, yes there is inequality It’s no wonderland). But it not on the same scale as the US. The decision, when voting, comes largely down to economics. Even ‘social’ policies: education, welfare etc are largely discussed in purely economic terms. I tend to be right wing economically (a fiscal conservative?), and so to vote right was an easy decision.

In the US many, many mainstream (by which I mean large) groups are fighting for basic civil rights, which I believe should be extended to them: I am socially liberal. So, with my broad sense economic views not changing, I had to choose: Right vs Left: Economics vs. Society. I chose civil rights. Here is why:

I looked at the economy, and the economic policies offered by the two candidates. I do buy the argument that Obama maybe could have done better economically. I don’t know this, I am sort of 55% on that side, 45% on the side that he couldn’t. I don’t know if Romney would do better, because he won’t lay out a damn plan, nor stick to a stated policy. (I did go and read his 8-page plan on his website. About 3 pages was criticizing Obama, about 3 were saying right wing in general is wonderful. ~2 concerned his actual plan, which was vague and non-specific).

Romney changes all the time, many people say Obama could have done better. So, while I may not be confident handing the economy over to Romney, I am not confident handing it over to Obama either. Kind of a dead heat. My history is to think of more fiscally conservative policies as better in times of strife, so I might actually just tip in favor of the Republican party. But. And it is a big but:

If Obama could have done better (and we don’t know that he could have), I don’t think it is significantly better. That is: the world is in a huge economic recession. The Western world is collapsing under financial distress. I doubt anyone could have done more than Obama, such that enough people’s lives were hugely significantly changed. We don’t know if traditionally left- or right- wing policies really work better. Historians and top economists argue about it. But it does seem pretty clear to me that no one in the current world situation could have made a giant leap of difference to the lives of most every day Americans (sure… ‘tell that to someone unemployed’ you say… but I am talking here on a grand scale). Sadly we do vote for ourselves, and our friends, and our situation and looking around, on an economic level I don’t see anyone changing the lives and happiness of those Americans I see by ‘fixing the economy’ on such a scale that it out-weighs the difference social change could make.

This point was first brought home to me when I was hiking with a girl (let’s call her Hot-Stuff A) living in Colorado. She was given great job offers at my Alabama institution and I said to her “Come on, you have to be tempted to take one up, right?”. She looked at me and said: “I can’t. I simply can’t. I am married to a woman, and she would have no rights. No protection.” I was floored, because I suddenly realized it was true. Hot-Stuff A is indeed married to Hot-Stuff B. If they moved to Alabama, both could legally be fired for being gay. Unlikely, but LIKELY s that Hot-stuff B could be denied healthcare, because Healthcare policies are allowed to only be extended to spouses ‘as recognized by the state of X’. Alabama does not recognize gay marriage. So Hot-Stuff B could, and would, be denied it. Furthermore if either got sick, their life long partner could be denied hospital visitation rights: because they are not recognized as family. Their wills could not be recognized, or legally contested by family, because in the eyes of Alabama these girls are not married, and so not family.

That’s bad. That causes actually misery and pain. Britain may wrangle about whether gay people are ‘married’ or in a ‘civil partnership’ but they do not wrangle over basic civil rights. I was horrified, horrified, that two law-abiding people were prisoners in their own state, because they happen to love someone of the same sex.

It was, really shocking to me. And I think it was the turning point. I opened my eyes to the media portraying real, and horrendous stories of people in these situations and saw the misery it caused.

Then I met a girl, a single-Mom at my new job. She works hard. She is what the rightest-of right would call a maker, not a taker. Her 13 year old girl has a genetic condition. The 13 year old (not that it should matter) is a very smart, very functioning girl – I think I last saw her reading an adult book. A very smart, very functioning, very happy and productive 13 year old, who happens to have expensive physical needs. That’s crummy enough, but the Mum was offered another job, and couldn’t take it, because the insurance offered with the job did not cover pre-existing conditions.

So… she could not advance her career, she could not make more money (be more of a ‘maker’), because she could not guarantee her daughter adequate healthcare (she would earn too much for Medicaid in that State). As if that wasn’t bad enough, the Mum told me that she had sat down and worked out that the daughter would exceed her lifetime maximum by the time she was 17. What is this lifetime maximum of which you speak? I hear you Brits say. Oh… well, that is the maximum U.T.’s health insurance will pay out, over a lifetime, for any one person. I.e. at 17 this girl will have no medical coverage. No guarantee of such. I can’t even imagine what it is like to be facing that, at her mother.

Another case: when signing up for health benefits I met a lady from CA who had moved because her cancer treatment exceeded the cost her insurance company would pay. U.T. did accept pre-existing conditions, so she moved here to get it covered. Let me spell it out: the woman had breast cancer. She was afraid of dying. She had to move across the country, away from her friends and family, support and medical doctors to be able to afford treatment.

I looked around and really saw that some social change could make a whole lot of difference to people’s lives. I may not think ObamaCare is the best solution. But it is, at least, a solution. ‘Repeal and Replace’ with some unclear (and frankly untrustworthy) hazy guidelines is not a solution. ObamaCare will at least improve the lives of these individuals. Immeasurably. More than I think an upswing in the economy – or at least, more than I think an upswing in the economy attributable to just one person / one party – could do.

I don’t have time to write about all the cases I have met / discovered. People unable to get safe abortions (do I ‘agree’ with abortion? No. Would I ever deny anyone their right to follow their own ethical code and chose? No.). Kids committing suicide because many politicians in the US want to send out the message ‘being gay is wrong’ (according to who? YOUR God? That is not MY God? What if I don’t believe in God?). Ryan who signed a bill trying to make IVF and IUDs illegal. Endless examples of people’s lives getting worse that Obama would make better.

And lest you think I support Obama because I am a do-gooder only looking out for others, let me assure you, this is not the case. Because then, then, it got personal.

First I went to get birth control for my impending marriage. My insurance company didn’t cover the IUS / IUD (‘tiz abortion, doncha know. Sigh.). I couldn’t afford it. Instead, I got a prescription for valium and some hormones that sent me insane. I gave up on those (it was either that or give up on my marriage… which nearly happened as I went so loopy) and failed to find an affordable solution. By January I was still saving up for the cost of an IUD. By February I was pregnant. Nuff said.

I moved to Texas in June. 4 months pregnant. Not sure why, but I suffered pre-term labor. Sadly, Texas doesn’t cover individuals healthcare when they first move. I had only a ‘help hotline’ to call. I spent many night in tears, scared I was losing my baby, until my coverage kicked in. It worked out well, but for the first time I was forced to face the consequence of putting healthcare in the hands of money-makers with minimal regulations: the loss of people’s children.

Then I was denied maternity leave. FMLA doesn’t kick in as I have not been at U.T. long enough, and anyway, I am the only earner. I can’t go unpaid for 3 months. Luckily, I have a very flexible job, which I can do from home, and very kind and understanding mentors and bosses. We have figured it out. But there was no guarantee of that. The suggestion of healthcare companies I called trying to find short term insurance coverage for pregnancy (which is, of course, a pre-existing condition)? “Don’t change jobs”. Ah, so stay at a lower status, lower paid job and lose the opportunity to do well (academic jobs are scarce) because I am a woman? I see.

Oh, and I find out that C-sections are considered by some insurance companies to be a pre-existing condition. So, should I have one, I may have to make the decision: change jobs and not have children (because their birth would not be covered, and I am not sure I’ll ever have a spare $30,000 lying around), or stay where I am and have the possibility of more children. So, essentially: my career will be held back, because I am a woman. Because – I don’t see men having to make this choice… I suppose they may have to make it on their wife’s behalf. But, overall, I still see this as a woman’s rights issue.

I also have written about this before. I am sick of being told how to live out my religion. Yes, I am Christian. Yes, in my eyes I am a practicing Christian. But no, in my eyes, this does not mean gay marriage should be illegal (if Christians are harping on about the term ‘marriage’ know it was around before the Bible. So just get another term. Let gay people be married, and straight Christians be ‘Bible-married’ or whatever, just don’t base rights on that). I am used to being in a country where I am able to choose how I live my religion (no, I won’t have an abortion, yes, I will attend a gay friend’s wedding) and not told that my interpretation is wrong. I have never lost so much religious freedom as a Christian as when I came to the US.

So, I guess I looked at the options. And, no, I don’t think Obama is perfect. No, I don’t think he has done the perfect job. Nor necessarily the very best. But he has done something, and he will reach in and improve the lives of many – far more than Romney will. Romney will not make changes that affect so many people’s lives this profoundly – is my belief.

So why do I write all this? Well, thinking it through made me realize two things, that made me happier.

(1) I don’t have to hate all Republican supporters.

This is my “sorry I was an ass-hat for 6 months” moment.

I always realized that there were many Democrats I did not agree with, and did not respect. But, I found it hard to see the flip side with Republican-supporters. That there are some I realy can respect and love. There are still many Republican supporters I do not agree with, and pray hard not to judge (no… I really do). But there are also many who would like to see the problems above ‘fixed’, they just don’t have the ‘at any cost’ stance that I do. Or, they don’t think Obama can fix them. Or they think Romney can. Or they just prioritize differently.

I  fully admit there are many worthy and good causes I just don’t feel passionately enough to be swayed by: saving the environment is one of them. It is not a good thing, but it is true. I try to recycle, I try to minimize waste, I am happy to do my part. But I am not going to seriously put myself out, and  don’t really care about it (sorry 😦 ). It is what it is. People can have different priorities and can be just as compassionate. Who is to say which priorities are ‘right’ or ‘more worthy’. Not me guv’nor.

So, thinking through calmly and logically helped me remove my animosity to some people I dearly love. And I am sorry if I seemed mean or judgmental of you before – truly. That is indeed not how I live out my faith.

(2) It helped me navigate the insane media circus that is the US at election time.

Seriously Brits, think of the mud-slinging we do to our celebs. The US is actually nicer to its celebs than we are, but seems to treat its politicians as we treat Jordan. The US media at election time is an ugly, ugly place. And I used to read all the left media and get so outraged and angry at the right. Furious. Upset to tears. Almost beyond reconciling. The right does it too… and then I would get mad at how misrepresented the left was.

Then, I realised that 1/2 of what the media was up in a furor about, I didn’t care about. Do I care that Tagg Romney said he wanted to punch Obama? No. Looking above, that has nothing to do with why I support Obama.

Do I care that Mitt Romney said the humorous comment that he was brought “binders full of women”? No. He mispoke, but it was a debate and I don’t think the hysterical interpretation was what was in his heart. But I do care that when asked the question of what he would do to help women’s equality, he basically said “I’ll create more jobs in general and women can then have access to them” because that does not even touch on what bothers me so much about women’s rights (or lack of) as laid out above.

So, that is how I became an Obama supporter. But that is also how thinking through why that happened helped me be a little happier.

Oh, and to all those who want to say ‘If America is so tough for you: GO HOME’ I do understand your viewpoint. And I don’t mean to whale on America. There are a lot of great things here, and this country has been good to me. And, much as I appreciate a lot about this country, I would like to go home, very much. Indeed, I got married under the supposition that that would likely happen. But my husband examined it some more, and if I did go, I could have to choose between him and my country, and I couldn’t legally take my child. So, while I may have annoyed you, please have some sympathy too. I am not sure I wouldn’t live my life a little differently if I had known this is how it would end up.

On a more positive note, here is the top Google image for the search ‘cutest kitten ever”:


Image credits

http://egbertowillies.com/2012/10/10/jon-stewart-deconstructs-mitt-romneys-promisesliesjournalists-no-longer-serve-their-purpose-video/

http://www.addictinginfo.org/2012/05/11/stephen-colbert-slams-anti-gay-christians/
http://cutestkittenever.tumblr.com/ <— check this website out.

Get with the program Jefferson County

So, I am just about at my wits’ end. Here is my situation: I am getting married in 2 1/2 weeks. Therefore I need to sort out contraception.

Yes, I said it, out aloud. I am from a culture that talks about these things since we are about 10. Admittedly, school tries to keep things very serious and biological and then we usually giggle and throw prophylactics at each other screaming “you’ve got cooties now! Gross” and behave in other age-appropriate manners. Well… maybe that was just me, but we do at least talk about it.

Now, while it is not a topic of general conversation “Hi, my name is Sarah, and I have a diagphram – do you know where the brown sugar is?” it is not a ‘problem’ topic. Because, see, contraception is everywhere. A slightly tongue-in-cheek and light hearted history of the British Attitude to contraception goes:

Britain: “Gasp! The rest of Europe is so open sexually. They are so immoral! Look at all these naked people on TV / CD covers etc! We disapprove! Now shush about the topic, lest its sordid implications corrupt our beautiful pure youth”.

Rest of Europe: “Your beautiful pure youth have horrendously high rates of unplanned pregnancy and STDs”

Brtain: “Hmmm. This is true. But what can we do?!?”

Rest of Europe: “Well… you could educate them about sex and contraception and the physical and emotional health issues that go along with it. And try… you know… to be a little more open about it”

Britain: “Interesting suggestion. But… but if we do that – people might start having sex! And we don’t want that! We are a terribly prudish and stand-offish race! And we will stay this way to keep a chaste youth.”

Rest of Europe: “Right. But… uh… as you have an 11-year old mother, and a cute 13-year old, who looks about 8, but claims to have fathered a child with a 15-year old girl, that two other children (but which we mean under 16 years) claim to have fathered too, perhaps your approach isn’t working?”

Britain:”It is not! We agree, but if we start being open about sex, and teaching kids about it, and giving them access to contraception, they will start doing IT. We are repeatedly telling them how to say no, and how not to have sex.”.

Rest of Europe: “You have one of the highest teen pregnancy rates in Europe. I think they already are”.

So, I believe I have witnessed a bit of an about turn wrt contraception in the UK, in my lifetime. From ‘don’t do’ to ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ to ‘you don’t have to do, but here’s what to do if you do’.  As my friend (American) put it: “Britain gives contraceptives out like tic tacs”. It’s sorta true. I has heinously bad period pains from the age of 12  onwards. Think: vomiting so hard I pulled my tummy muscles and then passing out into my own vomit. Lovely. Think: when I was snowboarding with a broken arm I refused to believe it was broken as it wasn’t as bad as period pains. Even when I was pushing my whole body weight with said arm. Nice. So, my PCP put me on the contraceptive pill at about 14. I went with my Dad. It was OK. 22% awkward, but OK.

Eventually,  I used to get my refills at my local walk-in clinic as it was closer to the bus stop. I would toddle along, they would take my blood pressure, ask a few questions, then hand me 6-months worth of free pills. And charge me nothing for the pleasure. Then they would offer me condoms, and I would say ‘thank you very much, but I am not having sex. Really’. It was an anonymous service so I didn’t have to lie, but they would always say “hey – take some anyway. You never know”. And I would say “I do know!” and they would give them to me anyway, in a nice unmarked brown paper bag (because brown bags never look suspicious and remind people of hidden porn / alcohol) and throw in a load of femidoms, dental dams, information leaflets and so on. “Have them anyway… Give them to your friends” was the advice.  Frequently I would arrive home with my bounty and my Ma would eye it suspiciously and say “Do we need to talk?”. Which we didn’t, but to be fair it did open the door for me to be able to talk (however awkwardly / angrily / sullenly) with her about this through those difficult teenage years.

At some point I went on a health kick (an unempirical health kick) and decided the pill wasn’t good for me. And a vane-kick when I decided it made me fat. I was coming off this darn thing dammit. I went to my doctor. She talked me through about 20 other options both for contraception and for the period pains. She fitted me with an IUS (a super expensive intra-uterine device) within 2 weeks (I had to wait for some tests to come back first, which were done that day). For free. She gave me a load of free counseling. She gave me a load of condoms. Nice expensive ones as I am allergic to latex. I think I sold them 🙂

When it came time to have the IUS out I was in the UK. I was there for a period of 2 weeks and decided to remember this about 2 days before I left. Now in the UK there are walk-in clinics in every county and every county has both weekend and evening ones. If you cannot make any of those, GPs are obliged to see you. So, I call a walk-in clinic and explain the problem – they tell me they are full for 2 days, but give the numbers of others – all within easy distance. The others are full, or the times don’t suit me (why? Honestly? Because I am catching up with friends). So my local GP has to see me. They do. They next day. They whip it out for free, and offer me a new one. I decline, and they say “are you sure? The pain might come back”. I tell them I will sort it out in the US and they say they don’t think they is a good idea. This shocked me, and I ignored it. They offered me 6 months of the pill. I turned it down as I was not having sex (we’re British, no sex please. Oh, apart from all those pregnant teenagers). She really wanted to know if I was *sure* and then let me go with a promise to come back and see her when I was next back from the US.

Fast forward to my return to Alabama. Boyfriend proposes. I gaily accept. Hoorah. I plan a wedding. Double hoorah.  3 weeks before the wedding I think I should sort out contraception. I call my GP here and am told she is not accepting new patients. I tell them I not a new patient and they don’t care and I get a random GP. That’s cool, I don’t really care who does this. I go see her the next day. I am impressed – she is on time (rare in the NHS, and certainly better than the 2-4 hour wait at walk in clinics in England) and I pay a slightly annoying, but affordable $20. I tell her the situation and that I would like to avoid hormones.  I don’t want to use condoms. She says “OK, you need a diaphram. You need an OB/GYN. You can see one in 6 weeks”. I point out this might be shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. She says there is nothing she can do. So I say “OK, how about I use hormones for a short while?”. “Not a good idea” she says, and has no other suggestions. I am floored. I glare at her. She says that there isn’t time for me to use hormones. This is actually incorrect. They (depending on the method) can be used from Day 1 – Day 5 of your cycle. She has my cycle dates and Day 1 is next week. I start to throw a shit-fit. She has no other suggestions (lower , localized hormones? Femidom? Even frikkin’ fertility tracking? Anyone?). She takes my blood pressure and says that because it is elevated, I can’t have hormones as it is dangerous. Again, this is factually incorrect. Raised bp is one long-term risk factor; I am not overweight, I don’t smoke, there is no history of thrombosis and I have a successful history of taking the pill. And bp fluctuates. And she was STRESSING me out. And I hadn’t slept much, if at all, for 3 out of the last 4 nights [because, duh, I am excited to GET MARRIED and planning a wedding and submitting a grant and seeing my very best friend in just 12 days]. Really? She says. And 2 nanoseconds later I am leaving her office, slightly dazed and confused, with a prescription for a benzodiazepine, and a refill, and no follow-up.

THAT is giving things away like tic-tacs.

I could have an IUD – not recommended given my medical history, but an option. In 6 weeks. And it’ll cost around $500 all- in- all. Because I really have that when I am postdoc, my fiance is a student and we’re planning a wedding (did I mention the wedding? Might have done. Little bit excited). No, it is not covered by insurance (but, if you were wondering… Viagra is. Yes, you did read that correctly. Wonder what the gender is of the people who make that decision? Perhaps the women are all off having babies). But anyway, it is OK, because if I can’t afford an IUD an abortion can be as low as $400.

Problem solved.

So, I return to my office, very upset. My office mate gives me the planned parenthood number and I call them the next day. “Yes, the Alabama clinics don’t prescribe contraception”. Oh. Really? That’s good planning there. My office mate suggests the student health centre, which for $30 are seeing me tomorrow, which is pretty impressive, and I hope it is a good score for UAB (who have been universally wonderful to me so far) and I hope it works out.

The thing is: contraception is so free and widely available in the UK not just because it is a health issue, but because it is an equality issue too. For two reasons:

(1) The UK believes women have the right to regulate their fertility as much as men. That is, they have the right to go out and have meaningless one night stands without consequences (it can be consequence free for men who abscond into the night).

(2) The burden of contraception usually falls on the woman – although it does not have to, it usually does. We want to help balance this out by givign her the ability not to pay (when she is already paying for feminine products) and not to have to take time out of work.

I have already lost $20 and a few hours from work. I will now have to lose more time and more money. My fiance’s response? He wants to be supportive. He volunteered: “If I’m not at work, I’ll come with you”. Because work is optional for me. I don’t blame him at all, but I see no reason not to see that statement as indicative of underlying attitudes. If I get pregnant, well, no one is going to force him off work… (that is not his attitude, just a statement).

And my honest thoughts? “Fuck it (pardon the pun). I don’t see my fiance really busting a gut to sort this out. Why should I? I want kids in the next year (he doesn’t for a couple of years, we agreed to compromise and try in a years time when we are financially better off, settled into marriage, knowledgeable about where my career will take us… all good reasons)… But perhaps I will tap out and see what happens, ‘coz quite frankly my grant not going in, not having a dress to wear, not getting these papers in, missing collecting my friends from the airport – well none of them are as important to me as not having a child when I’m married, that I want”. I am not going to do it. If possible, I would like to bring a child into the world with planning. But, it’s tempting.

Sort it out Jefferson. Educate your medical practitioners on more methods. Free up medical practitioners to give people contraception. Get evening clinics. Get anonymous clinics. Try to talk people reluctant to use the best methods of contraception for them (like me) into doing so. Push alternatives. And don’t just whack them out on anti-anxiety drugs.

Just a thought. (A frustrated one – I think the drugs must have worn off. Perhaps my GP can give me something else to keep me quiet).

A lil’ note on normality

So, some random thoughts on what is normal… or at least, what is healthy. You may take the two interchangeably throughout.

It is normal to have thighs that touch at the top when you stand.

Look: here is an airbrushed photo of under fit mega-fitness model Jamie Eason (whom I have lil’ bit of a girl crush on):

Her dedication is such that when she goes on holiday she packs a cooler full of healthy food, and eats out of it! Yet, in this posed, touched up picture her thighs almost touch. ‘Nuff said

It is normal to be able to ‘pinch an inch’ (approximately) of loose skin in your abdomen.

Remember when you used to cover books with wallpaper / wrapping paper for school, and if you did it while the book was open, the paper would rip when you shut it? Well… if your skin were 100% taught it would rip when you stood up. Blood and guts everywhere. Love that inch a little more now?

It is normal to have some cellulite – however thin you are, however ‘clean’ you eat, however far you run.

It is normal to look terrible in some photos, without it being an accurate reflection of your body shape / size.

It’s normal to be 3D

Some magazines, airbrush out the evidence that women are not as flat as a pancake (or a crepe for all those Americans used to delicious, fluffy, buttermilk nuggets of deliciousness… dripping in syrup… I digress). In real life, our lumps and bumps stick out. We’re not a 2D image.

It is normal to look your age, which is not the age you were 3 years ago.

Your shape, your proportions, your skin tone and tightness changes as you get older. Sure, it is all relative, but *you* will look different to how you did at 18, when you are 22, and how you did at 22 when you are 25 and so on. Much as Disney would like us all to believe we look like Miley Cyrus until our 32nd birthday when we wake up having morphed overnight into Amy Adams in Enchanted, which we will remain like until our first-born has their first-born, when we will suddenly look like Fa (Mulan’s grandmother) – sadly it isn’t so.

We slowly change bit by bit with age, and we can look beautiful at each age. So we might as well enjoy it while we can. You’ll probably look back and wish you had otherwise.

I am not saying that these things can’t be minimized, or even negated (some of them), but they are all normal, healthy and beautiful facts of life.

Having said that, I would also add:

It is normal to go hungry sometimes

Yup. It is. If you are close to a meal time, and hungry, it is OK not to eat. You probably won’t overstuff yourself, if you exercise some control. You’ll deal with the hunger just fine; modern diets are full of promises that ‘you’ll never go hungry’ or they are full of ‘free’ foods you can eat unlimited amounts of. There is no need to graze 24/7, and a little hunger might do you some good: shrink your stomach, increase your insulin sensitivity, mobilize some stored fat. If you are confronted with only unhealthy / undesirable eating options, sometimes it’s OK not to eat anything, and just wait.

It is normal to hate cardio.

Sorry, but this is not an excuse not to do it. If you have a sedentary life you need some exercise. It would be great if we all had a sport that we were passionate about and wanted to do all the time. But it won’t happen for some of us. Walking, biking, swimming endless lengths, the dreaded treadmill / elliptical, they get dull. Fast. You can minimise the boredom by varying the type of workout, but ultimately, if you are skipping your regular step class again because it is boring or unmotivating (like the Tae Bo video you bought, like the treadmill routine you started, like the walking to work thing that slipped by the wayside) that’s probably just a fact of life you need to suck up for your health. Heck, I LOVE Zumba, but 80% of the time, when I am hungry after a long day at work: the sofa is so much of a better option. I make a commitment to do it and do it anyway

It is normal to feel deprived

Most readers are probably surrounded by a cornucopia of delicious food options at every meal. If you are in the US the cheapest food is possibly some easiest to get and some of the most immediately palatable. You probably find it acceptable to drink a few glasses of wine / bottles of beer every night. You probably end up at some 3 / 4 semi-social work engagements where you are offered highly calorific, but tasty food. Salads can be boring. Grilled meat / fish and steamed veg can get boring. I love Atkins as a lifestyle, but believe me, I love cupcakes and gelato. We are taught now that we shouldn’t feel deprived. That the world is our oyster and we can and should, achieve everything we want. Every so often, if you want to be slimmer and more healthy, you are probably going to have to watch your colleagues eat pizza, and tuck into lettuce and grilled chicken. Sometimes, you’ll say no to the 20th slice of birthday cake you’ve been offered this month. And you’ll be the DD. Again, you won’t die. And you don’t have to do it all the time. Just, if a few pesky pounds are hanging around, if those lipids are not quite as you’d like them to be, this may help. And it is a lifetime decision.

It is normal to feel too busy / tired to cook and / or exercise.

But it is possible to find time. You may have to re-prioritise. I watch maybe 1 TV show a week. I don’t read as much as I’d like. Sundays I do a big shop and prepare some of the week’s food. Work around what you have to work with. Rope in friends / partners / children. Rope in short cuts (pre chopped veggies, fresh pasta sauce). Think about how you spend your time and what is most important to you.

Ultimately, I guess I have brought together two things I am have been thinking. I feel for people who hate their bodies, who wish they could change them, who are bombarded with media ideals of unrealistic (or highly demanding to achieve) body images to aspire to. But, I also see people who say ‘you’re so lucky you love the gym’ (I don’t) or who order the tastiest thing on the menu every time they eat out, but really want to lose weight. There is a halfway house: some discomfort, some deprivation, some missing out. Occasional indulgence. But then also, loving who you are as a result.