Tag Archives: Parenting

Dear NRA, The Answer Is Almost Never More Guns

21 Dec

By now, you’ve almost certainly heard about the NRA’s press conference earlier today regarding the Sandy Hook school shooting. After waiting a week and remaining “respectably” silent (do you think they meant “respectfully”?), they are now ready to tell us how to solve the problem of gun violence:

More guns.

I mean, naturally, the answer is always more guns, isn’t it?

It gets worse, though; the answer isn’t just more guns, it’s GUNS IN SCHOOLS.

That’s right, you read correctly: the answer is armed personnel in schools in order to protect innocent children.

Because, says the NRA, the real truth is,

…that our society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters. People that are so deranged, so evil, so possessed by voices and driven by demons, that no sane person can every possibly comprehend them. They walk among us every single day, and does anybody really believe that the next Adam Lanza isn’t planning his attack on a school, he’s already identified at this very moment?

Because it’s fear-mongering and exploitative when people rightfully point out how dangerous automatic and semi-automatic weapons are, and how lax gun control laws lead to tragedies like what happened at Sandy Hooks, but it’s totally not fear-mongering to say that society is populated by an unknown number of genuine monsters.

And because having men and women carrying guns in our schools is totally going to make children feel safe. Seeing an armed man or woman every day definitely isn’t going to make them feel as if being at school is a dangerous, life-threatening activity.

I mean, pardon my language, but Jesus fucking Christ, when does it end?

Is there ever going to be a time when more guns isn’t the answer?

Don’t worry, though; the NRA has another solution to gun violence.

They want a national registry of the mentally ill.

Yes, you heard that correctly: they don’t want a firearm registry, but they want the government to register every single person diagnosed with a mental illness. Because apparently what they’ve taken away from the whole “now is the time to talk about mental illness” discussion is that, rather than improve access to mental healthcare and work to reduce stigma, what we actually need to do is keep tabs on all the crazy people.

Never mind the fact that the mentally ill are four times more likely to be the victims of violence. Never mind the fact that “mental illness” is an incredibly broad category that includes an array of disorders ranging from anorexia nervosa to depression to schizophrenia. Never mind the fact that not all people with mental illness are violent, and not all violent people are mentally ill. Let’s just get on with this and start keeping tabs on the one in four Americans who have been or will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime.

And fuck, I know that it doesn’t even bear saying, but how the hell do you think this will affect the stigma surrounding mental illness? Do you think that people will be more willing to go to their doctors and ask for help if they know that a diagnosis will land them on a national registry of people that the NRA believes to be deranged, evil monsters?

There is one thing, and one thing only that I agree with the NRA on: we live in a culture of violence. We live in a society that not only normalizes but celebrates violence. What I can’t wrap my head around is the fact that they don’t seem to understand that owning and using a gun contributes to that culture of violence.

I also don’t think that Grand Theft Auto makes anyone go on violent rampages, but hey, what do I know? Not as much as the NRA, apparently.

Look, I get it – guns don’t kill people, people kill people. But you know what? Adam Lanza would have been able to kill a fuck of a lot less people had he been carrying a knife, a club, or a crow bar. Saying that guns don’t kill people, etc., is like saying that polio doesn’t kill people, shitty immune systems do. But guess what? You still wouldn’t have died of polio had you not been fucking exposed to virus in the first place.

You guys, the way we view guns and violence is fucked up, and we need to fix it. I don’t know what the answer is; I can theorize, based on events that have happened in other countries, that stricter gun control is what’s needed, but it’s true that I can’t say for sure that that would fix everything. What I do know that is the answer is definitely not more guns. The answer is not a national registry of the mentally ill. And the answer is most definitely not armed personnel in schools.

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Shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School

14 Dec

Every weekday morning Matt and I go through the same routine of getting Theo up and fed and dressed, making sure that he’s ready for another day at daycare. Every morning I kiss him goodbye, and, if I’m lucky, I get to hear him tell me that he loves me. He doesn’t really know what that means, of course, but he knows that it’s something that we say to each other, something that makes people smile. He knows that I like to hear it.

Every morning I watch Matt push Theo’s stroller out the front door and down the sidewalk, and I feel good, because I know he’s safe. He’s safe with Matt, and he’ll be safe at daycare. I know that I won’t have to worry about him all day long; I will be able to devote all (well, most) of my thoughts to yoga, writing, and all of the daily tasks that are part of managing a yoga studio. I can focus on things like drafting invoices, digging through endless paperwork, and updating our studio website and blog.

I don’t worry about Theo because his daycare is a good one. We chose it carefully, after polling local friends for recommendations and doing exhaustive online searches for ratings and reviews. Theo loves his daycare, and I know that the staff and other kids there love him. He’s always excited to be dropped off in the morning, running into his room without even a kiss goodbye for Matt, and in the evening he often doesn’t want to leave.

It would never occur to me that daycare wasn’t a safe place for him.

Just like it almost certainly didn’t occur to parents in Newtown, Connecticut to think of their children’s school as an unsafe place for them.

As you’ve probably heard, 27 people were killed in a shooting today at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut.

At least 20 of those people were children.

An entire classroom is still unaccounted for.

Although there isn’t much information available, sources are saying that most of the shootings took place in a kindergarten classroom.

Why on earth would someone want to shoot five year olds?

Seriously, why?

This is the kind of thing that my brain has a hard time processing. Less than two weeks before Christmas, 20 families have lost a young child; countless other families will spend the holidays in the hospital with sons and daughters who are fighting for their lives or else enduring tedious, painful recoveries. I don’t know why the fact that it’s nearly Christmas, and the fact that tonight is the 7th night of Hanukkah, makes this tragedy seem, if possible, even more devastating, but somehow it does.

Maybe because I can’t help thinking about those 20 families, and how every December from now on they’ll have to watch the world around them celebrate while they are forced to confront painful memories of their child’s death. I can’t help imagining how every time they decorate a tree or light a menorah, they will have to think about that one person who isn’t there to hang ornaments or add their voice to the blessings sung as the candles are lit. Every time they draw up a shopping list for holiday gifts, they’ll notice that one name is conspicuously absent. Every festive meal will have one chair empty. The holidays will never not be a time of death and mourning for them.

What is especially awful is how commonplace mass shootings are starting to seem. You start to wonder if you have room in your heart and your mind to remember all of the victims, regular, every-day people who went to school, or the mall, or a movie theatre and thought that they were safe. You start to wonder if anyone is ever really safe, and then realize that you can’t live your life thinking that way. You start to build walls, emotionally and mentally, as a form of self-protection. You don’t think about it because you can’t; after the initial shock, you try hard to forget, knowing all the while how lucky you are to be able to do so, while others have to live through constant reminders of what they’ve lost.

In the days to come, there will be a lot of talk about gun control; people who are for it, and people who are against it. The NRA will issue its typical statement, something along the lines of, It’s not guns that kill people, people kill people. Conservatives will talk about the second amendment. Liberals will be told not to “exploit” this tragedy to further their own agenda; they’ll be shut down with cries of, Today is not the day to talk about gun control.

As a friend of mine said today on Facebook, those people are right. Today is not the day to talk about gun control. That day passed many years and many homicides ago.

Gun-related violence is a problem, one that is only growing worse. How is it exploitative to look at a tragedy like this, dissect it, and try to figure out how to prevent it in the future? How is it exploitative to point out that, without a semi-automatic pistol, the shooter would not have been able to injure or kill nearly so many people? How is it exploitative to wonder what laws need to change in order for something like this to never, ever happen again?

And yeah, you can say that guns don’t kill people, people kill people, but there’s no way that a guy with a knife or a sword or a bow and arrow would have been able to create this kind of tragedy.

I’m glad that Theo is still so young, because that means that I won’t have to try to explain this to him. I can hold him close, and cover him in kisses, and cry quietly into his hair without him wondering why; at not-quite-two, I’m sure he’ll just write it off as another weird mom thing. And if he does happen to notice that I’m not really myself right now, well, he’ll be able to forget about it soon enough. Sadly, there’s a part of me that wonders how soon it will be until I can forget about it, too.

But forgetting makes it easier to avoid having to deal with what’s happened. It makes it easier not to ask the difficult questions, or make difficult decisions. Forgetting means that we don’t have to change anything, that we don’t have to be confronted with this kind of rage and sorrow until the next shooting happens.

Forgetting guarantees that this will happen again.

And to anyone who thinks that I’m trying to take their rights away from them, I’ve got news for you: I’m not.

I just want all of our kids to be safe in all of the places where they should be safe. They deserve that much, at the very least.

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On Judgment And Breastfeeding

4 Dec

If you know me at all, even a little bit, then you know that I am a person who loves breastfeeding. I think breastfeeding is great, and will talk about it until you are super bored and/or uncomfortable. Half of the population of Toronto has probably seen my breasts by now, and not just because of my preference for low-cut tops. Most of the time I’m pretty sure my kid loves me, but there are days when I wonder if he loves my boobs more. If you ask me for breastfeeding advice, I will inundate you with more facts than you could ever possibly need. In short, I breastfeed, I’m proud of it, and I am a huge advocate for breastfeeding.

I think that one of the reasons I’m so into breastfeeding is that Theo and I struggled with it at first. He had a bad latch, jaundice made him too sleepy to stay awake for an entire feeding, and I just plain had no idea what I was doing. In retrospect, I know I got off pretty easy as far as breastfeeding issues go, but at the time it seemed like the end of the world. My son was only 5 lbs 4 oz at birth, and by the time we came home from the hospital he was only 4 lbs 12 oz. Every nursing session was a fight, and I started to dread feeding time. I also dreaded weighing him, because I was terrified of seeing the needle dip even lower on the scale. Here I was, blessed with an abundant supply of milk, and I couldn’t even manage do that simplest, most basic thing: feed my child.

I worked hard to be able to breastfeed Theo. While I was still in the hospital, I attended daily breastfeeding classes and would would call the nurses to come help me get Theo latched on every time he woke up. After we went home, I schlepped Theo back and forth to our family doctor and the hospital lactation clinic on a near-daily basis.  In those cold, sterile offices I would watch as other people weighed him, then I would let strangers manhandle my boobs and stare intently at my chest as I tried again and again to feed my son.

I pumped. I did “suck training” with a tiny tube attached to my finger. I cup-fed him. I bottle-fed him. Finally, I tried a nipple shield, which (hallelujah!) worked. With the nipple shield, Theo was at last able to fill his tiny belly with my milk and start gaining the weight he needed so badly. My kid has been a boob-addict ever since.

Now, the thing is, I know that a lot of my successful breastfeeding relationship is due to good old-fashioned hard work. I wanted to breastfeed, and I fought for it and, in the end, I succeeded. It was really hard at times, like, total-meltdown-cry-until-I-made-myself-sick hard, but even though I sometimes felt like giving up, I didn’t. And I’m proud that I didn’t quit, and I also have to give myself credit for sticking with it even when things felt impossible.

But you know what? Hard work only gets you so far, and I know that I wouldn’t still be breastfeeding today if I hadn’t had an amazing support system. I was lucky that my hospital offered such great resources to breastfeeding moms, I was lucky that our family doctor had breastfed both her children and knew what she was talking about, I was lucky to have a mother-in-law who was a former La Leche League leader (and a sister-in-law who knew a whole heck of a lot about breastfeeding), and I was lucky to have a family who gave me nothing but encouragement and love. If I hadn’t had these things, there’s a good chance that Theo would have been formula-fed, and I know that. So yeah, while hard work has played a big part in our success, I also realize that I’ve been able to breastfeed because I was just plain lucky.

Knowing that I was lucky to have such great support means that I want to offer that kind of support to other people. I cheer people on when they’re struggling to breastfeed, and I offer advice (usually only when asked) to new moms. I upload a ton of pictures of me nursing Theo to my Facebook page, partly because I just think they’re really nice pictures, but also because I think posting breastfeeding pictures publicly help normalize breastfeeding. Basically, if you want to breastfeed, I want to do whatever I can to help you! If you don’t want to breastfeed, though, that’s cool too.

Sadly, a lot of the breastfeeding community doesn’t feel the same way I do. I belong to a few online groups, and while a lot of the posts are asking for advice, or sharing cute, funny stories about breastfeeding, there’s an awful lot of judgment going on against women who don’t breastfeed. Mostly I’m used to it and I just kind of shut it out, because I still see a lot of benefit and good in the lactivist movement. Today, though, really took the cake. Today I couldn’t ignore this judgmental crap anymore.

See, there’s a story that’s been in the news lately about an Alberta mother who can’t afford the prescription formula that her infant son needs to live. Her son, Isaac, was born prematurely and subsequently developed necrotizing entercolitis (NEC), an intestinal disease that means that he has an inability to digest many foods, including dairy products, and can lead to internal bleeding. At four months old Isaac has already had two week-long stretches in the hospital, and continues to be at risk for bleeding and other problems.

Isaac’s mother, Lisa Caskenette, initially tried to breastfeed her son. Unfortunately, he had severe reactions to her milk, and, given the scope of his allergies (dairy products, whey, soy and whey protein, to name a few), she wasn’t sure that she could find an elimination diet that would work for her. As well, during Isaac’s two hospital stays he was allowed nothing by mouth, and although Caskenette pumped during that time, her supply dwindled. After consulting over a dozen experts, Caskenette decided to give her son Neocate, an amino acid-based, hypoallergenic formula which costs her $1,200 a month. $1,200 a month that Caskenette’s family cannot afford.

You’d think that this would be the kind of story that breastfeeding advocates would rally around, wouldn’t you? Unfortunately, what I witnessed today on a Facebook breastfeeding group was the opposite of that. Here’s a small sample of the comments people made after the group’s moderator posted a link to a story about Caskenette and her son:

She should breastfeed. That’s free and better.

She should be breastfeeding! That won’t cost a dime,the Insurance wont need to pay a dime and the baby would be a lot healthier!!!

Yes, she should be breastfeeding…formula use has been shown to increase the chance of NEC [this from the page’s owner/moderator]

Sometimes I wonder if people just don’t feel like sacrificing their own diet to make it acceptable for an allergic baby.

I think the cost is outrageous and I certainly would not be able to afford that, however I breastfed my kids. Or donor breast milk, we have 3 Milk Banks in Canada which you need a prescription for and she would have no problem getting a script for it. I would have pumped and pumped. However, she may not may not have tried that. I feel for the family, but she never mentioned anything about trying to nurse, pump or re-lactate. I do think the cost should be shared though. We have a public health care system and we pay for it by way of taxes etc and if her baby needs it then it shouldn’t have to cost $1200 a month, but I wish someone in her circle would mention she could try to breastfeed if she hasn’t. Her baby would be eating for free.

For the government to start subsidizing an industry that harms the health of its citizens is not the best idea. They should offer to fund the baby’s use of breastmilk from a milk bank if the mom is unable to breastfeed.

I looked up this condition and one of the reasons it occurs is improper mixing of formula, yet another reason breast would been best!

I find it hard to believe with all the support in Canada that NO-One would have given her the information she needed to do best for her baby! And yes the only thing that would stop me from giving my baby breastmilk is death!

Can’t breastfeed…not really. You could do an elimination of your diet. You could breastfeed. You opted not to. You don’t want judgment. You just want everyone to agree with you. Should the formula me covered? I actually think yes but the rest is just crap.

I wonder if she ever saw/spoke with an IBCLC to get support to breast feed? This baby needs human milk not formula to heal his gut. Perhaps she should look into eats on feets or similar organization to find mothers willing to donate their extra breastmilk. So sad that all this baby needs is breastmilk ;(

There are a few comments supporting and sympathizing with Caskenette, but most of them are just repeating over and over, ad nauseam, that she should give him breast milk. Most of the commenters agree that she should either relactate (which is a long and difficult process, and also doesn’t solve the issues she was having with the elimination diet), or else she should get donor milk (which wouldn’t work at all, because she has no way of knowing the diet of the women who donated the milk). Most of the comments were judgmental and hurtful; nearly every single one of the commenters felt that Caskenette was a selfish mother who just couldn’t be bothered to do what was best for her son.

Here is the one thing that I really want all of you to know: when you comment on something like this on a public page, you are writing actual words that will be read by actual people that can cause actual hurt. Is it really so difficult to try to be a kind, empathetic human being? Like, really? Can everyone just stop being dicks for like FIVE MINUTES?

It's kind of true, though

It’s kind of true, though

The other thing is that stuff like this does a total disservice to the breastfeeding advocacy movement. When you make comments like this, you’re making us all look like the crazy, narrow-minded, intolerant people all the stereotypes make us out to be. Comments like these are the reason people end up switching to formula, because they’re afraid of the judgment that will be thrown at them if they ask for help. You are not forwarding your cause, you’re hindering it. I don’t understand how you can’t see that.

I mean, in a perfect world, do I think that every biological mother would breastfeed? Hell yeah, I do! In a world where babies don’t get life-threatening illnesses, and women don’t go back to work after 6 weeks, and sexual assault victims don’t find nursing to be triggering, and no mothers need to take any medication that is contraindicated for breastfeeding, and there aren’t fucking booby traps everywhere you turn, and all healthcare professionals are well-educated about breastfeeding, and no mother had supply issues, and shitty formula marketing schemes don’t exist I think everyone could breastfeed. But I don’t live in that world and neither do you.

If you want to be a good breastfeeding advocate, here’s what you need to do: support and listen. Support the person wherever they are in their breastfeeding journey (even if they’re formula feeding), and listen to what they have to say. Maybe they won’t breastfeed this particular child, but maybe your love, support and advice will make them more willing to try to breastfeed the next one. Or maybe it won’t, and that’s fine too. All you can do is offer your help; you can’t make people take it. And what’s the sense in getting riled up over the fact that someone doesn’t breastfeed? Is that worth ending a friendship or hurting someone over?

If you want to help out Lisa Caskenette and her family, there are a number of ways that you can do that. First of all, you can find her on Facebook, and she does accept private donations to help her family with the cost of the formula. You can also advocate for her by writing to the Alberta Blue Cross (which should be covering the cost of the formula), or to Alison Redford, the current Alberta premier. Or you can just send Caskenette positive messages on Facebook, letting her know that you’re thinking about her and her family.

Anything, really, other than telling her that she’s a bad mother.

Baby Isaac

Baby Isaac

An Open Letter to Margaret Wente (please stop perpetuating gender stereotypes)

23 Nov

Margaret Wente wants me to know that I don’t care about my son.

Well, not my son, specifically; she thinks that I don’t care about any boys. Or, at least, any “real boys”, whatever that might mean.

See, Ms. Wente recently wrote this lovely and super-balanced article for the Globe and Mail about the gender gap in education. For this piece, she interviewed the principal of Upper Canada College (one of our country’s most prestigious boys’s schools), two of his colleagues, and the executive director of the International Boys’ School Coalition (a not-for-profit coalition of schools that promote the “education and development of boys world-wide”) – so, all people who have a vested, financial interest in promoting the idea that boys need to be educated separately or differently from girls. She did not interview anyone who does not make money from boys-only education. See what I mean? Balanced.

It’s a fairly well-known fact that, percentage-wise, less boys are entering university than girls, and that more boys are dropping out of high school. Margaret Wente, and others like her, argue that this is because Canadian education today favours the learning styles of girls over that of boys. However, I find it interesting to note that the percentage of males obtaining a university degree has, in fact, increased by 5% since 1991 (though admittedly the percentage of females has increased by twice that amount), and the high school drop out rate for both males and females has been steadily declining for the past 20 years. Also interesting to note is that the gender gap is much smaller for those enrolled in college – there is only a 2% difference between the number of male and female college students. So what, exactly, am I trying to prove with all these numbers? That things maybe aren’t so dire as Margaret Wente makes them out to be, because according to her the situation is pretty dire. See, Margaret Wente thinks that we’ve reached some kind of boy-ocalypse that will certainly end with the extinction of males in academia.

Ms. Wente wants us to believe that women have “stormed the gates of medicine and law” (which may or may not be true – it’s hard to say, because she provides absolutely no sources for any of her claims), but interestingly she neglects to mention that a heavy and persistent bias against women in science still exists, or that most law firms are little more than old boys’ clubs. Ms. Wente wants us to know that,”In the most prestigious programs at some of our leading universities, the gender ratio has reached 70:30″, although she totally neglects to tell us what those prestigious programs are, and which leading universities offer them. It’s kind of hard to argue with someone who provides you with no reference for her “facts”, but I will say that my department at university (Classics) was overwhelmingly male. It’s possible that my program just wasn’t prestigious enough, or that Ms. Wente doesn’t consider Dalhousie to be a “leading” university. Who can say? I mean, other than Ms. Wente, that is.

Anyway, after a whole bunch of hyperbole, Margaret Wente finally gets down to brass tacks and explains what, exactly, she’s trying to get at: she feels that our school are not addressing boys’ needs in the classroom. Fair enough! So, what, according to Ms. Wente, are those needs?

Let’s take look, shall we?

“Boys’ existential issues are different from girls’. For a boy, the two most important life questions are: Will I find work that’s significant? And will I be worthy of my parents?”

Huh. That’s funny, because those things are both really important to me, too! Ms. Wente neglects to mention what the two most important “life questions” are for girls, but I have a sneaking suspicion that she believes they have something to do with marriage and babies.

“When boys themselves are asked what they need, they say: I need purpose. I need to make a difference. I need to know I measure up. I need challenge. Above all, I need a meaningful vocation.”

Well, that makes sense, because those are all things that are definitely not very important to girls. I mean, except for the fact that I would say that most of these are the driving forces in my life.

‘Boys also need to imagine themselves in heroic situations. When girls are asked about Vimy Ridge, they say, “Whew, it must have been horrific.” When boys are asked, they imagine what they would have done if they’d been there. “Our most powerful assembly is on Remembrance Day,” says Mr. Power. “Every boy is thinking to himself: How would I have measured up?”’

Well, I’m sure that that has nothing to do with the fact that we live in a culture that glorifies violence and war, right? Also, and this might just be my vagina talking, I tend to think that “horrific” is a pretty accurate description of Vimy Ridge.

Boys love rituals, trophies and tradition. Those also make them feel part of something bigger than themselves.

None of those are things that girls like. Ever. Girls hate working to achieve something, and if they do somehow manage to stumble upon an achievement, they definitely don’t want a trophy for it.

So far, I’m kind of having a hard time seeing what Ms. Wente is getting at, but then she decides to really lay it out for us. The problem with boys and education is that we’re not allowing them to be manly enough.

Many commentators – men as well as women – blame male culture itself for the problems with boys. In their view, what we need to do is destroy the death star of masculinity and all the evil that goes with it. What we need to do is put boys in touch with their emotions and teach them to behave more like girls.

This argument might make some sense – if you’re someone who believes that masculinity is nothing but a social construct. But people who care about real boys know that’s not true.

See? I told you that Margaret Wente doesn’t think that I care about real boys!

Time to get real, you guys. I’ve been pretty flippant up until now, but I have to tell you, it makes me pretty fucking angry that Margaret Wente likens understanding and acknowledging your feelings to behaving like a girl. First of all, I don’t think that there is any way to behave “like a girl”. Second of all, I think being “in touch” with your emotions is an excellent idea for anybody, regardless of their gender. Third of all, I am so fucking sick of people equating breaking down gender barriers with making boys “behave more like girls”. How about we just stop insisting that people fit into narrowly-defined gender roles?

The funny thing is, it’s those gender roles that are responsible for so many of the issues that Margaret Wente is complaining about.

Here are some examples:

The dominant narrative around difficult boys – at least in the public school system – is that they’re unteachable, unreachable, disruptive and threatening.”

But why doesn’t she question the fact that we live in a culture that puts value in boys behaving in a threatening way? Why doesn’t she wonder how, in our fucked-up view of masculinity, we equate violence with power?

[Women have] all but taken over pharmacy and veterinary work.

Gee, do you think that’s maybe because those career paths have come to be seen as more typically feminine? Do you think that there’s a chance that less boys are entering those fields because they’re afraid of compromising the masculinity that Ms. Wente praises so much?

Before the Industrial Revolution, boys spent their time with fathers and uncles, often engaged in strenuous physical activity. Now they spend their time in the world of women, sitting behind desks. If schools threw out the desks, they’d probably be a lot happier.

It’s interesting to note here that Ms. Wente fails to mention that before the Industrial Revolution it was only boys who permitted to attend school. And guess what? Schools back then included desks as well. In fact, I would argue that, in the past, formal education involved far more sitting at a desk than it does today. And you know what? If we’ve come to equate the idea of school as being part of “the world of women”, then that gender stereotype is likely one of the reasons boys aren’t thrilled with being in school.

Look, I’m not here to argue with the idea that boys are lagging behind in our educational system. I’m not here to say that things don’t need to be changed, or that I don’t believe that boys develop differently from girls; having watched my son and his peers I know that, for example, girls tend to have an easier time with language, whereas boys excel at spatial awareness. I’m not even against the idea of educating boys and girls separately (although I would be lying if I said I didn’t have concerns about the equality of the education they would receive). What I am saying is that I don’t think that re-inforcing gender stereotypes is what is going to fix this. In fact, I think that those gender stereotype are what got us into this mess.

What if, instead of having this be a battle of boys vs. girls, we use this as an opportunity to find a way to meet each student where they are. Can’t we engage our students as individuals, rather than saying that the whole curriculum has to be rejiggered to benefit one or the other? Is there any way to find a curriculum that will be the perfect middle ground? Or will we constantly be going back and forth between uh oh now the girls are doing better, no wait now it’s the boys, no wait the girls without ever finding a balanced way to address the subject?

I hope that when Theo starts school, his strengths and weaknesses aren’t treated as being boys’ strengths or boys’ weaknesses; I hope that they are treated as his own individual issues, his own successes and failures, and that his teachers are able to see past his gender and appreciate him for himself.

That’s what we all want, isn’t it?

Motherhood (or, a few things that I’m ashamed to admit)

3 Nov

Sometimes I wonder if I was meant to have kids.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Theo. I really, really love him. He is the greatest. I mostly can’t imagine what my life would be like without him. So let’s be really clear on all that stuff right now.

But sometimes I just wonder if I’m really cut out to be a mother. Like, I think I might just have the wrong personality for it?

It’s not that I think that I’m a bad mother; I think that I’m a loving, attentive parent. When Theo’s around, I spend my time interacting with him, reading and playing and doing puzzles. We sing songs and give each other high fives and plan our imaginary trip to France (or at least, Theo points out France on the globe and yells out Mimi! Mimi!, the name of the French teenager who used to babysit him, while I tell him how great the shopping and dining are). It’s fun, I guess, but I’m just not sure I really get enough joy out of all this. I mean, I am supposed to enjoy it, right? Not just endure it?

I do enjoy some of it, of course. But a lot of it is mind-numbingly boring. Are mothers supposed to find their kids boring? Jesus, I mean, I sound pretty awful here, don’t I?

In many ways, this age is a lot easier than when Theo was an infant. But when he was pre-verbal, I could at least pretend that we were interested in the same things. Lecturing him about feminist rhetoric or telling him long, complicated stories about my favourite historical figures would earn me the same look of wide-eyed interest as reading Goodnight, Moon or singing him the alphabet song. As long as I kept up that sing-song baby voice, or used funny accents, I was golden. The Second Sex, in case you were wondering, sounds great when you alternate between a crisp upper class British dialect and a slow southern drawl. Now that Theo is talking, though, he has definite opinions on what he does and doesn’t like. For instance, he’s really into tractors; unfortunately for me, he’s not so much into Henry VIII.

I tell myself that it will get better. It’ll be easier when he’s older, when I can really teach him about the things I love, like history and science and bad 80s sitcoms. I like that kind of thing; even now, I love taking him places where he can learn something new. For example, he’s probably the only 21-month-old who can point out the lute at the local museum. As soon as he sees it, his eyes light up and he starts shrieking, lute! lute! like a maniac. We talk about how the lute is a lot like Matt’s guitar, and how people used to use it to make music; he seems to understand, and my heart swells when I realize how many new things I help him learn on a daily basis. I think I’m good at that kind of thing, you know? I mean, lute-splaining in particular but also teaching things in general.

Much of the rest of parenting I just find to be grinding and dull, and I feel like I spend a lot of my time alternating between trying to find ways to keep Theo entertained and following him around saying, no, no, no, stop as he attempts to destroy my house. Mealtimes and diaper changes often turn into a power struggle, and by the time they’re over I nearly always feel like a total pushover, and then wonder whether or not my tendency to give in way to easily will result in my kid being a spoiled brat. When I’m home alone with Theo, more often than not I’m counting down the minutes until Matt walks through the door. On weekends, when my friends are making all kinds of fun plans, I’m envious of their freedom and spontaneity. When Monday rolls around, I’m thrilled to be able to pack him off to daycare, and I celebrate by having a quiet coffee all by myself.

One thing I hear a lot about mothers who have nannies for very young children, especially live-in nannies, is, why did she even have kids if she doesn’t want to raise them herself?

I wonder what they would say about me if they knew the truth.

I always thought that I wanted more than one kid, but now I’m not so sure. I’m not sure I ever want to be pregnant again, and I dread the possible recurrence of postpartum depression. And to be honest, I found having an infant really fucking hard all on its own; I honestly can’t imagine what it would be like to have an infant and a toddler. I get tired just thinking about it. I know friends who have done it, friends with two or even three young children, and they make it seem easy. When I look at them, though, I think, better you than me, buddy.

I guess I might just be too selfish to be a mother, or maybe too lazy. It’s possible that I value my quiet personal time way too highly; it’s possible that I flat out don’t have enough patience or endurance for this type of thing. Whatever it is, it’s something that’s wrong with me, not with Theo.

I love Theo with all of my heart. I love him so much, often more than I ever thought possible.

I just don’t always love how he’s changed my life.

On Childbirth And Bodily Autonomy

29 Oct

A friend of mine recently gave birth. She’d planned on have a natural, drug-free childbirth, but instead wound up having an emergency c-section. After 30 hours of labour, her son’s head still wouldn’t (or couldn’t) engage, and his heart rate started to plummet frighteningly low. After a few minutes of discussing their options with her midwife and the on-call OB, they decided that a caesarean was her best option.

Her son was born not long after that, a whopping 9 pounds 5 ounces, with a full head of dark hair. He was beautiful and healthy, but instead of feeling as if she’d made a decision that could potentially have saved his life, she felt as though it had been her fault that she’d had to have a c-section. She thought that if she’d just somehow tried harder, or prepared better, she could have had the birth she’d wanted.

I talked to her a few days after her son’s birth, and, of course, asked how she was feeling. “I feel like I failed,” she said, sounding as if she was about to cry. “My son is only a few days old and I’ve already failed him.”

I knew what she meant, because I’d been there. When I’d found out that I would have to have a caesarean, I also, irrationally, had felt as if it was my fault, as if I was already failing my son. I still feel weird about my son’s birth, even now, nearly two years later, or rather I feel like other people are weird about it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had someone ask about my childbirth experience, only to shut down the whole conversation when I tell them I had a planned c-section. I often get the sense that other people think that I haven’t really given birth, or that I’ve taken the easy way out.

If you don’t have kids and/or haven’t spent a billion hours on the internet debating all things baby, you might be wondering why natural childbirth is such a big deal. Why does anyone even care?

For starters, giving birth without drugs or interventions means that you and your child will not have to experience the side effects of sedation or the potential harm from invasive procedures. Babies born naturally are more alert, which will make bonding and breastfeeding easier. Plus, not having an epidural means that you can get up and walk around during labour, or find the position that works best for you when it’s time to push. Without drugs, the mother’s recovery will be faster, and she can often leave the hospital the same day, if she wants to. And, of course, there’s the persistent idea that childbirth is more of a “real” experience if you are able to feel every sensation associated with it.

Many people advocate for natural births these days; even the nurse who taught our prenatal class was pretty anti-epidural. Part of this comes as a backlash against the medical model of childbirth, which, not that long ago, saw women in labour being put into a Twilight Sleep, a drug-induced state in which women were conscious but not lucid, and, though these women still experienced pain, were not able to remember it afterwards. In many ways, natural childbirth is an attempt to reassert control over our own bodies; to tell the doctors (most of whom were and are still men) that pregnancy is not a disease, and should not be pathologized. Another part of  the desire for drug-free childbirth comes from the assumption that “natural” is better, or from the idea that our bodies are designed to give birth without the aid of drugs or interventions.

Unfortunately, it’s hard to have a natural birth, and I don’t just mean the physical pain and exertion associated with drug-free childbirth. Hospitals make many people anxious, and trying to give birth while surrounded by beeping machines and scary-looking medical equipment is challenging, to put it mildly. On top of that, you have a regular rotation of people coming in and out of your room, wanting to check how far you’ve dilated, what your heart rate is, what the baby’s heart rate is, and a whole laundry list of other stuff. So giving birth in a hospital setting isn’t exactly conducive to that whole Mother Earth Goddess ideal that many of us hold.

So why not give birth at home? Good question. The answers range from being worried about not making it to the hospital in time if there are complications to not want to have to be bothered cleaning up the mess afterwards, and everything in between. One response that I hear very frequently form Ontario women is that they weren’t able to find a midwife; this was my experience as well.

When I had my first prenatal visit with my family doctor, I was eight weeks pregnant. She asked if I’d thought about how I wanted to give birth, and I told her that I wanted a midwife rather than an OB. She looked at me like I was crazy, and said that there was no way I would be able to find a midwife this far into my pregnancy. But I’m only eight weeks! I said. Technically I’ve only been pregnant for six weeks, if you take into account the fact that the first two weeks of  a 40 week pregnancy happen before a woman ovulates.

My doctor just shrugged and said that there weren’t enough midwives in Ontario, then asked what hospital I wanted to deliver at. When I told her, she frowned and said, Oh, I don’t know if we’ll be able to get you into Mount Sinai this far into your pregnancy. I honestly thought that she was exaggerating, but it took three referrals before we were able to find an OB at Mount Sinai who was still taking patients for my due date.

That was how I learned how insanely competitive giving birth is in Toronto.

There are 540 registered midwives in Ontario, serving a total population of 12,851,821. 1 in 10 births in this province are attended by midwives; 4 out of 10 pregnant women in Ontario would like a midwife but can’t get one. That obviously makes having a midwife-assisted birth in general, and a home birth in particular, pretty challenging. Which, as I said above, can make having a natural birth difficult or even impossible.

That being said, you would think that the natural birth community would be pretty understanding of the fact that most women still end up using the medical model of childbirth. While I would say that the majority of us are pretty chill no matter how your kid comes into the world, there seem to be a lot of people passing judgment on how women give birth.

It’s bad enough that some proponents of natural childbirth make women feel as if they’ve “failed” if they end up having unplanned interventions, but that’s nothing compared to their treatment of women who know ahead of time that they want an epidural, or those who choose to have a planned c-section. The funny thing is that these are often the same women who are very pro-choice and will throw around the phrase “my body, my choice”.

Well, is it our choice, or isn’t it?

It’s different, they’ll argue, when there’s a wanted child involved. It’s not your body anymore. You need to act in the child’s best interests. They’ll send you scary news articles, like this one, which references a study showing that children born before 37 weeks are 5 times as likely to have autism. That particular article is one that someone sent me when they found out I was going to have a planned c-section at 36 weeks; when I told her that the article had upset me, she said that she wasn’t trying to be mean, just giving me the “facts”.

Here are the facts: if I had had a natural childbirth, my son could have died. If my pregnancy had progressed past 36 weeks, my doctor felt that there was a good chance that my water would break, which could have lead to an umbilical cord prolapse, which would have meant death or brain damage to my son.

The thing is, no matter whether or not you are carrying a child, it’s still your body. You still have bodily autonomy. I’m not saying pregnant women should go out and do lines of coke chased by vodka shots, but I do think that we need to allow women to make choices regarding childbirth without judging them.

The argument that I hear most from people decrying women who choose the medical model of childbirth is that they’re selfish. They want an epidural because it’s easier for them. They want a c-section because they don’t want to have to go through labour. They’re planning to be induced at 39 weeks because they want to skip out on the last week of pregnancy. If these are thoughts that you enjoy thinking, here’s something I really, really want you to keep in mind: you do not know the whole story.

You don’t know why someone wants an epidural, I mean, not really. You don’t know why they might want a c-section. Sure, they might give you a reason, but what they tell you may not necessarily be the whole truth. They might have a medical condition that indicates a c-section, or they might be a survivor of sexual abuse and feel triggered by the idea of a vaginal birth. Or they might just not want to have a natural birth, and that’s okay too. Know why? Because bodily autonomy, that’s why.

The thing that frustrates me the most about this judgmental behaviour is how purely anti-woman it is. It stems from the idea that most women aren’t capable of making decisions regarding how they want to give birth. It assumes that a woman who chooses to have a planned c-section hasn’t done her research, has been brainwashed by the medical establishment, or is uneducated when it comes to birth options. It plays into the idea that women are irrational, thoughtless and downright selfish. It promotes the idea that, being left to our own devices, we will make choices that are harmful to us and our children.

These are the same ideas that lead to the body policing that many pregnant women have to endure. We’re told to eat more, but not gain too much weight. We’re cautioned not to exercise too hard, but also to stay fit and healthy. We have people watching every bite we eat, and I even know someone who was denied service at Starbucks because the barista didn’t think that she should have caffeine. When are we going to let women be responsible for their own bodies?

Look, I’m all for natural childbirth. That was what I wanted when I was pregnant with Theo, and if I ever have another child, I would like to try for an unmedicated VBAC. But that’s my choice, based on research that I’ve done and what I’ve heard from friends. If another woman makes a different choice, then I’m sure as hell not going to tell her she’s wrong. Your child’s birth is one of the most important days in your life (I mean, probably, right?), so why would you want to make someone feel bad about how theirs went down? Shouldn’t we be celebrating the fact that we all went through hell, in one way or another, to bring our children into this world?

I think a big part of the problem is that we still haven’t really figured this childbirth stuff out. We still don’t know what works best for us, both as individuals and as a society. The medical model of childbirth has seen the infant mortality rate decline 90% in the last hundred years, and the maternal mortality rate has declined by 99% in that time. On the other hand, within that medical model women still feel as if they are being bullied into interventions and procedures that they don’t want, and often come out of childbirth feeling as if they were coerced into accepting “help” that they felt they didn’t need.

I don’t know what the answer is, I really don’t. More midwives, for a start. Better education about birth options and the possible complications of interventions would also be good. Above all, though, I think we need to put more trust in women. I think we need to allow women to make more of their own choices, and we need to believe that they are capable of making the right choices, not just for themselves, but for their children.

How To Have A Good C-Section (or, how I learned to stop worrying and love major surgery)

26 Oct

I woke up the morning of January 8th, 2011, and lay in bed, waiting for Theo to kick me good morning. I was 34 weeks pregnant, and this was our wake-up ritual: he would wriggle around like a maniac, and I would spend a few minutes lying on my side, rubbing the outline of his body and telling him what we were going to do that day. Sometimes he would stick his feet in my ribs, and I would tickle his toes. Sometimes he would take a big stretch and I would try to map out how he was sitting inside of me.

That morning, though, I didn’t feel anything.

No big deal, I figured; he was probably asleep. Surely it wouldn’t be long before he was awake and kicking up a storm.

I had a bagel and coffee for breakfast and then lay on the couch with Matt, waiting for the caffeine to pass through the placenta and jolt Theo awake. We were watching a movie, but I couldn’t concentrate on it; all I could think about was the absence of movement inside of me.

I tried everything I could think of to get Theo to move – I drank ice water and lay on my side, poked and prodded him until I worried that I might be bruising my baby in utero, had Matt put his mouth up against my belly and talk to his son. Nothing worked.

We decided that we should go to the hospital.

When we got to the labour and delivery ward, I had to sit and wait for a bed to become available. Then we discovered that I hadn’t properly registered, so Matt had to go back down and re-do the paperwork. I was becoming increasingly anxious, and I was frustrated that the nurses didn’t seem to share my sense of urgency. Finally, they got me into an examining room and asked me where my OB usually found the baby’s heartbeat. I said it was loudest on the left side of my belly, so they put the doppler there.

Silence.

I started to cry. Matt tried to say something to calm me down, but he had tears in his eyes, too. The nurse frowned and moved the doppler around while the continuing silence made me sob harder and harder. This must have only gone on for a few seconds, but it seemed like hours. I was sure that Theo was dead; I pictured having to call my mom to tell her that her grandchild wouldn’t be born alive. I pictured myself having to be induced and delivering a cold, white baby.

Finally, way over on my right side, the nurse found a faint but steady heartbeat. The nurse smiled and said that she’d known all along that he was fine. I still couldn’t stop crying.

The nurse brought in a portable ultrasound machine, since I still wasn’t feeling Theo move. As she moved the probe over my belly, she asked me if I knew that he was breech. No, he’s not, I said, he’s been head down since 26 weeks. In fact, I had seen my OB three days earlier, and he had confirmed that the baby was head down. Not anymore he’s not, said the nurse.

They brought in the on-call doctor who confirmed that no only was Theo breech, he was footling breech, one of the rarest fetal positions and the most dangerous to the baby. On top of that, his umbilical cord was hanging down by his feet, which meant that, if my water were to break, he would be at high risk for a cord prolapse.

They hooked me up to a contraction monitor and told me that I was having strong contractions (none of which I could feel, by the way). They checked my cervix and I was 2 cm dilated and 100% effaced. Not a big deal, they said – some women dilate early. Two hours later I was 5 cm dilated.

At 34 weeks pregnant, I was in labour with a baby who wanted to meet the world feet first.

They wanted to do a caesarean that night. They would have, too, except that two emergency c-sections came in, tying up all the operating rooms. While we waited for an OR to open up, I sat in my bed and tried to use Jedi mind-tricks to stop my labour. Think calm thoughts, I told myself. I stared at the printout on the contraction monitor and willed the jagged lines to smooth themselves out. I stared at my belly and willed Theo to stay put.

Whatever I did must have worked, because by the time they checked my cervix again, I was still 5 cm dilated. My contractions continued, but were definitely less frequent than before. I made a deal with the on-call OB – if they would agree to delay my c-section, I would stay on bed rest in the hospital until I was full-term and/or my cervix started dilating again. She wasn’t thrilled with the idea, but she agreed to admit me for the night and check with my doctor. Luckily, he was a super cool dude, and when he came to see me on Monday morning he said he thought I’d made a good suggestion, and was totally fine with me hanging around the hospital until whenever.

This gave me some time to figure out what I was going to do. Up until this point, I’d planned on having a natural birth; I’d read books like Ina May Gaskin’s Guide to Childbirth , Martha Sears’ Birth Book and Henci Goer’s The Thinking Woman’s Guide To A Better Birth. I’d looked forward to giving birth, imagining that I would have some kind of mystical earth goddess experience; I’d been weirdly excited to know what real contractions felt like. I’d spent months participating in online pregnancy forums, decrying the medicalization of childbirth and the deplorable c-section rate in the western world. I hadn’t even read anything about c-sections, because there was no way that I was going to have one.

Except now I was.

I started to look for online resources for moms who were having caesareans but still wanted the whole touchy-feely earth goddess experience. I discovered, to my chagrin, that there weren’t many. Most people seem to think that a good birth and c-sections are diametrically opposed. Many people in the natural birth community are very, very anti-caesarean (one woman even went so far as to send me a video of a midwife delivering a footling breech birth, like, hey, thanks for your support), and many of those who support the medical model of childbirth tend to see birth as something that you just endure and get through, rather than a positive experience. I think that it’s totally possible to have a c-section and still have a good birth.

I’ve put together a list of things that worked well for us and resources that I found helpful:

If You Are Having A Planned Caesarean:

1. Educate yourself. This one is huge. Read as much as you can about c-sections, both about the procedure itself and what recovery will be like. Talk to other women who have had c-sections, and ask your OB for a run-down of how the procedure typically happens at your hospital. It’s also a good idea to read about the possible emotional effects of a c-section.

2. If you plan on breastfeeding, consider contacting a lactation consultant (the nice thing about being in the hospital was that the lactation consultant came to me), or else join the La Leche League and talk to women who have had similar experiences. Find out what kind of resources your hospital offers breastfeeding mothers – for example, mine held a breastfeeding class twice a day and had a lactation clinic. Make sure you get yourself a nursing pillow, because I promise you that you will be SO THANKFUL for it. Also,there are some good resources online here and here and here.

3. If you plan on breastfeeding, do so as soon as possible after surgery. I was able to breastfeed in the recovery room, less than half an hour after my son’s birth.

4. Make a birth plan of what you would ideally like to happen. You can ask for things like playing your own music during the surgery, doing skin-to-skin in the OR, and delaying (or even forgoing) the application of the eye gel. Remember that it doesn’t have to be the mother who does skin-to-skin – your partner also has some important bonding to do.

5. Eat really well at your last meal before your surgery (this will typically be 8 hours earlier). Make sure you get a lot of protein and that whatever you have is really filling, because they won’t let you eat afterwards until you fart (not kidding).

6. If you are having a c-section because your baby is breech, consider trying an external cephalic version. I wasn’t able to do this because I continued having contractions right up until my c-section (and we discovered during my surgery that I have a heart-shaped uterus, so it wouldn’t have worked anyway), but it’s definitely worth trying.

If You Are Planning On Having A Vaginal Birth

1. Educate yourself about c-sections anyway! It won’t hurt, and you’ll be prepared in case you do need one.

2. Include a “Caesarean Contingency Plan” as part of your birth plan. Sure, chances are that you won’t have a c-section, but if something goes wrong, it’ll probably go wrong pretty quickly, which means that it would be better to have what you want written out ahead of time.

3. Make sure that your partner is clear on what you want if you need a c-section – in the craziness of the OR, you’re going to need them as an advocate more than ever.

For Everyone

1. Allow yourself the time to mourn the birth you didn’t have. Some women feel that they’ve “failed” if they end up having a c-section; some feel that they haven’t really given birth. Talk about your feelings with your partner, and remind yourself that your experience was just as important and valid as anyone who had a vaginal birth.

2. Keep in mind that women who have c-sections are at a higher risk for postpartum depression. Make sure to watch yourself carefully for any of the signs and talk to a healthcare professional immediately if you think you might be showing some of the symptoms.

3. Take all of your medication on time. Trust me, you will feel way worse if you delay or skip a dose. The vast majority of medications are safe for breastfeeding; if you’re not sure, ask your doctor, nurse, pharmacist or La Leche League leader.

4. Hold a pillow against your incision whenever you cough, sneeze or laugh. I don’t know why, but this helps.

5. Take a shower as soon as you are feeling up to it. It will be the best shower of your whole life.

6. Accept help. If you have someone willing to do everything for you, let them.

Theo’s birth wasn’t what I had planned for, and it wasn’t the birth I would have chosen, but it was still good. I sometimes think that this was my first real lesson in parenting: the idea that not everything would happen on my own terms, that there would be times when I was not in control of the situation, but could still try to make the best of things.

So no, Theo’s birth wasn’t ideal, but I do think that it was the best birth that it could have been. And I’m thankful for that.

If you follow the simple steps that I have outlined above, then you, too, can look this happy while having a giant gash cut in their abdomen.

If you have any other suggestions, please feel free to add them in the comments!

A Few Small Things

16 Oct

Hey y’all, here are a few things I wanted to share with you today:

1. Here is a post about women in geek culture that I wrote for Shameless Magazine’s blog. I am really proud of it! I am also super stoked that I had the chance to write it, and want to give Shameless Magazine a thousand smooches for publishing my stuff. If you want to read about misogyny, racism, and the lack of representation of queer and trans folks in geek culture, you should check it out. If you want to read about my love for Wil Wheaton, you should DOUBLE check it out.

OMGGGGGG IMAGINE IF WIL WHEATON EVER READ IT, I WOULD DIIIIIEEEEEE.

Hi, Wil Wheaton, call me, okay?

2. It looks like The Gap has pulled the Manifest Destiny shirt, and offered this lukewarm non-apology:

They tweeted something very similar yesterday, but it looks like the tweet has been removed.

I would really love for them to handle this the way Paul Frank handled the recent outcry over their racist and offensive fashion show, and I’m still hopeful that they might, but it’s looking less and less likely.

One of my favourite parts of Paul Frank’s response is that they said they like to collaborate with an Aboriginal artist on future designs and that the profits from that collaboration would be donated to an Aboriginal cause. How amazing would it be if The Gap could follow their lead?

3. My Manifest Destiny post was featured on BlogHer! It’s on the front page of the site, and it feels bananas to load the page and see something I wrote front and centre. I feel super flattered that they featured it!

4. You should really check out my friend L’s response to Gap’s Manifest Destiny debacle over at her blog, Life In Pint-Sized Form. Her grandfather is a full-blood Chippewa, and she brings a fantastic perspective to this issue. Reading what she wrote literally gave me chills.

5. Artist Gregg Deal, who is Aboriginal and a member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, created this image in response to Manifest Destiny shirt:

I love these designs because they show so clearly the subtext behind the term Manifest Destiny, a subtext that many people seem hesitant to acknowledge. Let’s call a spade a spade, shall we? I also love that he used humour to address the racism of Gap’s design, because I think that humour can be a super important weapon against all forms of intolerance.

5. October 15th was Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. Two of my friends wrote very movingly about their experiences with miscarriage and stillbirth, and I wanted to share their posts with you. The first is from my friend Jodi, who blogs over at Mama To Bean and whose son Joel was stillborn last year – you can read her reflections on what this day means to her here.

The second post comes from The Yellow Blanket, which is written anonymously by a woman who has suffered multiple unexplained pregnancy losses. She writes incredibly movingly about her losses, and what her pregnancies have meant to her.

If you plan on reading these posts, I would suggest that you break out the kleenex.

6. A lot of the stuff in this post has been pretty heavy. If you need something to lift your spirits after all this profound grief/righteous indignation/sadness that you are not, in fact, married to Wil Wheaton, then I highly recommend The Hairpin’s Texts From Little Women. I was reading this in the yoga studio while there was a class going on, and I was trying SO HARD to stifle my laughter because, well, Jo March. God I love Jo March.

Here’s a sample – the italicized text is Jo March, and the plain text is Meg March:

I hope you realize you’re breaking up the family 

I really wish you wouldn’t see things that way

a broken home 
that’s what I come from now 
a broken home

that’s not what they call it when your sister gets married

then why does it feel broken, Meg
why does it feel broken
this is the worst thing 
that has ever happened 
to anyone 
since Father died 

Father didn’t die, Jo!
he’s only been wounded!

oh 
didn’t he? 
for some reason I thought he’d died 

no
he’ll be home in a few weeks
Ah

do you suppose he’s going to want his old greatcoat 
and riding boots 
and shaving things 
and top hat
when he gets back? 

I expect that he will

HANG EVERYTHING” 

Hang everything indeed.

Bullying Part III (or, all hail Margaret Atwood)

10 Oct

This will be the final instalment of my totally unplanned Bullying Trilogy (seriously, it started out with me just wanting to talk about clothes).

After I made my last post talking about how I was bullied in my teens, my friend Audra asked if I’d read this 2011 article from New York Times, Bullying As True Drama. In fact, I had read it when it first came out and hadn’t really given it much thought. Re-reading it, though, I found myself nodding and muttering, yes, yes, yes under my breath.

So much of this article hits home for me. This part, for instance:

Many teenagers who are bullied can’t emotionally afford to identify as victims, and young people who bully others rarely see themselves as perpetrators. For a teenager to recognize herself or himself in the adult language of bullying carries social and psychological costs. It requires acknowledging oneself as either powerless or abusive.

Or this:

While teenagers denounced bullying, they — especially girls — would describe a host of interpersonal conflicts playing out in their lives as “drama.”

At first, we thought drama was simply an umbrella term, referring to varying forms of bullying, joking around, minor skirmishes between friends, breakups and makeups, and gossip. We thought teenagers viewed bullying as a form of drama. But we realized the two are quite distinct. Drama was not a show for us, but rather a protective mechanism for them.

And especially this:

“Teenagers want to see themselves as in control of their own lives; their reputations are important. Admitting that they’re being bullied, or worse, that they are bullies, slots them into a narrative that’s disempowering and makes them feel weak and childish.”

Like I said in my last post, bullies can smell a victim. The minute that you admit to yourself or to others that you’re being victimized, then I guarantee you that, barring serious intervention, the bullying will get worse. To make matters even more difficult, many kids (and adults) don’t realize that they’re bullies; this behaviour is so ingrained in our culture that it seems downright normal. I’m certain that most of the kids inflicting “drama” on others have, at some point, been on the receiving end of “drama”. To them, it’s an unpleasant but ultimately unavoidable part of life.

We also need to realize that the ways in which bullying happens have changed; it often occurs online, or through texting; it’s not always public. This, then, is where I think David Dickson, chairman of the Bullying Prevention Initiative of California, really misses the mark with definition of bullying as happening, “typically in a social setting in front of other people“. That definition certainly doesn’t hold true today; in fact, I’m not sure that it’s ever been accurate.

One of the best literary instances of bullying that I can think of is the torment that Elaine Risley goes through at the hands of her so-called “best friends” in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye. Though all three of her friends are party to the bullying, few outside of that group know what’s happening. In fact, Elaine is pretty clear about the fact, were she to tell anyone about being bullied, she would feel as though she were breaking some kind of sacred code:

“Whatever is going on is going on in secret, among the four of us only. Secrecy is important… to violate it would be the greatest, the irreparable sin.”

A few adults in Elaine’s life seem to have some inclination as to what’s going on; she hears the mother of one of her friends saying that she deserves to be bullied because she’s a “heathen”, and, several years after the bullying occurs, Elaine’s mother makes a vague reference to the girls giving Elaine a “bad time”. Those instances aside, none of the grown-ups seem to know or understand the severity of what’s happening. The three girls are at Elaine’s school, and one of them is even in her class, but none of the teachers seem to notice that anything is amiss with their relationship; even her peers see only a group of “best friends” and nothing more.

Based on all the above, I wouldn’t say that Elaine’s bullying is public; in fact, her tormentors are very careful to maintain the façade of friendship that they’ve built up. Does that mean that it’s not bullying?  Elaine is certainly emotionally, mentally and physically scarred by what she’s going through; not only are her self-confidence and happiness eroded to the point of non-existence, she also begins experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety such as fevers, stomach aches and tendencies of self-harm (among other things, she begins biting her fingers, and pulling patches of skin off her lips and the soles of her feet).

Another important thing to note is that, much like the girls mentioned in the Times article, neither Elaine, her friends, nor the adults in her life ever use the term bullying. Instead, they use euphemisms like giving her a hard time. At one point Elaine’s mother even tells her not to let the other girls push her around, and not to be spineless, as if that’s any kind of helpful advice. So the message that Elaine receives both from her “friends” and the adults in her life is that the way she’s being treated is her own fault.

This, then, helps explain why, when the balance of power shifts between Elaine and her “friend” Cordelia,  Elaine begins to bully her back. While Cordelia spent most of grade school bullying Elaine, Elaine turns around and spends much of high school treating Cordelia equally terribly. In her mind, though, she’s not a bully; she can’t be, because, in Elaine’s eyes and the eyes of the world, her “friends” from elementary school weren’t bullies either.

At one point, when things are at their worst, Elaine’s mother says to her,

I wish I knew what to do.

And that, that right there, is often the hardest pill for both adults and teenagers to swallow – the fact that when bullying or “drama” occurs, the adults involved often just don’t know what to do.

I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that part of the reason teens started using the term “drama” to sort of re-brand bullying was the realization that, possibly for the first time in their lives, the adults around them had no clue how to stop them from hurting. So the term “drama” isn’t just a protective mechanism for the kids themselves; it’s also their way of protecting their parents and teachers, a way of reassuring them that it’s okay that they have no idea how to help because it’s nothing, just drama, and their help isn’t needed.

Matt and I were both bullied when we were younger, and because of that we’ve talked extensively about what we would do if Theo was ever bullied. I would like to say that we’ve come up with an awesome plan but, really, we haven’t. If things were ever to get really bad and Theo were to express a desire to change schools, Matt would prefer to go ahead and do that, whereas I would rather that he learn to work things through with his peers rather than running away. Of course, Matt doesn’t know what he would do if things were equally bad at Theo’s new school, and I have no idea how Theo is supposed to learn to rationally work things through with a bunch of hormonally-crazed teenagers.

I think, though, that at the end of the day that Times article has it right; instead of focussing on the “negative framing” of bullying, we need to work towards teaching our kids what healthy peer relationships look like and how to be good digital citizens. We need to teach our kids empathy and the ability to recognize when “drama” has gone too far. We need to find ways to empower our kids instead of making them feel weak or victimized.

I know, I know, this is a lot of talk without a lot of substance to back it up, but hey – I’ve hopefully got a few more years to figure it out. And while I’m teaching Theo how to be a smart, confident, independent person, I’ve got him to teach me how to be a thoughtful, wise and effective parent. So far, I think we’re both doing a pretty okay job.

The Myth of the 39th Week Abortion

29 Sep

If you are a Canadian living in Canada (or even a Canadian living abroad, or maybe even a non-Canadian), you’ve probably been hearing a lot about Motion 312. I know I have!

In case you’ve been living under a rock and/or you’re not up on Canadian politics, here’s a section of the motion that should give you a good idea of what it’s about:

That a special committee of the House be appointed and directed to review the declaration in Subsection 223(1) of the Criminal Code of Canada which states that a child becomes a human being only at the moment of complete birth and to answer the questions hereinafter set forth;

 (i)            what medical evidence exists to demonstrate that a child is or is not a human being before the moment of complete birth?,
 
   (ii)            is the preponderance of medical evidence consistent with the declaration in Subsection 223(1) that a child is only a human being at the moment of complete birth?,
 
 (iii)            what are the legal impact and consequences of Subsection 223(1) on the fundamental human rights of a child before the moment of complete birth?,
 
 (iv)            what are the options available to Parliament in the exercise of its legislative authority in accordance with the Constitution and decisions of the Supreme Court of Canada to affirm, amend, or replace Subsection 223(1)?

You can read the full text of the motion here, on Conservative MP Stephen Woodworth’s website.

The Conservative government has been quick to point out that this is not a motion put forth to criminalize abortion, or even reopen the abortion debate. They want you to believe that they simply want to update the 400 year old definition of what a human being is.

The issue is that this motion could pave the way to giving personhood to fetuses, which would certainly cause legislation to be passed on when and how abortions can be performed.

Currently, abortion is not limited by law in Canada. This means that you can have an abortion at any point in your pregnancy, right up to the moment when you give birth. By ascribing personhood to a fetus, the Canadian government would begin moving towards criminalizing abortion. Because, of course, having status as a “person” would mean that the fetus would be protected by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

And on the surface, that seems pretty reasonable. I mean, a typical pregnancy can go to 40+ weeks, but we all know that a baby born earlier can often survive with little or no medical intervention. My son was born at 36 weeks and, other than a little time on the C-PAP machine (which was more likely needed because of my c-section than because of his premature birth), he was totally fine. I even have a friend whose daughter was born at 25 weeks gestation and, while she obviously needed a lot of medical aid in the beginning, she is now two years old and thriving.

So how, in good conscience, could we allow women the legal right to abort a fetus that could survive outside of the womb?

I’m here to tell you that we can, and we should.

When I was pregnant with Theo, I had my first ultrasound at 11 weeks gestation. I’d had some bleeding early on in my pregnancy, and, going into the ultrasound, I was terrified that they would find something wrong with him.

The minute the probe hit my belly, though, itty bitty Theo appeared on the screen. He was perfect; all blobby torso-head and stubby little limbs. When I saw him, I laughed with relief, and when I laughed, he jumped, waving his arms and legs in protest. We watched, mesmerized, as he wriggled around, his heart a flickering beat in the middle of his chest.

To me, in that moment, he went from being two-lines-on-a-pregnancy-test-morning-sickness-and-achy-breasts to being an actual little person. Seeing him on the screen made me fall in love with him.

And this is the problem: if my feelings could make me believe that a baby the size of a fig is a person, then someone can likely argue that any fetus, at any gestational age, is a person. If I, a staunchly pro-choice feminist can, under the right circumstances, believe that a fetus of 11 weeks gestation is a person, then it’s not impossible for our government to come to the same conclusion.

Yes, I understand that in M-312 they promise to examine “medical evidence” in order to decide whether or not a fetus is a “person” before birth, but really, you could find “medical evidence” to back up just about any claim.

Would they say that a fetus is a person once it can survive on its own, outside of the womb, without any medical aid? Because there is honestly no foolproof way to test this.

Would they say that a fetus is a person once it reaches viability  at 24 weeks? Because the truth is that only 50% of babies born at 24 weeks gestation will survive, and those that do live are likely to have a lifetime’s worth of medical complications. As well, dating ultrasounds are not very accurate, especially once a woman enters her second trimester. Without knowing the exact date of conception, no ultrasound tech could say for certain whether a fetus is 23 weeks or 24 weeks.

Would a fetus become a person at 20 weeks, the age at which some studies have said that they can feel pain?

Would a fetus be declared to be a person at 19 weeks, which is the gestational age at which, if a Canadian woman miscarries, she becomes eligible for maternity leave?

Would a fetus become a person when their heart starts to beat, when they start to grow limbs, or even from the very moment of conception?

You could find medical evidence for all of these claims, but there’s no way of empirically proving when a fetus turns into child, except for the moment of birth, when they begin to live independently of their mother’s body. So, ultimately, the decision would, at least in part, have to be based on the emotions of the committee appointed to decide when personhood begins.

Pro-life advocates would like you to believe that abortion is too common in this country, that people use abortion as a form of birth control, or that it’s wrong to abort a fetus because it could grow up to be the person who cures cancer. Most of all, they want you to believe that women in Canada are actually aborting fetuses at 39 weeks gestation via intact dilation and extraction (more often, and incorrectly, called partial birth abortion).

First of all, let’s look at the prevalence. In 2005, the last year for which this data is available, the abortion rate was 14.1 abortions for every 1,000 women – so, 1.41% of Canadian women had an abortion that year. You guys, that is not a very big number.

Of that number, only a tiny percentage – in 2010, it was something like 0.2 percent of the TOTAL NUMBER OF ABORTIONS – were performed after 21 weeks gestation. I am having a hard time finding actual government statistics for this, but I got that number from a pro-life site, so I doubt that they are underreporting.

Regarding the use of abortion as the only form of birth control – I have honestly never known anyone who has done this. Abortion is still a painful medical procedure, and it’s not something anyone wants to go through. My other issue with this line of thinking is that it’s a way of saying that some abortions are okay, but some are wrong. Like, if it’s your first abortion and it’s because the condom broke and you took the morning after pill and for some reason that didn’t work, then it’s fine to have an abortion. But if you’re not careful with your birth control and you’ve have multiple pregnancies terminated, then it’s wrong to abort. As this brilliant article says, there should be no hierarchy of abortions. On demand, without apology.

The any-fetus-could-grow-up-to-cure-cancer argument is one of my favourites, only because it totally ignores the fact that, if the woman does terminate her pregnancy, maybe she will be the one to go on to cure cancer. Maybe the financial burdens of having a child would have made university impossible for her, or maybe the mental distress of carrying an unwanted pregnancy would have meant that she wasn’t up to the task of higher education. Maybe raising a kid would mean that she couldn’t spend hours and hours in a lab looking at test tubes or whatever the fuck it is researchers do. We so often hear about the fetus could-have-beens, but no one ever talks about what greatness the mother could have gone on to achieve.

And, finally, the 39th week abortion. The great myth of the 39th week abortion. This myth exists because technically, legally even, it could happen. Yes, it could happen – but it doesn’t.

I challenge you to find me an incidence of a healthcare professional who provided an abortion at 30+ weeks, because I doubt you can. Even second trimester abortions are hard to obtain in Canada, and women often end up being sent to clinics in the States if they are over 20 weeks gestation. The vast majority of these women are choosing to terminate that late in their pregnancy because they’ve only just learned that the fetus is severely or fatally impaired, or that there’s a significant health risk to the mother, or both.

I promise you that no one gets to 39 weeks of pregnancy and is suddenly like, gee, I’ve been meaning to get this thing aborted, I guess I should stop putting it off!

Finally, criminalizing abortion won’t stop it from happening; history has proved this time and time again. What it will mean is that women will be forced to seek out unsafe abortions with possibly life-threatening consequences. Sadly, this is an indisputable fact.

I’ve never had an abortion, and I hope I never will. I would frankly be beyond horrified if a woman terminated her pregnancy at 39 weeks. I’m still glad, though, that it’s possible from a legal standpoint. I’m glad that there are no laws that say what a woman can or can’t do to her pregnant body, which, by the way, is still her body. Because once you start creating that legislation, no matter how well-meaning it is, it’s a slippery fucking slope. A slope that ends in the Handmaid’s Tale. Kidding. Well, mostly kidding.