Monthly Archives: March 2012

the subjective and ever changing pregnancy calculator

A blogger I’ve just started following, who has struggled with multiple losses, one recently at 22 weeks, posted about wanting a refund for all the weeks she’s been pregnant. It’s a bit of dark humor, familiar to many of us whose pregnancies completely or far outnumber our living children. She said she should have a “baby and a half.” I knew the feeling well. I can’t find the post, my blog is archived so badly, but at some point I mourned feeling like an elephant, I had been pregnant or post-partum for so long. By the time Samuel was born in December 2007, I had been either pregnant or within a few weeks of having been pregnant, for 22 months of my life.

Something has happened to me though. When I was counting up weeks and months in reflecting on the blogger’s post, I forgot the miscarriage. In no way am I dismissing the trauma of miscarriages. It’s just a crazy brain trick, the ranking of my own personal losses, and a gradual apparent dismissal of that one.

After we announced this pregnancy, people began asking if we’d told Samuel. When I told them, no, they began asking when we would tell him. And asking and asking. Even people I’ve witnessed and experienced denying Natan’s existence were asking. I do not have a rational explanation for why we waited until after my 20-week ultrasound, and after Samuel asked me why my belly was getting so fat, to tell him. I just didn’t want to tell him. If we were going to lose this pregnancy before it was obvious, I didn’t want him, or really anyone else, to know. This blog and Facebook posts notwithstanding, I have become a person who does not want to talk about it. It’s more out of a feeling of solidarity with other families who’ve lost children that I do so at all. And I’m hardly an active participant in the loss blogging community anyway at all anymore.

Perhaps, as much as I love being a mother, I just have no patience whatsoever anymore for being a pregnant woman, or a woman who has and is known for having difficult pregnancies. I hate being the dominant exception to the narratives of my friends who advocate for “natural” pregnancies and births. I know that sadly, historically, I’m not the freak that narrative outlines and excludes but emotionally I’m made into one every time I have to engage in conversation about being pregnant. Pregnancy is not an illness, but I’m not that exceptional for experiencing it as a dangerous and life-threatening (to either me or the baby) time. It’s risky, natural, and beautiful, no matter what.

So for me, despite my public announcements, my pregnancies are fiercely private. I do not like my belly on display. I just want this damn period over, and I hoped that if it wasn’t going to end happily, that it would end before Samuel knew, before I met a semester’s worth of students would guess that I don’t just carry weight around my middle. I’m realizing that even now, at 29 weeks, I have very different emotions about this baby than I did Samuel and Natan. I am attached, obviously, and we’re displaying the ultrasound images of him we get every few weeks on the fridge. He’s very cute, has more of Josh’s nose and chin than mine from what we could tell. Both Samuel and Natan had very distinct piggy noses like mine even in the womb.

But anytime I have concerns about whether the baby’s moving enough, or my cervix, my first thoughts really are for Samuel. Now that we’re at a pretty good place for survival if the baby were to come early, I do think about the financial cost of NICU time, what it means for our plans for buying a house and my working part time next year. (That wasn’t a concern last time, with our superior insurance.) Despite the 4-year wait between these babies, I am damn sick of being pregnant and thinking about pregnancy. I just want it all to be in the past, and for me to no longer have the “how much of my life have I spent pregnant?” calculation on the tip of my tongue. I’m not looking to deny the past, I’m just so ready to leave the ranks of trying to finish my family.

on the downhill stretch? my thoughts on the third trimester

Time moved so much more slowly last time around. On the one hand, I cannot believe I’m only 27 weeks, 6 days pregnant today. But on the other, I cannot believe I still have 2 months, 3 weeks to go. I hadn’t been thinking that much about timelines and dates until Sunday, when I realized I’ve had this cerclage in for almost 14 weeks, and and am halfway done with progesterone shots. My cerclage will come out in a little over 8 weeks– less than two months–assuming all goes well.

I have to admit I’m more nervous about the removal than I was about the insertion. Both times, the surgery to put my cerclage in went easily. Looking through my archives right now, I realize I posted two lines about my cerclage coming out, and promised details later. I never gave the details. It was pretty miserable. It had scarred over, and was so painful and terrifying. Alas, it has to come out and I’ll just have to bear it. I’m not promising any grinning; but, I am thinking about asking Dr. H for a shot or two of whiskey beforehand for my anxiety. (I hope I don’t have to tell anyone I’m kidding.)

I read a post on another blog by a woman going through IVF about how much a woman has to go through alone to bring a child into the world. She wrote about having to go to so many doctor’s appointments alone, because of her husband’s work schedule, but how she wishes sometimes that he’d make more of an effort to find room in his schedule. Obviously, my process starts a bit later since we can conceive without medical intervention.

With Samuel, because Josh was writing his dissertation and not teaching that year, he was able to be at almost every scheduled appointment as well as multiple panicky last minute appointments and L&D visits. I think he even came along pretty often for my progesterone shots. We really went through every possible step and stage together. It was my body, so there were limits, but essentially I was never alone. Now, I’m alone a lot. Josh took Samuel to visit his grandparents and cousins last week so Samuel could have a bit of a vacation while his preschool was closed and so Josh could get some work done. Except for two nights when an old friend came over with dinner (we’re so lucky to have one of those here this year), a few hours one afternoon when a new friend took me out for coffee, and an hour when another friend drove me to get my shot, I was alone. That was actually kind of nice. I missed them, but it would have been so stressful trying to keep Samuel busy and happy every day all day. Instead, I just graded, read 4 novels, and watched two whole television series on Hulu and Netflix.

But I have felt lonely during my doctors’ appointments. Josh has only come along for the anatomical scan. There’s nothing to be done about it though. As a university professor, Josh can’t just take teaching hours off, and our teaching schedules are deliberately staggered in case Samuel’s sick (which has happened all of once this year, but you know, possibilities.) Even if I fit them in while Josh has free time during the day, the appointments take a really long time. Hours, most of it spent in waiting rooms between the lab, the U/S room, and the consultation room with the doctor. It’s very different from in Michigan where I didn’t have much blood work, and Dr. K. did the U/S measurement of my cervix herself. It must be so different for Josh, too, not seeing any of what happens during those appointments.

I’m often the only visibly pregnant woman in the waiting rooms by herself. Most women come with someone. Probably 2/3 come with another woman, and then 1/3 with a man. Of course, most women only have appointments once a month. Very often they bring other children with them, probably because they lack daycare. But I would not bring Samuel along, no matter what, as I would not want him in the room for bad or scary news. I don’t mind too much, I’m very matter-of-fact when it comes to doctor’s appointments.

Yet I do often wonder what I’d do if an appointment turned bad. Could I make it through that waiting room by myself? Drive myself? Clearly I could, and would. I’d have to, and I can function pretty well in an emergency, especially if by myself.

Ugh. I want to be pregnant for 12 more weeks, but I so hope they pass quickly.

representing others; or, a partial response to The Help and Facebook conversations

I graduated from college almost 13 years ago, right at the start of the Harry Potter craze. When I began working in Boston, I took the Orange Line in from Medford. It was a long ride, and every day I noticed more fellow commuters reading one of the first three HP books. At first I resisted, it was a children’s book! I read literature! Finally, I gave in and read all three books in two sick days in February, while I was bedridden with a bad cold and laryngitis. I was hooked and bought the rest of the books and saw each movie on the day they were open.

Since then, I’ve rarely resisted a book craze. I knew I would eventually read The Help, but I also felt fairly certain that I wouldn’t like it. Far too many of my historian friends–particularly those who work in African American history–had criticized it and I  trust their critiques. So, when I decided to pick it up as the last in my binge of novel reading this Spring Break, I tried very hard to keep an open mind. I tried to think of it as “light reading,” but it was a slog. Far more articulate, educated, and informed reviews have been written, so this one is my personal response.

I couldn’t stand her use of dialect. First, it was incomplete. Second, it was selective in ways that bugged me. Why did Minny and Aibileen use dialect in their chapters, while Skeeter did not? As a Northerner living in Mississippi, I can absolutely tell you that Skeeter’s speech would not sound like the grammatically perfect, unaccented words I read on these pages. Nor would my own to a Mississippian. I’ve already posted about how difficult I find it to be understood by locals here.

The author, Kathryn Stockett, is a native Mississippian, who spent time in NYC but currently lives in Atlanta. She didn’t make an abnormal choice in representing Minny and Aibileen with what we would recognize as a black dialect or sociolect. And Southern literature is known for its use of dialect and sociolect–it’s a point of pride dating from at least Faulkner (I’m being lazy in not thinking about making a more careful list).

I appreciate that Stockett was struggling to represent African American women, and I wouldn’t agree that she had no business writing about race or trying to develop sympathetic, realistic characters of another race and background. The failings of the novel are to me primarily in the narrative and the language. The story seems somewhat forced, some of the characters leaden.

I probably found Celia Foote to be the most interesting woman in the book. I knew immediately what was wrong with her, why she rested in bed all day. But I was unsatisfied with the incompleteness of her story. It was just a tiny peak into the horror it must have been to lose child after child in the 1960s, with no real medical options available. I would read a novel about that, would love to see that story make it into people’s consciousnesses right now while we fight over women’s health. That said, Stockett didn’t have to tell any story she didn’t want to tell.

The novel’s weaknesses are easy to ping, because she chose to wrote about one of the most difficult and complicated topics in this country: race. Would it have been better if she hadn’t written the novel at all? Or better if she’d stuck to writing it from Skeeter’s point of view? Or kept it in interview form? Do we always fail at representing other people realistically, but we just don’t notice it when authors’ characters are more like themselves? I am sure literary scholars have written a lot about that. I think that Stockett meant well, and therein she got herself in trouble.

When you put yourself and your words in the wide public sphere, you begin to speak for others. That’s a hard thing to do, and when you begin to do it flippantly and with tremendous confidence in your wisdom, as many of our news and talk radio commentators do, you become dangerous. Right now, I can see I have a few comments to read on Facebook based upon a story a friend posted about breast feeding. It’s a crappy article from ABC News titled, “Breastfeeding: Balancing Idealism with Realism.” The video’s more useful, but the article underneath it focuses on how hard it is to breastfeed and on reasons why women quit before the recommended 6 months. The article, I think, misses the point of what the women in the interview are saying.

Few of the women in the article say they found it unrealistic to breastfeed. An expert reported, “There are many competing demands on new parents: lack of sleep; crying, unsettled babies; other children to look after; and work commitments.”  The expert focuses first on demands mothers have always had: difficult babies and other children. He lists work commitments last.

Yet, in the article, the women say different things first. One woman says she hated pumping. Another woman said she couldn’t make it work with her job as a waitress. Another woman said her baby wasn’t gaining weight–that would be an example where we’d need more information to understand.

My lord, I hated pumping. Hated hated hated it.  And I was in a sympathetic environment at the University of Michigan. So I breastfed Samuel until he weaned himself. After he was mobile, he just never wanted to sit or stand still long enough to feed. We went to morning and night feedings, when he was sleepy, and that was the end. Easy. It didn’t always feel easy at the time, but looking back and hearing other women’s stories, I definitely think that after a few rough weeks in the beginning, I have little to complain about when it comes to breastfeeding.

How are women in countries with better maternity leave policies doing at breastfeeding? That’s what I’d want to know.

In the discussion on Facebook (Hello if the friend who posted it is reading!), a familiar discussion emerges, with not a few comments blaming mothers–believing the headline that women just find breastfeeding too hard. It is so hard to understand another woman’s motivation, but I always, in all settings, try to avoid primarily blaming people for their misfortune. Certainly I believe in personal responsibility and that in most cases the daily drudge of parenting will be harder in your baby’s first year of life than it ever will be again, but usually it is far more complicated than just a woman being selfish or lazy.

What I really don’t understand, though, is why people so easily think they can understand others’ motivations. I don’t. I really don’t. I used to think I did, but if I have learned anything about life in the past five years, it’s that no one is simple.  No one is an open book. Much of what a person says is as complicated as any of the poems from my Romantic poetry class in college. What they do is even harder to understand.

I don’t know if Rush Limbaugh, Bill Maher, and other men and women who’ve made the news for their offensive comments (Yes, I will condemn Maher’s calling Sarah Palin a c*nt) believe what they say. In a sick sense and to an extreme, they’re just doing what we all do daily–filtering their interpretations of others’ words and behaviors through their own experiences and expectations and judging them carelessly. For most of us and usually, it’s fine. Often, it’s the start of empathy. Sometimes, it’s useful. But too frequently, it’s mean-spirited and myopic. And as I’ve said over and over, I think intention matters.

contemplating women’s work and wiling away time

A few weeks ago, I listened to Rick Santorum on Meet the Press complain that radical feminists have forced us to believe that women need to be in the workforce, to the detriment of families, to find their own happiness and peace. Nonsense. I don’t even know what “radical feminist” means. I know how people use the phrase, but that’s not the same as knowing what it means.

The inspiration for my blog’s title came from the writings of a historical figure I admire tremendously, the actor and author Fanny Kemble. She was something of a radical feminist in the 19th century, if you’ll excuse my anachronism. She went to work in the theater as a young woman because that was her family background, and because she had talent. Her family needed money to support themselves and to save their theater, so she went to work to raise that money. She went back to work after her marriage fell apart because she had talent and because she again needed money. She also, from what I can tell, found fulfillment from sharing her art and her talent with the public. She was a brilliant woman. Yet while she was unmarried and while she was married, all the fruits of her labor legally belonged to her father and husband.

Another beloved Fanny, Fanny Fern (Sara Willis), was another brilliant woman, a writer, in the 19th century. Before her career, she married, had three children, and became a widow. She was left destitute and her family did not step in to care for her and her children. As a woman alone with children in the 19th century, she essentially needed a man for reliable support. So she remarried. Her second husband was a controlling jerk, and she divorced him. I cannot overemphasize the strength and self confidence that took for her in the period. She then became a writer–a very successful and talented one. She needed to support her children and herself, and was very lucky that she had the intellect and ability to do so.

These two women were radical because the inflexible social structure of the era left them without support or a clear place in the system. Women went to work because they needed money to support their families. Women went to work because they needed financial independence. Women went to work because they needed a way to support themselves separate from the men in their lives. Women went to work because almost every adult needs to work.

Let’s think about “work” though. Women always worked, so my “went to” only makes sense if we’re talking about something so far back in the past as to be prehistorical, or as a discrete event in the lives of every woman. I fight a constant battle with my students to get them to stop saying about the past, “Men were supposed to work, women were supposed to stay home, to take care of their children, and to make life pleasant for their husband.” I ask them, “Do you know what it took for women or anyone to make life ‘pleasant’ in the 18th century?” It took hard work. Domestic work took incredibly hard labor. It required working land, making cloth and clothing, treating illnesses and injuries serious and minor, caring for their and other families in birth and death, performing animal husbandry, educating children, trading and bartering with neighbors, and engaging in countless other really difficult tasks. That work had absolute economic, if not clearly financial benefits. That’s because so much less of the world was financial before the 19th century.

Personal fulfillment and intellectual engagement are not the same as work, although some people are lucky enough to find both in the same place. Fanny Kemble and Fanny Fern (and so many other women over time) were extremely lucky to be able to do that. So many other women have and had to just go to work. Yet even they have used the financial benefits work gave them to have independence and to pursue other dreams. To degrade that independence is to deny that historically, so many women have been degraded and abused by economic and political systems that have withheld from them equal rights and access. It is to deny that families and children suffered because of it as well.

Not every man, not even most men, would deny that historical reality now. Yet, we have a new problem in the present, from my perspective. Work has become almost exclusively financial. My students cannot understand without a lot of explanation and examples why I want them to understand that economic and financial aren’t the same. The calculators we use to measure the domestic work women still mostly perform all translate to financial terms. What could I trade the laundry, the vacuuming, the scrubbing, the cooking, and the shopping I do for in the open market? When this baby is born, assuming he’s alive and well, I expect I’ll be able to breastfeed him like I did Samuel. What will that save us in formula and medical costs and lost time from work for illness for Josh, me and the baby throughout our lives? I am so privileged right now to think these aren’t the only questions I need to consider. What will all those tasks I do mean to me and my family beyond their financial rewards?

When I think about work right now outside of my home, I feel trapped by the financial marketplace. I feel trapped by calculations. Will our budget balance at the end of the month? Will we be able to save? So much of this comes from almost a decade of not having quite enough, first because we were in grad school and then because the market until this year only provided one of us at a time with a full-time job, while friends not in grad school bought houses, took vacations, and saved for retirement and kids’ college costs. It comes from having to ask for loans and gifts to get by. It comes from making many many thousands of dollars less per year at 34 than I did at 22. All of that, however, was worth it. I wouldn’t trade the learning, thinking, and writing I did for a big house and $100,000 in savings.

It’s mind-boggling to think that for a family to just get by, two adults have to have jobs. The economy and deregulation, not radical feminism, created this trap. A book I read recently, Elizabeth Warren’s and Amelia Warren Tyagi’s The Two-Income Trap makes a very clear case for how the movement of more mothers into the permanent workforce has resulted in a decline in families’ financial security, and the actual destruction of economic safety nets for families. But it’s not simply that women are working–it’s that the policies of the past thirty years have taken advantage of the rising incomes of families to slowly but surely make those incomes necessary rather than helpful. Rising healthcare costs, daycare costs, the housing bubble, and the problems with public schooling have made it so two-income families cannot save as much as they did historically, nor can they handle the loss of even one job despite having two. In no way, though, do Warren and Tyagi argue that women should leave the workforce if they don’t want to. They do state that the best financial decision a family can make is to live off of one paycheck regardless of having two. But then they acknowledge that that’s essentially impossible for most families. It’s a trap.

But what if you want to try?

It’s a major challenge to pay enough attention to your family with a full-time job. It requires you to buy packaged food, to use machines, to purchase distractions for your children, and to outsource a lot of care. If that work is just for  a paycheck, and gives you nothing else emotionally or intellectually, that feels to me like torture. I know that’s not a universal experience, but it is mine.

To me, it feels like a trap. This idea that I have to work outside the home in order to protect myself if my marriage fails, my family if I want to be able to live in a neighborhood where my kids can go to good schools, to have security if God forbid, something should happen to Josh. It’s a trap of our reliance on financial markets and paychecks. It crushes my mind. I suppose it’s the trap of modern adulthood. I suck at it. There are all these “ifs” that now compete with the “whens” of my childhood and young adulthood. I had plans for when I graduated high school, when I graduated college, when I finished grad school. All the work was for that eventual payoff. But the work itself was rewarding. Now the work is for “ifs.” I can’t really tolerate it anymore. I need the when to be now, and the “ifs” to stop plaguing me.

Hence, my plan for next year. We are going to learn to live primarily on one paycheck. I’m teaching one evening course because our insurance cost is insane, and then I’m going to focus on providing as much as cheaply for the family as possible. If anyone has suggestions, I’m open. I’m going to post about what I’m doing towards that. I’m also hoping my mind will feel freer, that I’ll feel happier, and that the growing list of writing projects that have been waiting for when I’m free, will make their way out of my mind and onto a page. I am hoping, of course, for an eventual reward. That at the end of my period of unpaid work, I’ll have something that sells, and that can make up for all the lost pay I could have gotten continuing in a field that is strangling me. Or at the very least, that I’ll figure out what else I’d like to do next and feel happy and like myself again in the process.

We shall see.

my busted uterus; or, my honest thoughts about bed rest

My uterus is busted. But my uterus is not me. To be completely frank, that’s a very difficult image of my body to accept in our world. It’s probably a reality that divides me more than anything else from the experiences and attitudes towards pregnancy that are embodied in contemporary birth culture. I am no more, or less, impressed by uteruses than I am by feet and legs and hearts and livers, and all the other body parts that make life possible and make life difficult. It depresses me that my uterus won’t work like it’s supposed to. But it’s a medical, not a moral, condition. It’s only more depressing than a broken foot because it hurts and can kill my children. I imagine that in my case, it’s less distressing than a busted liver or a cancer because pregnancy is temporary, I can choose not to do it. Pregnancy is a means to an end. I enjoy feeling my babies move in my belly, and labor with Samuel was deeply satisfying, a wonderful reward. But I look forward to it being over, to reclaiming my body and my life. I’m not a glowing pregnant woman. Oh well, I’m also not a world-class athlete or an opera singer. My body is what it is.

My body is stressed; my body is tired; my body is injured. The cure for my broken uterus–bed rest–is to blame for much of it. This morning I decided to do some simple math to figure out how many weeks have I now spent on partial or complete bed rest, in my pursuit of living children.

Complete, under doctor’s instructions: 27.5 weeks
Partial, under doctor’s instructions: 9 weeks
Self-induced anxiety rest: at least 3 weeks

I was conservative in my estimates, and still, I ended up with about 40 weeks of nearly complete inactivity. Medical research, based on statistics and studies, in no way confirms that bed rest works. Anecdotal evidence, and my experience, suggests that in some cases it can.

First key thing to know about me, and many women, who’ve delivered their babies too early: we have no idea why it happened. We don’t have the risk factors. Because its cause cannot be determined, and because women who lose their pregnancies and children to preterm labor are often not overly concerned about medicalized pregnancy and labor, we’re very grateful when doctors offer to open up their full bag of tricks, imperfect as they are: cerclage, progesterone, bed rest, and tocolytics.

Adding to my issues, I have an irritable uterus. Yes, that is a real medical term. I’ve included a description from http://www.irritable-uterus.com

“’Uterine irritability’ is a term used to describe the phenomenon that prior to the onset of labor, the uterus can contract in a disorganized fashion (during pregnancy),” explains Dr. Laura Klein, an OB-GYN at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. “Rather than strong contractions that come and go every few minutes there can be kind of a constant low level twitching of the muscle.” Most of the time these contractions are simply a nuisance and don’t lead to labor. 

Most of the time, irritable uterus turns out to be nothing. Most of the time, a woman with an irritable uterus simply experiences an inordinate number of Braxton-Hicks contractions. Sometimes, though, IU is correlated with preterm labor, or can indicate its onset. Sometimes those low-level contractions precede high-level ones that change your cervix.

At least two of the doctors who treated me in the hospital with Natan, and my OB with Samuel, think I’m one of the (un)lucky ones for whom it is a sign. Ultimately, I go on bed rest because of my IU, rather than my cervix. Because if I have a normal day of activity, just an average one, without exercise, I will absolutely be rewarded with bouts of average-strength contractions, as well as the “low-level twitching” mentioned above. My abdomen will harden and the skin will go taut while my stretch marks burn and itch. It’s really pleasant. These are the sensations my first OB told me were just part of the joy of pregnancy. Even though medical research still says he might have been right, I know that’s not true. I know it’s not true because when I’m on progesterone these contractions happen less and later in the pregnancy and I at least trust my instincts this much.

I hadn’t had a single episode this pregnancy until a couple of days before the appointment where Dr. H caught my cervix shortening slightly and told me to go on rest. I’ve only had a few episodes since, all on days I’ve taught or been a little bit active, and at my appointment on Monday my cervix had only shortened a tiny bit, within normal ranges for this gestation.

With this knowledge, any woman who can, will rest. Obviously, most mothers will do anything to give their children their best chance at the best life.

Yet, no one should be fooled. Bed rest sucks. It’s boring and frustrating. You watch the world go on without you. You watch your partner, your husband, your family go on about life, stressed out and trying to handle everything. They handle it so well you wonder if they need you. Or they get stressed out and you get upset that THEY, who can walk freely about the world, dare to complain about anything. You think you should be using this time to finish your book, to plan for a baby’s arrival even though that in itself brings emotional and financial risk because he might not.  You think you should manage your family’s finances and schedules, but instead you post nonsense on Facebook all day and read absolutely every article published about Rush Limbaugh and Rick Santorum. You’re bored. You have all day to rest, but you can’t sleep at night because you rest too much. You have endless hours to feel anxious, to count the minutes until safety. If you have a job, you worry about whether you’ll be able to keep it. If you’re on partial bed rest, like me, you worry that every day will be the one that brings you to complete bed rest–which will throw your family’s finances into disarray and possibly lose you your medical insurance. You’re lonely, but you can’t go out. Invitations go rejected. You try to plan for the future, but you find yourself explaining to random acquaintances that while you are trying to find a house and possibly arrange preschool for next year, you can’t drop by their offices. Life is on hold, but your mind is very much awake. I am not the same person I was before it all began in 2006. I am not as social, as talkative, or as consistently cheerful. I am more patient, more open, more compassionate.

If it works, it’s worth it.

The rigors of bed rest aren’t all emotional, however. It is very, very hard on your body physically. By the end of my bed rest with Natan, my hips hurt so badly from being trapped in a hospital bed that I thought they might break. Ice only helped a little bit. At the end of my best rest with Samuel, my left hip dislocated and my tailbone broke during labor. My hips and tailbone already ache; I am sure I have suffered bone loss. Although, inexplicably I have less round ligament pain this time around than before. Perhaps that’s because my body overall is under less stress with the treatments and I do move around more this time than I did with Samuel. Clearly, I also gain more weight on bed rest than I would if I were able to exercise and be active, and that’s a stress on anyone’s body. My neck and shoulders are more prone to injury because of positioning. I also lose muscle mass, and that makes my body more vulnerable to injury and I believe, illness. I wonder how many of my physical problems I’ve had in the past five years are related to my difficult pregnancies and bed rest.

If it works, it’s all worth it. But it’s a gamble, and it’s the hardest thing my body has ever had to go through. No one should have to go through it if they don’t want to. Bed rest, I believe, will permanently reduce your quality of life. Its effects are forever. It will change you, and it will change your body. Forever. It’s up to you to decide whether children improve your life enough to make the trade worthwhile.

week 26: still pregnant and in a holding pattern

I suppose “holding pattern” isn’t totally accurate for describing how it feels to pass the 26-week point, because there is progress. Every day that I’m still pregnant is a good day–actually make that every week. I’m confident enough to hope for weeks and even months. We have now officially passed the gestation where Natan was born and died. My cervix measured at 3.2cm, still bordering normal. I’m to keep my activity to a minimum, hanging out on my back/side whenever I’m not teaching. It makes me a little crazy leaving so much housework, playtime, and childcare to Josh, but such is life right now. I’m also a little crazy because I’ve been on prednisone for almost two weeks now. Talk about being on edge. Thankfully, it has brought my platelets back up to just below normal. I have a few more days, and then we’ll see what happens next. He may take me off to see what happens, but not if they think I’m going to deliver. It’s a guessing game, this treatment without diagnosis.

I reassure myself that when we get to next year, when I’m no longer teaching full-time, I’ll have so much more time with Samuel and, hopefully, the baby. Josh’ll be commuting, too, so it’s good for him to get in this extra bonding time with Samuel. Or so I tell myself. I do participate, obviously, hosting Samuel on the bed for a board game, music, a show, or playtime. But it’s obviously not the same as being up and about. He’s a bit more emotional than usual right now. While I don’t think I’m all that stressed right now, it’s obviously a burden for Samuel that there’s any worry in the house at all.

I’m so greedy. I feel like I can’t accept anything other than a full-term birth for this baby. Not that my acceptance will influence anything. We got Samuel to his due date. And I realize, it’s not really greed. With Samuel, I just prayed for living baby. I couldn’t believe it when we actually got to the point where we stopped the tocolytics and the progesterone and removed the cerclage. I couldn’t believe it when doctors’ predictions (“We’ll see you in L&D in two days I’m sure!”) proved totally off-the-mark. I couldn’t believe it when Samuel was over 9 pounds and completely healthy. I feel like a hybrid mother who has no idea what lies between “dead” and “healthy.” And I really don’t want to know anything but more healthy.

That was a good rant. My next appointment isn’t for 2.5 weeks. Here’s hoping for more monotony.

why the birth control discussion is making me so sad

I didn’t become a religious person until I was twenty years old. But for as long as I can remember, I was fascinated with people who were so sure of their faith, and enraptured by families who organized their lives around religious ritual. I adored my Catholic neighbors who ate fish on Fridays, sent their children to Catholic school, and went to mass every Saturday night and/or Sunday morning without fail. They even sought out churches on vacation. My Mormon classmate, who was the oldest of six (at least six; they moved after sixth grade and we lost touch), had such an orderly home, organized around their church and learning and family. Their family was enormous. My parents were open minded; they always emphasized that it was my choice if I wanted to go to church with any of them. Thus when I did finally become religious, it’s not surprising that I flirted with Orthodox Judaism. I spent well over a year seriously entrenched within a Haredi group in Israel when I was in my early twenties. Yet, I eventually found it suffocating. I eventually felt like it wasn’t compatible with my intellectual, moral and ethical convictions, but I haven’t stopped believing in the wisdom and historical genius of the Tanakh (aka Hebrew Bible). Being Jewish is still very much the thing I am first.

Thus, I want to listen seriously to the concerns of Catholic believers with the health mandate. I have read, and read, and thought and thought, and talked and talked. If their opposition is a true matter of conscience, I concede it’s a problem. Many of the opposing arguments don’t make sense. “Why cover Viagra?” I’ve heard over and over. If I’m going to take seriously that the problem for the Catholic is not sex itself but actually contraception–then of course covering Viagra makes sense. It can promote a healthy sex life that results in reproduction. I don’t care that ads for erectile dysfunction don’t mention reproduction; that’s not relevant to the logic of the bishops’ decision. It does matter that the “birth control” pill covers processes involving the reproductive system other than fertilization. I agree in principle that it seems invasive for an employer to possibly know why you’re taking a medication–why should anyone have to explain to their boss that they have PCOS rather than an aversion to pregnancy? The answer for me, though, is not forcing a private health care provider to cover anything or to otherwise punish Catholic institutions. Rather, it’s to get rid of the private healthcare providers. Let’s not force Catholic organizations to have to think about this problem at all.

Obviously, I am very left politically. I am thus for ethical, moral, rational, and religious reasons. I honestly believe the moral solution is a single-payer or socialized system of medicine. I believe we have reached a moment historically where medicine and medical care have become rights. They’re rights because we have the technological ability and knowledge to make them accessible to everyone in our society.

I’ll gladly pay more taxes for more equal and complete access to healthcare. We already spent nearly $10,000 last year for my family to have medical insurance and basic care. (I just added that up for taxes….). We were all quite healthy in 2011–yes, I have whatever is happening with my platelets, and I’m having a high-risk pregnancy–but most of that expense has been in 2012. I can’t imagine it will get more expensive, and I’d not even resent that $10,000 if it went to providing care for a larger pool of people.

The Viagra argument coming from people I usually agree with, I’m not moved by. From the opposition, I’m actually appalled by statements like, “I’m not saying you can’t have birth control. I’m saying I shouldn’t have to pay for it.” If I’m being generous, I’ll accept that this statement is just about believing sex should be for the sake of reproduction and not about misogyny and chauvinism. From those with whom I want to converse, it might very well be. It’s pretty dangerous, however, for a religious person to join forces with many of the people who make that argument, and I would ask them to question why those people are jumping to their defense. Just like I cringe and would speak out against anyone who might equate Catholoc beliefs with…well…events I’d rather not mention.

And herein is where I get sad. Two men have gotten quite a lot of attention for their extremely offensive comments: Foster Friess (paraphrase: “In my day, girls used aspirin for birth control. They just put it between their knees. Ha ha guffaw. Aren’t I clever?”) and Rush Limbaugh (paraphrase: “College girls are sluts, but that’s okay if they let me watch.”). Is it really a morally acceptable, encouraging, and welcoming example of faith to do anything but openly revile that kind of rhetoric? I know the First Amendment also promotes free speech–but it protects us from government infringement on our speech, not from any kind of criticism or condemnation of what we say. The law is quite clear that we can’t say anything we want to in public. The traditions of civil discourse make me extremely uncomfortable with anyone in the public sphere who pretends that kind of language doesn’t matter, and isn’t relevant to the conversation.

Let me be honest too. I’m not compelled by Fluke’s testimony–I can say more about that if anyone cares. More interestingly to me in terms of how her story has been handled, even the progressive media are talking to her and about her as if she’s an innocent young woman, just a step away from her childhood bedroom and her parents’ protection. Sandra Fluke’s a thirty-year old law student, not a “college co-ed.” [I hate the word co-ed, by the way. Women make up 57% of the nation’s college students.] Why can’t we talk about this as if women are rational and full adults? Related to that will I be taken more seriously if I admit I don’t actually use hormonal birth control methods or any other kind that insurance pays for, and haven’t for most of the time I’ve been sexually active?

Let me make a modest proposal. The private health insurance pool I pay into subsidizes a whole host of behaviors with which I disagree–not to mention the mistakes of so many people. I live in a state with a major obesity problem, and with very high rates of heart disease and diabetes as a result. Gluttony is a sin. Why does my insurance cover testing and treatment for Type II diabetes? What you want me to accept that being “fat” isn’t just about overeating and lack of self control? I’ve been to Walmart. I’ve seen the carts of soda and chips and Hostess products. I’d like a health plan where I don’t have to share costs with obese people.

I sat in the waiting room of my hematologist’s office the other day next to a man who reeked of cigarette smoke (sometime I should post about my extreme physical reaction to that…). My hematologist is also an oncologist. His office is in the “Family Cancer Center.” What insurance is that man on? I hope not mine. If he doesn’t have an affidavit proving to ME that his medical problems aren’t related to his smoking, well, I want back my portion of the insurance pool that is going to his care.

Speaking of my insurance plan, I recently read that it covers in-patient drug and alcohol treatment! That clearly encourages immoral behavior. If you can get your care paid for, why not spend a few years snorting cocaine and binge drinking? I don’t want to pay for that. Suffer your own consequences. I only want to be part of an insurance pool with people who fit exactly my moral and ethical worldview.

You know, given some research someone I knew did in grad school about the health costs of people with PhDs, and the more leftist leanings of those with humanities and social science degrees, I think that pool might be a hell of a lot cheaper than the one to which I currently contribute, which pulls in a much larger portion of the overweight and unhealthy population of Mississippi. I say, dump them. Let them learn some consequences. Maybe it’ll bring and end to their lazy and sinning ways.

But, then, I am reminded of something a rabbi in Israel taught me, about the story of Sodom and Gommorah. I think this teaching is in the Mishnah. I know what the story is famous for, but that message isn’t the primary Jewish one. According to the teaching I find most convincing–and this is based both upon my rabbi’s teaching and my knowledge of biblical Hebrew–God didn’t destroy the cities because of sexual sin. He destroyed them because their residents did not practice hospitality. The residents were unwelcoming to the angels who visited Lot because they were strangers–and they were going to rape them. We know Abraham’s greatest virtue was his hospitality, and by association, his compassion for the outsider, for the person he didn’t know. Lot’s fellow townsmen wanted to assault the visitors because they were unknown, different, and unfamiliar. They didn’t know them, so they were willing to condemn them.

Biblical wisdom, however, tells us that the primary rule of human relationships is based upon a simple rule–“One should not treat others in ways that one would not like to be treated.” I fail at that, a lot. I don’t know what’s in anyone’s heart. It would be beautiful if we could all welcome and care for a dozen children. I don’t need to know why each individual woman who wants access to the birth control pill needs it. I do know that it is wrong for me to assume that the “problem” which women and men address by using birth control, is immorality and lack of self control, rather than health, life conditions, age, or differing preparation for parenthood. I’m perfectly well aware of what the Torah says about being fruitful and multiplying. I also know that was written in a different historical context, and that Jewish law argues that sometimes protecting the sanctity of life demands we prevent new life from coming into the world.

Yet I have to accept that many Catholic people might feel differently. It’s not part of my faith to try to force the world to adhere to my morality. Yet because I, too, practice a religion that the outside world doesn’t follow, and oftentimes is in conflict with, I can relate to their concerns. We don’t, however, live in a religious state. We live in a society with separation between them. Either we all pay for our own care completely individually, we join completely voluntary pools without any government regulation, or we make it a public institution and accept that being part of a society means we don’t get to individually mandate every cent the government spends. I just don’t see any other viable compassionate, hospitable response that can help me love my neighbor.

I know someone who believes differently can poke holes in my logic. But I’m not just using reason here. It’s not a problem with that kind of solution, unless we actually do want to trounce upon the convictions of others–unless we actually do want to crush and destroy those with whom we don’t share a faith.